New Almaden Neighborhood Divided Over Proposed Restoration to "Cactus House"

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    A South Bay neighborhood is divided over proposed changes to the so-called Cactus House. Michelle Roberts reports. (Published Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014)

    A South Bay neighborhood is divided over proposed changes to the so-called Cactus House.

    The deteriorating cabin in the small, historic mining community of New Almaden is more than 100 years old. Trevor Gabriel recently purchased the home, which features a cactus sitting on top of it, and working to make repairs and restore the home back into livable conditions.

    Legend has it some neighborhood kids were fighting with prickly pears decades ago. A tree branch landed on the house, allowing a cactus to grow.

    "I'm always fascinated by quirky stories, such as the cactus," Gabriel said. "You can't get rid of that -- then it would just be the house."

    But renovations will need to be made since Gabriel plans to make the 118-year-old mining cabin a home that he can raise a family in. Gabriel would like to turn the cabin into a two-story home and have it placed on a foundation it currently does not have.

    Neighbors like Edward Della Monica are all for restoration, but against adding a second story.

    "It's going to be a cancer that we're not going to be able to stop," Monica said.

    Gabriel said the strict zoning rules only allow him to build up. On Tuesday, he petitioned the Santa Clara County zoning board for approval.

    A decision was postponed for community input, allowing homeowners like Kathy Wolfe to fight for what she said is the future of California's history.

    "We will pass on and our followers will have the duty of protecting these buildings," Wolfe said. "Right now, this is our duty."

    The Historical Heritage Commission has already approved the proposed home design. Gabriel, who said both the cabin and cactus will stay, is hoping the zoning board will give him the green light even without the support of his neighbors. A meeting is expected to take place in October.