They knew not what they did, when they built the little house. And they did it right.
The lot was rather small, downstream from the Kent estate, where the creek leveled out and zigged right in its year-round run to the bay. The property was dense with native redwoods and with live oaks and walnuts planted by the Kent family, and it just happened that the redwoods were removed to make room for the house. So it was that they built the place out of the trees that had always guarded the property. Even the window glass, bought a mile west on the edge of the bay but made, in part, from creek silica, was at home in the little house.
With that redwood, with that glass, it didn’t matter that the slope was beyond the angle of repose. That the foundation was a cattywampus sampler of different forms, nothing tied together. That the creek would swell every few years to encompass the basement for an hour, so that the little house had to more or less float on the land it covered. The designer was an unhappy unoriginal man, whose best claim to fame was to share a draftsman with Maybeck…yet the little house was built (quick and cheap) out of its own redwood and its own sand, and it stood charmed and charming.
If it were more valuable it would have been altered. It would have been bought and sold, remodeled or restored, had amenities added. If it were higher class it would have been situated to the east, with a view and a peril. But it was a modest little place, hunkering below street level, set back hidden in its oak trees. Its living room was low and shaded by the front porch, cozy and cave-like; its residents all knew they’d waste effort trying to make it light and airy, so no one painted the redwood walls or the brass window latches. It was mostly owned by single women, so no one added on to it, or drilled holes in its walls for speaker wires. In its first century it changed its roof material, added forced-air heat (cage-like around itself, with floor ducts below and ceiling ducts upstairs), and enclosed the back porch: that’s all.
It was built in October of 1912. It was listed for $3,200 but it wasn’t sold at first; it was given to a spinster sister of Samuel Benedict. They recorded a sale as if money changed hands, but Sam just gave the place to Margaret. He and Charles Perkins were the men responsible for the reservoir system that permitted development in the area, so he was well-connected with the builders. He managed to purchase his own mansion plus small houses for his two sisters, for a total of $8,493.
The three abodes were situated between the new Benedict and Perkins Streets, on the banks of the creek at the then edge of town. Sam’s place was over five thousand square feet and upstream from his sisters’ small houses. Alice’s cottage seemed English and Peg’s was like a little chalet.
Sam and Alice and Peg didn’t look like siblings. Maybe they weren’t. Their parents Abe and Helen moved to California in 1888, with eight-year old Samuel and infant Alice, and two years later, after the usual spate of summer visitors, baby Margaret just seemed to appear. No one noticed that Helen was pregnant, but she was a large woman and she wore her garments loose. Like Sam and Alice Margaret was tall, but she was dark-haired and green-eyed to their blonde-and-blue, and she seemed ingenious while they were canny.
Abe and Helen died in the influenza epidemic of 1903. Sam was then twenty-three and took charge of sixteen year-old Alice and thirteen year-old Peg. They lived together in the small family home while Sam built his fortune in reservoirs.