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Tax relief to assist home’s restoration: North Central San Mateo couple utilizing Mills Act to renovate 1891 historic home
December 09, 2013, 05:00 AM By Samantha Weigel Daily Journal

The owners of the Vollers house will apply to have their San Mateo home listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

When Brian Skinner and Patricia McDaniel bought their first home in the North Central San Mateo neighborhood, they had no reference as to the history behind the property. Now, three years later, Skinner and McDaniel have acquired a wealth of background information behind their Queen Anne style home, the Vollers House.

On Monday, the San Mateo City Council approved Skinner’s and McDaniel’s application to have their North Claremont Street home designated as historical under the Mills Act.

This state law allows the city to provide tax relief to owners of historically significant properties who actively restore and maintain their property.

The Vollers house is the third property in the city that has been deemed historic since the city adopted the resolution in 1993.

“We didn’t buy the house with the desire to undertake the project; but once we’d been living here a while, well whatever house you live in kind of grows on you and, it just seemed like the right thing to do, the right thing for the house,” Skinner said.

Although Skinner’s grandmother lived in a historically registered home, he said it wasn’t until he and his wife moved in that they became motivated to delve into the local history. He and his wife started from scratch and, after digging through microfilm records of property taxes from the 1890s, old maps and documents describing the sale of the property, they began to develop a narrative, Skinner said. One of the interesting historical points they uncovered was that the rightful owner was a woman, which was unusual for that time period, Skinner said.

“Just the fact that the original property owner is Amelia Vollers rather than her husband, I don’t know how common that was in 1891. We’d love to sit down and spend an afternoon with Amelia Vollers and ask her all sorts of questions,” Skinner said.

Amelia Vollers bought the property in 1889 and completed her home in 1891, three years before the city was incorporated, according to Skinner’s and McDaniel’s National Register of Historic Places application.

When the railroad reached San Mateo in 1863, wealthy San Franciscans were beginning to move further along the Peninsula with the ability to commute to work. In 1901, Vollers sold 15 feet of her property to the Southern Pacific Railway and, along with purchases from other property owners, the railway was able to lay a second set of tracks and offer more frequent train service, according to the application.

The house was identified as “individually eligible” for listing on the national register in San Mateo’s 1990 General Plan update.

Throughout the years, the house was remodeled and improvements such as gas and electric features were installed, Skinner said. Today, the front of the home still retains most of the era’s style elements and is in good shape, however the back of the house was redone in the 1950s and they would like to begin to restore it back to an original appearance, Skinner said.

But if you thought making modern improvements to a home were costly, the resources it takes to locate authentic items, have them refurbished and installed by a contractor familiar with working on historic properties is financially tolling, Skinner said.

Now that the city has approved their application, it will be sent to the County Assessor’s Office for review, said Art Henriques, senior contract planner for the city’s Community Development Department. The owner of a property who qualifies under the Mills Act can save between 40 percent and 60 percent on property taxes, according to a staff report. Because this is a single-family residence, the city doesn’t miss out on much property tax revenue, Henriques said. What the program really does is encourage people whose properties need extra care to invest in it, Henriques said.

“It’s a way of encouraging people to maintain their older homes, because older homes can sometimes need more tender loving care. With the state Mills Act program, owners can save a little in taxes every year and put that money back into their homes,” Henriques said.

There are city, state and national obligations an owner must abide by to have their property considered historic and Skinner and McDaniel have laid out a thorough plan, Henriques said.

Skinner and McDaniel have an extensive list of refurbishments they would like to address over the next 10 years. Their proposal includes a wide variety of items to refurbish or replace with more authentic accoutrements; from large projects like removing the modern tiles and restoring the original wood floors to fine details like replacing the modern door hinges with antique era appropriate ones, according to the application.

Skinner and McDaniel have conducted a lot of research to get to the point where they are today, Henriques said. Their application is still being processed and will be sent to the county and the state before it can be sent to the national registry, Henriques said. But part of San Mateo’s character and history is represented in these houses and it’s worth maintaining, Henriques said.

“San Mateo has a number of wonderful older structures that are certainly an asset and that the community can be proud of,” Henriques said. “Both the property owners and community at large benefit in fixing up and maintaining these older homes because they add value to the neighborhood and community.”

For more information or to share any known history about the Vollers House visit

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106



Tags: skinner, property, their, house, henriques,

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