Millbrae’s oldest house has new owners interested in preserving its historic charm, assuaging fears that the classic Victorian would be lost to redevelopment.
“We have got to give it the love and attention that a property of this vintage needs and deserves,” said Dean Woo, whose family closed on the house in late 2017.
The home at 1 Lewis Ave. was built in 1865 for former state assemblyman Alfred Green and put on the market last year without any protections requiring the structure to be maintained.
But Woo, 37, and his wife Helen said they fell in love with the home’s unique appeal, and are planning to maintain its original integrity and architecture.
Such a sentiment grants peace of mind to members of the Millbrae Historic Society, who worried while the home was up for sale that it would be purchased, razed and rebuilt like so many other classic homes along the Peninsula.
“It makes all of us happy at the Millbrae Historical Society,” society member Tom Dawdy said in an email.
Woo said he felt the desire to maintain the home during his first open house visit, after overhearing other visitors discussing the opportunity to purchase the property and clear it for a total rebuild.
“Oh heck no! I’ve got to make an effort to protect and preserve this house,” said Woo, recalling his reaction when hearing them considering demolition.
Yet despite his instinct, his path to purchase was circuitous. An offer from another interested party was accepted prior to his, compelling Woo to make his lingering interest clear to Realtor Jean Joh, in case the deal fell through. The purchase price was $1.55 million, according to Joh.
As luck would have it, shortly afterward Joh called to inform him that the first sale did not close and that his offer would be considered. Woo said the second chance felt serendipitous.
As their purchase moved ahead, Woo said he took time to meet with the current resident as well as members of the Rolandelli family, who had owned the property since 1984.
Woo said his family became so invested in the story of the house, the culmination of the purchase almost felt ceremonial.
“It felt like handing the keys over was passing the torch,” he said.
Green, the home’s builder, was a business partner of Darius Ogden Mills and launched the Millbrae Dairy. Beyond his business career, Green also served in the state Assembly and on the county Board of Supervisors. He supervised the Mills estate when its owner was absent and supervised the construction of the Crystal Springs Dam, according to the historical society.
Green’s home, where he raised five children, was dedicated alongside other notable local landmarks such as the Mills Mansion, Taylor Middle School plus the city’s original fire and train stations on the Millbrae history walk in 2010. A marker is set in the pavement near the property’s front gate recognizing its historical significance.
Since finalizing the purchase, Woo has been working with Knapp Architects, a firm specializing in preservation of old homes, to modernize essential and internal elements of the property.
The most notable project is a complete rework of the home’s foundation as well needing to overhaul the wiring system and fix some of the plaster which is showing its age, he said.
Woo said the work planned will make the home more livable, while no exterior annexations or design amendments will be required.
“We are doing modifications so it feels like a home and that we are not living in a museum,” he said.
Making the space livable will be critical, as Woo, his wife and two young children will be sharing the nearly 3,000-square-foot residence with Helen’s sister, husband and their young child.
Woo said the cohabitation is partially a function of the need for a young couple to bring in partners when vying to buy a home in the ultra-competitive local housing market.
Helen noted the pairing will likely work well, as many involved were raised in homes shared by multiple generations of the same family.
“It just feels natural,” she said.
With an ambition to begin the improvement work as soon as possible, she said they are hopeful to finish in time to host birthday parties for the kids at the house next fall.
Woo said his family is proud to plan its first celebration in their new old home.
“We are honored to be the next gatekeepers of the place,” he said.
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