Remember that sad house on Bennington Street that was offered for rent in November 2013 for the plutocratic sum of $9999 per month?
Unsurprisingly, no one took the then-landlord up on that offer. So a few weeks later, the home was put on the market. It was purchased by Neighbors Kiren, Caroline, and Jr. Neighbor Ravi, who are upsizing from a smaller home they currently occupy on the west side of Bernal Heights.
Neighbors Kiren, Caroline, and Jr. Neighbor Ravi are very excited about the new place, because, they say, “it has the space to keep us comfortable as our family grows [and] it keeps us in Bernal, which we adore.”
The new homeowners are well-aware of the structure’s, uh, “shortcomings,” and they entered into their purchase with eyes wide-open. Now, to make the tired old house feel more like home, they are preparing to undertake a full renovation, and blogging about it along the way:
Bernal Heights is a “special use district”, which means that it has its own zoning unique within San Francisco. It’s designed specifically to keep houses small – you can’t build over 35 feet high, over 45 feet from the front property line, rear yards must be proportionally larger, adding square footage requires adding extra parking spots, etc. So a major selling point for this house is that it already has good scale – we won’t need to expand it, which is onerous if not impossible in our neighborhood. The house was built in 1900, just before the earthquake. Unlike the Victorians of that era which San Francisco is famous for, this was a working class home, and what little adornment it had has been stripped away over the years. But that’s OK – for our taste, we find many victorians either oerly grand and imposing, or ornate and fussy. The house is built from tight-grained, old-growth lumber that you could only find a century ago. The wood is strong, resists rot, and is beautiful. But that’s about where the charm ends.
This house has been neglected for a long time. It is dark and dingy. The floors are so sloped, cover them with snow and you could go skiing on them. The fixtures are falling apart, there are frayed electrical wires popping up everywhere, water pools in the yard and garage, there’s termite damage in the front, the exterior stairs are crumbling, and the list goes on. The previous owner rented it out to seven people at a time – clumsily splitting the top and bottom floors, and installing an illegal kitchenette without any drainage or ventilation. The home achieved brief neighborhood fame (or infamy?) when the tenants left and the owner tried to rent it for a ludicrous sum (see our neighborhood blog, Why Oh Why Would This House Rent for $9995 a Month? for theories including it sitting on a diamond mine, or else including a vast rocket hanger and orbital launch facility.) Aside from the radically sloped floors, the house is structurally OK, but well outside of modern codes. The floor plan is dark and claustrophobic. No fixtures are worth saving.
But it’s in the neighborhood we love. And now it’s ours. So there’s nothing to do but to take it down to the studs, shore it up, and dream up something new to fill the empty shell.
Your Bernalwood editor read all this with great empathy and no small amount of deja vu, because our house was in a very similar state when we bought it in 2003. It was a mess, it smelled horrific, everything from the foundation to the sheetrock needed to be redone, and by the time we arrived there was no vintage “character” left to preserve. What followed was a top-to-bottom gut-and-remodel that retained just four elements of the original house: Three exterior walls, the wonderful Douglas Fir floors, the roof, and one tiny triangle of moulding on the stairway leading up to the bedrooms.
As proof, I submit as evidence this photo of my home, as it looked at the nadir of our renovation in July 2004, at the very moment when our lead contractor declared that he was withdrawing from the project to divorce his wife and launch a new career in marijuana cultivation:
On the bright side, it all turned out well, eventually, and now our Bernal house is a home we love.
Best of luck to the new homeowners on Bennington!
PHOTOS: Top, via Bernal Renovation blog. Bottom, by Telstar Logistics