Briones House wall purchased for $30,000

Remnant of historic 1840s home of Palo Alto pioneer Juana Briones to be stored at a city facility

The last remnant of the historic Briones House that proponents sought to preserve through nearly 14 years of litigation has been purchased by Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST) for $30,000, according to Clark Akatiff, a member of the Friends of the Juana Briones House.

Numerous contributors came up with $25,000 in cash for an 8-foot-by-8-foot section of the original wall, Akatiff said, which represents a rare form of adobe construction in which earth is packed between wooden cribbing set atop adobe brick.

The agreement with the property's owners, Jaim Nulman and Avelyn Welczer, was concluded on July 25. In addition to the cash, Nulman and Welczer will receive a $5,000 donation credit, which they can use as a tax write-off, Akatiff said.

"It is a pity that the house no longer stands, but Juana lives in memory and through the artifact that has been saved," he said.

The wall and its timbers are encased in foam and sheets of plywood and will be moved within the week to a secure location on City of Palo Alto property for storage "until things settle out," Akatiff said.

Additional timbers and rocks from a wall believed to have been constructed by local Native Americans are also being stored at the city site, he said, and await incorporation into a fitting memorial to Juana and her times. PAST will retain ownership of the wall, he said.

How the wall will be displayed has yet to be determined, but Akatiff said the leading prospect is that at least part could be used in the proposed Palo Alto History Museum, which is planned for the former Palo Alto Medical Foundation building (Roth Building) on Forest Avenue. But the history museum must still raise $1 million before construction can begin, he said.

Part of the wall might also be incorporated into a memorial at Esther Clark Park, which is adjacent to the home's original Old Adobe Road site, he said.

Akatiff said the purchase concluded amicably with Nulman, despite a nearly 14-year battle that embroiled the city, the couple and preservationists in two lawsuits.

"There are many to thank for this accomplishment. Certainly the many people who donated money to allow for the purchase, but also the City of Palo Alto, and especially PAST, which provided the organizational structure by which donations could be collected, and purchase made. I would also make mention of Jim Steinmetz, the contractor who carefully deconstructed the house, and whose concern for its historical value was always foremost in his mind," Akatiff said in an email to proponents.

"History is in some ways what we make of it," Akatiff said by phone Tuesday. "In the 20th and 21st centuries, some of us decided that Juana was important to our history. The house is gone, but Juana's with us -- more now than 50 years ago -- when she was not much more than a footnote at that time."

Nulman could not be reached for comment.

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Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 27, 2011 at 10:22 am

""It is a pity that the house no longer stands, but Juana lives in memory and through the artifact that has been saved," he said."
It could have still been standing if the Briones House groupies, including Clark Akatiff, would have come up with the cash to buy the property. Of course, since they were barely able to scrape together $25,000 to buy a chunk of wall, it becomes clear now why they tried controlling the property without having any financial investment in it.
The city needs to take action to ensure that these kind of events--where "concerned citizens" try to control the use of private property that does not belong to them--do not happen again.

Like this comment
Posted by rem
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 27, 2011 at 10:45 am

Back in the old days (100 +) Jaim Nulman and Avelyn Welczer would have been run out of town on a rail.

With Jaim Nulman and Avelyn Welczer it is a case of not care.

It is just like "Hanger One" and Onizuka AFS - Who cares !!!!!!!!!

History - flush it down the drain !!!

Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:01 am

"Back in the old days (100 +) Jaim Nulman and Avelyn Welczer would have been run out of town on a rail."
Yes, REM, and those days, thankfully are long gone, when the "elite" of the city could have people thrown out. Too bad, you and others have no respect for private property rights.
If this place was so historic and so important, why didn't the city do anything about it? Why didn't the people who were so concerned about this "historic" property not buy it in order to preserve it?
Yes, when you have to make a financial commitment in order to get what you want then it is a different story--look how they barely scraped together $25K!!!

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Posted by Winter dellenbach
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:06 am

Of course the Nulmans were amicable - they just gained $30K for an 8-foot chunk of wall they didn't want! They would earn some positive acknowledgment IF they had donated the wall, not profited from it. I am very glad that we now have the wall and look forward to the exhibit/memorial - I hope at the P.A. History Museum.


Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:07 am

Svatoid: you fail to recognize that at no point during this process was the house for sale, nor were the owners willing to sell. Never.

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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

Mary--did the house suddenly become historic 15 years ago when the last owners bought it? I assume that it was considered historic for many years before that. Didn't PA drop the ball by letting the house fall into disrepair? I understand it was damaged during Loam Prieta but nothing was done then either. Was an offer made to the current owners to buy the house?

Winter:Yes, lets continue to bash the current owners. They had the house deconstructed instead of demolished so that portions could be saved, but that is not good enough for you. How much did you donate in order to buy the house and save it from destruction? Kind of like the Park Theatre.

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Posted by Lost another one to...
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

To those who think that the preservationists should have purchased the property: There would never have been a reasonable price accepted had the preservationists tried, as evidenced by what the owners charged for a small remnant-souvenir. The preservationists goal had to be to verify the legitimate historic value of the place, get it media attention, and hope that a "disinterested" party with resources would want to save it. But, too often media coverage, in giving both sides of the issue, cited owner provided incorrect and out of date sources which clouded the historic assessment of the home, and current litigation. Such media information did not encourage possible "disinterested" parties.

Like this comment
Posted by Solon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Clearly, the house was for sale when the current owners bought it.
Clearly, the city could have bought it.
Or, preservationists could have bought it.

Or you.

It appears the city WASTED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS, doing their favorite activity, TELLING OTHER PEOPLE WHAT TO DO with their own property.

Sad, these owners appear to have done nothing illegal, bought a property at fair market,
were stopped from doing a legal building, had to litigate, and were vindicated by the court. IS that not correct?

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm

I read elsewhere in our local print media that other parts of the house were sold off for profit, not just the wall. They were able to capitalize off of the historic aspect of the house, yes.
Why did they buy it and get the tax writeoff or deduction for historic property if they weren't interested in history in the first place...
err...the lot, perchance?!

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Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 27, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Solon--well said. I understand that the city had to pay around $200-300K to the owners to cover their legal fees at the end. Another waste of tax payer money brought about by a small group of zealots. I would have thought that the city would have gotten the message when the "everything in Palo alto is historic" ordinance was rejected by the voters a decade ago.

neighbor-there is also the question of what is left of the home that makes it historic. As I understand this home has been added to and changed over the years.

Like this comment
Posted by ann
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 27, 2011 at 4:53 pm

14 years of litigation...i am aghast..those poor property owners...yet another example of wasteful government..svatoid...i agree with all you have written....right should run the city..this should have been resolved in a week....

Like this comment
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 27, 2011 at 5:48 pm

The preservationists should have hit up Roger Waters for a donation.

Like this comment
Posted by Moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm

nicely done, hulkamania

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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