Real Estate

A rare glimpse of history

Stanford historic house and garden tour lets people reimagine the past

What drew Garth Saloner, dean of the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, to the 1927 Charles K. Sumner-designed home on campus a year ago was the beautiful light and green setting -- not to mention how well the rooms flowed for entertaining.

Located on a cul-de-sac once called "Biz Hill," the area could now easily be dubbed "Dean's Dell," given that his closest neighbors are the deans of humanities and the law school.

Saloner's home is among five pre-1930s historic homes that will be open to the public on May 4. The tour is a fundraiser for the Stanford Historical Society's Historic House Project, which documents early campus houses.

Without changing the exterior or breaking down any walls, he's been working with Los Gatos interior designer Brian Mccann to "keep the original, but move it forward," Saloner said.

"One of the things I love in the entrance hall is the graciousness of scale," he said, pointing to the large entry space that lies between the living room and dining room.

"Every room should have a window that an old lady can read by," Saloner said, paraphrasing a famous Charles Sumner comment, and his home is no exception. Each room is surrounded by light, as well as a view of the outdoors.

Guests can easily congregate in the step-down living room, move through the entry hall and gather again at the dining room. The custom-made dining table seats 12, but can easily be extended to 16. Guests have even been seated at a round table for 10 in the entrance hall, separated only by an archway.

Tile was removed from the area between dining room and patio, and the original hardwood flooring was discovered underneath. That's been refinished, providing continuity between the dining room and the outdoor spaces.

Most of the changes to his historic home have been cosmetic, but all have been made with that eye to "keep the original, but move it forward," he said. New light fixtures, including amber-glass wall sconces, look like they've been there since 1927, as do the push-button light switches. The original beams in the living-room ceiling have been "distressed," and a fire guard was custom made to fit the old fireplace.

Throughout the public spaces, many tones of gray were employed, with darker shades in a niche in the living room. The result is a very calm, very elegant feel without being the least bit boring.

The kitchen had already been updated, with granite counters and white, painted cabinetry. Under Saloner's watch, a Sub-Zero refrigerator was built in, with glass-fronted cabinets surrounding the top, and other new appliances brought in.

Down the hall are what would have been used as a ladies' parlor and a men's parlor, separated by a bathroom. Today these rooms are a guest bedroom and a cozy den, wood-paneled but paint-stained a light gray with the grain showing through.

"It's a lovely place to read, work or contemplate," Saloner said.

And just beyond the men's parlor is what his designer referred to as an "exclamation point": a red Venetian-plastered room surrounded by windows.

Scattered throughout the home are black and white photographs from the house's era, including one in the kitchen by Alfred Eisenstaedt of children watching a puppet show.

Outside, the landscape is dominated by a huge heritage oak as well as several sycamores, which die back in winter but completely fill out by summer. A few remnants of times past remain: A large urn was left by Jing Lyman, wife of former Stanford President Richard Lyman, from when they owned the home before moving into Hoover House; a curved piece of marble sits under a sycamore tree, a relic of the 1906 earthquake. Saloner likes to climb up to address a backyard crowd from there.

The other San Juan neighborhood homes featured on this year's tour include:

* a 1909 design by John Bakewell Jr. with a double-gabled, half-timbered fa├žade;

* a 1914 English country cottage with neoclassical details. This home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, designed by Stanford art professor Arthur B. Clark in collaboration with the first owner;

* a 1926 "storybook" house by Charles K. Sumner updated to include extensive entertaining space; and

* a 1928 Birge Clark design with colorful tilework.

What: Historic Houses Reimagined: Ninth annual Stanford Historical Society House & Garden Tour

When: Sunday, May 4, 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Five houses on Stanford campus

Cost: $35; pick up tickets at tour registration desk near Parking Structure 6, 560 Wilbur Way

Parking: Free parking in A and C spaces; a free shuttle stops near the registration desk

Info: Stanford Historical Society

Associate Editor Carol Blitzer can be emailed at


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