The couple seeks to rotate the shingled, Colonial Revival-style structure — currently facing Kingsley and set back on a 19,461-square-foot lot — to face Ramona.
"By solving the lack of a backyard, you give incentive for people like me to restore the property and ensure long-term preservation of the house," Max Keech told members of the Historic Resources Board at a hearing Aug. 5. "We believe the building can be moved, without damage, on the site."
The Historic Resources Board approved Keech's plans on a 3-2 vote, with two members absent. The board's role is to ensure that projects in the Professorville Historic District, roughly between Addison Avenue and Embarcadero Road, and Emerson to Cowper streets, comply with conditions for historic rehabilitation established by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
Approval becomes final only after action by the city's director of planning and community environment, who is awaiting comment on the Keeches' application for an Individual Review and home-improvement exception, according to Chief Planning Official Amy French.
"I think this project is extraordinarily well-thought-out," Historic Resources Board member David Bower said. "It's tough moving anything in the historic district, and my concern is that we lose the character of the district by 1,000 cuts. But in this case, I think it actually improves this building (to rotate it)."
Joining Bower in support of the project was Chairman Roger Kohler and member Patricia Di Cicco.
Bower's colleagues Martin Bernstein and Beth Bunnenberg disagreed, however.
"This house in its current location is almost like a gateway building (to Professorville) in the way it's located. When I think about it being moved ... I think it loses some of its 'grande dame' character," Bernstein said.
Keech said the house will be moved in one piece by elevating it with hydraulic jacks, constructing a steel latticework structure with rollers beneath it and then rotating it.
The house was built in 1902 by Marion Hall-Fowler, a wealthy transplant from Michigan who had come to Palo Alto two years earlier so her son, Frederick, could attend Stanford University. Frederick Fowler later married Elsie Branner, daughter of Stanford's second president John Branner, and the young couple joined his mother in the home, according to city documents.
Marion Hall-Fowler died in 1931. From 1938 to 1974, Stanford agricultural economist Karl Brandt occupied the house.
Originally, the Fowler House included a carriage house and was nearly centered on a 50,000-square-foot lot, with ample space on all sides. But subdivisions by previous owners — one in 1975 and another in 1998 — carved out lots for two homes facing Emerson and another facing Ramona, taking about 60 percent of the original parcel.
"Although the Fowler House site has been substantially modified, the Fowler House itself retains nearly all of its historic character-defining features on its primary faces," said historical consultant Seth Bergstein in concluding that the Keeches' plans conform to the Secretary of Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation.
"The proposed rehabilitation design includes restoring the existing character-defining features on the primary facades to preserve the architectural value of the property. This will enable the Fowler house to maintain its status as a contributing structure to the Professorville Historic District," Bergstein said.
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