Historic homes open for tours, new residents

The Spring Mansion is in the North Berkeley hills and real estate agent Robin Gaskins showed ABC7 around.

"This is the billiard room where all the gentlemen would come to share each other's company," says Gaskins.

The house was built in 1912 by John Hopkins Spring, a wealthy land developer. It was designed by John Hudson Thomas -- one of the Bay Area's most important architects in the early Twentieth Century.

"It has unparalleled beauty and it's unique," says Gaskins.

The Spring Mansion can be yours for $6.5 million. It was used for several decades as a young women's college and eventually turned back into a private home.

A lot of original details are still intact like the signature woodwork, beautifully preserved. However, the house does need some serious work. There are more than three acres of what was once a show place garden and it could be again.

"For somebody who has the vision and the desire, this could be an incredibly beautiful place to live," says Gasins.

If you're looking for something with a lower price tag, you might consider renting a historic house in San Francisco's Presidio. One neighborhood was built in the early 1900s for doctors stationed at the former military base.

The houses were vacant for the last 30 years and many were vandalized. Now the Presidio Trust is refurbishing them for rent. It's been a painstaking process.

"What is its historic character? And if it's intact and still evident, our job is to keep that while making it modern, suitable for modern use," says Presidio Trust Architect Robert Wallace.

That means new kitchens, wiring and heating, but everything else is full of history.

"So you are looking at the original fireplace, the original stair," says Wallace.

There are two couples that were among the last families to live here and they came back to take a look.

"The renovations are very nice... It's just the price," says former resident Joanne Dykstra.

There are three single family homes and eight duplexes with rents from $5,000 to $10,000 a month. The biggest house is almost 4,000 square feet. Patty Tovey remembers it was a lot to clean.

"It's a wife killer, but that didn't stop me. I loved the house so much," says former resident Patty Tovey.

At another open house, some people are looking to rent and some just want to step back in time for a bit.

"It makes you feel good that there is such an institution like the Presidio Trust that restores these buildings, makes them accessible," said open house visitor Ursula Schoen.

It's not quite so easy to get a look at one home in San Mateo County historic home. Alpine Ranch is on more than 300 acres and down a dirt road in the San Mateo County hills. Deborah has owned it for 35 years.

"The ranch house was built in the 1870's and this was the original parlor. [There are] redwood floors, everything is redwood, milled here on the property," says Deborah.

It was built by a lawyer as a wedding gift for a young woman from the Page Family of Page Mill Road fame, but she rejected the proposal and they never moved in. The property became a hay and cattle ranch and is still filled with relics of the past.

"This is the old Wedgewood wood stove that came with the ranch. We've had a lot of good meals here," says Deborah.

There are also steps worn down by 130 years of families.

"And I'm just adding to the wear and tear and I kind of like it," says Deborah.

It's not easy to give up history like this. Deborah had the ranch on the market, but by the time ABC7 came to see it, she changed her mind.

"I just came up here and sat down on the porch and listened to the trees and decided this was my great escape and I was just content being right here," says Deborah.

There are wonderful historic treasures all over the Bay Area and if you're interested, start saving your money now, because Deborah says she might sell in a few years.

You can see the Presidio houses at an open house on Saturday.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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