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Issue date: October 18, 2000

Residents fight to save 'historic' house Residents fight to save 'historic' house (October 18, 2000)

**Woodside history committee members put up $400 of own money to stop demolition. Planner says house not historically significant.

By Andrea Gemmet

Almanac Staff Writer

Members of Woodside's History Committee ponied up $400 of their own money to fight the demolition of what they say is a historically important house on Mountain Home Road.

At an emergency meeting held Friday, the nine-member committee contributed $44.44 each in order to file a last-minute appeal before Woodside's Planning Commission. Members object to Planning Director David Rizk's decision to grant a permit requested by Signe Ostby and Scott Cook to demolish the Stanley Harris home they own on Mountain Home Road.

Mr. Cook, 48, is founder of Intuit Inc., the financial software company, and was recently listed by Forbes magazine as one of the 400 richest Americans, with a net worth of $1.2 billion. He is Ms. Ostby's husband.

The appeal is tentatively scheduled to be heard at the December 6 Planning Commission meeting.

A small house built in the 1890s was rebuilt as a two-story English Tudor-style house in 1917. Elements of the 1890s house exist mainly as interior features, including doors, sinks and the main staircase. The house is named for Chicago banking scion Stanley Harris, who owned the house from 1922 to 1971.

Ms. Ostby, who learned of the appeal Friday afternoon, said she was disappointed by the committee's action.

"We followed all the procedures the town asked us to, and (two) architects said there is no reason to keep the house there," she said.

Ms. Ostby declined to comment further.

Mr. Rizk said he granted the demolition permit on the grounds that the house is not of significant historic importance, as defined by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Historic buildings and other resources are protected under CEQA law, as long as they are considered to be of significant historic value according to a set of standards. The state's historic register serves as a kind of litmus test -- a building does not need to be listed on the register, it only needs to be eligible for inclusion on the register, to be considered of important enough to be protected under CEQA law.

According to a historic and architectural evaluation prepared by consultants Marjorie Dobkin and Ward Hill, the Stanley Harris house fails to meet several requirements for historic significance. A 1967 remodeling of the house compromised its historic integrity, and it is not an exceptional example of the period revival architecture style of the early 20th century, they said in the report. They also argue that neither the house nor Stanley Harris himself figured significantly in local history.

The consultants were hired by Ms. Ostby and Mr. Cook, and their findings reviewed and accepted by Nancy Goldenberg of Carey and Company, who was hired by the town. Ms. Ostby and Mr. Cook were required to pay for both sets of consultants.

The Woodside History Committee does not agree with the report's findings.

According to Barbara Wood of the history committee, the house dates back to two significant periods in Woodside's history -- the original house from Woodside's early days as a logging village in the late 1800s, and the rebuilt house, which dates to Woodside's days as a rural retreat for wealthy families.

The history committee has extensive knowledge of the house, thanks to member Dolores Degnan, who grew up on the estate where her father worked as the Harris family's property manager.

According to the history committee's research, the Harris family was locally prominent, and newspapers reported on its comings and goings. Mr. Harris was active in the community and was a founding member of the Menlo Country Club and a founding contributor to Woodside's public library.

The house also figured in the national war effort. During World War II, the U.S. War Department moved onto the Harris estate to use Mr. Harris' steel radio towers to monitor Tokyo Rose and other Japanese broadcasts, members said. Mr. Harris had built the radio towers to communicate with the crew of his yacht, according to the committee's report.

Thalia Lubin, chair of the history committee, expressed frustration over having to appeal the demolition permit.

"All we wanted was to slow this down a little in order to give committee more time for additional review," she said.

Instead, the history committee had to rush to act before the 10-day appeal period elapsed and the permit was issued.

Ms. Lubin appeared before the Woodside Town Council at its October 10 meeting to ask that the town's $400 appeal fee be waived, and was rebuffed. The council decided against waiving the fee on a vote of 5-0, with Carroll Ann Hodges abstaining and Paul Goeld absent.

Councilman Joe Putnam said waiving the $400 appeal fee would set a bad precedent, and that a fee is necessary to prevent frivolous appeals from being filed.


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