finds a home again
restores family Victorian
Press Democrat Wednesday, September 24,
from a half-mile away, the two-story Victorian is a
commanding presence amid the rolling pastures of
Sally and Michael Gale went to work on it four
years ago, the 1883 Romantic Italianate house was
more eyesore than eye-opener in the rural valley
running just south of the Marin County
"It was a
wreck," Sally Gale said succinctly.
seven years, the house had taken a beating from the
weather and vandals. There was a hole in the roof,
all the windows were broken and graffiti covered
the inside walls.
dining room, a freezer had leaked and fallen
through the floor. Part of a staircase was broken
up in the yard.
advised the Gales, who previously lived in Novato,
to demolish it and start over.
remnants of grandeur remained, like the elaborate
plaster medallions from which ceiling light
fixtures had been suspended. And beneath its
disheveled surface, the old house was solid, built
of virgin redwood, Sally Gale said.
So she and
Michael ignored the advice, and in 1993 undertook a
renovation that won a 1997 award of great merit
from Heritage Homes of Petaluma, a preservationist
house was one of nine homes and four commercial
buildings honored at the group's Preservation
Awards Program on Saturday in the dining hall at
the Masonic Building, a former award
given every other year, are to thank property
owners for "taking time to save a piece of the
architectural fabric of Petaluma," said Deborah
Riddle, president of Heritage Homes.
to be encouraged," Sally Gale said.
appreciates the compliments from Chileno Valley
residents who said they had watched the "ghost
house" deteriorate for years.
fun," she said. "It's kind of nice to be at this
is not complete, with some fireplaces to be rebuilt
and varnish to be applied, and the Gales also plan
to rehabilitate the beef ranch facilities --
including barns, fences and springs -- as well as a
stretch of Chileno Creek, where they hope to
restore steelhead and salmon spawning
tall house, with spacious 11-foot ceilings, is once
again a landmark. Framed by a row of Monterey
cypress trees, it sports a dust color with cream
trim and blue-green highlights, columned bay
windows, three porches and a surrounding picket
rebuilt fir and redwood floors and stairway
balustrades shine, and gleaming antique light
fixtures hand from the restored medallions. Most
visitors wouldn't notice, even after Sally Gale
pointed it out, that the stairway posts are
two-thirds the original piece joined to an
extension to meet modern code
Nor would a
visitor realize that it took six weeks of taping
new drywall to produce a smooth surface, just like
the old plaster and lathe the Gales ripped off the
damages walls. Most homeowners opt for a rough
drywall surface, which goes on much quicker and
were right, Sally Gale said, acknowledging that
demolition would have been cheaper. The renovation,
she said, "was an illogical, emotional
Much of the
emotion stems from the history of the sprawling
ranch, which had been in Sally Gale's family since
1856. Her great-great grandfather, Charles Martin,
bought the spread from Henry Halleck, chief of
Staff to President Abraham Lincoln.
Martin built a stylish Italianate addition to the
1860's vintage ranch house. More than a century
later, the Gales rebuilt the older part of the
house, making it match with the more decorative
Italianate, with tooth-nail dentil
salvaged redwood planks from the older house,
reusing them for the upstairs floor, the exterior
dentils and even the fence pickets. Round columns
between the bay windows were fashioned from old
lumber recycling save money? "I think so," Sally
Gale said. "I'm not sure."
worked full time as general contractor on the
project, Mike, a self-employed private
investigator, did much of the work, including
milling the reused redwood.
much of the credit to more than a dozen
craftspeople, who did plumbing, tilling, wiring and
other technical jobs, as well as woodworking
who have three grown children, plan to turn the
house into a bed-and-breakfast, and to take over
the beef ranch operation, currently leased to
another rancher. They've planted 200 native trees
-- bays, oaks, willows and aspens -- along the
creek, and fenced it off to keep cattle from
trampling the banks.
has big plans for the ranch, where she expects to
live for the rest of her life. "We're kind of stuck
here," she said.