June 2, 2013

Sacramento mansion is now an $895,000 fixer-upper

One of Sacramento's grand old residences is for sale for the third time in its 100-year history, but would-be buyers had better come with a lot of money and the right frame of mind.

One of Sacramento's grand old residences is for sale for the third time in its 100-year history, but would-be buyers had better come with a lot of money and the right frame of mind.

The wealthy Merkley family, California settlers who made a fortune growing hops and fruit, built the 6,600-square-foot home on the corner of 22nd and V streets in midtown's Poverty Ridge neighborhood in the early 1900s.

Its style has been described as Spanish mission meets Frank Lloyd Wright. Legend has it the family tore up the plans so the home would be unique.

In the 1950s, the home was bought by a couple named Maguire and turned into a boardinghouse for professionals and later a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. Its opulent spaces, meant for entertaining the city's elite, were walled off into a warren of small rooms for rent.

Today, the home's exterior remains impressive, with sweeping lines, a red tiled roof and a towering cedar out front. But its interior is covered in cobwebs. Portions of its walls and ceiling have been ripped out, with rafters and studs exposed.

Contractors who have looked at it said they'd have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore its grandeur, listing agent Mark Waterman said. The asking price: $895,000. Any buyer would probably have to pay cash because a lender wouldn't issue a conventional loan on such a problematic property, he said.

"ICON OF SACRAMENTO – FULL REHAB NEEDED!" reads an advertisement on Zillow. "Calling all investors, contractors and entrepreneurs. This historical building is ready for the optimistic and inventive." A for-sale sign out front, near the big stone lions that guard the driveway, says "fixer upper."

Who buys such a house?

Maybe someone like Lance Haring, who lives across V Street in an Italianate mansion he meticulously restored, doing most of the labor himself over the past four years.

"It needed everything," Haring said. "What wasn't original, I put back perfect."

Haring bought the home from foreclosure for about $900,000 in 2009 and set to work undoing years of neglect.

He ordered handcrafted roof tiles from a firm in Ohio. He had new red fir and white oak flooring milled to replace hundreds of linear feet of damaged boards. He bought and restored vintage kitchen appliances from the 1920s. He hammered out dings from the original gutters and installed new copper plumbing. He even searched out antique doorknobs on EBay.

"This is a one-of-a-kind house," he said, calling his home a labor of love.

"I don't use Phillips-head screws," Haring said. "They're not period."

William Burg is a local historian and president of the Sacramento Old City Association, a group dedicated to the restoration and preservation of housing in the central city. The group held its historic home tour last year on Poverty Ridge.

Poverty Ridge is an elevated neighborhood of tree-lined streets that was named for the masses who took refuge there during floods but later became a hilltop retreat for the city's rich and powerful.

Today, it sits near the Capital City Freeway and includes dozens of small apartment complexes where historic homes were torn down. Homeless men and women often wander its leafy avenues.

For close to $1 million, plus construction costs, a buyer could pick up a palatial home in Sacramento's Fabulous 40s neighborhood or live with the region's movers and shakers in manicured enclaves such as Sierra Oaks or Granite Bay.

Burg, who lives nearby in midtown, said Poverty Ridge and its one-of-a-kind homes draw a particular kind of buyer.

They want to live in the central city, not in the suburbs, and seek an economically diverse mix of neighbors, he said. In Poverty Ridge, owners of million-dollar homes live side-by-side with minimum-wage workers renting studio apartments. Neighbors tend to interact with each other as they walk or bike, he said.

"The idea is that you do want that kind of diverse, richer cultural environmental," Burg said.

Buyers in the neighborhood are also seeking a house that's impossible to replicate, he said.

"These are unique. They're irreplaceable. They literally don't build them like this anymore," he said. Houses like the one at 22nd and V are "something rare and special. They set the tone for the neighborhood around them."

The current owner of the house the Merkleys built at 2130 22nd St. is Thomas A. Roth, a real estate investor and landlord who specializes in unique properties in the central city. He bought it from the Maguire family in 2000 with the idea of renovating it, but his commercial projects always took priority.

"It's a huge investment," he said. "I didn't want to do it halfway."

Now Roth wants to sell to a family or perhaps a bed-and-breakfast owner – someone who would restore the historic character of the house and boost surrounding property values.

Among Roth's motivations: He owns a vintage apartment building next door and doesn't want to see its value diminished.

He recently gave a tour of the house to a Bee reporter and photographer. There was a soaring entryway, where the original Mediterranean tile covers the floor beside a big white semicircular fireplace. Dusty sunlight filtered down from high windows. A room where one of the Merkley children played the harp for guests was dark and vacant.

Both the first and second stories were partitioned into rooms where doors bore brass numbers, 1-12. The property is still zoned for a boardinghouse.

The house has been on the market for about a month now. A number of buyers have looked at it, said listing agent Waterman. Some have been contractors. Others were affluent individuals looking for a project. A group of attorneys scouted it out, thinking they could turn an outbuilding into a law office. Two written offers were received, both below the asking price. Neither has been been accepted.

"It's going to take a unique buyer," Waterman said. "The commitment has to be there." Call The Bee's Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191. Bee researcher Pete Basofin contributed to this report.

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