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Today’s Alameda Treasure – 1125 Morton Street, The Baldwin-Pell House, Part 6, the Finale

Over the past five installments we’ve been exploring both the hidden and not-so-hidden history of 1125 Morton Street, the Queen Anne High Basement-style cottage built in 1889 and located between Central and San Antonio avenues. The original owner was Dr. Sherman Charles Baldwin, MD (1832-1902), and while he exited the scene rather early in this story, dying in his Oakland home in 1902 (see Part 1), the story expanded with his widow Mary Elizabeth Pell Baldwin’s family history in this home. All of those explorations, discoveries and mysteries were revealed in Parts 1 – 5 of this series. In this installment, we’ll look at some of the changes and improvements that current owners Ken and Connie Carvalho have made to their home over the 26 years they have owned it.

Alameda Post - 1125 Morton Street
A view of 1125 Morton Street in 2009 showing the 12-color scheme designed by color consultant Bob Buckter of San Francisco and applied by Robert Nunes Painting of Alameda. Also visible here is the ornate metal widow’s walk re-created by Creative Iron of Oakland, as well as the wooden roof cresting that was also replicated to the owner’s tastes. Photo from the Carvalho collection.

Tragedy a boon for historians

It was the deaths of young George Walton Pell III’s parents in Denver, CO, in 1923 and 1924 (see Part 3) that led to the continued Pell family ownership of 1125 Morton Street all the way up to 1998. George was the nephew of Dr. Sherman C. Baldwin’s widow Mary Elizabeth, and had he not lost both of his parents at a young age, he may have never made the move to Alameda to live with his aunt and cousin. It was George’s presence in this house for more than six decades that preserved the priceless collection of Baldwin-Pell family history we’ve been exploring over these past weeks. Had George never moved to Alameda, he never would have brought his treasure trove of Pell family history with him, and what little was left of the Baldwin family history would have been lost to time as well.

The old house changes hands

George Walton Pell III passed away on October 30, 1997, and with that the long Baldwin-Pell ownership period came to an end after 108 years. The house was inherited by George’s friend Gene Braaten, and Gene soon sold it to Ken and Connie Carvalho. The Carvalhos were Alameda residents at the time, with Ken being an Alameda native and Connie originally hailing from Las Vegas, Nevada. They were uniquely suited to taking on an old house, with both of them having a keen interest in history, and Ken working in the construction/remodeling business.

Alameda Post - the kitchen at 1125 Morton Street
After Ken and Connie Carvalho moved in to 1125 Morton Street, one of their earlier projects was to begin plans to completely redo the outdated kitchen, which previously was divided into two sections—a kitchen and a pantry. This is the “after” picture, taken soon after the work was done, circa 2003-2004. Photo from the Carvalho collection.

Walking into history

When Ken and Connie walked into their “new” house for the first time, they were literally walking into history. The house needed a lot of work, but was a time capsule of 19th century living, with much of its original furniture and décor still intact. In addition, the basement contained boxes and boxes of Baldwin-Pell family history, including photographs, marriage licenses, diplomas, and other priceless ephemera. They perused this fascinating history with excitement, knowing they were now the custodians of the collection. In the meantime, there was much work to be done to bring the historic home up to modern standards of comfort, safety and preservation.

A large to-do list

As any new owner of a historic house will attest, it can be both exciting and daunting to take on a home that is more than 100 years old. In many cases, previous longtime owners didn’t have the time or money to keep up on maintenance and upgrades, and such was the case with 1125 Morton Street. Luckily for us, Ken and Connie came up with a 10-year plan, and kept good records on what they did and when, so we can get a good sense of what it’s like to approach the renovation of an older home.

Alameda Post - a parlor room
A view of the front parlor of 1125 Morton Street, showing its adherence to the Victorian-era styling of its time. Photo from the Carvalho collection.

Start with a good foundation

A brick foundation was standard in 1889, but by 1998 it was way out of date. One of the first things the Carvalhos did was to have the foundation redone to modern codes, while donating the old bricks to the Jackson Park (now Chochenyo Park) bandstand restoration project. That same year, the sewer lateral was replaced, a temporary kitchen installed, the main level bathroom remodeled, and a rear fence replaced.

On to the more fun stuff

In 1999 and 2000, the Carvalhos continued improving their historic house with front and rear garden irrigation and landscaping, reworking all the wooden sash windows with new cords, paint, and glazing, replacing the roof (there were 10 layers of old roofing), and recreating the historic widow’s walk and roof cresting. Perhaps the most exciting addition of the year 2000, though, was the arrival of their first child, Charles.

Alameda Post - a model of a tank house
A scale model of the tank house reproduction that the Carvalhos planned to build in their back garden, in the same location the original tank house stood. It also had the little horse stable building behind it, just like the original. Those plans were scrapped due to a neighbor’s objections, but they did build a new carriage house, also seen here in model form. Photo from the Carvalho collection.

A break, and then onward

With the arrival of baby Charles in 2000, it’s understandable that Ken and Connie would take a break from renovation work in 2001. In 2002, work resumed with the replacement of a side fence, construction of a spa/lanai room, demolition of what remained of the old tank house, and construction of a new carriage house on that site. According to Ken’s research, the original three-story tank house’s windmill and redwood water tank were removed sometime prior to 1949. A gable roof was then installed on the shortened structure.

Ken had wanted to rebuild and restore the old tank house to something close to its original form, along with the horse stable behind it, and even built a scale model of the project to show city planners. But when the permitting process alerted neighbors to the plan, one neighbor objected. Although the Carvalhos proposed changes and concessions to assuage any concerns about the tank house, the neighbor remained firm in opposition to that aspect of the project, deeming it an “unnecessary fantasy object not needed in the 20 century.” In the end, Ken and Connie dropped the plans to rebuild the tall tank house, and instead just built a new carriage house as an alternative. Eventually that neighbor moved away, along with the construction obstacle, but by then it was too late, as the nice new carriage house was already in place.

Alameda Post - the carriage house at 1125 Morton
The carriage house sits in the same location where the original 1889 tank house once stood. It was built in 2002 and Ken once used it to restore a World War II army Jeep. Used for storage today. Photo Steve Gorman.

Floor by floor

By 2003 it was time to take on full renovations of each floor, starting with the main level. The big project was the kitchen, which was completely redone to incorporate the kitchen and pantry into a single room. A half-bath was added off the kitchen, and the stairway to the attic level – once used by Mary Elizabeth Pell Baldwin, Mary Pell Walton, and George Pell III to access their attic quarters from the outside – was relocated to the kitchen.

In 2004, basement level renovations were underway, including the creation of a beautiful billiards room complete with a custom-made billiards table. On display on this level is an original coal-burning stove that once was used for heating the house. Completing the basement renovation is a utility room and workshop. At one time, a “winder” stairway had allowed access to the basement from the main level middle bedroom, but that stairway was closed off in about 1905 and old newspapers were found sealing up that access point.

By 2005 it was finally time to take on the attic level. The Carvalhos created a master suite at the rear, complete with its own bath. A dormer window was added there to enhance the view of the garden. A Victorian-style roof window (skylight) was restored and expanded at the center of the attic’s floor, where a new grand staircase was added to connect more elegantly with the main level. Toward the front, two bedrooms and a full bath were added. The additional bedroom arrived just in time, too, since the year 2006 would see the birth of their daughter Julia.

Alameda Post - the billiards room at 1125 Morton
In 2004 renovations began in the basement, which was formerly the repository for boxes and boxes of Baldwin-Pell family history. It was transformed into a comfortable family room, billiards room, utility room, and workshop. The billiards table was custom-crafted for the family by a company in Hayward. An electric train set circumnavigates the billiards room on tracks mounted just below the ceiling. Photo from the Carvalho collection.

Ten-year plan done in eight

When Ken and Connie first bought 1125 Morton Street, they were excited. Then reality set in, and the feeling was more like, “Oh man, this is going to be a lot of work.” Then they broke down the project floor by floor, and came up with a 10-year plan to complete the work. Some things, like electrical, roof and foundation work, had to be done within six months for insurance purposes—Ken and Connie completed those in four months. The rest of the work ended up being largely completed by 2006, meaning it was finished in eight years instead of the estimated 10. I would hazard a guess that Ken’s long experience as a senior project estimator for Buestad Construction made a big difference in how quickly and how well the project on his own house was accomplished.

Alameda Post - a staircase and a coal burning heater
Left: After the attic level was developed into a master suite for the parents and two bedrooms for the children, a more formal staircase was built to reach this level. Previously, the only entry was via a narrow stairway from the dining room, later relocated to the kitchen. In order to accommodate this new stairway, Dr. Baldwin’s old front-room study needed to be shortened a bit, along with the middle bedroom. Right: An original coal-burning stove that once provided heat to Dr. Sherman Baldwin in his home at 1125 Morton Street. The antique is now on display in the family room in the basement. Photos from the Carvalho collection..

Baldwin-Pell house featured on Alameda Legacy Home Tour

As the Baldwin-Pell house completed its eight-year renovation, it was featured in the Alameda Legacy Home Tour on September 17, 2006. The annual community event is hosted by the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, whose August 2006 newsletter included the following description of 1125 Morton Street. “The collection of bizarre taxidermy at the Baldwin-Pell house alone is worth the price of admission. The ‘Temple of Taxidermy’ showcases several dozen splendid specimens of that 19th century pastime: a peacock in full regalia, an egret, an armadillo, a beaver, a badger, a stoat, and two skunks. Another treat on the tour: many examples of stunning decorative glass, including the brilliantly colored ‘Lady of Shalott’ window.”

The 2006 Legacy Home Tour was a celebration of the Baldwin-Pell house’s long and interesting history, along with the extraordinary efforts made by Ken and Connie Carvalho to preserve and showcase that history for the coming generations.

Alameda Post - a stained glass skylight
The skylight in the attic level of 1125 Morton Streets adds light and beauty on this level. This feature is described by Ken as a Victorian hipped roof window. Photo from the Carvalho collection.

The long and winding path to the present

The story of 1125 Morton Street has brought us from the year 1889, when Dr. Sherman Baldwin first bought the house, through his death in 1902, to the renovations his widow Mary Elizabeth made afterwards to live in the attic and rent out the main floor, the connection to Denver, CO, and Pell’s Oyster House, the arrival of nephew George Walton Pell III in Alameda around 1931, life during the Great Depression and World War II, the deaths of Mary Elizabeth Baldwin in 1937, Mary Pell Walton in 1960, and then finally George W. Pell III’s passing in 1997. From there, the long history of the Baldwin-Pell house fell into the hands of Ken and Connie Carvalho, who remain avid caretakers and custodians of that history to this day. The house that Dr. Baldwin originally bought for $3,000, and then Ken and Connie purchased for about $327,000—negotiated on the front porch by multiplying the house’s age (109) by its original purchase price ($3,000)—is now worth at least $1.7 million. The good doctor made a good investment back in 1889.

Alameda Post - a sepia photo of 1125 Morton Street
The oldest picture we have of 1125 Morton Street, showing it close to when it was new in 1889, with its original tank house with windmill and redwood water tank. The Carvalhos have maintained/restored this Alameda Treasure in remarkable Victorian-era condition, even down to the ornate metal widow’s walk and wooden roof cresting. Photo from the Baldwin-Pell Collection, now held in the Carvalho collection.

Keepers of history

Thanks to the Carvalho family for their dedication and care of this Alameda Treasure, the Baldwin-Pell house. This story never could have been shared with Alameda Post readers without all of the information, archival images, and commentary provided by Ken Carvalho over these past many weeks. History is ephemeral, and the story of those who came before us, especially the ordinary people who led extraordinary lives, can be lost to time if not carefully preserved by the dedicated amateur historians who do this work behind the scenes in their spare, unpaid time. To them I say thank you and keep digging!

Contributing writer Steve Gorman has been a resident of Alameda since 2000, when he fell in love with the history and architecture of this unique town. Contact him via [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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