It was in 1966 when Patty Devlin’s family made the move from Hayward to Alameda. The family of eight was crammed into a single-story, three-bedroom tract house on Edloe Drive in Hayward, and was ready for more space. Their search brought them to Lafayette Street, and that began a chapter of Devlin family history that is ongoing to this day. See Part 1 for the introduction to this story.
An Irish lass marries a San Francisco boy
Patty’s mom, Theresa Agnes Foley (1923-1983), had originally come from County Kerry, Ireland, and migrated to Alameda via New York when her whole family relocated to the West Coast. Theresa was in her 20s at the time. Patty’s dad, Terence McSweeny Devlin (1920-2014), also of Irish descent, was born in San Francisco, grew up in North Oakland, served in the Navy, and then went on to have a career as a supervisor with the U.S. Postal Service. He and Theresa married on June 17, 1950.
A growing family
The need for more space eventually led the Devlins to Alameda, where they found 922 Lafayette Street up for sale. At that time, the Queen Anne-style house, built by Joseph A. Leonard in 1890, was 76 years old—just like most of its neighbors. The neighborhood was well established, and there were plenty of families with young children around. The purchase price in 1966 for the four-bedroom, one-bath house was about $22,000. While there was only one full bath for the family of eight, there was a water closet (toilet) in an unheated room off the back porch—a common setup for homes of this age.
Brothers Terry, Ed, and Robert shared the largest bedroom, oldest sister Eileen got her own room, sisters Katie and Patty shared a room, and the parents had the fourth bedroom. Today it’s hard to imagine a family of eight sharing one full bath, but back then most middle class families didn’t have anywhere near the amenities we expect today. For example, when I was growing up in the 1960s, we had just one full bath for a family of six, one TV set in the den that everyone watched (with only about four or five channels), and one telephone—mounted to the wall in the kitchen.
The Baby Boom
Patty Devlin was born near the very end of the generational period known as the Baby Boom, and was the youngest of the family. Characterized by an increase in birth rate following World War II, the boomers, as they’ve come to be known, were born between 1946 and 1964. What this meant for neighborhoods during this period was an abundance of children out on the streets and playgrounds most of the time, especially in summer. Unlike the organized playdates and activities of today, back then most children just ran out of the house to play and found numerous friends to play various games with.
Patty remembers going down to the end of Lafayette Street to play along the lagoons, which were open then rather than fenced-off as they are today. During high school years, this was the place where teenagers would often go to smoke cigarettes. Patty’s brothers used to go visit friends’ houses along the lagoons using a paddleboat, and at Christmastime, they’d go out Christmas caroling in these boats. She also remembers expansive games of hide-and-seek that covered ground as far away as Grand Street. Since Grand Street was two long blocks away, these games could last a long time. Sometimes Patty would be in her hiding spot for so long she’d wonder if they’d ever find her, or if the game was over.
From Alameda to Japan and Hungary
Time moved on, the children grew up and went to college, and Patty eventually followed her teaching career to Japan and Hungary, where she spent years teaching middle school science. In 2009 she came back to the U.S. and bought a small house on 9th Street in Alameda. By this time her dad Terence was living in the big family house on Lafayette St. with his son (Patty’s brother) Ed. Mom Theresa had passed away in 1983 after a short illness.
A long life comes to a close
After 48 happy years living at 922 Lafayette Street, Terence Devlin passed away in 2014 at 93 years of age. He had remained living in his own home right up until the end, something I think we all hope for. He had help from his children along with good genes, and had outlived his dear wife by over 30 years. At this point the house was 124 years old, and was in need of extensive renovations, upgrades and repairs.
A restoration commences
Brother Ed remained living in the house until 2017, at which time plans for a complete restoration were underway. The three sisters bought out the three brothers, and with that money Ed bought a house in Ohio. The other siblings remained living more or less locally, ranging from Alameda to Martinez to Guerneville. Eileen took on the role of managing the restoration project, and it took until 2018 before permits were approved and work could begin. In the interim, Patty and her sisters were able to get started on tasks like taking down doors for stripping and restoration, and taking down medallions for cleaning. In Part 1 of this series, we detailed much of the work that was done, and adding to that, the lower level was dug out to create an ADU, or Accessory Dwelling Unit. That unit is now occupied by tenants.
A visit to an Alameda Treasure
During my visit to 922 Lafayette Street, Patty showed me the new full bathroom (with glass shower stall) that was added to the first floor by taking the space formerly occupied by a fireplace in the front foyer and a hallway to the kitchen. Architect Alexandra Saikley came up with a graceful plan to approach a newly expanded rear kitchen via the main hallway to the right, and eliminate the serpentine hallway on the left that had made its way under the stairs before turning to enter the kitchen. A truism is that there are two things people want more today than they did in 1890—bigger kitchens and more bathrooms.
The project finally began in earnest in October 2018, and took until February 2021 to complete, an almost two-and-a-half-year process. At the time of completion, it was decided that Patty would move into the house, as the other siblings were already settled where they were, and didn’t have a desire to move. Patty was already living in a small house in Alameda, and so it was a more seamless move for her. After renting it out for a time, she sold her house on 9th street to her nephew Michael and his wife Emily, who were thrilled to be able to get a house in highly desirable Alameda. With the move back to Lafayette Street, the youngest child had returned to her childhood home, a place of so many memories and so much family history, brought back to a condition that Joseph A. Leonard would be proud of.
The six Queen Anne-style residences that Leonard built on the east side of this block in 1890-1891 all still stand, and the Devlin family home at 922 Lafayette Street is preserved in arguably the best original condition of them all. Many if not most of them have been used as multi-unit apartment buildings for decades, and so the original single-family configuration of the Devlin home also sets it apart from the others.
Ready for the next hundred years
The home is now owned jointly by the three sisters, and hosts family gatherings at Christmastime and on other occasions throughout the year. It was a massive and expensive effort to bring this historic home back to a condition to last for the next hundred years, and for that Patty Devlin and her team received an Alameda Architectural Preservation Society award in 2021. Thank you Patty, Eileen, Katie, and all of those involved in caring for and preserving this Alameda Treasure for all of us to enjoy from the outside, and your family to enjoy from the inside for decades to come.
Special thanks to owner Patty Devlin for her love of history and preservation, and for her openness to meeting with me and discussing her house. Through an in-person meeting and numerous emails and texts, she never failed to answer my questions quickly and thoroughly. Leave it to a teacher to be an excellent and reliable source of information!
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 AlamedaPost.com/Steve-Gorman.