On a recent walk down Lafayette Street, in the heart of the old neighborhood known as “Leonardville,” I came across some wonderful homes that piqued my interest. Almost all of the houses on the 900 block were built in 1890 or 1891, and for this article, I decided to focus my attention on a particular gem, 922 Lafayette Street, a Queen Anne style residence built in 1890.
Leonard’s legacy in Alameda
In a May 2022 article in the Alameda Post, I wrote, “Walk the streets around Union, Lafayette, San Jose, Clinton and San Antonio, and you are in the heart of Leonardville. Unlike Marcuse & Remmel, who specialized in high basement cottages, Leonard built mainly two-story residences for a wealthier clientele.” Indeed, architect and builder Joseph A. Leonard (1849-1929) built seven homes on this block alone, all of them larger homes costing as much as $5000 each. At a time when a Queen Anne style cottage could be had for as little as $2000, this was a lot of money.
In his book A Home in Alameda, historian Woody Minor describes Leonard’s legacy: “Joseph Leonard’s principle legacy in Alameda is the residential neighborhood he created on the original southern shore east of Grand Street. Involving blocks of land and dozens of houses, it was the most ambitious project of his early career and the major shoreline development of 19th century Alameda. Newspapers described the neighborhood as ‘Leonardville,’ and the name had some currency in the 1890s—an eponymous honor not bestowed on any other builder in the city.”
Origins of 922 Lafayette Street
Leonardville grew around the Chestnut Station train stop on Encinal Avenue, and 922 Lafayette Street was conveniently located just a couple of blocks from the station. The original owner of the home is listed as “J. A. Leonard, real estate & insurance,” so it’s likely the home was built on spec, meaning there wasn’t a specific buyer on hand, but rather that Leonard assumed he would find a buyer or renter sometime after construction was completed. The original cost of this home was $3350.
Fast forward to the early 1960s, when the family of current owner Patricia Devlin purchased the home. Patty remembers growing up in Alameda as one of six children, enjoying a vibrant neighborhood full of kids playing everywhere, and lagoons just down at the end of the block. Between public access to the lagoons, summer block parties (one was headlined by rocker Eddie Money), and elaborate scavenger hunts in the old house at Easter, it was a magical time to grow up.
Time for restoration
The decades went on, the children grew up, and with Patty now residing in her childhood home once again, she and her siblings—all living locally—decided to restore the home to its 19th century grandeur. Although in need of work, the house still retained many of its original Victorian-era details: ceiling medallions, Lincrusta wall coverings, and quirky little porches on the second floor. Much care was taken to respect the home’s original style as the front bay windows were restored, exterior shingles replaced to reflect their original design, and decorative stucco repaired in the upper gables. The brick foundation was replaced, with the vintage bricks reused as landscaping and in the backyard patio. The front porch was restored, including new stairs and railings. In a further sign of attention to detail, the newel posts on the porch stairway were custom crafted to match those of the interior staircase. The stained glass in the transom over the front door was also repaired.
A call to England
The original Lincrusta wall coverings in the entry ended up being kept intact, after a call to England revealed that the pattern was no longer made by the company. From the Lincrusta company website: “Heralded as the first washable wallcovering, Lincrusta was an instant success, replacing painstaking artisan plasterwork and appealing to Victorian England’s tastes because of its sanitary properties as well as its beauty, practicality and durability.”
Kollmeyer to the rescue
Described by 7×7 magazine as “the last remaining guardian of Victorian plaster ornaments,” artisan Lorna Kollmeyer has for the past 40 years dedicated herself to crafting the delicate, intricate medallions, scrolls, rosettes, cartouches and plaques that bejewel the painted ladies of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Operating out of a shop at Hunter’s Point Shipyard, Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster is the last remaining repository of this once thriving artistic trade. She is another Bay Area Treasure, worthy of an article all her own.
Homeowner Patty Devlin remembered Kollmeyer’s name from a talk she’d previously given, hosted by the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS), and this led to hiring her for the 922 Lafayette Street restoration. It was important to Patty that the original plaster medallions and other decorative elements be restored, so they were all removed and meticulously cleaned before re-installing. For those that were damaged, molds were made of the originals and they were recast. Kollmeyer observed that she had never seen some of the designs in this home, and upon completion of the project, she added these designs to her collection and named it “Lafayette,” after the house. In the end, they were able to save, refurbish and reuse most of the original baseboards and molding, and, where this was not possible, custom pieces were created to match the original.
Old touches and new conveniences
While the old home still retains charming Victorian-era touches like the original laundry chute (no longer in use), certain nods to the current era have been made. These include expanding the kitchen, which once was a small room with few windows and an enclosed porch blocking the view. The old, uninsulated porch was removed and turned into a large, light-filled kitchen overlooking the back garden.
A rewarding experience
For her dedicated and persistent efforts in preserving this Joseph A. Leonard masterpiece, owner Patty Devlin and her crew received an AAPS Preservation award in 2021. Award recipients also included Alexandra Saikley, Saikley Architects; Lorna Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster; Aurora Painting, exterior painters. The house that Patty grew up in, and that Joseph Leonard built as part of his “Leonardville” neighborhood more than 132 years ago, still stands tall and beautiful, ready for Patty’s family to enjoy for many more years to come.
Inspiration for this story came from a random walk down Lafayette Street, and reading this AAPS article: 922 Lafayette Street.
Further information was gleaned from George C. Gunn’s book, Documentation of Victorian and Post Victorian Residential and Commercial Buildings, City of Alameda, 1854 to 1904, available through the Alameda Museum.
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.