Frances M. Stieper has lived on North Rengstorff Avenue for more than 50 years, witnessing Mountain View’s transformation from its agricultural roots to the tech powerhouse the city is today. A web of flora and fauna hides the cottage she built with her husband, and passers-by might not notice it amid the neighborhood’s clutter of convenience stores and auto repair shops — if it weren’t for the workers carting away debris from the driveway.
Soon, however, the 1.22-acre property will be home to a new community park.
Faced with other options for the land, including developing it as a site for an affordable housing project, the City Council voted last month to make it all open space. The city bought the property for $3 million and plans to spend between $1.5 million and $2.5 million to develop the park. Annual maintenance is expected to cost about $16,000.
It’s an investment council members were eager to make because they agree that Mountain View needs more parks. Open space accounts for nearly a quarter of Palo Alto, but only one-eighth of Mountain View. The Rengstorff Planning Area, where the Stieper cottage stands, is especially park-deprived — and has the highest residential density in Mountain View, according to the city’s 2008 Parks and Open Space Plan.
The area is bordered by Highway 101, Permanente Creek, Rengstorff Avenue, Central Expressway, Middlefield Road and the Palo Alto city boundary.
“Especially with the way Mountain View is being built up these days, our open space is going and going and going, so people need a place of sanctuary,” Councilman Jac Siegel said. He imagines the North Rengstorff site near Old Middlefield Way as a place where “you can sit, you can walk, you can eat your lunch and just enjoy yourself.”
There is no shortage of ideas. Some residents want a community garden in the park, saying there is a four- to five-year waiting list for the existing Willowgate Community Garden. Google representatives, whose headquarters are about a mile away, have suggested a teaching kitchen in partnership with the local community.
Frances Stieper, who is in her nineties, plans to live there until next month. Then, city officials said, her old house will be removed and the council will hire a consultant to draft a specific plan for the site. Designating the land for a park will ensure that the area meets minimum city goals for open space, according to city documents.
One thing is certain: The Immigrant House, which stood at 166 Bryant St. and is now in storage, will have a new home on the North Rengstorff property. The quaint, 14-by-20-foot house was constructed in the late 19th century. It’s become a historic landmark for many people whose ancestors came to Mountain View generations ago.
Mary Kay “Marina” Marinovich is one such person. Her Croatian grandparents were reunited at the house after 16 years of separation as they scrimped and saved to share a life together in the United States. Marinovich said she was compelled to step forward when she realized the council was considering demolishing her family’s home.
“History isn’t just about preserving the rich people’s things. It’s also preserving the common men’s. The golden chalice gets passed down from generation to generation,” she said. “The tin cup – you never see that, so that’s what makes [the Immigrant House] so special.”
Restoring it is her next challenge. Friends of Immigrant House aim to raise at least $10,000 through community donations, sponsored by the Los Altos Community Foundation.
The house could be turned into a museum or be used as garden storage. Marinovich said she remembers growing up in orchards of apricot and cherry trees, so she hopes the house will serve as a snapshot of her hometown’s agrarian history.
“I think the idea of preserving history is very important,” Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga said. “There’s a saying: You have to understand the past to know your future path.”
Setting aside the property for a park takes some pressure off the city for open space, but doesn’t alleviate its need for more affordable housing. Council members said they concluded that the North Rengstorff site is not the place for such a development.
“Many seniors are just being squeezed out of affordable housing. For a younger person that can be difficult, but for an older person, that can be near impossible because seniors are so dependent on things like social support, medical support,” said Tom Myers, the executive director of the Community Services Agency in Mountain View. “Overall, the city does a good job addressing affordable housing as a need. Is there ever going to be enough? I don’t think so.”