City Council Parks & Rec

Halsey House Restoration – shocking 202 person occupancy

Redwood Grove or Halsey House. Do we really want both? Or just one. Los Altos
Will active recreation programming at a $5M Halsey House degrade the Redwood Grove experience?
Written by lalahpolitico

The consultant Architectural Resources Group (ARG) hired by the City of Los Altos in August 2019 to evaluate the Halsey House at Redwood Grove and to ‘certify’ that the ‘local historical landmark’ has remaining ‘historical significance and integrity’ has put forth a restoration plan based on a 202 person occupant load.

Previous studies found that a teardown and new building with the same 3,500 square feet as Halsey House would be 25% to 33% of the cost of restoring Halsey House.

Besides cost, there are numerous other issues with the Restoration ‘plan’.

It assumes an active recreation program with occupancy of 202 and that is inconsistent with the Master Plan for the Redwood Grove Nature Preserve. There is no consideration of site improvement costs like sewers or adding even just ADA parking spots. The HRI score for Halsey House has fallen from 95 to 73, way below qualifying for a local landmark designation. The House is in the most dangerous flood zone AE. A building of the size of Halsey House is unneeded for the popular City summer camps…

Read more.

Save Redwood Grove
– Halt Halsey House Restoration Plan

The consultant Architectural Resources Group (ARG) hired by the City of Los Altos in August 2019 to evaluate the Halsey House at Redwood Grove and to affirm that the ‘eligible’ ‘local historical landmark’ has remaining historical significance and integrity has put forth a restoration plan based on a 202 person occupant load. See page 42.   Here’s the ~150 page City/ARG report.

Unlike the 2015 study by Sandoval, a study that quotes a 2008 City Staff cost estimate for restoration of $1.5 – 2M dollars, ARG does not include any cost estimate at all. In 2015 Sandoval suggested that rather than restoration, the City could consider the alternative of a teardown at $250,000 and a new 3,500 sq. ft building at $0.5M dollars [in 2008 prices]. This would be a fraction of the expense of a restoration – only 1/4 to 1/3.  Note the 2008 City staff restoration estimate of $2M is only for the building, not all the site work that is needed according to Sandoval.  Here’s the Sandoval Report. 

The 2019 ARG report is just a compendium of restoration what to do’s and how to do its – per Preservation Guidelines – to the deteriorated building, closed since 2008. The City did not have to pay for the 2019 ARG report because it obtained a grant from the Federal Trust – aka the federal historic preservation bureaucracy. But the next step for the City – getting a cost estimate from a ‘qualified preservation contractor’ – may cost money? It seems likely that any 2020 estimate to implement the 2019 ARG plan will well exceed the $2M 2008 estimate reported by Sandoval. Prepare for sticker shock.

Sandoval 2015 report on Halsey House

Above Sandoval 2015 quotes a 2008 City Staff report which estimated an entire ‘renovation’ of Halsey House would cost $1.5-2M.

Lalahpolitico: The problems with the 2019 ARG proposed preservation are legion:

FIRST, With the new Civic Center, the Garden House, and Grant Park Room, arguably there is no need for another ‘meeting room’ which a reopened Halsey House might provide at up to 202 occupancy load.  If a little nature center is desired, it could be installed at the Garden House’s first floor. Alternatively, in 2009 staff proposed a modest 450 square-foot LEED-certified, rustic-looking nature center building for 30 or so occupants at a time. The  City has been successfully running its popular summer camp program at Redwood Grove without using a building for a decade.  If the City wants to upgrade that arrangement, perhaps simply install a temporary yurt tent and some porta-potties each summer.  It’s called camping!

SECOND, Is the City going to spend $4-5M [lalah swag] on a building that will have hardly any visitors?  The neighbors have not agreed to have an intensive active recreation program there. They have not agreed to the renting of rooms for private meetings, such as occurs at the City’s Neutra House – a historic landmark.   They have not agreed to having cars of oodles of visitors regularly parking along their streets’ curbs.

THIRD, It’s in a FEMA AE flood zone – the worst kind. Should the city spend millions on a Halsey House preservation and watch it wash away some winter?

FOURTH, The Halsey House  HRI Kalman score has fallen from 95 in 1981 to 73 in 2009.  A score of 85 or better is required for local historical landmark status. Apparently, Halsey House has lost its landmark status. [Lalahpolitico: How did it ever get a 95?]

FINALLY, Lalah predicts the majority of residents of the City of Los Altos – whether they are immediate Halsey House neighbors or not – will prefer to simply Save Redwood Grove from the intrusion of an active recreation program. Such a use does not seem consistent with the 1980 Redwood Grove Master Plan.  Does the silent majority just prefer demolishing the graffiti and rat magnet that is Halsey House asap, and using the $4-5M  on the Garden House, Grant Park, Woodland library or a new police station…to name a few better uses of the money.

WHAT’S NEXT:   The City History Commission was scheduled to receive the 2019 ARG report at its meeting Oct. 28, 2019. Perhaps they will ask City Council to direct staff and city funds towards finding a restoration architect(s) to develop a cost estimate for the flawed 2019 ARG restoration plan.

TABLE: Key Restoration Plan Elements
Sandoval 2015 vs. ARG 2019

Table comparing a 2015 vs. a 2019 Halsey House Restoration Plan

The 2019 ARG report does not consider parking spaces and fire engine access. ARG wants to save ALL the deteriorated windows and doors, while Sandoval in 2015 calls them economically unsalvageable. Etc. [Update: Apparently their is now an easement from Manresa Lane along the creek into the property a fire engine could use, but no roadway for it. There is an unappealing footpath alongside a tall chain link fence. I guess the engine can just roll down the creek bank]

Both the 2015 and 2019 studies claim to be following official state restoration guidelines.  But they come up with rather different restoration solutions. The 2019 ARG list looks like a low-ball restoration plan omitting many items suggested in the Sandoval report. Because the narrow scope of the work of the ARG study was determined by a small group of ‘local historians/radical preservationists’, it ignores the big needs: namely, site improvements, a new foundation, and roof. Instead, it focuses on historic eye-candy like restoring the old windows.  Lalahpolitico: And those restored old windows will never be energy efficient. But radical preservationists really enjoy them. Costs, convenience, comfort, and durability be damned.

Photo Gallery – Conditions May 2019 – from ARG report

Kitchens & Bathrooms

Both the ARG and Sandoval plans ditch the old kitchens and bathrooms and would install totally modern kitchens and restrooms. But only Sandoval would build a separate building for the restrooms apparently making them available to users of the park. [Is that a good idea or a bad idea?] He would regrade the west side hill there…finally. This has been the No. 1 advice of all consultants since 1980 who all point out ‘water runoff intrusion’ from the hillside.

Halsey House 2015 Sandoval restoration floor plan

Halsey House – 2015 Sandoval report’s suggested floor plan for restoration. Note the 95 persons occupant load suggested by the seating depicted. Note the separate public restrooms building along a new exterior walkway. This is the location where the building abuts the hillside. All Halsey Reports since 1980 have called regrading the site here urgent! It has not happened yet.

Windows & Doors

Sandoval 2015 would replace all windows and doors with new ones. ARG wants all windows and doors 32 inches or wider [the minimum ADA width] painstakingly restored by hand in situ.  In 2015 Sandoval found the windows and doors “beyond economically permissible for salvage limits.”

Lalahpolitico: Our City Council Member Anita Enander has strong opinions about old windows. She loves them. So if you have them in your home, she’d prefer you keep them, especially the front-facing ones. [Would anyone walking down the street notice a difference?] Lalah has heard Ms. Enander chide a private property owner who had replaced some old windows with new ones. Thereafter he was seeking a historic designation for his old house, presumably to lower his property taxes.  As I recall the request was denied following the recommendation of the History Commission. The owner probably had made other excessive, history-destroying alternations. So fine.

Recall how these past couple of years, both Council Member Enander and Mayor Lynette Lee Eng have been constantly advocating for shifting city funding from the Hillview Civic Center project to projects like the Halsey House.  Perhaps we will all find out together at some council meeting soon, if council members Enander and Eng love radical preservation so much that they are on board with the 2019 ARG plan for Halsey House! 

excerpt from 2015 Sandoval Report Halsey House 2019

In 2015 Sandoval planned for all new windows and doors because the existing ones were ‘beyond permissible economical salvage limits.’

Needed Site Improvements for Active Recreation Use

The 2015 Sandoval report considers what site improvements are needed for an active recreation program and so should the City now. They are out of the scope of the 2019 ARG report – which is very narrowly about a restoration.  Sandoval’s recommended site improvements include adding ADA and staff parking, widening the roadway for 2-way traffic and replacing the bridge to handle a fire-engine, adding a fire hydrant,  and adding a sewer line to replace the 1980 septic tank.

Lalahpolitco:  Hold onto your wallet. More sticker shock coming up! A year or so after this 2015 report, the water district provided an easement from Manresa Lane into the rear of the Redwood Grove property. So perhaps the Sandoval recommended bridge improvement for a fire-engine has become a “nice-to-have.”  However, no roadway on the easement has been created to my knowledge. There is a fire-hydrant near the Redwood Grove info-kiosk as of 2017.





It’s a Flood Zone!

The 2015 Sandoval report calls out the flood danger issue.  Sandoval correctly explains that ‘historic structures’ don’t have to comply [with FEMA rules about foundation piers being eight foot tall and allowing water and debris like logs to pass underneath].  But then he suggests that on the other hand, maybe the City should comply, or at least should mitigate or avoid the risk.

Are we feeling lucky? Are we ready to watch $5M [lalah swag]  of restoration wash down the river?


Here is a map Lalah prepared last year that shows Halsey House in the worst kind of flood zone. This is kind of zone up along the Guerneville River where FEMA is now requiring all homes to built on top of 8-foot piers.


Halsey House 2019 is in a flood zone. How much City investment should be made here.?

Halsey House is in the worst kind of FEMA flood zone – AE. The wide red lines denote the driveways/roadways to the Halsey House in the center and also the one to the Garden House at the top.  Will millions of dollars of spending on Halsey House just be swept away in an extreme climate event – a flood?

Kalman HRI Score Declines, 85 cut off for landmark status

What is the Kalman Score?


An excerpt from a 2009 City meeting report says the orginal 1981 HRI score of 95 was under review.

In 1981, Halsey House was apparently in reasonable shape and garnered a 95 score. It was well above the 85 needed for landmark status. The 2009 staff report suggested that if the HRI score remained 85 or higher – Local Landmark Status –  the task force and city council might take the direction of building preservation. However, if there were a significant reduction in the score, a wider variety of options should be considered.

Another 2009 meeting report says the
HRI Kalman score did indeed sink to 73

The study found that bringing Halsey House up to California Building Code E Educational occupancy requirements for children was imprudent due to the economics and extent of alterations needed.

Lalahpolitico: In other words, Halsey House had a ‘too low’ Kalman score in 2009. How is it possible that the score would be higher now in 2019?

Will a 202 occupancy load at Halsey House
or even a 95 occupancy load
degrade Redwood Grove Park?

The Sandoval 2015 report thoughtfully ponders the Carrying  Capacity of this “rare spot of beauty in the city of Los Altos.”  Is a year-round active recreation program at Halsey House “appropriate to the resource” aka appropriate to Redwood Grove Park?

Lalahpolitico: The 6-acre park is valued by the many because of the beauty of Redwood Grove. Only the very few value the Halsey House. Are 50 – 500 noisy, radical preservationists going to succeed in spending as much as $5M of our property taxes?  The Halsey House has middling aesthetics at best, and it is an unwelcome intrusion in this little gem of a park. It would be great if it could be removed so the children don’t have to be exposed to asbestos, rodent feces-urine, and graphiti.

In the excerpt above, the 2015 Sandoval report questions whether needed site improvements for an active recreation facility would survive an Environmental Impact Report. Lalah questions whether the site improvements and 202 person active recreation programming would survive neighbor scrutiny. Save Redwood Grove – Halt Halsey House.

Los Altos Politico Bottomline

If you care about Redwood Grove Nature Preserve and you care about wasting taxpayer money…Save Redwood Grove – Halt Halsey House.

This post makes the case that restoring Halsey House as a building for active City recreation programming serving up to 202 building occupants at a time is inconsistent with the 1980 Redwood Grove Master Plan, even as amended.

We will all be watching what City Council does next when the item gets on a meeting agenda…it’s now 11 years since the building was closed to the public. My money is on the radical preservationists securing further delay of the inevitable.

Three views of the Halsey House Exterior. There are numerous old 1915-1945 Eclectic Spanish Revival houses in the University – Orange Ave. area of Los Altos and throughout California and Florida. And then there are all the new ones in Los Altos in this same style. Abby Ahrens, local architect,  has built quite a few attractive ones throughout Los Altos in this style in the last couple of decades.


Read about the Kalman Score – The Evaluation of Historic Building –  used to evaluate the Halsey House over the years.  The criteria start on page 14

May 12, 2009 Staff and Redwood Grove TF Report to City Council – Lalah made some markups

Sandoval 2015 Report   – with Lalah markups, contains the 2008 Morris Halsey House Conditions Report as an attachment

ARG 2019 Report on City Website – with a staff report in front of the main report – Large file with lots of photos

PHOTO: In 2009 City Staff proposed a small rustic building to use as a nature center, replacing a demolished Halsey House. The picture offers an example of a small nature center built in the Pearson-Astradero Preserve. It belongs to the City of Palo Alto. The building proposed by staff would have been around 450 square feet accomdating 30 persons.  It would have replaced 3,500 square feet accommodating 100 to 200 persons. The ‘built’ footprint in Redwood Grove Nature Preserve would have been lowered quite a bit. It did not happen then. The public and the neighbors can decide if a even a very small nature center building in Redwood Grove is desired or not. An alternative proposal is to place a nature center on ground floor of the Garden House at Shoup Park after the new Hillview Community Center opens in 2021.

Halsey House alternative at Redwood Grove, a 20 by 20 nature center for up to 30 persons.

In the future, Redwood Grove could have no buildings at all…or maybe a very small nature center like this.

About the author


Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past several years.