Rengstorff House – The Victorian Beauty

GUEST BLOGGERS, Historic/Museums — By on May 25, 2011 at 01:25

Story by guest blogger Catherine Greti. Photos Copyright © Catherine Greti.

SAN FRANCISCO BAY is filled with wonderful areas to visit. In the lower part of the bay is Shoreline Park Mountain View. The park has many appealing features, including Shoreline Lake, but today let’s focus on a historic building within the park called Rengstorff House.

In April my husband and I were remembering over an early morning espresso that we used to walk or ride our bikes often at Shoreline Park. Since it was a warm and sunny morning we decided to drive over to the park. It was a pleasant walk from our car where we headed down the path and approached the northeast side of the lake. As we reminisced, we continued around it until we came up to the southeast side and the Shoreline Lake Aquatic Center and Cafe. Across the parking lot from that is Rengstorff House.

A Brief History

Henry Rengstorff

Henry Rengstorff

Henry Rengstorff grew up in Germany in the early 19th Century. Hearing stories of the California gold Rush, he left home at 21, sailing around Cape Horn and arriving in San Francisco in 1850. But he was too late to join the gold rush and he took a job on a Bay steamer that traveled between San Francisco and Alviso (San Jose).

He eventually left shipping to work as a farm laborer in the Santa Clara Valley (oh how that valley must have looked back then!) and saved up enough to purchase squatter’s rights to 290 acres in San Jose. He later bought another 290 acres, and eventually his total land holdings grew to 2,000 acres. In 1864 he bought 164 acres on the bay, east of what is now Shoreline Business Park, and there he built “The Victorian Beauty.” Built of virgin Redwood and Douglas Fir trees, it is the oldest known building in Mountain View. It was owned by generations of the Rengstorff family and relatives until sold in 1959.

The Spirit of the Times

The Spirit of the Times

“The Spirit of the Times” historical notes on a sign at the front of the house provided background on Henry’s life—family, home and industry. Back then his land was bustling with wagons loaded with goods headed for Rengstorff Landing. (An original journal of the landing was found when the house was restored.) It was one of four landings built to ship hay, grain and produce from the Santa Clara Valley’s fertile farmlands to markets in San Francisco. These landings were at the end of an embarcadero (pier) that connected to a deep slough where ships could easily reach the bay.

There was also passenger travel on the bay in the winter when the El Camino Real (Spanish for The Royal Road; also known as The King’s Highway) was so muddy that coach travel was uncomfortable.

The house was built in 1867 and was an example of the Bay Area’s late Victorian Italianate architecture. It was one of the most significant houses in Mountain View.

North Side of Rengstorff House

North Side of Rengstorff House

As we circled the property I tried to imagine what it must have been like back in Henry’s days. A young man with his wife, also German, who he married in 1857 and their seven children, carving out a memorable life together and making such an impact on the community.

Lace curtains

Lace curtains

The historical notes talked of the Rengstorff’s hosting weddings, parties, community gatherings and events for Henry’s burgeoning transport business. For me, intermingled with that romantic vision of a house alive with activity, were his children playing in the vast marshlands, which are very different today, of course.

The lace curtains in all the windows made me want to peek inside at the 19th century life. The docent tour was not available on the day we were there but I understand that the house reflects the 19th century pretty well inside—with the exception of modernized electricity, security and a functioning modern kitchen for events.

the vine-covered portico

the vine-covered portico


The water tank and donated windmill

The water tank and donated windmill

Adjacent to the kitchen area, we sat on the low stone wall in the back and gazed at the yard and the flower-covered portico over a back entrance, feeling soothed as we imagined a little time travel back to its beginnings.

We strolled around the side of the house where there was a water tank high up on a structure and a restored windmill, donated to Rengstorff House, that sits next to it. Following the path from the windmill it wound alongside a grassy garden area on the opposite side of the house to the portico. We sat on various benches in the garden and breathed in the rich scent of colorful blossoms.

The gardens at Rengstorff House

The gardens at Rengstorff House


The path to the picket fence

The path to the picket fence

The path beside the garden eventually ends up at a white picket fence that leads out toward Shoreline Lake. So we exited the 19th Century fantasy and strolled back into the modern world of cars, bikes, joggers and boat rentals.

Timeline of events

Timeline of events

At the time of his death at 77 Henry was one of the wealthiest and most respected people in the then young community of Mountain View. His memory lives on when you gaze upon the Rengstorff House that fell into disrepair in the 1950s, but was eventually restored.

The house was noted in the Register of Historic Places in 1978. Docents in period costume provide tours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays.

The Rengstorff House and surrounding park are a pleasant and peaceful way to spend a couple hours or a whole day.

Coming soon: A tour of the lake, marshlands, flora and fauna.

Rengstorff House Website

Catherine Greti

Catherine Greti

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Catherine Greti lives in the California Bay Area with her Canadian husband. She has lived most of her life on the US West Coast but has also lived for a while in both Canada and Australia. Photos of some of their travels, as well as some of Catherine’s other photographic interests, can be viewed at Catherine Greti Images.


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    5 Comments

  • Al McCartan says:

    A darn good article and good read, Catherine. I guess that’s what the pioneering spirit is about. and it has to be on my itinerary when I visit the West Coast. I notice that you have lived here in Oz. Milli lived on the North Coast of NSW almost a Queenslander. Where were you?
    I live in Bathurst in the NSW’s Central West – over the Blue Mountains. We have three main National Trust houses: Miss Traill’s House; Ben Chifley Home in Busby Street (home of our former PM and Abercrombie house (it has ghosts too).

    • Thanks Al, I’m glad you like it! Yes, I agree, that’s what the pioneering spirit is about. Arrive with $5.00 in the pocket and expand to make a huge impact on a whole area and people!

      I got the websites up to read of Miss Traill & Ben Chifley homes. Thanks for sharing them…

      When my husband and I lived in Australia in the early 90s we stayed one year on my parents property near Coffs Harbour, NSW.

      You be sure to look me up when you come to the West Coast. We’ll take you to the Rengstorff House!

      catherine

  • Hi Catherine,

    I’m a historic house junkie. Love taking the tours and seeing the intricate millwork. Back then people cared what the architecture of their living spaces looked like. Now we try and cover up the lack of detail with generic home goods.

    So many of these beauties fell into disrepair and often lost their lives. Glad folks had the vision and compassion to save the Rengstorff House!

    Love the grounds. Next time I visit SF, I’ll be sure to stop in. Italianate is probably my favorite architectural style.

    Thx, G.

    • Thanks for your comments Giulietta. I agree with you.

      I still have to go back to Rengstorff sometime and take the docent tour, hopefully they will let me photograph it. I will come back to Milliver’s Travels and post my findings.

      I’m sure you must have found a lot to visit in the SF area when you come here. We have lived here for 15 years and still find new places constantly.

      catherine

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