House With a History
Infamous Alameda Victorian Goes From Ruins to Riches
In 1895, a family purchased a brand- new Queen Anne Victorian at 2029 Central Ave. in Alameda for the royal sum of $4,380, a majestic multistoried house outfitted with a turret, archway and bay windows. After World War II, though, many homes were needed for returning soldiers, and in keeping with the national trend of converting estates into apartments, the four-level house followed suit and was converted into a nine-unit apartment building. The building’s lively activity came to a halt about 40 years later, however, when the building fell victim to a bitter property dispute in a divorce. The once-lavish house was abandoned, saved for a caretaker, and neglected as the owners battled over the asset.
“You could ask anyone in Alameda about 2029 Central, and they’d know exactly what house you were talking about,” says Farhad Matin, a local property investor. “It was infamous.”
Since moving to the Island in 1988 from Virginia (he was born in Kabul), Matin, an Encinal High School alumnus and current resident of Harbor Bay, had his eye on the house. What was a passing fascination as a kid turned into determination when he and out-of-state investment partner Benjamin Heldfond formed a property management company, BenHad Properties, in 2007. “Though Benjamin’s based in Florida, I have a vested interest in where Alameda is headed. My wife, Khalila, works at a hair salon here. We’re raising our boys here,” says the 39-year-old father of two.
When the Victorian went on the market in 2007, he lunged at the chance to buy and restore it. Only problem was, it would repeatedly go off the market as quickly as it went on, an unfortunate consequence of the embroiled owners’ inability to agree to sell. “We wrote two different offers to two different selling agents that went nowhere,” says Matin.
Matin waited patiently, even parking in front of the house with the hopes that one of the out-of-town owners would stop by. He introduced himself to every real estate agent in town as the man who wanted that building. In 2012 he received the call he’d been waiting for—the house was for sale, for real.
Where other potential buyers saw ugly, Matin and Heldfond saw great potential in the solid redwood structure. Once the deal closed, the renovation team, which included up to 50 people on any given day, took three months to restore the building’s Victorian grandeur with the additions of elegant, modern-day apartment-living touches Matin and Helfond wanted for prospective tenants. The original wood floors, banisters, molding and pocket doors were sanded and repainted. The nearly 120-year-old double-hung windows that were stuck in place were salvaged so they function easily. Three 1930s stoves were refurbished and installed in three of the units’ kitchens. Old sinks were polished back to life. Claw-foot bathtubs—one of which dates back to the early 1900s—were restored to mint condition.
When the crew was insulating the walls, they found a partially burned newspaper from 1915 stuffed inside. “We framed it and put it in the lobby,” says Matin. “It drives home how old this house really is and helps put into context who lived here long before we arrived.”
Details that weren’t restored, such as the old linoleum counters and floors, were replaced with materials to reflect the building’s era. Granite counters, refurbished kitchen cabinets, white floor tiles, glass shower enclosures and hardware from Restoration Hardware f offer an updated feel in sync with the building’s vintage style. “You’re not going to find a cheap, made-in-China kitchen in these units,” offers Matin. “With every building we rehab, we use high-quality, eco-friendly materials that work in harmony with the building. We’re known for spending more money on one light fixture than most landlords spend on an entire unit.”
And don’t expect what Matin calls “garlic walls” to prevail. “Property owners are always painting their walls that off-white color. When everyone plays it safe, the community lacks personality. In here we’ve got crisp white walls and white trim,” he says. “It’s dramatic.”
So, too, is the black-and-white exterior. The walls, stairs and trim painted by J&M Painting of Oakland provide a canvas for the graffiti-style adornments by San Francisco-based street artist Victor Reyes. Over the course of five days, Reyes was equipped with a boom lift, 50 cans of spray and brush paint and a rough sketch from which he improvised freehandedly. “This was my first project of this small scale, and in Alameda,” says the artist known for his sweeping designs on large urban buildings.
Matin, who named the apartment building The Sasson after his youngest son, admits he was nervous about the public’s reaction to the graffiti that strays from surrounding houses’ traditional decor. But that quickly dissipated as passersby steadily stopped to take pictures and thank Matin for his financial and aesthetic contribution to the city.
While the $975,000 sale price and additional $200,000 dollars worth of improvements are significantly more than the original purchase price, the Victorian at 2029 Central Ave. has proved a safe bet for Matin and Heldfond, who are looking toward their next conquest.
“We’re not sure what it’ll be yet,” says Matin. “We’d like to go into the old naval base, and the neighbors keep asking if we’ll rehab another rundown house. Let’s just say we’ve got our feelers out.”