The Real Dirtt: The Stahlmans Are One Historic Act That Should be Easy to Follow

October 6, 2017
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The Stahlmans’ home offers a beautiful view of Kuns Park.

LA VERNE, California, October 6, 2017 — In 2010, when Bill and Karla Stahlman moved into their more than 100-year old (1912) Craftsman bungalow at 1635 5th Street, looking south out at historic Kuns Park in La Verne, they could have applied for the Mills Act, a contract between them and the city that would have made them eligible for an annual property tax reduction of between 40 to 60 percent in exchange for the continued preservation of their home.


Although receiving those yearly tax savings would seem like a no-brainer, they didn’t apply — at least at first.


“We thought that whatever improvements we wanted to make the city would dictate to us in a really strict manner what they could be,” Bill said. “We feared we would have to ask permission for everything we wanted to do.


“I really didn’t want anybody telling me what to do,” added Bill, an independent flooring contractor.


Over time, however, they found that their concerns about regulatory overreach were misplaced.


“We found that the city is really more of a partner than an enemy,” Bill said, referring to how the city uses the Mills act not as a cudgel but as an incentive program to foster pride of ownership, urban renewal, affordable housing, energy conservation, heritage tourism, and a host of other benefits.


Their other fear that researching the historical and architectural significance of their home, which is required as part of their Mills Act application, would be an overwhelming and burdensome task also proved not to be true.


“The process wasn’t complicated,” said Karla, a landscape designer.


The Craftsman bungalow lifestyle.

In Bill and Karla’s case, they had a headstart on their home’s history almost from the time escrow closed on their home on Christmas Eve, 2009.


Early into the new year, Galen and Doris Beery of the La Verne Historical Society walked up their driveway and knocked on their door. Between them and Bill Lemon, another LVHS member, and the City of La Verne, the Stahlmans began learning about their home’s previous occupants and other little nuggets of history unique to their home.


When Howard Taft was president of the United States, Laurence G. Calkins, a city engineer, pulled permits to build a house there in 1912.


In the 1940s, Ray and Martha (Marty) Cullen lived there. Ray had been principal of the La Verne Grammar School, and had used one of the rooms toward the front of the house, divided by since-removed pocket doors, as his counseling office. Clients entered from the front porch. (Even then it seems, people worked two jobs to make ends meet.)


The home must have been good luck for the Cullens because Marty lived to 103 and Ray to 99.


The Stahlmans purchased their home from the estate of Mrs. Glenice H. Perrin who had lived at 1635 5th St. for more than 60 years (1948 to 2009). She was a longtime teacher of home economics at Lincoln (now Roynon) School.


From the Cullens’ son, Roger, the Stahlmans learned that Glenice, getting on in years, had moved into a nursing facility after falling in the home and breaking her hip.


“She was very unhappy,” Karla said, picking up the story, so the family brought her home. Her bedroom is where the hallway is now. After being home for one hour, she passed.”


Learning about the former residents, as well as how the house accommodated them in a different era, has deepened the Stahlmans’ appreciation of the home they live in today and further connected them to their community.


There was the photograph of the portico over their driveway that has long since been torn down. Another showed a freak 1949 snowstorm in La Verne. Each photograph or document rescued from the past offered another fragment of the home’s history over which the Stahlmans are now the chief custodians.


After making so many improvements to their home that were in keeping with the integrity and character of the structure, and after attending a recent presentation by the City of La Verne, the Stahlmans finally decided to apply for Mills Act status.


“I was amazed at how many people showed up for the meeting,” Karla said.


But the truth is, only about one or two La Verne residents a year actually follow through an apply for the Mills Act, which remains the single most important economic incentive program in California for the restoration and preservation of qualified historic buildings by private property owners.


In submitting their application and having it approved earlier this year by the La Verne City Council, the Stahlmans had to agree to a number of requirements and guidelines — like not installing “fake” siding, non-original windows, manufactured stone and other “remuddles” —  but again they were already observing many of these common-sense restrictions.


Mills Act contracts are for 10 years initially, with automatic yearly extensions, and these contracts stay with the property when transferred. Subsequent owners are bound by the contract and have the same rights and obligations as the original owner who entered into the contract.


“I can’t imagine anybody buying one of these Mills Act homes and not feeling some kind of allegiance to the history of the home,” Bill said. “You’re a custodian of this house.”


Bill and Karla have proved more than adequate property stewards. Since moving in, they replaced the roof, plumbing and electrical, relined the fireplace, and installed new heating and air, along with dual-pane windows and weather-stripping. Now they are building a new three-car garage and workshop also in the Craftsman style. After that, they plan to replace the shake siding that has been crumbling away.


Per their Mills Act contract, the Stahlmans must annually file a report with the city of La Verne, listing current and future repairs. Again, it’s a simply process.


Interestingly, just because a home is historic like the Stahlmans’ doesn’t automatically guarantee that it will “qualify” for Mills Act status.


A qualified historic property is one listed on any federal, state, county, or city register, including the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources, California Historical Landmarks, State Points of Historical Interest and locally designated landmarks. Both owner-occupied family residences and income-producing commercial properties may qualify.


The Stahlmans’ home is located in La Verne’s historic Lordsburg district.


If their home, however, had been remuddled into such an unrecognizable style, it may not have qualified. In 1970, a loft with aluminum windows was added to the 1635 Fifth Street home. The Stahlmans called it “the iceberg” because of the way it stuck out and betrayed the home’s Craftsman heritage. They have since modified the upstairs so it has become a more traditional two-story.


Since the Stahlmans are La Verne’s newest Mill Acts owners, they have yet to see their first property tax reduction, which is based on a complex four-part formula containing interest, historical, amortization, and property tax components, but the savings are expected to come.


In the meantime, the Stahlmans will continue to look out at leafy Kuns Park from their constantly improving bungalow while the families and picnickers at the park can appreciate their historic, well-tended home and the many others surrounding La Verne’s public green.


For more about the Mills Act, real estate and other local housing issues, reach out to Colleen Bennett, (Sotheby’s International Realty) DRE#01013172

A longtime La Verne Realtor… Call Coll at 626.344.0907.

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