In Petaluma development, 17 new homes, 1 really old one

A luxury home project is saving a 126-year-old house.|

As Petaluma adds new homes to its housing stock, it is getting a second life out of one of its oldest. Developer Lafferty Communities is restoring an 1893 farmhouse on the western edge of Petaluma as part of its 18-home Aspect development.

The Sunnyslope Road project on 8.62 acres will include 17 new custom built luxury homes and the revamped house built by Alfred Neunfeldt, a German who immigrated to the U.S. in 1880. The Neunfeldt family raised chickens on the property and later had an auto repair business in Petaluma.

The one-story house stayed in the Neunfeldt family for more than 100 years until Lafferty purchased the property in 2007. By then, the vacant home had experienced severe decay, and the developer hopes to improve it while keeping the character defining features of the structure, according to Hannah Maschwitz, a spokesperson for Lafferty Communities.

“The farmhouse was deteriorating but had cool architectural features,” she said.

The double-hipped roof on the dormer, the rounded porch supports, the decorative brackets below the dormer roof and at the corners of the house under the roofline, and the bay windows will all be retained, she said.

Heritage Homes of Petaluma found the home to be of local significance.

“The house has been owned by one family since its construction, and that alone makes it historically significant for Petaluma,” Heritage Homes wrote. “The age of the house and the architectural details designate it as worth preserving, and Heritage Homes urges that the structure not be demolished.”

Katherine Rinehart, manager of history and genealogy at the Sonoma County Library and a previous volunteer with Heritage Homes, mentioned the house in her 2005 book “Petaluma: A History in Architecture.” She said she was glad the Neunfeldt house is being preserved.

“We’ve been advocating for the retention of the house since 2004,” she said. “It’s exciting after all this that the house is being retained. It will add character to the development.”

The house’s round columns, Victorian-style porch and dormer, Italianate bay window and other architectural flourishes will be incorporated into the other homes in Petaluma’s newest housing development that is currently under construction, Maschwitz said. The new 3,000 to 4,000 square-foot homes will start at $1.3 million, she said.

“It’s a really cute neighborhood,” she said. “Behind it is a ton of rolling hills.”

The houses are under construction and should be ready for move in starting this summer.

As Petaluma is ringed by farms and ranches, it is not uncommon for old farmhouses to become incorporated into new developments when the city expands. Several homes on the east side were preserved or restored as part of housing developments, including one at Avila Ranch, and the historic Hansen home at the North McDowell Commons development.

On the west side, the Ellis-Martin farmhouse, a 1908 Craftsman designed by local architect Brainerd Jones on East Washington Street, was restored as part of a development. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

A historic home at 200 West St. was preserved adjacent to the Keller Court Commons neighborhood.

Restoration of a Corona Road farmhouse was proposed as part of a 30-home project, but the city council in 2015 declined to annex the land for the development.

In other instances, like the Brody Ranch development on Corona Road, where an old farmhouse was torn down to make way for new homes, preservation is not a priority for the developer.

“Your average home builder doesn’t claim to be a historic preservationist,” Rinehart said. “The community needs to step in and say we can have both new houses and historic houses. There needs to be an appreciation for that.”

Contact Matt Brown at

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