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A Doll's House


The tiniest house on the tiniest lot still carries a sizable price tag--the cost of an address in a genteel historical neighborhood

By Clarence Cromwell

About a minute after I drive up to the little cottage on Nicholson Avenue in Los Gatos, I want it. There's a hedge behind the little white picket fence and a bay window that looks out on the street.

Los Gatos architect Gary Schloh wants to show me the house because he believes he's not only built the smallest house in Santa Clara County, but built it on the smallest lot, too.

Schloh is just about swelling with pride as he leads me and a potential owner through the 514-square-foot house to point out the granite kitchen counters, custom-made wooden window frames, the 13-foot-high "cathedral ceilings." I find myself mentally arranging furniture and building bookcases, transforming this little cottage into a first-rate bachelor pad.

I wonder aloud what the owner will get for this house. Not only is it within one minute of North Santa Cruz Avenue, the heart of the town's shopping and night life, but it's also in the Almond Grove historical neighborhood.

"About $292,000," says Louis Darosa, who already has the house in escrow. As I politely choke back a gasp of astonishment, Darosa tells me how relieved he was to get into Los Gatos so cheap.

The house was expensive to build, partly because of the high-quality materials, Schloh explains. Also, small buildings tend to cost more per square foot because they need the same number of kitchen appliances and plumbing fixtures, except they're, well, smaller.

Apparently, hordes of people would like to have a house, any house, in Los Gatos, especially in Almond Grove.

This house wasn't even advertised, except for being listed with real estate services; even so, the seller, Barbara Herlihy, received hundreds of calls, she tells me later when I phone.

"There is nothing in Los Gatos under four or five hundred thousand, in that area," Herlihy says. She also happens to be a real estate broker.

Herlihy bought the property about 10 years ago, a 1920s granny shack that used to be associated with the house next door. After a 1996 fire, Herlihy hired Schloh for what she thought was a new roof, plus a few repairs. Eventually, Schloh learned that he'd have to completely rebuild the decrepit cottage, which he did, and Herlihy decided to sell rather than move back in.

Enter Darosa, general manager of the San Jose restaurant Gervais. He's single--which will help. He doesn't currently have any large pets; he says he won't mind stashing a fold-up bed in the bedroom so it can become a den most of the time; and he doesn't plan to have big parties. Perfect.

Darosa wanted to get into Almond Grove so bad that he offered Herlihy what she asked for the house before it was even built, he said, reasoning that it was better to risk shoddy work than to wait and let someone else snap up the property.

"I didn't look at the house or the price, I just looked at the location," Darosa said. "I came in and offered exactly what she was asking for it. No hesitation."

And he wasn't the first potential buyer for the house. Darosa had been waiting on the sidelines when an earlier deal fell through, and then he swooped in to get the house.

"I was really wanting it," he says.

Darosa considered getting a dog, because he most recently lived in a condo too small for pets. But he dropped the idea after a good look at the new yard: The four-foot-deep strip looks, to me, not quite wide enough for a dog to turn around after sniffing the hedges.

"Maybe a cat," Darosa says. Sure, or fish.

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From the July 10-16, 1997 issue of Metro.

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