Trip report: Rengstorff house

Another historic house visit! This one is the Rengstorff House, the oldest house in Mountain View, California. Unlike the Ainsley House, this one was in use long after Henry Rengstorff and his family lived there. It was used as a rental property, damaged in a fire and abandoned for a while. So this is an exercise in restoration rather than preservation. The differences are pretty obvious, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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The building’s been restored to showcase both the history of the Rengstorff family and Mountain View in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. The decor is nice: the wallpaper in particular is great.

There's a different local-nature-themed frieze pattern in each room.
There’s a different local-nature-themed frieze pattern in each room.

There are a few pieces of furniture from the original place, but mostly it’s all various different artefacts from the period, with displays about the specific history of Mountain View and the family (including Dave Brubeck, who turns out to be the original Rengstorff’s great-great-nephew). So the house is full of furniture and art and items that are from the era when Henry Rengstorff was living there, although not necessarily the actual items that were there. That’s the case for many if not most historic houses, I’d imagine. It does raise the old issue of the talismanic status of historic buildings — given that the Rengstorff House has been so completely renovated (and had things like public restrooms and a modern kitchen added), to what extent can we really say it’s the same house?

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“It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.” It doesn’t sound good, I have to say.

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This was a brief post-lunch trip — free guided tours are available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — but definitely an interesting one. I’ve always had this sort of prejudice that California history isn’t interesting, since it is definitionally post-medieval history and therefore sucks. But actually I’ve been finding these looks at the early modern society of familiar places really interesting. I’ve been driving along Rengstorff Avenue forever and never knew who Rengstorff himself was. It may be that if you’re not me, the idea of people transporting huge loads of grain around the narrow waterways that fringed the San Francisco Bay in “scow schooners” isn’t fascinating, but that sort of thing interests me, so hey.

It’s almost time to leave California, but I’ve got a load of books and other materials acquired here that should give me a few additional blog posts for the coming week or two. After that, things may get a little more sporadic, but hopefully I won’t go back to my infrequent posting schedule of earlier months.

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Trip report: Rengstorff house

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