Gays part of Alameda
holiday home tour
by Seth Hemmelgarn
As David Gaskin shows you around outside his house at the end of a quiet Alameda cul-de-sac, there isn't much of a hint at what's behind the brown fence and lattice, adorned with trumpet vine, that hide the home he shares with Phil McPherson, his husband.
But when he opens the front door, it's clear what makes the house special.
"This is why we bought this place – that view," Gaskin said, indicating the lagoon flowing behind their house. A visitor takes in the view through sliding glass doors that open onto a back yard filled with trees and plants.
Inside the room, which features African tribal masks and animal skulls, there's also a Christmas tree decorated with 130 mucecas – small blue, purple, and green paper mache dolls from San Miguel de Allende, the Mexican town where the couple lived and ran a guesthouse complex for four years.
The house, built in 1965, is one of the five homes featured on the 38th annual Alameda Holiday Home Tour on Friday, December 12, and Saturday, December 13.
The island city in the East Bay has a population of about 70,000.
The tour benefits Alameda Family Services, which assists individuals and families through counseling, Head Start, high school health centers, and the only teen homeless shelter in Alameda County. The event raised about $40,000 last year.
On December 12, there will be a candlelight preview from 6 to 11 p.m. that includes the tour, a light supper, and dancing. Tickets are $75.
The December 13 tour, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., includes a holiday tea, and a Christmas artisan boutique and a gourmet gift shop will be open to the public. Tickets are $30.
Winkie Campbell-Notar, the home tour's publicity chair, called the couple's house "amazing."
"It's the first time we've had a more modern house on the tour," Campbell-Notar said. After all the work they've done, "it's going to really inspire a lot of people to see just how nice they've made it."
Gaskin, 67, and McPherson, 80, who had a contemporary furniture store called Work Wonders at 471 Castro Street from 1977 to 1982, met in Chicago in 1974 when they were both working for San Francisco-based Winfield Design Associates.
They were married in March 2004, just hours before the state Supreme Court stopped the marriages that Mayor Gavin Newsom had started allowing in February. The couple did not wed this year when same-sex marriage was legal before the passage of Prop 8.
The couple bought the house on Tarryton Isle in August 2007 for $863,000. They were living in San Francisco and had looked for a place in the East Bay for more than two years, but they'd never given much thought to living in the city of Alameda. Once they saw the house, though, they knew they had found the right place.
Still, some changes needed to be made. The kitchen and dining room were too small for their style of entertaining, and there was a large white brick fireplace separating the living room and dining room.
McPherson redesigned the home, the couple hired an architect to draw up the plans, and they hired a contractor who worked with them for about five months.
They added a new kitchen and pantry and tore down the fireplace, allowing them to open up the dining and living rooms into one large space that's 18 feet wide and 33 feet long, divided only by an entertainment center that's about three feet high.
They also converted the family room of the four-bedroom, two-bathroom house into a library. McPherson uses one of the bedrooms as a studio for his artwork. They did some of the work, such as installing the living room flooring and the kitchen cabinets, themselves.
The couple have named their home Casa de los Gatos (Home of the Cats), in honor of their three large tabbies – Max, Maude, and Benni – and one "runt" of undetermined breed – Louisa – who spent a recent afternoon lazily circling through the house via the patio doors, occasionally taking a break on a chair or under the Christmas tree.
The couple learned of the home tour when, about six months ago, a real estate agent came by to see what kind of progress they were making, and Gaskin said when she saw it, she remarked that the tour usually features homes such as grand Victorians, but rarely mid-century tract houses such as theirs, and she said she thought people would enjoy seeing what they had done.
Gaskin and McPherson are one of two gay couples with homes on the tour. The other couple was not available for comment.
For more information on the tour, visit alamedaholidayhometour.info, or call (510) 629-6208.