A year after three historic Newark and Fremont homes were put on sale for a dollar, a buyer has stepped forward to save one, as the others seem headed for demolition.

The Brown House, a two-story, three-room farm house built circa 1850, might be spared by a Southern California event planner who restores aged homes as a hobby.

Tom Gandolfo said he plans to move and restore the historic building, and display it for educational and historical purposes.

"I'm interested in the pioneering spirit of Americans moving West, working their way through the wilderness," Gandolfo said. "It's a very romantic notion and I'm driven by that."

The two structures running out of time are Mowry's Landing School, a one-room school house built in 1884 and later converted to a residence, and the Bettencourt House, a 19th-century home built in what is now Fremont.

The three buildings were moved 30 years ago to the Ardenwood Historic Farm Regional Preserve, but rising renovation estimates doomed the park district's plan to convert them into a history exhibit.

Relocating and restoring the structures today would cost close to $1 million each, said Raphael Breines, the East Bay Regional Park District's acting chief of planning.

Newark, which owns the 130-year-old school and the East Bay Regional Park District, owner of the two Fremont homes, say they can't justify the expense of saving them. Last year, they put the buildings up for sale for a $1 each.


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Few serious suitors since have stepped forward, except for Gandolfo, who put down a $5,000 deposit that will be refunded as long as he moves the Brown House by Oct. 31.

Although moving and city permit costs could reach nearly $100,000, Gandolfo said the price is worth it because of the 337-square-foot home's historical value.

"This is the ultimate in recycling and preserving our history," he said. "That needs to be taught in school because we live in a throwaway society."

Newark and the East Bay Regional Park District leaders, meanwhile, continue work to get rid of the other two buildings. They've completed an environmental report and plan to obtain a demolition permit. After that, Fremont's Historical Architectural Review Board will examine the homes' histories while deciding their fate, Breines said.

Unless a late-hour suitor steps forward, the Bettencourt House and Mowry's Landing School likely will be demolished.

The schoolhouse has deteriorated so much there is little to salvage, said Newark City Manager John Becker.

"It's been remodeled numerous times and it hardly resembles the one-room school house it used to be," Becker said. "There's very little, if any, historical value left."

Although the park district is letting go of the Bettencourt and Brown houses, it has clustered several historic buildings, including a hay barn and blacksmith shop, at Ardenwood to depict southern Alameda County life in the 19th century. A bunk house where farmworkers ate and slept at the Patterson Ranch might soon be added, Breines said.

The Brown and Bettencourt houses will have a different fate.

"After years of agonizing, we realized it was not feasible to restore them," Breines said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.