National Register of Historic Places in San Mateo County
This house was built for Commodore James Thomas Watkins and his wife. Watkins was the able Captain of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company which opened the Pacific area not only to trade but as a quicker and easier means of transportation from the East Coast.
In 1848, the company chartered regularly scheduled coastwise transport from Panama to San Francisco and later north to the Columbia River. It acquired the contract for transporting mail to California in 1852, which coincided with Watkins and his wife moving from Maryland to San Francisco.
In 1854, Commodore Watkins and his wife were among the first San Franciscans to purchase a town houses in the new South Park subdivision near Rincon Hill.
In 1866, Commodore Watkins purchase 10.6 acres in Atherton and immediately hired ship carpenters to build his Gothic Revival house.
Because the property contained numerous huge, spreading oaks, the Watkinses named their estate Fair Oaks. By the following year the family regarded Fair Oaks as their primary residence although the Commodore continued to work in San Francisco and commute by train.
The Commodore Watkins House is the only surviving house built by early San Francisco country squires who had homes on the Peninsula and commuted to San Francisco on the newly build railroad. The house is typical of their dignified and comfortable homes which combined opulence and Yankee practicability.
Adapted from the NRHP nomination.
When the Commodore Watkins House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, it was located on Isabella Avenue in Atherton. The house was moved to its present location in 1998 and restored.
The Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places determined that the move would not cause an appreciable loss of integrity and that the house would continue to be listed.
It's not just that the people of California are restless, the buildings themselves sometimes pack up and move when - for one reason or another - the neighborhood no longer suits them or the neighbors no longer want them.
And when buildings remain in place, they are often searching for their identities.