When Karen Brown went searching for a property in Petaluma where she and a longtime friend might co-invest and coexist, there was nothing on the market that fit the bill. It was 2013, the nation was coming out of a deep recession and the pickings were slim, especially for affordable properties with two units or enough area to build an accessory dwelling. So Brown walked the streets of the old west side and ended up beating the bushes — literally — to find her dream home hidden among an overgrowth of acacias.
The house was so concealed she almost missed it. A “no trespassing“ sign did not encourage exploration. But she was intrigued. There, set back on a third of an acre, was an abandoned shack with plywood nailed over the doors. It had no foundation and perched on piers in the ground. It hadn’t been occupied in at least 10 years, apart from the possum living in the front room.
Despite all that, Brown saw immediate possibilities. The property was large enough for a second small home, and there was something about the forlorn little cabin that tugged at her heart.
She came to call it “the little house that cried.”
“It was either going to get torn down or somebody was going to come along at the last minute and love it. And that’s what happened.”
Potential in the ruins
As the creative director of an educational nonprofit, Brown, with her artistic imagination, could see possibility amid the ruins. Her friend Alan Good shared her vision.
“There’s an old saying about ‘location, location, location.’ That was really clear,” said Good, a longtime horticulturist who for years managed the living roof of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. “West Petaluma is a wonderful place to live,