Mysterious Mission RevivalPosted on September 30, 2010 – 7:40 AM | by OldManFoster
By William Burg Photos by Scott Duncan B&W photo-Author’s collection.
The Maydestone Apartments building on 15th Street provides views in all directions, with the skyscrapers of Downtown to the west and the rooftops of Midtown to the east. Built in 1912, the 32 unit Mission Revival building was closed after a mysterious fire on Halloween 2003. After seven years, the building is about to come back to life.
Many people claim they have stories about the Maydestone, but few are willing to share them. Secondhand stories about prolific drug dealing and use, roommates and neighbors with unspeakably poor housekeeping habits (including one roommate who urinated in the sink when the bathroom was occupied, even if there were dishes in the sink) abound, along with assorted ghost stories.
“Some say the old girl is haunted. If you didn’t believe in ghosts before you lived in the Maydestone, chances are you came to believe before moving out,” claims former Maydestone manager Rick Owens. “The Maydestone seemed to choose its own tenants. It seemed to decide who could live there and who couldn’t and even which apartment someone could live in…. I remember apartment 12. This apartment never accepted a single tenant I rented to.”
The building’s charming appearance and cheap rent often overcame concerns about safety and sanitation (and ghosts). The public face of the building was usually quiet, except for the “Advice Guy,” a friendly fellow who would offer advice to anyone who asked from his second-story window.
Apartment buildings like the Maydestone were products of Sacramento’s rapid growth in the early 20th century. Young professionals of 1912 sought apartments that were close to their jobs but with more amenities than a residential hotel. Located at the center of town and close to the J and K Street streetcar lines, a tenant at the Maydestone could traverse the city quickly and easily. The building had steam heat and a modern elevator. The rooms were small but well-lit with bay windows. Each apartment had separate kitchens and bathrooms, quite a luxury in 1912. Another standard feature was a roll-away Murphy bed that retracted into a wall beneath one of two types of built-in furniture: a ceiling-height Arts & Crafts hutch with central shelf and cupboard doors, or a Mission style fold-up desk. This feature allowed the compact studio to serve as bedroom and sitting room.
The building’s glory days were gone long before the Maydestone closed in 2003, but even in rough times, a community thrived. “The Maydestone housed a vast diversity of people,” remembers Owens. “There were writers, artists, theater people, waiters, cab drivers, hairdressers, straight, gay, and lesbians and people of every race, culture, and occupation that you can think of. They all had one thing in common. They were drawn to the Maydestone by a sense of the spirituality of the building. They lived at the Maydestone because of the attraction they felt towards it, me included.”
“I spent nine years as the manager of the Maydestone. It was the most fascinating time of my life. Although there was many times [when] I wanted to give up on the old girl, the good times far outweighed the bad.”
Today, demand for Midtown housing is as high as it was in 1912. D&S Development, whose projects include the iLofts in Old Sacramento and the 14th & R lofts on R Street, will complete repairs and reopen the Maydestone by the summer of 2011. Bay Miry of D&S explained that the Maydestone’s classic design will not be obscured by the remodel. Unlike their lofts’ contemporary interiors, this project will repair, restore and rehabilitate the building while updating its plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning. Historic features like wooden windows and the vintage elevator will be retained, but its steam radiators and antique wiring will not. Some units will be combined to create larger apartments, but most will remain compact and efficient. Rents will be reasonable enough for working people to afford.
Disaster, development and neglect have claimed many city landmarks over the years, like the Alkali Flat grocery store on 10th and E or the Merrium Apartments at 14th and L. Housing demand, interest in Sacramento’s architectural legacy, and a bit of luck can spell the difference between restoration and demolition. Soon, the Maydestone’s new residents will add another chapter to its legacy of ghosts, nightclubs, advice and roommates good and bad, and city life on the edge between Downtown and Midtown.