Conchita Perales Gives the Alameda Legacy Home Tour a Twist

The chair of the annual self-guided preservation tour introduces girl power and Julia Morgan into the mix.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Conchita Perales smiles when she talks about Alameda architecture. The Alameda Architectural Preservation Society and Alameda Museum host their biggest fundraiser of the year, the Alameda Legacy Home Tour, on Sun., Sept. 23. This year’s theme, Empowering Women, informs every aspect of the self-guided tour. The headlining home is one designed by Julia Morgan, the first female architect licensed in California, which also happens to be the headquarters of Girls Inc. of the Island City. This year, AAPS partnered with Girls Inc., which supports girls in their academic and professional ambitions, and the Alameda String Academy, directed by Erica Ward. A strong woman herself as vice president of the AAPS, chair of the tour, and an independent teleprompter business owner, Perales embodies the theme of this year’s tour, and extols the value of the tour. “I get really excited about this stuff,” she said. “I might have been a Victorian back then.”

Can you talk about the architectural movement here in Alameda?

In the ’60s, they started to tear down the Victorians, and there was a group of very committed citizens and homeowners who loved the Victorians and felt that they were going to disappear completely unless they did something about it. Originally, it was called The Alameda Victorian Society, because they owned Victorians and wanted to find ways to restore these homes. When they realized these homes were being torn down, they created the preservation movement. All these people are the founders of the Alameda Museum and the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society. Eventually, it became more than just Victorians, for there were craftsmen, colonials, colonial revivals, and mission styles. There’s many different styles, and Victorian was too small a term for the group, so it became the Architectural Preservation Society so everybody could identity with the group and participate.

How did you get involved in the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society?

We participated in the home tour in 2010, and it was super successful. We were able to touch a lot of people and give people ideas how to live — like how to make your living room more livable, how to fix up your kitchen, and still keep with the house. When you’re a homeowner and you contribute your home to the tour, you get to see the other homes on the tour. We went around and saw the other houses and all the people dressed up. The next year, in 2011, they called me and asked if I wanted to be a docent. I was like, “Yeah, sure, why not?” And that was when I got the bug.

And just like how an old house needs new owners to come in and renovate the house and give it new life, organizations are the same way. People participate. Everybody volunteers. People fall off. People come on. There came a point where we were losing members, and the steam was slowing down. It felt like the whole thing was going to stop. You can’t have that. It’s really important to keep the movement going and keep the excitement going. I was really privileged to take the torch and do my part, so that the organization doesn’t fall apart.

How does the preservation movement conflict with developers who want to build new housing?

Governor Jerry Brown, because of the whole housing issue in California, is trying to address that issue, and just approved a measure, where, if you have the space, you can convert your garage or basement into a living space. There’s two sides to that. We’re concerned, because there has always been rules where you can only have a single family home and you couldn’t build a garage for housing. With this new measure the governor just signed, you can. All that is going to change. The biggest concern with that, as an architectural preservation society, is if anybody is going to start to build in their backyards and they’re going to start building in their basements, they maintain the same look as their house. You should also consider the value of what you put there, so the beauty of the development is still there.

What is Girls Inc. of the Island City’s role in this year’s Alameda Home Legacy Tour?

It was a really good serendipity. Girls Inc. was very interested to show their house. Many of our members haven’t been in their house. Girls Inc. has been there since 1970-something. We thought it was a brilliant idea to have the girls participate. We wanted to also help them get the word out and bring awareness to what they do. They want to empower girls. It’s an organization that supports girls. They provide them with after-school programs to teach them and give them tools so they can go out into the world, because they don’t have the economic means and resources. Girls Inc. works really hard to provide that for these girls. It’s proven to be a very strong organization that really makes a difference. It’s a partnership there, where it’s like, “Why not show this house?” and at the same time talk about their role in our community and how much they make a difference.

How do you engage younger audiences in architectural preservation?

It is tough. I think the home tour is a way to get girls to participate. Girls Inc. is not the only one. This is their first year participating, but we always have younger girls participating,  whether it’s daughters of homeowners or people from membership that are interested. One of our committee members has a basement full of clothes — that’s where all the clothes came from to dress the girls up. She has a basement full of vintage clothing. She loves dressing up the girls. The girls are the best dressed on the whole tour. It’s a way to get them interested in the history, to know that their great great grandmothers wore these clothes and lived in these homes. You start to tell stories where they can connect to the stories. A building or a house, they may not be able to connect. But if you tell a story about what happened in that house, who lived in the house, or there was a girl like you who lived in that house, they want to transport themselves. They start to understand how the house holds the home. You save your house. You are saving your home. It’s part of your identity of who you are.

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