Hot Property: Home once worthy of the brightest stars

Today, it is a hidden corner of San Mateo, close to downtown, Highway 101 and Poplar Creek Golf Course. But it was once something else.

North Idaho Street intersects Peninsula Avenue, a large thoroughfare on the border of San Mateo and Burlingame. Almost 90 years ago, Peninsula Avenue was home to Peninsula Studios, a brash attempt to make silent movies hundreds of miles from the industry center, which was then transitioning from New York to Hollywood.

According to Geoffrey Bell’s “The Golden Gate and the Silver Screen,” Peninsula Studios was a “cinema city,” built in San Mateo in the early 1920s with state-of-the-art equipment, two large stages, a film developing lab and dressing rooms for the stars.

Little remains of Peninsula Studios. The building now houses a Thai restaurant.

“All of the neighbors have their own stories about this neighborhood,” says Lori K. Spiegl, listing agent for 818 N. Idaho St. The stories say that this street was built to house the stars, producers and directors working on films at nearby Peninsula Studios.

Like most of the homes on the block, 818 is a grand Spanish-Mediterranean villa, built to large scale and including details too often lost to time. Its particular story, say its owners, is that none other than silent-film genius Buster Keaton once stayed here.

As with many legends, this one is impossible to prove. Peninsula Studios completed no feature-length films after 1925, but it is as easy to picture a silent-era star descending the intricately-detailed staircase at the center of 818 N. Idaho as it is to envision an industry gathering unfolding in the home’s protected rear courtyard.

Whether or not Keaton bunked here, 818 N. Idaho has the kind of craftsmanship and attention to detail that no longer exists in homebuilding, in a neighborhood of homes that, if they could talk, might have some eye-opening tales to tell.

Where: San Mateo

Asking Price: $1,325,000

Property Tax: $17,225*

The Property: Three bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms; 2,830 square feet, including a one-bedroom, one-bathroom in-law unit.

Notable: 1929 Spanish villa located on San Mateo’s historic “Hollywood Row.”

Agent: Lori K. Spiegl, Alain Pinel Realtors, (650) 743-4775.

*Estimate based on 1.3% of asking price.

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