The Harlan House – Past, Present and Future

Harlan House. Photo circa 1890 courtesy of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley

Harlan House. Photo circa 1890 courtesy of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley

So often today developers are eager to raze long-standing buildings in favor of modern houses and offices. On the flip side you have historians who feel it’s better to leave things as they are and preserve the legacy of those who have come before us. Just such a situation is currently occurring and the subject of debate is the Harlan House, also known as El Nido.


Built in 1858, the gothic revival house known as “El Nido” presently sits at 19251 San Ramon Valley Road in San Ramon. Joel Harlan and his wife, Minerva, (pictured below) came to California in 1846 and built a life for themselves. Joel Harlan and his cousin Jacob got rich during the Gold Rush. They originally started mining gold, but

then found great success and wealth by selling supplies to the miners who came to the area to profit from the gold rush. They sold boots for $25 a pair, picks for $16 a piece and bottles of whiskey for $8 each. These were lofty prices, especially in those days.

Photo circa 1890 courtesy of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley

Photo circa 1890 courtesy of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley



The house they built is currently in disrepair. Both the porch and a second-story balcony are missing. In 2011 there was a shift in ownership of the house when the El Nido Trust, which owns the house, rezoned the land from “park” to medium density residential.” At that time the Trust gave the house to the city of San Ramon and it’s now up to city officials to decide its fate. The committee developed a plan to move and preserve the house. However, too many questions remained about what the house would be used for. The future use of the house would guide the renovations and no decision was made so the plan to move and preserve the house fell flat.


This month the issue has surfaced once again. The San Ramon parks commission and the San Ramon Historic Foundation favor a plan that entails dismantling the house. The pieces would either be sold or moved to a museum for display. There are a number of individuals and groups fighting to save this piece of history. They are: Harlan family member Bill Harlan, former San Ramon Mayor Patricia Boom, a group called Save the Harlan House, the San Ramon Valley Historical Society and the Museum of the San Ramon Valley. All are challenging this proposed plan, but the San Ramon Historic Foundation (similar name, different group) feels it does not make fiscal sense to put money towards preserving this home. Significant money has already been spent renovating the Ole Barn. There’s only so much money to go around and someone needs to make the hard decision as to whether or not the Harlan House will be spared.

Currently, city leaders have more immediate concerns on their minds such as improving road quality in the city. Of course, road maintenance is important, but so too is preserving history. Just what will be done with Harlan House remains to be seen.

Over the next few weeks we will be covering some of the important people, places and events that have shaped modern-day San Ramon Valley. Click here to read all the related articles.

If you are planning to move to the San Ramon Valley area, contact Villa Properties at (925) 519-0794 for help in finding your perfect home.