Click photo to enlarge
The historic Brown House at Ardenwood Farm, Sept. 30, 2003.

Three historic houses are on the market for just a dollar in Newark and Fremont, where median home sale prices are well over $600,000.

But there is a catch. Of course, there is.

The 19th-century homes are severely deteriorated and any buyers would have to pay to move and renovate them. That could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for just one.

No takers have come forward so far, which might spell doom for the historic buildings.

The historic structures are the one-room Mowry's Landing School, built in 1884 near what is now NewPark Mall and later converted to a home; the Bettencourt House, a farmhouse constructed along Peralta Boulevard; and the Brown House, a two-story, three-room Fremont home built in the late 19th Century.

The city of Newark, which owns the 129-year-old schoolhouse, and the East Bay Regional Park District, owner of the two Fremont farmhouses, are promoting the one-dollar offer on their websites. The agencies are willing to sell one for a dollar, or even all three.

Interested buyers must submit a letter of intent by Sept. 30 stating their desire and financial ability to save them, said Brian Wiese, the park district's chief of planning. If none are received by the deadline, the homes may be demolished by the end of the year.

"We're anxious to market the properties -- we'll even make them a special deal," Wiese said. "I'd like to get them out to whomever may be interested."

The buildings were moved in 1984 to the Ardenwood Historic Farm Regional Preserve in Fremont. There, park district officials planned to convert the houses into an education center, where visitors could experience what life was like as a pioneer. But rising renovation estimates doomed the proposal and the historic homes sat dormant for years.

Local historians and longtime residents recently have called for them to be saved.

Officials in Newark and Ardenwood say that would be cost-prohibitive for them but perhaps not for the right individual. "To restore them as a public venue, we needed to meet the historic codes and the contemporary public access codes," Wiese said. "It required deep pockets for the park district, but that would not necessarily be true for a public buyer who wanted to restore a home and live in it."

Newark and the park district have started a draft environmental impact report that will study the effects of demolishing the houses. Wiese said he expects the report to be completed by mid-fall.

If the buildings are destroyed, officials could allow for them to be sold as scrap, piece by piece.

"But we'd prefer to offer the homes intact, if anybody can do that," Wiese said.

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

Houses for sale
Anyone interested in viewing the historic buildings can contact the park district at 510-544-3290.