Skip to main content

San Clemente Journal

Ole Hanson Houses - So You Want To Own One?

Dec 21, 2022 09:53AM ● By Tom Marshall
by Tom Marshall, San Clemente Historical Society
Photos by Carolyn Kipper

When dentist Dr. Colby Livingston moved to San Clemente she and her husband, Connor Halberg, were intrigued by the idea of living in one of San Clemente’s two hundred historic Ole Hanson houses, built between the late 1920s and early 1930s. 


“We liked the historic and classic nature of those homes, so we rented one to see first-hand what it would be like to live in one,” Dr. Livingston notes. 
But now with the arrival of their first child, Margaux, it became apparent that the typical two-bedroom Ole would not be big enough for a growing family. And, finding a larger one is like, well, pulling teeth. The couple still hopes to find a larger Ole sometime next year.

When Hanson founded the city he required that all structures have white stucco walls and red tile roofs in the Spanish Colonial style. Those requirements were removed during the Great Depression of the 1930s so that the town could resume growing.

Former Historical Society President and local Real Estate Broker, Dena Van Slyke, has specialized in Ole Hanson properties since 1997. Typically, Ole homes are two-bedrooms, one-bath about one thousand square feet. “There are just a handful that are over three thousand square feet and there are several with three bedrooms, but they are under 3,000 square feet,” Van Slyke said. She estimates that one of them comes on the market every 12 months or so. Van Slyke advises Dr. Livingston and others seeking to buy an Ole to start your search early and be ready to make an offer quickly when the right one comes along. They are in high demand.


The historic homes qualify for a significant property tax break under the 1972 state law known as The Mills Act. How much that tax break is depends on a property value formula that is too complicated to explain here. “But, I’d be surprised if anyone bought an Ole just because of the Mills act tax savings,” Van Slyke adds. “Mostly they sell because of their classic appeal and unique character.”

Once a home is approved by the county under the Mills Act, it is good for ten years and renews automatically. “So it is wise to find out if the home you are interested in is already covered,” Van Slyke adds. 

The downside is that there are restrictions to what you can do to modify your Mills Act home.  You cannot add on significant space that would change the general character of the home.  The most common addition allowed is an extra bedroom in the back of the house or sometimes a room above the garage.  All additions and repairs must conform to the original design of the structure.
One other challenge is finding replacement parts. If you need new windows or garage doors, for example, they should be made of wood, not vinyl or aluminum. Some Ole owners have an informal network letting each other know where to find qualified craftsmen or authentic parts such as door knobs.
In many cases moving into an Ole means downsizing from your previous home.  Historical Society board member Carolyn Kipper has some pointers based on her experience moving here from Texas:

1.  Embrace the Outdoors. - With incredible weather, we truly get to live outside year-round.
2.  Let your kids share a room. - We’ve had zero issues with them sharing a room. 
3.  Get rid of everything that doesn’t have a “home”. - We realized how much we owned that didn’t serve a purpose.
4.  Get creative with your use of space. - My office is also my bedroom; workout equipment is stored under our couch.
5.  Define what truly matters to you - What will truly make you and your family happy.

Kipper and Historical Society membership chair Diana Hardeman are working on a glossy photo-heavy book titled “Ole Hanson Homes.” A few of the photos accompany this article.  We hope this helps anyone interested in owning a part of San Clemente history, including Dr. Livingston, I presume. (You know I had to say it.)