Pleasanton City Council approved the floor layout and site plans for the multi-million dollar project to refurbish the historic Century House last week.
Originally built as a hunting lodge, the 150-year-old house on Santa Rita Road was purchased by the city in the 1970s. It then became a place where people could get married, hold birthday parties and take classes on site – until it was deemed unsafe in 2014 following an inspection, when officials determined there were numerous flaws in the building and safety code some people.
“Thank you for taking this into consideration to save the building, because if we wait any longer it will continue to deteriorate,” resident Christine Borg said in a public comment at the city council meeting. August 16.
In June 2021, City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission began holding joint workshops to develop various floor and site plans for Council to choose from, which were modified based on public feedback and city staff.
Some of the topics discussed at the meetings included building valuation, facility usage and scheduling, site plan and parking options, and interior floor plan and renovation options.
Now that the plans have been approved and the council has allocated $4.8 million for the design and construction of the Century House master plan during its mid-term budget review, staff will begin looking for a consultant to the design of the master plan. They will present this contract to the board with actual costs for review at a later meeting.
The council-approved site plan option will construct a pick-up and drop-off area directly adjacent to Santa Rita Road and provide approximately 29 new parking spaces along the existing driveway.
Mayor Karla Brown and Councilor Kathy Narum both questioned the drop-off area, asking if it was possible to create a loop for cars or move the parking lot to the front of the house, to avoid the people come out from the traffic side.
“When people get out of cars, often both people get out, and Santa Rita is not where you should be out,” Brown said.
Melinda Denis, Pleasanton’s assistant director of community development, told council that it had been discussed in other plan options at the workshops, but the consensus was that it would reduce the beauty of the existing landscape.
“The more you impact that lawn, the less we can program that space,” Denis said. “That’s where the weddings are, that’s where the people are seated, that’s where the programs are. So when you start hampering it with a driving aisle, an area of cargo and a walkway, it gets quite impactful in this lawn space.”
Denis said cutting up front for more access would mean removing several trees, but eventually agreed with Brown to keep it under review.
But the topic of tree removal then moved to the parking lot renovation plan to remove approximately 20 redwoods to build the approximate 29 parking spaces.
“I’m a bit confused about the removal of trees, I’ve never liked seeing mature trees removed,” Vice Mayor Valerie Arkin said. “I know some may be sick or stressed from the drought…but if there is a way to save some trees, I would highly recommend saving as many healthy trees as possible.”
Denis said staff have not done any tree assessments or land surveys to determine which ones should be saved and which are drought-stressed enough to be removed.
There will also be several changes inside the house, such as the widening of doors and openings on the first floor as well as the reconstruction of the exterior ramp to meet minimum accessibility requirements.
The plan will also include: the demolition of the existing staff room; establish the bridal chamber on the first floor in the living room; rebuild toilets to provide at least one accessible and non-accessible gender neutral toilet; and replace damaged deck materials and railings.
The total occupancy of the house would be limited to a maximum of 50 people as only two toilets could be accommodated inside the house, but this number can be extended by bringing portable toilets.
But another big topic of discussion at the meeting was preserving the historic significance of the Century House and how accurately the interior would portray its history.
Council member Julie Testa said she wanted to explore the possibility of applying for the house to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, to seek more funding to preserve the integrity of the house.
“There’s so much even state legislation going on right now that anything on the historic preservation list is protected at a higher level and that would send management to really consider this house as not just a fake historic house, but really take it and honor the Pleasanton past,” Testa said.
She said she wanted to see a two-phase plan where the first phase restores the exterior of the building with everything the staff recommended and the second phase aims to restore the interior with a greater emphasis on preservation. .
Denis said the house is not eligible for the historic registration list because there have been too many changes to the structure – one of the main ones being the front wrap-around porch, which is included in the renovation plan and will be used to connect the program spaces inside.
“We’re not going to bring it back to an 1800s hunting lodge because then we’d lose the porch,” Denis said.
She said the next step for staff will be to work with museum staff or hire a historical consultant to focus the interior renovation on maintaining the aesthetics of the period it was built.
Council member Jack Balch said he supported this plan to work out how to renovate the interior based on when it was built and mainly wanted to start the project so that the public could use the house again.
“The historical splendor without the register and trying to understand the period…I’m very comfortable with that because I think it allows us to actually accomplish what we want,” Balch said.
Arkin echoed this and added that she wanted to see more public input so residents would have a say in the process.
“I think we have to, you know, make sure we get a lot of public input and opportunities for the public to weigh in on the whole process,” Arkin said.