Concerns arise regarding Chico State’s plans to renovate historic home
For nearly 30 years, Jann Reed has lived in Mansion Park, the well-manicured neighborhood tucked between the campuses of Chico State and Chico High School. Most homes there are charmingly old-fashioned, but one, Reed says, is “a real treasure.”
“It’s a striking building,” she said. “Architecturally, it’s very cool.”
So she describes the gleaming white, Mediterranean-style home designed by Julia Morgan, the first woman licensed as an architect in California. Morgan designed more than 700 buildings, including the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Built in 1923 for a wealthy local physician, Dr. D.H. Moulton, the house served as the official residence of Chico State’s presidents from 1945 to 1993. Over the years, it’s gone by a few different names: the Moulton House, the President’s Mansion and the Julia Morgan House. Now, the university calls it the Albert E. Warrens Reception Center and uses it for special events.
Michael Magliari, a history professor at Chico State, considers the home one of Chico’s finest gems.
“In terms of architectural history, it might be one of the top three buildings here in Chico, after the Bidwell Mansion and the Senator Theatre,” he said. “That home is the only original Julia Morgan we have in Chico, so it’s a very important historical and cultural asset.”
Reed and Magliari are both alarmed by Chico State’s plan to renovate the home. Reed got an email from the university on March 4 notifying residents of the neighborhood of a project to “refresh” the building this summer.
“But they didn’t identify what ‘refresh’ means,” she said. “Does it mean removing architectural components, or repairing cracks in the siding?”
Reed alerted the Chico Heritage Association, a volunteer-driven nonprofit dedicated to preserving old Chico. Magliari, a former board member, said the group had been unaware of the university’s plan. At the group’s urging, Chico State is hosting a public meeting in the Warrens Center today (April 14) to go over details of the project.
“We want to see the renovation stay true to the original architectural detailing,” Reed said.
The project will begin on May 23, the day after Chico State’s commencement. As Magliari explained, the Chico Heritage Association fears that the facelift will harm the home’s historical integrity and eligibility to be listed under the National Register of Historic Places.
“Our concern is that nothing be done to jeopardize that eligibility, Magliari said.
Earning that distinction would go a long way toward preserving the home into the future, as it would be protected during environmental review processes under the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Historic Preservation Act.
“It enhances the protection status of the building under all sorts of state and federal laws,” Magliari said. “It would also make the house eligible for benefits and grants that periodically become available.”
The house is currently listed as part of the city of Chico’s Historic Resources Inventory.
The project includes replacing an outside fence, landscaping improvements and removing an elevator, which was added after original construction. The Chico Heritage Association is OK with those changes, Magliari said, but less comfortable with the replacement of windows and doors. If the building is to remain eligible for federal designation, new doors and windows must be faithful replications or reconstructions of the originals.
Chico State spokesman Joe Wills says the university’s plan, moving forward, will account for the concerns expressed by neighbors and the Chico Heritage Association.
“Like any project we have here, we’ll take those suggestions under advisement,” he said. “There is not an urgency to this.”
Magliari doesn’t have a problem with the project—so long as it’s done right. “Our concerns are the things that affect the exterior appearance of the building itself,” he said. “We want that appearance preserved.”