House divided

CSUS boots seniors from Julia Morgan House. Now they want answers.

Virginia Neville, left, and Marilyn Baldwin ponder their next move after learning that their classes are being kicked out of the historic Julia Morgan House.

Virginia Neville, left, and Marilyn Baldwin ponder their next move after learning that their classes are being kicked out of the historic Julia Morgan House.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Marilyn Baldwin calls herself one of the “experienced ladies.” At age 72, she’s had a liver transplant and beaten breast cancer. But she can still drive, and three times a week she comes to class at the Life Center, a program for seniors run by California State University, Sacramento’s College of Health and Human Services.

One of many classes at the center, the one Baldwin takes helps her to keep her balance sharp, to stay flexible and to avoid falls that can be perilous to older folks. She’s been going to the class for almost five years, almost the whole time the Life Center has been operating in the historic Julia Morgan House and Gardens on T Street. Now, Baldwin and others who rely on the Life Center have learned that their program is being kicked out of the historic mansion.

The university says the Life Center, which offers a dozen different exercise and well-being classes and serves more than a hundred senior students, is being moved for its own good, because it doesn’t have enough space in its current home.

But the students are skeptical. “I’ve heard that they just want to rent it out to make more money,” Baldwin said.

The mansion is called the Julia Morgan House after the architect who designed it. But it was Charles Goethe and his family who lived in it and eventually bequeathed the house to CSUS. It was Goethe’s wish that the estate be used for the benefit of children and the elderly—a wish that is acknowledged on the university’s Web site for the house.

The house also is regularly used for parties, weddings and private conferences, with the proceeds going to University Enterprises (formerly the CSUS Foundation)—a quasi-public arm of CSUS that also handles the Hornet Bookstore and CSUS food-services contracts.

For the last couple of years, University Enterprises charged the Life Center a rent of only $1 a year to use the space. Now University Enterprises is asking $1,500 a month in rent, starting December 1.

CSUS spokesperson Laurie Hall said the Life Center needs room to grow if it’s going to support itself financially. Hall added that the finances of the Julia Morgan House were also a consideration. “It’s a very expensive facility to maintain. I think they are looking for a new tenant, some sort of community-outreach program, that can better pay their way.”

Hall said no decision had been made yet about what sort of program would move into the space now being occupied by the Life Center. And the students don’t yet know where their program is going, with only a couple of weeks until moving day.

“It just doesn’t jibe,” said Irene Marler, another Life Center student. “Why didn’t they come and tell us what they were going to do? All they did was come and say, ‘You’ve got to get out.’ It’s all been kept undercover.”

Hall conceded that little information has been offered to the seniors. “There’s been a real lack of communication among all the parties. They haven’t been kept up on all the behind-the-scenes discussions,” Hall said.

Despite promises to grow the Life Center in a new home, yet to be determined, many are skeptical about the university’s reasons for the move.

“The Life Center is not running out of room,” said Janice Freeman Bell, one of the program instructors. In fact, Bell worries that the Life Center actually will have to cut some of its classes if it moves into the space she believes CSUS is contemplating for it.

Bell thinks the move has little to do with the good of the Life Center and is really aimed at freeing up space for more parties and conferences that will help University Enterprises’ bottom line.

She and her students will be watching closely to see what CSUS does with their old space. “It looks like they have other plans for the house, something that will bring in more money, and we’re in the way,” she said.