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City not interested in owning landmark
• Council hopes foundation can buy historic Clinton Whitmore Mansion
Whitmore Mansion.tif
City Council members signaled recently that they no longer wish to own the Clinton Whitmore Mansion and hope to sell it to the Foundation running it. - photo by Jeff Benziger

A group of civic minded residents have been able to make many improvements to the historic Clinton Whitmore Mansion but are in no position to buy it off the city’s hands, a representative told the Ceres City Council last month. At least not yet.

Lisa Mantarro Moore came before the Ceres City Council on Dec. 11 to discuss the future plans of the Whitmore Mansion Foundation. The city bought the 1903 mansion in early 2013 and allowed the 501(c)(3) foundation to operate the mansion and oversee its maintenance as well as book private parties, weddings, corporate parties. In 2016 the council gave the group a three-year extension to oversee the operation which was intending to expire this month.

The discussion ended with the council giving the foundation another year – and starting discussions on ways the group can acquire the 115-year-old mansion.

Moore said the group and volunteers “have taken a bit of a burden off the city with respect to event planning and activities of the mansion.” She said back in 2013 she had hoped her group and the city would have engaged in “more strategic planning” with regard to the mansion’s future and said the Foundation has had little money above and beyond the $8,000 in annual costs for power and water and other costs.

“We have been able to manage a facility that’s been given a chance to be a gem to the city of Ceres,” said Moore. “We’ve been able to host events there, do different types of things but pretty much with little or no city assistance as far as direct fundraising. There’s no dollar amount for outreach, we’re not utilizing city funds or staffing to manage events there.”

She said improvements have been made to the mansion’s air conditioning system and secured funding for a new coat of exterior paint in time for a Centennial celebration event. Moore then said the group was interested in continued oversight of the mansion and wants to explore “other ways to promote events” with the city to compliment the new vibrancy of downtown.

Mayor Chris Vierra said Moore and her group “have done a very admirable job” and suggested another year to work out options.

“Our goal is for the facility to not be leaving the community’s grasp per se,” Moore told the mayor.

She said the Foundation would entertain the idea of purchasing the mansion in “a leasing type capacity for long term use” which is “legally appropriate.” She asked for council direction.

Councilwoman Linda Ryno said she understood that the Foundation was going to buy the property. For that to happen, Moore said she would need to find significant financial donations but would need to know the city’s asking price would be, whether it be for appraised value or a dollar.

City Manager Toby Wells said the city needs to keep the southern portion of the original mansion property for a well and future park site at the northeast corner of Fifth and North streets.

“I think we’re pretty open to anything at this point,” said Mayor Vierra. “Obviously that’s an asset that we have that needs, you know, ADA improvements, all sorts of things, so I think if you can come up with working with us for something that is close to a win-win for everybody then I don’t think there’s anybody here who feels staunchly opposed to do anything with that building.”

Ryno initially announced that she was opposed to continuing the agreement with the foundation but ended up voting for an extension.

“I think we need to seriously look at – and this won’t make me popular – but if the foundation can’t purchase it and run it then maybe we need to look at possibly selling it,” said Ryno.

Moore made it clear she wants to explore possibilities with the city.

“I think we owe it to them to at least come back to us with an option,” said Vierra. “If it’s something that we don’t want to do then we can always sell the facility outright and see what we can get from it but again keep in mind there’s a few hundred thousand dollars’ worth of improvements that need to be done to bring it into compliance with certain things. We’ve been fortunate that they’ve been able to not impact us to the general fund in support of it.”

Councilman Mike Kline commended the Foundation for keeping the mansion “very presentable.” He wanted to see the operations agreement extended another year while working on a long-term lease-purchase option within six months. Kline agreed to sit on a subcommittee with Councilman Bret Durossette to sit down with Moore and the Foundation and explore options. Wells said hopefully by October a decision can be made.

Kline said he’s not interested in the city continuing to hold title to the mansion and believes that owning the Daniel Whitmore Mansion is enough historical preservation for the city.

The Daniel Whitmore Manson is Ceres’ first house which was constructed in 1869 and finished in 1870. Clinton Whitmore, son of the Ceres founder, built his mansion one block north in 1903.