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City wont sell 1903 mansion
Home Foundation given another year to oversee private rentals
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The city has no plans to sell off the Clinton Whitmore Mansion which was built in 1903 by the son of the Ceres town founder Daniel Whitmore. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier file photo

Knowing that some groups are waiting to see if the city plans to keep the historic Clinton Whitmore Mansion before committing to volunteer to make improvements, the Ceres City Council on Monday said it has no plans to sell.

The Ceres Lions Club is one group that wants to get going on the building of either an outdoor restroom building or outdoor kitchen at the historic mansion. Rocky Fisher, speaking for the Ceres Lions Club, said his service club doesn't want to invest time and money if the city is going to dispose of the property.

"We're looking for a city project big time and we have the money to do it and we'd like to do it but we need to know where we stand," Fisher told the council in the Study Session.

Mayor Chris Vierra replied that the council is "committed to the project (and) I don't see any reason why we would look to sell it so if the Lions want to commit time and effort to that we are really supportive."

The council also gave the Clinton Whitmore Mansion Foundation another year to oversee the mansion's operation and maintenance and booking the mansion for private uses like weddings. Councilmember Linda Ryno said that the group is doing a good job but expressed concern that the group and city have not moved forward on key goals, including working to place the home on the National Register of Historic Places, creating a master plan and creating a marketing study. City Manager Toby Wells said those projects are probably not going to be tackled this year because of a shortage of free staff time.

"Maybe the Foundation isn't as far as we'd like them to be," said Mayor Vierra, "but they've made tremendous progress .... If we intend to keep it then they're doing a way better job than we probably would be doing."

Councilmember Ken Lane said not knowing the city's ownership plans "hinders the Foundation from going out (to solicit help for projects)."

Lane said the Foundation is doing a valuable service by handling bookings for weddings and other private parties. He said the mansion's grounds provide an affordable venue for weddings with pricing around $1,500 as opposed to $5,000 for the use of other facilities.

Mike Kline, a member of the council, suggested continuing to allow the Foundation to operate the mansion while creating "an open dialogue ... or set some kind of goals for the Foundation to acquire the property."

"I can't see why - times aren't as bad as before - why we would even entertain the thought of selling it," said Councilman Bret Durossette, "and if we did ... then the Foundation would get the first opportunity to do that."

When Durossette asked if the mansion would ever be a money maker, Foundation President Lisa Mantarro Moore replied: "You need to be honest with yourself. Event venues do not bring in lots of revenue in communities; they provide a service." She said the city can expect, however, to reap enough revenues to cover annual expenses but not the purchase price.

The 8,000-square-foot mansion was built in 1903 by Ceres land baron Clinton Whitmore, son of town founder Daniel Whitmore. It had been in private hands and rented out for weddings and private parties until it was forced to be sold in a bank short sale. In October 2012 the city and Bank of America agreed to transact the mansion and 2.47 acres of land for a short sale price of $475,300.

Since buying the facility, the city has indicated that it has neither the funds to take care of a myriad of physical improvements nor the staff time to maintain it.

So the city turned over the operation of the mansion to the Whitmore Mansion Foundation, a non-profit group that has a passion to improve the house and organize rentals. The city has made annual agreements for the group to run the mansion.