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Group, city fleshing out oversight of mansion
Foundation may seek help of groups to help maintain home
In 1903 Clinton N. Whitmore constructed this majestic home on Fifth Street. It was a focal point of societal life in Ceres. After he died on August 6, 1912 the house eventually went to son Wallace and daughter-in-law Jennie Caswell Whitmore. The last Whitmore to own it was Robert Whitmore. The house was purchased and restored by Cary and Nancy Pope. The city owns it now. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Community-minded residents sitting on a foundation board are struggling to define just how the historic Clinton Whitmore Mansion will be operated in the wake of the city's recent acquisition.

Former mansion owners Cary and Nancy Pope may no longer be the mansion operator in the future and many of the antique possessions inside the mansion which belong to them will be sold soon at an estate sale, according to Lisa Mantarro Moore, chair of the Whitmore Mansion Foundation board of directors.

"The mansion project is very exciting," said Moore at Monday's report to the council.

In January the city took possession of the 8,000-square-foot mansion - built by Clinton Whitmore, son of town founder Daniel Whitmore in 1903 - with a money-strapped City Council hoping the foundation would help operate and maintain it. The board, led by Moore, agreed. The board said that despite them losing the mansion in a foreclosure, the Popes would help run the facility as a vendor.

Moore told the council that she would like to solicit Requests for Proposals (RFPs) from prospective vendors to run the mansion. She prefers to see the mansion use a system used by a large Los Banos barn which is rented out for weddings and parties. Renters there are given a list of qualified vendors for such needs as food catering, photography and music.

Most pressing is a list of improvements which need to occur before the structure and grounds can be used for private and public use. The city produced an estimate that $605,000 will be needed for improvements, which include a parking lot, fire sprinkler system, ADA access improvements, and kitchen, electrical and plumbing upgrades.

"We have some structural issues which we need to look at and see how they need to be resolved," said Moore.
Electricians have volunteered to look at the mansion and remedy wiring issues so that the city may actively push for the facility to be rented out.

Moore said her group will not be asking the city to fix problems inside the mansion but will see about rallying financial support from the community and its organizations.

Foundation members have jumped in to help water the grounds and care for landscaping maintenance, said Moore, with the onset of the intense summer heat.

Moore said the foundation plans to schedule some outdoor events in August as a "dry run at what the facility's needs are."

The board's goal is to have a plan formulated with city help by 2014 to utilize the mansion and cover its costs. Moore said her group desires the setting of a rental fee structure by the end of the year and may restrict access to the upper floor until repairs are made. Much of the furniture will have been removed by then.

"We're going to have to refill the mansion with stuff," said Moore, "antiquities and other amenities and it's going to need some loving care and polishing up."

The foundation expects to change the way the mansion is rented absent the vendor which helped oversee events and provide catering. Moore said future users will have to bring in their own services.

"Right now, though, if I were to go rent the mansion I'd have to bring in my caterer or barbecue truck in," said Moore.

Since the city purchased the mansion located in downtown Ceres, the foundation has also been intentional about honoring all bookings for weddings, parties and other events at the mansion through the 2013 calendar year. Moore said at some point the group will have to interrupt the weekly mansion use by different groups, including the Lodi Association of Realtors. Weddings are no longer being booked.

Mayor Chris Vierra commented that the foundation board's dedication is "very admirable" but expressed concern that too much was being placed on the panel. He asked if Moore needed city assistance.

"She's got pretty broad shoulders but we've loaded a ton on her," the mayor said of Moore, "and I really want to make sure that we're not skirting the issue. It's our asset. They've agreed to come in and help us but I think that we need to provide them with the support that they need to get them into the position where we ultimately want them to be which is managing this asset."

City staff has been "really helpful" in assisting with landscape watering advice, said Moore. However, she noted that some of her volunteer help this summer may disappear with the end of summer vacation.

The city funded the $475,300 purchase through $194,500 taken from the Neighborhood Park Fees Fund and $285,500 from the Planned Community Facilities Fund.

The council is expected to take up matters with the mansion at an August study session.