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Second oldest Ceres home coming down
An historic house in downtown Ceres is falling victim to time - and improper remodeling procedures.

The structure at the southeast corner of Fifth and Lawrence sat partially demolished last week. The city stopped the demolition after officials learned it was being taken down without a demolition permit.

The two-story wooden structure was once the Conner-Fellows Boarding House built in 1871 or 1872. The redwood lap siding is the same as the Daniel Whitmore Home, Ceres' oldest house, located a block north. Historians say the structure is Ceres' second oldest house and the site of the first business.

Barry Siebe, Planning Manager for the city of Ceres, said that Orlando Garcia originally attempted to remodel the old house and a more recent add-on last fall. The work, being done without a permit, included the excavation of the area beneath the house for the setting of a concrete foundation. The house, however, began to seriously sag in the middle.

"He was told that he needed a permit for the foundation and apparently he was proceeding and things began to unravel on him," said Siebe. "The structure has become a bit unsound. That's an unprofessional opinion because I'm not a structural engineer.

"It's in bad shape. The rehab is not viable."

When Garcia finally applied for a demolition permit, it opened up some new issues, said Siebe, because of an ambiguity in city codes.

"He's been stopped and we're working on a letter to him basically informing him of the options."

The house sits on a parcel which is designated in the Ceres General Plan for downtown residential/commercial which makes provisions for older single family residences. The actual zoning code does not have an actual designation for downtown residential / commercial so the city has to treat it as a C-2 commercial zone. That zone calls for residences to be approved by the Planning Commission through the architectural site plan process and architectural review.

A 'burn down' letter was issued saying that if the building burns or is lost it can be rebuilt as a residence, said Siebe.

"It's unfortunate that we weren't able to sit down with this guy in advance and approach it from a different way," said Siebe.

The Conner-Fellows Boarding House was established by sisters Nancy Conner and Mary Fellows, the first to accept a free lot from Daniel Whitmore with a temperance cause inserted into the deed. This was before Whitmore recorded the first township map of Ceres on Feb. 20, 1875.

The boarding house may have been larger than the existing structure today. The boarding house was said to house harvest crews working in the fields of that day. Mrs. Conner took out ads in the local paper advertising a "25 cent dinner as good as one can get any place."