JARDINE: Ceres looking to make history with Whitmore Mansion

jjardine@modbee.comAugust 17, 2013 

    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
    Recent stories written by Jeff
    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

— The people of Ceres have a chance to make history — or at least make their own history work for them.

Last year, the city purchased the 110-year-old Clinton Whitmore Mansion downtown in a short sale, the money coming from $475,300 from a recreation account.

It is a 7,000-square-foot home built by Clinton Whitmore and his wife, Maria, in 1903. The mansion remained in the Whitmore family until 2005, when Cary and Nancy Pope bought it as a venue for weddings and other events. They also upgraded, modernized and remodeled parts of it.

Friday and Saturday, an orderly swarm of bargain hunters invaded the mansion, buying up most of the furnishings, china, outdoor supplies, artwork and whatnot. Very little of it was original to the home, and what was remains. Ceres resident Kim Chapman of Ciao Bella Estates, which handled the sale, expects sales will reach $30,000 when final numbers are it.

What does the mansion's future hold? The short-term answer would be more of the same, with different furniture.

The city, interim manager Art deWerk said, can't afford to subsidize the mansion's upkeep from its general fund. It must be a revenue-generating venue that doesn't become a financial liability.

And as for the ambience, don't worry. What vanished during the estate sale will not — I repeat, will not — be restocked with a truckload of stuff from Ikea. No La-Z-Boy recliners, beanbag chairs, futons or 60-inch plasma TVs, either.

Chapman said she can find furnishings — some being replicas of Victorian-era pieces — at cost, as well as generous people who will pay for them. Why not place genuine antiques throughout? Because if the building continues to be used for weddings, parties and other gatherings, you wouldn't want someone slopping cabernet sauvignon or a Slurpee on a century-old love seat.

The mansion means opportunity for the people of Ceres. The city need only look to its neighbor to the north to see what it could someday represent.

Modesto's McHenry Mansion, built in 1882, housed three generations of McHenrys before being converted into a sanitarium and later into a 14-unit apartment house. It was in bad shape until the Julio R. Gallo Foundation bought it, donated it to the city and restoration began.

The mansion reopened in 1983, a Victorian-era showplace available to the public for tours, weddings, receptions, fund-raisers and other events. It remains Modesto's gem, even after a December 2011 fire forced another restoration.

The Whitmore Mansion arguably is in much better structural condition than was the McHenry Mansion when its restoration began.

But it remains to be seen whether deep-pocket benefactors will similarly emerge in Ceres to return the mansion to the way it looked when the first Whitmores moved in so long ago. DeWerk said that shortly after the city announced it had purchased the property, at least four people — all known for making good on their promises — told him they wanted to be involved.

In fact, he said, he envisions community pride in ownership that would involve the Historical Society and the Ceres Garden Club, as well as service club members and even city workers who would volunteer their time.

"The Lions Club has skilled carpenters, electricians and plumbers who are chomping at the bit to get in there," he said.

Even so, turning back the clock isn't the top priority.

"I don't think it's the city's intent to restore it to its early 1900s grandeur," deWerk said. "Early on, at least, we hope to generate enough revenue to keep the mansion from deteriorating. We want to use it similarly to how the Community Center is used — weddings and parties, barbecues and gatherings."

Less noisy ones than those the mansion's neighbors have experienced in recent years, hopes a woman who lives nearby.

"I love the place," she said, declining to give her name. "But the bass (speakers) is so loud that we have to live in the basement Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. They need parking and a sound wall."

DeWerk acknowledged that events at the mansion have drawn numerous complaints. It will be different under city ownership, he promised.

"The standard of use will have to be different," he said. "When they've had outdoor events there, the amplifiers were extremely loud, with decibel levels of 90 or higher."

As the owner, the city can impose its own restrictions.

Now, it's a matter of getting the place event-ready again.

Deed in hand, the folks of Ceres can turn their history into opportunity.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

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