When Lawrence and Ida McClure sold the last remnants of their family’s 1880s-era ranch to the city of Modesto in the mid-1970s, they also handed over a long list of furnishings.
Based upon the deed of gift the couple signed, they wanted their belongings – which included furniture, bookcases, artwork, desks, tables, pottery and more – to be seen and enjoyed by generations of Modestans and visitors.
But nothing about the McClure property has gone according to plan. The city never got around to restoring the ranch house for public use, or developing other parts of the 22 acres, either. Now, the city wants to sell 16 of the 22 acres and the house, and the McClures’ three daughters are contesting the sale.
Meanwhile, more than 100 items taken from the home decades ago were inventoried and stored in the old John Muir School building for future use in the ranch house. More than three-fourths of them were destroyed when an arsonist torched the school in 2007.
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To see any pieces of the collection today, you won’t go to the McClure home. Four of them, including one that survived the fire, are on display at McHenry Mansion, two in the same room on the second floor.
Wayne Mathes, the city’s cultural services manager who oversees McHenry Mansion and the McHenry Museum, needed period-correct pieces as the mansion restoration neared completion in 1983. His domain included the items from the McClure collection stored in the school building. So when a longtime Modesto resident donated a glassware collection to the mansion, and he needed a glass curio case to display it, he found one among the McClure pieces.
When he needed bookcases for the same room, the McClure goods yielded three mahogany lawyer’s bookcases as well. The bathroom on the first floor contains a small cabinet that had been in the McClure place. None of those items were in storage when the old school building burned nine years ago.
But a small, Louis XV-style sofa on the second floor, in a room often used by bridal parties for their final wedding preparations, did survive the fire. The woodwork had to be refinished and the piece reupholstered.
The bottom line here is that out of the entire McClure property – the house, 22 acres and well more than 100 pieces from their collection – only four items are being used for the “purpose of enhancing and stimulating the education and cultural interests and growth of the general public,” as stated in the gift deed from the McClures to the city in 1975.
There are numerous reasons for this, Mathes told me. The location came into play: The ranch property was considered out in the countryside in the mid-1970s. The city, he said, drew up a master plan for the property. But the money simply wasn’t there to restore it, he said. He was busy restoring the mansion and overseeing the McHenry Museum. Recessions in the early 1990s and again beginning in 2008 certainly impacted the city on all fronts.
The McClure property, burdened by lousy access from Claus Road, “was sort of out of sight, out of mind,” he said. The city rented out the home to various tenants over time, including a city official that had to move out because it reeked of a sweetheart deal to a public employee. The city’s parks and recreation department kept some office space there for a time, he said.
“I was just glad it was being occupied,” Mathes said.
The McClure place never found the community champion who would head a fundraising campaign to restore it.
As for the furniture and other items the family turned over to the city, they covered a wide array of design eras. The McHenry Mansion decor is primarily Victorian era.
“We keep certain rooms to certain periods,” he said.
Consequently, many of the McClure items didn’t work.
“They’re nice pieces, but …” Mathes said.
What did survive and could be salvaged – including some chairs and tables, and a bed – is now stored in a more fireproof place.
Otherwise, whatever promises city officials made to the McClures – out of the ranch house, 22 acres and far more than 100 other items – are realized in three rooms containing four pieces in the McHenry Mansion 5 miles away.