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March 10, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Thorny questions in debate over historic Woodside Jackling house Thorny questions in debate over historic Woodside Jackling house (March 10, 2004)

By Andrea Gemmet
Almanac Staff Writer

A public hearing about the importance of the Jackling house, which owner Steve Jobs hopes to demolish, raised some big issues in the thorny debate over historic preservation.

At the March 3 hearing, Woodside's Planning Commission heard comments on the draft environmental impact report for the Spanish colonial revival-style mansion built in 1926. The report, required by state law, found the house is historically important, and is eligible for the California Register of Historic Places.

It details the current condition of the house located at 460 Mountain Home Road, its architectural merits, its association with its owner, copper baron Daniel C. Jackling, and its notable architect, George Washington Smith. It also presents several multi-million dollar alternatives to demolishing the structure, such as restoring it and modifying the interior to make it inhabitable.

According to Mr. Jobs' attorneys, the key question is how much of a burden the town can reasonably expect a private property owner to bear when it comes to preserving a house he doesn't want. Attorney Howard Ellman described the report's alternatives as "draconian impositions" on Mr. Jobs, who bought the house in 1984.

To aficionados of the house, including members of the town's History Committee and the daughter of the former owner, granting a demolition permit is essentially rewarding "demolition by neglect" -- owners who purposely let their historic properties go to rack and ruin in order to ensure that it will be too expensive or too late to save them.

Miami Beach resident Clotilde Luce, whose father owned the Jackling house during the 1960s, told planning commissioners that her family kept the house in excellent condition and its current ramshackle state is deceiving.

"The house is very glamorous. It's a pleasure to live in the house," she said, listing dignitaries ranging from President Richard Nixon to Charles Lindbergh and Shirley Temple who visited it over the years.

According to the History Committee's report, "beyond some relatively minor deferred maintenance, the present condition of the house is a result of willful neglect," including the removal of its doors and windows to expose the house to the elements. "Fortunately the house is very solidly built, and appears to still be structurally sound," the report said.

"Speaking as an architect personally, and not as a member of the History Committee, I was aghast that somebody would buy a wonderful structure like this and want to tear it down," said Thalia Lubin, the committee's chair.

All told, about a dozen people, including former owners and a relative of Mr. Jackling, wrote letters or spoke at the meeting about the Jackling house's significance and importance of preserving it.

As a mitigation measure, Mr. Jobs has offered to provide photographic documentation of the home and to salvage various architectural features and offer them to local museums and historic societies, at a cost to Mr. Jobs of about $250,000, said Doug Aikens, one of his attorneys.

The draft EIR's conclusion that there is no way to successfully mitigate the loss of the house as a historic resource if it is demolished is flawed, he said.

"There's no precedent for a town to be imposing a multi-million dollar restoration on a private property owner," Mr. Aikens said.

It remains to be seen how Woodside officials will decide the matter. The consultants who prepared the environmental impact report will write responses to the public comments and include them in a final version of the document, which will then come before the Planning Commission for approval.

INFORMATION

Public comments on the draft environmental impact report for the Jackling house will be accepted until Friday, March 12. Copies of the document are available at Woodside Town Hall, 2955 Woodside Road. For information, call 851-6790.


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