News

Smythe offers solution to Jackling house dilemma

Venture capitalist says he would extract historic elements and rebuild with them elsewhere.

The end may be near for the saga of the Jackling house, a 30-room Woodside mansion built in 1925 by a noted architect and owned by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs has spent eight years arguing with preservationists over his plans to remove the house and build something more modern.

But it may be a new beginning for parts of the house.

Gordon Smythe, a Palo Alto-based venture capitalist with a long-standing interest in this home and others designed by George Washington Smith, informed the Woodside Town Council on June 23 that he has assembled a team to remove historically significant elements of the house and use them in a new family home -- if he finds "a great piece of land" on which to build it.

An official list of parts that haven't "been damaged beyond repair" is in preparation, Mr. Smythe told The Almanac. A preliminary list in the Woodside council's staff report includes roof tiles, an organ, a copper mailbox, a flagpole, and decorative tile and woodwork.

A new house using these recycled elements would run between $4 million and $6 million, Mr. Smythe told The Almanac, with Mr. Jobs contributing about $604,000 to pay for the deconstruction.

For the plan to proceed, Mr. Jobs, Mr. Smythe and the town of Woodside must agree to a contract that would obligate Mr. Smythe to extract the historical elements within 60 days of signing.

The parts may be in storage for a while. Mr. Smythe would have five years to use them, at which point parties with a historical interest in the house, including the town of Woodside, would have the right to take them.

The council voted 5-2 to issue a demolition permit to Mr. Jobs on the condition that he and Mr. Smythe sign the contract, which seems likely to happen.

Mr. Smythe told the council the deal is "pretty much done," and Howard Ellman, Mr. Jobs' attorney, said as much, adding that Mr. Jobs wants to work with the preservationists.

A key unknown is whether Uphold Our Heritage, a preservation-minded group that has argued for restoration of the house, will sue to stop its demolition. In an earlier lawsuit, Uphold convinced a San Mateo County Superior Court judge to invalidate a 2004 demolition permit. Mr. Jobs appealed that decision and lost in state court.

No one from Uphold spoke at the council meeting. Douglas Carstens, Uphold's attorney and a partner at the Santa Monica environmental law firm Chatten-Brown & Carstens, was unavailable for comment.

Speaking on Uphold's behalf, attorney Jan Chatten-Brown said the details of Mr. Smythe's proposal will probably be key, particularly "whether it would involve reconstructing 'the house' as opposed to saving simply parts of it. Obviously, Uphold Our Heritage wants to see the architectural integrity preserved."

The contract includes a clause that allows Mr. Smythe to walk away from the deal in the event of renewed litigation. "Who would blame him, after all," Mr. Ellman said, noting Mr. Jobs' long campaign.

Plans to reuse the house's meaningful elements may be the preservationists' last chance, Mr. Ellman said. The Uphold group should settle, he said.

Mr. Smythe told The Almanac that he's looking forward to working with Uphold "as much as possible."

He said that he and his wife spent a week in Santa Barbara touring homes designed by Mr. Smith, the Jackling house architect. "We like the architect a lot. We love his buildings," he said. "We want to reconstruct it in a way that he would be happy with."

The public hearing on the matter was brief, with just one speaker: Woodside resident and preservationist ally Steve Rubin, who raised a process question about the adjacent property, also owned by Mr. Jobs.

Mayor Peter Mason and Councilman Dave Burow voted against the resolution.

Mr. Mason has said he laments the tearing down of historic resources in town, while Mr. Burow disagreed with the proviso, advanced by Councilman Ron Romines, that conditions a demolition permit on Mr. Smythe and Mr. Jobs signing the contract.

Finding a site

If Mr. Smythe hasn't found a site suitable for a rebuilt version of the house in five years, the elements would be offered, in order of priority, to the town of Woodside, the San Mateo County Historical Association, and the University of California at Santa Barbara, according to the staff report.

Councilwoman Carroll Ann Hodges asked Mr. Smythe how the search was going.

"That's not an issue that we have nailed down," he replied. "I wish it weren't the case. I wish we had a site. I don't think a house like this deserves to be thrown just anywhere."

The parcel should be at least 10 acres, he said, adding that he's said he's looked in Southern and Central California and the Bay Area. "This house should not be crammed in somewhere, but it's difficult to find a great piece of land," he said.

One site near San Jose has "amazing views (but) it didn't feel right," he said. "This house is about being surrounded by trees and having privacy."

The team that would dismantle the house works "on a nail by nail basis, I understand," Mr. Ellman said, adding that of the many inquiries Mr. Jobs received regarding the house, "Gordon is the one guy who has really stuck with this."

Comments

Posted by Davis, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 1, 2009 at 12:10 pm

What an insane waste of time, money and energy. Where is the common sense here? Are people in such need of meaningful purpose? This has more to do with parasites of celebrity than any real concern.


Posted by Doug, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jul 1, 2009 at 1:57 pm

Dumb waste of time and money.


Posted by R.Gordon, a resident of another community
on Jul 1, 2009 at 2:03 pm

It seems that every "venture capitalist" is coming out of the woodwork (not Jackling house) to grab some free press for when future elections take place.
This is just nonsense at this point.
The differences in the quality of those homes in Santa Barbara and I believe Montecito, are almost laughable in the quality of work and detail. If this one were to be rebuilt next to one of those G.W. Smith designed, none of the elements are there which would make one dream the same architect was involved.
Mr.Smythe should have an architect take stickums or duct tape and mark all the tiles, faucets, toilets and bathtubs he would like to use in the rebuilding of the house, and play the organ at an opening night gala for this comical farce. This is like an Alec Guiness film of the 40's which is self-paroding.
Mr. Jobs, give the man his copper mailbox.


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