So far, preservationists have not indicated how they feel about a proposal that appears to rescue certain parts of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' crumbling historic house in Woodside, but the deal might be the best they can get in the eight-year tug-of-war to save from demolition the mansion known as the Jackling house.
The savior in this saga could be Palo Alto venture capitalist Gordon Smythe, who told the Woodside Town Council on June 23 that he wants to save some features of the home. Although Mr. Smythe has not said what items he would save, a Woodside staff report list includes roof tiles, an organ, a copper mailbox, a flagpole and decorative tile and woodwork. In prior discussions, Mr. Smythe has said he would like to retain some sections of the house.
Mr. Smythe told the Woodside council that he is looking to spend between $4 million and $6 million to build a new home that would incorporate the material saved. No site has been identified, but Mr. Smythe said he would consider locations outside the Bay Area. He added that Mr. Jobs would contribute just over $600,000 to the demolition effort, which was authorized to proceed by the Woodside council on a 5-2 vote, provided the two men sign an agreement.
If they sign, and if there is no lawsuit from Uphold Our Heritage, the preservation group that successfully challenged the original demolition permit, there is much work to be done, including the ticklish job of carefully taking apart the nearly 100-year-old home in a way that would be acceptable to the Uphold group. Uphold is expected to send a representative to a meeting July 10 where Mr. Jobs' attorney, Howard Ellman, hopes to forge an agreement acceptable to all parties.
In the past, the preservation group has not supported partial or piecemeal restoration. In commenting on Mr. Smythe's proposal, the group's attorney told The Almanac their response would depend on the details, such as whether "it would involve reconstructing the house as opposed to simply saving parts of it. Obviously, Uphold Our Heritage wants to see the architectural heritage preserved."
The Jackling house case illustrates how difficult it can be to preserve a historic structure without strong support from the owner and local government. Someone like Mr. Jobs, who was willing and able to fund a long-running legal battle, is a formidable opponent for a preservation group made up of volunteers who often do not have the resources to keep fighting.
The location of the house, hidden away where no one can see it, didn't help matters. And suppose it were a local showplace for the work of architect George Washington Smith. In that case, it would not be an unoccupied monument, but a family home periodically invaded by tourists.
At this stage, it is time for all parties in the Jackling house dispute to finally come to an agreement. That is what the Town Council hopes, as well as Mr. Jobs and Mr. Smythe. The key will be Uphold Our Heritage, which will have to decide if its cause will be advanced by attempting to save a rapidly deteriorating historic asset.