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December 22, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Steve Jobs wins fight to tear down Woodside house Steve Jobs wins fight to tear down Woodside house (December 22, 2004)

By Andrea Gemmet

Almanac Staff Writer

Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs will get his wish to get rid of the Jackling house in Woodside, but there's still a chance the 1926 Spanish Colonial-style mansion could be preserved.

Preservationists, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the State Historical Resources Commission, rallied behind efforts to save the mansion at 460 Mountain Home Road, designed by architect George Washington Smith for copper magnate Daniel C. Jackling.

But in a split decision at the December 14 meeting, the Woodside Town Council decided Mr. Jobs could demolish the 17,250-square-foot mansion if he couldn't first find someone willing to dismantle it and restore it on a different site.

The vote was 4-3 to uphold an earlier Planning Commission decision allowing the demolition, with council members Sue Boynton, Deborah Gordon and Carroll Ann Hodges opposed.

The appeal to the Town Council was the last chance, short of legal action, to halt the demolition, and was filed by Woodside residents Rob Flint and Virginia Gill Andersen, who is Mr. Jackling's great-niece, and Florida resident Clotilde Luce, whose family owned and lived in the Jackling house in the 1960s.

The sad condition of the house, characterized by the Woodside History Committee as willful neglect, apparently played a key role in the council's decision, as did Mr. Jobs' steadfast refusal to consider keeping the house on the property.

Mr. Jobs' distaste for the 14-bedroom mansion is well-known -- he referred to it publicly as an "abomination," and has cast aspersions on the historical importance of both Mr. Jackling and Mr. Smith. He told the Town Council he has no intention of parting with the property, which he has owned for 20 years, and that he intends to build a more modest -- say, 6,000-square-foot -- home for his family there. He currently lives in Palo Alto.

Although Mr. Jobs lived in the Jackling house in the 1980s, and it was occupied as recently as the mid-1990s by Secret Service agents for then-President Bill Clinton, its condition has seriously deteriorated since then. The doors and windows were removed, roof leaks have gone unrepaired, and the house is suffering from mold and dry rot, according to a survey of the house by architectural historian Michael Corbett.

Although Mr. Jobs told the Town Council he thought the doors and windows had been removed in the past year, in late 2001 by the Woodside History Committee reported finding doors wrenched off the frames, windows missing and vegetation creeping into the house when they toured the house. Mr. Jobs said he did not know why they weren't boarded over.

Mr. Jobs said at the meeting that if he didn't get the demolition permit now, he would simply wait and try again.

"Are you trying to wear us down?" asked Councilwoman Hodges.

"I think the elements will wear the house down," Mr. Jobs replied.

Both Councilman Dave Tanner and Mayor Paul Goeld cited the house's hazardous condition among their reasons for allowing the Jackling house to be demolished. Mr. Tanner noted that someone had blown holes into every wall in the house, inside and out. The Jackling house was built with a double-wall construction meant to evoke thick adobe walls.

"As a contractor, builder and person who lives in Woodside, I hate to see something unsafe sitting there," said Mr. Tanner. "It's just going to fall down or cause harm to somebody."

The council had to do more than just decide whether or not Mr. Jobs should be allowed to tear down all the house. The Jackling house, which qualifies for listing on the state historic register, falls under the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, which extend some protections to historical structures and other "cultural resources."

Legally, in order to allow the demolition, the decision-making body has to find that the loss of the historic house is outweighed by a larger public benefit by making a "statement of overriding considerations," if no feasible alternatives can be found.

The Woodside Planning Commission decided that the additional open space gained by replacing the Jackling house with a smaller home would provide the public benefit required by CEQA. Going against the recommendation of Planning Director Hope Sullivan, who said the open space rationale did not hold up to CEQA standards, the council upheld the Planning Commission's decision.

Anyone in Woodside with deep pockets and an abiding love for large historic houses will have an easier time moving the Jackling house to his or her property, as the Town Council directed staff to revise zoning regulations to make an exception for houses that exceed the town's size limitations, provided the house qualifies for the state historic register.

According to Howard Ellman, Mr. Jobs' attorney, his office fielded 76 inquiries after national news stories were published about Mr. Jobs' offer to give away the Jackling house. He characterized about 10 of them as viable, and the rest as "tire-kickers."

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