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Can Morgan house still be repaired?

This house, designed by architect Julia Morgan, is deteriorating rapidly, some warn.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

The chances of saving a house near the Northstar Mine that was designed by San Simeon architect Julia Morgan are getting slimmer by the day, advocates say.

The 18,000-square-foot house, built in 1905 for the mine’s manager, sits on 760 acres of Nevada County land slated for annexation into the city of Grass Valley. The house is now in disrepair.



The North Star property owners in October announced steps to prevent further vandalism. The house would be boarded up and an on-site caretaker assigned to guard the property, they said.




But Neal Mitchell, a nearby resident who wants the house restored and opened to the general public as a historic site, said he could not find a caretaker when he visited the property last Thursday.

On the way out, Mitchell said, he took photos of the house.

“It’s going down very, very fast,” said Mitchell, who showed the photos to the Historic Buildings Alliance, a group of residents interested in the preservation of historic buildings.

County Supervisor Bruce Conklin, who formed the group two years ago, led Saturday’s meeting at the Empire Mine State Park in Grass Valley.

Mitchell’s pictures show the chicken wire used to board up the building had been cut through and the fence has gaps. The roof is rotting away, he said.

Andy Cassano, a planner with Nevada City Engineering Inc., the firm that represents the property owners, was not aware of Mitchell’s visit last week.

A caretaker and a large dog are on the site, Cassano said Monday. Protective tarps have been placed on the roof and the first floor has been boarded up, he added.

The annexation agreement the property owners signed with the city in 1997 stipulates the North Star House and other buildings nearby be turned over to a third party.

While the property owners – Lowell Robinson’s Robinson Enterprises Inc. and Terra Alta Development, a company owned by the Amaral family – agreed to turn over the property to the county, a long-term lease could not be negotiated, Conklin said Monday.

Conklin, who had not seen Mitchell’s photos before the meeting, said he wants to seek state historic landmark status for the property, as he had proposed a year ago. He will put the item on the Board of Supervisors’ agenda Feb. 12, he said. The property owners opposed the designation, county officials said.

Rob Kellenbeck, a potter and longtime Grass Valley resident, works with Mitchell to save the property. The property needs historic designation, Kellenbeck said Saturday.

“It would make it more difficult to bulldoze this property,” he said.

The owners have repeatedly said they will donate the property only after the annexation is completed. As long as the property remains in private hands, it will not be able to qualify for state or federal grants, Conklin and others said.

Superintendent Ray Patton of the Empire Mine State Historic Park said his superiors are interested in saving the property, but that state funds are running out.

Grass Valley Mayor Linda Stevens said the city does not have the money to restore the property.


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