CHC 2011 Annual Awards Dinner
One of the jewels of the Peninsula’s Great Estate period of a century ago stood dying of benign neglect until a remarkable public/private partnership was formed. Now thanks to the efforts of the Folger Estate Stable Committee the Stable Barn built by coffee heir James Folger II has the look and feel of its glory days.
The Folger Estate Stable Committee, which was formed in 2002, included working with the County of San Mateo on a feasibility and master plan study and getting the Stable listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which was accomplished in 2004. The Campaign Committee raised $3 million for the renovation, which began in Dec. 2008. CHC architect member Adolph Rosecrans guided the complete restoration project.
The Stable’s deteriorated state meant much work was needed to renew its luster. “For example, the Carriage Room had been converted to stalls and hay storage,” said Committee spokesperson in the room that will now serve as the stables museum.
James Folger II purchased the property in 1902 and engaged Arthur Brown, Jr. to design the estate’s buildings. This was one of architect Brown’s first projects; he later designed many San Francisco buildings, including the Ferry Building, Opera House, City Hall and Coit Tower.
When the Folger family moved to the property, Folger the businessman proved also to be an innovator. He harnessed the waters of nearly Alambique Creek to create the area’s first hydro-electric power. The original house (no longer standing) is believed to be the first on the Peninsula to be fully wired for electricity.
Today the Folger Estate Stable Historic District includes the Stable, which is 188 feet long and 75 feet wide and is built from redwood harvested on the property. It is called a “bank barn” because the hay was loaded onto the second story from the bank behind the barn. There’s also a Blacksmith Barn and Dairy House as well as extremely well-preserved dry stone walls built in the late 1800s.
Sponsored by and focused upon expanding the California Heritage Council’s membership, the event highlighted the Benicia Arsenal’s history and transformation over 150+ years. The event was held at Reed Robbins’ Jefferson Street Mansion and grounds, 1063 Jefferson Street, Benicia. Telephone (707) 746-0684 or email Reed to receive more information. The afternoon began with an elegant catered lunch hosted by CHC Vice President, Reed Robbins, with select presentations, followed by a tour at 3:00 p.m., conducted by the Benicia Historical Society, of the newly restored Commanding Officer’s Quarters of 1860. A closing reception followed, also hosted by owner, Reed Robbins.
Guest speakers included:
John Hodges who acted as MC, and lives in San Francisco and Grass Valley California with his wife Sue. After graduate school and a stint in the US Navy Air, John joined IBM enjoying a thirty year career in the US and in Europe. Thereafter he was a lobbyist in Sacramento for many years. Their San Francisco house of some 37 years was built in 1904 and it has been restored extensively. Their Grass Valley country house allows exploration of the historic Gold Country. John has served CHC six years as President and currently is Chairman of the Board. John gave an entertaining view of history bringing together experiences gained in his European travels with the revitalization and repurposing of the Benicia Arsenal.
Christopher Layton is a licensed Architect whose involvement with the California Heritage Council spans 15 years. He has an extensive background in the restoration of historic structures with 50 years of Architectural practice. As the newly elected President of CHC his primary goal is to expand the outreach of the organization to lend assistance to those undertaking the daunting tasks encountered in the restoration and preservation of historic built environments. A living example of CHC assistance is the Jefferson Street Mansion. Reed Robins owner and creator of the Mansion into an architecturally authentic historic preservation effort based upon a financially viable business, recently recieved a well deserved CHC Award for her outstanding work.
Marilyn Bardet, who has devoted her life for the last 20 years, putting her own professional career as a trained fine artist on hold, for the preservation of the Benicia community. Through her efforts to stop inappropriate development, and the clean up of Formally Used Defense Sites (FUDS) as well as toxic refuse sites and unexploded ordinance, she has become somewhat of a State recognized expert. Had she not formed the Arsenal Preservation Task Force 10 years ago after she became aware of the housing proposal for the land surrounding mine, we would not be celebrating on 9-12; Jefferson Street Mansion would have been no longer in business. To honor her efforts Marilyn received the CHC “Appreciation Award” which was presented at the event.
Gary Widnam, past president of CHC and current President of the Presidio Historic Association told of his rich experiences at a Lieutenant at the Benicia Arsenal the 1960’s. As an eminent Attorney whose practice in Environmental Law in a career with the Federal Government in Washington DC to the Bay Area his remarks also focused on his deep and effective involvement in the ongoing battle to preserve the Presidio.
Dr. James Lessenger, longtime Benicia resident and docent at the Benicia Historical Museum offered a detailed history of Benicia from its early days in the 1800’s through to the present day. This astounding retrospective gave the audience a broad sweeping panorama of the vast history of the strategic nature of Benicia and its military and political importance to California and the United States.
The entire afternoon served as an energized forum for dialogue among people all with the common passion for historic preservation. It showcased the exciting role CHC is playing in fostering its place as a leader in the preservation of our historic places, to Educate, to Honor and to Preserve. Reed Robbins deserves a tremendous thanks for her generosity in hosting this most memorable experience for us all.