Antioch Council Votes to Sell Historic Hard House
By James Ott
The boarded-up former home of Antioch’s first mayor is getting a new chance at life thanks to a local non-profit group’s efforts to save the historic house.
The Antioch City Council voted 4-0 Tuesday – Mayor Jim Davis was in Washington D.C. – to turn the 143-year-old property over to the Friends of Roswell Butler Hard House – a non-profit bent on attaining ownership of the property since 2009 in order to restore the home to it’s original state.
The Hard House as it’s called, was built in 1869 by Roswell Butler Hard – an influential resident of Antioch who served as a county supervisor, county Sheriff and the first Mayor of Antioch.
The two story home, which currently sits on 815 West First Street, was constructed in the “Italianite fashion” entirely of local brick from Antioch’s first brick factory. Newspapers at the time apparently described the Hard House as one of the area’s most attractive and costly homes.
Once Antioch became incorporated, the building became the site of the new city’s first council meeting.
The Hard House eventually became the first Antioch property to be listed on both the State and Federal Registry of Historic Sites.
In 1979 the Antioch Redevelopment Agency purchased the home with the intent to eventually restore the decrepit property.
When all California Redevelopment Agencies were eliminated this year by Gov. Jerry Brown cities like Antioch transferred many properties – including the Hard House – from their doomed Redevelopment Agencies to the city to avoid losing them altogether.
As a result of this change and a general lack of money over the years with which to restore the historic property, the house has stood neglected and is now boarded up and in very poor shape.
The Friends of the Hard House intend to eventually restore the house and use it possibly for city functions or as a museum.
The Friends cannot begin the much needed restoration however until the transfer is complete and the home closes escrow because of potential insurance issues.
And even after escrow the Friends aren’t out of the woods yet because the state is still in the process of deciding if some of the property transfers done between former Redevelopment Agencies and their cities is legal.
If the state finds the transfer legal then the restoration will continue. If not – the Friends will lose the property and any money and work that they put into it.
But the Friends think the risk is worth it for such an important property.
“The idea is to preserve it for the city,” said Friends’ member Sam Davis. “This is the oldest residence in the city, and very probably the oldest building in the city. We’re offering… the chance to do what [the city] would like to have done if it had the resources.”
The entire restoration including landscaping, structural improvements and construction is estimated to take six to seven years.
The Hard House is considered the area’s only surviving example of the Italianate style of architecture that was popular during the late Victorian period.
In other council business:
The July 4th Fireworks & Celebration committee gave a report to the council letting them know that over $44,000 has been raised in contributions and commitments, to date. So they’re well on their way to achieving their goal of $65,000 to pay for all costs of the fireworks and parade. They are asking individual residents to contribute, as well, since the city is not covering any of the costs associated with the event, including city staff costs, estimated at $34,000.
A presentation was given on the eBART extension by Ellen Smith from BART and their plans for extending beyond the Hillcrest station.
The council added an urgency item to the agenda, to accept “a Facility Repair and Modification Grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW) in the amount of $495,000 and authorize the City Manager or his designee to sign the contract,” for the new boat launch at the city marina.
The council also approved spending $200,000 of the remaining $2.1 million in Mello-Roos funds dedicated to Prewett Park, on a list of items including furniture and equipment for the new Community Center. Staff was also directed to research turf fields, sand volleyball courts and library equipment then, come back with recommendations on how to spend the final $1.9 million, to fulfill the master plan for the park.
The council voted to extend the sunset of the Residential Development Allocation Program by one year to May 1, 2013, to give staff the necessary time to complete the work on development impact fees and growth metering. The RDA Program was adopted to implement the intent of Measure U, the growth management advisory measure, approved by over 69% of Antioch voters in 1998.
Finally, the council approved a resolution supporting and joining the Healthy Eating Active Living Cities (HEAL) campaign. They offer training and technical assistance to city officials to help cities adopt policies in the areas of land use, healthy food and employee wellness, that will improve the physical activity and food environments for their residents. It’s an effort to address the obesity epidemic among children and over half the adults in California. For more information visit www.healcitiescampaign.org
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