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by Steve Dowty, PCS Board President

The PCS Board of Directors’ meeting for June was held on the grounds of the Franceschi House. The Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Department gave a very informative tour. Director Jill Zachary, along with George Thomson and Santos Escobar, explained the current conditions of the building and grounds, and what was being done to address various concerns on structural deterioration and public safety.
Last year the City Council directed a joint SBP&R Department and PCS team to come up with a plan for the Franceschi House. Team meetings have been held, which have led to three proposed project options. The first option would be a complete restoration. The second option would be to preserve the exterior of the house. The third would be to selectively demolish and reconstruct the house, creating a “pavilion” with educational displays focusing on the property’s history and the attributions made by two former owners, Dr. Franceschi and Alden Freeman.
During this year’s planning study, SBP&R hired a geological consultant to report on the underlying conditions of the house. It was determined that major structural problems are present in both the house and site slopes at the retaining walls. To correct the house’s structural deficiencies would render options 1 and 2 cost-prohibitive. The team has thus focused on project option 3.
Parks and Recreation has also hired a civil engineering consultant to do a preliminary design for two major retaining walls. One wall is directly above the house and will replace an existing rubble stone gravity wall. This wall will maintain a rubble-look on the exposed face. The other retaining wall replacement is below the house. Both walls will preserve the configuration of the land around the house by protecting it from erosion. The walls and reconstructed guardrails will add to public safety. A pathway, extending along the top of the lower wall, will provide level access to the city overlook at the far-western end.
Some sketch concepts have been developed by the team for option 3. This would involve saving significant architectural elements of the house including the “medallions.” Concept option 3 would be a park-like setting within a delineated footprint of the house. Exterior elements such as the portico, and interior elements such as the concrete stairway and fireplace would be restored and reinforced in situ to maintainable, out-of-doors, condition. Connecting walks and ramps (all ADA compliant) would weave through the room outlines of the former residence, enabling park-goers to experience the house’s idiosyncratic design elements, magnificent views of Santa Barbara, unique sculptures and bas-relief medallions. The option 3 concept is a pre-design suggestion, which could help to define a scope for a professional design study. In the near future SB P&R will likely issue a request for proposals to design firms to produce such a study.
PCS member Rick Closson spoke at the meeting about the “medallions.” He described the background on Alden Freeman’s commissioning for the works, which represent some important historic personalities. Rick brought along quite a few related reference books and artifacts. His knowledge and his collection of reference materials will be great assets to support the project design and development.
To see a video clip of the tour, visit our Facebook page.

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