It was with unanimous sadness that the City Council voted 7-0 to demolish the historic Franceschi House high up on the Riviera and replace the centerpiece of city parkland with an interpretive pavilion meant to preserve the legacy of its former owners.
The decision, made last month, came after the council heard it would cost $6.7 million to salvage and rehabilitate the four-story, 5,800-square-foot home — riddled with termites, perched on a shaky foundation, and officially condemned in 1963 — while razing it and reimagining the popular park space would mean spending $3.4 million. “It’s a cool, old structure,” said Councilmember Randy Rowse, “but it’s way beyond its sell-by date.” Councilmember Gregg Hart agreed: “It’s too expensive, too difficult, and too far gone [to save].”
Multiple efforts were made over the years to salvage the one-of-a-kind structure, built in 1903 by Italian immigrant and botanist extraordinaire Dr. Francesco Franceschi, who sold it to philanthropist Alden Freeman in 1927, who in turn donated it to the city in 1931. The latest attempt was spearheaded in 2001 by the Pearl Chase Society. The preservation group entered into a grant agreement with the city whereby it would raise the money to rehabilitate the house and fund a $250,000 maintenance endowment. While the society completed some preliminary restoration plans, the project was put on hold in 2010 when funds ran short. “It’s time to move on,” said Sheila Lodge, a Pearl Chase Society member and the town’s former mayor, acknowledging the decades of involvement. “The house cannot be saved.”
The design details of the interpretive pavilion have yet to be finalized, but city staff said the plan will likely incorporate some of the home’s more distinctive elements, including its stained-glass windows and carved-stone wall medallions that depict communist and anarchist revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, and Emma Goldman, among others. Its many valuable plants and horticultural heritage will also be preserved.