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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 10:06 am | Fair 55º

Here & There

Frank McGinity: A Personal Journey Through a Sea of Mud in Riven Rock

A historic property suffers through an epic flash flood but catastrophic losses are no deterrent to determination to rebuild and rebound


We live in Riven Rock, a neighborhood along Hot Springs Creek in Montecito. Our community got hit hard by the recent flash flooding and mud flows, with one very sad death of a neighbor, Roy Rohter.

Riven Rock has 34 homes on 87 acres. This is where Stanley McCormick lived for 40 years. He was the son of Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the mechanical reaper and one of the leaders of the Industrial Revolution. Stanley, unfortunately had schizophrenia and was confined to Riven Rock with his two male nurses.

Over the years, it has been an exciting place to live, not only for its history but also its beauty, with a large assortment of trees, bridges and winding roads. Half of Riven Rock now is encompassed in a sea of mud.

Four homes in Riven Rock were completely destroyed. Our home took a big hit. The mud entered the rear of the house and disseminated our office, entry hall and a back bedroom. I found our large TV from the office along with a mattress about 500 feet away near our front gate. Can you imagine the fury of that slide?

The large entry hall to the upstairs living room was inundated with two to three feet of mud. A grandfather clock was face down in shambles along with beautiful large urns. The bedroom on that level was also full of mud but it hadn’t reached our Birdseye maple fireplace. We felt very fortunate to have acquired that fireplace from the McCormick mansion 20 years ago. Ironically, the original McCormick mansion, across the street from our home, was destroyed in the 1925 earthquake.

We were also fortunate that the main living room, library and even the swimming pool weren’t touched.

The whole house was once McCormick’s personal theater. He would come here with his two caregivers and watch the latest movies from Hollywood. We have held many events in the living room, from opera previews to silent movies. There have also been two movies produced about McMormick’s life, with a lot of the footage made in this room.

My sons, Greg and Tim, came up to help me salvage some of our personal effects. But you had to be careful. I sank into two feet of mud and had to be helped out.

Many of the pictures on the wall were still hanging so we could retrieve them. But many were covered with mud splatter and must be carefully washed off. Thanks to precautions we had taken due to the risk of earthquakes, several artifacts on some top shelves were screwed down and not damaged.

Our guest house was full of mud, and it was very difficult to get any items out. The back bedroom was completely destroyed.

Ironically, our wine cellar in the back was still standing. This is a concrete building that McCormick built to house his very flammable nitrate movie films. We converted it to a more contemporary use. We dug open the door — it took an hour and a half — because I had a purpose. We had about 50 bottles of very good wine, which is very difficult to buy, in the cellar. So that rescue was a bright spot for the day.

The landscape looked like a sea of mud or a moonscape. (The only part of our landscape remaining was a 190-pound statue of Emperor Qin, which we purchased in Xi’an, China. (Emperor Qin Shi Huang was ruthless but considered to be one of the strongest rulers in China’s history.)

We can’t imagine how so much mud can be both removed from the house, our yard and driveway. The number of trucks needed will be mind boggling. Currently, there is no permitted dump to receive our mud.

There are a few bright spots. I was moved by my two sons who were there to support us. And they are coming through with all sorts of counsel and help to get us through. My grandson, Marty, was a help as well. He emptied his piggy bank and sent the coins to grandpa.

Of course, insurance will be a big issue and, if we qualify, our loss will be substantially mitigated. The issue is whether the previous fires are a cause of the mud flows. There is also tax relief since this area has been declared a disaster area eligible for tax refunds. You can even carry back your casualty loss to your 2017 tax return. Small Business Administration loans, at low interest rates, can also be attained.

So through all these resources, we will rebuild and our theater house will shine again. Life moves on and we plan to go with it.

— Frank McGinity is a Montecito resident. The opinions expressed are his own.

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