Santa Barbara’s historic Franceschi House on the Riviera overlooking the city is in jeopardy.
Officials are considering demolishing the structure, named after botanist Francesco Franceschi, who built it in 1907.
“The place is a disaster,” said Sheila Lodge, a former mayor and current city planning commissioner. “It is just crumbling in front of our eyes.”
The house sits next to scenic Franceschi Park off Mission Ridge Road in the foothills above the city.
The park and house have become one of Santa Barbara’s iconic locales, with panoramic views of the city and the Pacific Ocean beyond. It’s a quick and quiet hideout away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, a spot for paintings and photos and small gatherings.
But the city has fallen woefully behind in its maintenance and park infrastructure.
The condition of the park rose again to the public eye during Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting. Municipal staff presented a six-year capital improvement project report, offering an overview of the condition of a variety of city properties.
The city approved a master plan for Franceschi Park in 2004, but the Parks & Recreation Department has made little progress since then.
Many of the city’s 59 parks suffer from neglect and deferred maintenance. The six-year capital plan calls for the spending of $2.1 million over the next six years for “essential improvements.”
It’s money the city does not have, however.
Most of the expense isn’t even scheduled for the house, specifically.
Plans call for widening the service driveway at Mission Ridge Road, relocating a fire hydrant, stabilizing the retaining wall along the south-facing side of the house and circular driveway, improving the site drainage, and reconstructing the stone retaining wall north of the house.
Noozhawk visited the house Friday and observed several broken windows, graffiti on the walls and exposed wiring and lighting.
Lodge said she visited the house recently and believes that she saw the glass skylight was broken.
“The rain is going in," she said. “Everything is going in. It is literally crumbling.”
Lodge said it was time for the city to consider demolition of the house, rather than restore it.
But Lesley Wiscomb, chairwoman of the Parks & Recreation Commission, said there may be health issues related to a demolition.
“The reality is that the demolition of the property, I don’t know if there are asbestos issues,” she said. “The demolition of the property could be quite costly. The money just has not been there to handle that part of it.”
Planning Commission chairman Addison Thompson said something must be done.
He is worried about the city’s liability of letting such a rotted, decrepit, potentially dangerous piece of public property stand in such a highly traversed area.
“If somebody got in there and started a fire, it could have serious consequences,” Thompson said.
City staff had no answers.
Jill Zachary, assistant director of the Parks & Recreation Department, said “at some point in the future,” the City Council will be hearing about options.