Inter-Departmental Correspondence

Environmental Services Agency



November 5, 2003


December 16. 2003



Honorable Board of Supervisors


Marcia Raines, Director, Environmental Services Agency


Wunderlich Park -- Folger Estate Stable Historic District



That the Board of Supervisors supports the nomination of the Folger Estate Stable Historic District in Wunderlich Park to the National Register of Historic Places



In October 2002 the Board approved acceptance of a gift from the Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks for an assessment of the condition and recommendations for rehabilitation of the Folger Estate Stable in Wunderlich Park. That assessment has now been completed and recommends rehabilitation of the stables' complex that would cost an estimated $4,000,000.

The assessment was a first step that is part of a private fundraising campaign to restore the stables' structure and other historically significant buildings in the complex. In addition, stone retaining walls in the immediate area built in the late 1800's are proposed to be included in the nomination. With the completion of the assessment, the Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks are now looking at the steps needed to raise money for the rehabilitation of the structures as well as a maintenance endowment that would fund maintenance work on the structures in perpetuity. As part of the community assessment of willingness of donors to give to this campaign, it has been suggested that the complex be nominated as a Historic District to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places to ensure that the improvements made will be maintained and that the structures will be preserved for future generations.

The Folger Stable was built by James Folger in 1904 and was designed by Arthur Brown, Jr., a well-known architect. Mr. Brown also designed the San Francisco Opera House and City Hall. According to John Blackburn, an equestrian architect who completed the feasibility study and master plan for the rehabilitation of the building: "The existing stable is remarkable for a structure of its age because of its condition and continued use as an equine facility. Much of the original grandeur, architectural finish and style remain."



The National Register of Historic Places is a federal program administered by the National Park Service in partnership with state governments. National Register listing is primarily an honor, meaning that a property has been researched and evaluated according to established procedures and determined to be worthy of preservation for its historical value. The listing does not obligate an owner in any way unless the owner seeks a federal benefit, such as a grant.

The listing on the National Register is proposed to be a Historic District that includes the Stable, the Carriage House (now determined to be "The Garage"), the Blacksmith Barn, the Dairy House and three stone retaining walls in the area, which were all built in the late 1800's, as significant historic structures. If they were placed on the National Register, it would increase awareness of the presence of structures that embody the rich architectural and historic tradition associated with the "Great Estates Period" in the mid-peninsula area. It would be an addition to the listing of the 47 buildings in the County currently listed on the National Register, including the Sanchez Adobe and the San Mateo County Courthouse. Recognition of the Stable District is designed to highlight the equestrian legacy and tradition created by the well-known families who came to San Mateo County at the turn of the century and created the rural residential atmosphere of the area that still exists today. In addition, it would give the site and the buildings the status and credibility needed to assist in raising funds to rehabilitate the structures. The San Mateo County Historical Association Director concurs that the recognition would be an important factor in the fundraising efforts.

The Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks have formed a fundraising committee (the Committee) and retained a well-recognized historian who prepared the application for the National Register. The application was due in November and was submitted by the Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich Parks to the State Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO). SHPO will ask the County for formal comments in December, with review and possible action to recommend the nomination for federal consideration in February 2004. The federal review would come later in 2004.

The Committee has done extensive work, both on the assessment of what is needed to restore the structures as well as developing a concept plan that lays out one approach as to how the Stable might be operated in the future. County Parks will be developing a Master Plan for Huddart and Wunderlich Parks starting in the first of next year. Under normal circumstances, it would have been helpful to have the master planning process completed before proceeding with the details of a component of the park. There are a number of concerns and issues that will need to be addressed during the master planning process that could well affect some of what is contemplated by the Committee as to how the facility will be operated once the renovation is complete.

In addition, listing on the National Register may make it more difficult to alter or demolish the structures as it forecloses the County's ability to argue that such changes could be made without California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. However, as a practical matter, it may make no difference as existing information on the historic significance of the structures may already have foreclosed that option.

Another factor is that the County has an existing lease agreement with a tenant to operate the stables. The agreement has been for 10-year periods of time since the County acquired the facility in 1973. That agreement was extended for a one-year period to terminate in March 2004 to allow time for the assessment to be completed. The current operator has requested a additional three-year extension of the agreement to span the time it will take to complete the fundraising and begin the restoration project. She has also indicated her support for the concept plan proposed by the Friends of Huddart and Wunderlich that would continue an equestrian use in some of the structures. Staff is currently reviewing the operator's request to extend the current agreement. Real Property will be ready to make a recommendation on that request in the near future.

There are several reasons why it is prudent to proceed at this time:

    · The deteriorated condition of the structures.

    · The lack of funds for the project from other sources available to the County.

    · Other higher priorities in the $78 million unfunded capital needs for County Parks.

    · The interest the Committee has already been able to generate in the potential donor community and the need to continue that momentum.

    · The Committee's willingness to commit to raising a maintenance endowment as part of their capital campaign to address any future increased costs the County might incur because of the National Registry listing.

Staff has investigated the impact such a listing might have on the Division's ability to manage and maintain the buildings in the future. If federal or state historic preservation funds were contemplated as part of the funding mechanisms for restoration of the buildings (now or at any time in the future), review and approval for any changes would need to be sought at those levels of government. Adaptive reuse of the buildings is not prohibited, but would need to be done within guidelines established by the National Park Service. Neither of these factors are of concern under the current plans for the structures.

The State Office of Historic Preservation has advised staff that if no state or federal historic preservation funds are used to work on the buildings once a nomination has been approved, that the approval process rests entirely at the local level. In the case of the Wunderlich Park structures, the permitting and approval process would begin with a project proposed by County Parks, with permits issued by the County's Planning and Building Division. Consultation with Planning Division staff outlines a process that includes California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review and comments from the County's Historic Resources Advisory Committee before a permit would be issued. Comment by the Historic Resources Advisory Committee is the only additional step to the project process for these types of park projects.

The San Mateo County Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed this issue at their November 6, 2003 meeting. Both the Commission and staff recommend that the Board support the nomination of the Folger Stable Complex as a Historic District to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


Vision Alignment

Rehabilitation of the Folger Estate Stable Complex keeps the commitment of Leaders work together across boundaries to preserve and enhance our quality of life and goal number 24: Residents accept individual responsibility for contributing to the quality of life of the County as a whole. The rehabilitation of the Folger Estate Stable Complex contributes to the commitment and goal by securing private funds to preserve for future generations part of the County's historic legacy.


Fiscal Impact

If the nomination is approved and the Committee's fundraising campaign is successful, the fiscal impact could be as much as a $4,000,000 improvement to the Folger Estate Stable Complex and establishment of a maintenance endowment. The funds for the Folger Estate Stable improvements and establishment of a maintenance endowment are anticipated to come from private sources. There will be no use of the County's general fund to underwrite the cost of this project.