Oakland landmark may close its doors

January 21, 2009 7:12:56 PM PST
The city of Oakland may soon lose an important piece of its history. The 140-year old Pardee home belonged to one of California's most powerful political families -- the Kennedys of their day. The house has been carefully preserved, but the group that owns it is running out of money. The Pardee home is a little sliver of our past, tucked on the edge of downtown Oakland.

The house was built in 1868 -- made entirely of old growth redwood. The water tower and carriage house are still standing.

For the last couple of decades, the property has been a museum.

In its heyday, the Pardee house was the center of oakland society, home to a family that shaped the Bay Area.

It was built by Enoch Pardee, an eye doctor who made his fortune during the Gold Rush.

Enoch was mayor of Oakland and served in the State Assembly and Senate. His son George was also mayor of Oakland, and in 1902 became governor of California.

"George's greatest civic achievement came years after he was governor with the creation of East Bay MUD -- our local publicly owned and publicly controlled water utility, something we take for granted now, but back then it was a huge victory," said museum director David Nicolai.

While George made his mark in politics, his wife Helen became a passionate collector, filling their home with treasures from all over the Pacific Rim.

"One thing this reflects is the very early importance of Oakland and San Francisco as port cities. A lot of these objects were coming into the ports. They were easily available," said Nicolai. "We have 35,000 objects in the Pardee home cataloged on a sophisticated computer data base. That is a staggering number for a house museum. The Asian Art museum in San Francisco has about 15,000 objects."

When George and Helen died, their two unmarried daughters inherited the property. They lived in the home, but very little changed.

Everything in the house is original. Even the closets are still filled with antique clothing. When the Pardee daughters died, they left the house to a non-profit foundation.

Nicolai has worked at the house for 17 years, and been director for over a decade. But the museum has fallen on hard times.

"The amount of money that has come to this house is simply not enough to pay the staggering bills 49 with winter heating, summer irrigation, repainting, these houses are very expensive," said Nicolai.

The foundation no longer has the money to pay a staff. So David, the only employee, is leaving at the end month.

The Board of Trustees hopes to get enough volunteers to keep the house open, but it may be tough.

"We need more revenues, more donations. We need more business, we need more visitors," said Nicolai.

Since word got out the museum is in trouble, the number of visitors has skyrocketed.

"It's just awesome, it's amazing. It's like a treasure of the bay area, especially Oakland you know," said Richard Hughes from Belmont.

"It is something all of us should keep in mind and all come and see it if we possibly can," said Mary Steiner from Alameda.

But it will take more than good wishes to keep the Pardee home open. Donations of both time and money are desperately needed.

"You don't really think someone would tear this down do you?" asked ABC7's Dan Ashley.

"Well, let me tell you something, this is a city of Oakland landmark, a state of California landmark. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, not one of those three statutes prevents demolition," said Nicolai.

Those landmark designations could still buy the Pardee home some more time. But it will still take a big outpouring of community support and money to save the house permanently.

For information about donating, volunteering or touring the Pardee Home, call: 510 444-2187

  • Parde home Web site

    Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.