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Fourth Generation Owners Want to Save Historic Value : Ranch Has More Than Money Can Buy

September 21, 1986|CARMEN VALENCIA | Times Staff Writer

The city has tried to buy it, but the owners say they want more than money. They want a guarantee that John Paddison's 19th-Century ranch in Norwalk will not be bulldozed for a modern shopping center.

This is, after all, a ranch where things have not changed much since the turn of the century. The 1878 Victorian house is painted the same color it was on the day it was built. Farming implements, such as harrows and plows, dot the landscape. A blacksmith shop and redwood barns still stand.

Owners Bob and Margaret Scantlebury say they are not opposed to commercial development on the Imperial Highway land between Norwalk Boulevard and the Santa Ana Freeway, just a stone's throw from City Hall. They also say they think it should be shared with the public.

But whatever is done, they say, should enhance the historic value of the six-acre property that harks back to Norwalk's earliest days.

That was not the city's vision earlier this year when it made an offer described as lucrative by the Scantleburys. Neither side will disclose the dollar amount, but the Scantleburys insist that money was not the crucial issue.

"We decided philosophically it would be wrong to do a raw land approach that would destroy the historical buildings," Margaret Scantlebury said.

Under its redevelopment plans, the city intended to sell part of Paddison ranch to developer Gary Kanter & Associates for expansion of nearby Paddison Shopping Square. It also wanted to use another portion of the property for a senior citizen apartment complex.

The city had offered to save the house--which is on the National Register of Historic Places--by either incorporating it into the project or moving it elsewhere. The city's plan, though, made no provision for other structures on the farm. In June, the Scantleburys nixed the sale.

"We felt there was more historical significance to the farm than just the home," Margaret Scantlebury said.

The developer is still going through with the $12 million project to expand the Montgomery Ward store and build a movie theater and additional retail space, said Michael J. Wagner, redevelopment director. With less land to work with, though, plans were modified by going up--to two stories--instead of out.

At this point, the senior citizen complex appears dead for lack of a site. TELACU Development and Realty Co. had proposed building 75 dwelling units on a little more than an acre of the ranch, partly financed by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Since rejecting the city's offer, the Scantleburys say they have begun to consider other alternatives, including developing it themselves.

"We could have kept living on it forever," said Margaret Scantlebury, noting that she began talking with historical preservationists who told her that the place has "so much historical significance, it should be shared with the public."

The Scantleburys are now in the "exploration stages" of bringing about a development that still retains its historical ambiance and structures.

"Why destroy one thing to create another? I'd rather blend the old with the new," she said.

The couple would like to have the city's blessing for the project. Earlier this month, the Scantleburys sponsored an open house for city officials and members of historical societies to introduce them to the farm that sits in the middle of urban sprawl.

"The purpose was familiarizing the city people with Paddison farm on a more intimate level to better assist us with future plans to open to the public," Margaret Scantlebury said.

Other Examples Found

She said she began hearing of other projects in California where historical structures were incorporated into commercial developments. In Huntington Beach, the Newland Center was created using an old home and building a shopping center with similar architecture around it. Another project is in Carmel, where a series of old barns have been spruced up and turned into a combination of retail shops and restaurants.

"It gave me the incentive to start exploring other historical landmarks utilized in development without the historical significance being hurt," said Margaret Scantlebury, who works as an interior decorator.

Some of the ideas they are looking into include retail shops, indoor and outdoor restaurants, or a cultural arts center.

Councilman Cecil Green, who attended the open house, said he could see such a project working in Norwalk.

"Anything that can upgrade the community and bring in more jobs and more sales tax . . . , I'll work to make it happen," he said.

One idea that definitely has been ruled out is a museum. The city already has two museums--the Hargitt House and Sproul Museum--which are also more than 100 years old and belonged to early settlers. Linda Alvarez, curator of the Sproul Museum, said that while most of the city's Historical Heritage Commission members agree that the Paddison ranch is important historically, the city cannot support another museum.

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