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Coalition Leads Fight to Save Historic Pio Pico Mansion

Southeast

June 27, 1996|JOHN COX

Etched in the walls of Pio Pico's once stately mansion lies a past that state historians would rather leave untold.

Since its last major renovation nearly a century ago, the two-story adobe built in 1852 as a rural refuge for California's last Mexican governor has deteriorated steadily alongside the San Gabriel River, between what are now Pico Rivera and Whittier.

Rainwater dripping from the neglected roof has spattered and exposed the building's delicate adobe. Multiple layers of paint and wallpapered ceilings have worn through in some rooms, while in other spots graffiti dates as far as 1918, a year after the structure was converted from farm storage to a state park.

But what could have finally sealed the building's fate--damage from two major earthquakes in the past decade--may rewrite the history of the Pico residence.

A coalition of state and local authorities bent on rescuing a unique historical resource is leading an effort to preserve the park.

Within months, state grants totaling $900,000 are expected to fund restoration and repair of the building's walls, roof, porches and structural support.

And should Los Angeles County voters approve a $319-million bond measure in November, the Pico mansion would receive $2.5 million for new landscaping, a variety of historical exhibits and other improvements.

At the very least, senior park aide Susan Doniger said, the renovations will allow officials to open more rooms to the public. Deterioration limits tours of the mansion to five of its 20 rooms.

"[The building] is really such a cultural treasure," Doniger said. "It'd be nice if more people could enjoy it."

With more rooms open, Doniger said, she hopes to bring out more of the building's original furniture, almost all of which is in storage.

Renovation might also draw more enrollment to the park's junior ranger program, where every summer children learn about the region's history through hands-on experience such as making adobe bricks just outside the Pico residence.

Details of the restoration have not been undecided, although the consensus is that it ought to come as close as possible to being historically accurate.

State and county officials said part of any funding package would be spent on engineering and architectural studies of the site.

No one has lived in the building since Pico, the wealthy businessman and politician who oversaw California's transfer from Mexico to the United States, lost the building to a scheming Los Angeles businessman in 1892.

The only major renovations since a historically inaccurate renovation in 1903 were a plasterlike retrofitting, installed after the 1987 Whittier Narrows and 1994 Northridge earthquakes.

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