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Valley Focus | West Hills

Restoration Planned for 1869 Ranch House

January 23, 1998|SYLVIA L. OLIANDE

Although it was once a majestic ranch house and the center of development for some of the West Valley, the building that now stands in the middle of Shadow Ranch Park shows much of the travails it has endured in the last few years.

The house's four chimneys fell victim to the Northridge earthquake, after which it was boarded up as uninhabitable.

Two years later, to add insult to injury, one of the stately eucalyptus trees outside the back door toppled onto the house during strong winds, heavily damaging the roof--one of the few things left unscathed after the quake.

Historians said the eucalyptus trees, brought by Albert Workman from his native Australia, were the first planted in Southern California.

But now, the city is poised to begin restoring the old house on Vanowen Street, built in 1869 by Workman, a wheat farmer and logger.

City Department of Recreation and Parks officials said plans for the home's improvement project have been drawn, but the funding and details that come with restoring a historic building have proven to be problematic.

The city's project manager, Richard Chang, said that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency has estimated the cost of repairing the building at $133,000, the city's engineers put the cost of repairs and retrofitting at nearly $1 million.

When a middle ground is reached or additional funding is found, he said, the construction can begin.

For now, the house stands empty, its roof covered with plastic, awaiting a state architect's decision on what kind of covering to put up--historical agencies want to replicate the original shake roof, while fire department officials advise against it.

After four years, community leaders and residents said they would simply like to see it restored and reopened for community and recreational activities.

"Because it's a historical place, it's some place where people can go and look into the past," said park director Ed Laakso.

"Everybody loves this building; it adds to the ambience of the area."

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