Historic Rispin Mansion given new life

The historic Rispin Mansion, which a year ago was a burnt hulk at risk of being demolished, is looking much better, thanks to an infusion of $648,850 from the city of Capitola.

“It’s beautiful,” said Shirley Hugues, walking with her husband past the 90-year-old mansion on Wharf Road Wednesday. “People tell me, ‘You live in a beautiful town.'”

To her husband, it looks like an old California mission.

“What’s in there?” he asked.

The couple, who moved to Capitola from Hollister eight months ago, did not know the history of the mansion, which was acquired by the city in 1985 and struck by fire in 2009 soon after the city approved a developer’s $14 million project to turn it into a boutique hotel.

The mansion sports a fresh coat of cream-colored paint, a new Spanish tile roof, and all the fire debris has been removed. Inside, the main floor was rebuilt, heavy-duty security doors were installed and windows were sealed. It’s fenced to discourage vandalism.

Niels Kisling, a volunteer with the Capitola Historical Museum, calls it “possibly the most important historic structure in Capitola.”

Garden City Construction of San Jose bid $557,600 to do the work and finished it for $540,355. The City Council is expected to accept the contractor’s job as complete tonight,

The remaining expense was for structural engineering, project management, biotic monitoring, bat review, architectural services and landscape design.

“It was one-third of the cost of demolition,” said Mayor Michael Termini, noting the contractor proposed the restoration strategy.

“It was all RDA (redevelopment) money,” Termini added, referring to the money Gov. Jerry Brown is retrieving to help fill the state budget gap.

Termini recalled he had qualms about giving developer Barry Swenson Builder so much of Capitola’s redevelopment money for a boutique hotel.

Now he wishes he would have known the state planned to recapture the money.

“If I had a choice of giving the money to Barry or Jerry, I’d pick Barry,” he said.

The city plans to turn the property into a park.

That will require reconstruction of the exterior stairs, building accessible paths, lighting, landscaping, fountain restoration, Wharf Road wall improvements, driveway grading, plus environmental review.

Public works director Steve Jesberg puts the price tag at $500,000 to $700,000, which would have to come from the general fund, grants or tax payments from the redevelopment successor agency.

Jeff Medd, walking his bicycle past the mansion, gave the city kudos.

“They did a good job,” he said. “I wish I could be the live-in caretaker there.”

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