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[whitespace] Council approves appraisal of possible museum site

Move first step to converting home into location for Sunnyvale museum

Sunnyvale--For many years the Sunnyvale Historical Society and Museum Association has been trying to acquire a property large enough for a historical museum, to permanently house all of the city's memorabilia and artifacts. Now they are one step closer to accomplishing their goal.

On Sept. 18, the Sunnyvale City Council unanimously moved to have the house and property located at 161 and 167 N. Sunnyvale Ave. appraised. This move will start the ball rolling on the issue of whether the city of Sunnyvale will purchase the aforementioned property and convert it into a historical museum.

Lynn Miller and Donald Koreski have jointly owned the houses and property located at 161 and 167 N. Sunnyvale Ave. in Sunnyvale for many years. The houses are now for sale, listed at $1,800,000 for both. The larger house was built in 1916 and the smaller one in 1925. Martin Murphy Jr. previously owned the land.

Within the last few months, the city approached Miller and Koreski to find out whether a study could be conducted to designate their property as a historical site.

If the property were to be used in a commercial venture, like a high-density apartment complex, then its value would be much higher. The Olson property at the corner of El Camino Real and Sunnyvale-Saratoga Avenue has been converted into a huge commercial complex, comprised of apartments, restaurants and a shopping center.

"Designating our property as a historical site will certainly limit the marketability of the place," Miller said. "But it will probably be most valuable and most rewarding for that piece of property."

The larger property would be able to permanently house all the city's memorabilia and artifacts, some of which are located in a room in Murphy Park, while the others are in storage.

"The city has to first get an archivist to look closely at what the Historical Society has before moving ahead to purchase any property," said Chris Moylan, a member of the Sunnyvale Planning Commission. Moylan started the Sunnyvale Museum Task Force, another group interested in establishing a historical museum in Sunnyvale. The group's membership includes Janice Havey, vice president of the historical society.

"We are interested in preserving the Hendi museum, start a fine arts collection and try to help the historical society showcase what the city has now," Moylan said.

The Joshua Hendi Ironworks, established in 1906, was the first industrial company in Sunnyvale, and the Hendi House is currently home to some of the city's oldest artifacts. Moylan said the task force's planned museum would have art and photography of the city in it, in addition to the old artifacts.

Moylan said Charles Hilger, the executive director of the Santa Cruz Art and History Museum, is helping and guiding them with their plan. The task force will begin with the first step, which is to write a mission statement on Sept. 27. Then they will set up a nonprofit company and start raising funds.

"We don't want any money from the city," Moylan said. Unlike the historical society, Moylan said, the task force will first have the collection examined, raise funds and then determine how much space they need to house the items.

Several residents, including Terry Ackling and Raymond Pool, voiced their concerns at the council meeting about the neighboring properties decreasing in value if this site should be converted into a museum.

According to Miller, a museum may not bring in a lot of income for the city, but it's nice to have something pretty to remember the city of Sunnyvale by. The co-owners, who have been long-term residents of Sunnyvale, said they would like to sell their property to the city to be used in a way that recognizes its historical heritage and would benefit the citizens of the community. Donald Koreski was mayor of Sunnyvale four times and Lynn Miller's late husband, F. James Miller, "loved Sunnyvale." Lynn Miller now divides her time between Sunnyvale and Shasta County.

Miller approached the Sunnyvale Historical Society and the society has set up a Heritage House Task Force. Laura Babcock, a member of both the Sunnyvale Planning Commission and of the historical society was appointed chairperson of the task force and is spearheading the effort to persuade the city of Sunnyvale to buy the property and convert it into a historical museum.

At the meeting, Councilwoman Julia Miller commended Babcock for her efforts and thanked her for spending so much of her time, energy and resources on this project.

Babcock said she conducted a feasibility and community interest study and concluded that this is a "realistic and approachable plan." She said more than 85 percent of the residents support the idea.

Some of the residents who don't voiced their opinions at the council meeting. Michael Goolash, a resident of Sunnyvale, said he thinks the house on 161 N. Sunnyvale Ave. should not be converted into a museum.

"I think the city should look into other options for a historical museum site," Goolash said at the meeting.

According to Goolash, the area in question is a residential neighborhood and possible parking problems might inconvenience both visitors and people who live there.

If the city purchases the house, it will retain ownership and lease the property over to the Sunnyvale Historical Society and Museum Association, which will fund the renovation and operation of the site.

"The historical society will be fully responsible for raising funds," Babcock said. "The city of Sunnyvale will only have to purchase the property and then lease it to the society. This will also be a self-supporting museum."

According to the historical society's business plan, a room on the property would be converted into a conference center with meeting rooms for local businesses to hold off-site meetings, workshops and seminars. The plan calls for renovations to the property, including landscaping and creation of gardens around the site. These changes would enable the historical society to rent the property to businesses or families for weddings, receptions, parties or retreats. The smaller house on the property would house ADA accessible toilets and a catering kitchen.

But several different issues have to be dealt with before the city decides whether or not to purchase the property. Sunnyvale's Director of Parks and Recreation Robert Walker recommends against buying the property right now.

"The city should first determine whether or not the property is of historical significance," Walker said at the meeting.

According to Walker, if the city purchases the property now, then it becomes the city's responsibility to update it, complete whatever renovation it needs to bring it to code and hold it until the state historian makes a determination about the property's historical value.

According to City Property Manager Mike Chan, two different appraisals of the property should be done in order to complete this study within a suitable timeframeóone as if the property is of historical significance and another as if it is not.

Councilman Manuel Valerio supported Babcock's proposal at the meeting, saying it's a rare opportunity and that the city should not pass it up.

Sunnyvale Mayor Jack Walker agreed, saying at the conclusion of the meeting, "I thought it was a great idea when it was first proposed to me."
Jana Seshadri

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