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[whitespace] The House That Julia Morgan May (Or May Not) Have Built

Los Gatos--The Los Gatos Museum Association is mobilizing to save a historic house in the mountains--which is said to be a Julia Morgan design--from the wrecking ball.

The red, Oriental-style house, which measures about 66 feet square, sits in the middle of the Presentation Center campus on Bear Creek Road.

With its large, wraparound porch and upturned corner eaves, the design is unmistakable, but since it was knocked off its foundation in the Loma Prieta earthquake, the only tenants in the house have been two cats.

Now, the Sisters of Presentation say that anyone who wants to save the house has until the end of February to come up with a plan. If there's no plan by then, the house will be demolished.

According to Sr. Ginny Pfluger, executive director for the center, the nuns just don't have any money to put into the house.

The LGMA is racing to beat the deadline, but the hard part will be having to come up with more than a half-million dollars, executive director Beverly Pvarnick says. Pvarnick submitted a grant proposal for that amount to the county Historic Preservation Commission on Nov. 30, and says she's scheduled a meeting with town manager Dave Knapp to discuss the LGMA's options. The house is in an unincorporated area of Santa Clara County.

If the LGMA can get the money to save the house, the best option, Pvarnick says, will be to dismantle it and move it, possibly to the Forbes Mill Museum site.

But was the house really designed by Julia Morgan?

"Who said it was a Julia Morgan house? To my knowledge, it's not a Morgan house at all," Pfluger said.

"We're pretty sure it's a Julia Morgan house," Pvarnick said.

"I believe it could be hers," said Santa Cruz architectural historian Sara Boutelle, who (literally) wrote the book on the architect-in-question, Julia Morgan, Architect.

Nobody has any documentation.

According to Boutelle, the house was most likely built sometime in 1906 or 1907 for a San Francisco doctor, Lloyd Tevis, whose estate was just up the road from the current Presentation Center. Tevis had five other houses on the now-subdivided estate that were confirmed Morgan designs, but the house at the Presentation Center was moved there when the estate changed hands.

When the sisters took over the property in the mid-1950s, it had already been the Montezuma School, a private, non-sectarian school for boys, for 50 years before that. And no records were ever kept.

Part of the blame for the house's uncertain origins lies with Morgan herself, who ordered most of her records, sketches and blueprints for 768 homes and buildings burned before her death in 1957. Some of the only records that were spared were handed over to the Hearst family; Morgan designed San Simeon and several other homes for William Randolph Hearst.

In any case, Boutelle says, the old, red, Oriental-style house is "a building that's very symmetrical and easy on your eyes, if you've got two of them."

Pvarnick says she wants the house saved because it's a significant contribution to the history and architectural history of the area, in part because the Junior Statesmen of America was founded in the house.

"But we may not be able to do it," she adds.
Jeff Kearns

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Web extra to the December 10-16, 1998 issue of Metro.

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