Santa Clara University allowed to expand footprint, but must move historic house

Work crews prepare the historic “Larder House” to  move from its current location to a lot just down the block in Santa Clara. (Photo: Chelsea Janes/Peninsula Press)

Hear more about this story and how it developed on the Peninsula Report radio podcast.

When Santa Clara University’s plans for a new art and art history building included the demolition of a home dating to the late 1850s, City Historian Lorie Garcia braced for a fight. “I promised (several people) they could take pictures of me chained to the house,” she said.

In the end, Garcia didn’t need to take such drastic measures. After months of writing to and meeting with City Council members, she helped ensure that the university-owned house at 1065 Alviso St. — known as the Larder House — will be moved to a different location and not face the wrecking ball. The council approved the university’s revised plan at a Sept. 25 meeting.

Construction crews will relocate the house a short distance up Alviso — to a site bordered by Benson Street and The Alameda, and across from the Franklin Street entrance to the 100-plus-acre campus. Assistant Vice President of University Operations Joe Sugg said the house will be lifted, braced heavily with beams to support its foundation, and placed on a truck bed.

The house is the lone survivor of what was once a thriving German colony in Santa Clara in the 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly to the north of the campus. The other buildings fell victim to city development and school expansion beginning in the 1960s, a process accelerated by the university’s growth across The Alameda and Franklin Street.

Garcia became Santa Clara’s first honorary City Historian in 2004 and has served on the city’s Planning and Historic Landmarks commissions. She prefers to pick her battles with the university, she said, but spoke out after seeing June and July versions of a university plan that called for demolition of the Larder House and 10 other buildings. Three of those buildings were deemed historically significant by the city’s environmental consultant, Garcia said.

Members of the Historic Landmarks Commission heard and shared Garcia’s concerns and told the university that the destruction of the Larder House and two architecturally significant Queen Anne homes — also among the 11 — was out of the question.

“I was so pleased. This time I just told everybody how proud I was of everyone on the landmarks commission that they made a united ‘no,’ which brought it to a screeching halt,” Garcia said.

The commission would not approve proposals calling for demolition, which sent the university back to the drawing board. Those efforts yielded the approved plan that calls for relocation of the three houses.

The university will fund the restoration of the Larder House to U.S. Department of Interior standards, another provision of the new plan that greatly pleases self-taught preservation expert Garcia. No one is living in the house.

The Queen Annes must be sold and relocated somewhere in Santa Clara before construction begins on the university expansion project, according to Santa Clara Director of Planning and Inspection Kevin Riley. He lauded the university for “stepping up” to engineer a compromise.

That compromise gives the university ample room for its newest addition, a 44,000-square-foot art and art history building and four-level parking garage. Sugg said the project addresses the university’s growing parking needs and provides art students with more and newer gallery space, a sculpture garden, and studios for both traditional art and computer graphics design.

Garcia said the university encroached on Old Quad territory in the past few decades, much to the dismay of many historically conscious Santa Clarans. But Riley said “I think we’ve actually had a very good history of working together. That doesn’t mean there aren’t glitches where they say ‘how important is this, really?’”

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