More than 100 acres of farmland on the east side of Santa Maria have been tapped by city officials to become the new home of Costco, auto dealerships and other development, but little has been said publicly about the one structure that already stands there.
It has been known as the white house, the Smith House and the Enos House, but many city residents and passersby on Highway 101 know it simply as the old farmhouse that has been around for generations.
"It is the last original Santa Maria farmhouse that we may have a shot at preserving," said Cindy Ransick, executive director of the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society.
Between the Santa Maria Planning Commission's meeting to approve the development project and the City Council's later confirmation, the house was only mentioned in staff reports as being under investigation. The idea posed by city staff is to relocate it to a section of the development that will be designated for a public park.
They are hoping that happens and have discussed options. But nothing is set in stone.
The old house on the hill
The house was built in the 1870s by English pioneers William and Sarah Smith. The couple also donated nearby land to the first schoolhouse in the city known as Pleasant Valley School (it has since been moved to Buellton, but its former location is also part of the development deal).
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The Smith's great-granddaughter, JoAnn (Joey) Wilson, has a fond memory of her mother driving her out to see where her grandfather grew up when she was younger. Though the house belonged to the Enos family at that point, she has a great respect for it.
She still has the original dining room table that was used by its founders.
"I feel like, 'Gee, we’ve done an awful lot of ripping out of our historical background, especially downtown,'" Wilson said. "I feel like we need to save some of our heritage. And this is so obviously visible."
She said she has written a letter to the city about making sure the house is saved.
"I can understand that we’ve got progress, but if they can get it into a historic park that would be great," Wilson said.
Many of the Smiths moved to Southern California or on to city life as attorneys or businesspeople, and Portuguese immigrant Joseph Enos, his wife, Mary, and their seven children took over the homestead to begin an agricultural enterprise at the turn of the century.
Joann Enos Kauffman, who spent many days in the house growing up, spoke to the Santa Maria Times in 2012, when talk of the city working to restore it began ramping up again.
“My father was the first child born in that house,” Kauffman said, recalling her family’s story that has been passed down through five generations now. “I was blessed. Being the eldest, I began going there when I was a mere child. I learned how to feed the animals and collect eggs — do all of the things they do on a farm.”
At the time, she said she was happy to think the house might be restored.
"I feel wonderful about that. I think it’s just a dream come true that [city officials] think enough of it historically to keep it,” said Kauffman.
A fate unknown
It's unclear what will happen to the house next.
All that's known is that ownership has changed hands to developer NKT Commercial of San Luis Obispo.
"All we can say is that it is being sold with the property and because of our contract, we aren’t really able to discuss," said Dorene Rhea (of the Enos family) on behalf of Enos Ranchos LLC, the longtime owner of the house and property.
Rhea declined to comment on whether or not she thinks the house should be saved as well.
There are still many factors to be determined for the development, and city staff has described it as having a lot of moving parts.
"The developer and city are analyzing the costs of relocating the house to the future park site and renovating the building for community use," said Planning Division Manager Peter Gilli.
But Nick Tompkins, whose company NKT Commercial is leading the development, said the fate of the house is up to the city more than it is up to him.
"We’re very supportive of that building being located at the discretion of the Recreation and Parks Department at the park, if they want to," Tompkins said.
Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada — who has been an advocate for saving the house for years — said he would like to see a development agreement between the developer and the city that would require moving the house. But it's not entirely up to him, either, he said.
"They own it," Posada said. "They can do what they want with it."
The question remains: Who is willing to pay for the move and restoration project?
"The city is in discussions with the developer to address the relocation of it, but we still need to come up with a financing mechanism for that," City Manager Rick Haydon said.
Most of the groups involved with the project have expressed that same lack of funding for dealing with the house.
"There has been a lot of talk in the community about preserving or restoring the house, but of course, when push comes to shove and it becomes time to do that, is everybody willing to take $20 out of their pocket so that can happen?" Ransick asked.
In a perfect world
Gilli says the structure cannot be demolished without a study being done, because the environmental impact report for the development — which was approved by the City Council and the Planning Commission — didn't include information about demolition.
There have been studies over the years on the viability of the structure, and several city leaders have been inside in the past decade. Posada said he commissioned a company several years ago to study it and see whether it could be safely moved and that it was determined there would not be a problem.
"I’d say in general, if you were to scale a house from 1-10 as far as a renovation project, I’d say it’s the 7-8 range," Posada said.
Mayor Alice Patino has been inside and said she would love for city residents to have the chance to see it.
"Everyone has known that the city wants to save it," Patino said.
The Historical Society has written a letter to the city about their desire to see it saved. However, the house cannot be made a landmark or object of historical merit without the owner's permission.
Posada said there has been plenty of community interest in the house over the years and that can often be helpful in such restoration projects.
"We always need the community support to leverage the interest of the owner, the interest of the council, the interest of whomever is involved," Posada said.
In a perfect world, city leaders would like to see it moved to the new park space and turned into a community facility and learning center for agriculture and history.
"We’re hopeful, but it’s just kind of out there," Posada said.
Abby Hamblin covers city government in Santa Maria and Guadalupe for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @AbbyHamblin.