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UC may repair Bay Area mansion for its presidents

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Blake House, the Northern California mansion that is intended to be the official residence of the University of California system president, may be coming back to life.

Because of its rundown condition, UC executives in 2008 stopped living in the Mediterranean-style mansion in the unincorporated Contra Costa County neighborhood of Kensington. With a financial crisis for the university at the time, nothing much was done to fix up the 13,200-square-foot house, which is surrounded by 10 acres of gardens.

Next week, however, UC regents are expected to consider a plan that could start the ball rolling for a major renovation and a return to the tradition of presidents living there. According to an agenda item for Tuesday's meeting in San Francisco, the regents will decide whether to spend $620,000 from a privately funded endowment on seismic improvements, roof repairs, other maintenance and architectural and engineering reports.

If a full renovation of the 1920s structure is approved later on, the cost could range from $3.5 million to $6 million. Officials say that could turn out to be a wise investment because the project would pay for itself in 15 years with savings from no longer having to rent housing and entertainment venues

Incoming UC President Janet Napolitano is expected to follow the example of current President Mark G. Yudof in living elsewhere in leased houses paid for by the university, at least for now.

Returning Blake House to a presidential residence "is the first choice," according to the proposal, but the studies will also consider its use as a conference center or a residence for visiting scholars.

Anson and Anita Blake, heirs to a quarry and paving business, donated their house to the university in 1957. UC presidents starting living there in 1968, although some chose to live elsewhere and use it just for entertaining donors and faculty. It has been used in recent years for some formal functions since its grand, first-floor parlors, dining room and library remain in decent shape, although the upper floor residential apartment is considered unlivable without major work.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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