SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Art Center to Pay $1 a Year for Quarters

A downtown art center that has failed to pay its rent to the city won the backing of the City Council this week and was freed from rental obligations for the next four years.

The Decorative Arts Study Center, a city-owned museum and art center on Camino Capistrano that specializes in interior arts, was granted a new rental agreement Tuesday that allows it to operate for $1 a year for four years. The agreement also frees the center and its sponsor, Libros y Artes de San Juan Capistrano, from more than $66,000 in rent due since its inception in 1988.

After listening to several hours of testimony from center supporters, the council voted 3 to 1 to subsidize the facility; Councilman Jeff Vasquez was the lone dissenter. City Councilman Lawrence F. Buchheim was ill and did not attend the meeting.

Councilman Gary L. Hausdorfer called the center a “valuable, long-term asset to the community.”


“The contributions of this center to this city, to the region, and, to some extent, the world, are far more important than the money involved,” Hausdorfer said.

Vasquez, however, said the city is in a tough time financially and pouring money into the center is, indeed, a mistake.

Vasquez said he found it unreasonable that the center sponsors claim to have raised $795,000 in cash and $8 million in donations but cannot pay their rent. He suggested that the sponsors buy the facility from the city.

“It’s a bad decision to dedicate so much of our discretionary income to one group,” Vasquez said before Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t think we belong in the interior design business.”

The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency purchased the 10,340-square-foot facility from local art dealer Gep Durenberger for $1 million in 1988 as a permanent home for the center and as a museum to house an antique collection given to the city, according to a report written by City Manager Stephen B. Julian. Of that $1 million, $600,000 went for the property and $400,000 for “business goodwill,” the report says.

Under terms of the sales agreement, the city pays Durenberger an $8,333.33 interest-only, tax-free monthly payment for 30 years, with the principal sum of $1 million due after those 30 years, Julian said. If Durenberger does not survive the 30-year term, the property would then be willed to the city.

Local attorney Carlos F. Negrete and his Committee to Restore Integrity in San Juan Capistrano has sued the Redevelopment Agency over the purchase of the facility. Negrete claims that the agency knowingly paid too much for the center.