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‘Home of Governors’ Might Live Up to Name

Times Staff Writer

It was Nancy Reagan’s dream house, although she never got to live there. Jerry Brown called it a pretentious “Taj Mahal” and refused to move in, preferring a mattress on the floor of a small apartment near the Capitol.

Three subsequent governors settled for more modest digs a few blocks away in the same Sacramento suburb.

But if the final price can be worked out, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, could call the 12,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom Casa de los Gobernadores home sweet home.

After visiting the Carmichael mansion four times, including once with her Los Angeles interior designer and another time with her four children in tow, real estate sources say, Shriver submitted a letter setting a price of $2 million for the home and five-acre grounds overlooking the American River. The current owner, according to the same sources, countered with a price of $3.5 million. The home is listed on the market for $5.9 million.

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The Shriver bid does not constitute a formal offer because there has been no good-faith deposit. But in a San Francisco television interview recorded for Sunday, Schwarzenegger confirmed that the couple was looking seriously at the property.

“Maria says it looks beautiful,” Schwarzenegger told interviewers Phillip Matier and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown for their debut Sunday evening program, “Live with Willie and Phil” for KRON-TV, although Schwarzenegger’s statement was reported in a Sunday column by Matier and colleague Andrew Ross. It was not used in the broadcast interview Sunday night.

Schwarzenegger, who since his inauguration has been staying in a hotel suite across from the Capitol and commuting on weekends to the family’s Brentwood estate, has not yet visited the sprawling home with a swimming pool and cabana.

Donna Lucas, a public relations consultant who works for Shriver, said the mansion, whose name translates to “home of the governors,” was one of several inspected as a possible residence. “It has several pros and cons,” Lucas said. “But one of the pros is that it is a legacy of the Reagans.”

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With the state strapped for cash, Lucas said, no general fund money would be used to purchase an official residence, but he did not rule out drawing from a special $3.5-million fund that was established with proceeds and accumulated interest from the sale of the mansion at a 1985 public auction. The money is set aside for the purchase of an official residence and cannot be used for anything else.

For three decades, the horseshoe-shaped “embassy style” mansion designed as a home for future governors had been one of the state’s most conspicuous white elephants.

The mansion was a personal project of former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who moved out of the historic governor’s mansion, a Victorian Gothic structure in downtown Sacramento, after declaring it a firetrap. “The so-called mansion, built in 1877, had been declared a fire hazard for years before we moved in,” Nancy Reagan wrote in her memoirs. “It was a tinderbox, its wooden frame eaten through by dry rot.”

The former first lady complained that the mansion, which is now a museum, was so close to the road that dinner conversation was drowned out by the roar of heavy truck traffic. “Even at 4 in the morning, you’d hear the shifting of gears,” she wrote.

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In April 1967, four months after Ronald Reagan took office, the family moved into a newer two-story home in a quiet east side Sacramento residential neighborhood. Since then, no California governor has had his own mansion.

Toward the end of Reagan’s second term in office, Nancy Reagan spearheaded the effort to build a new home for governors on the property overlooking the American River. Friends of the Reagans, including tire magnate Leonard K. Firestone and Los Angeles Ford dealer Holmes Tuttle, came up with the cash for the land. The Legislature allocated $1.5 million for the construction.

Designed as a ranch-style White House with separate public and private wings, the mansion was finished in time for incoming Gov. Jerry Brown. But Brown, a Democrat and a childless bachelor, refused to move into the giant residence, saying it was “not my style.” California writer Joan Didion, a Sacramento native who toured the empty mansion shortly after its construction, described it as a colossal monument to bad taste.

“It is the kind of house that has a wet bar in the living room,” Didion sneered in her book of essays, “The White Album.” Brown’s successor, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, wanted to live in the mansion but was prevented from doing so by a reluctant Democratic Legislature, which said it was too far from the Capitol.

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Deukmejian ended up living in a smaller ranch-style home that was purchased with private funds and was less than a five-minute drive from the Reagan mansion. Republican Gov. Pete Wilson and Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, neither of whom had children, chose to live in the home Deukmejian had used.

Finally, the state gave up on the Nancy Reagan dream and put the mansion up for sale at auction, where it was bought by Palos Verdes real estate developer Matt Franich for $1.53 million. The home is now owned by his widow, Pat Franich Springer, who has it on the market for $5.9 million, but, according to listing agent Geoff Zimmerman, would be willing to accept $3.5 million if it is used as an official residence.

“It is the only place in Sacramento County that lends itself to privacy, security and at the same time is a lovely home for the governor,” Zimmerman said. “There is simply no place else.”


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