Antioch’s City Council agreed on Tuesday to transfer the boarded-up Roswell Butler Hard House, located on 815 First St., to the nonprofit Friends of the Hard House, which plans to fully restore the home of Antioch’s first mayor. The city hasn’t been able to afford upkeep on the property, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Friends of the Hard House has been fighting for ownership for roughly three years, eagerly anticipating the chance to fully restore the property to 1869 standards.
“I think it pretty much all went the way we hoped it would; it just took a little longer than we hoped it would,” said Dave Brink, president of Friends. “I’m not sure what we’ve gotten ourselves into. I may look back at this decision seven years from now and say, ‘What was I thinking?’ but we’re all really thrilled.”
In order to avoid problems regarding insurance, members of the Friends need to wait until the property closes escrow before they can start getting their hands dirty. City Council member Gary Agopian, a real estate agent, estimated the escrow process could take two to three months, but that timeline is murky because the Hard House was property of Antioch’s redevelopment agency (RDA).
Earlier this year, Gov. Jerry Brown ended RDAs statewide, taking money raised by property taxes to help balance California’s budget. Many cities transferred properties from their RDAs to the city as a way to hold onto them – which is what Antioch did with the Hard House.
State auditors are reviewing these transactions to see which were done legally. Until the auditors make a ruling regarding the Hard House, Antioch can’t cleanly transfer the property to Friends. However, city leaders feel the Hard House shouldn’t be an issue for the state.
If the state seizes the Hard House, Friends will be on the hook for any costs associated with the work they’ve done. If Friends dissolves or fails, the property will be transferred back to the city.
“We’re willing to take the risk of dealing with the state,” said Friends secretary Elizabeth Rimbault. “We’ll restore this property for the benefit of this community and we’ll do it with all volunteers.”
It was originally thought that Friends would be required to start the first phase of the renovation – cleaning up weeds and debris from around the property, and weather-proofing the building – as a way to show that it’s capable of performing the duties. But after the insurance question was raised, City Council members felt it would be best to simply delay work until escrow closes.
The Friends have several plans for the Hard House. Instead of tearing it down, they wish to renovate and restore it to its former glory. The first phase – cleaning up around the property – will take roughly six months. Friends then plans to tackle the foundation and structure of the Hard House, which could take about two and a half years, and get the exterior portion of the house (including the balcony, porches and wall) done by year five of the project.
The entire restoration should be finished in about seven years.
Friends wants to turn the Hard House into something resembling a museum for those interested in the early days of Antioch. The Hard House could also host events.