It’s probably safe to say if you asked a majority of Antioch residents who Roswell Butler Hard was they would have no idea. In fact, Mr. Hard was one of the most influential and, by some accounts, most powerful figures in Antioch’s early history. He was a county supervisor, county sheriff and the first mayor of Antioch.
In 1869 Mr. Hard constructed a two-story brick home for himself and his wife on First Street in Antioch. It was described in the newspapers as one of the most beautiful and costly homes in the county. The home was constructed entirely of brick manufactured in Antioch. It served as the meeting place for the first City Council in the newly incorporated City of Antioch. Later the home became the first property in Antioch to be listed on both the State and Federal Registry of Historic Sites.
In 1979 the property was purchased by the Antioch Redevelopment Agency. Over the years it has sat empty and been allowed to deteriorate to its present dilapidated state. Due to poor security it has been vandalized and is frequently occupied by vagrants. At present the property has become both a legal and financial liability to the City of Antioch.
In 2009 a group of concerned Antioch citizens formed the Friends of Roswell Butler Hard House. It is a 501c3 nonprofit registered with the State of California. Our mission is to work for the preservation and restoration of the Hard house. The group includes the former city engineer and a former City Council member as well as people with project management and fundraising skills.
After almost a year of research, planning and meetings, we presented our plan to the City Council in May of 2010. The proposal was that the city would sell the property to the nonprofit for a nominal fee, at which time the group would assume legal and financial responsibility for the home.
Our restoration plan was based on a study prepared for the city in 1991 by a San Francisco architectural firm. The planned uses included converting the upper floor to offices to help defray upkeep costs with the ground floor restored to its original appearance. When completed, it would be open for tours and available to the city and community for special events. The project would require no city funding.
The plan also allowed the city to recover the property in the event certain milestones were not met. It appeared to be a win-win for the city, the citizens of Antioch and the home.
Instead of the enthusiasm that was expected, to our surprise the proposal was met with “we can’t appear to give away a city asset” and “we can’t afford another ferry boat.” The plan was sent back to committee. Then it was delayed by the City Council election and the city budget talks. Our group has waited patiently and are now ready to resubmit the plan at the July 12 City Council meeting.
We urge everyone to take a few minutes, drive down town to First Street and look at the home. It’s hard to miss. It’s the one with boarded-up doors and windows and overgrown grounds. Ask yourself as an owner of this property: am I proud of this? Then imagine it restored to its original grandeur.
If you share our vision, please come to the July 12 council meeting or phone or e-mail your council members and voice your support.
President, Friends of Roswell Butler Hard House