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Disheveled home set to be razed


The fate of Cedar Grove's Beck house — which is estimated to have risen as early as 1909 — was sealed Tuesday night when the Petaluma Planning Commission unanimously approved its debated demolition.

After weeks of in-depth historical research and analysis, city staff, commissioners and outside experts reached the conclusion that the Beck house holds no historical significance, despite a new estimate that the house was built earlier than officials initially realized. A 2006 city-commissioned report initially stated that the Beck house was built in the 1930s, with additions made in the 1950s.

Cedar Grove property owner John Barella now has the permits necessary to demolish the Beck house, along with a dozen or so other structures in the Cedar Grove area. The one exception is the Bloom-Tunstall home, which was built in the 1860s and cannot be demolished due to its historical value.

After Barella sought permission from the Planning Commission and Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee to demolish the Beck house, along with other structures on the property, questions surfaced about whether the house carried any historical significance, which launched an investigation into the structure's true age.

Kara Brunzell, an architectural historian based in Napa, was hired by Petaluma archeologist Bill Roop to examine the history of the Beck house. Brunzell presented her research to the planning commission Tuesday night, stating that the house may have been built around 1909 by the Bloom family, who bought the property in 1904 but didn't move onto the land until 1910.

"This suggests that they may have built the property there," Brunzell said.

The Cedar Grove consists of a 7-acre parcel off Lakeville Street between the Petaluma River and the railroad tracks. It's thought to be the location of the 1850 hunting camp of John Lockwood. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the land housed attractions such as an amusement park and the city's first hotel.

But Brunzell found no evidence of overlap between the time Cedar Grove operated as an amusement park and the construction of the Beck house.

After conducting his own research, commissioner Terry Kosewic said he agrees with the 1910-era evaluation.

"As much as I hate to see houses go away, I'm willing to change my opinion on this one," he said.

After it was deemed to have limited historical significance, the life of the Beck house relied on architectural significance, which Brunzell said is also lacking.

Since the last occupants moved out about four years ago, city officials and neighbors have watched the Beck house and other structures degrade into a squatters' camp that frequently attracts drug users and other homeless dwellers.

Code enforcement officer Joe Garcia of the Petaluma Police Department said that multiple citations have been issued since December 2012 to notify Barella that he must clean up the littered property. Garcia said beyond boarding a few windows in the Bloom-Tunstall house, nothing has been done.

Barella blamed the recent deterioration of the property on the city for not acting on his request for a demolition permit last summer.

But Garcia said Barella sought to demolish every structure on the property, which was not allowed until the historical significance of the homes could be determined.

With the commission's approval, Vin Smith, representing Barella, said the approved structures would likely be demolished in the next month.