The Juana Briones Heritage Foundation was established in 1998 to seek a long-term solution to preserve the earthen-walled house built by Juana Briones. The mission of the JBHF is to create a legacy for California’s children by saving Juana’s historic house from demolition, then restoring it as a site of a hands-on history program for the public.
Mr. Jaim Nulman and Ms. Avelyn Welczer purchased the historic house from previous owners, after holding an option for several months during which time they made a thorough investigation of the history and significance of the property and the ramifications of the Mills Act Contract. That Contract is a state property protection plan that gives owners an almost complete waiver of property taxes in exchange for maintenance of the historic property and opening the facility to public tours 20 days a year. The Nulman/Welczers never moved into the house, and the house has remained vacant from 1997 to the present.
Mr. Nulman and Ms. Welczer met with the Palo Alto City Staff, the Historic Resources Board, and contacted the State Office of Historic Preservation (SHPO) before purchasing the property in 1997. Soon thereafter, they requested a demolition permit from the City, and when the City denied the permit, the owners sued the City. The City countersued the owners to enforce the Mills Act Contract. Mr. Kent Mitchell of Mitchell and Herzog has represented the owners in this lawsuit.
Seeking A Solution
The Juana Briones Heritage Foundation is not a party to this or any litigation. Our efforts during this litigation have been to continue our mission to educate the public about the importance of Juana Briones in California history, and to seek avenues that will prevent this house from being demolished. Such a loss would be irrevocable, since research shows that this house may be one of the only examples of a rare form of earthen construction, encajando, still standing in California, that also has the possibility of a public educational component.
Whatever the outcome of the litigation, a decision in the case cannot assure the future of the house. Judge Herlihy, who presided in the case, spent time trying to mediate with the City and Mr. Nulman and Ms. Welczer to reach a settlement. His point, and the Foundation agreed with him, was that resolving the current dispute would yield only a temporary solution since the owners in January 1998 had given notice of intent to terminate the Mills Contract, making termination effective in January, 2008. The City of Palo Alto has not expressed any interest in buying the property. As the City’s case only concerned the Mills Act Contract, even a decision in favor of the City could only prevent demolition until 2008.
Taking Action To Negotiate A Purchase Agreement With Owners
Therefore the JBHF has formed a team of professionals with legal, business, real estate, city planning, and architecture experience to open negotiations with the owners to seek a sales agreement. The JBHF is hopeful that when the owners, who have never lived in the vacant house, understand its importance to women’s history and our state’s Latino roots, a mutually agreeable deal can be reached.
Lend A Hand…Leave A Legacy
Stanford History Professor and JBHF Board member Al Camarillo has reviewed the documents associated with Juana’s purchase of the property and the earthen-walled house she built. He has written a position paper to the State Office of Historic Preservation to clarify errors by their staff and invite the public to action:
“We must step up to the challenge and save this house for California’s children. They deserve to know the rich and diverse history of our state and how Juana Briones is such an important part of California’s 19th century past. The only remaining physical reminders of her legacies of humanitarianism, integrity, resourcefulness and enterprise are embedded in the walls of a historic structure that now faces destruction. Saving the Briones House is about saving a critical part of our collective past.”