The Blake House, once the home and venue for official business for the UC president, now sits empty due to the large cost needed to bring the property to a suitable condition.
Estimated costs to repair and renovate the 13,000 square foot building could run up to $11 million, according to Steve Montiel, media relations representative for the UC Office of the President. A letter from Degenkolb Engineers in November 2002 pointed to cracks in settlement beams, uneven floors and crooked doors.
A report from Michael Willis Architects in September 2002 also noted that the Blake House was situated near or directly on the Hayward Seismic Fault, which would require a cost premium to build or remodel.
“Given the statewide economic downturn that unfolded in earnest shortly after President Yudof arrived, discussion of whether to invest millions into Blake House has not risen to a top priority for the regents,” Montiel said in an e-mail. “In time a decision will be made on what to do with Blake House, but it seems unlikely at best that it will ever again serve as a residence for the UC president.”
As a result, the UC Board of Regents, in consultation with current UC President Mark Yudof, placed Yudof and his family in a leased home in the Oakland Hills for two years with about $13,000 per month for rent and utilities. Yudof has since moved in to a leased house in Lafayette, Calif. that rents for $11,500 per month.
According to Montiel, operating costs for the Blake House would total an estimated $227,200 per year based on residence costs including landscaping, utilities, security and improvements to make it habitable.
The UC mandates by policy that the president and chancellors live in university-provided residences. Funding comes from the Edward F. Searles Fund, a private endowment estimated to be worth $161 million. The fund is used for maintenance costs of executive residences, administrative expenses, development and fundraising.
Montiel added that if the fund was directed to other state-funded purposes, like salaries or educational costs, the university would have no other way to pay for non-state funded necessities.
However some view the policy as unfair in the current economic climate. Claudia Magana, president of the UC Student Association, told the LA Times that in light of budget cuts and Yudof’s $591,000 base salary, UC presidents should pay for their own rent and hold business or entertainment functions at alumni centers and faculty clubs.
Some UC Davis students also agree.
“We students have to pay increased tuition because of the state of the economy,” said Joseph Hui, a senior history major. “I think it is only fair that the UC presidents also take some financial burden like the rest of us.”
Unlike the Blake House however, the Chancellor’s Residence has remained suitable for official functions. The 7,779-square foot residence was the site of 56 events and receptions for 2009-2010 to a cost of $66,037. General maintenance and grounds upkeep totaled $135,000 for the same period.
The late Dean Emeritus Knowles Ryerson constructed the first house on the site in 1937 as a private home, which the university later purchased and razed in 1996 due to structural and mechanical problems.
The Office of the President and other private funds paid for demolition and construction costs, which totaled $1.26 million.
The California ranch-style home is spacious, featuring four bedrooms, a large courtyard and a large special events room that can accommodate 50 guests.
A guest suite has also seen its share of notables like Mike Wallace, Stephen Hawking, Michelle Bachelet, Gary Trudeau and Salman Rushdie.
The residence shows no signs of requiring major repairs or renovations. A residence maintenance five-year schedule lists necessities such as painting interior and exterior walls in May and scheduled building and electrical inspection in August.
“We believe in prevention,” said Jill Woodward, manager for the Chancellor’s Residence.
Although the home has a shorter history than the Blake House, residing chancellors have appreciated the house’s features and usefulness to UC Davis.
“The Chancellor’s Residence has served the purposes of the university in major ways,” said Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef. “When Rosalie and I lived there, we especially enjoyed welcoming campus and community groups in the courtyard, an ideal spot for large receptions and for sharing stories about the origins of the Residence.”
Chancellor Linda Katehi shared similar sentiments.
“Although Spyros and I have lived there a relatively short amount of time,” Katehi said. “We have found the Chancellor’s Residence to be a wonderful place to host members of our community and to welcome special guests to our campus. We obviously like it but we know it doesn’t belong to us. It’s university property and we are privileged to live there.”
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at email@example.com.