Rispin gardens &
Henry Allen Rispin was a prominent businessman who purchased most of the land that now encompasses the City of Capitola California in 1919. His plan was to develop and sell this property to wealthy Bay Area residents for their summer homes and to build a world class golf course and resort property.
The Rispin Mansion was built in 1921 as both his residence and a setting to entertain potential home buyers. It consisted of four stories with 22 rooms totaling approximately 7,106 square feet. The building's architectural style is best described as Spanish Eclectic, which combines a mixture of Mission and Spanish Colonial with Mediterranean architectural styles. It was designed by George E. McCrea, who was an accomplished San Francisco architect specializing in religious and Spanish Revival architecture from the early 1900's up to his death in 1943.
Rispin occupied the property only a short period and was forced to sell the property to Robert Hayes Smith in 1929 because of his overextended finances. Smith who was another businessman suffered a bankruptcy in 1936, had to liquidate all of his holdings including his Capitola propetry. The property along with the mansion remained vacant until in 1941 when the property was acquired by the Obiates of St. Joseph's for their use by the Order of Poor Clares. This cloistered order of nuns added a chapel and other residential building to the property, which only the remnants of their foundations are somewhat visible today. The nuns remained in Capitola until 1959 when they moved to the neighboring City of Aptos to the north.
This 6.7 acre property was eventually acquired in the mid-1980's by the City of Capitola. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, for the property's connection with Henry Allen Rispin and his contribution to the early development of the City of Capitola. The building however continued to remained vacant and in a state of neglect up until a Developer.,began to explore the possibility of redeveloping the property into a small boutique luxury hotel in partnership with the City of Capitola. This venture however was never realized, because on May 28, 2009 after the Developer pulled the final building permits for this hotel project, the Rispin Mansion was engulfed in a very mysterious and devastating fire.
Abandoning their development project, the city allowed the Rispin Mansion to sit in ruins with its interior filled with the charred debris from the devastating fire for a few more years until the local neighbors adjacent to the property began to pressure the City Council to do something with the property.
The City of Capitola retain us to initially prepare an evaluation to determine if the Rispin Mansion had lost its historical value because of the fire so it could be demolished. They also wanted us to examine alternative uses for the property based of what might be permissible under the previous Environmental Impact Report that had been completed for their hotel project.
Upon completing our reconnaissance of the property it was concluded in our report to the City Council that although the fire was extremely devastating and caused irreversible structural damage to both the exterior and the building's interior, because of the pour-in-place concrete construction method of the building's exterior walls, most of the exterior walls along with the remaining roof on the north wing of the structure had been spared. It was also found that the site along with features and landscaping although neglected and vandalized over the years, still retained enough integrity to adequately convey the property's original characteristics. and feeling.
Working close collaboration with the city's Public Works and Planning Departments we devised a number of alternate design schemes, and reconstruction approaches that we presented to the City Council for their consideration. The approach most favored was to decommission the structure by reconstructing the Rispin Mansion's roof, restore the exterior walls to its original visual appearance, and to fill all existing fenestration openings of the building to protect the building from unwanted entry and further vandalism. In doing so, this left open the possibility for adaptive reuse of the building if and when, funds might be made available to pursue such reconstruction and restoration efforts.. We also proposed to restrict public access in and around the Rispin Mansion and in the environmentally sensitive areas of the site along Soquel Creek and to the southern edge of the property. In addition, we proposed to reconstruct the upper part of the property, which included the upper gardens, central lawn, pergola, pond with fountain below Wharf Road into a new small neighborhood park. Having a number of archival photographs of the upper garden areas of the property taken during Rispin's stay at the property, this material could be of great value in the reconstruction efforts and guidance with the planning and design for the new park.
In 2011 The City of Capitola was able to secure funding to complete the reconstruction and decommissioning work on the Rispin Mansion. In 2015, after a number of public workshops a preliminary park plan was developed by Michael Arnone and Associates, Landscape Architects and was presented to the City Council on the 28th of May.
Archival Photographs Courtesy of the Capitola Museum