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Historic Jack House in SLO reopens after restoration project

The Jack House and Gardens in San Luis Obispo reopened Sunday with its annual Mother’s Day at the Jack House and jazz concert. Visitors could take tours of the Jack House, which has finished the elevator removal project and has replaced the wall with a new window.
The Jack House and Gardens in San Luis Obispo reopened Sunday with its annual Mother’s Day at the Jack House and jazz concert. Visitors could take tours of the Jack House, which has finished the elevator removal project and has replaced the wall with a new window. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

A window restoration project at the historic Jack House and Gardens in San Luis Obispo has returned the home to its 19th-century profile after nearly half a century.

An extensive window restoration project, which included the removal of an elevator shaft, has been completed at the house and will be marked with a ribbon-cutting Tuesday. On Sunday, families gathered on the lawn to enjoy live music at the Jack House’s annual Mother’s Day event.

“We actually, through this house, have a physical way of showing people the history of the region, because these people were so key to the region and its development as ranchers, as miners, as bankers,” said James Papp, president of Friends of the Jack House.

R.E. and Nellie Hollister Jack built the Jack House in 1878. Their youngest son, Howard Jack, added an elevator shaft to the house in 1973, Papp said. Howard Jack was 85 years old at the time and added the elevator to avoid climbing up the stairs after he’d been drinking, Papp said.

Howard Jack died the next year without ever moving back into the house, and the elevator shaft has remained attached to the west side for the past 43 years.

Determined to remove the elevator shaft and restore the window, the Jack House Foundation and Friends of the Jack House went to the city and offered a matching grant. The San Luis Obispo City Council agreed to provide half of the funds for the project, which totaled about $44,000.

The original plan was to restore a two-story bay window in the first-floor dining room and second-floor master bedroom behind the elevator, Papp said. However, Ray Shearer, a barber at the Anderson Hotel who lived in the master bedroom in the 1960s when the Jack House was briefly a rooming house, said that there wasn’t a bay window in the upstairs room when he lived there. The window had been put in later with the elevator shaft.

Jack House docents were then able to locate a 1908 photograph taken at a Fourth of July parade that showed the original one-story bay window of the house in the background.

The details of the restoration project were determined by historic photographs collected by docents, Papp said. He added that they were initially uncertain where a cast-iron grill should be placed underneath the windows, but were able to put it in the correct location after finding a 1914 photo that showed the grill in the background.

After six weeks of construction, the window is completed and now bathes the dining room in natural light while presenting a view of the grounds outside.

“What’s really unique about the Jack House … is the extent to which it’s a living museum,” said Wendy Stockton, a charter docent who has been involved with the Jack House for about 40 years. “You can walk all the way into the rooms without seeing barriers across, you can get up close to the actual period pieces, understand how they worked and see some of the cool things that the Victorians did.”

The house, which is typically closed during the winter months, opened in January this year for San Luis Obispo’s Art After Dark event, which takes place on the first Friday of every month. The Jack House and Gardens will continue to participate in Art After Dark, showing historical and contemporary art and photographs, Papp said.

Jack House and Gardens

Open 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. Garden tours, gift shop and docent-led tours of Victorian-era house. $5 adults; children free. Jack House, 536 Marsh St., San Luis Obispo. 805-781-7300.

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