The Cambrian

Move of historic schoolhouse to a public park in Cambria a race against the clock

The historic Santa Rosa Schoolhouse, foreground, could be moved to a new site in Cambria.
The historic Santa Rosa Schoolhouse, foreground, could be moved to a new site in Cambria.

The Cambria Historical Society has made a big step toward moving the circa 1881 one-room Santa Rosa Schoolhouse building from its present, privately owned location. The move that would keep the tiny historical structure publicly available, but the journey from there to completion is apt to be laborious and expensive.

A recently signed agreement between the society and the Cambria Community Services District allows the historical group’s officials and consultants to go onto a district-owned property at the creek end of Bridge Street.

The entities are racing the calendar.

If the schoolhouse structure is not relocated in a year, ownership reverts to Poly Pro Window & Door, owner of the property at 870 Main St. The tiny structure was moved there from the banks of Santa Rosa Creek in 1965, according to a historical society report written in 1998 by docent Mary Cole.

Allied Arts Association leased the schoolhouse for decades and used it as a gallery.

According to historical society Board President John Ehlers, they’ll be doing “due diligence” surveys, testing, measuring and making sure the property around the corner from the post office is stable enough to support the schoolhouse.

The CSD’s offices used to be on that lot, but heavy rainfall years ago undermined the building, which was deemed unsafe after it cracked, shifted and sank into the muck. It was demolished in 2003. A collapsing underground culvert proved to be the culprit; the county and district eventually fixed the problem with a new 5-foot-tall drainage pipe.

The Bridge Street property has been functioning as a casual pocket park, but it has also become a gathering spot for homeless.

How the society would compensate CSD hasn’t been finalized. At the Jan. 17 board meeting, district directors seemed to lean toward the option of a 99-year, $1-per-year, renewable philanthropic lease.

If tests and studies prove the concept will work, and the proposal gets a county permit, the schoolhouse would be available for “youth and family historical activities programs in the schoolhouse and garden … opening both to visitors.”

Ehlers told the CSD board that the primary use of the building would be for historical tours and interactive programs for school children brought into the area by bus. And it would further a long-held dream of an East Village Historic Park District.

Not everybody is enchanted with the Bridge Street heritage park concept. Some say putting the schoolhouse on the district’s property there would make an already parking-snarled area even more congested.

Others say they prefer the Main Street site of the former dog park, at the intersection with Santa Rosa Creek Road and across from Fog’s End Bed and Breakfast. They say putting the schoolhouse there would create a welcoming entrance to Cambria from the south and would free up parking at the post office area.

Ehlers said the dog-park site “would be very, very difficult for us, not only because of the distance from the rest of our facilities,” such as the Cambria Historical Museum at Burton Drive and Center Street and the Maggetti House next door, but also because expensive improvements would be needed. “There are no public restrooms in the area, we’d have to put in water and sewer hookups and a road,” he said.

“Our job is to do the best job we can for the community,” he added. “Everybody has a perspective, and I respect that... there are a larger number of folks who really want it in the pocket park.”

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