The 89-year-old Kensington mansion that long housed UC system presidents might be fixed up and used again -- an attractive option, perhaps, after sinking so much money into a rental for President Mark Yudof, who steps down at the end of the month.
On Tuesday, University of California's regents agreed to spend $620,000 for restoration planning and basic roof repair at the 13,000-square-foot Blake House, a historical landmark with 10 acres of public gardens in the hills north of Berkeley. Full restoration could cost up to $6 million.
Living quarters for UC leaders don't come cheap, but at $9,950 a month, the Oakland home the UC is renting for incoming President Janet Napolitano is practically a bargain compared with the $12,500 it spent to house the college system's current leader.
The presidential transition moved UC leaders to think again about fixing up the residence of UC presidents that has stood empty since 2008 because of its poor condition.
"The Blake House itself is a venerable landmark, really," said Steve Montiel, a spokesman for the UC Office of the President. "There's quite a history there."
It was designed by noted Walter Bliss -- the architect for many significant San Francisco buildings and the Oakland Public Library.
An extensive garden was an important part of the plan because Anita Blake liked to garden and plant, and her sister, Mabel Symmes, had graduated from UC with a degree in landscape architecture.
Money for repairs and the rent for an alternative presidential residence come from a private endowment.
The 1924 structure a few miles north of UC Berkeley in the tiny hillside town of Kensington was bequeathed to the university by wealthy alumni and became home to President Charles Hitch in 1968. Five presidents have lived there.
Yudof is among the UC leaders arguing that it would be more cost-effective to renovate Blake House and have presidents live and host university-related functions there. A report to the regents' Committee on Grounds and Buildings states the administration was unable to find another one under $5 million.
Selling Blake House is complicated because its 10 acres of gardens with stunning bay views were donated to Cal to train student landscape architects.
To get the house into shape, officials are thinking about strengthening it against earthquakes, repairing the plumbing and electrical systems, enlarging one of the first-floor kitchens, and improving security with gates, barriers and surveillance cameras and upgrades for the 4,300-square-foot living quarters.
Some regents were skeptical Tuesday about fully restoring the property, given its remote location, poor condition and maintenance costs. Regent Fred Ruiz questioned whether a UC president even needs a large space to entertain.
"Why don't we put $2 million in it and sell it?" Ruiz asked.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.