State won't close Governor's Mansion after all

Sacramento's lavish Victorian-style Governor's Mansion will remain open as a state park, thanks to thousands of environmentally minded grocery shoppers.

At a special event tonight, the Raley's grocery company plans to donate $75,000 to keep the park from closing on July 1 due to state budget cuts. The money came from a Raley's program called "NickelAid," in which the company donated 5 cents toward state parks every time a customer shunned throwaway bags and took groceries home in a reusable bag instead.

"Their response was overwhelming, and it is clear our state's parks hold a special place in all our hearts," said Jennifer Teel-Wolter, community relations manager at West Sacramento-based Raley's, which also owns Bel Air, Nob Hill and Food Source.

The Governor's Mansion at 1526 H St. was home to 13 governors and their families over 64 years. It was built as a private home in 1877 in a highly decorative Victorian style. The state bought it from the second owner in 1903.

Over the years, it housed such luminaries as Earl Warren, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown and Ronald Reagan, who was the last governor to live in the mansion. Reagan and his wife, Nancy, lived there for only the first three months of his first term, then moved to a private residence in Sacramento.

Since then, the mansion has been a museum, a place where visitors can experience the gubernatorial marble, gilded mirrors, custom doorknobs and ornate gardens.

The old house has always represented an important part of the story of California governance. Now, its rescue from the state parks closure list will become part of that complicated tale.

"We all have an obligation to preserve these sacred places for future generations," said Cathy Taylor, capital district superintendent for State Parks. "Keeping them open is a big part of that, because we are able to educate people and help them understand why our history and heritage is so important."

In addition to the Raley's grant, another $25,000 comes from the Church of Scientology of Sacramento County.

The church owned a building across the street from the mansion until about two years ago, when it was purchased by State Parks. The 1933 brick building, a former Packard automobile dealership, eventually will be refurbished for special events and displays that could help generate operating revenue for the museum, Taylor said.

Both gifts are being made to the California State Historic Governor's Mansion Foundation, which will fund museum operations through a recently completed donor agreement.

Taylor said the money is expected to allow the museum to remain open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The agreement allows the schedule to be scaled back by one day, if necessary, but she said that appears unlikely.

The mansion was one of 70 parks targeted for closure last year to trim $22 million from the state budget. The cuts were initiated by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and supported by his successor, Gov. Jerry Brown.

The donations will keep the park open only through the end of the new fiscal year – June 30, 2013. Mansion supporters are working on a long-term funding plan to keep it operating beyond that.

"The generous support demonstrates the commitment and creativity necessary to preserve our treasured park system during these difficult times," said Ruth Coleman, State Parks director.

A concerted effort by dozens of nonprofit organizations and private donors over the past year has slashed the number of state parks that will close to fewer than 20. The exact number is still in flux because State Parks is still negotiating agreements.

The Governor's Mansion is one of three parks in Sacramento County on the closure list. Deals are in the works to keep open the others, Brannan Island State Recreation Area and Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park.

Virtually all 278 state parks, however, slashed hours and services long ago because of the budget cuts. Many have closed particular features, such as campgrounds, trail heads or visitor centers.

There is still no clear remedy for the cutbacks. Several bills in the Legislature aim to provide partial funding fixes. But the cutbacks may continue until the state's economy improves and government revenue recovers.

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