When Gov. Jerry Brown signed a budget last year that included $2.5 million to renovate the historic Governor’s Mansion in downtown Sacramento, his office said he had “no immediate plans” to move in.
That could be changing.
Brown, who chose an apartment over a mansion when he first took office in 1975 – contributing to decades of gubernatorial waywardness and no small amount of grousing in Sacramento – appears to be giving mansion life a second thought.
Brown spokesman Evan Westrup told The San Diego Union-Tribune, which first reported his remarks, that the administration now considers the mansion a “possible residence” for Brown and future governors. In an email to The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday, Westrup said the renovation will include “security and habitability improvements,” among other work.
In addition, Westrup said Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, have “consulted with the project team and shared some general thoughts” about the renovation.
California is one of only a handful of states without a permanent governor’s residence, and the sleeping arrangements of the chief executive has been a persistent, if relatively mild, source of frustration in Sacramento.
It’s a really strong point of identity in our city.
Former state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Sacramento Democrat
“This is a key part of our historic ... identity, and it is a shame that here we are in the largest state in the country and we don’t have a residence for our governor,” said former state Sen. Deborah Ortiz, a Sacramento Democrat who pushed for a permanent home for the governor while in the Legislature. “It’s a really strong point of identity in our city.”
The Governor’s Mansion, purchased by the state in 1903 and now maintained as a state park and museum, housed 13 governors before Ronald and Nancy Reagan moved out in 1967. The house was in disrepair, and Nancy Reagan called it a fire trap. Reagan supporters built a new mansion in Carmichael, but Reagan left office before he could move in, and his successor, Brown, elected to live in an N Street apartment instead.
Later efforts to re-establish a permanent residence were complicated by concerns about funding, proximity to the Capitol and, in some cases, security. Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis lived in a 3,800-square-foot ranch home in the Lake Wilhaggin neighborhood east of the city, while Arnold Schwarzenegger stayed in a suite at the Hyatt Regency Sacramento. He was criticized for flying home most nights to his house in Brentwood.
Brown, whose apartment living helped nurture his frugal image when he was governor before, now splits time between an upscale loft in downtown Sacramento and his home in Oakland.
But the 77-year-old governor has grown increasingly nostalgic in recent years. Though Brown was already out of the family home and on to seminary and college when his father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown was elected governor in 1958, the younger Brown spent long hours studying at the mansion for the California bar exam.
“I spent a lot of time there,” Brown said through a spokesman in 2013. “The whole house was quite livable.”
After returning to office, Brown had a marlin that his father caught – and that originally hung on the mansion’s third floor – installed in the reception area of his Capitol offices. When he won re-election last year, he held his election night gathering at the historic residence.
“We had dinner there a couple of times during my tenure, and you could tell that it was a great source of pride for the governor … a lot of history and tradition and memories,” said former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat.
Steinberg recalled working with Ortiz in the Legislature years ago on an effort to create a permanent governor’s residence but that the issue wasn’t a priority of former governors and “just sort of went away as a lead agenda item.”
“It doesn’t matter as much as cooling the climate or health care for kids,” Steinberg said. “I mean, it’s all a matter of perspective and priority. But it would be ... a wonderful thing to have the leader of the executive branch in California government have a home that was closely connected to the Capitol.”
The mansion has been undergoing an extensive renovation for months, during which it has been closed to the public. In addition to last year’s $2.5 million appropriation, the budget this year includes $1.6 million more for the project. The funds are from proceeds of the sale of the Carmichael mansion, Brown’s office said.
The renovation includes electrical, plumbing, fire safety and other upgrades, energy efficiency updates and the installation of a modern heating and air-conditioning system.
Westrup said work is expected to be completed “within the next year.”
If Brown does decide to live in the mansion, his stay will be relatively brief. He terms out in January 2019.