WALNUT CREEK -- It's been more than 10 years since Miriam Lar Rieu died, and still the fate of her home has yet to be decided.
Lar Rieu gifted her home and property to Walnut Creek, to be used as a park after she died. But what to do with the house where she lived has been complicated by dueling family opinions and Walnut Creek's lack of money to maintain the home. And now some city leaders recommend the 1930s house, complete with a windmill, be torn down.
Last year, the City Council initiated a process to figure out the future of Lar Rieu Park. The 10-acre park at 196 El Camino Corto, with sweeping views of Mount Diablo, opened in 2007, four years after Lar Rieu's death. The public has not used the undeveloped park much, and the house and gardens on the property have fallen into disrepair. Mark Clar, a member of Friends of Lar Rieu, said such disrepair is an invitation to vandalism and vagrancy.
"I personally think if Mrs. Lar Rieu could walk her property today she would be insulted by the present condition of her once-proud home and grounds," Clar said at a Feb. 3 Park, Recreation and Open Space Commission meeting.
Options for the house's future include demolition; letting a caretaker live there; allowing the family to fix it up and then having a family caretaker live in it for 15 years; and having a nonprofit take it over for a community use.
The idea of the Lar Rieu family spending an estimated $300,000 to make the home livable again was attractive to Park, Recreation and Open Space commissioners, but the question of what the city would do with the home in 15 years was puzzling for some.
"I hate to see us get in a position where we have a beautiful home that's been restored at the end of 15 years with nothing to do with it, nothing to use it for," Commissioner Sandra Jacobsen said at the meeting.
Some commissioners felt restoring the house would turn it into a single-family home -- not open to the public, as Lar Rieu intended when she gifted her land. Some neighbors said the park is supposed to be a "passive park" with few amenities and with no one living in the house.
Others pointed out there is no parking and that the road to the home is a two-car, one-lane street, so it can't handle many users. But other neighbors say the city should do something with the house to prevent crime and vandalism. It's not just neighbors who disagree with one another, but even descendants of Lar Rieu disagree about what should be done with the home.
"I am totally against anybody living in that house; I think it's foolhardy and ludicrous," said Barry Lar Rieu, Miriam Lar Rieu's son. "My suggestion is to wipe the house off the property."
But his nephew, Dana Sack, said he and other family members are willing to pay to have the home restored and have Barry Lar Rieu's grand-daughter live in the home with her husband as caretakers and hand it over to the city in 12 to 15 years.
But it's the unknown "exit strategy" of the plan for the Lar Rieu home that had parks commissioners perplexed. Three on the commission ultimately suggested the home be torn down, while two others said there was some merit in investigating Sack's proposal, noting the city doesn't have the estimated $75,000 needed to tear the house down. The City Council is expected to hear the commissioners' recommendation and render a decision in the next several weeks.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.