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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor firstname.lastname@example.org
If Merle Haggard ever wants to sing himself back home, he may have to aim a couple of miles south after a decision by the Kern County Museum Foundation on Monday to accept, with conditions, the boyhood residence of the country music superstar.
After a lengthy and spirited discussion, the board, on a 7-to-1 vote, approved a letter spelling out the stipulations required before the museum can become the permanent location of the 1935 Oildale boxcar house built by Haggard's father. The letter gives Glenda Rankin and Dianne Sharman, the primary leaders of the effort, proof of the board's intent, a necessity before fundraising can begin.
Citizens Preserving History
RE: Acceptance of Merle Haggard House
Dear Ms. Rankin:
The purpose of this letter is to confirm our understanding of your intention regarding donation of the Haggard House to the Kern County Museum Foundation as well as the conditions under which the Foundation will accept the donation. We appreciate the amount of effort and time that you have devoted to the acquisition and potential of the Haggard House.
The Haggard House is located on Yosemite Drive, Bakersfield. It is currently occupied and used as living quarters. Your organization, Citizens Preserving History, will undertake sole responsibility to enter into whatever agreements and arrangements are necessary with the owner of that property to allow removal of the Haggard House, including any obligation to provide a replacement structure. We understand that your organization has already entered into an agreement with the owner of the Haggard House addressing some or all of these issues. The Foundation will have no obligation or responsibility with respect to that agreement or any other arrangements that must be undertaken to facilitate removal of the Haggard House from its current location and transportation of the Haggard House to the Kern County Museum grounds.
You may relocate the Haggard House from its current site to the Museum grounds. The precise location on Museum grounds will be at the sole discretion of the Foundation. Prior to its delivery, the following conditions must be satisfied:
1. The sum of $50,000 must be held on deposit in a bank account dedicated to the sole purpose of restoration of the Haggard House. We understand from you that this amount will fully cover the cost of restoration. The purpose of these funds is to assure the Foundation that sufficient funds are available to restore the Haggard House following its delivery to the Museum grounds. As we have discussed, the Foundation does not have funds available to devote to restoration of the Haggard House. Additionally, the Foundation cannot have a dilapidated or partially restored house on Museum grounds for an extended period of time. Therefore, it is imperative that your organization be solely responsible for raising sufficient funds to not only begin restoration of the Haggard House immediately following its delivery to the Museum grounds, but also proceed diligently and without delay until full restoration. The Foundation reserves the right to increase the amount required to be deposited if, at the time that the Haggard House is ready for relocation to the Museum grounds, the estimate of $50,000 appears to be insufficient.
2. The bank account holding the funds devoted to restoration of the Haggard House will be donated to the Foundation for the exclusive use of restoring the Haggard House. Any funds remaining following completion of the restoration will be used for the furnishing, maintenance and repair of the Haggard House. Restoration and presentation of the Haggard House will be at the sole discretion of the Foundation.
3. The Foundation must receive a pest control inspection report from a reputable company. Any corrective items disclosed in that report must be completed.
4. Title to the Haggard House must be free and clear, and not subject to any encumbrances. Any document that is necessary to convey free and clear ownership of the Haggard House to the Foundation must be fully executed by those entities and people who have the authority to convey free and clear title to the Foundation. Once accepted by the Foundation, the donation and conveyance of the Haggard House to the Foundation will be irrevocable and not subject to any conditions.
5. The Haggard House must be set upon a solid foundation to be constructed by the Foundation. The cost constructing that foundation will be the sole responsibility of your organization and will be in addition to the cost of restoration. The sufficiency of its construction, however, will be subject to the approval of the Foundation prior to placement of the Haggard House.
6. Your organization must provide the Foundation with proof of adequate insurance covering the Foundation and the County of Kern with respect to transportation of the Haggard House from its current location to the Museum grounds.
The Foundation understands that your organization needs this agreement to facilitate fundraising efforts for the acquisition, transportation and restoration of the Haggard House. As we are sure you understand, however, the Foundation cannot wait indefinitely for the necessary arrangements and fundraising to the completed. Our understanding from you is that you will be in a position to satisfy all of the terms and conditions of this agreement within one year. Therefore, this agreement will expire one year from the date above. Following expiration, the Foundation will have no obligation with respect to acceptance of the Haggard House.
Thank you for all your efforts to preserve this piece of Kern County history. We look forward to your continued efforts and a successful completion of all the necessary steps that will allow the Foundation to accept this unique donation.
"The Merle Haggard house would be an international draw (for the museum)," said foundation board chairman Bob Lerude, director of the Parks and Recreation Department for the county, which owns the museum.
Though the foundation board has stipulated a minimum of $50,000 must be raised for restoration before the house is moved, the group has set a goal of $102,000, which also would cover building a replacement home for the current owner.
Nearly a dozen members of the public, most in support of the plan, attended the meeting and addressed the board. Arguments in favor of the move focused on the importance of Haggard's contribution to the Bakersfield Sound, a hard-driving brand of honky-tonk music that has enjoyed commercial and critical success around the world.
"The Merle Haggard house has larger appeal than just the Bakersfield Sound," said audience member Roy Hall.
One concern that emerged among board members was the question of the Haggard house's significance apart from any connection to a larger, expanded Bakersfield Sound exhibit, which is on the foundation's wish list but years away from being realized. Board members Sheryl Barbich and Barbara Patrick floated the idea of using the Haggard home, when it is moved, as a temporary site for the museum's current music memorabilia in the hopes that momentum from the project could benefit the Bakersfield Sound exhibit.
"I think we would consider that if we have the board's word and a time frame that it would go back to the Merle Haggard home (eventually)," said Rankin, referring to the group's goal of replicating, with furnishings and other family artifacts, the interior as it looked when Haggard lived there.
Lerude joined Rankin in expressing misgivings over how the house will be used in the future, citing one provision in the letter that he called overly broad: "Restoration and presentation of the Haggard House will be at the sole discretion of the Foundation."
"As a board member, my concern would be that we need to follow that line with something to the effect that the house has to include Merle Haggard memorabilia and can't include other stuff."
But Beth Pandol, vice chairwoman of the board, said that to be too specific with the language would "hamstring future foundations and staff."
The most impassioned criticism came from board secretary Catherine Merlo -- the sole "no" vote -- who is leading the foundation's ambitious effort to build a $1.5 million orientation center. The museum simply doesn't have the money or staffing to become distracted by another project, she said.
"It's a pie-in-the-sky idea -- a great idea -- but the pragmatic point of view is we don't have the resources for the orientation center, to run the museum and do this too."
After the meeting, Sharman said she was happy the letter provides a "jumping off point" for fundraising.
One person, however, will not be on the list of potential donors.
"We're not asking Merle Haggard for money," Sharman said. "We want to honor him and raise all the money.
"He's such an important part of Kern County history."