The last remnant of the historic Briones House that proponents sought to preserve through nearly 14 years of litigation has been purchased by Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST) for $30,000, according to Clark Akatiff, a member of the Friends of the Juana Briones House.
Numerous contributors came up with $25,000 in cash for an 8-foot-by-8-foot section of the original wall, Akatiff said, which represents a rare form of adobe construction in which earth is packed between wooden cribbing set atop adobe brick.
The agreement with the property's owners, Jaim Nulman and Avelyn Welczer, was concluded on July 25. In addition to the cash, Nulman and Welczer will receive a $5,000 donation credit, which they can use as a tax write-off, Akatiff said.
"It is a pity that the house no longer stands, but Juana lives in memory and through the artifact that has been saved," he said.
The wall and its timbers are encased in foam and sheets of plywood and will be moved within the week to a secure location on City of Palo Alto property for storage "until things settle out," Akatiff said.
Additional timbers and rocks from a wall believed to have been constructed by local Native Americans are also being stored at the city site, he said, and await incorporation into a fitting memorial to Juana and her times. PAST will retain ownership of the wall, he said.
How the wall will be displayed has yet to be determined, but Akatiff said the leading prospect is that at least part could be used in the proposed Palo Alto History Museum, which is planned for the former Palo Alto Medical Foundation building (Roth Building) on Forest Avenue. But the history museum must still raise $1 million before construction can begin, he said.
Part of the wall might also be incorporated into a memorial at Esther Clark Park, which is adjacent to the home's original Old Adobe Road site, he said.
Akatiff said the purchase concluded amicably with Nulman, despite a nearly 14-year battle that embroiled the city, the couple and preservationists in two lawsuits.
"There are many to thank for this accomplishment. Certainly the many people who donated money to allow for the purchase, but also the City of Palo Alto, and especially PAST, which provided the organizational structure by which donations could be collected, and purchase made. I would also make mention of Jim Steinmetz, the contractor who carefully deconstructed the house, and whose concern for its historical value was always foremost in his mind," Akatiff said in an email to proponents.
"History is in some ways what we make of it," Akatiff said by phone Tuesday. "In the 20th and 21st centuries, some of us decided that Juana was important to our history. The house is gone, but Juana's with us -- more now than 50 years ago -- when she was not much more than a footnote at that time."
Nulman could not be reached for comment.