From the SFGate:

When the 39th governor of California takes office in Sacramento next year, there will be no place to lay a pillow for his or her head, no place to plug in a toaster and no place to hang a picture.

Like every other working stiff, he or she will have to go house hunting.

Not since 1967, when the Reagans moved out of the once official governor’s dwelling — which they considered a firetrap in an undesirable part of town — has there been a permanent home for the state’s chief executive. That Italianate mansion was turned into a museum and would need extensive repairs to make it livable for any future governors. Many agree that it’s not worth the expense — a tone set by Jerry Brown in 1975, when he was elected governor (he’s running again for the office against Meg Whitman in the November election). Brown was adamant: Providing a home for the state’s top dog is an extravagance California can’t afford.

Californians weren’t always so frugal. Long before the state went broke, long before its unemployment rate was the third-highest in the nation and rampant foreclosures topped the news, governors were housed in style.

In 1903, the state acquired a Victorian mansion on Sacramento’s H Street for its 21st governor, George Pardee, who with his wife and daughters lived in the home for four years. The house had originally been built in 1877 by Albert and Clemenza Rhodes Gallatin. Albert Gallatin came to California to mine for gold.

“He soon learned that it was more profitable to mine the miners,” said Kendra Dillard of California State Parks, which preserved the mansion for public tours. Gallatin managed a profitable hardware store that sold most of the materials to build the Capitol. The enterprising salesman hired architect Nathaniel Goodell to design one of the most prestigious Victorians in town. He eventually sold it to Joseph and Louisa Steffens, who lived there with their four children for six years, before selling it to the state for $32,000.

The Pardees added a small wing for an office and immediately began furnishing the place.

Helen Pardee, scandalized by a wall border of naked nymphs in the upstairs bathroom, had it painted over before her four young, impressionable daughters caught sight of it, Dillard said.

Minnie Johnson decorated one of the parlors with a plum velvet sofa and chairs, Nina Warren covered the floors with hand-tied Persian carpets, and Virginia Knight stocked the cabinets with the official state china.

Brown’s late father, Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, the 32nd governor of California, and his family added a pool and a bit of whimsy. “After a long day at the Capitol, Gov. Brown would come home, put on his bathing suit, robe and slippers, and wander across the street to the motel, where he’d take a dip,” Dillard said.

Pool crashing doesn’t typically go under the header of stately behavior, so private donors got busy having a swimming pool installed in the governor’s yard. They also added a telephone so Brown could conduct business while watching his grandchildren splash in the water.

According to museum officials, Bernice Brown and her youngest child, Kathleen — Jerry Brown was away at seminary, studying to be a Jesuit priest — painted the toes on the upstairs claw-foot tub with red nail polish. It’s still that way today.

By the time the Reagans moved in, the neighborhood had gone to pot — literally. Drug dealers had set up shop on the sidewalks and 16th Street at the corner of the masion had become a major thoroughfare.

“Day and night you could hear big trucks rumble by,” said Dillard, adding that the constant dinging of a nearby gas station bell didn’t add much to the ambience either. Nancy Reagan was particularly concerned about the mansion’s construction, a balloon frame that could prove fatal in a fire, Dillard said. Furthermore, Victorian- style homes in the 1960s were about as fashionable as corsets and layered petticoats.

After three months, the Reagans moved out and rented a home on dignified 45th Street.

“Nancy felt that the mansion was just too dilapidated,” Merksamer said. So Ronald Reagan began the process of having a new 12,000square-foot contemporary- style governor’s residence built in nearby Carmichael. The Reagans knew it wouldn’t be finished in time for them to move in but believed that the combination of public and private spaces would make it a future showplace, Merksamer said.

It was nearly done when Jerry Brown took office. But the Democrat and self-described fiscal conservative shunned the new digs, saying that it was a luxury a single guy didn’t need. Instead he rented an apartment and reportedly slept on a mattress on the floor.

That wasn’t going to work for George Deukmejian.

When the Southern California Republican was elected in 1983, he and his family planned to move into the new Carmichael residence.

But the mostly Democratic state Legislature took the same stance as Brown, arguing that holding on to the property was wasteful. The state sold the place to a private developer for $1.5 million, and the proceeds went into California’s coffers.

Deukmejian took up residence in the Holiday Inn. His family stayed in Long Beach until the governor found an appropriate place to live.

He and his top man, Merksamer, formed the Governor’s Residence Foundation and raised private money for a home. In 1984, the foundation purchased a 3,100-square-foot ranch house in Wilhaggin, which later got a small second-story addition to be used as an office.

Governors Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis all took a turn living in Wilhaggin, a leafy neighborhood 15 minutes from the Capitol. “In that home you would have been hard pressed to fit more than 10 people around the dining table,” said Steve Merksamer, a Sacramento attorney, who served as Deukmejian’s chief of staff in the 1980s.

Except for casual outdoor barbecues, the house wasn’t suitable for entertaining visiting dignitaries. So Deukmejian and later governors used hotel ballrooms and even the Capitol’s rotunda. Eventually the Leland Stanford Mansion, also a state park museum in downtown Sacramento, was refurbished for holding state dinners.

In 2003, when Davis was governor, the residence foundation was disbanded, the home in Wilhaggin was sold and the money donated to charity, Merksamer said.

Davis was in the midst of forming a new foundation and had already picked out a property to move into when he was recalled.

“It’s very unfortunate that we don’t have a governor’s residence,” Merksamer said. “We’re the eighth- or ninthlargest economy in the world, yet our chief executive isn’t even given a place to live or entertain guests from around the world. It’s really sad.”

“The cost to the taxpayer is hard to justify,” said Jeff Macedo, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy press secretary.  A private foundation foots the bill for Schwarzenegger to live part time in Sacramento’s Hyatt Regency hotel, said press secretary Aaron McLear. But mostly the governor commutes from his home in Los Angeles at his own expense.

Both Whitman and Brown have said that unlike Schwarzenegger they plan to live full time in the capital. Both will dig into their own pockets to buy homes there.

And it’s a good thing.

Besides the lack of an official governor’s residence, there’s no housing allowance.

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Jim the Realtor
Jim is a long-time local realtor who comments daily here on his blog, which began in September, 2005. Stick around!

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