The Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross has unveiled plans to upgrade the property, including a new entrance and exit design, improved accessibility and a clearer path for visitor circulation.
The plans also include adding more permeable parking; building a sidewalk in the parking lot; installing an information kiosk at the entrance; fencing portions of the site to protect plants from wildlife; and adding a foot bridge over the creek near the studio building.
“We’re homing in on the things we feel we need to do right away — so deferred maintenance, accessibility and getting you through the site to buildings,” said Jessica Fairchild, an architect who is a board member at the center. “A lot of it is a gentle touch, we’re being very sensitive to the historic nature of the site.”
Ned Purdom, vice president of the center’s board, said the center submitted the plan in November 2022. The town asked for a presentation before the Advisory Design Review Group on Sept. 19 because of the complexity of the changes, he said.
Purdom said the advisory committee will conduct a formal review in November. He hopes for a Town Council hearing in December.
Permits are required because the plans include added fencing over 48 inches in an area near a public right-of-way; site work within 25 feet of a creek; renovating and expanding landscaped areas and paths over 2,500 square feet; and altering structures including demolition. The project also requires a variance related to reducing on-site parking.
The center also wants to change the circulation of pedestrian traffic to make it more clear which direction visitors should head by removing an extra entrance and renovating paths. Fairchild emphasized plans for accessibility changes, including adding ramps, minor grating on slopes and bathrooms tailored to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The proposal began to take shape in 2016 when the center began working on a larger plan to bring it to a more historically accurate state, according to Purdom. An initial phase will cost about $7.5 million, he said. The center has raised several million dollars in donations.
“A fair amount of phase one work is addressing this critical, but unseen, infrastructure, like water and irrigation, electrical, sewer and so forth,” Purdom said. “Not sexy, but increasingly expensive and time consuming to maintain.”
The center dates to the 1860s. The property spent some time under various estates — the Worn family and then the Kittle family — until the 1940s, when Ross resident and environmentalist Caroline Livermore rallied friends and family to buy the estate. Livermore wanted to preserve a parcel of Marin during a time when the area was rapidly developing.
Organizers founded the Marin Art and Garden Center in 1945 as a war memorial. From 1946 to the 1970s, it was the site of the Marin County Fair. In June 2022, it received a National Historic Register designation.
According to Fairchild, many of the buildings on the property were built early on and inexpensively. She said the buildings are in disrepair, and the center hopes to use old photos to bring a “historical essence” back to them while also making them more accessible.
“Over the years, things were just added on as needed, so there was no big-picture view,” Fairchild said. “For a lot of people, the pathways are very confusing.”
Additionally, some of the buildings were constructed before regulations regarding creeks and rivers existed. For example, the buildings where weddings and memorials are held were built over the creek that runs through the property. Part of the proposed changes include removing some of the decking on these buildings to expose the creek. Fairchild said the center plans to redo the stage located at the area, as well.
“I’m just very excited about it,” an Advisory Design Review Group member said at the presentation last month. “I think it’s great that you’re doing all this.”
One member asked if the center is concerned about losing some parking space. Fairchild said the center very rarely uses that parking area. The center also wants to make the entrance on Laurel Grove Avenue an exit only due to safety concerns about car accidents.
A few members expressed concerns that the entry kiosk felt ‘cold’ in its architecture compared to the older, historic buildings on the property.
Once the plans are approved by the town, the center will go through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California State Water Resources Control Board regarding the creek regulations.
After more fundraising efforts, the center hopes to break ground on phase one construction next fall, Fairchild said.
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