Published in the July 5 – July 18, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Kathy Sullivan

Kathy Sullivan

It takes a community to preserve a landmark of national stature and ensure its ongoing benefit to our community. That’s why during the past two years much thought and effort has gone into a partnership agreement formed at the June 21 city council meeting between the city of Morgan Hill and Morgan Hill Historical Society.

In accordance with the city council’s newly adopted ongoing priority of “Preserving Our Cultural Heritage,” this partnership ensures that Villa Mira Monte, our community’s history center two blocks north of downtown, will be preserved for future generations by providing supplemental funding to support the ongoing mission of sharing and preserving our area history.

At Villa Mira Monte, the Hiram Morgan Hill House is the 1884 Victorian home built by our city’s namesake, Hiram Morgan Hill, and his wife Diana Murphy Hill.

In 1978 the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, with inherent covenants, conditions and restrictions. Foremost among these is the requirement that the site be preserved and maintained into perpetuity to benefit our community as an educational and recreational resource.

In 1983 the city took title to the site at the request of the Lions Eye Foundation, a nonprofit that had inherited the property through a trust. It remained boarded up and in declining condition for 10 years. In 1993 the city approached the historical society to take ownership and commit to restore and renovate the house and open its doors to the community in five years. As an all-volunteer organization and with an outpouring of community volunteers and in-kind services, MHHS was able to stretch Redevelopment Agency funding provided by the city and grant funding provided by Santa Clara County to accomplish the extensive amount of work which needed to be done.

Morgan Hill Historical Society opened the doors of Villa Mira Monte to the community in 1998 for the wedding reception of then-Mayor Dennis Kennedy and his wife, Eileen. Since that time MHHS has continued to preserve, maintain and operate the site.

In 2005, the Morgan Hill Museum was moved to the site and renovated by MHHS, again using RDA and Santa Clara County grant funds. Today, VMM is our city’s history park. Families come to visit its two historic houses that are more than 100 years old as well as the Centennial History Trail established during our city’s 100th year celebration in 2006. The structures currently have significant preservation and maintenance needs.

The partnership agreement establishes a collaborative effort to most effectively use city and MHHS resources and funds.

MHHS will:
Continue to hold title to the property and operate it as a public resource for the benefit of the Morgan Hill community, as it has for the past 23 years;

Seek grants and other funding sources to contribute to the ongoing maintenance, improvements and preservation of the site;

Acknowledge the city as a partner in all communications and on-site materials.

The city will:
Market, promote and advertise VMM and MHHS programs;

Support protection of the site in regards to public safety issues;

Provide operational funding at $20,000 per year through 2020, with future extensions to be allocated by the city council;

Provide $142,000 in FY 2017-2018 to cover maintenance needs;

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Provide capital funding – $84,000 FY 2017-2018; and consider $2,247,000 in FY 2019-2021 to develop the back area of the site.

Morgan Hill Historical Society recognizes the Planning Commission, the Parks and Recreation Commission, the Bikeways, Trails, Parks and Recreation Stakeholders Group, and the Library, Cultural and Arts Commission for their support in recommending Villa Mira Monte as a high priority for acknowledgment and funding in the Morgan Hill City 2035 General Plan.

The historical society also recognizes City Manager Steve Rymer, Community Services Director Chris Ghione, City Attorney Don Larkin and the city staff for their work in researching and presenting recommendations to the city council. Ultimately, the city council approved the partnership agreement and has allocated funds to preserve and maintain this community resource. Our heartfelt thanks to those in the community who lent their support in signing petitions and speaking at public meetings on our behalf.

Kathy Sullivan is a board member of the Morgan Hill Historical Society. She wrote this column for Morgan Hill Life.