ASST. NEWS EDITER
At Tuesday night’s Whittier City Council meeting there were five families from separate houses on Earlham Drive who voiced complaints about Whittier College. The specific issue was Earlham Hall, an uninhabited property across the street from the Campus Center that belongs to Whittier College.
Earlham residents cited the building’s boarded up windows, its broken cement retaining wall and its chipped paint job as being “eyesores.” The residents also stated that the condition of the house violated municipal code 8.08.024 on substandard property conditions. According to the Earlham residents, the building was in violation of seven out of eleven clauses of this code. John Murdy is a Whittier alumni from the class of 89 and lives next door to Earlham Hall. “If it was our house, the city would be all over us,” Murdy said. He was echoed by many of the other Earlham Residents who all asked the city council to enforce municipal codes on Whittier College just like it would on any resident.
For Murdy the issue of Earlham Hall is more than just a community issue, it’s also a personal issue. He and his family share a driveway with the Earlham property and the broken and leaning cement retaining wall as well as the broken concrete driveway that belong to Earlham Hall have made it costly to for him to do construction and home improvements that he wishes to complete on his house. “We wanted to build a garage and the city inspectors said we had to fix the driveway first,” said Murdy in an interview on Wednesday. The driveway, which is officially Whittier College property, would cost $80,000 to fix. Also to fix the driveway Murdy would have to work alongside the broken and leaning retaining wall of Earlham Hall and risk it collapsing. “Then it would be my liability,” Murdy said.
Murdy’s wife, who works as a veterinarian, also told the City Council that the long uninhabited house had started to attract rodents. Mrs. Murdy spoke to city council while holding her baby of less than one year. “Rodents have taken over the place,” Mrs. Murdy said. “Skunks and bats are the number one cause of rabies.”
Mr. Murdy said he had seen many skunks around the property and often sees rats running through the yard.
These personal problems for the Murdy’s are only one of the many issues bothering Earlham Drive residents concerning Earlham Hall. For Mr. Murdy and for Executive Director of the Whittier Conservancy Helen Rahder, the history of the house is also important.
In an interview on Wednesday Rahder said that Earlham Hall was originally the home of the founder and first president of Whittier College. “We want Whittier [College] to honor the home of their first president and honor the community by taking care of this historic resource,” Rahder said. Rahder and a group of families interested in preserving Whittier’s historic homes on Earlham Drive have been in communication with Whittier College since 2008 in attempts to see changes in the status of Earlham Hall and Guilford Hall (the white house next to Kaplan). According to Rahder, in 2009 Whittier College took out demolition permits on the two buildings and the Whittier Conservancy blocked the demolition through City Council.
The conservancy then acquired a national trust grant and hired the 30th Street Architects company to do a $25,000 appraisal on the Earlham house. According to Rahder the results of this appraisal showed that the house had no structural issues and therefore, due to its status as a historic building could not be torn down.
Since then, Whittier has cut down the overgrown yard, planted grass and given the house a basic paint job. However Executive Assistant to the President Kristin Wiberg has stated in a letter to homeowners in the Earlham Historic district there are no plans for finding a new use for the building, that Whittier College will continue to take care of the building’s exterior and that plans to build a new retaining wall are pending approval from the city.
However, Earlham residents did not seem very comforted by this letter that was sent out on Aug. 20. If, as Wiberg’s letter states, “to continue to maintain the exterior of the structure,” means not fixing the many boarded up windows or leaning porch supports, then the College will not be placating residents.
Earlham Drive achieved status as a Historic District in 2011 with support from the Whittier Conservancy and local homeowners. The Whittier Conservancy has successfully found over $1,000,000 of funding for relocation and renovation of the Guilford Hall and according to Rahder the Conservancy would love to be involved in renovating or repurposing Earlham Hall if Whittier College would cooperate.
A lack of cooperation from Whittier College is the overriding problem foraccording to the Conservancy and Earlham Families. Dana Bishop Carter, who has lived in Whittier for 35 years, has been involved in the process of trying to work with Whittier College on this subject for five years and has one major complaint. “We can’t get the College to fulfill its duty’s as a neighbor,” Carter said to the Whittier City Council.