featured-art-and-cultureIssue 15

Inspiring Spaces: McClure Country Home

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 4.47.42 PMBY ALEX CANTATORE

In the 1940s and 50s, it was the center of Modesto’s social scene. But for the past few decades, few have visited this historic Modesto place.

The McClure Country Home is one of Modesto’s oldest and grandest mansions. It’s nearly as old as Modesto itself, with a grand Victorian Italianate style that hints at the luxury of bygone eras.

When it was built, in 1881, the McClure home bordered Dry Creek in an area that could only be described as “rural.” These days, it’s surrounded by modern homes, Johansen High School, and Creekside Golf Course. But it remains mysterious, separated from the community by a Modesto Irrigation District lateral and numerous security fences.

It’s lived a number of lives, from a country mansion to a working dairy and – as mentioned – the heart of Modesto’s social scene. The newspaper’s society editor lived there in the 40s and 50s and frequently hosted parties in an outdoor, screened porch area – mainly so she’d have something to write about. At one point, the property featured twin playhouses for the McClure’s twin daughters.

The City of Modesto bought the McClure house in 1971. At the time, Modesto thought it would turn the home into a museum, using some of the original furniture from 1881.

But then Modesto came across the McHenry Mansion property in 1976, which was subsequently restored and became the museum that the McClure home was supposed to be.

“It was one of those things that was sort of put on the back burner,” said Wayne Mathes, Modesto’s Cultural Services Manager.

The city used it as a maintenance office for a while. Students from Downey High School constructed a small concrete block home that became a caretaker’s cottage.

Eventually, plans were drawn to repurpose the home as a wedding venue, or perhaps a zoo. Those plans were vetoed by nearby homeowners, concerned with noise and smells. The home has sat vacant for decades now, save for a brief appearance as a Community Hospice Decorators’ Showhouse venue in the 1990s. Age and vandalism have taken their toll, and Modesto is considering selling some of the land unless a donor comes forward to fund a restoration.

Mathes fondly describes how the home once was. A porch wrapped around the shutter-lined front facade, surveying opulent grounds with large citrus trees and a fishpond.

It’s hard to see some of that old grandeur. The original porch is now a stoop, with the porch railing reused to build a balcony by later owners. That balcony is now crumbling.

But there’s still something at the old McClure house that inspires all who have a chance to visit.

“I still think it’s a great property,” Mathes said.

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