Workers Scramble to Save 121-Year-Old Redwood Lodge

Recent heavy rains have damaged historic building’s foundation and creekside retaining walls, so federal, state and local authorities have approved emergency repairs to keep it from falling into the creek.

Longtime Mill Valley resident Peter Buckley hopes to one day restore the 121-year-old Redwood Lodge on Corte Madera Avenue in Blithedale Canyon.

But before he gets a chance to do so, he has to make sure the building doesn’t fall into the adjacent Arroyo Corte Del Presidio creek.

Federal, state and local officials approved emergency repairs to the lodge this week as the building's foundation and the approximately 110-year-old creekside retaining walls are failing and the building has begun to creep toward the creek itself, according to Mike Moore, the city of Mill Valley’s planning director.

Buckley and his planner Scott Hochstrasser approached the city last Friday with approvals for the work from a host of state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Fish and Game, because of the property’s proximity to the creek. The work began Monday and is expected to take at least one month to finish, Hochstrasser said.

“The lodge building is apparently creeping toward the creek and putting pressure on the creek wall, in which there are sizable cracks,” Moore said

The emergency work by Redhorse Constructors of San Rafael is the latest chapter in the history of the Redwood Lodge, which dates back to 1891 when shipping magnate George Billings bought it and built a summer home for his family, which moved there after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, according to the West Blithedale Canyon Neighborhood Association. The lodge was expanded upon multiple times over the years and once reportedly featured the first tennis court in Northern California.

Buckley, the former owner of Esprit Europe, bought the property in 1994 from Jean Keiler, the granddaughter of the original owners. At the time, Peter and Mimi Buckley hoped to turn the property into a home for their then-fledgling , which was started in 1991 by a group of parents and housed in the Buckley’s home. It now resides in a building owned by on Buena Vista Avenue.

That project met heavy resistance from Bithedale Canyon neighbors and Buckley eventually shelved it. The school continued to use the property as a place to hold events and as rental homes for teachers. The Buckleys’ children have since graduated from college and Buckley moved on with a plan to build four single-family homes there.

“We really wanted to restore the lodge because of its historical significance,” Buckley said.

Since 2001, the lodge has been home to Arjia Rinpoche, the exiled former Abbot of Kumbum, one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Tibet. Rinpoche founded the Tibetan Center for Compassion and Wisdom there, and though he is currently the on-site director of the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana on an appointment by the 14th Dalai Lama, Buckley said he intends to return to Mill Valley and that his entourage, which includes a bodyguard, lives there now.

Buckley has proposed to restore the lodge and tear down three cottages on the property and build new single-family homes. The proposed end result is four homes between 2,500 and 3,000 square feet that would be sold off, Buckley said. That project, which went to the Planning Commission in September 2010, is in the environmental review stage and is expected to come back to the commission later this year, Moore said.

The emergency work focuses on the lodge’s foundation on the side that is adjacent to the creek, Hochstrasser said. Workers are creating an engineered perimeter foundation at the site that won’t be supporting the building but will be keeping it from creeping further toward the creek, he said.

In addition, the lodge has an enclosed porch on each floor that extends out over the creek in the area where the creek wall has collapsed. Those porches will be removed to make it easier for workers to armor the channel wall for there won’t be any continuing erosion of the foundation, Moore said.

Jim Welte April 10, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Hi Laura - the story might not have been clear enough on one point: no taxpayer money is being spent on these repairs, as they are being done by a private contractor at the expense of the property owner, not the city of any state or federal agencies, as far as I understand it. Hope that helps.
Laura Pandapas April 11, 2012 at 01:32 AM
hi jim, well that certainly is better. i misunderstood about the involvement of the army corps of engineers and the state agencies. thanks for the response. but i am still NOT a fan of 4 large homes being built on this magnificent site and will encourage mill valley residents and neighbors of this project to fight it. i grew up across the street, with our yard adjacent to the lodge. this will be a very sad turn of events. it should be maintained in character if not in kind. 4 big homes will utterly change the feel of the neighborhood.
Betsy Bikle April 12, 2012 at 01:26 AM
My sympathies to the Buckleys and those who care about the historic property . This is such a prime example of the strong dynamics of nature’s processes over time. Our current zoning ordinance of allowing no construction within 30 feet of the top of creek bank is good for built properties as well as for the allowance of stream wandering and dissipation of energy.
Harriet HIll April 13, 2012 at 07:59 PM
You are SO right!
Mari September 10, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Maybe the time has come for a community wide outreach/education program about the benefits of rain gardens? Maybe some tax incentives for homeowners who install rain gardens? The more development that happens upstream, the faster the creek water flows, which causes erosion. If we can slow down the rain, we'll all be better off - especially the folks in the floodplain.


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