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Pio Pico state park to remain open with donation from Whittier

Pio pico
Don't lock the gates to Pio Pico State Historic Park just yet.

The adobe mansion of California's last governor under Mexican rule will remain open through the end of the year with $40,000 from the city of Whittier and private donors.

The 1850s landmark is one of dozens of state parks that California is moving to close by July 1 to save money, leaving supporters scrambling to find ways to keep them open.

When efforts to get L.A. County and surrounding cities to step in to operate the Pio Pico adobe failed, supporters launched a campaign to raise the $80,000 the state says it would cost to keep it open another year. They courted donors and sponsors, held a money-raising Easter egg hunt and collected proceeds from recycling bottles and cans.

In a donor agreement with the state, approved Tuesday by Whittier’s City Council, the city will contribute $30,000 to add to the $10,000 raised by Friends of Pio Pico Inc., the park's nonprofit association, allowing the 4 ½-acre site to operate through December.

California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman is expected to sign off on the deal, said Craig Sap, superintendent of the agency's Angeles District.

"It seemed like a no-brainer to us," Sap said. "You've got $40,000 in the bank and the city is making this a priority. They don’t want to see this close. It’s a treasure in this community"

Though it now sits in a residential neighborhood between the 605 Freeway and the San Gabriel River, the 17-room adobe once looked out over the 9,000-acre ranch of one of California’s most colorful historical figures.

Pio de Jesus Pico, born to modest means at the San Gabriel Mission in 1801, secured vast land grants, became one of the richest men in Mexico's Alta California and ascended to its highest office as a two-time governor.

News of the donation has at least changed the tone of what was to be the park’s last hurrah on Saturday, an event tentatively called “Fiesta de Pio Pico: Celebration or Wake?”

"It’s a celebration now,” said Carolyn Schoff, president of Friends of Pio Pico.

Yet like parks up and down the state trying to avoid closure through agreements negotiated with donors, cities and counties, Pio Pico has been granted only a reprieve, not a permanent solution.

As part of the agreement, Pio Pico boosters will have to raise an additional $40,000 to keep the historic site open through July 2013. After that, they hope to craft a long-term funding mechanism to shield the historic landmark from a constant cycle of looming closure.

“It might be difficult, but we have an obligation to preserve history,” Schoff said. “If we don’t it will be gone and we’ll never get it back.”

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--Tony Barboza

Photo: Carolyn Schoff, president of Friends of Pio Pico, walks near the adobe at Pio Pico State Historic Park in Whittier. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times

 
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