The McDonald Mansion was originally built in 1878 and represents a unique and historic era for Santa Rosa and the entire North Bay area. As probably the largest home ever built within the city limits— and the finest— it was no accident that Walt Disney chose this mansion for the setting of their much loved movie Polly Anna.
Homes of this size and complexity prove to be challenging, both to use and maintain. When John and Jenny Webley purchased the mansion in 2005, it had seen better days. A second floor fire, years of neglect and a succession of poorly built additions and modifications had all taken their toll. It is very much to their credit that they had the vision and courage to conceive of restoring this home, not only to capture the very essence of the Eastlake period architecture popular when it was built, but to do so to a world class standard.
Undertaking a project of this magnitude and size (fifteen thousand square feet on four floors) and to the standards they felt where necessary to do justice to the mansion’s origins and heritage, presented formidable challenges at every level— not the least of which were financial.
Preliminary estimates from contractors indicated the costs were going to be prohibitive. Authentic, period millwork and the finishes necessary to faithfully reproduce the exceptionally fine detail in rooms sixteen feet high, not to mention finding authentic period fixtures, custom cast door hardware and all the thousands of carefully detailed elements within this particular architectural period kept the project architects: Rynerson O’Brien, busy for two years.
Our primary role was twofold. First: analyze every part of the project from a cost standpoint, and then use our sophisticated cost analysis and bidding strategies, to achieve the most efficient use of time and resources possible. John and Jenny Webley had asked us from the very beginning to keep all the quality, the finishes and materials, but to see if we could develop an approach that would cut their hard construction costs in half. From there, if we could achieve that initial goal, to then manage every aspect of the project, by directing and overseeing the five general contractors we eventually hired to complete all phases of construction— from demolition to wallpaper and faux finishing.
Projects of this size and complexity easily get out of control—especially as regards the overall budget. The sheer massive amount of never-before-contemplated-details, the extent of high end mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems included (the mansion has state of the art, computer-controlled heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems, Graphik Eye electronic lighting controls throughout, fully integrated surveillance and alarm systems with computerized monitoring) means that although the mansion faithfully echoes the highest standards of nineteenth century craftsmanship, it is, in every other respect, a masterpiece of 21st century technology. The latest electronic and computerized functions are integrated within traditional finishes. These include a 3-D projector in the theatre room, a four thousand bottle microprocessor controlled thermally balanced wine room, a three floor elevator, remote control systems for video cameras, gate access, pool fountain and all exterior lighting options, and so on.
Budgets are relatively easy to manage for smaller homes, but larger, complex projects can easily take on a life of their own and turn what might have been a dream into a very expensive nightmare.
To meet the budget constraints sought by the owners, while maintaining the highest standards of quality in materials and finishes, we chose to use our extremely effective phased, multi-prime strategy. This approach requires that we develop a complete set of custom specifications, designed to achieve superb quality, efficiency and economy. Our specifications addressed thousands of sheets of plans and details. We incorporated these to implement a complex, multi-staged bidding format. This format includes all the elements that impact hard cost: contractors, design, material sourcing, supply and fabrication.
Four years later we finished on schedule and for less than half of the original preliminary bids obtained by the owner.