Sarah Lim: Museum Notes

April 24, 2009

Sarah Lim: Walking tour of Merced

I recently returned from Palm Springs. Palm Springs is filled with many internationally renowned buildings. As I toured the city, I felt that I was in a charming Spanish colonial village.

Even though the historic structures and the celebrities who owned them impressed me, I could not help thinking that Merced has as much to offer. Its architectural history is very much a hidden treasure. Because Merced is an older town than Palm Springs, its buildings represent a good variety of architectural styles from Victorian to Mission. A tour of downtown Merced will give a good sampling of the variety.

For a sampling of the architectural history of downtown Merced, start your walking tour from the Visitor's Bureau at 16th and N streets. As you walk north on N Street and turn left onto 18th Street, you will see a beautiful flower shop on the corner of O and 18th Streets. This was a home designed and built by local architect, Louis Wegner, in 1900 for Reinhold Kaehler, a prominent businessman. The plan of the building is basically a Colonial Revival Classic Box, an American style of the Revolutionary War period.

Two blocks north on O Street is Courthouse Park. The Old Courthouse (now the Museum) designed by Albert A. Bennett and built in 1875 by A. W. Burrell, is a fine example of Italianate architecture, picturesque and symmetric. The elaborate details of the building are full of symbolism and arranged in the ascending order of importance: the plain-looking jail in the lowest level, the more heavily decorated second floor, the magnificent courtroom in the third floor and the final touch of the heavenly dome crowned by the Roman goddess Minerva.

Leaving the Old Courthouse and continuing east on 21st Street for about three blocks, one of the best examples of a Merced Victorian home, the Greenbrier, will come into view. This Queen Anne style

2½-story home built in 1891 was full of tales and legends. Originally known as the Cook House, various sources have disputed who it was built for, one saying it was for Civil War Veteran Major George Beecher Cook and others saying it was for William H. Cook, a rancher and county auditor.

Victorian architecture does not dominate the style of Merced buildings. By the turn of the 20th century, Mission-style architecture rose in popularity from homes to public buildings. One of these was the Central Presbyterian Church, two blocks west of the Greenbrier on 19th Street. The two-story church built in 1916 features stucco siding and rests on a high foundation. The ornate windows and exterior ornamentation make this one of the finest examples of Mission-style architecture in Merced. There are many other fine buildings of different architectural styles in Merced that you can discover.

Call me biased if you want. I appreciate the architectural beauty of the buildings in my community rather than the ones in Palm Springs because I know about these architects, builders and the people who lived there. Some of their stories have been documented by retired architect Henry DuPertuis, in his beautifully illustrated book "Homes of Old Merced." This book and "Walking Tour of Merced" are available for sale at the Museum gift shop.

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