The city of Downey went to Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday to begin property abatement proceedings on the historic Rives Mansion, which has fallen into visible disrepair.
Accompanied by a police escort, city workers gained access to the property Wednesday and began clean-up efforts. A lien will be added to the property’s title to recoup costs.
The mansion’s current tenants are expected to vacate the property by June 27.
“The City of Downey has a longstanding tradition respecting private property rights, however, the historic Rives Mansion has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair that is unacceptable in our community and unsafe for its neighbors,” said Mayor Fernando Vasquez.
Last month, the mansion’s perimeter fence collapsed under the weight of overgrown vegetation, exposing filthy conditions and evidence that people were illegally living in the property’s garage and water tower.
The property is currently in foreclosure proceedings and has been the subject of litigation between its current owners and lease holders.
“The city has continued to monitor the site and attempted to work with the foreclosure agency to address the neglected items on the property,” city officials said in a prepared statement. “However, after much discussion and little progress from the foreclosure agency, the city took matters into its own hands filed with the L.A. Court.”
On Wednesday, city employees began clearing debris from the mansion’s backyard, including at least two sofas, two dozen chairs, a washing machine, patio furniture, a desk, children’s toys, and mounds of trash bags.
Crews also removed 8-ft. tall weeds, mowed the lawn, pruned palm trees, and discarded the collapsed fence. A temporary chain-link fence will be installed in its place.
City officials said they would continue to maintain the property “until the property is sold to a new owner.”
“The city is doing everything it can within its legal limits to ensure the health and safety of the neighborhood surrounding the Rives Mansion while taking action with the foreclosure agency to ensure the property is brought back up to our community’s high standards,” said Mayor Pro Tem Sean Ashon.
Built in 1910 by Superior Court Judge James C. Rives, the mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Designed by Los Angeles architects Neher and Skilling, the Rives residence sports a classic Greek Revival facade and chronicles a unique, local history that started with an industrious pioneering family that rode into Downey at the turn of the century.
Built during the Craftsman Movement, the Rives Mansion features six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a library, dance hall and a large water tower, which today sits on a retired well.
On the first floor, there is a spacious entry way with a parlor and the library on the right and an elegant dining room on the left. Just beyond the dining room are the kitchen, butler’s pantry and breakfast room.
A grand staircase takes visitors to the second floor where all of the bedrooms are located and a narrow, wooden stairway from the hallway leads to the third floor, revealing a 30 x 60 foot dance floor, used by the Rives’ who hosted regular dinner parties.
In the backyard, the water tank house and a walnut drying shed are still standing on the site, both necessary features that supported the Rives’ agricultural lifestyle.
Following the death of James Rives, the land was subdivided and other homes were built on the Rives property. Rives Avenue bordered the 75-acre estate and thus takes its name from the pioneer family.
In 1946, after the death of Mary Lee Rives, the family sold the home to Downey real estate broker Clarence Mocabee and his family who lived in the home until his death in 1981. Three years later, Mocabee’s children sold the property to the Hendricks, a Swedish family that operated several Swedish-language newspapers in Los Angeles. In 1996, the Rives Mansion was transferred into the Hendricks trust and in 2005 it was bought by Carmen and Oscar Rivera for $1.7 million.
The Rivera’s leased the property to Lauren Baumann, president of Stewardship Estates, a company that offersed a variety of services including marketing, event planning, real estate and financial services. In addition to living in the home since 2008, Baumann also offered the Rives Mansion as a venue for community events and fundraisers.
In 2011, Baumann pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that she lured more than two dozen people in Orange and Los Angeles counties to invest in Christian “battle of the bands” contests and real estate deals with false promises. She raised nearly $1 million, and in the end, her investors lost $560,000.
In July 2013, Downey resident Ralph Verdugo signed a 7-year lease to open a high-end steakhouse on the property.
Those plans were halted a year later, however, when it was revealed that the Riveras were behind on their monthly mortgage payments by nearly 60 months, prompting foreclosure proceedings.
Verdugo went on to open another steakhouse -- Mi Cielo -- in downtown Downey.
Editor Christian Brown and staff writer Alex Dominguez contributed to this report.