Foreclosure puts Rives Mansion renovation plans on hold

Photo by Pam Lane,

Photo by Pam Lane,

DOWNEY − What does an ongoing foreclosure, multiple lawsuits and $400,000 in renovation costs have in common? Apparently, the Rives Mansion.

Plans to convert the historic Downey landmark into a luxury restaurant and wine garden have come to a standstill after homeowners Carmen and Oscar Rivera fell nearly 60 months behind on mortgage payments last year.

This is according to Ralph Verdugo, Downey resident and former owner of Los Angeles Brewing Company, who signed a seven-year lease with the Riveras in July 2013 in hopes of opening an upscale steakhouse at the mansion, located at the intersection of Paramount Boulevard and Third Street.

"It's sad and depressing," said Verdugo, who already spent $400,000 restoring the home's floors, walls, and windows before seeing a posting from the bank that confirmed the house was in foreclosure. "I called the owners and they said it was a misunderstanding, but then they stopped returning my calls."

Uncertain of the home's future, Verdugo said all restoration efforts at the mansion stopped nearly five months ago. Last month, the bank ceased all activity at the house and Verdugo's team was forced to move out.

He has since taken the Riveras to court, suing the couple for breaching their contract and concealing their intent to sell the house underneath him.

The Riveras would not respond to the Patriot's phone calls, but Verdugo said the couple filed for bankruptcy multiple times under different names in order to stall foreclosure. The couple, which bought the 1911 home of Downey pioneer James Rives for $1.7 million in 2005, is now embroiled in a lawsuit against the bank to prolong the process.

Ralph Verdugo stands in front of the Rives Mansion. Photo by Martin Trejo

Ralph Verdugo stands in front of the Rives Mansion. Photo by Martin Trejo

A judge on Dec. 2 blocked the Riveras from any further bankruptcy filings for at least 180 days. The decision allows the bank to continue with the foreclosure, Verdugo said.

"The courts are moving forward due to the Riveras' bad conduct. Now it's just a waiting game," he said. "It breaks my heart. I've lived here for 27 years -- this is my town and that property belongs to Downey."

In the lease agreement, Verdugo negotiated the first right of refusal to purchase the property if it was sold -- and that's exactly what he intends to do.

"We're waiting to buy the property...unless it's too much that we can't buy it," Verdugo said. "But it depends on what the bank says."

Verdugo estimates the likelihood of buying the property from the bank and proceeding with his steakhouse plans is 75 percent.

"We have full faith we'll be back in there real soon," said Verdugo, who confirmed that all the money for future house renovations has been set aside. "I fell in love with that mansion. There's something majestic about it -- the vibe is amazing.

"Forget the money, so much time was put into this renovation, but I'd do it all over again."

NewsChristian Brown