Merced County Times Newspaper
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Times Photos by Johnathan Whitaker

Owners improve security, preservation of historic Merced site

 

Drivers and pedestrians may have noticed an impressive new fence going up around the historic old mansion at the intersection of Bear Creek and M Street in the heart of Merced.

It’s a new 7-foot-tall fence, reinforced with solid steel rods, that stretches around the corner 2-acre property that houses the Bear Creek Inn — formerly the 1936-vintage home of C. Ray Robinson, and the site of the Charles Huffman mansion that was built in 1882, and burned to the ground in 1933.

The only structure to survive that fire is the decorative wooden fence that still remains standing around the landscape, but is now enclosed by its giant, modern-day counterpart.

While there are cameras that monitor the home and its surroundings, the updated security fence is a reflection of the owners willingness to protect the integrity and history of the existing 5,000-square-foot home, as well as just being a sign of the times.

“It allows for the history to live on, along with the beauty and serenity that surrounds the home,” said Babette Pareira, the longtime property manager.

The owners, Melinda and Jana Stuart, operated the Bear Creek Inn as a bed and breakfast establishment after they bought the refurbished home in 2014 from the Jack Hooper estate.

Frequent guests of the inn, and its themed rooms, included people visiting UC Merced as speakers, professors, researchers, and job candidates. However, the bed and breakfast operation ended in 2019 in advance of the opening of the renovated El Capitan Hotel downtown. The COVID-19 pandemic also hit Merced in 2020, and the doors were closed for a time.

The Stewarts have since operated the venue as a place for special “minimal” events such as receptions, dinner parties, and social gatherings.

The fencing project, a costly endeavor, took an astounding two years of planning and obtaining the necessary permits. The owners received an unanimously blessing from the Merced County Historical Society to do the work. They also had to go through plans and surveys with the City of Merced, along with an easement proceeding with the Merced Irrigation District. The color of the new fence also matches guard rails along the nearby intersection.

According to Pareira, the work was also prompted by a considerable amount of vandalism and trespassing that was happening on the property, particularly at night. The decorative finials and spindles were being stolen or knocked off the original redwood fencing, as trespassers would enter the grounds, sometimes breaking windows and entering a small cottage located in the backyard.

Pareira said she would get alerts from the camera system at all hours of the night and morning, though she added that the Merced Police Department had been very responsive to each situation.

The nearby area includes Bear Creek, a popular bike path, and Applegate Park, and these are all known as places where homeless activity occurs. While the Times visited the site this week, smoke from a makeshift campfire bellowed up from under the M Street bridge, and the Fire Department responded.

Nevertheless, the owners of the Bear Creek Inn — now more protected than ever — will continue to operate the site for private events and special family holidays. They are currently scheduling events for the 2024 season.

For those interested, email: [email protected], or call (209) 723-3991. There’s also a website: BearCreekInnMerced.com.

Pareira also mentions that the fencing company — Ralphs Fence and Supply out of Modesto — did “phenomenal work on a challenging landscape,” and deserve recognition.

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