Saving the Mansion
The McHenry Mansion stayed in the family after Oramil's death in 1906. His widow, Myrtle, married a San Francisco attorney, William Langdon, in 1908. The Langdon family lived in Alameda but maintained the McHenry Mansion. In 1919 it became the Elmwood Sanitarium until 1923 when it was converted into the Langdon Apartments.
From 1930 to 1976, other owners continued the use of the Mansion as apartments. The building went up for sale in 1976 and could have suffered the fate of so many other historic buildings in Modesto. There is really only one reason why the over 130-year old McHenry Mansion isn't the site of a parking lot or a modern structure - the Julio Gallo Foundation.
By 1976, the stately old building had been an apartment house for some 50-plus years. Several ideas were broached when its availability was announced, including buying it and turning it into a restaurant. The spectre of tearing it down also raised its ugly head. Most of Modesto's early buildings, by the 1970s, had been condemned and ripped out in an effort to "revitalize" a dying downtown. As buildings were razed, very few new structures replaced them - but Modesto had plenty of parking. Mayor Lee Davies wanted the McHenry Mansion saved.
Julio Gallo and his wife, Aileen, had watched the old town disappear, and feared that fate would also befall the lovely old Victorian structure at the corner of 15th and I Streets. For $150,000, they purchased the home and presented it to the City of Modesto for community use with the understanding that it was to be restored. Restoration began in 1977 and the Mansion was opened to the public in 1983.
Over the past 30-plus years, the city has lovingly restored the building with period furnishings and made it into a showplace. The McHenry Mansion is a museum and a vibrant place for weddings, receptions and other activities. The house and grounds are a graceful remembrance of things past, and a lovely place to visit. During the Christmas holidays in 2011, a fire caused by holiday lighting resulted in extensive damage to the front of the building and the entire structure was affected by water and smoke. After a second restoration, the home has reopened to the public.
Photo at top left is by Jeff Broome.
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The late Julio Gallo, at right, with his wife, Aileen, and Mayor Lee Davies in a 1976 photograph taken after the purchase of the McHenry Mansion by the Julio Gallo Foundation.
The mansion had "long been a favorite landmark of my wife and myself," Julio is quoted as saying in the biography, "Our Story." After watching many original structures "slowly disappear in the name of progress in the more than fifty years that we have both lived here, we were unwilling to see the house put to commercial use or fall under the wrecker's hammer." Julio and Aileen bought the old home and donated it to the city.