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By Roz Rogoff

Virginia Mudd & Kerry Marshall answer questions

Uploaded: Feb 9, 2012

After the group of us toured Mudd's on February 2nd, Jim Gibbon emailed Virginia Mudd asking for more information about the old farmhouse on the property and her contributions to the design of the Restaurant building.

Virginia Mudd replied to Jim in an email dated February 6, 2012, which she gave me permission to publish here. I edited Ms. Mudd's and Mr. Marshall's replies for space and continuity.

"The idea for Mudd's Restaurant and Crow Canyon Gardens was hatched in October 1976 by my former husband, Palmer Madden, and myself. The main purpose of the project was for the restaurant building to showcase energy-efficient design, and for the old farmhouse to demonstrate how to retrofit an old structure for energy efficiency. We wanted to grow as much produce as possible in the gardens for use by Mudd's chefs. The Crow Canyon Institute was created as the non-profit, educational entity to provide resources, classes and demonstrations in organic gardening, healthy and delicious cooking, solar energy, appropriate technology and how we can live more lightly on and in harmony with the earth.

The project idea was shared, developed and refined through the participation of members of the local community. The unusual idea got much needed support from Jim Cutler, a member of the CCC Planning Dept. We got good feedback from various homeowner groups and council members. We worked with restaurant consultants to develop plans for a 75 seat restaurant.

The property was purchased probably in 1978, and I believe we began construction in 1980 which took about a year. We had a dedication ceremony in early August 1981, to recognize Jim Griffin and JSW. The restaurant opened August 12, 1981.

JSW was chosen after interviewing several architectural firms because not only were they proficient in creating structures using active and passive solar design, as well as other energy conservation methods, but also had a reputation for working collaboratively with clients and groups.

We wanted to create something beautiful, unusual, functional and educational. We wanted diners to have maximum views and access to the gardens within a warm and peaceful dining environment. With Max and JSW, the structure for Mudd's evolved into something we were all excited about and proud of.

I don't recall how we had the good fortune to find Jim Griffin, our contractor, and his team of subs, builders and craftsmen, who could also work collaboratively with the architects and clients. Working with Jim, Max and Murray was one of the great pleasures and rewards of the entire project. All work was done with meticulous attention to detail and quality, and with an eye to the aesthetic harmony of the whole. The creative process was deeply satisfying, and it was a great pleasure to work out endless details with JSW and Jim Griffin, which I thought a rare thing given other people's construction nightmares.
If the structure is essentially sound—as it appears to be—if the building can be upgraded and converted economically to some good use, if people care about it being there, and if its preservation would be of value to the history, beauty, development and culture of the San Ramon Valley then I would be thrilled."

Virginia Mudd forwarded Gibbon's questions about the farmhouse, which is now known as the Fireside Room, to Kerry Marshall. Here's his answer.

Hi Virginia,

Wouldn't be wonderful if the buildings could be saved!

Jeff Wiedemann's father certainly knew the past owners and use of that land.

I Believe the Farm House, the attached garage, along with the out buildings were all a part of farm land that once stretched to Bollinger Canyon road.

At the time of purchase the land was still in use for growing hay. Jeff's dad came over to cut and bale for us the first few years.

The Farm House itself seems very similar construction wise as our past Danville house, which was a 1930's Walnut Orchard foreman's house.

The farm house is definitely a vestige of San Ramon's agricultural past.

Not sure what help this maybe. If I think of anything specific I will get back in touch.

Hope this effort works, because when the city first bought the 7+ acres for a garden/nature park there was considerable talk about creating a Center that did homage to San Ramon's agricultural past and continued to demonstrate and educate local food production.

And then again when the City purchased the restaurant buildings more ideas were put forward that the City could create a world class Food and Garden Center.

Somehow via time and the economy this has been misplaced."

It appears that the plan for a World Class Food and Garden Center is still on the table, but Virginia Mudd's vision, Max Jacobson's design, and Jim Griffin's craftsmanship have been misplaced.

The last 36 years of San Ramon's history would be erased, in exchange for a new restaurant, a new building, a new design, and a new owner. Virginia Mudd's link from the past to the present from 1976 to 1981 will be lost to future generations. Instead there will be a gap in the history of that land and this City.

Michael LeBlanc not only wants to replace the building, he wants to rename the gardens. According to the Minutes of the July 26, 2011 RDA Meeting, "Mr. LeBlanc described the process required to develop the current plans for Leritáge at Picán Gardens."

Crow Canyon Gardens was purchased by the City in 1991 and is an official City Park. This is City property not RDA property. Is Crow Canyon Gardens part of the deal for LeBlanc to take over after he builds his Leritage Restaurant? There appear to be rats in Mudd's but not the furry kind.

Some people live in the past. Most people live in the present, and based on some of the comments questioning the historic value of Mudd's, those stick-in-the-muds only care what's good for them right here and now. They fear growth and change, unless it benefits them or at least doesn't threaten their comfort. They don't want to preserve the past unless it's done in a quaint, old-fashioned way.

I live in the future. It may sound strange to say I live in the future when I'm trying to preserve an old building, but it's for the future of San Ramon and generations to come. If it is not saved now, an important chunk of San Ramon's history, the transitional period between the rural, agricultural San Ramon and the modern suburban San Ramon will be lost forever.