It could be the most usual environmental vetting ever done for a Manteca subdivision.
The Hat Ranch project — making its third run for approval and annexation to the city — is moving forward with two options: Leaving the ultimate 30,000-square-foot McMansion that’s known as the Hat Mansion in place or tearing it down and replacing it with typical tract housing.
The environmental review process will analyze both options. That means nearby residents — or anyone else for that matter — can weigh in with written comments as to whether the mansion along with a sliver of the current 184 acres will remain standing to create an estate in a sea of tract homes or be torn down.
Ever since the mansion built by grape grower Michael Hat — a 1972 Ripon High graduate — went up in 1995 it has been a perennial topic of conversations around Manteca.
Visible from the Altamont Pass on a clear day and aligned nicely with a long row of stately palms so drivers heading north on Highway 90 looking slightly west couldn’t miss it, the mansion at first spurred rumors.
The most prevalent back in the mid-1990s was the rumor country star Garth Brooks was having it built. Why Garth Brooks would build a mansion in the middle of the Central Valley seemed as a crazy question to ask to why someone would buy a home that Richland Communities wants to build literally across the street where anyone who lives in the mansion could literally look down in their backyards.
Most of the chatter, however, has been inspired about what to do with the mansion after Hat filed for bankruptcy.
Listed for $12.2M in
foreclose sold at
bankruptcy for $9.5M
When it was listed for $12.2 million in 2003 it garnered legitimate interest. The only problem was being overbuilt for the neighborhood.
As it lingered it attracted the attention of local developer Michael Atherton who at one time toyed with the idea — and actually had conceptual plans drawn up — to buy the 184 acres and convert the mansion into a clubhouse for an 18-hole golf course with the rest of the land being developed for a gated community
The South San Joaquin Irrigation District looked at it as well. The 184 acres were strategically located for a potential holding basin to upgrade irrigation deliveries to the far southwestern part of the district. The mansion, as the thinking at the time went, could have been converted into a new district headquarters with plenty of space for retail electric office operations. The parcel was large enough for a new irrigation district corporation yard with enough land left over that it could be sold off to finance the endeavor if the property was bought at the foreclosure price.
But even if the price per acre was a steal and the numbers penciled out well in the long run, the SSJID board considered such a plan ill-conceived because of the wrong message converting the opulent mansion into district headquarters would send.
By the time 2004 rolled around, it was heading for a bankruptcy auction on the steps of the San Joaquin County Courthouse in Stockton. There were only two bidders — a local development consortium headed by Atherton and Jack Bray’s Richland Communities.
When it ended, Richland Communities had the highest bid at $9.5 million.
Shortly after the development firm took ownership the housing crisis hit.
First plans were to
into a clubhouse
The first project pitched was for an age-restricted community like Del Webb at Woodbridge. The mansion would be converted into a clubhouse. But engineers quickly threw a monkey wrench into such a proposal. In order for mansion to meet state standards for a public facility — clubhouse or otherwise — for earthquake and general safety there were significant retrofits and upgrades needed. It would end up being cheaper to tear it down and start from scratch.
It wasn’t until seven years ago that a lot of people — mostly those that lived in nearby homes on lots 7,000 square feet and bigger — started calling for the city to preserve the mansion that was never 100 percent completed as a historical landmark or to buy it and convert it into a municipal use such as a new library.
That talk started when Richland Communities unveiled plans to raze the mansion and replace it with nearly 1,000 homes. While that didn’t make neighbors happy, they were even less pleased when the initial plan called for smaller lots with more affordable homes to back up to their homes or be across the street.
Neighbors on Pillsbury Road directly across from the 184 acres covered mostly with grapes felt the city would be selling them out if Manteca allowed homes to be built on the property. They told TV reporters that the reason they bought their homes was for peace and tranquility and the fact they were “in the country.” They shared the same sentiments at City Council meetings.
The council rejected the project under pressure from neighbors who complained more homes would increase traffic, increase crime, impact schools, and de-value their homes.
The third plan now being advanced is moving forward with the mansion either staying put with a severely shrunken estate footprint surrounded by tract homes or being torn down and additional homes being built.
California wines soaring
when Hat started work
on the mansion
Hat was on top of the world when construction started in the early 1990s. California wines were soaring in popularity. Money was flowing. And business and farming savvy Hat was one of California's most successful grape brokers.
But by the time the mansion was completed in 1995 things started going south in the wine grape industry.
There never were grand parties at the Hat Mansion. The 36-car parking garage beneath the mansion was never filled with Mercedes, Corvettes, Lamborghinis, or Bentleys of party guests.
And it never got on the radar of Robin Leach's TV show "The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" despite the fact the property also hosted arguably the most unique home office in America.
A Butler-style steel building near the helipad looks like a typical farm equipment shed. But instead it was a stylish office, a virtual residence, and a wine cellar. What made it unique, though, was the James Bond-style push-of-a-button the metal doors would roll up revealing a panoramic glass window wall. It provided a sweeping view of the mansion and 184 acres of Chardonnay grapes from behind a massive desk. The office was next door to a heli-pad.
Hat filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Comments regarding significant impacts of the project, as well as the fate of the mansion itself, must be made in writing (preferably typed) and clearly legible. They need to be sent by 5 p.m. on Feb. 23 to John B. Anderson, Contract Planner; Community Development Department; City of Manteca, 1001 West Center St., Manteca, Ca. 95337.
He can also be contacted by calling (209) 456-8505 or email email@example.com
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org