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Residents anxious about the future of Mudd's

A handful of curious residents, architects and city officials toured the now vacant building that housed Mudd's restaurant on Thursday afternoon hoping to understand the past, present and future of the unique restaurant.

Opened in 1981 by Virginia and Palmer Madden as a 9-acre combination conservation center, garden and restaurant, San Ramon's redevelopment agency bought Mudd's at a county foreclosure sale in 2008. With the dissolution of all California redevelopment agencies on Feb. 1, the future of Mudd's is up in the air.

"I would love to see this building turned into a historical site. It's one of the most architecturally unique restaurant buildings ever built," said Lory Hawley, who worked at Mudd's for 27 years and described herself as its curator.

Mudd's and its garden center currently consist of three separate buildings, one of which is over 100 years old, and four courtyards. While the facilities can use a deep cleaning and possibly an exterminator (there are rat traps in nearly every room), much of the damage is cosmetic in nature.

"The construction is magnificent," said Mudd's architect Max Jacobson, describing the Douglas-fir roof that is reminiscent of a ship. "Not a lot has changed from the original, the only difference is the floor and carpet."

Vance Phillips, San Ramon's chief building official, and LEED architect Jim Gibbon (also a member of San Ramon for Open Government) were on hand to discuss disabled access compliance. Although Gibbon said only the bathroom access would need upgrading, Phillips said all ramps are too steep and some of the walkways are inaccessible.

"The quality of the building shouldn't be in doubt," Phillips said, adding that depending on how the building is used, it could need more updates.

But the need to upgrade Mudd's may be unfounded.

San Ramon entered into an agreement with Oakland-based restaurateur and Pican founder Michael LeBlanc to demolish Mudd's and develop a similarly sustainable restaurant on the its footprint. Conceptual drawings submitted to the city of San Ramon show a two-story building at 5,846 square feet with smaller "great room" that can seat 120 people. LeBlanc said he would try to reuse as much of the original building material as possible.

Some residents, including Planning Commission Chair Donna Kerger, said they would like to house parts of the building in Forest Home Farms as historic items while others said they would like Mudd's to be turned over to the school district for safe keeping. The city has also had inquiries from several residents hoping to take remnants of the building for sentimental reasons.

But Michael LeBlanc, who did not return calls for comment, is still finding financing, according to city Administrative Analyst Joe Tanner. He must submit proof of financing to the city by Feb. 28, after which the city has 30 days to accept. If LeBlanc can't find funding, he will lose rights to the property and it will be liquidated by San Ramon's redevelopment successor agency.

"No bank is going to lend money to a clouded title. (Redevelopment) will preclude LeBlanc from doing anything," Gibbon stated. "Any developer who touches this property will get the wrath of the neighbors around here."

The city is still working on what it will do if LeBlanc's plans fall through, Tanner said.

"A lot of this has to do with the state of redevelopment. We're going to look into all our options and talk to our attorneys," he said.

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