Garden party offers peeks at historic homes

It took Cindy Brenneman eight rooms and two sets of staircases to realize she'd forgotten the most important thing about showing off her home, the Bliss Mansion, on Sunday to a small crowd of curious observers - the garden.

"Oh, yes - you must go see the gardens," she said. "After all, that's part of the tour we weren't able to show in December.

"We hope to have weddings there."

"We" is Cindy and her husband, Steve, who, through an unlikely chain of events came to own the Bliss Mansion last October in a house swap trading out their mid-century California sprawling home in Del Mar.

"It was a big change," Cindy said. "But worth it."

The Brennemans participated in the Carson City Historical Society's annual "Through the Garden Gate" home and garden tour Sunday afternoon.

The tour featured eight locations, including the Bliss Mansion, the Chartz House, the Olcovich-Meyers home and the Greenhouse Garden Center, which hosted gardening seminars to conclude the tour, raises about $2,000 annually for the historical society, organizers said.

"The (tours) have been going on since 1969," said Sue Ballew who, with mother Dorothy Dolan, puts together the home-tour event twice a year for the nonprofit. "My mother's been doing this for about 20 years.

"We use it to raise money. It's this event, and grant money, that helps keep us afloat."

Ballew said some of the proceeds from Sunday's tour will go toward building a carriage house in the rear of the historical society's museum and defacto headquarters, the Roberts House.

"We'll use the new structure for meetings, gatherings," she said of the proposed new building. "This (Roberts) house was originally built (near Washoe Lake) and had several carriage houses - so, it's in keeping with its original surroundings.

Back at the Bliss Mansion, new(ish) owners the Brennemans explained they wasted no time converting the converted bed-and-breakfast across from the Governor's mansion back into a single-family residence.

Cindy turned the erstwhile attic, ballroom, roller rink and quarters for the previous owner into an art studio and a showroom for artifacts she's collected from Eastern Asia.

From individually re-threading in swatches of original wallpaper, to climbing three stories and whitewashing the roof's gables, the couple has been in a state of re-roofing, re-painting and "re-doing" much of the interior since last fall, she said.

"Much of what you see was already here, but we needed to make a few little tweaks," she said as she gave a pithy and laugh-filled tour which did not linger in any one room longer than the time it took to gaze onto the manicured lawns or the Sunday's passersby on Elizabeth Street. "I love the mansion, but nobody told me we'd be buying a money pit."...And it was off again, whisking down the servant's staircase to the remodeled kitchen - showcasing black granite countertops and matching stainless steel appliances.

"I used to live across the street - and I've seen this house in all kinds of conditions," said Carson resident Karen Johansen. "But this looks wonderful."

Johansen and cohort Julie Kniffen, both claimed they were gardeners looking for ideas.

But on the home tours - it's hard to make your way outside," Kniffen said.

"We came for the gardens," she said. "But these homes are so beautiful - it's hard to choose."


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