In a rare move, historic board decides a 19th-century home can be demolished

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal In a rare decision,

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal In a rare decision,

A ramshackle house in Virginia City dating back to the 1860s or 1870s is poised to meet a rare fate - it will be demolished.

The Comstock Historic District board has approved a request to demolish the Sargent house, at 284 South D Street, across from the Mackey mansion.

The house, named after Jake, Olga and Ross Sargent, who occupied it until the early 1950s, is in a serious state of decay.

Bert Bedeau, Comstock Historic District administrator, said in the more than eight years he has been with the district, it has approved very few demolitions.

"I can't think of more than three or four," he said. "The building has to be so far deteriorated that there really is no reasonable alternative to demolition."

Several years ago, he said, a house at A and Sutton streets was torn down after a fire. "It burned and there wasn't enough structural integrity," he said.

Another time, about six or seven years ago, he said, a house in Silver City was torn down.

"It was on First and High streets, a little single-wall construction house from the early days that was in just abysmal condition," Bedeau said.

For the district to approve a demolition is rare.

"We like to reuse the historic buildings as much as we possibly can," he said.

One old home that caused concern for many years, Bedeau said, was an old house on B Street that sat empty for 20 years or so until Chris and Carolyn Eichin restored it. It is now called the B Street House Bed and Breakfast.

"So we've managed to find folks that can salvage some of these, but in certain circumstances, there's just nothing you can do," he said.

The Sargent house is a small, single-wall structure that has partially caved in. The owner, Victor Holbrooke, wants to avoid any liability in case children from the nearby schools try to play in it, and something falls on them, said Greg Hess, who will be doing the demolition.

Board member Dave Dykstra said even if someone tried to save the house, jacking it up would cause it to fall down.

"Ten years ago it could have been saved, but not now," Hess said. "The roof is gone. It's a shame."

Demolition won't begin for three or four weeks, he said, after some of the gingerbread and the good boards are removed.

Bedeau said the district was unsure about a construction date for the building.

"It is probably pre-fire (that occurred in 1875), given that the fire didn't get down that far," he said. "It could be from the 1860s, but we have no definite date on it."

He said the survey form has "circa 1870," on it, but added, "Circa means we don't really know, in my experience."

Former Storey County Sheriff Bob Del Carlo used to hang out with Ross, the son of owners Jake and Olga Sargent, when he was a boy. He said Jake Sargent died around 1950 and Olga took her son and moved to Sacramento, and no one has lived in the home since.

"It's been deteriorating for 58 years, at least," he said. "There was a house next door to the north about the same size and Jake tore it down for firewood. Jake started tearing it down and started finding money hidden in the halls. Then he took his time tearing it down, checking every nook and cranny. It was not a lot of money, by our standards. Olga told me that story."

He said Ross Sargent eventually became the chief of staff for a California congressman, and moved to Washington, D.C.

Lane Puckett, who is working on fixing up his own historic home on C Street, will go through the home first to see if any material is salvageable, Hess said.

"I'll recycle some of it back into the Comstock, where it belongs," Puckett said.

Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-7351.

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