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Cook Family Divided Over Barn's Future

The barn's ownership is split among three family members who are at odds about what to do with it after the recent fire. One wants the remaining structure demolished as soon as possible, one wants it sold, one wants it rebuilt.

The Cook family, which has owned the century-old red barn that , is split on what to do with the property next.

City Planner Joe Aguirre said the city granted a demolition permit last week after declaring the building unsafe. It is good for 180 days.

Ownership of the almost 3/4-acre lot is divided among three members of the Cook family. San Juan Capistrano residents Jerry and Mary Elliott, who own a 50 percent share, want to demolish the still partially standing barn, but declined to reveal any other plans.

With a one-quarter ownership, Susan Wilson of Nevada City, wants to sell the property. And Greg Cook of San Juan Capistrano, who owns the remaining portion, wants to rebuild the barn to its former glory.

“There are no plans at this point but to demolish the barn and go from there,” said Jerry Elliott, whose wife, Mary, is part of the Cook family. On the day of the fire, Jerry Elliott said Mary had not been in good health. “We’re looking at a few options.”

One option is to sell the land for development. Wilson, Mary Cook Elliott's niece, told Patch: “The land where the barn once stood will be sold.”

She said the barn’s destruction has deeply saddened the family. The barn “stood as a reminder of our family's long and fruitful history in the San Juan Capistrano valley. The memories and stories of a time long past will endure, but weather, age and modernization took its toll, and the barn is gone,” she said.

She declined to elaborate on who the ideal purchaser of the land might be and what could be built at the property that lines Del Obispo Street. Shopping is found just east of the , while churches sit to the south and east.

The land is currently zoned for public and institutional uses, such as exhibition and meeting halls, convention centers and museums, Aguirre said. The city would also allow educational and health-related institutions. More commercial development may require conditional-use permits or a zoning change.

Wilson and Mary Elliott are at odds with Greg Cook, Wilson's brother and Elliot's nephew, who wants to retain the wall that still stands and rebuild the barn, said his daughter, Teresa Cook, who has been living in the barn off and on for the last year with her two young children and their father.

“My immediate problem is the other side of the family wants the barn to be demolished without a recovery-salvage effort, just to get rid of it as soon as possible, because they do not want it rebuilt,” she said. “We need help from the community, the Historical Society, somebody.”

Teresa Cook said her father has agreed to transfer his one-quarter ownership to her, so she can try to raise the money to buy out her relatives' interest in the property and rebuild the barn. Besides the barn, the various family members own 16 acres behind . 

Since the fire, the , donating items for the family and even giving her use of a temporary home in Capo Beach. 

She has spent her time working on picking through the burnt rubble. So far, she’s recovered her children’s passports and her parents’ wedding photos. She recently remembered that just before Thanksgiving, her dad had moved many antique tools into plastic bags and placed them under the barn’s floor.

“There might be a chance that even if the floor burned, the family heirlooms and what could be used in a rebuild and preservation effort could still be recovered,” she said.

Teresa Cook’s plans for the barn are the same she always had, a working barn where she can grow her own vegetables and raise chickens and goats. She wants to grow enough organic veggies to share with the food bank Ocean Hills operates right behind the barn site.

“I envisioned this as a helpful, peaceful place,” she said.

Although she has her dad’s support, the other side of the family does not share her vision, Teresa Cook said.

“They never wanted anybody to use the barn,” she said of her aunts and uncle. “It’s become a bad, in-family fight.”

Penny Arévalo December 13, 2011 at 12:10 AM
Posted on our SJC Patch Facebook page: "Rebuild and keep their family name a positive and prominent fixture in San Juan Capistrano. If they start fighting over it, they will tarnish their family name."

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