Run-down house haunts

Clovis City officials say it's time the former unsightly Halloween attraction is repaired.

The Fresno BeeOctober 7, 2013 

Todd Wolfe stands recently at the Wolfe Manor on Clovis Avenue in Clovis Friday. Clovis is asking Wolfe to make repairs to the home, a former hospital that is believed to be haunted, or have it demolished.

CRAIG KOHLRUSS — THE FRESNO BEE Buy Photo

A haunted house is supposed to be scary, but Clovis city officials say the Wolfe Manor on Clovis Avenue is in such terrifying condition that it frightens them.

The city says owner Todd Wolfe can either make repairs or demolish the 91-year-old house.

The city's Board of Appeals declared the vacant house at 2604 Clovis Ave. a nuisance and a danger after finding 22 building code violations in the house and surrounding property.

In an August decision responding to Wolfe's appeal, the city described the structure as "unsightly and in a state of disrepair."

Inside, the roughly 5,000-square-foot house has excessive "cracking, peeling, chalking, dry rot and warping." It is in violation of fire, building and electrical codes and lacks plumbing. It also has broken and missing windows, and its fence is falling down, city documents state.

Clovis designated the house two years ago as "unsafe to occupy."

Because it's a "dangerous building," any fires or police service calls could be billed to Wolfe, city documents said.

The Fire Department has put out blazes on the property, and Clovis police reported 96 calls since 2008. With such a high number, the house is near the top of the Clovis "hot spots" list, locations that produce the highest number of public safety responses.

Jon Gamoian, who lives on the site to keep the house secure, said fewer unwanted visitors are showing up since he started watching the house a year ago.

"It's been months since someone has broken into the house," he said.

City officials say the house does not have to be demolished, but they want Wolfe to make progress to correct the violations.

Wolfe bought the property in 1997 and used it for the "Scream If You Can" Halloween attraction, which attracted about 20,000 visitors each year but ended in 2003.

In 2004, the City Council revoked his permit to operate the haunted house after neighbors complained about traffic, noise and trash during the weeks before Halloween.

Wolfe wants to renovate the property as a hotel — Wolfe Manor — for tourists with an interest in ghosts and paranormal activity. The building has been featured on several television shows, and earlier this year on "The Dead Files," the last show that the city allowed to film in the house.

Wolfe said he is in discussions with a television production company to create a program about renovating haunted buildings, with him as the host.

A trailer introducing the show has been produced, he said.

"If the television show gets picked up, that's the financing for the manor (renovation)," Wolfe said. "I'm just not ready for that now."

Wolfe has until April 26 to make repairs or the city could start action to demolish the house.

His final recourse is to file a civil suit against Clovis in Fresno County Superior Court.

It will cost Wolfe $250,000 to demolish the house — that's what he paid to buy it in 1997 — because the lead-based paint and asbestos will require encapsulating the home for the tear down, he said.

"Without the house, there is no television show," he said. "It's a beautiful historic home and it has to be fixed. I get that."

Peter Brennan, a Los Angeles-based television show producer, is working with Wolfe on the haunted house renovation show project.

The show will explore haunted locations all over the world, he said.

Brennan said he expects to learn whether the show gets the green light within the next few months.

"We have had other producers that are eager to get involved," said Brennan, president of P & L Media, which created such shows as "Judge Judy," "Hard Copy" and "A Current Affair."

"Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there are a lot of unexplained things that go on in that place," he said.

But city officials have grown dubious that the house will ever be restored.

"We have been hearing the story that something is right around the corner for five years now," said Mike Despain, Clovis Fire Department chief.

The building is in such a state of disrepair that firefighters are ordered not to go inside if the house catches fire.

"The house is collapsing on itself," Despain said. "We are at a juncture where he has to put some money into it to keep it safe."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6166, mbenjamin@fresnobee.com or @beebenjamin on Twitter.

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