Will Clovis 'haunted house' be torn down for hotel project?

The Fresno BeeMay 18, 2014 

Todd Wolfe says the idea of demolishing his "haunted house" on Clovis Avenue isn't so scary anymore.

Clovis city officials are giving him a reprieve as he and developer Jay Virk begin working on plans to build a hotel on the 1.25-acre property just southwest of Sierra Vista Mall that is now home to the unoccupied -- at least by the living -- nearly century-old home.

Fans of the supposed haunted house are rattling the Internet in hopes of making sure it's saved, but Wolfe said he's come to terms with its potential demise.

For now, all the city wants to see is progress, even if it's slow, Assistant City Manager John Holt said.

Planning Director Dwight Kroll said he's encouraged by the interest shown by Virk. The city wants projects on land where buildings have outlived their usefulness or are considered hazardous.

Wolfe was optimistic about conversations he had with city officials last week. He said demolition would be cheaper if he and Virk did it because unlike the city, they wouldn't have to seek bids or pay prevailing wages to workers.

Last year, the city's Board of Appeals declared the vacant house a nuisance and a danger after finding 22 building code violations.

In August, the city described the structure as "unsightly and in a state of disrepair." Among the issues in the roughly 5,000-square-foot house were 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.

Clovis designated the house "unsafe to occupy" about two years ago. The city gave Wolfe until April to resolve the issues. In the meantime, Wolfe tried finding someone interested in making repairs to the home.

It may be next year before Virk knows if he has to raze Wolfe Manor or if he can make cost-effective repairs and incorporate it into a larger hotel project. He said he is unsure what will happen. "It's a beautiful house and a beautiful piece of property."

Wolfe is resigned to the idea that it may be razed.

"I am not a house hugger," he said. "I am past all of that and I am ready to move on with or without the house."

Wolfe said he is putting on his "business hat" when it comes to the house because he still pays the mortgage.

He bought the property in 1997 and used it for the "Scream If You Can" Halloween attraction, which drew 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. He then gave it the name Wolfe Manor, with designs on turning it into a boutique hotel.

The house is the reputed home of ghosts and paranormal activity and has been featured on several television shows including "The Dead Files," "Mystery Quest" and "Ghost Hunters."

The television shows have generated quite a following, Wolfe said.

A petition by a fan trying to save the house was posted on the Internet with 1,000 signatures. There is even a prayer chain to save the home. Wolfe said he had nothing to do with either effort and personally reached out to the petition leader to break the news that he may have to demolish the house.

He also fields calls from celebrities and people around the world who want to visit.

A production company is marketing a program about renovating haunted buildings with Wolfe as its host. A trailer introducing the show has been created, but Wolfe said network offers were too low for show producers.

Even if you can't go to the house, pieces of it are for sale.

Wolfe is posting house artifacts on eBay and has been surprised by the prices paid, but "I'm not responsible for any (spooky) activity that comes" with the item. He also signs the memorabilia for buyers.

Is the house haunted? Wolfe said he's not sure -- but he wouldn't live there even if he could.

"Is there some kind of energy in here? I think so."

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

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