April 3, 2017Vol. 47, Issue 5

Warrens Center Gets Massive Makeover

The $1.9 million renovation ended March 1

Until now, the Warrens Center had only undergone two renovations in its 94-year history and was long overdue for maintenance and restoration improvements.

After a seven-month project peeling back paint, cleaning carpets, and turning doors back into windows, Chico State has completed a dramatic renovation of the Albert E. Warrens Center to better utilize the historic building for events that complement its iconic image.

The project began in August 2016 and concluded March 1, opening for its first event with a dinner for Gloria Steinem and guests. It has since hosted presidents from other CSU campuses to honor the inauguration of Gayle E. Hutchinson and a breakfast for honorees of the annual Distinguished Alumni Awards.

“My favorite day was after construction was complete and I looked through the photos of before we started,” said project manager Stephanie Nixon, who helped lead the renovation and restoration on behalf of Planning, Design, and Construction. “Wow, you could really see a transformation. It’s even more than I expected it to be. It’s just incredible.”

One of four campus buildings on the state historic registry, the 94-year-old home was commissioned by Chico physician Daniel Moulton and his wife, Flora, and designed by Julia Morgan, the famed first female architect in California and designer of Hearst Castle. After its completion in 1923, the two-story home was occupied by the Moultons until 1945, when it was sold to Chico State College. It was the home for University presidents until 1993, then designated as a reception center in 1999 in honor of local physician and University patron Albert E. Warrens.

Until now, it had only undergone renovations in 1966 and at the turn of the century. It was long overdue for maintenance and restoration improvements, said Campus Architect Sandra Beck. The project was required to follow strict specifications by the California Office of Historic Preservation, and the upgrades meet current building code standards, as well as create a brighter and more attractive historic space.

“We really strived to stick with Julia Morgan’s original design of things,” Beck said. “It’s so beautiful when you are in there.”

Warren Center's new dining room.

The doors and windows were all original to the home, so they were repaired rather than replaced unless absolutely necessary, with all materials matching the original design and texture. The diamond-paneled leaded glass window on the second floor is Nixon’s favorite element of the entire renovation.

“It really represented the entire house to me,” she said. “They were sagging and just seemed sad. Now they are restored and look gorgeous.”

With the help of several architects, four downstairs doors in the house were researched and discovered to have originally been windows—so back to windows they went. In the interior, folding French doors were added to match the large paneled window style and create separation between rooms.

The original rugs and carpeting masked a lot of damage to the wooden floors, which no amount of sanding or refinishing could correct, so sections were cut out and replaced as needed.  Modern tile flooring was also torn out and replaced with a matching wood floor, and the carpets looked nearly new after a significant cleaning.

“This hand rail had who knows how many years of shellac and paint,” Beck said, of the rail guiding the winding staircase. “We stripped that down and took it to bare wood.”

That simple natural look matches the new downstairs fireplace, where a plaster addition was traded for a bright wide wooden mantle that mimics an original marble fireplace upstairs. The outdated furniture also got a modern makeover with a classic, neutral color palate and the addition of artificial succulent and orchid centerpieces on the tables. In the dining room, elegant frames showcase the home’s original architectural renderings and floorplans.  

Warren Center's new living room.

Additional improvements included repainting the building in a color commonly used on other Julia Morgan homes, replacing the simple front door with a two-panel design to match the home’s time period, and moving the air conditioning units to return the balconies to their original purpose. A downstairs lift that had been added was removed, returning the west side of the house to a bright sunporch that fills with warm afternoon light.

The fence lining the backyard was replaced with elegant wooden walls, and the yard itself underwent a cleanup, with new brick patio, fresh sod, and the addition of a large magnolia and smaller Japanese blueberry and saucer magnolia trees. A dizzying number of new azaleas, bleeding hearts, carpet bugle, big blue lily, and yarrow, among other plants, will keep the backyard filled with an ever-changing palate of colorful blooms.

The $1.9 million renovation was funded by the University Foundation and campus funds through the Office of the Vice President of Business and Finance. In the end, Nixon said it was a “blast” getting to transform a campus building beyond her typical lab and classroom environment.

“To go through the historic preservation was such an educational and interesting process, and it was so important to do for campus,” she said. “This transformation honors the building’s heritage.”

Warren Center's newly carpeted stairs.

Press kit art for the film .Stories in Thread: A Tapestry of Hmong Identity.


Brian Brazeal, Anthropology, was the executive producer on Stories in Thread: A Tapestry of Hmong Identity, a student film by Tamara Maxey. Read more.

video still showing campus with a Together We Will banner in the foreground.

Together We Will

On the occasion of her inauguration, President Gayle E. Hutchinson made a bold statement about her vision for inclusive excellence. Watch video.