Editor’s note, May 30, 2023: Whittier College announced the sale of Wardman House to Rodolfo Lopez and Monica Varela. Read the College’s announcement.
by Lisa Jacobs and Christina Merino
Published April 19, 2023
April 12, 2023
Editor’s Note: The .pdf shared above was sent by Whittier College to alumni on April 12, 2023, two weeks after the announcement posted below was written. You can see the work of the PR firm in the revisions. The draft below was shared with the Save Whittier College coalition on March 31st after two planned distributions were postponed by the college. Since there would never be a good time to distribute news of their ill-advised and irresponsible plans, we agreed to help get the news out. The photos were not part of the document shared with us.
We write with some heavy news regarding the future of Wardman House. As of this week, the property has been listed for sale at $5 million, with showings by permission. We are not listing it on the residential MLS but rather via luxury and international networks through our partner, Berkshire Hathaway. We estimate about a six to nine month marketing and viewing time prior to sale.
We know this is an unwelcome announcement for many, and we understand and appreciate the sentiment and traditions associated with Wardman House. Before going into our reasons for this sale, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the love, affinity and nostalgia that many of our alumni have for Wardman House. We know it holds special symbolic value for many Poets, and that it represents an important part of our history. We want to thank the alumni who have shared their recollections of Wardman House. We know it will always hold a place in our hearts.
However, we must move on from where we were to where we are going. The need for a president’s house is no longer what it once was in campus life. More importantly, higher education as a whole has experienced great disruption due to changing demographics, issues of college affordability, and technological shifts, providing new opportunities for access to new markets. Student markets are changing, and Whittier College is in a strong position to capitalize on these changes as we build a sustainable business model. To be sustainable, all colleges must learn to adapt, to meet students where they are, and to put the evolving needs of students first. This is key to our mission of student success.
Recognizing that the Wardman House has been a gathering place for our faculty, students, alumni, and donors, we have identified equally beautiful spaces on our core campus that will continue to be used as a showcase. The Science Learning Center, a revitalized Mendenhall, and the Shannon Center will continue to be available for gatherings and events. Because these are on the main campus, they are more appropriate and less costly options for these activities.
The proceeds from the sale of Wardman House will be reinvested in areas of the campus that are more central to the student experience, such as core campus facilities, academic programs and employee compensation. This is not a decision the College has entered into lightly, but after deep consideration of our financial options and how best to support current and future students.
While our endowment has grown in the past decade and our assets and fundraising remain strong, the College took on significant debt in 2014 with substantial restrictions that reduced our flexibility. This debt was collateralized by campus real estate assets. In December 2022, we renegotiated with the bank and received a waiver of the debt covenant for one year. We also paid down the debt by $10 million. But we still have a ways to go, and we are having to make some painstaking choices to get there.
Our financial plan calls for leveraging our strong liquidity and asset value while allowing us to decrease our debt and invest in our future, keeping student success at the forefront of everything we do. We must ensure that we are using our resources in support of this mission, and in November, the Board of Trustees approved a resolution to do just that through measures such as this sale of Wardman House, which has high maintenance costs and no practical purpose for today’s students that cannot be reimagined.
We know this sale may not be easy or popular. But it’s the right thing to do for the College’s financial sustainability. Despite the many rich memories of Wardman House, this is the right move for the College’s future.
Please reach out with questions and concerns.
Alan Lund ’71, Chair, Debt/Asset Valuation Committee
Linda Oubré, President
Letter from Elizabeth Durr ’19