It was built for Isaac Buchanan (1810 1883), a wealthy Scottish born merchant and politician. Among other things, Buchanan is known for bringing the Great Western Railway to Hamilton.

Details of the plan, Bradford says, are still being worked on. But she does know that she will ask for $550,000 for this year to repair five chimneys and do masonry work on the stone walls of the estate, among other things.

It's one of Hamilton's most architecturally significant buildings, a sprawling multi gabled, seven chimney stucco mansion at the corner of West 5th Street and Fennell Avenue. It teems with history and possibilities for the future, but for now it's one of the city's most persistent headaches, the mother of all handyman specials.

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DeSantis had purchased the estate and was planning to build a housing subdivision which raised the ire of neighbours and heritage buffs. The city came up with the compromise.

Bradford says she will have a plan by fall that will explore civic use options, which might include city offices at Auchmar, some kind of civic/private scheme or a completely private operation.

On May 9, Anna Bradford, the head of culture and recreation for the city, will present a four year plan for Auchmar not to fix it up, but to keep it from falling down.

But he also feels it essential to develop a business plan, to figure out a future use for the estate that would bring in some revenue to help offset costs of maintenance and restoration.

There are plans for community based fundraising, but that effort is just starting, says Bradford.

It sits by the brow of the West Mountain like some kind of refuge for wayward aristocrats, a sudden flash of gothic revival among the cookie cutter bungalows and split level houses that surround it.

"We need to show a business case. We can't keep throwing money at it without a business plan."

A big house with big problems

In 2009, the city applied for $4 million federal stimulus funds to restore Auchmar, but the money has not been forthcoming. Whitehead said he isn't surprised, with no business plan in place.

There, in a cloud of spring fog amid the impressive but crumbling estate, you'd almost expect a crusty Scottish laird to mosey through the heather, maybe to shoo a sheep from the garden.

The estate today is a section of property that used to take up 35 hectares. It was known as Claremont Park, and was reached by Claremont Avenue at the brow of the escarpment. A gatehouse still exists at that access point.

It's part of ongoing effort that, in recent years, has seen repairs to two other chimneys, a full basement cleanup of mould with asbestos abatement, repairs to the front entrance and some hallway work. As well, numerous dead trees have been removed from the property.

A couple of weeks ago, numerous volunteers came out to scrub down the mansion to prepare for Doors Open Hamilton, which takes place May 7 and 8. Doors Open offers an annual opportunity for the public to take a close look at Auchmar and many other buildings. This year, for the first time, the second floor of the mansion will be accessible.

The main building, Manor House, is two storeys high, and clad in stuccoed brick. There is also a coach house.

Terry Whitehead, the city councillor who represents the Mountain ward where Auchmar is located, says, "You have to get to the things that are going to cause damage and make things unaffordable in the future."

"Auchmar is architecturally significant as one of Hamilton's most impressive 19th century estates and its exemplification of Gothic Revival style architecture," according to a City of Hamilton report.

There have been proposals in the past, most notably by the Settlement and Integration Service Organization (SISO) and Columbia International College. But those negotiations fell through.

Bradford says the costs in renovating the building have made reuse difficult, as have onerous requirements that arise from the property's heritage designation.

"What we are trying to do is ensure that the bones as I like to call them are being maintained properly," she said.

The Discount Men Canada Goose Calgary Graphite Australia city ended up with Auchmar in an unusual land swap in 1999 that saw DeSantis Developments hand over the property in return for city owned lands on the east Mountain.