In the last 3 or 4 years a lot of change has taken place in the public perception of preservation and the role of history in our daily lives. A few specific instances spring to mind. Throughout 2002 Santa Monicans were taking sides in a local battle (with state-wide implications) over their 26-year old historic designation process. Attorney Tom Lamore led the pro-development/McMansion group and summed up the challenge with this remark: “In the process of trying to preserve some old building so you can drive by it once a year and say, ‘That’s nice,’ you’re really impinging on somebody.” That we all invest in community in a tacit understanding about what constitutes good quality of life and that it breaks the bonds of community when a member decides that when it comes to his house he’ll do what he wants and the community be damned.
In the case of historic property the issues do not boil down simply to “I own it and I can do whatever I like with it.” Historic property includes the collective memory of the community and, therefore, needs to be looked at differently from a new building. An old building has meaning and memories for possibly hundreds of community members. That value, to which no dollar sign can be attached, is nonetheless important to the idea of community, a significant place that is “home”, stable, livable, in comfortable scale and offering good quality of life.
Look at an old building and the questions flood to mind: who lived there or
worked there, who is keeping it in good repair vs. who is letting it run to
ruin...and WHY? What did this area look like when this building was new? How
was the building painted, landscaped. Did residents grouse about narrow driveways
every time they came home? Did they mind the dim lighting at night? Where did
the kids play? Old buildings are an endless source of inspiration/wonderment/energy.
I’d love to hear YOUR reasons for liking old buildings.
There is a tsunami of interest in older homes, historic buildings and cultural heritage landscapes (see BULLETIN on pg. 5 for the unfortunate offshoot of this interest...).
And old buildings are ‘returning the favor’ of our interest in them! The LA Times (Sept. 13, 2003) ran a Column One story noting, “The resurrection of a historic Southwest hotel revives the declining city of Winslow, Arizona…Restoration of the crumbling La Posada triggered a chain reaction of other restorations, which remade Winslow’s downtown and revived its economy, while spurring other less obvious “restorations,” from the legacy of a brilliant Western architect to the passion of an Orange County peace activist… Residents are quick to give credit for the sweeping changes to several local boosters and business leaders–but they are most grateful to their restored hotel. They speak of La Posada as if it were a person, and describe the connection between city and hotel as an intimate, mutual debt:
“Winslow filled the hotel with guests and the hotel rid Winslow of ghosts.”
Or…here’s a report from Fullerton:
“Downtown Fullerton was a shell of its original self just two decades ago. But after years of revitalization, the 80-acre residential and commercial core is the bustling heart of this 116-year-old city. The downtown area seamlessly combines century-old buildings and California bungalows with luxury apartments, martini bars and gourmet coffee shops. Rather than tear down historic buildings in disuse, city planners chose to restore Fullerton’s downtown, converting existing historic buildings into mixed-use space. The hard work and attention to detail has resulted in a self-contained community rich in history and full of modern conveniences.” (LA Times, Sept. 28, 2003, Real Estate.)
Or…consider plucky Sierra Madre, long a battleground between the preservation-minded and property rights folk. Their town fathers (and mothers) somehow found consensus on a plan to ‘reinvent’ Sierra Madre and market it as a historic, walkable destination site, featuring the fabulous E. Waldo Ward shop and numerous other ‘boutique’ businesses, coffee houses and specialty stores along tree-lined streets with a ‘small town’ feel. Tourists, with time and money to spend, streamed to enjoy the quaint atmosphere and the cash registers are still humming.
Almost every week the LA Times is running a preservation related featured. Old buildings are an attraction. Cultural tourism buffs travel out of their way to visit them…if a supermarket happens to be in the area, that’s fine but no one is going to travel to look at it.