Today is the City of Fresno Historic Preservation Commission meeting. There are several interesting items on the agenda, but I’d like to focus on one. Darius Assemi of Granville Homes has asked to meet with the Commission to present a conceptual plan for a mixed-use project at the corner of L Street and San Joaquin Avenue in downtown.
The report to the Commission states that Assemi is seeking Commission and public input prior to incurring additional research and expense. If you are not familiar with the Assemi family and Granville Homes, they have made substantial investments in Downtown, specifically in the Cultural Arts District.
I believe we are at a point in development in downtown Fresno that the question is no longer “development or no development?” The question now is “How do we measure successful development?”
Last week I posted theory thursday: authenticity alluding to some projects that do not evoke authenticity. I believe that this project falls into that category. Some of the things that triggered this is that the proposal included two styles which remind me much more of tract home models than that historic Art & Crafts and Italianate which they are named for. Below are the renderings included in the proposal.
While this neighborhood has many vacant even severely damaged buildings, several are historic. And the common style represented is Colonial Revival of various forms. Beyond missing the mark historically, I’m of the philosophy that building faux historic buildings near real historic buildings is actually detrimental to the built environment.
There are several reasons I believe this: The level of craftsmanship of the historic resources is unmatched by the economics of and process building today; the history a neighborhood should be a patchwork of different eras leading to today’s contemporary buildings. This should be easily read. By building cheap knock offs of yesterdays buildings today with foam details once hand carved out of solid wood history become very muddy for the passerby.
A contemporary building in this location should take cues from its surroundings. What is the scale of its neighboring buildings? Is there a rhythm set by how the land was parceled? What are the materials used? How do the buildings address the street? All of these elements can help a new building fit into the context of its surrounding without trying to mimic the past.
Beyond style, the planning of the project should be such it builds community. Street life is essential as is pedestrian focus. The plan proposed feels much more like a gated apartment complex. That does not fit the downtown context.
In summery, I encourage Granville Home to continue investing Downtown, however this proposed project marks a turn in the wrong direction.
The Historic Preservation Commission meeting was interesting. I was surprised how willing the commission was to accept the fact that the 3 historic buildings on the site of the Granville proposal would most likely be demolished. They were more interested in preserving the buildings on the West side of the street that were outside the bounds of the proposal.
I found some glimmer of hope in a comment made by architect and commissioner, Chris Johnson AIA “This is not the Historic DemolishionCommission.”
To Mr Assemi’s credit he was open to all input about the design. Comments from the public including a member of the Fulton/Lowell Design Review Committee, a former HPC Commissioner Cam Maloy, and even Historic Preservation project manager, Karana Hattersly-Drayton, were in favor of a third alternative not shown above.
The third design broke the long building in two with a pedestrian walkway and each building used detail elements pulled from different styles. Most notably was a center building that quoted the parapet detail from the Helm Home on the west side of the street. Granville is also planning to renovate the Helm Home.
I spoke publicly about some of the design concerns that I had that are listed above. My comments focused around authenticity, trying to preserve at least one of the building as an anchor to the project and some of the urban planning issues that needed to be addressed regarding activating the street with entry porches activating the street.
The Commission formed a subcommittee that will further advise Granville Homes about the design