Categorized | design critiques

critique: L St. and San Joaquin Ave.

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.


click for larger image

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.

arts-and-craftsArts & Crafts



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.

UPDATE 6-23-09

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.

helmThe 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

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4 Responses to “critique: L St. and San Joaquin Ave.”

  1. floydy says:

    throwing up tract home apartment complexes mitigates the potential that exists downtown to differentiate from every other part of town that is saturated with that garbage.

    good design and “stucco” are synonyms to these people and as far as legacy is concerned that’s very dangerous in the long term.

  2. Dani says:

    Agreed. Let’s see some modern design–the juxtaposition between the actual arts/crafts and Italiante buildings in the area and a new, innovative facade would be stunning. This is the beginning of the suburbanization of downtown. With the stucco comes Starbucks…embrace your gritty, warehouse-laden self, downtown!

  3. james says:

    I’m not an advocate for stucco, in fact I’ve criticized Fresno for being over-saturated with it, but I have to ask: how is design defined? I mean, at one point, wasn’t wood siding and interior paneling the norm?
    Does the community overall have enough people willing to invest in properties that are outside the urbanized norm?

  4. kiel says:

    Stucco (or cement plaster as it’s called in the biz) is a valid material to use. It has its strengths and weaknesses like any material. But if it used as default with out any real reason, that is the danger. For large flat surfaces I feel panelized materials like sheet metal make more sense. I like seeing stucco on curved surfaces like the Woodward Park Library, or when thought is put into the texture.
    Your other question easy. I’d say there are more than enough people willing to invest in innovative urban design. Unfortunately, they maybe willing but not able. We have a desperately low amount of capital and resources in the San Joaquin Valley. That shows in allot of our buildings.