Categorized | opinion

Venerable Resources

In response to the City of Fresno’s Historic Preservation Commission nominating three of the YMCA Buildings to the Local Register of Historic Resources, Fresno Bee columnist, Bill McEwen wrote an opinion that blasted the Commission and preservationists. In the column, Bill wrote “”The Historic Preservation Commission and its supporters have lost sight of the fact that very little in Fresno is historic.” This is a horrifying opinion for archop and many citizens that honor our city’s history through preservation and adaptive reuse. It also shocked local landscape architect Bob Boro. Below is a short essay he wrote in response.

You know, ladies and gentlemen….. I guess I’m just wired wrong. I observe many old people as they age. They lose their independence and their faculties, they have diminished physical mobility and dexterity, and they eventually need care. Some families keep these aging loved ones at home, but most place them in a care facility. Some families visit them every day, others weekly, others on Christmas and Easter or never at all.

So I see a parallel with aging structures. Some are loved and cared for, others are neglected and deteriorate, still others progress to the point where they are abandoned and eventually demolished. Well, I value historic structures as much as old humanoids. I cared for my parents with great love and kindness as they aged and demented. I saw them almost daily and treated them with dignity, respect and love. I held them in my arms at the end of their lives. And so it is for me with historic buildings.

Perhaps my roots are deeper than others… my great grandfather was a pioneer Fresnan who settled here in 1874. Perhaps having grown up in a William Coates designed home I have historic preservation in my blood. And perhaps because I was raised to respect and love the environment and our natural resources, I have a different set of genes. I purchased a 1916 Ernest Kump designed home that was on the local register. It was in terrible shape, filled with asbestos, falling off its foundation, dryrotted and aging badly. I spent 4 years lovingly restoring it, preserving all that I could of the original design, adapting the residence to an office and creating a garden that would compliment the property. I demolished additions, recreated that which had been removed, replaced every window with dual pane wood windows to match the original, removed asbestos and replaced everything that was rotted. All the while I met current City codes and standards at great expense and difficulty, borrowing money to cover the costs.

Maracci Home - 985 N. Van Ness Ave. photo by historicfresno.org

Maracci Home - 985 N. Van Ness

For two years now I have occupied this venerable building for my offices with a tenant occupying the upstairs. For two years I have come to this historic building each day, smiling and appreciating not only its history but also its amazing soul. Everyone who works in this space and visits this space smiles. It is joyous to preserve and savor such a place and I am happy to share this with all to would like to visit.

Did it cost alot of money? Of course. Was it more than new construction? Probably. Do I regret investing so much in an historic building? Not at all. Would I do it again? YES. So as with all decisions in life, one can choose to look at old buildings as liabilities to be demolished. Or, one can look upon them as venerable resources with great bones and good souls.

This post was written by:

bobboro - who has written 1 posts on archop.

Landscape Architect, Historic preservationist, Calligrapher, Comedian, Gardener, Francofile, Petanque enthusiast.

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4 Responses to “Venerable Resources”

  1. Thinkgleason says:

    Thank you Bob for giving us “cause for pause” on this topic. It feels good and right to blend pragmatism with a heart for the soul of our city. Thank you too for your commitment to the beauty of restoration and what is now an incredible building on a major corridor to downtown. You make us proud.

  2. MCS Eacock says:

    Bob – so proud of you and your many gardens around the city. Saving this building is a tremendous accomplishment. I wonder how many tract homes will last as long…

  3. Don Simmons says:

    I concur with Bob Boro, and I, too, spent considerable money and time to preserve one of the beautiful turn of the century homes near downtown. I would do it again in a heartbeat, because I recognize that the built environment and historic landscapes in Fresno do not belong to only me–but, I am a steward of those resources–they belong to all of us, who view them, use them, walk by them, park near them–they are our shared landscape, our shared heritage. Mr. McEwen’s uneducated, ill-informed, dangerous and just wrong–diatribe against historic preservation and the HPC is continued evidence that we have much work to do here in Fresno–to not only honor the value of our shared heritage, but to elevate our values, period. Mr. McEwen is apparently ignorant of the U.S. Dept. of Interior standards for historic preservation, under which the HPC operates, nor is he aware of the city’s Historic Preservation ordinance, which places a high value on preserving and protecting resources, not merely because we don’t like them–but, because they reach a standard outlined by the federal govt. Of course, Mr. McEwen lobs his diatribe without any conversation with the HPC, and the Bee runs a picture of one of the Y buildings NOT up for designation–so much for journalism-no mention of the renowned architect who designed the designated buildings, no mention of the importance of vernacular architecture to “tell our shared story,” no mention of the potential for more damage to our air quality downtown by the business that the Y. owner wants to enlarge on the Y. site–no mention of the continued damage to the quality of life for those of us who live in the neighborhood of the Y (I live 2 blocks from the facility.) No, Mr. McEwen needed an easy target to attack, and, the preservation community and the HPC is always easy for the pickin’s for the Bee.
    So, as the owner of the Y. now wants to be able to demolish the buildings for a parking lot, further contributing to the blight of the “uptown” area–of which he has been a “steward” for 20 years, Mr. McEwen exasperates any efforts for helping the general public to understand the values that preservation of those buildings engenders. When there is nothing older than City Hall left in downtown Fresno, Mr. McEwen and the Bee must bear some of the blame.

  4. Karana Hattersley-Drayton says:

    I cannot remember a preservation issue that has caused such worthwhile and heartfelt discussion as the potential historic status of the YMCA, generated in great part by Bill McEwen’s column. (By the way we have 140 years of “un-history” as Fresno was founded in 1872 by the railroad). Bob’s elegant post was a response to a series of discussion points that were initially generated on the City’s HP listserve, and initiated by Kiel. Thank you Kiel for your fierce passion. The preservation, or not, of these buildings goes beyond historic issues, as Don has so rightly noted… so regardless of your perspective… come down to City Hall, Thursday the 20th at 3:15 and be part of this important discussion. What kind of city do you want?

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