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.
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.