Archive for the ‘Preservation Myths’ Category

Alhambra.Mythbusters.4This past spring, we set the record straight on myths about historic preservation myths in general. Now we’d like to talk about some myths you may have heard regarding preservation in Alhambra.

Myth #1: Alhambra doesn’t have any homes worth saving.

Oh, yes we do – plenty! More than 30 years ago, a survey completed in only two neighborhoods, Ramona Park Tract and the Wuest/Marguerita-Souders tract, identified more than 500 historic homes. This year, APG developed a map identifying more than 500 historic homes citywide, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. These homes feature the following architectural styles: Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, English Revival, Spanish Revival, Colonial Revival, and Mid-Century Modern. In addition, Alhambra has several unique buildings such as a log cabin, the Pyrenees Castle and a shopping center designed like a 19th century western boom town. So, for its size – a mere eight square miles – Alhambra is one of the most architecturally diverse cities in Southern California.

Take a look at this map and then check out your own neighborhood. If there are any homes we’ve missed, send us an e-mail with the address. If it’s historic, we’ll add that home to the map.

Myth #2 – The historic signs in Alhambra’s neighborhoods already protect Alhambra’s homes.

False! Alhambra has no policies or ordinances that protect homes and businesses from razing. These signs are a good first step in strengthening public awareness about Alhambra’s historic home tracts, but this signage does nothing to save homes from being torn down or remodeled beyond recognition. The signs have no enforcement “teeth.” A preservation element needs to be added to Alhambra’s General Plan, and the City of Alhambra needs to adopt a preservation ordinance. Please let your city leaders know this is important to you.

Myth #3 – Alhambrans don’t care about preserving Alhambra.

In 2015, to prepare for an update to Alhambra’s General Plan, the City of Alhambra conducted a survey of residents to learn about their priorities. More than half of those surveyed – 52% – stated that the preservation of historic areas and buildings should be a priority for the City of Alhambra. Also, well over half the people responding to the survey thought there were either too many apartments, too many condos or too much mixed-use development. Once again, make sure you voice your opinions to those who can effect change in Alhambra.

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mythbusters2How much do you really know about historic preservation? In this two-part series, we explore the myths surrounding preservation. In this article, we bust preservation myths at large. In the second article, we’ll dispel preservation myths specific to the city of Alhambra.

Myth #1 – Historic designation will reduce my property values.

Fact – Study after study across the nation has conclusively demonstrated that historic designation and the creation of historic districts actually increase property values. Why? Historic designation gives a neighborhood or an individual historic site a uniqueness that many buyers seek. Two economically valuable assurances: that the very qualities that attracted them to their neighborhood will actually endure over time, and that they can safely reinvest in sensitive home improvements without fear that their neighbor will undermine this investment with a new monster home” or inappropriate new development.

Myth #2 – Preservation is only for the rich and elite.

Fact – Today’s preservation movement is increasingly diverse. In LA, the two newest Historic Preservation Overlay Zones (HPOZs) are in Pico-Union and Lincoln Heights, home to economically and ethnically varied populations.

Preservation today also focuses on more modest sites of social and cultural significance. Just look at the small Ralph J.Bunche House in South Los Angeles, boyhood home of the pioneering African-American diplomat. Or, consider a current preservation effort to save the modest Vladeck Center, a Boyle Heights building that was the center of the Jewish life in the 1930s.Such sites underscore that preservation can be about the “power of place” at sites of rich cultural meaning.

Myth #3 – Historic preservation is bad for business.

Fact – Historic preservation is at the very heart of our nation’s most vibrant economic development and business attraction programs. In Southern California, think Old Pasadena or San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

Here’s a national example: The National Main Street Center, a program that uses historic preservation to revitalize town centers and neighborhood commercial districts, has actually tracked economic results in 1,700 Main Street communities nationally. These preservation-based programs have created over 231,000 new jobs and resulted in over $17 billion in reinvestment to date, with every dollar spent on a Main Street program yielding $40 in economic reinvestment.

Myth #4 – Old buildings are less safe.

Fact – Although historic structures do sometimes require structural retrofits or the addition of fire sprinklers to enhance safety, historic buildings typically perform better than new construction in earthquakes and other natural disasters. What determines the safety of buildings is the quality of construction, not age, and in many ways, “they just don’t build’em like they used to.”

Los Angeles’ signature historic structures have survived every major temblor of the past eight decades. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the most catastrophic damage occurred not to historic buildings but to newer construction such as parking garages and newer apartments with “tuck-under” parking.

Myth #5 – Preservationists are always fighting new development and only care about the past.

Fact – Historic preservationists do care deeply about the past – not to wallow in a bygone era, but to anchor ourselves as we move confidently into the future. Historic preservation is not about stopping change or blocking creative new architecture and development. Preservation allows us to retain the best of our shared heritage to preserve sites of unique quality and beauty, revitalize neighborhoods, spur economic development, and quite simply, create better communities.

Excerpted from “The Top 10 Myths About Historic Preservation” by Ken Bernstein, manager of the City of Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources.

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MYTH:  Historic preservation only benefits affluent communities. 

FACT:  The purpose of historic preservation is to accurately reflect and celebrate the unique story of a community and its people through its built environment.  Our work as preservationists is guided by the American principle of diversity, and therefore the full range of the American experience is reflected in our historic landmarks.  From the elegant Gamble House in Pasadena, designed by the Greene Brothers as the retirement residence of wealthy Midwesterners, to the modest Ralph Bunche house in South Los Angeles, the boyhood home of the first African-American winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to the Watts Towers of Simon Rodia – all are irreplaceable historic landmarks that contribute to our understanding of ourselves as a people with a common heritage.

What’s more, in almost every case, official landmark designation helps to increase property values.  A recent study in New York City demonstrated that, in the nearly five decades since the establishment of the Landmarks Commission in 1965, property values in historic districts are “unfailingly higher than in comparable, non-designated parts of the city” (Anthony M. Tung, former New York City Landmarks Commissioner, author of Preserving the World’s Great Cities).

A similar study in Canada, conducted by Dr. Robert Shipley, evaluated the economic effect of historic designation on individual properties.  Over a 20-year period in the province of Ontario, more than 2,700 individual properties received official designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.  Professor Shipley found that these properties were more saleable, better able to resist downturns in the real estate market, and increased their value at least as well or better than the average property values in their communities.

Alhambra needs a planning policy that incorporates historic preservation!  We invite you to ask your city council members – and candidates for that office – about their position on this important issue.

This is the fourth and final article in a month-long series entitled May Monday Mythbusters where we explored some of the myths surrounding preservation. We hope you have enjoyed this educational series and have learned a bit more about why preservation makes cents!

Photo courtesy of ercwttmn.

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MYTH:  Historic preservation is a violation of the rights of property-owners.  It’s “un-American.”

FACT:  This myth just doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny.  Historic preservation laws do not infringe on private property rights any more than laws that have long been enforced in communities throughout our nation.  Although we might like to believe that private property rights reign supreme, the reality is that the U.S. Constitution delegates the authority to local governments to regulate the ways in which private property may be used.  Zoning requirements often restrict property owners from building apartment complexes in single-family residential neighborhoods.  In some communities, height limitations prevent or restrict structures over two or three stories.  Density restrictions limit the number of dwelling units that can be constructed in a multiple-unit building.  Owners of condos may be prevented from owning pets, washing cars in the driveway, painting the exterior in unapproved colors, or installing a storage shed on an exposed balcony.  These limitations are far more stringent than historic preservation laws, but they are commonly accepted clauses in C C & R (Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions) documents.  Finally, we should all be glad that laws are firmly in place which prevent our neighbors from operating a toxic waste dump or building a skyscraper on the other side of our shared property line.

What are your thoughts on the rights of homeowners and preservation of historic resources? Let us know in the comments section below.

This is the third article in a four-part series entitled May Monday Mythbusters. Check in with us again on Monday, May 28, when we explore the benefits of historic preservation.

Photo courtesy of Mr. T in DC.

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MYTH:  Owners of designated historic landmark buildings are unable to make any significant changes to their properties. 

FACT:  Historic preservation laws are intended to manage change in a responsible way, not to prevent change.  The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, a nationally accepted set of guidelines for evaluating change in historic structures, specifies only that the most significant, or “character-defining” features should be preserved, and new additions to a historic building should be compatible with the existing architecture.  These Standards do not require that every doorknob and light switch be saved.  Rather, they specify that historic features that are deteriorated should be repaired if possible – while allowing for replacement when the severity of damage leaves no other reasonable option.

Have you preserved any of your home’s “character defining” features? Tell us about them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear how you preserved your home and demonstrated that character counts!

This is the second article in a four-part series entitled May Monday Mythbusters. Check in with us again on Monday, May 21, when we explore the rights of property owners.

Photo courtesy of Frozencapybara.

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MYTH:  Alhambra doesn’t have any buildings or neighborhoods that are important enough to be worth saving.

FACT:  In 1984, the City of Alhambra received a grant from the State of California to commission a historic survey and inventory of two of Alhambra’s many residential single-family neighborhoods.  This effort was intended as a first step toward making historic preservation an official part of Alhambra’s planning policy.  Although limited to two neighborhoods, the survey identified more than 600 Alhambra buildings as possessing historic or architectural significance, including several that were potentially eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Our local heritage is represented in many forms:  mansions and modest bungalow courts; churches and commercial buildings; neighborhoods that once sprang up around the Pacific Electric Rail line or in the place of the disappearing vineyards and orange groves; Craftsman bungalows and Tudor cottages; Spanish Colonial Revival homes and Mid-Century Moderns; sandwich stands and neon signs.  Whether modest or grand, all of these are capable of possessing historic significance.  A complete inventory of all of Alhambra’s historic structures is desperately needed, so that our many hidden treasures can be identified, recognized and preserved for future generations.  It’s time to finish the process that was begun in 1984.

What are your thoughts on completing the survey Alhambra’s historic structures? What structures do you think should be included? Let us know in the comments section below.

This is the first article in a four-part series entitled May Monday Mythbusters. Check in with us again on Monday, May 14, when we explore what owners of historic landmark buildings can and cannot do to their historic properties.

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All across our nation, Americans are actively engaged in efforts to save the places that make our communities special and unique.  In recognition of these many and diverse activities, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has, since 2005, declared the month of May to be National Preservation Month.  We invite you to join this year’s celebration here at home!

We are honoring National Preservation Month with a project designed to raise awareness about the need for adoption of an historic preservation ordinance in Alhambra.  Each Monday in May, we’ll post a new installment of our Mythbusters series.  Much of what passes for “information” on historic preservation is actually just rumor, speculation and myth.  We’d like to set the record straight, and we encourage you to use the factual information you will discover here to educate and inform your friends, neighbors and community leaders.

Each and every individual can make a difference in changing public policy.  If you care about the protection of Alhambra’s unique and irreplaceable buildings and neighborhoods, we invite you to join with us to make historic preservation a vital element of our city’s General Plan.

Check in with us again on Monday, May 7th for the first installment of May Monday Mythbusters.  You’ll be glad you did!

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