Contrasts in Architecture Are Rare in Fullerton

Last month I was walking Independence Mall in Philadelphia and admiring the history and reflecting on what it would have been like in 1776.  As I crossed Market Street to go look at the Liberty Bell I looked left and right scanning the streets.  Then something caught my eye.  The antique cityscape had something shiny and new nestled in between two pieces of historic-looking buildings.

The structure has jutting polished metal forming right angles and contrasts sharply against the backdrop of American history.  The building’s unusual placement on the historic Mall speaks volumes of its purpose, though no billboards announce what that may be.

As I circle the Mall admiring the formation of our Country, my mind and camera wander back to the building, now more striking than when I saw it just moments ago. Seeing the building on the Mall and recognizing the unusual beauty of its presence in that location has caused me to question the direction the City of Fullerton has traveled for decades.

A recent FFFF post brought to light the Redevelopment Design Review Committee’s selections of less than inspiring architecture.

I used to have the strong opinion that modern designs just would not work in our downtown.  After long debates and discussions with friends and my visit to Philadelphia I am confident that it can work well.

Entrepreneurs looking to raise the bar and make their place in Fullerton should look to innovative designs which will stand in contrast to our old and confused architecture.  More importantly, when every other building is a bar or tattoo parlor, business owners need to look at ways of setting their establishment apart from the rest of the herd.

Speaking of Fires…

On August 29th, 2010 at 4:28 am a three-alarm fire was reported in a building structure with six businesses at 306 N. Raymond Ave. About 80 firefighters from the Fullerton Fire Department, Brea Fire Department, Anaheim Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority were dispatched to bring the fire under control.

Fullerton Fire Marshal Julie Kunze told the Register “The structure itself is a total loss. We’re estimating the structure itself at probably $2.2 million with unknown content.”

The fire department has taped off portions of the parking lot, as charred debris covered the ground around the badly burned building. The roof had completely collapsed.

That was six months ago. Today the charred building is still charred and the site is now a real eyesore. How long should it take for the city to issue a notice to abate the public nuisance?

If this mess were in Sunny Hills, would it be any different?

Big Things May Be Coming. Or Not.

This corner is where it all got started in Fullerton almost 125 years ago.

Now that Tiger Yang’s safely down the road, the building at the northwest corner of Harbor and Commonwealth is being remodeled, or as is more likely, given Fullerton’s history of downtown Redevelopment and design foilbles, remuddled.

Still, it’s hard to imagine anything worse than the aesthetic horror that’s there now – pure 1970s schlock.

The Wishing Well, Once A Mayor’s Crib; Now A Bottomless Money Hole

The Wishing Well Apartments. Someone's wish just came true.

For those interested in obscure Fullerton history, Louis Valasquez lived in the Wishing Well apartments at 466 West Valencia Dr. while serving as the Mayor of Fullerton in 1979.

Those more curious about modern-day Redevelopment Agency boondoggles, may be interested to learn that this past week the Fullerton City Council voted to sell the Agency owned Wishing Well Apartments to an out of town “developer” for $100.

The Fullerton Redevelopment Agency purchased the ol’ Wishing Well for $1,993,433 and paid an additional $60,930 to kick out (relocate) all the tenants that resided in the 16 unit building. On top of that the Agency is going to give the out-of-towners an additional $184,347 to “rehab” the apartments, provided the developer rents the apartments to low income tenants. Here in Orange County “low income” is 50% of the median income – which for a family of 3 is $70,890. This means that people that make around $35,445 will be living in the Brand Spanking New Wishing Well. I’ll bet ya the previous tenants made less than $35,445 per year. So in reality the city kicked out the poor folks in order to replace them with richer poor folks.

Now that’s not very good is it?

And if the units were so dilapidated, why didn’t City Code Enforcement simply cite the landlord and require the units to be standard units?

I think I’ll do a follow-up post and focus on code enforcement failures under Don Bankhead’s and Dick Jones’s years of “leadership.”

“Would you support our efforts to make our neighborhood historic?”

I received this post from a Friend who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons that you may understand after you read this post.

Think historic neighborhoods. Immediately, one’s mind goes to such places such as Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia and others where houses, landscape, and layout reflect a distinct architectural coherence.

What we don’t think of is the hodgepodge of homes built over a span of more than fifty years within the boundaries of Skyline, Frances, Luanne, Canon and Lemon here in Fullerton. True, the neighborhood has a sort of charm. But this four block area (oddly denuded of trees) doesn’t fit the definition as historic.

Yet, for over twenty years, this neighborhood has been besieged by a small but persistent group to designate itself as such. The original movement came about when a neighbor (who has since moved away) decided the mix of 60’s ranch homes, 30’s Spanish Mediterranean  and 80’s boxes needed to be protected.

Why? Because the empty lot behind her house, which she had enjoyed as her own personal open space, was going to have a house built upon it.  This led to a movement asking for historical designation, with one very vociferous neighbor putting out a letter decrying such crimes as pink flamingos in yards. It ended when a flock of roving pink flamingos went from yard to yard, to rebuke this snobbishness. It was clear then, as it is now, that the historic designation is more to control everything from the color of homes, the installation of skylights, solar panels, to pink flamingos in yards.

In more recent years, the issue was raised again when a member of the Fullerton Heritage group moved into the neighborhood.  This woman could often be seen taking photographs of her neighbor’s homes. She personally crossed the boundaries of neighborliness by posting a photo of one on their website as an example of “muddled and conflicted” architecture. Battle axes were raised when during a neighborhood meeting, an argument ensued. This busybody sat in the back, mute –rendering herself all but invisible. At no point did she offer any explanation why this issue meant so much to her that she was willing to pit neighbor against neighbor.

The reasons for not wanting this ridiculous designation are simple.

1.     There’s no consistent architectural coherence in the boundaries of Lemon, Skyline, Frances, Luanne and Canon. While there are individual examples of historically significant architectural styles, as a neighborhood – it lacks consistency and coherence.

2. It would give Fullerton Heritage – and the City Planning Department far too much power over our neighborhood. Note, they already have ultimate veto power over designs submitted to the city for everything from new development to remodeling in other neighborhoods designated as a historical zone. In one neighborhood, they vetoed the homeowner’s request to install a skylight. Such oversight is petty, and subject to the changing whims of the board.

3. This will lead to more “fake old” McSpanish architecture. Another uninformed member of the Fullerton Heritage group noted at a meeting at Hillcrest Park that she thought the predominant style in the neighborhood should be “Spanish Mediterranean,” whatever that means.

4.     The $1000 fee for the designation doesn’t even begin to cover the costs of actual staff time. In addition, this doesn’t cover the costs of ordered revisions by the owner’s architects or engineers. Fees like this are never gotten rid of, rather, the fee could be raised and the neighborhood would have no control over the amount they have to pay.

5.     The city of Fullerton has a permit process already in place. This is an added layer of bureaucracy with not only more additional staff time needed, but oversight from an outside organization (Fullerton Heritage).

6.     A small cadre of neighbors has already been vociferous to the point of rudeness about things they don’t like: the color of a neighbor’s home, plantings, flamingos, and more. Worse, their gossip has hit people in ways that have become personal. While we realize they are voicing their opinion, we’d hate to give them permission to authorize or disapprove on any official level.

At some point one must work with and trust the neighbors.  Most of the neighbors who support this notion have lived in the area for 40 years without the intervention of the city. Why they think they should leave future generations with a law to be enforced long after they have enjoyed their own latitude –is for reasons of ego.  While the notion of a historic neighborhood seems appealing, in reality it is cumbersome, vague and will leave future homeowner’s with no choice but to deal with more government and bureaucracy. It was clear twenty years ago as it is now:  these people need to get a life.

All we can do is work with one another, and be neighborly but not meddlesome.

When is An Historic Resource Not An Historic Resource?

As quickly as you can, Grasshopper, snatch the park from its owners...

When it’s Fullerton’s Hillcrest Park, of course. Then it’s a resource of a different kind: an opportunity for City Staff to play upon the sentimentality of Fullerton’s park and history lovers to destroy the very resource that is ostensibly being saved.

They did it 15 years ago and they are doing it again.

I went to Saturday’s latest public meeting to “save the park” and witnessed something quite remarkable. Just like last time the City staff has employed a consultant to remake the park in its own desired form, replete with new facilities it can market or operate, while ignoring the true needs of the old girl.

But this time the ludicrousness of the whole operation became apparent immediately. A representative of the landscape architect hired to foist the exploitative plan informed us all what was wrong with Hillcrest Park. It has bad chi. And all these years we just thought it was neglect by the parks and police departments. Chi. Hmm.

So what’s the solution to clean up the chi and get things all aligned, nice and proper?

A restaurant, for one thing, down by the duck pond; and a new park entrance; new retaining walls along the Brea Creek and an abandonment of the interior roadways might just get that troublesome chi back in balance, we were informed.

Ye Gods! Chi. What’s next, park feng shui?

Use the Force, Luke...

I don’t know how much we’re paying these yahoos to further destroy our park, but I’ll bet it’s a lot. And I’ll also bet that Redevelopment money is picking up at least part of the tab. And ultimately the only way to pay to comprehensively destroy this historic resouce is to use big piles of Redevelopment money to do it. Redevelopment destroying historic resources. That’s not a new theme.

Hillcrest Park is on the National Register of Historic places but nobody seems to treat it like it were. Only last year the City embarked on massive alterations to the north slope of the park without review by the Landmarks Commission.

Well, good luck Hillcrest. And in the meantime may the chi be with you.