Dear Loyal Friends, considering the number of comments received on the prior post , the majority of you have agreed that WTF’s idea for a contest to see which is the ugliest and cheapest looking piece of cardboard crap to come from Redevelopment is a good one. So, email images of your ugliest and cheapest looking piece of cardboard crap to come from Redevelopment to: [email protected]. I’ll post them, and our loyal Friends will select the winner.
The winner will receive an original Friends For Fullerton’s Future “TERM LIMITS” t-shirt.
It’s bad enough that the City of Fullerton has always shown a penchant for fake old, with its attendant brick veneer and styrofoam cornices. Sooner or later we may actually come to accept this affront to taste by the bureaucratic boobeoisie. What really adds insult to injury, however is the cavalier way that modern architecture is treated by the City. By “modern’ we really mean functional, original architecture that encloses space creatively that employs abstract patterns, uses modern materials, and that expresses its structure in its outward appearance.
What really bugs us was to watch last year’s “Jefferson Commons” abomination approved unanimously by the City Council. Bad enough was the proposed monstrosity; we’re used to architectural crap. Even worse was the propsed demolition of three mid-century modern gems on Chapman Avenue without so much as a backward glance.
So why do we bring this up again? Last night the Council voted to extend the permit deadlines for an additional two years since the new developer (the old one already bailed out) can’t get financing. Several speakers pleaded the case that the buildings in question have historical merit that was not recognized by a faulty CEQA process (wow, no surprise there!), and that demolition should be postponed at least until a final project looks like it could start. These seem like a pretty prudent path to us.
Why these buildings were not originally identified as historic resources is not hard to explain. The City ignores anything not listed on their register of significant buildings; that accomplishes the bare minimum of CEQA requirements, but doesn’t say much for the integrity of the process. The out-of-town lobbyist had done a good job of spreading around the wealth and the buildings never stood a chance. Meanwhile, Fullerton’s Heritage group, that should have been raising Holy Hell, was apparently too busy putting brass plaques on things and telling NOCCCD administrators how much they prefer fake old to modern architecture.
Lost in the commotion of last fall’s election excitement was a short letter to the Fullerton Observer by Tom Dalton, Fullerton Heritage’s President-for-Life. It appeared in the early September issue. It seemed to be a very belated response to the letter I had written some time before, and that I just posted here on our blog. Well, I’m posting a copy of Mr. Dalton’s letter here as well as a response I sent to the Observer’s editor. Please note that the Observer never printed my letter rebutting Tom Dalton’s, but now for the very first time, Loyal Friends, you may enjoy it here!
First Mr. Dalton’s missive:
Fullerton College dedicated the latest in a series of new buildings on the Fullerton campus August 15, 2008. The Classroom Office Building joins the Library and the Student Center as another example of how new construction can complement and even improve on the overall historic and architectural character of the campus complex. Period design features, proper scale and proportions, and use of appropriate materials on these buildings reflect the style and character of the original campus. And let us not forget the wonderful results of the restoration work on the Wilshire Continuing Education complex. Fullerton College President Kathleen Hodge, former District Chancellor Jerome Hunter, and the District Board are all to be commended for their steadfast commitment to honor the past by foregoing faddish architecture that others often use to make their own statements. Fullerton College has made the strongest statement of all by preserving its heritage. Fullerton Heritage salutes you! Keep up the good work.
Tom Dalton, President Fullerton Heritage
Well, Tom has had his bootlicking say, and now I will share my thoughts on the subject:
I just read Tom Dalton’s recent tribute to the wisdom of the NOCCCD Trustees for their dismal architectural failures on the Fullerton College campus, as printed in your September edition. Tom’s letter must have pleased the trustee who asked him to write it, but it left me wondering why these folks choose to defend the indefensible – rather than develop a new policy of building modern architecture on our campus. Well, maybe they ought to be defensive! Tom tells us the pseudo-historical details, the materials, and the proportions of the new buildings are harmonious with the historical structures on campus. I guess he expects us to take his word for it. But the commonsense of anyone standing in the central quad will tell him that the new library is an overbearing, out-of-scale monstrosity.
The fake concrete form patterns impressed on hollow stucco walls, the awkward fenestration, and the ludicrous cupola only add insult to injury. It’s not easy to create buildings that are both tacky and unoriginal, but whoever designed this building achieved this dubious distinction. The image and caption on the cover of your early October issue is telling: Tiles Fall off the Dome of the New Library During Storm (what storm was that, by the way?). Further comment is unnecessary.
Why does Tom admire architecture that hides its steel structure within hollow walls made of metal studs, lath, and plaster? He says this sort of thing goes well with the existing buildings, and again he seems to think we’ll take his word for it. But why should we accept the idea that boring, dishonest, clunky buildings are anything but an insult to historical structures? Because Tom says so? The new building on Chapman Avenue with its false arches assaults passersby with a sort of stubborn muteness; it is a dull, blocky, inert monument to creative bankruptcy, without a single redeeming architectural quality.
Tom piously warns us against the evil of architectural fads, by which I think we can assume he means contemporary architecture that doesn’t ape the original Mediterranean themes of the WPA buildings on campus. And so, innovative modern architecture on campus of the sort pioneered in Southern California by masters such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra and their followers would likely be dismissed as faddish by Dalton, just as their work was scorned by philistines of an earlier time who preferred period revivals such as Stockbroker Tudor and French Provincial as safe, tasteful bets for the local gentry.
But must the public, the students, and the faculty accept fake arches, Styrofoam cornices, and hidden structural members because they gratify Tom and his like minded friends on the Board of Trustees? We should recognize a higher responsibility than weakly regurgitating forms from the past and doing even that poorly. There is no premium paid for good, modern architecture. It costs no more than the uninspired junk the North Orange County Community College District Trustees are foisting on us. And in the long run good architecture will cost less. Someone at the top must make the commitment.
There really is a bigger issue that falls outside the penlight illumination cast by Tom Dalton’s personal aesthetic sensibility. Isn’t it the responsibility of an academic institution to promote creative excellence and shouldn’t that ideal be enshrined in the college’s built environment? Timid and trite architectural expression seems contrary to the very mission of an academic institution. On top of that, it’s a waste of money.
In a few years, as the dreary McSpanish dinosaurs of my Alma Mater disintegrate into a well-deserved decrepitude, Trustees will no doubt float yet another bond to pay for their replacement. Then, hopefully, some future generation will enjoy new creative and dynamic architecture on campus.
Founder, Fullerton Heritage
A couple of years ago I sent the following letter to the Fullerton Observer. It caused a bit of a stir among the knee-jerk educrat supporters. I hope you Friends enjoy it, too:
Dear Editor: There is an old adage that bad architecture costs just as much as good. This lesson seems to be lost on the educators over at the NCCCD. First they erect the god-awful monstrosity of the library with its overbearing size and fake historical details, right down to the false concrete formwork impressions on lath and plaster walls!
And now the Student Commons: another McSpanish dinosaur looming over innocent passersby on Chapman Avenue. With its fake “thick” walls, fake concrete columns, fake cornices, and oafish arches (see attached images) this edifice represents all that’s bad in trying to ape the design of the poured-in-place concrete structures on campus.
Had the college pursued a course of promoting original modern design they may well have succeeded in erecting buildings that would be recognized 70 years from now as historic. – buildings that were graceful, elegant, efficient, and that honestly expressed structure in form. My guess is that the WPA buildings on campus will end up outlasting these new ones.
The promotion of fake old architecture by our Board, on the other hand, is the result of confused thinking. The idea of emulating existing building’s themes so that the new ones “fit in” is meant to display aesthetic sensitivity with a nod to the ideas of tradition and preservation – concepts that they badly misunderstand. Fake old architecture honors nothing, least of all the past. The feeble attempts to copy historical detailing that present-day workers can’t do, or that the College won’t pay for, pays homage to nothing. Placing a fake old building next to an historic building will serve to make the original look better, but how much more of an honor would it be to hire a creative designer and let him or her pay tribute to the existing built environment through the exercise of creativity and talent! Isn’t that the lesson our public schools should be teaching their students?
Dave Musante knows it takes a long time to bring about positive change in cities. Right now the first LEED-certified affordable housing development is being built in Northampton Massachusetts, where Dave was first elected Mayor for 12 years. What did they name the street that leads to the project?
Dave was advocating sustainable planning elements–greenbelts, energy conservation features, etc. way before he left office back in 1992. So 17 years later, when this project became a reality, the planners said its street sign had to say “Musante”.
Now that Sharon Quirk has reappointed him to the Planning Commission for the next four years, we can anticipate his outspoken advocacy for sustainability in public projects here in his new hometown? Will the Fullerton Redevelopment Agency’s planned $30 million government-subsidized Richman Ave. housing project adjacent to the historic Jones and Emmons neighborhood live up to the standards Dave pushed for in Northampton. Stay Tuned……
Think of all the great people-oriented downtowns in Southern California. Old Town Pasadena and Orange. Westwood Village and San Diego’s Gaslamp section. Visit downtown Santa Monica or cruise PCH through downtown Manhattan Beach or Laguna Beach. Have you been on the main streets Beverly Hills or Balboa Island?
Think of the great people-oriented shopping and entertainment districts. Can you name just ONE that does NOT allow parking, passenger loading, valet service or even handicap access on its main business street?
There is only one: Fullerton.
After nearly a century of easy, convenient parking on Harbor Blvd. (called Spadra until 1960), parking was removed in 1982. The traffic engineers held sway then, and were more concerned about increasing traffic speeds than the survival of downtown businesses.
Now, 25 years later, their mistake needs to be rectified. Let Harbor be Harbor. Let it be a living, breathing people street by restoring access along Harbor Blvd! Let it be like Pasadena’s Colorado Blvd. or many other pedestrian oriented streets in thriving downtowns.
Downtown entrepreneur Sean Francis (Slidebar, Continental Room) has a plan to restore access on Harbor Blvd., between Wilshire and Commonwealth. This plan is supported by hundreds of signatories to a petition requesting a hearing before the Traffic Commission. Designed by KOA Engineering (who has done extensive work for the city) this plan would free up room for parking, loading zones, valet bays and handicap access in front of Harbor Blvd. businesses—while keeping 2 lanes of traffic.
This plan has been bottled up by mid-level City staff so far, but deserves a hearing before the Traffic Commission and City Council. And it deserves support.
Think if you owned Branagan’s.Your address is 213 N. Harbor, but when new customers find it, they can’t park there, or even stop to unload their kids or elderly grandmother. They must make a right on Amerige, another right into the rear parking lot, then try to find your rear entrance. This would all change with Sean’s plan. Opening Harbor would not add new parking spots, but it would allow room for valet service and passenger unloading. That convenience would mean a lot for business owners and their customers—as well as the general ambience of Harbor Blvd.
“Harbor Blvd.: Open for Pedestrians!”
Let Sean (who’s paying for the design study out his own pocket), your elected officials, your appointed traffic commissioners and the Downtown merchants know that you support restoring parking on Harbor Blvd.
A street is more than just a traffic pipeline. It must also serve the community through which it passes. Let Harbor be the street it once was—the kind of street it is yearning to be again!
And now, loyal Friends of Fullerton’s Future, we return to a theme a bit neglected of late, namely: our built environment, with an emphasis on both aesthetic and policy issues. In the past we have spent some time highlighting some really good examples of appalling public architecture and design paid for by the taxpayers.
Now let us cast our attention to an example of bad design foisted on a private commercial development by Fullerton’s own tasteless planning bureaucrats. Most of us have come to associate strip center developments with crappy design. Some folks blame the lack of aesthetic achievement on the tacky taste of commercial center’s owners, and there is no doubt that this is often a fair assessment. But what is not commonly appreciated is the role of government planners in the strip center development.
A case study is unfolding on Rosecrans and Euclid where an existing commercial center is undergoing a “facelift” (as Barbara Giasone would call it). In the coming weeks we will pictorially document progress on this site, although “progress” seems like such an inappropriate word!
Oh no! God-awful, tacked-on rooflets of various shapes and sizes – nothing more than useless vertical appendages enclosing wasted space and consuming perfectly good construction materials. The only redeeming thing about this work is that in twenty year’s time it too, will be torn away and replaced with something else.
We can see from the framing just what is being added – nothing of use. We may recall Louis Sullivan’s old saying: form ever follows function. Well, here Friends, is form with no function. “Ah, but what about beauty” some uninitiated readers may be inclined to cry. To which we can only reply that too many people are satisfied that a remodel of some kind is a guarantee of aesthetic improvement. We will document the emerging hodgepodge of roof add-ons and see if our readers agree with us!
Finally, we must relate the saddest part of this story. For some reason the owner of this project was required to undergo bureaucratic design review that apparently consisted of a low level planner foisting his own aesthetic preferences of design propriety for this site onto the owner. We believe what is emerging on Rosecrans and Euclid shows all the design traits of bureaucratic interference. We are not sure why this review was even necessary in the first place; its effectiveness will soon be very evident, indeed!