Monrovia Looks to Preserve Its History

 

 

Historic home in Monrovia, one of 137 landmarked facilities. - Photo by Terry Miller
Historic home in Monrovia, one of 137 landmarked facilities. – Photo by Terry Miller

 

By Susan Motander

On two consecutive nights this week, the City of Monrovia made strong statements about its commitment to preservation. While the San Gabriel Complex Fire danced in the foothills overlooking the community, the council reviewed its historic preservation policy on Monday night, June 20, in a joint meeting with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), and approved the land-marking of three new buildings on Tuesday night, June 21.

The newly land-marked locations include two residences and a commercial building. The residences are a Craftsman-style California bungalow on Poppy Avenue, built by the Tifal brothers, and a delightful Spanish Colonial revival style bungalow on Acacia Avenue (complete with an enclosed courtyard at the front of the residence).

Perhaps one of the most unusual buildings landmarked by the council was the commercial building on Shamrock opposite the Immaculate Conception Church. Originally a residence and fruit stand when it was built in the 1920s, it slowly morphed into first a gas station in the late ‘20s, as it was along the original route of Route 66 through Monrovia. Then in the 1940s, the building became the home of Night and Day Manufacturing, makers of home heating and air conditioning systems.

While this rich history alone makes it a building well worth saving, in the opinion of many, the roof system is what really sets it apart from any other in the community. According to the staff report, the roof is one of the few remaining examples of a Lamella roof system. The report explains “The Lamella roof system was invented in Germany by Frederich Zollinger in 1908. It is a vaulted roof structure consisting of a criss-crossing pattern of parallel arches that create a diamond pattern. This style was brought to the US in the early 1920s and the subject building is one of the earliest examples making the roof structure a contributing feature.”

The evening prior to the council meeting, the council, in joint session with the HPC commission, looked at the history of preservation in Monrovia. As Craig Jimenez, community development director, said at that time, “historic preservation is about managing change, not preventing it.” He then went on to explain exactly how the city had managed that change without destroying its history.

Starting in 1992, when the city appointed a Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (through the 1995 adoption of Ordinance 95-01, the Historic Preservation Act, and the establishment of the HPC) and land-marked of five properties in 1996, the city has shown its concern about preserving its past. It is important to note that in 2008 the city recognized its first Historic District, Wildrose, and is not looking at designating another.

In an effort to continue with the program of preserving history by managing change, Jimenez, along with Ann McIntosh, the consultant hired by the city to assist in the review, presented four proposals to the council and HPC. These include:

– Components of a New Demolition Permit Ordinance.

– Request for Proposal (RFP) for a consultant to prepare a Historic Context Statement.

– General Plan policies.

– Recognition of vintage homes.

The two explained in detail how each element would work together. The new demolition permit ordinance would ensure that home more than 50 years old would go through additional scrutiny before a demolition permit (which would include not just the complete demolition, but also substantial alteration of a home) could be issued.

They also suggested engaging a qualified historical consultant to prepare a Context Statement for the city which would, among other things, provide “the basis for evaluating historic significance and integrity. It helps to identify important themes in history and then relate those themes to existing resources or property types. Themes may be related to historic events, development patterns, trends, or even to cultural topics. Context statements are valuable tools in helping to identify significant properties,” according to the report presented to the council and commissioners by city staff.

On this issue, several council members and commission members requested that the statement also provide information that would assist in looking at historic districts and potentially additional landmarks.

The report also recommended the city consider changing the General Plan of the city to include Historic Preservation as a separate element of the plan, rather than as a part of the Land Use element of the plan.

Lastly, it was their recommendation that a new category, separate from the Historic Landmark, be established to designate that certain homes, while not necessarily remarkable, either historically or architecturally, might have value based on their age and survival. Like land-marking, this would be entirely voluntary, but homes so designated would not be eligible for a Mills Act Contract.

Since the meeting on Monday was only a study session, no action could be taken on any of these suggestions, but the comments and input from the commissioners and the council members were noted by the staff. Jimenez said that the ideas generated and the suggestions made would be refined by the city staff and their consultant, McIntosh, and would be brought back to the two bodies or approval at a regular meeting.

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