Is there a city in California, other than Ukiah, so eager to wipe out its history and destroy architecturally significant buildings?
Why does Ukiah have a near spotless record of bulldozing and/or setting fire to old Victorians on South Dora Street, abandoning lovely buildings in exchange for ugly ones, and ignoring beautiful landmarks until they fall apart? Truly maddening.
It’s in Ukiah’s DNA to ignore and destroy its history so that shiny new meaningless crap can replace it, only to themselves be torn down 50 or 75 years later.
Here we are, deep into the 21st century, and the city is determined to prove it has learned nothing from the many, many disastrous decisions that have made the town so cheesy looking. And it’s about to do it again, eyes wide open.
There is one (1) pressed tin building surviving from the early days as an agricultural hub, and one (1) galvanized metal building from the same era. Where but in Ukiah could there exist a Demolition Review Committee that analyses its own guidelines, invents nonsensical, inaccurate interpretations of what the guidelines mean, then votes to tear the old buildings down, of which there are no similar survivors?
It’s happening right now with a pair of structures at the corner of Main and Perkins. They may not immediately grab your attention. But ain’t it always that way? We don’t know what we got til it’s gone?
Look at pictures of our old courthouse, admire its classic beauty, then look at the green monster that replaced it because politicians thought it was an improvement. Check out the modest but magnificent old Carnegie Library on South State Street (corner of Clay) the city abandoned; aghast citizens have endured 50 years of the junior Rite-Aid-style library that replaced it (corner of Perkins and Main, across from the doomed metal buildings). It’s getting ugly out there on Main Street.
Think of the old Talmage State Hospital, once envisioned as the perfect Mendocino College campus, available to the county for one (1) dollar. It might have become the most beautiful college campus in the state; the county declined. Now look at the cheap, prefab buildings scattered north of town. Does Mendo College today look like a classic 19th century Ivy League campus or an insurance office complex in San Jose?
In other cities abandoned warehouses are converted into lofts and apartments. In Ukiah, a stately brick hotel, abandoned but functional, is left to rot. A solid, beautiful old post office a block west of the dead hotel will remain empty for as many years as its owners feel like ignoring it. Ukiah’s civic leaders drive past these unloved buildings multiple times a week, eyes closed.
Now, with a chance to at last preserve and protect a pair of hundred year old structures, our Review Commission members pretend their own guidelines don’t say what they clearly say, and recommend a placard be substituted for the only remaining pressed metal building.
In a recent front page UDJ story Justine Frederiksen quoted commission member Alyssa Ballard, who read from committee guidelines regarding the preservation of city structures. Reminding her fellow members that if any of three criteria are met, the committee must deny an application to demolish a building.
The first two: 1) “Has a special or particular quality such as oldest, best example, largest or last surviving example of its kind, or 2) “Exemplifies or reflects special elements of the city’s cultural, social, economic political, aesthetic or architectural history.”
The Code says “If the Demolition Review Committee finds that any of the criteria listed apply to the building(s) proposed for demolition it shall recommend denial of the permit to City Council.”
Pretty straightforward, but commission member Ted Eriksen, Ukiah’s Public Works Director, said he didn’t feel a pressed metal building, the one and only surviving example in Ukiah, fit Criteria One. Eriksen acknowledged “there is an element to agricultural history being lost, but I think that the train depot is where that story is being told.”
Right-o Ted. Go to a train depot for agricultural history, and to an airport if you want to research old Mendocino County logging practices. Want a longterm overview of Ukiah’s criminal justice system? Just stop by Walmart’s Returns counter.
Matt Keizer, a committee member also serving as a building official, took on the issue of whether the buildings were of significance by changing the subject.
“I think a lot of folks are getting the story within the building, Dragon’s Lair, confused with the building … there is obviously a lot of history there but that could be summed up with a placard or some kind of display.”
Well no, Matt. No one thinks the Dragon’s Lair shop of hippie garb, crystal souvenirs and smelly incense has been around 100 years. What they actually think is that the last pressed metal building in Ukiah is worth preserving. Feel free to read that sentence again.
Readers should drive up Perkins past Rainbow Ag and the BBQ joint, and look for a few seconds at the backsides of two of Ukiah’s oldest buildings. They cannot help but evoke histories and stories.
They are irreplaceable. They are worth preserving.
(TWK takes the credit but Tom Hine does the work of writing this weekly column.)