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Salvaging The Palace

Carolyn Kiernat, a principal in the Page & Turnbull firm in SF, asked me to submit this opinion piece on her behalf.

Page & Turnbull, a firm renowned as a California leader in preserving and transforming historic structures into new uses, has an impressive portfolio. They have successfully revitalized the Ferry Building, converted a cluster of Presidio buildings into the Walt Disney Family Museum, and undertaken numerous other projects across the state including the Carter House in Eureka and the Hotel Tioga in Merced.

Kiernat and a team from her firm went through the Palace Hotel in downtown Ukiah in 2022 and developed a design proposal for Ukiah investor Minal Shankar. The deal collapsed when the current owner, Jitu Ishwar, decided to sell instead to the Guidiville Rancheria and a group of local investors. That deal, as we know, is on hold while a state review of the Guidiville application for $6.6 million to tear down the Palace under the guise of ground contamination continues.

Despite no longer being directly involved in the Palace's fate, Kiernat's passion for its preservation continues. 

The photo [below] was taken in 2022 on the rooftop of the Palace with Kiernat (shown far right) and two of her Page & Turnbull associates: Clare Flynn (left) and Elisa Skaggs (middle).

— Mike Geniella


by Carolyn Kiernat, AIA, Principal, Page & Turnbull

Making History Relevant 

The Palace Hotel has been part of Ukiah’s history since 1891 – opening just two years after the first passenger rail service came to town. In the decades that followed, the Palace Hotel expanded its footprint and its prominence, with the final of three building expansions taking place in 1929. A lot has happened in Ukiah in the 133 years that have passed since the Palace Hotel was built. There is no doubt that the Palace Hotel is a link to Ukiah’s past, and there is still time for the Palace Hotel to be part of Ukiah’s future.

Places tell stories, and everyone in Ukiah seems to have a story about the Palace Hotel. It’s these stories that make a place unique and personal. It’s these stories that connect people to a specific time and place, binding them to a shared history. 

To look at the Palace Hotel today in its current state of disrepair, many seem to believe that the time has come to tear it down. But as someone who has worked with historic buildings virtually my entire career, I can see possibilities and a future for the Palace Hotel.

Preservation is Local (and Preservation Ordinances are, too)

Demolition of the Palace Hotel should never have been on the table. Cities throughout the United States have preservation controls and ordinances that prevent significant historic properties from falling into disrepair and being demolished. Penalties for violating these preservation ordinances can include civil and even criminal charges. But it takes forethought to have these ordinances written and time to have them enforced. Unfortunately, local controls are often the only protection that historic resources have, and without an active preservation ordinance in Ukiah, the fate of a building like the Palace Hotel is left up to its owner and their action (or inaction).

Despite the building’s 1979 listing in the National Register of Historic Places, its subsequent listing in the California Register of Historical Resources, and the City of Ukiah’s own 2010 designation as a Preserve America Community by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, this historic property has little to no protection from demolition. 

There is no question that the Palace Hotel is in poor condition. I was nervous when I first walked through the building two years ago, and its condition has gone downhill since then. But based on past project experience and in consultation with experienced structural engineers, I believe there is an alternative to demolition.

Before any more time passes, the city should hire a qualified third-party structural engineer to assess the building and determine – objectively – what can be done. Perhaps a portion of the building does need to be demolished; perhaps reconstruction of the 1891 corner is in order. We won’t know until a structural assessment is complete. 

I have heard the arguments that have been put forward supporting the building’s demolition, including the presence of underground fuel tanks, irreparable damage sustained in last year’s storms, exemption from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, and support for private property rights. But to all these arguments, there is one solid counterargument: there was a person who had the vision and who was willing to put in the resources and the time to make this building whole again. The current owner may not want to take this renovation on, but that is no reason to demolish the building on his way out.

Preservation Isn’t All or Nothing 

The Palace is a mess, that much is clear. Years of neglect by a series of owners and a lack of action on the part of the City have led to the condition that we see today. But many buildings in similar or even worse condition have been renovated, leading to a positive economic impact for the building owner and the surrounding community.

Preservation can make a difference without being burdensome. This is because historic preservation isn’t a ‘black or white’ proposition. Preservation comes in many forms and there is an array of options between demolition and full restoration that may be considered. Most historic preservation occurs somewhere between those two poles. At the Palace Hotel, there are opportunities to retain the building—either in whole or in part—and build new to serve the way we live and use buildings today. 

The Benefits of Heritage Tourism

Retaining the Palace Hotel and integrating portions of the historic building into a new development could be an economic boon for the owner, the operator and the City. 

In fact, restoration and reuse of this building may enhance Ukiah’s ability to tap into ‘Heritage Tourism,’ defined by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as, “traveling to experience the places, artifacts, and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.” According to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), “Heritage tourism creates jobs and business opportunities, helps protect resources, and often improves the quality of life for local residents.” It is estimated that 49% of cultural travelers will pay more for lodging that has a distinctive heritage component. *

A grand old hotel could become a tourist destination, providing a highly sought-after authentic experience that highlights the best of what Ukiah and surrounding Mendocino County have to offer. It could hold space for the local community. It could generate income, tax revenue, and civic pride. The Palace Hotel could be a vital part of the city’s future, not just its past.

But Preservation is Expensive

Yes, preservation in its many forms is expensive. A willing owner would need to invest significant resources to bring the hotel back to life. But study after study has shown that investment in historic properties leads to quantifiable investment in the community. 

There are Federal Historic Tax Credits designed to make building reuse more affordable, and a State Historic Tax Credit is expected to be released later this year. These important preservation incentives were developed because historic buildings are proven economic drivers and sources of community pride, bringing more value to the surrounding community than dollars invested. 

Keep The Palace. It just makes sense.

Demolition of the Palace Hotel benefits no one, least of all the City of Ukiah and its residents, and demolition would leave an even greater gap in Ukiah’s sparse historic fabric. Rather than looking for reasons why the building should be torn down, let’s look toward the people who have said they would be willing to take on the Palace’s restoration. Let’s give them a chance. 

And to the City of Ukiah: You are a Preserve America Community. According to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, this Federal designation is an honor that recognizes your efforts to protect and celebrate your heritage; use your historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs.

Let’s live up to this designation and make the Palace Hotel a great center of the community, once again.

*American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association

(Carolyn Kiernat (left), AIA, is a principal at Page & Turnbull, a full-service Architecture, Planning and Preservation firm. An expert on historic tax incentives with several major adaptive reuse projects to her credit, including the Tioga in Merced and the Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio of San Francisco.)

One Comment

  1. Scott askins March 30, 2024

    What should have been done is fix utilities on road state street keep it 4 lanes tore down orkeep the existing walls to keep the old look and made it a 3 story Parking garage n the roof with solar panels that way people could actually have a place to park and so they can visit all the shops and charge a parking fee reasonable

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