Historic Preservation, San Jose, CA

The block you see below is now almost completely vacant. Courtesy of Google maps, we can see all of the structures that used to exist, dating all the way back to 1898. These were once grand Victorian homes, full of real people with real stories. Right smack in the middle of it all was a 1903 Colonial Revival Church. Now, thanks to our unenforced vacant building ordinances, they are gone.

Top View of the Delmas-Park Parcel

Top View of the Delmas-Park Parcel

This is the current situation in San Jose, California. If you are a vacant historic building, your days are numbered. Just since moving to my neighborhood in February, 2010, I have witnessed 2 suspicious fires to vacant buildings, one of which was slated for inclusion in the National Register, 3 needless teardowns of Victorians, and plenty of other troubling activities.

Delmas Church, Before

Delmas Church, Before. This was a Colonial Revival Church built by then pastor Reverend Emil Meyer in 1903, as First German Evangelical Lutheran Church

Delmas Church, After

Delmas Church, After

Bauer House 201-203 Delmas Ave, San Jose, CA

Bauer House 201-203 Delmas Ave, San Jose, CA

A suspicious fire on March 23, 2010 consumed the 1903 church on Delmas Avenue. After the discovery of asbestos, the fire investigation was delayed. There has been no news about the cause since.

The church was to be saved and restored, and put on the National Historic Register. The fire changed all that. Sadly, after the church burned, all of the surrounding vacant Victorians were unceremoniously torn down, one after the other. They had been slated for demolition by the owner of the parcel, Mark Robson and Delmas Park LLC.

The Unfortunate Victims
There will never be another 1898 Queen Anne Victorian at the corner of Delmas and Park Avenues. [See below].

German immigrant Louis Bauer acquired the lot at the corner of Delmas and Park Avenue (201-203 Delmas) in 1898 and built his Queen Anne style home. He added a store several years later.

Bauer was a well-known and respected community member who owned a popular saloon on the Alameda among other investments. Before living in this neighborhood myself, I had watched his poor home languish for 10 years on the corner.

Widow Mary Kerr bought the 253 Delmas lot in 1901. She hired architect William Klinkert and contractor D. A. Charteier to design and build her six-room, $1200 home.

Kerr House, 253 Delmas Ave

Kerr House, 253 Delmas Ave

A newspaper article featured her home as an example of the pretty homes being built in the district.

Peschel House, 255 Delmas Ave

Peschel House, 255 Delmas Ave

John Peschal bought the 255 Delmas lot in 1904. His contractor was the firm of Baron and Woehl. Peschal was a clerk for the popular downtown saloon, “The Tower”. Although all of these buildings could have been moved and salvaged, they were not.

A few blocks away, River Street is being revitalized. Little Italy San Jose could have used some nice Victorians for filling in blank spots. Check them out on Facebook at Little Italy San Jose.

The latest victim?

Only a few blocks away, JNSJ Roofing Co‎. was the former tenant of this cute little 1915 Victorian at 691 San Carlos Street, San Jose. Take a good look, because it is no more.

691 San Carlos Street, San Jose, CA

691 San Carlos Street, San Jose, CA. Before.

A four-alarm fire burned the two-story building on Sunday afternoon, June 13th. The blaze was reported at 12:30 p.m. at 691 San Carlos Street. Firefighters declared the flames under control by about 2:40 p.m.

I wish I could end this post on a positive note, but I can’t. If you have vacant historic buildings in your neighborhood, and you don’t want to see “demolition by neglect”, contact your city councilmember.

691 San Carlos Street. After.

691 San Carlos Street. After. Photo Credit: "smokeshowing" on Flickr.

Let them know you support new laws to keep abandoned buildings secure and protected from fires.

UPDATE: 1/1/2011: The little Victorian at 691 San Sarlos is being rebuilt, and I’m happy to report it looks as though they are restoring it, with historic character intact!

More recent “suspicious” fires…….

Houghton Donner House
The Mansion burned down July 19th, 2007 under “suspicious” circumstances.  Preservation Action Council of San Jose had repeatedly made the City aware that it was being broken into and used by vagrants.

The Houghton-Donner House, After

It was owned Barry Swenson Builders who had proposed building a 200+ unit residential tower on the site.  A nonprofit housing organization was working to relocate and rehabilitate the house and use it for offices. We blogged about this here.

It is worthy of note that on April 26th, 2010 the following memo was presented to the Mayor. “Approval of an ordinance amending Chapter 17.38 – Neglected Vacant Houses Ordinance”

Read the details here:

http://www.sanjoseca.gov/clerk/Agenda/20100511/20100511_0401.pdf

Apparently this ordinance didn’t do a thing to stop the destruction of all the above mentioned historic structures.

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Even the Grand Dames have fallen on hard times

The Redman House, in happier times

The Redman House, in happier times

[From “The Redman House“]

WATSONVILLE, CALIFORNIA: The Redman-Hirahara House is a prime example of a West Coast Victorian farm estate home situated on almost 14 acres of farmland clearly visible from Scenic Highway 1 in the Pajaro Valley on California’s Central Coast.

She greets passersby like a grand lady who has fallen on hard times, just a faint relic of the noble and gracious beauty that commanded the views of the river and valley from her perch on West Beach Road.

Driving through the Pajaro Valley, travelers cannot miss the stately Queen Anne Victorian which stands in the middle of a farm field as a symbol of history.

The house was built for James Redman in 1897; designed by renowned architect William H. Weeks. The building contract was let to the local firm of Lamborn and Uren, at a negotiated cost of $3,368. The interior of the home was finished in eastern oak, birds eye maple and natural hardwoods. It was outfitted with all the conveniences for modern housekeeping.

The Redman House waits patiently to be restored

The Redman House waits patiently to be restored

When the James Redman family died out in the 1930s, the house and property were sold to the Hirahara family, one of the first Japanese-American families to own farmland in the nation. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Hirahara family, along with the other Japanese families across the state, were removed and delivered to internment camps. The Hirahara family managed to maintain ownership of the house and land, with the often-anonymous assistance from the Watsonville community. After the war they returned home and made the house and converted barn into an interim home for several other Japanese families while they reestablished themselves in the community.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the house and land was sold to Green Farm, a partnership of investors. The land was leased for commercial strawberry farming and the house left to deteriorate. There were “profitable development plans” at that time, much to the dismay of locals.

In 1998, a group of Pajaro Valley residents formed The Redman House Committee to determine what could be done to save the neglected and vacant 100-year old Victorian house. The Committee added the house to the National Registry of Historic Places to prohibit demolition, leased the now pallid land and abandoned farmstead, and designed a conceptual master plan to transform the site into a landmark Visitor and Cultural Education center.

In February of 2005, the property was purchased by The Redman-Hirahara Foundation with borrowed funds for $1.9 million. The surrounding 10 acres of farmland now produces colorful organic crops year-round.

To help restore this beloved jewel, go to: Save the Redman House.

Save the past!

Now THAT'S a house!

Tamboerskloof, Cape Town, South Africa

I was asking myself this evening, as I rode past several gorgeous Victorians, sprinkled in among heinous 1960’s apartment boxes, how does one whip passion into a hapless and misguided society? As I cruised past an 1890’s commercial building that was boarded up, I thought “what a loss”. Wouldn’t everyone prefer to see a row of gorgeous Victorians, intact, in lieu of a patchwork quilt of McArchitecture?

I’m sure I should have been born around 1876, but besides all that, there is an “old way of seeing” that precious few still practice. To understand how “main street”, historic preservation, and beautiful old buildings help to create community, I highly suggest “The Old Way of Seeing” by Jonathan Hale.

Brought to you by Jennifer A. Emmer, Feng Shui Consultant, Interior Designer, and Fierce Preservationist.