Real Estate

Embracing an often overlooked legacy

PAST awards honor centennial homes, preservation projects and female architects

Today, the Peterson Laboratory Building on Panama Mall serves as an effective showcase of Stanford University's architectural history. The tall, stacked windows that span its textured stucco façade mark the campus's transition from Richardsonian Romanesque design to Beaux Arts formalism during the inter-war period.

Daylight cascades through the windows into an indoor courtyard, providing an open environment for the students of the building's two resident design programs to meet and collaborate. But four years ago, things were very different.

First built in 1889 by the university's original architects, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, modifications beginning in 1949 fundamentally altered the building's character. A one-story structure replaced the courtyard, entombing the sandstone and stucco, with a basic masonry façade in place of the windows. The internal layout would be further complicated by the addition of second and third floors in 1962.

On May 22, Palo Alto Stanford Heritage, or PAST, is awarding a Preservation Award to Cody Anderson Wasney Architects, the firm selected by Stanford in 2007 to recapture the building's more historically significant design -- namely, a layout consistent with that created in 1914, when John Bakewell Jr. and Arthur Brown Jr. would add the building's south wing. The pair are best known for designing many of the university's most distinctive structures between 1913 and 1941, including Hoover Tower, and were responsible for the Peterson building's characteristic U-shape and stacked window façade.

"We give these awards to projects that exemplify the saving, preservation and rehabilitation of older historic structures," said Scott Smithwick, an associate at the firm and the president of PAST. Removing the third floor, and restoring the open atrium, the firm relied on the original building plans and worked closely with Santa Clara County's historic preservation officer and the university's historical experts, he said.

PAST has been awarding such accolades since 1996 as part of its annual centennial home celebrations. At this year's event, owners of more than a dozen Palo Alto homes will be awarded centennial plaques to mark the 100 years since their construction, while three other projects will be honored with Preservation Awards, including the former AME Zion Church on Ramona Street. PAST members Brian and Carolyn George will also be presented with a lifetime achievement award to honor their longstanding commitment to historic preservation efforts in Palo Alto.

"In this day and age when so many people decide to tear down the old and build new structures, part of our mission is to encourage the preservation of older homes," Smithwick said.

Speaking at the event will be author Inge S. Horton, who last year published a book chronicling the careers of 50 female architects who were active in 1890-1951 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

"Julia Morgan is perhaps the most well known, but she had a group of close-knit friends who were also women involved in architecture," Smithwick said.

The lecture, entitled "Julia Morgan's Cohorts," will focus on these personalities. "This is a group of people that are often not paid much attention to. Hopefully, this will give them the recognition they deserve," he said.

One 19th-century woman who is perhaps more widely recognized is Juana Briones, whose landmark 1844 home in Palo Alto has been subject to much public debate in recent years. The building's current owners, who have held the property since 1997, are set to demolish the home after a lengthy legal battle that has spanned 12 years.

"The house is one of the oldest structures left in the entire state," Smithwick said.

In May last year, PAST successfully campaigned to have the house declared one of 2010's 11 most endangered historic places in the country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But after a series of court hearings, the house is now set for demolition.

The organization's commitment to preserving the historically significant components of buildings in the area has spurred the launch of its convention/easement program. PAST's first covenant was signed two years ago with the city for the protection of the children's library. Members now perform a yearly walk-through to inspect the maintenance of historic features of the building.

"More recently, the owners of a home that is currently for sale asked us to become holders of a covenant that protects the outside and historic character of the structure for the lifespan of the house," Smithwick said. The mechanism is one that has already been used to preserve buildings of historical significance across the country.

"This is a way for private owners who value the heritage and historical importance of their homes to protect them for as long as the house remains standing, and I hope that this is the first of many."

What: A celebration of National Historical Preservation Month by Palo Alto Stanford Heritage (PAST)

Where: Woman's Club of Palo Alto, 475 Homer Ave., Palo Alto

When: Sunday, May 22, from 1 to 3 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: PAST

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