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Push to protect historic buildings leaves some Palo Alto homeowners skeptical

Original post made on Aug 28, 2023

Seeking to stave off demolition of quaint, old and culturally important buildings, Palo Alto officials are preparing to notify about 150 property owners that their homes and businesses are now eligible for "historical" designation.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 28, 2023, 1:49 PM

Comments (23)

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 28, 2023 at 6:58 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

How special of the city to inform homeowners that this was in the works.

How special of them not to spell out specific criteria for having our homes classified as historic -- age of the building? architect? style?

How special of the city to unilaterally decide what happens to what's probably our biggest personal investment.

How special of the city with its vaunted outreach -- insert sarcasm -- to NOT inform us whether our home has been reclassified and/or to send out general information to the entire community on how we might find out if our home has been reclassified since it's obviously beyond them to notify us individually,

This is why our leaders and their multi-million dollar communications teams and their consultants get the big bucks -- and stick US with the bill.

Posted by Real
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2023 at 12:21 am

Real is a registered user.

Some people who have had long standing positions on our boards don’t even live in Palo Alto. Some of those big glass houses that don’t fit in were designed or approved by the very same people on these boards. It’s in their best interest to regulate our property so they get hired to redesign what would normally be teardowns. Don’t give me this bologna about we all love Palo Alto. You love the money you make off its residents. Not living in our city, not sacrificing the same income or taxes to live here, but having a say in how we’re regulated is not okay. Residency or homeownership should be a minimum requirement for being a board member.

Posted by Riley Chung
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2023 at 6:19 am

Riley Chung is a registered user.

Though I have yet to review the listing of the designated houses, I have no intention of preserving the two older homes (circa 1905) that my family currently owns as rental properties.

Like an older car, they require too much upkeep and the costs of modification (electricity and plumbing) to current code is exorbitant.

If the city wants to purchase the properties (at market rate) and preserve these termite infested ratholes for antiquity they are more than welcome to.

Posted by Yvette Montoya
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2023 at 8:03 am

Yvette Montoya is a registered user.

Does the City of Palo Alto have any authority to prevent the demolition or a modern-day remodeling of an older dwelling that is on this list?

If so, expect some lawsuits as some property owners are not going to be held hostage by a committee of self-annointed antiquity experts.

In regards to the former Grateful Dead crash-pad in Palo Alto...on Bush Street in Mountain View, there is a modest home where Jim Morrison of the Doors briefly resided as a child when his father was stationed at Moffett Field. With the possible exception of the Mountain View Historical Society, nobody cares and today it is just another rental property.

Picture a group of Palo Alto do-gooders 125 years ago trying to save a delapidated Ohlone tule hut simply for the sake of historical reference. That's how silly this whole thing is.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 29, 2023 at 9:56 am

Online Name is a registered user.

A friend who also lives in a "historic" house sent me this link to the map of the homes on the historic list
Web Link

For once I'm thrilled with the incompetence of those involved since they missed so many wonderful old homes and even entire streets /neighborhoods filled with vintage homes.

As always, kudos to our crackerjack communication$ team who couldn't be bothered to reach out and notify us via statement stuffers, newsletters etc re something that could drastically effect our properties and neighborhoods.

Obviously weekly recipes and notices about the Glass Pumpkin Festival are much more critical.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2023 at 10:03 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Wondering whether the building housing Philz, AJs, Bills and Liquor store is designated historic. It certainly had a certain charm and those vines were perfect on a hot day. It would be nice if renovating the building could begin soon. As it is, it is just an eyesore, home for vermin and blight on what is a nice neighborhood.

Posted by Member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 29, 2023 at 10:18 am

Member is a registered user.

I reached out to the Historic Resources Board asking for the legal basis for these designations. Seeing as being designated as simply potentially historic carries with it additional obligations and limitations, I think homeowners have a right to know. I never received a response. Can someone enlighten me?

Posted by Bill Thompson
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2023 at 11:35 am

Bill Thompson is a registered user.

"Wondering whether the building housing Philz, AJs, Bills and Liquor store is designated historic."
^ Seriously? It's just another mundane strip mall.

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2023 at 11:52 am

Barron Park dad is a registered user.

Some of these Historical Preservation designations, particularly the current dialogue about "saving" the former cannery where Fry's used to be, seems rooted in NIMBY-ism (for new housing) as opposed to a genuine interest in Historical Preservation. Happy to be wrong about this. What do others think?

Posted by Allan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2023 at 1:07 pm

Allan is a registered user.

Early this year at the community meeting of historic home owners, City Staff noted that even category 1 and 2 homes on the Palo Alto historic register have been (and can be) approved for demolition. These are special cases, yet property owners do have this option?

Posted by Sonia M
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 29, 2023 at 2:08 pm

Sonia M is a registered user.

Oh how I wish they would protect our wonderful Fish Market Bldg as well as Town and Country Village and Dinah’s . Please?

Posted by Ocam's Razor
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 29, 2023 at 2:33 pm

Ocam's Razor is a registered user.

I thought we eliminated all departments and those related to arbitrary historic designations years ago. It seems they have continued to be active in the background using up precious city budget funds. Historic Resources Board, Page & Turnbull consulting, Chief Planning Official, etc are examples of excess especially the consulting company.

As I ride my bike around Palo Alto, I see only one historic location - the HP Garage on Addison Ave. There is nothing else of historic importance for the city to involve itself in obstructing a home/ building owner from remodeling in the way they wish.

If the city continues down this path, they should notify the entire group of 150 so they can organize a class action lawsuit against the city by first reviewing which law firms have the most success in litigating against the city.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2023 at 10:04 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

We all know that the purpose of this is to solve a problem that does not exist. Some members of City Council were certain that the passage of Prop 9 would destroy our city. Their paranoia was misplaced because Prop 9 cannot possibly destroy a city. All it does is give the *property owner*, not the state, and not the city, the right to subdivide their homes and/or lots. The City's own consultant estimated that a very small number of homeowners in Palo Alto even would qualify for Prop 9 subdivision given its laundry list of qualifying factors. The consultant also predicted that even among homeowners that did qualify, few would choose to do so because they are living in their homes. The consultant was correct.

Even though Prop 9 has been barely used in Palo Alto (if at all?), City Council continues on its course to take rights away from homeowners to renovate their homes (as opposed to Prop 9. which gave homeowners more rights and took none away, thereby increasing property values for all eligible homes). Council both is underinclusive and overinclusive with its mandatory re-status-ing. It is punishing the young family/immigrant family/starting-out-family that only can afford a starter/tiny home, in hopes of expanding later, while at the same time allowing billionaire commercial real estate developers completely off the hook.

All this, without addressing any actual problem. Meanwhile, we do have problems that need addressing, like the greedy billionaire that wants to destroy the most important Asian-American designed local building, which BTW is zoned RESIDENTIAL not commercial. And while I completely *despise* it when people purchase one of our few remaining Eichlers or Victorians, just to tear them down and build MacMansions, I think we need to address that problem without prohibiting young families from building onto their 600 square foot starter homes.

City Council could use a good dose of empathy, coupled with a strong drink of common sense.

Posted by Rebecca Eisenberg
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2023 at 10:31 pm

Rebecca Eisenberg is a registered user.

Also, looking at the map of designated homes: Web Link

Shouldn't Castilleja be on the list? They have called their campus historic for decades. Now the City is forcing neighbors to tolerate Castilleja's historic campus to be demolished and rebuilt with a huge underground commercial garage. If there is any building worthy of historical designation -- and all the prohibitions on destruction and restrictions on renovation that go with it -- it would be Castilleja School. Yet: no enforcement.

Additionally, Larry Page proudly owns approximately a dozen homes about a block from where I live in Old Palo Alto, approx across the street from the (far more humble) Jobs home. It is clearly historically designated, e.g. Web Link (Hacienda de Lemos) yet in the past decade alone since I lived down the street, Page has built multiple bunkers the size of large office buildings under a large number of the historic homes, has designated some of them as being owned by a charity (to avoid taxation?) and even was using at least one of them for commercial office space for Google employees, who are believed to have started the biggest fire in years just a year or two ago. Although historic designation prohibits a wide number of changes to the appearance of homes, Page has built multi-story eye-sore cell or satellite tower, has made numerous external, undergound and internal (I've told) renovations, and even attempts to illegally block the public from viewing the historic home by placing a false sign claiming that Waverly Oaks is a"private road," when there are no private roads in Palo Alto, and even if there were, Waverley Oaks, which is served by PA utilities and City Services, is NOT one. Yet: no enforcement.

Plus, of course, Fry's. Which is, as we know, being changed to commercial (for free!) and given to Sobrato, who plans to destroy it. Not only is there no enforcement, but the City of Palo Alto is activity complicit with Sobrato's plans to trash the community-built blueprint that exists for South Ventura and replace it with whatever-the-billionaire-wants.

Given that there has been zero historic designation enforcement where it really counts, does the City intend to fine residents? Sadly, probably.

Posted by Robbie Bosco
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 30, 2023 at 9:03 am

Robbie Bosco is a registered user.

In another 50-75 years, will entire tracts of Eichlers become historically preserved homes?

Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2023 at 9:41 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

The PAST website has a great deal of information about homes and other buildings in Palo Alto. I encourage folks to take a look. Web Link These old homes have so much charm, and I despair when I see them bulldozed for no reason other than new owners "can." My house is nearly 100 years old and I wish it were protected.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 30, 2023 at 10:13 am

Online Name is a registered user.

"My house is nearly 100 years old and I wish it were protected."

@Miriam Palm, can't you apply? 100 years old seems pretty historic to me and, again, I wonder how they came up with their list when there are so many obvious omissions like yours.

I love old houses and interesting architecture but I DO resent the city deciding who goes on the list without the owners' consent and/or awareness. How can that be legal, esp. when the city's selections are so strange.

Posted by Ramona Fernando
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 30, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Ramona Fernando is a registered user.

There are far more than 150 homes on the historical list; those are ones that are recently up for review.

The Palo Alto Stanford Heritage Assn. has a lot of information.
Web Link

As someone who owns a historical home, I am a strong advocate in preserving these homes for the value, culture and history of the neighborhood (Professorville). I wish that people who don't value historic homes wouldn't buy them. There are plenty of neighborhoods where new construction wouldn't look so out of place.

Posted by Lightning Man
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 30, 2023 at 4:42 pm

Lightning Man is a registered user.

Riley Chung, if your two older, rental properties are, "termite-infested rat holes", then maybe you should fix them up! Why let your tenants live in a home you do not take care of? That's sad.
I own a historic, 1893 Queen Anne Victorian and have upgraded all the wiring, termite and rodent issues, added modern bathrooms, and a beautiful new kitchen.
We also have beautiful garden spaces that many people crave!
We really have a beautiful home with its 11-foot ceilings, beautiful crown moldings, and historic touches. Unfortunately, you bought your older homes with the intention of tearing them down instead of fixing them up in order to retain their beauty and Palo Alto history. There are many buyers who appreciate the beauty of restored "older" homes. My home, like many older homes, was built with old-growth redwood which is termite-proof! My 1893 home went through many earthquakes with very little damage. That is because the framing is superior to any flimsy multi-million home you see on the market today!

Posted by Gary Dennison
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 31, 2023 at 8:13 am

Gary Dennison is a registered user.

Compared to some of the older Eastern and Midwestern homes, the Palo Alto houses designated for historical recognition pale in comparison and the majority of them are not worth saving if one wishes to build a contemporary dwelling on the property.

Outside of their sturdy internal redwood framework, many of these older Palo Alto homes lack the Mahogany, Walnut, Cherrywood interiors that define a classic 19th century design.

Wallpaper is oftentimes a dead giveaway as it was frequently used as a coverup for cheaper wooden wall materials. About all one can expect from many of these older Palo Alto homes is some oak flooring and thresholds.

On the other hand and despite their relative inferiorities compared to other more classic American homes, the older Palo Alto homes are far better constructed than the ubiquitous Eichlers.

Posted by Wilhelm Reich
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 31, 2023 at 11:24 am

Wilhelm Reich is a registered user.

An older Queen Anne dwelling is no big different than the sentimentality some people attach to old clunker cars.

Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 1, 2023 at 4:44 pm

Noel is a registered user.

The City should not have the right to force any property owner's building to become ineligible for teardown or major renovation without the consent of the property owner. For many of us, our home is by far our most valuable asset and it is wrong for the City to arbitrarily impinge the value of our assets. Some of the proposed designations, such as Fry's, are simply idiotic. We live at the epicenter of global technology progress, reordering the lives of billions globallly and we have a small clique that wants to preserve creaky old buildings at the expense of their owner and taxpayers. If you want to register your home as historic and create restrictions on future owners, that should be your decision and yours only.

Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 1, 2023 at 8:55 pm

Norman Beamer is a registered user.

The main issue if a home is on the historic inventory is that it’s subject to CEQA, which is potentially a quagmire if you want to substantially alter the exterior.

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