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DOWNEY – You’ve probably noticed the rise in postings on your Facebook page about the Downey Conservancy originating from George Redfox.
That’s because Redfox, who has taught photography for 14 years at Warren High School and otherwise enjoyed quite a heavy measure of exposure because of his successful attempt some time back to save the last remaining endangered original McDonald’s and his equally dogged opposition to the alarming number of mansionizations of Downey neighborhoods, has embraced another cause – this time the “preservation and restoration of the culturally and historically significant homes, buildings, and neighborhoods” in Downey.
He, along with other conservation-conscious members of the community, have begun a deliberate campaign to raise awareness of the richness found in many storied corners of the city and its historically significant architectural beauties.
The city of Downey is years behind other cities in this effort. The media are awash in stories of this or that house or site being preserved for the benefit of future generations in cities such as Whittier or Pasadena or Los Angeles. So the story of historic preservation has long been an accepted and ongoing tradition and, moreover, sanctioned on the federal, state, and municipal levels throughout the country.
George’s dad, Art, used to own the Redfox Camera Center (where George worked for seven years) in Huntington Park. Downey history came alive for George while taking evening walks with his younger brother, Jason, and their dad. Art told of the orange trees that blanketed Downey before housing changed its face. Fascination turned to love of Downey history. This eventually led to his formation last year, after three years work on the project, of the Downey Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated, he said, to “preserving Downey’s great heritage.”
A graduate of Downey High, he got his BA in history at Cal State Fullerton in 1995, taking additional courses at Point Loma Nazarene University. His wife, Carrie, is a sixth grade counselor at East Middle School. Son Joshua, 12, attends Valley Christian, while the 9-year old second son Jacob goes to Rio San Gabriel. The family ancestry traces back to Norwegian-German roots, with a little mixture of English and Swedish blood and other genes thrown in.
His principal supporter, guru, and adviser on the board is Harold Tseklenis, whom he referred to as “Downey’s civic/elder statesman.”
Others sitting on the board include Angelo Anagnos (engineering supervisor at Boeing), Mark Echmalian (administrative analyst at the city of Long Beach), Dan Latham (CEO and president of Cyberobics, Inc. as well as a high school teacher and coach), Kathy Perez (middle school teacher with Norwalk Unified), and Maribeth Paulino (retired eighth grade history teacher).
Redfox is president while Tseklenis serves as treasurer. The conservancy’s incorporation papers got stamped with its IRS 501 (c)3 tax-exempt status just recently, on July 15, to be exact. They will have to initially depend mostly on grants, both public and private (e.g., the Getty Museum). Target donor segments include select developers, as well as specific groupings in the real estate, service organizations, chamber of commerce, etc., sectors.
Redfox has been a member of the Downey Rose Float Association for 37 years, the Downey Historical Society for 10, the Downey Museum of Art for three years (he is its new president), the Los Angeles Conservancy (for five years), and the National Trust for History Preservation (also for five years).
“It is my hope,” said Redfox, “that this organization will help to educate the public and city that our heritage is worth preserving for generations to come.”
There is no dearth of justifications for historic preservation, led by economic considerations. For instance, according to one claim, it leads to job creation and, via the multiplier effect, in turn leads to a round of income-producing results; historic preservation is an instrument of a city’s economic development strategy (refer to the preservable buildings in the downtown Downey area, says Redfox), as well as a means to attract historic-conscious firms/businesses to the area; historic preservation is an important component of the quality-of-life equation in the community; reusing historic buildings also means reusing existing public infrastructure; property values are not frozen when business districts are created; historic preservation promotes active community participation. The list goes on and on.
Key to any historic preservation process is its so-called Mills Act component which, in brief, confers special tax treatment on qualified structure owners.
“We also hope to team up with the Downey Aerospace Foundation (where he has been a board member for four years) and the Downey Arts Coalition,” he said. “An ultimate goal is to work with the city in establishing a preservation ordinance which will include the tax benefit clause under the Mills Act.”
Published: August 04, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 16