DOWNEY – Prompted by the demolition of a 100-year-old Victorian home last week, Downey city councilmembers are now calling for a new discussion on whether a historical ordinance should exist to make it more difficult to raze cultural sites around town.
During Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Alex Saab raised the issue, insisting it was time to have an honest, frank conversation about historical preservation.
“It’s long overdue we had this discussion,” he said. “It is important that we protect our rich history in Downey and that we as a city do all we can to preserve it through sound and reasonable policy.”
While there has been reluctance to address the topic in the past, Saab said the recent demolition of older homes in the city is cause for great concern.
“I’ve asked the city staff to bring us some options to discuss,” Saab said. “There’s got to be something we can agree upon to respect private property rights and protect the remaining structures we have left in the city.”
George Redfox is president of The Downey Conservancy. He applauds Saab’s eagerness to revamp Downey’s dated historical preservation ordinances.
“This is a big step,” he said on Wednesday. “Who knows if the [ordinances] will pass, but at least he brought it up. It’s been a long time.”
Last month, The Downey Conservancy announced plans to save the Savage/Grace house, located at 9306 Gallatin Blvd. Built in 1909, the 3,560-sq.-ft. estate was one of the oldest homes left in northeast Downey. Not much is known about the home’s history, but 1914 county records indicate the house was once owned by a prominent Downey civil engineer.
Two years ago, the current homeowner Aidee Lopez successfully sought approval from the planning commission to subdivide the land into three lots – two 10,000-sq.-ft. parcels facing Gallatin Road and one 10,000-sq.-ft. parcel facing Lemoran Avenue.
The permit granted by the city required the home either be demolished or relocated. Last week, the home was razed in order to facilitate a speedy sale of the land.
Redfox, along with the Downey Historical Society, have long called on the city to act on saving cultural sites – going back to 1990.
Twenty five years ago, the city declared a moratorium on the demolition of historic residences built before 1939 with the potential for subdivision. City officials pinpointed 23 threatened homes, including Casa de Parley Johnson on Florence Avenue and the Rives Mansion on Paramount Boulevard.
Before lifting the moratorium, the Downey city council considered passing a preservation ordinance to save the homes from demolition, but the resolution failed to get enough support.
“Only three or four of those homes are left,” said Redfox. “Nothing in Downey is safe because there is no ordinance. Nothing.”
The fallen Victorian-styled home on Gallatin Road isn’t the first home lost in recent times. The Albert Ball estate, located at 8572 Cherokee Drive, was the eponymous residence of the prominent citrus farmer from the 1890s. While city officials said the home’s foundation was unstable and sinking, new owners quickly demolished it voiding any hope of its relocation.
Councilman Fernando Vasquez said he understands the frustration and would like the city to find a reasonable way to accommodate property rights and historic preservation.
“In light of recent events, I concur with the mayor pro tem. It’s time we take a serious look at a fair and balanced approach to allow residents to cherish neighborhood character throughout our city.”
Saab could not give a specific timeline of when the council will discuss options, but he believes adding hurdles to demolition permits and offering incentives for property re-use could help save cultural icons as the housing markets begins to rebound.