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San Buenaventura Conservancy

P.O Box 23263

Ventura, CA 93002

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"Historic Preservation is about managing change, not preventing it."
Linda Dishman, L.A. Conservancy, quoted from L.A. Times, 07.10.10

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Oriental Craftsman in downtown Ventura, mid-rebuild

Since 1966 historic preservation has been Federal law and in 1978 the Tax Reform Act went further by establishing a tax credit program for rehabilitating older buildings and offered financial incentives to developers to encourage historic preservation, knowing it is more expensive to restore and maintain historic buildings.

This came out of the slash and burn mentality of all things old, post WWII, which is why we have the freeway along our beach (in 1962), and St. Mary’s Cemetery (commonly called today, Cemetery Park; where 2,298 people are still buried, including City Founders like J.C. Brewster, Wm. H. Granger, several Hobsons, etc.) is now a dog park.



These are just some of the financial incentives available:

  • The California Heritage Fund (Prop. 40), currently being utilized in the City Hall restoration
  • The California Heritage Fund (Prop. 40), currently being utilized in the City Hall restoration
  • The Federal 20% Rehabilitation Tax Credit for income producing properties (residential rental and commercial)
  • The Federal 10% Tax Credit for non-designated historic structures built prior to 1936
  • The Mills Act Property Tax Abatement (nearly 50% reduction in property taxes).
  • Conservation Easements (the most lucrative of all).

The latest financial incentive that is a new tool for historic rehabilitation and Main Street Projects is the New Markets Tax Credit passed by Congress in 2000.  It is a 39 percent credit earned over seven years for investors in commercial projects.  Although this is primarily aimed at low-income communities (affordable housing) it can be coupled with the 20% or the 10% rehabilitation tax credits mentioned above and can bring 20-25 percent more equity to a project.  A combined historic/New Markets Tax Credit investment is referred to as a “twinned” investment.

The existence, encouragement, and the responsibility to inform potential developers of these financial incentives by the Planning Department is one of the several points that will be brought for the during Public Comment at the May 17th Council Meeting.

The “responsibility (fiscal) to inform potential developers” is also a matter of deflecting financial risk and liability from the City.

Should a developer seek one of the incentives above and loses that opportunity because of misinformation from City Staff (i.e., the building isn’t eligible as a landmark as in the case of the Mayfair), he/she has the right to sue the City for the calculated amount of the tax credit and legal fees.

Therefore, education regarding historic preservation financial incentives is obviously important for the good of all, and not just a desire to be sentimental about the past. 

I also want you to know that the Historic Preservation Community (in Ventura) does not wish to enshrine its historic fabric (buildings) and worship them as a monument to the past.  Buildings were meant to be used by the living and be a record of their time for the future.  That is why adaptive reuse is so encouraged by both the Federal and State government. 

Additionally, in the past (and the present) there has been too much “What can the City do for ME?” and not enough “What can WE do for the City?”.  It is the desire of the Historic Preservation Community to work as partners with the City in fostering education and finding equitable solutions for the benefit of all.  Finger pointing and blame serves no purpose.

The following is my personal opinion only. I currently see a plethora of new construction with Victorian, Craftsman, and Spanish Revival facades.  While charming, this current design trend is not leaving a “record of our time” for the future.  I would like to see our designers, architects and developers be motivated and encouraged to create the “landmarks of the future” (50 years from now) that would be identifiable as “turn of the 21st Century).  Architects Frank Gehry and Rem Koolhass are excellent examples of this.  One may not like their style, but there is no denying their indelible stamp of leaving a “record of our time”.

Buildings from the past are not just significant because of their design, but because they represent the social culture that created their design.  Victorians represent the social ideology that excess conveys success.  Arts & Crafts (Craftsman) expresses the cultural desire for simplicity and function and the beginning of modernism.  Spanish Revival is a direct refection of the romanticism and influence of the entertainment industry, and the, then, extreme interest in the Spanish past of California and the Missions.  This is an extremely simplified example, but it illustrates how the built environment is a direct result of the social cultural landscape and leaves a record, or story, of the people who created it.  This is why it is important that a “record of our time” be left behind for future generations.

Bill Fulton’s referred comments in your article to “incorporate historic structures into new projects by making them part of the new building” is inspired thinking regarding our built environment. An excellent case in point is the block on Palm between Poli and Main.  Current plans are to remove the Hartman House (73 N. Palm) to make way for new construction.  The Hartman House is sited on its original location and it, too, is potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because of its association with the Hartman brothers contribution to the development of Ventura (The Anacapa Hotel, the Anacapa Brewery, etc.) through Criterion B (significance by association with important persons to the development of a community).  Moving the house from its original location greatly diminishes its legal historic significance.

Truly visionary thinking would be a discussion of how the current adjacent property owners of the Hartman House and the Mission Parking Lot might join forces to create a complex of new residential construction that would not only encompass the Hartman House, but also integrate the restaurant, 71 Palm, and even the Top Hat.  It is a little known fact that the Top Hat structure was actually built in WWII to sell War Bonds. 

Incorporating these three historic structures would no doubt be challenging, but, if feasible, would only increase the desirability (and profitability) of the new construction because of its unique integration.  It would also be revenue generating for the current adaptive reuse businesses that exist within the historic structures (restaurant, hair salon/day spa, good old-fashioned greasy spoon-best chili fries in Ventura).  That kind of concept would most definitely leave a “record of out time”, and one present and future generations could point to with pride.

Whether or not this is a viable option is not the point.  It is the fact that the public at large would like to know if these kinds of “out of (and beyond) the box” discussions are going on.  The City does not conduct its’ business in secret as the public is always invited to comment.  However, exploring ways to effectively communicate when these types of projects are being considered (e-mail Action Alerts, mailers, signage as proposed at the April 26th Council Meeting, etc.) is a starting point in engaging the public to act as responsible Advocacy Partners with Bureaucracy.