Feb. 14, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Last August, Ojai’s volunteer Historic Preservation Commission ignited a controversy by bringing to the City Council a proposal for a moratorium on the destruction or substantial renovation of all structures in Ojai 50 years old or older.
That proposal was sharply criticized by members of the City Council. After the proposal was rejected for being overly ambitious — because many buildings in Ojai are over 50 years old, and not all older buildings are worthy of historic status — the Preservation Commission went back to work on a suggestion from Mayor Paul Blatz and other members of the council. The suggestion was that the HPC narrow the list of properties worthy of possible historic preservation status to 20 or so buildings in Ojai whose loss would be truly “detrimental” to the town.
Tuesday evening, Commissioner Craig Walker presented a slide show of the 37 properties in Ojai the HPC thinks should be considered for preservation. The list included many well-known properties, such as Matilija Junior High School, Bart’s Books, and the Isis Theater (now the Ojai Playhouse). Also included on the list were lesser-known properties and houses, such as the James Fox House, built in 1880 in a rare Second Empire style which is now serving after a recent renovation as a dorm for the Weil Tennis Academy; the Oak Glen Cottages on Gridley Road, now privately owned; and the Sarzotti House, built in l906, now used to house a medical office next to Ojai Beverage Company on Ojai Avenue.
This proposal was welcomed by the City Council.
“I think this was exactly what the council requested,” Blatz said. “We want to make sure that we pay attention to those structures that are worthy of historic preservation but haven’t already been given landmark status.”
Already many of the better-known structures in Ojai have been granted historic status, such as the Arcade, the Woman’s Club, and the Libbey House on Foothill Road.
Walker, along with Jolene Lloyd, who serves as the chair of the HPC, stressed that the process was guided by the public response, and that many of the suggestions for properties worthy of historic status came from the public.
“This process is taking place with input from the public,” Lloyd said. “That’s really the only way it can happen.”
Jeff Holland, the pastor of the Presbyterian Church on Foothill Road —- which was included as worthy of historic preservation — expressed concern that a structure built to serve the congregation in 1930 might not be allowed to change with the times.
“We have no issue with the provision that speaks about demolition, but part of the wording of the (historic status designation) speaks about ‘significant renovation,’” he said. “This building was built for the congregation to use, and we have put well over $2 million into keeping it beautiful, but depending on the needs of the congregation, we may need to at some point to come to you and ask for alterations.”
Lloyd, in response, assured the pastor that the commission is well aware that buildings need to be workable in a 21st-century style.
“Usually what ‘significant alternations’ means that it makes a building unrecognizable,” she said. “We are well aware that some of these buildings are 50 years old or 100 years old and you have to be able to live and work in them. Usually what we are looking for is that the building stays within the style of what is there.”
The HPC also brought forward the concept of designating historic districts, such as the Arbolada, which have a unified “look and feel,” and whose loss would be keenly felt. The HPC asked for public comment on the concept.
“Hopefully when people drive around Ojai they will look at neighborhoods, and ask themselves if they feel it is historic, and imagine what it would be like if it was torn down,” said Commissioner Rose Boggs.
The City Council expressed interest in the concept, which can add a premium to real estate sales in the designated area. Lloyd stressed that the commission is aware that the houses in the Arbolada and other potential historic neighborhoods, such as Foothill Road, already have houses built in many different styles.
“A historic district designation doesn’t have to focus on the house, or the details of the house,” she said. “We can also focus on the look and feel of the area.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us and search “Priority Sites Preservation List” for the full list of sites being considered for historic preservation.