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City in search of local buildings to save

Officials try to decide which SCV structures are historically important enough to protect

Posted: November 2, 2009 10:19 p.m.
Updated: November 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.

The ice company is one of the buildings identified by the city as historically significant. Built in 1922, it is one of the oldest original structures in downtown Newhall.

As the city continues to pursue expansive redevelopment programs in areas like downtown Newhall, buildings of cultural significance around the valley remain unprotected from developers' wrecking ball, officials said.

City officials, working with the Santa Clarita Historical Society, are making a list identifying historic buildings and sites throughout the city. Their goal is to eventually write a historic preservation ordinance that would protect important buildings from becoming piles of rubble.

City Councilwoman Laurene Weste said important buildings have virtually no protection, meaning current owners have broad discretion and could drastically change the aesthetics of culturally significant buildings.

The city currently has a temporary preservation ordinance with more than 40 properties listed as historic, said redevelopment analyst Alex Hernandez. The ordinance is meant to start a dialogue about what types of buildings the city wants to protect, Weste said.

It doesn't provide meaningful protection, she said. Most of the buildings listed are in Newhall.

While there are important sites throughout the city, Newhall is the cultural bedrock of Santa Clarita, Weste said.

In 2006, the former home of late country singer Tex Williams was leveled after the owners received a remodeling permit from the city. Despite outcries from residents and the historical society, city officials were powerless to stop the homeowners. Williams' house became a tipping point for getting a historical ordinance in place, said Pat Saletore, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society.

Nearly three years later, the city is still in the process of identifying worthy buildings for preservation.

Saletore said the list is still far from complete.

Weste said selecting worthy properties is a balancing act: The city has to consider the cost of preserving properties, while still respecting the wishes of the property owner. Saletore said properties should be considered for protection on a case-by-case basis, a time-consuming endeavor.

"It's a really a hard thing to do," Saletore said. "It's like asking which of your children are you going to save?"

The historical society has been trying to get a preservation ordinance passed since 1988, Saletore said. While getting a law passed sooner would be better, the real key is to make sure the law is written well enough to effectively protect and preserve a wide range of historic sites, she said.

"This town wasn't always a yuppie community," Saletore said. "There is a wonderful history here and people just don't know that."


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