Historic Ranch House – Not Worth Saving?

The City Commission Votes Against Saving a Controversial Ranch House

It was one of the more heated struggles in the battle between historic preservationists and private property proponents. For a full three hours at its first meeting in May, the city commission listened to arguments for and against demolishing a 1937 historic ranch house on Asturia Avenue designed by Deco architect Russell Pancoast (of Bass Museum fame).

The city’s Historic Preservation Department had strongly recommended the house be declared historic, because it was the city’s first break from Mediterranean-inspired architecture and one of the first ranch style homes in the country. The city’s preservation board did not agree and voted 5-4 to deny preservation in March.

Next door neighbor Vicki Cerda filed an appeal to challenge the decision, which meant the commission would have to decide whether to uphold or reverse the board’s ruling. Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli recused himself from the vote, since he had declared that he was against reversing the board’s decision – prior to what amounted to a quasi-judicial hearing. “This is simply not a historic building,” he said. “It is a ranch style house and they are all over the place.” Valdés-Fauli cited the city’s long history of supporting historic preservation but felt it had become over-zealous in this case, to the point of damaging property values. Opponents to saving the house, at the request of owner Lourdes Valls, testified that it was not a significant work by Pancoast.

Historic Ranch House
The historic ranch house on Asturia Avenue

Even Vice Mayor Vince Lago, a strong supporter of historic preservation, voted to let stand the board’s decision to demolish. “I believe in historic preservation, to preserve and celebrate our past. But I had to side with the board. I can’t see how we have allowed beautiful structures like Ridgewood, LaSalle and Catalonia [be destroyed] only to fight to save a ranch house.”

Commissioners Patricia Keon and Michael Mena did not agree. Both felt the city preservation’s office had presented more than sufficient evidence for preservation, and that ignoring those recommendations – which are rarely made – puts the city on a slippery slope favoring developers. “This house played a historic role in our city’s development,” said Keon. “It was a first.” What bothered Mena was the quick way the board turned down the recommendation to save the house, with little discussion. “The people who voted against gave no reason for their votes,” said Mena. “It is hard for me to understand why this [preservation] was not approved.”

With the vote split 2-2 (Commissioner Jorge Fors also backed the decision to deny preservation), the appeal to block demolition failed.