Opinion by Kellam deForest
The legal definition of demolition by neglect described by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (PDF left) is the “process of allowing a building to deteriorate to the point where demolition is necessary to protect public health and safety.”
Sometimes an owner of an old historic building will let it deteriorate to the point of collapse in order to be rid of the responsibility of upkeep, or to facilitate development of the property.
Recent news has brought demolition by neglect examples to the forefront. One is the Chromatic Gate. As pointed out on Santa Barbara View, fading paint and lack of upkeep are reducing this 20th-century modern sculpture to an eyesore or worse. The City of Santa Barbara, who owns the sculpture, says it has no money for maintenance. There are those who object to its modernity and location on the beachfront who would be happy to see it demolished.
Second is the Miramar Hotel. As recently as 2000, the Miramar was an operating hotel complex, albeit a bit run-down. Since then various investors have proposed plans to refurbish the hotel campus and build a new luxury hotel. These investors made promises but have let the property deteriorate to such an extent that they now can demonstrate that the property is an eyesore that they are now asking the County to pay for the demolition by having keep the funds from the Transient Occupancy Tax. Any transient occupancy tax would, of course, not occur until a hotel is built. Caruso Affiliated says they will not proceed with clean up until they get this concession.
As we have seen with numerous examples, there are those who are prone to demolish the historic structures such as La Entrada without sufficient funds and then hope the public will bail them out with concessions and funding.
Friday’s Vintage Views of Santa Barbara provides an illustration. The untitled photo is the reflecting pool and garden of the El Mirasol Hotel that occupied the block where the Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden is now located. After the west wing of the hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1966, there were those who fought for the preservation of the garden. The bulldozers got there first to clear the land of structures to build a series of nine- and eleven-story condos. Thankfully under the leadership of Pearl Chase this atrocity was prevented. The developers were bailed out by the generosity of first the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and then by the bequest of Alice Keck Park—and we now have a world-class garden on the site. Some of the stonework and many of the mature trees of El Mirasol garden remain.
The $35,000 cost to restore the Chromatic Gate is a doable project, but are we going to have to dig into our near-empty pockets to redo the Miramar property? The public should not have to subsidize the developers to pay for demolition created by their own calculated, not-so benign neglect. And I do not know where we are going to find another Mrs. Park to do it for us.