Thursday, June 25, 1998
It''s nothing new to talk about the need to preserve historic sites on Monterey''s Cannery Row. The city and local preservationists have been struggling with that problem at least since the last sardine canneries closed almost three decades ago.
But since the Row was named June 15 as one of the country''s 11 most endangered historic sites by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there''s been a lot more talk, and plenty of confusion. A lot of numbers have been thrown around--12 original structures left, two buildings with official historic designation, 81 potentially historic buildings under review by a city survey due out next month.
Lost in the hubbub has been a clear understanding of how many and which buildings we''re talking about preserving.
The best place to start is with the city''s own 1973 Cannery Row Plan, which identified 23 historic cannery structures and nine non-cannery structures for preservation in their existing locations within a mile-long, three-block-wide waterfront district known loosely as "Cannery Row."
According to research compiled by local historian Neal Hotelling, who submitted the National Trust application to have Cannery Row designated as "endangered," of the 23 Cannery Row-era canneries identified by the city as worthy of preservation in 1973, nine are now gone: two destroyed by fire, seven others victims of neglect or development.
Some of the development has been deemed largely laudatory--even by preservationist standards. The old Hovden Cannery was incorporated into the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1984, with much of the building''s original facade preserved.
Other development projects saved less of the original structures. The Ferrante Company and Oxnard Warehouse, both identified by the city in 1973 as "cannery buildings to be retained," are lost in the bowels of the Monterey Plaza Hotel. The Western Sardine building, another 1973 designee, is now the Chart House restaurant, a new building from the ground up. Great steaks, but not much history.
Of the remaining 14 old cannery buildings recognized by the 1973 Cannery Row Plan, Hotelling says three are likely to be lost due to neglect and six are largely altered in appearance, notably the Del Mar Out Building, which is now Bubba Gump''s restaurant, and the Enterprise Packing Co. Warehouse, which is now the Wil Shaw Mall. Just five are still generally authentic, he says, and may be eligible for registration as "historic." One of them has indeed been restored, the old Carmel Canning Warehouse, now the Cannery Row Antique Mall on Wave Street, registered by the city with H-Zone status (historic building).
Of the nine historic Cannery Row buildings or sites that are not canneries, one is gone (the Chinese Hotel), but has been rebuilt with "good historic sense," Hotelling says. The eight others are, he says, good candidates for historic preservation.
So of 32 buildings identified as worthy of preservation by the city in its 1973 plan, just 13 remain in somewhat authentic condition. Several others that have been slightly altered may still be saved, if enough energy and money is poured into them.
Who''s at fault? Certainly one party is the city administration itself, critics say. The city drew up a good plan in 1973, but created no mechanism for implementing it.
"The city''s commitment to historic preservation is clear--on paper," says Monterey Planning Commission chair Molly Erickson. "But the plan has sat on a shelf, with little activity." Since 1973, the city has designated only two buildings as historic: the Antique Mall cannery building, and Doc Ricketts'' Lab, purchased by the city last year for $400,000 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Last week, answering charges that his administration hasn''t done enough to ensure Cannery Row preservation, Mayor Dan Albert pointed out that the city doesn''t own Cannery Row buildings that were destroyed, developed, or neglected and allowed to deteriorate. "Buildings that deteriorate, come down," he says, adding that a mayor has to consider safety factors as well as historic significance when issuing demolition orders. "We don''t own them."
"The National Trust application didn''t mention the number of historic buildings lost by fire," charges City Planning Director Bill Wojtkowski. "The city hasn''t given out many demolition orders."
One controversial demolition order that did come down from city hall last spring was the dismantling of the Row''s historic San Xavier Warehouse. The city says the dilapidated building was a safety hazard, and wanted to pull it down. After protests from local preservationists, the city agreed to take the warehouse apart, piece by piece. The pieces are being stored at Fort Ord, Wojtkowski says, in case anyone wants to buy them and put it all together again.
Commercial property owners on Cannery Row may also share blame. A 20 percent federal tax cut exists for owners of historic buildings who wish to develop their properties without destroying the architectural integrity of the original structure. But no commercial property owners on Cannery Row have applied for that tax break, says Cherilyn Widell, state historic preservation officer.
Cannery Row Company president Ted Balestreri, a major property holder on the Row, bristles at the suggestion that commercial property owners are standing in the way of historic preservation. "Who are the real preservationists?" he asks. Not people who receive salaries to advocate historic preservation, he says, "but the people who put their lives and passions and money into this area."
He cites as examples people like himself and his partners, who started buying property on the Row 30 years ago, people like Kalisa Moore, who kept her historic restaurant open all these years. "We''re the only ones who are preserving anything," he says. "People who live here and love the community have an inner sense of what''s right. They don''t have an axe to grind."
Another sticking point is the status of the 1973 Cannery Row Plan. Does it drive city policy, or not?
In 1981, Monterey adopted a Land Use Plan (LUP) aimed at preserving Cannery Row historic sites. It refers in several places to the 1973 plan, suggesting that the buildings and sites identified in that earlier plan were still among those deemed worthy of protection. But Hotelling charges that city officials have told him several times that the 1973 Cannery Row Plan is no longer valid.
Wojtkowski says it''s not a question of "validity," it''s a question of implementation. Portions of the 1973 plan were incorporated into the 1981 LUP, Wojtkowski says, and a follow-up survey of Cannery Row historic buildings was done in 1982, but nothing came of the survey''s findings. "There was limited implementation," he notes, pointing to just two buildings the city has deemed "historic" since then.
Wojtkowski hopes for better follow-up to the city''s second survey of potential historic sites, ordered last year by the city council. Whereas the 1982 survey was, he says, done by two interns, this new survey is being conducted by noted architect Bruce Judd, point-man on renovation proposals for Carmel''s Sunset Center and downtown Monterey''s historic State Theater.
Many buildings that local preservationists want to protect, most notably the 1940s-era Stohan building, now threatened by plans for a multi-story commercial marketplace complex, didn''t make it onto the city''s 1973 list. Activists hope the new survey, which is reviewing 81 buildings for possible historic designation, will correct that earlier oversight. "In 1973, the city had 32 other good examples of old canneries," Hotelling says. "Now, they don''t have as many examples left, so Stohan''s becomes more important."
Judd''s draft report has already been reviewed by the city planning department, and the final survey is due to be released to the public by the first week of July.
Again, Wojtkowski stresses, just identifying buildings as historic won''t preserve them. "That depends on the city council," he says. "What will they do with the survey results? Will they declare a historic district? Or landmark buildings? Once a survey is done, the key is how you implement it." On July 25, the cities of Monterey, Carmel and Pacific Grove will hold an all-day conference on historic preservation, he says, where local officials will learn from national experts.
The June 15 National Trust designation of Cannery Row as an endangered historic site--an honorific, which has no legal teeth--is nevertheless a powerful tool that can be used by city officials and preservationists to raise public support, and funding, for the protection of historic buildings.
"It brings national scrutiny to a city whose main source of income is tourism," says Dr. Barbara Evans, of the Monterey Action Coalition (MAC). But the Row can''t depend on public approbation alone, she says: In the absence of sufficient city enforcement of its own preservationist policies, the Row''s future can only be ensured through legislation.
To that end, MAC is currently gathering signatures to place two initiatives on the November ballot. One would, if passed, earmark funds from a 0.5 percent increase in the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) for historic preservation and the arts. Backers say this tax increase, levied on overnight guests in city hotels and motels, would net $500,000 annually.
The second MAC ballot initiative, called the Local Coastal Development Overlay District measure, seeks an amendment to the city charter that would enact uniform development standards to protect historic structures and open space along the entire Monterey coastline, not just Cannery Row. It would, among other things, limit new commercial buildings to two stories, preserve all existing open space and Wharf #2 for public use, and prohibit gambling, multi-story garages and new wharves.
As of press time, MAC had collected 2/3 of the signatures needed for the TOT initiative, and 1/4 of what it needs for the Coastal measure. Deadline is June 30.
Meanwhile, a city-ordered moratorium on demolition of any Cannery Row buildings, called last year after the public outcry at the loss of the San Xavier Warehouse, is set to expire when the Cannery Row survey is completed and accepted by the city council. Mayor Albert says there is "no connection" between the two, and says the demolition moratorium will stand for now, but local preservationists point out that the moratorium is set to expire in October at the latest, and is not extendable. Since the city''s historic survey is only informational, the concern is that it won''t be implemented before the moratorium is lifted.
"Cannery Row is threatened by pressures stemming from tourism and development," says Courtney Damkroger, assistant director of the National Trust''s western regional office in San Francisco. "Tourism and development will continue to grow. The challenge is not to stop them, but to make sure they don''t grow in such a way that they lead to a loss of what attracts visitors to Monterey in the first place."