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San Clemente Journal

Should San Clemente Establish Designated Historic Districts?

by Larry Culbertson, President 
San Clemente Historical Society

The San Clemente Historical Society wants to see Historic Districts in San Clemente. We believe that now, more than ever, is the right time for this to happen. 
A historic district is a group of buildings, properties, or sites that have been designated as historically or architecturally significant. It is not necessary for every building in a historic district be historic. Individual properties can be either contributing or non-contributing to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make the district significant. Districts vary greatly in size, from hundreds of properties to just a few.

Why should we establish historic districts? The original concept was that district designation would provide a protective area surrounding more important individual historic sites. Preservationists now view districts as more than just protection of individual sites. They provide acknowledgment and recognition of how the sites mesh together with all of the features of the area to form the historic integrity of the neighborhood. For example, Avenida Del Mar has only 12 designated historic structures of the approximately 60 in the 100 and 200 blocks. But taken collectively, that area has a greater historic significance to San Clemente than any of the 12 individual resources. It was the primary area where the retail and social business of San Clemente occurred.

Living in a historic district instills a feeling of pride in the residents whether they live in historic homes or not. People who are proud of the area they live in take better care of their property and the entire neighborhood improves. As neighborhoods improve, property values increase and more investment is directed toward rehabilitation of historic and non-historic buildings.

In 2005, San Clemente commissioned a survey of our historic resources. The survey resulted in 203 resources being placed on our local Designated Historic Resources List. Our Council went on to designate the most important 21 of those buildings as Landmarks. Five of our buildings have been given the highest level of recognition, listing on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to identifying 203 resources, the report made a number of recommendations to help pursue the ongoing efforts to protect and preserve evidence of our vibrant past.  Those recommendations included the establishment of several historic districts. These areas include: 
- North Beach: When Ole Hanson laid out San Clemente in 1925, he envisioned North Beach as an Entertainment/Recreational Area. He built the Beach Club and had plans for parks, gardens, lagoons, and a dance pavilion. The Miramar Theater and Casino San Clemente were eventually built there. The area continues to maintain its original use with original structures. The Beach Club and Casino have been rehabilitated and the Miramar Theater and Bowling Alley will soon follow suit. The Beach Club is on the National Register.
 - Business District: San Clemente’s historic commercial core, oriented around the intersection of Avenida Del Mar and El Camino Real. This area contains two buildings on the National Register and a high concentration of Designated Historic Resources.
- Pier Bowl: The area surrounding the Municipal Pier contains tourism-related historic properties like the Beachcomber Motel and elegant early residences including the National Register listed Casa Romantica. The pier itself played a central role in the history of our town and continues to be an important part  of our identity.

These three areas are already part of what the City calls the “Spanish Colonia Revival Architectural Overlay.” Properties within this Overlay have constraints and requirements that protect the historic integrity of the Overlay. Designation as a Historic District would not add more control, it would add a recognizable title to what already exists.

So why establish historic districts now? San Clemente will turn 90 years old in 2018. An anniversary year is a good time to bestow some much deserved recognition on important areas of our town’s past. All three of the areas mentioned above have been undergoing revitalization and beautification to a high degree. They arguably have never looked better. The Beach Club has undergone a four year, 5.6 million dollar rehabilitation. The Casino underwent complete renovation and is similarly pristine. The Miramar will soon be renovated. Our downtown business district and Pier Bowl also have undergone great improvement. It makes sense to honor these areas now that they are in economic ascendancy. Catch them in bloom, and help them stay that way.

Are there examples of historic districts nearby? Yes, Orange County has 22 historic districts in eight cities. We surveyed them to see what they were like. The following cities each have the number of historic districts indicated:

San Juan Capistrano - Six
Anaheim - Five
Fullerton - Three
Orange - Two
Santa Ana - Two
Yorba Linda - Two
Newport Beach - One
Tustin - One

These 22 historic districts in eight cities vary greatly in size, type, and grandeur. Santa Ana’s French Park HD contains a high concentration of well restored Victorian homes. Yorba Linda’s Park Place HD is a modest collection of a few craftsman bungalows. Anaheim’s Hoskin’s HD is a very modest collection of 1950’s homes. Orange has Old Town Orange which is one square mile around its original plaza. The Plaza HD is located at the center.

Since designation as a historic district is largely honorific, signage is important. Signage for historic districts also varied widely, Yorba Linda’s Main Street HD has an impressive arch over the entrance to the street. Anaheim’s Anaheim Colony HD has very tall columns at each of the four street entrances to the District. The majority of districts have more modest monument signage.
Much more could be written about historic districts if space permitted. Hopefully, our City Council will direct City staff to put together a report on this subject and move forward with it. Please let Council know what you think of the idea.