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San Buenaventura Conservancy

P.O Box 23263

Ventura, CA 93002

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"Historic Preservation is about managing change, not preventing it."
Linda Dishman, L.A. Conservancy, quoted from L.A. Times, 07.10.10

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Welcome to the San Buenaventura Conservancy website. Please enjoy the histories, photos, landmarks and historic preservation tools we have gathered in our pages.

We look forward to your participation in our programs and events, and hope you become a member to help support the valuable historic and pre-historic landmarks in our area.


Adapting Historic School's for a Future of Reuse.

  

Editorial from Star:

Neighborhood schools give us much that we don't often think about: recreation opportunities, open space, preserving our history, park maintenance, campus security, community pride and other public benefits. Schools are an integral part of a neighborhood's historic fabric, often predating the neighborhood. School districts primarily have a core education mission but additionally they need to be good neighbors, cut the grass, trim trees, and maintain their properties to a point. However, sometimes costly forays into historic preservation, real estate development or property management can drain precious student resources.

The extraordinary E. P. Foster residence in Ventura provides a cautionary tale. The property has been owned by the Ventura Unified School District since Foster's descendants donated the house and land in 1955. Preservationists and the VUSD tried in vain for over 20 years to settle on what to do with the property. In 2010 vandals ended the debate when they set fire to the house. Next door, Ventura's 1924 Avenue School, also built and donated by Foster, sits abandoned, scavenged, vandalized and suffering demolition by neglect.

From a preservation perspective, rehabilitating a school for educational use is highly desirable. But we need to remember that preservation deals with buildings, not uses, and buildings can be adapted for numerous modern uses. Decades ago, preservation often involved moving buildings to historic parks like Strathearn Historical Park in Simi, or creating house museums like the Dudley House in Ventura. But from a practical perspective, house museums are expensive to maintain and funding is always short, so they are usually subsidized by the municipality. Most cities can support one house museum at most, and likewise the many historic community centers that often sit underutilized. When was the last time you volunteered at a house museum or spent time in a community center? As preservationists, we need to be pragmatic and understand that every old building can't be encased in amber. Rehabilitation and maintenance of historic properties is expensive, so any attempt to preserve a site needs a long-term funding plan. If districts sell sites, deed restrictions can control the scope, use and height of future development to maintain harmony with the neighborhood. Municipalities should bring their code and zoning ability to bear to protect the historic resources through CEQA and to reassure the community that additions or development will be truly appropriate. Converting a school to a massage parlor, salsa factory, wild animal park or a homeless shelter can undermine a neighborhood's character, so zone changes from school use need to stress compatibility.

Neighbors need to bring viable ideas to the table besides "house museum" or "community center." Their concerns are valid and center around replacement of "their" beautiful old school with development, parking, noise, traffic and uncertainty. However there are even worse scenarios, like an impasse that brings about a boarded-up vandal magnet and the corresponding negative impact on the community and property values.

If we compromise and come to the table with sustainable solutions, we can make sure that what's happening at Avenue School in Ventura doesn't happen at Simi Elementary. There are success stories we can use as case studies, but it's incredibly hard after gangs have made their marks and the pipes and wires have been torn from the walls. Now is the time to come together and devise a plan in Simi and Ventura to preserve our inherited environment. Our challenge is bringing diverse stakeholders together so that a district's exit strategy from a historic building does not disrupt the community, drain city resources, lower property values or cause the building to be neglected, demolished or overwhelmed by new development.

I'll end with a school preservation success story. Ventura's Washington Elementary School, built in 1925, served until it was closed in 1983. Around 2000, after being abandoned and neglected like Avenue School, residents of the neighborhood and a small private school lobbied the VUSD to reuse the school. Washington School's handsome edifice (which reminds me of Simi Elementary) is now home to Ventura County Christian High School, which rehabbed the buildings, fixed the broken glass, and painted over the graffiti. The struggle unified the neighbors and they formed one of Ventura's most proactive groups, the Midtown Ventura Community Council.

Follow our Facebook feed to get preservation action alerts, find out about local and regional tours and events and see historic postcards of Ventura County uploaded on a regular basis. It's where the action happens! click on the Facebook link at the top to check it out. (It works even if you don't use Facebook)