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Beyond Left and Right Field

Message from the Executive Director

By Bruce Coons

Photo Bruce Coons


With the opening of the new Padres Ball Park it is a good time to evaluate how the landmark preservation agreement between SOHO, the National Trust, HRB, the Padres, CCDC and the City has worked out so far. As you will remember, this unprecedented, legally binding agreement called for the preservation of eleven historic buildings. It also created design guidelines for new in-fill construction and specific treatments for the historic buildings, required reconstruction of Station "A", required nomination of the area as a historic district, and created a Preservation Advisory Group to oversee the implementation of the agreement.

Those of you who have attended games at the new ballpark can attest to the fact that the Western Metal Supply building is certainly the centerpiece and focal point of this project. From the stands you can see nine of the historic buildings affected by the agreement and the site on which the once and future Station "A" will rise again. I am very pleased to see all of these buildings still here, exuding their character and ambience amid all the new construction and lending depth and interest to our downtown. It is especially poignant to see them, as all of these buildings were threatened with destruction just a few years ago.

As for the agreement, the Padres organization has more than lived up to their promises in this ongoing process. Their commitment has been maintained through personnel changes and numerous pressures from the many forces surrounding the ballpark issues. The treatment plan for the Western Metal building is more than 95% complete, and it is just waiting for tenant improvements to be 100% finished. The Showley Brothers Candy Factory has been moved to its prominent new location on the edge of the "Park at the Park" and is waiting its turn to have its treatment plan implemented. The plan calls for a full exterior restoration. The move of the building was one of the largest of its type ever to have occurred in the United States. The historic survey has been completed and the nomination of the historic district is nearing completion for submission to the HRB.

The Preservation Advisory Group meets regularly to review the plans for the rest of the buildings and all other items related to the agreement. It may come as a surprise to some of you that the Padres have been completely honest in all of their dealings with us, even early on when we had severe disagreements.

In the beginning, we had many expectations and hopes related to this agreement. Some of these, given past history, we had no real reason to expect would happen in San Diego. They were still worth a try. For example, one would expect that when reasonable people adopt the concept that incorporating historic buildings into a development is a good thing, reasonable efforts would be made to preserve those buildings' historic character. It was better than that. The same professionals who once opposed the imposition of design guidelines for the new infill construction ended up creating a set of guidelines which, with minor changes, were compatible with the historic buildings.

For San Diego, this agreement between preservationists, city officials and developers has fostered much cooperation in other areas too many to enumerate here. The gains in perceived credibility and respect for all concerned cannot be underestimated and reflect positively on all the participants. Is it all a bed of roses? Not quite. There are major problems with the private owner of Rosario Hall that may lead to litigation, and now that Walter Rask has departed CCDC we may have a loss of momentum and commitment to the agreement. All and all this agreement has been very very good for historic preservation in San Diego. Good for the City now and in the future and good for the Padres too.

The ballpark itself turned out to be more beautiful that I thought it would, and from what I've heard, probably more beautiful than anyone else thought except maybe the architect Antoine Predock. Everyone involved agrees the project is significantly better due to incorporation of the historic buildings and other elements of the agreement.

Has the character of San Diego been irrevocably changed? Absolutely. Did we preserve a very significant portion of our past for the future in the largest preservation agreement in San Diego history? Beyond doubt. How is this all going to play out and what will future generations think about what we have done? Only time will tell. Maybe the ballpark will be the subject of a preservation effort 50 years from now. It could happen.

2004 - Volume 35, Issue 2

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