Santa Fe Springs Hires Designer : Heritage Park Realized As City Sets Financing

Times Staff Writer

A four-year effort to preserve "a treasure" of Southern California history has borne fruit, as the City Council last week took the final step toward the creation of Heritage Park.

The council approved financing for the park and selected an architectural firm to design the reconstruction of 19th-Century buildings and botanical gardens on the ranch and orchard once known as the "showplace of Los Angeles County."

Residents, who for years have lobbied for preservation of the six-acre site near Telegraph Road and Norwalk Boulevard, praised the council's latest actions.

"We're delighted we've come so far," said Ann Bartunek, chairwoman of the Santa Fe Springs Historical Committee. "The council has recognized the treasure we have here--the entire heritage of California in just a few acres. This will be one of the top draws in the city for generations to come."

The cost to the city to buy the property, as well as the cost of reconstruction, will be $5.6 million. The financing--in the form of a $7-million bond issue--will pay for reconstruction of an adobe, carriage barn, water tower, aviary, conservatory and exotic botanical garden, city officials said, as well as land purchase, the design fee, administrative costs, and the setting up of a reserve fund.

One Vote Against It

Councilwoman Betty Wilson, a longtime opponent of the park project, cast the sole votes against the architectural contract and park financing. Wilson has opposed developing the park because of the expense involved.

The land, which is owned by the city Redevelopment Agency, will be bought by a city-owned corporation that will oversee the construction and operate the park.

The site contains the remains of the largest residential adobe found in the Los Angeles Basin. The Ontiveros adobe, built in the early 1800s, is believed to have been an extension of the San Gabriel Mission. The Gabrielino Indian tribe first settled on the land and it is believed they were exploited by the Patricio Ontiveros family, who lived in the adobe until the 1830s.

The estate was later purchased in turn by the Harvay Hawkins and Martha Nimocks families, who planted and developed a ranch surrounded by orchards and an elaborate irrigation system. Nineteenth-Century visitors called it a "fairyland" and "the showplace of Los Angeles County."

Oil Rigs Introduced

In the 1920s, under the ownership of the Margaret Slusher family, the orchards gave way to primitive oil rigs. As Santa Fe Springs became a booming oil town, oilmen replaced the wealthy tourists who had visited the botanical gardens and sought the curative powers of the city's mineral springs.

Today, the only part of the adobe remaining is its foundation. The carriage barn has burned to the ground, but the aviary, conservatory and a portion of the water tower still stand. Trees that have weathered years of neglect form the botanical gardens.

The state Historical Resources Commission has nominated the park for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Once the exact boundaries of the park are reported to the register, the park will be included in the list, city officials said. Sites on the list are eligible for tax exemptions and federal and state grants for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

The council came under some criticism from historically minded residents in awarding the $397,000 design contract for restoration of the park to Thirtieth Street Architects Inc. of Newport Beach. The city passed over EDAW Inc., an Irvine architectural firm that has worked with the city for several years, researching the park's history and developing a master plan for restoration.

Bid Was Lower

Residents told council members that EDAW was their first choice for the contract. City officials said Thirtieth Street was chosen because the firm's bid was $56,000 less than EDAW's.

While conceding that Thirtieth Street is not as well-known as EDAW for historical architecture, Thirtieth Street partner John Loomis said his firm has restored historical buildings in La Mirada, Fullerton and unincorporated areas of Orange County. The firm, he said, will use the historical reports and data accumulated by EDAW to learn the history of Heritage Park.

"The catch-up period will be very easy and quick because they've done an excellent job," Loomis said in an interview. His firm is "ecstatic" about the contract and looks forward to developing a "whole series of historical structures from a whole range of periods in a park setting," Loomis said.

Maintenance of the historical park will be the responsibility of the developer of an adjoining 61-acre business park. By mid-1987, work on the adobe, water tower and botanical gardens is expected to be completed, along with 11 buildings in the industrial park, city officials said.

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