FULLERTON : City’s Landmarks Panel Criticized


City officials moved to the defensive last week after a preservationist attacked as inadequate Fullerton’s program to protect historic buildings.

Debate was triggered by David Zenger, president of the Fullerton Heritage organization, who asked Mayor Molly McClanahan to consider creating a Landmarks Commission independent of the Planning Commission.

“What we’re asking for here is a group of people that care and understand about preservation issues,” said Zenger, whose 80-member group tries to help preserve historic buildings.


Zenger cited builders who temporarily marred the Plummer Auditorium, a Spanish Colonial Revival building on the Fullerton High School campus, by cutting two ventilation holes in the historic facade.

“All of this stuff happens over and over again in an environment where preservation is not important,” he said.

The Landmarks Commission, which is now composed of members of the Planning Commission, considers requests to declare particular buildings landmarks. A city ordinance defines a landmark as a building of historic value that should be preserved.

Once a building is designated as a landmark, its owner must receive approval from the Landmarks Commission before demolishing or making major alterations to it. The facade of a building is specifically protected. Though the Plummer Auditorium is not technically a landmark, the city required the school district to apply for landmark status for the building.

In early December, Councilman Chris Norby and others noticed the four-foot-wide holes cut for ventilation near the top of the auditorium facade. Concerned about the 1930 building, Norby complained. The contractor then agreed to run ventilation through the roof of the building and patch up the facade. The city is paying for the renovation with redevelopment money.

The mistake at the auditorium would not have been caught by an independent Landmarks Commission, said Bob Linnell, a planner for the city who specializes in landmark buildings.

“It’s one of those things that typically falls through,” Linnell said. “The people that come in and do the actual work, like plumbers, find the need to make openings. It was not known that they were going to have to bust open that wall.”

Planning Commissioner Jim Ranii agreed. “They never came to the Planning Commission for permission to do that, and I don’t know that they would have come to a landmark commission,” he said.

Ranii also defended the record of the Planning Commission. “I think we’re sensitive to landmarks,” he said. Ranii praised the Fullerton Heritage group, of which he is a member, but rejected Zenger’s idea for a separate commission. “There are not enough proposals that we need another body,” he said.

Mayor McClanahan said the city will consider the proposal after finishing its current revision of the general plan--the city’s policy guide, which addresses preservation and many other issues.

“I think it’s an issue that needs public discussion,” said McClanahan, who is also a member of Fullerton Heritage. She describes herself as a “historic preservation aficionado” and worked on the 1979 survey of potential landmark buildings.

Linnell said that about 90 buildings were identified in that survey, and about 40 owners have applied for and received landmark status in the past decade.