New survey of Pleasanton's historic homes goes to Planning Commission tonight

88 qualify for inclusion in prestigious California Register

A just-completed detailed survey of 201 older homes in Pleasanton's downtown district will be considered by the Pleasanton Planning Commission tonight with 88 qualifying for inclusion in the prestigious California Register of Historical Resources.

If accepted on the basis of the study by Katherine Petrin Consulting and the Agricultural Resources Group, owners of the homes could display a "Historical Home" plaque, making their houses "show homes" for architectural tours but also restricting what future changes they can make to the home.

The survey, reported in hundreds of pages of photographs and commentaries. Basically, the report is a tool that allows the city and homeowners to ascertain whether their homes should be considered historic resources on the local level. It analyzes whether those homes are eligible for the state designation; it's not automatic.

For a home built before 1942, the new report saves the owners from having to undertake a costly building-evaluation to determine whether their house is a historic resource. It also helps to see the pattern and distribution of historic buildings in the downtown district.

If the report becomes part of a city code amendment, city staff could work with homeowners wanting to make improvements to their historical-designated properties to ensure protection of the character-defining elements of those buildings during the city's Design Review process. Without this information, the historic building evaluation can be costly and time consuming.

The survey was conducted over the last 16 months at the request of the Pleasanton City Council and downtown neighborhoods to gain a general understanding of historic properties. Some neighborhoods, believing most of their homes were historic, have long sought a special "Historical Neighborhood" designation, mainly for the First, Second and Third street areas.

To determine the accuracy of such a designation, the council engaged Petrin Consulting and Architectural Resources Group to complete a "Limited Scope Historic Resource Survey" of the residential neighborhoods. The survey also is linked to long-term planning efforts related to the city's Downtown Specific Plan, which will soon be updated.

The project was intense and comprehensive with the survey limited, with a few exceptions, to homes built before 1942 -- in what architectural analysts call the pre-World War II period. Once the war started, these analysts contend, building construction was restricted, and homes built after the war were more hastily constructed with less attention to the architectural amenities of the Victorian and Queen Annes.

Even though the downtown district's streets -- First and Second streets, Rose Avenue, St. Mary, Division, Neal and Angela streets and a section of Old Stanley Boulevard -- hold most of Pleasanton's oldest homes, the age of the house didn't necessarily qualify them as warranting a historical designation in Katherine Petrin's evaluation.

As an example, a single-story dwelling at 4336 First St., with its hip and gable roof and partial-length front porch, was built in 1892, two years before the city was incorporated. It was built on land owned and later subdivided by John Kottinger, a lot that originally went through to Second Street.

Although its well-maintained, gray siding with neat white trim gives the appearance of an historical home, it failed to make the cut because of years of structural and architectural changes, making it ineligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources.

The primary objectives of the survey were to streamline planning processes within the city's Planning Department so that the status of individual residential properties are identified before any permits are issued to make unacceptable changes to a house designated as historical. The survey also will provide historical data to individual property owners to better understand the significance of their buildings.

The survey followed the guidelines set forth in the National Register of Historic Places. At the beginning, the city supplied consultants with the list of approximately 200 buildings in the downtown Pleasanton area pre-dating 1942 to be surveyed and researched. The City Council chose the date 1941 as the survey cut-off date as it captures the downtown neighborhoods' historically significant, pre-World War II architecture.

From its earliest days until WWII, Pleasanton functioned as a farm service town, providing a vital commercial, civic and rail transportation center for the agricultural industries that surrounded it. The community was also an important regional recreation center for horse racing and attracted part-time residents from around the San Francisco Bay with activities at the Pleasanton racetrack.

By 1870, Pleasanton's population totaled about 500 people. Residential neighborhoods and Main Street served as a commercial and social center for the agricultural tracts that surrounded the town.

In the course of their survey, Petrin and her team found that the character of specific neighborhoods within the downtown district became evident.

For example, in the early years, the area south of Rose Street was historically characterized by modest housing built for local laborers and racetrack workers. This area generally retains a scale reflective of that history. Also evident were concentrations of higher-style residences on the east end of Neal Street, along St. Mary Street and on the north end of Pleasanton Avenue.

Over the years, Pleasanton was also home to some people of means, such as cattle and dairy ranchers, as well as to those newly arrived in California, from other parts of the U.S. and from abroad. For over a century, Pleasanton had a large Portuguese community.

The research also revealed that the industrious citizens of Pleasanton, many of them employed in agriculture, building, brick-making, gravel mining and small service business jobs, could afford to purchase a home, establish themselves and their families. This appears to be true for some who may have been illiterate.

The research reveals that locals were employed in a range of occupations, most close to home. Homes were owned or rented by people who worked as farm laborers, local gravel pit workers, watch repairmen, security guards, groundskeepers, rodent inspectors (at least one), teachers, school nurses, mayors and janitors.

As Petrin and her team walked Pleasanton's downtown residential areas, they saw how these 19th century economic and social conditions influenced the architectural character of the area. They photographed the homes, noted the style of architecture, assessed any structural or architectural changes and noted all alterations they found.

This fieldwork was followed by building-specific research at local archives and libraries, including the Pleasanton Museum on Main, the libraries at UC Berkeley, historic U.S. Census records and city of Pleasanton building records and then searching out construction information, alterations, ownership and any significance in the use of the property.

Other resources included Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, other historic maps, building permit records, assessor's records, census data, historic photographs and other online sources.

The surveyors used the criteria of the California Register of Historical Resources to determine the significance of residential properties within the survey area. These must be significant at the local, state or national level under one or more of the following four criteria:

* It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local or regional history or the cultural heritage of California or the United States;

* It is associated with the lives of persons important to local, California or national history;

* It embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region or method of construction, or represents the work of a master or possesses high artistic values;

* It has yielded, or has the potential to yield, information important to the prehistory or history of the local area, California or the nation.

Houses qualifying for an historical designation also had to show a sufficient integrity of materials, design, workmanship and feeling to convey their historic significance. They needed to display distinct examples of the types, forms or styles of residential architecture from the context period, including original cladding materials, having doors and window openings in their original locations and the majority of their original ornament in place.

The addition of ornament schemes and architectural features from later periods of construction within the historic period were acceptable if the scheme was applied consistently and comprehensively to the building. Restyling comprised of a mixture of elements from different periods was not acceptable.

Changes that occurred during the period of significance, before 1942, did not always detract from the building's integrity. For example, rear extensions were common. Added features that were over-scaled and not consistent with the original style, such as oversized Craftsman porch posts or piers, resulted in otherwise historic homes being disqualified from the California Registry.

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