Hanford residents came out en masse to the February 6 Hanford City Council meeting to protest the council’s recent decision to tear down the old Fire House.
The city council voted 3-2 to tear down the structure at its December 19, 2017 meeting, and had already erected a fence in preparation for demolition.
The art deco Firehouse on the corner of Lacy Boulevard and Kaweah Avenue was built in 1939 as part of a public works grant during the depression. City staff said that it would cost $2 million dollars to renovate the building.
The Firehouse is to be demolished to make way for a parking lot for The Plunge.
Public comment lasted more than an hour as resident after resident approached the podium and asked the council to reconsider its decision.
Steve Bannister, president of the board of directors for Main Street Hanford, said that while the city council has called the building an eyesore, it actually is eligible to be put on the state and national register of historic buildings and can receive tax dollars for its renovation.
He added that Hanford’s leadership just needed the vision to get it done.
During the December meeting Councilmembers Dave Ayers and Sue Sorenson voted against tearing down the fire station and to allow preservationists to come up with a plan to save the building.
Gail Evans, one of the preservationists, thanked Ayers and City Manager Darrel Pyle for their help in her research to possibly move the fire station.
She said she is looking into applying for a grant to pay for the building to be moved. Then the city could have its parking lot and save the fire house at the same time.
Evans said that if she had known about the appeals process she would have appealed the decision back in December and asked the council to grant the residents a grace period to find a solution to saving the building.
Michelle Brown, from Main Street Hanford, proposed another option to save the fire station. Main Street Hanford held a well attended meeting where Craig Scharton from Fresno gave a presentation on Direct Public Offerings (DPO). Private investors would be able to buy stock in the Hanford Community Corporation DPO, and that money could be used to fix not only the fire House but other historic buildings in Hanford.
Several residents also pointed out the economic benefit to saving Hanford’s historic buildings. Randall McGee said that the city hired a very expensive consultant year ago and one of the firm’s findings was that Hanford’s old buildings would attract more tourism to the town.
Bannister added that other towns, such as Sacramento, had success in converting their historic buildings into micro breweries or restaurants.
Nate Odom, a Hanford activists, found it interesting how the city could restore a historic light pole in front of the Fox Theater but two blocks away prepared to demolish the fire house.
Another proposal was to incorporate the fire house into the planned youth recreation facility.
Newly installed councilmember, Diane Sharp, left the dais and approached the podium to speak as a concerned citizen in support of preserving the fire station. She reminded the council that a recreational facility was “far from a done deal,” and that purchasing the old YMCA may be a better choice.
Sharp said that the “Fire house is currently used as a warehouse, is structurally sound, with an adequate roof. Warehouse storage space goes for 35-50 cents per square foot in town.”
She suggested making minor modifications to the Firehouse to maintain its current use such as: reinstall exterior lighting fixtures, install basic supplemental electrical panel to provide power, and “spruce up the current garden and install plantings including the original built-in planter that highlights the curve of the building on its SE corner.”
She also suggested reinstalling the original lettering and address numerals to the building’s Lacey Blvd. frontage
“Our historic buildings can be beautiful and are part of the glue that holds this community together. They are our identity as a City”.
Efforts to save the old Fire House echo the events surrounding the old Hanford library that was slated for demolition.
In April 1971, Dan Humason and other concerned residents discovered that the city council was about to demolish the library to make a parking lot. Petitions were presented to the council to save the building and it is now a cultural hub and serves as the city’s historical museum.
Dina Leoni, from the Plein Aire Painters, reminded the audience of the fate of Hanford Union High School, which she attended. The building was deemed an unsound structure, but when the wrecking ball came calling it practically bounced off. After several attempts the building was finally brought down in April of 1975.
Mike Quinn reminded the council that Hanford needs to preserve its history for the kids and that “it’s hard to know what you have until its gone.”
Sharp then recused herself from the dais as the rest of the council discussed delaying the demolition of the firehouse.
Mayor David Ayers, Councilmembers Sue Sorenson, and Martin Devine decided to continue with the demolition as planned. Councilmember Justin Mendes left the meeting early.
Demolition started Tuesday, January 13 at the back of the firehouse while the Plein Aire Painters set up one last time across the street to capture a vanishing piece of history.