Carnegie Museum must remove a piece of Hanford history

Minutes after Mayor David Ayers praised the Carnegie Museum for saving the historic bell tower from certain destruction at the old firehouse, the Hanford City Council voted to force the museum to remove it.

At Hanford’s August 21 city council meeting, the vote was 3-2 against permitting the museum to keep the structure in front of the museum. The museum moved the bell tower out of harm’s way March 1 while the city finished clearing the lot after demolishing the old firehouse.

The art deco firehouse, built in 1939 as part of a public works grant during the depression, used to sit on the corner of Lacey Boulevard and Kaweah Avenue. Demolition started in February of this year despite wide-spread dissent from the residents. The original bell that hung in the tower was removed to Fire Station No. 1 at 350 W. Grangeville Blvd., but the tower remained – until now.

The bell tower was given to the museum after Museum Director Patricia Dickerson asked City Manager Darrel Pyle to let her organization preserve this piece of Hanford’s history.

The understanding was that Dickerson was going to put the tower in the back garden but the structure was too large. It was decided to install the tower at the front of the building.

Community Development Director Darlene Mata said that allowing the structure to stay in front of the museum violated the city’s Municipal Code. The code says altering the exterior of a building located within the Historic Overlay Zone needs an Historic Resources Permit, which must be approved by the city council.

The Carnegie Museum, which leases the building from the city, is in the Historic Overlay Zone and on the local and National Registrar of Historical Places.

Mata recommended against approval of the permit because the Carnegie Museum is of Romanesque architecture while the bell structure is Art Deco. She said that according to the code, buildings in the historic district must maintain their architectural integrity. Neither tenants nor owners can make additions or alterations to an historic building that affects the original architectural style.

In addition, the fact that the bell tower was placed permanently at the front of the building makes it an extension of the building. Because the city owns the building, it now owns the bell tower.

“We own the property. We get to dictate where it goes,” said Mata.

Council Member Justin Mendes voiced his displeasure with the fact that the city couldn’t just consider the tower an exhibit of the museum. He was also miffed by the rule demanding that the combination of Romanesque and art deco architecture is a violation of municipal code.

“It’s just silly,” he repeated several times.

Mendes suggested that the council let the museum display the tower and asked that Dickerson communicate better with the city in the future.

Council member Martin Devine said he agreed with Mendes.

Vice Mayor Sue Sorensen suggested that the bell tower stay temporarily in front of the museum but be returned to its original home on Lacey Boulevard after the city decides what to do with the now vacant property. The fact that the city might take years to develop the property made her suggestion unattractive to the other council members.

Council Member Diane Sharp said that it was important that the city follow its own rules.

Mata added that the museum was in breach of its lease because it did not get a permit before altering the outside of the historic building. She also said that the city needs to apply the same rules to everyone and did not want to set a bad precedent.

The final vote was Mendes and Devine to grant the permit while Sharp, Ayers and Sorenson voted no.

It was not decided how long the museum had to remove the bell tower.

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