Visalia’s historic Odell-Mor building slated to be demolished

The Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) met August 26 to discuss the future of the Odell-Mor building. But at the end of the public hearing it appeared that there was little the committee could do to prevent its demolition.

The Odell-Mor building was built in 1914 and is located directly across from Taylor’s Hot Dog stand on Encina. It was allegedly Visalia’s first apartment building offering four upscale one bedroom units. According to local historian Terry Ommen’s Historic Happening Newsletter, “No one seems to know how it got its name. Jane Higgins Nash told me her parents, Decatur “Dick” and Mabel Higgins, were the first occupants of the apartments. It was considered the ‘nicest place in Visalia’ when it opened.”

The building was constructed in the Bungalow architectural style with features such as raised entry porch, roofs with wide overhangs and exposed rafters and open gabled roofs.

Though the building is on the Local Historic Registry it is not in Visalia’s Historic District. It also has the lowest of three historic designations.  If a building is designated as “Focus” or “Exceptional” as is the Darling Hotel, the HPAC would have more say over the fate of the building. But because the building is designated as “Background” a demolition request cannot be denied.

The only option available was to place a six month moratorium on the demolition. The goal of the moratorium is to allow time for the owners, the Toor family, and the historical committee, to find “alternative uses or development options to prevent demolition of the structure,” according to the staff report.

“If no solutions are found after the six-month moratorium has expired, the committee shall approve the demolition request.”

One of the HPAC members asked if the building could be re-designated as “Exceptional.”

According to Cristobal Carrillo, Associate Planner, “A change to a Local Register designation would require HPAC, the Planning Commission, and City Council approval.”  But, he added, the designation of the Odell-Mor building could not be changed after approval of a moratorium.” Carrillo said that city staff was in the process of verifying this fact with the city attorney.

In 2018 the building was owned by JR Shannon, who pulled a permit for a remodel, but then decided to sell. The Toor family bought the building and initially planned on renovating it but changed course and decided to rebuild.

Santokh Toor requested to have the building demolished immediately due to the fact that their hired engineer firm deemed the structure was a public hazard.  A City of Visalia engineer inspected the building and said the structure was sound and his request was denied.

About a dozen members of the public through letters, emails, calls and public comment voiced their opposition to demolishing  the building. Skip Barwick, a Tulare resident, was the lone supporter to demolish the building.

Tyler Davis, a Visalia resident who lives in a house in the historic district, said during public comment that “our sense of home will be changed forever if we demolish the Odell-Mor building.”

He said that the exterior is the same as it was 106 year ago and is a blend of architectural elements such as Tudor and Bungalow. He said there is no other building like it and it represents a transitional time in Visalia.

Andy Chamberlain, a city planner, said that the building’s unique characteristics is what makes the building so special.

Risa, a Visalia resident, said that she was a walker and was very upset to hear about the possible demolition. “It’s been here for 106 years. I think that is worth being creative.”

Davis said that up until just 18 months ago people lived in the apartments.

“Regrets only goes one way. Once the building is gone part of our collective memory will be gone.”

Richard Mangini, owner of a Visalia architectural firm, expressed his regrets that the Toors applied for a permit to take out the drywall but ended up taking the interior “down to the studs.” He said that no one would be able to restore the interior because there is no one around who could replicate the wainscoting or French doors.

Carrillo’s report backed up Mangini’s comments. It said, “the building is currently vacant and in disrepair due to the occurrence of unpermitted remodel activity which resulted in the removal of a interior improvements from the structure.

“The building is basically gutted,” Carrillo said.

The city’s report continues, saying that the Toors did not attempt to conduct further interior remodel work and “as a result the building fell into further disrepair and was eventually boarded up and fenced off at the demand of Code Enforcement staff.”

Nevertheless, the HPAC would not have had the authority to prevent the removal of the interior. The committee is only authorized to review exterior alterations to historic structures. The city’s report says that “the exterior remains largely unchanged.”

A spokesperson for the Toor family, Arun Toor, said that someone had broken into the building and set a fire, adding to the damage already caused by transients.

In hopes that the Toor family would work with the committee members to save the building, Mangini brought architectural drawings that included adding four new apartments in the back of the property along with a remodel of the four original units. Mangini said that the Toors had made an investment into Visalia and that it was important that the historic committee work with them the best they can.

One committee member asked Toor directly if his family intended working with the community to find alternative solutions to demolition. The Toor family is being requested to work with the community but is not required to do so.

Toor responded by saying that they had already researched other possibilities and had spent a lot of time on this building. He said that the previous owners had done the same and that is why they decided to sell.

He said that the family’s first choice was to renovate the building and rent it out but that was too challenging.

Toor also pointed out that Visalia has 200 other residential structures in the Historic District of much more architectural significance than the Odell-Mor building. He added that the building does not have as much redeeming value as the others, and in fact had become an eyesore.

None of the HPAC members were in favor of the demolition and were verbally upset about their lack of options.

One member said that these old buildings had been through earthquakes and floods and that “it’s something they are still standing.” He stated that it was a one-of-a-kind building and that it could be retrofitted easily.

Another member said that Encina was the gateway to Visalia’s Historic District and that the Odell-Mor house was part of a community of buildings that created an historic ambiance. In fact the Odell-Mor building is right across the street from the historic district.

“The real tragedy would be if the building gets torn down and then the city does not approve the Toor’s family’s plan to build their 14 unit building. “

“So we ought to work together and make a better project. We are not saying you are stuck with just four apartments,” the committee member said.

The HPAC voted 6 -0 for a six month moratorium upon the processing of a demolition permit.

The six months started the night of the committee’s decision.

30 thoughts on “Visalia’s historic Odell-Mor building slated to be demolished

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  1. Please save the Odell-Mor building if possible. It is an important part of Visalia History. Once it’s gone it might even fade from memory.

  2. I would try to save the historical building, look for examples in other cities and states for ideas. We had a beautiful deco looking fire station in Hanford that could of been repurposed and it was razed for a dirt lot full of nothing. It was reprehensible and thoughtless. I miss seeing it. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

  3. Demolition by neglect is an unfortunate term we use often in Fresno. The typical culprits are lack of value, lack of understanding and lack of respect for a community’s foundation represented by various structures built by founding and working-class residents. Districts are hard to create but stronger by association, encapsulating a large body of structures that support each other. Standalone structures, often representing the last vestige of a working-class community’s history should have the same protection. Prospectors purchasing listed structures should not only be supported by the historic building code but also held accountable for the structure’s degradation. It is often assumed that demolition is the only financial alternative, but responsible restoration is often proven to be financially competitive, significantly more environmentally sensitive and a trigger for continued community investment. I hope a solution for this structure can be found within the time allotted and the city’s historic code strengthened for future indiscretions.

  4. What some people think of a eyesore many think of a thing of ot as beautiful. A look back into our past
    I noticed this building a few months ago while going to the famous hot dog stand.i wondered about the history of it and now I know a little bit more about it. It will be horrible to tear down something like this! We must not let this happen!!
    Signed a new person in the community that cares about saving history.

  5. Future from what pass? There’s nothing that important to disregard and disrespect the enormously feeling we visalians collectively proudly felt when this was created. LETS NOT LET THIS HAPPEN

  6. Come to your nation, buy historic property, attempt to tear it down and inform you it’s not historically significant. Is it any wonder nationalism is on the rise? Congrats on gutting an irreplaceable historic interior Toor fam!

  7. It’s SAD developers do NOT see the significance in preserving historical buildings!! The world is lucky that most European Countries have preserved so many of there historical buildings for hundreds of years!
    Everyone needs to say No!

  8. Everytime I walked by the building it always made wonder. I thought of how beautiful the structure and always wanted know who lived there. I always wish that I could live there. The is just awesome. Restore it and think about renting it as a sober residential house and then it would be taken care. We have a need in this city to reach out and help people who get out of residential recovery homes and have no where to live and go right back out. Couldn’t this be funded by County or Government. The house residents could keep up on the outside as a part of the requirements of living there. Just a thought.

  9. If the City or it’s citizens want to preserve/restore the building then let them buy it from the owners.

    There still is such a thing as private property, even in California. At least I hope so.

    • I agree. The Toor family are developers who have invested a lot of money into Visalia. If everyone is so passionate about keeping the building then buy it from them. Then form a non profit to raise the money to restore it. I bet the Toors would be the first to donate. Or have the city of Visalia trade a piece of property for the Odell-Mor building. Win/win. They get their building and Visalia gets some new multi-family housing. There are a lot of options if if you want to save the building, but the Toors need to be compensated for what they have already invested in the property.

    • I agree. There are many that want to have a say in what happens to the historical buildings but never want to put up their money.
      Many of the buildings need major repairs and upgrades which make them relatively inexpensive and yet, few buyers.
      Same as the Valley oak trees, if these trees and buildings are important to the citizens, they should be at minimally given tax benefits which there are currently none.

  10. I think you all should leave the building there why ruin part of history because no matter what it is a part of history look when it was built i say leave it there

  11. it’s clear no one is going to repurpose the building with its current design. how long has it been sitting in inhabited ? it’s valuable real estate. we don’t need uninhabited,unused ,”historically important” properties sitting and collecting dust. that is a valuable space that is being wasted, and has been for a while.. we need ways to stimulate the economy. . props to the toors for trying to do so. just finish the job

  12. This place has incredible potential! I had recently looked at that building and had wondered why in the world something wasn’t done with it. It sincerely takes the right plan, the right timing and the right people to cause this diamond to shine!

    I actually saw this place becoming a VERY nice Air B&B or hotel. Give people an outstanding place to stay in Visalia with historic qualities alike than the traditional franchises of hotels.

    I really hope for the best!

  13. I also think that they should restore the building, find somewhere else to build, why teardown historic buildings, to make money, it’s worth more the history of the building than the plan units, that are going to be built, visalia is known for its historic buildings. Keep it that way.

  14. The only reason why that idiot bought it in the first place was for a tax write-off anybody knows that look at his name and I’m not being prejudicial I’m just saying something that’s true lot of people do that somebody just needs to go in there and give it a good clean up take it away from the people that have it tore it up in the first place then tried to have it demolished think about it think about it!

  15. I personally think the Toors bought it knowing they were never going to remodel. Their plan all along was to tear it down to build whatever type of multi unit building in that location. THats why they did the non permitted ‘gutting’ inside. They want to say it’s an eyesore, that’s because it’s boarded up and fenced off because THEY made it unsound! They should be ashamed of themselves! The historic society and city of Visalia needs to reclaim this piece of history and have a fundraiser to get it back up and running! If people were living there 18 months ago…they will again. I hate people like the Toors who think because they have a ton of money they can go in and do whatever they want! They should be facing some legal recourse for removing a historic building without a permit…or something. This isn’t right!

    • Exactly my thoughts. This family has no pride in the city and their only outlook is to destroy this building so they can put in poorly built, soulless apartments just so they can make a pretty penny off the unfortunate people here in town. They are cons and don’t deserve to own this building.

  16. Andrew and Patsy….. not nice to make subtle racist comments. Look at damage the two of you are doing to the “landscape” of public opinion…. denigrating a family because their name doesn’t sound American to you. Nationalism on the rise Andrew? Why bring nationality into the conversation? Yes Patsy you are being prejudicial …. racially.

  17. I want this building to be preserved and refurbished as close to its original character as is possible. I’m sure there are tradesmen who have the talent to rebuild and refurbish wainscoting and all the original architectural features. They may not be in Tulare county but they do exist. Please preserve our history!!

  18. I love Beth’s comment about using it for our (homeless) VETERANS !!!
    .
    Rescuing a bit of architectural history to help those who Served our country….. something our community could be proud of.

  19. Actually we do know the source of the name. the following was researched by a local history buff a few years ago:

    I wanted to share some information I found in my research on Mamie Odell Eckard who seems to have owned this apartment house and probably built it. She was born in 1865 in Michigan. In 1887 she married Emil Franz Otto in Fresno, CA. They had a daughter Alvina Otto in 1890. She must have divorced Emil because in 1908 she married Albert Willis Roach in Fresno, CA. In 1910 they are both in the Visalia federal census with Alvina Otto who at this time is listed as Alvina Roach, 20 years old. I don’t find a 1920 census, but in the 1930 census, Mamie is listed as owning the house and her occupation is proprietress of Apartments and a widow. She is listed on North Encina with the statement HOME OWNED. Albert is in a different census in 1930 and also listed as a widower. In a family tree, Mamie’s middle name is Odell, so I am assuming that that is where the Odell-Mor came from and the MOR being her initials at the time. Mamie Odell Roach. She died in 1952 and is buried in Kern Co. CA and that is where Alvina lived. Hope that this solves the answer to the naming of this house.

  20. The owner, Lonnie Martell, died. Idk who has been bequeathed interest in the property but it’s a shame to see it go. The apartments were beautiful. It is a historical landmark. There was mold. Idk if it’s still a problem because it looks to have been ravaged and gutted.

  21. Please don’t bother people on this
    But situation all around the world you guys need to help each other with peace and love don’t be jealous of each other we have enough learned But situation all around the world you guys need to help each other with peace and love don’t be jealous of each other we have enough land we need more apartment or Think about those homeless people shame on you guys to think To destroy peoples house again unity peace in love with each other thank you

  22. I do have one an observation, after reading these comments. Wjo are “they?” “They” should restore the building. Not one person has volunteered to put up the money; it’s always “them” whoever “they” are. There comes a point where it is no longer feasible to maintain a building when the neglect reaches a point of no return. Sounds like the present owner bought the place with no specific plan in mind, so it sat and, most probably became an unofficial homeless shelter, resulting in the fire discussed abobe.

    Not one of you who say that “they” should do this or “they” should do that should have any say in what the owner does or doesn’t do with the place.

    Oh yes; if it’s that old, the whole place was filled with asbestos, which would have to have been removed just as had to be done in the Darling. In fact, that was the reason the county stopped using the present Darling in the first place. How many years was that building vacant before the present owners took it on?

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