A piece of history is no ‘Mor’

Historic Odell-Mor building demolished, highlighting recent struggles with Historical Preservation Advisory Committee, ordinance

VISALIA – An empty lot now lies where the historic Odell-Mor building once stood, as it was demolished last week after the City Council and Historical Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) failed to save the 1914 bungalow.

Cristobal Carrillo, an associate planner with the city of Visalia and the staff representative for HPAC, said because of its status on the historical register the Odell-Mor bungalow at 209 N. Encina St. was not subject to review when proposed for demolition last August.

“The current ordinance only allows the committee to deny a demolition request if the building in question is on the local register and contains an ‘exceptional’ classification,” Carrillo said. “Some of the buildings in the city that have ‘exceptional’ classifications are the Fox Theatre, The Darling Hotel, the Bank of the Sierra building—these are significant structures in the city.”

The Odell-Mor building, believed to be Visalia’s oldest multi-family housing development, stood for 107 years before the 1914 bungalow style structure was demolished earlier this month. Now there is nothing but dirt in the lot near the corner Encina Street and Center Avenue after the city was unable to prevent the historic building’s demise. Ben Irwin

At the Feb. 16 meeting, Vice Mayor Phil Cox said code enforcement informed him there is nothing you can do when a property owner comes in to do work with no permits after hours such as the situation that unfolded with the Odell-Mor building, which made it difficult for the city and HPAC to keep an eye on the building.

Mayor Steve Nelsen said the Odell-Mor building was gutted on the inside and left unstable after work without permits was conducted.

“We had a fire in the building,” Nelsen said, “I think the decision should have been made quicker to do something with it versus putting up a fence and the transients just made it their own hotel and created a lot of heartache for downtown.”

According to Carrillo, 34 of the 368 buildings on the local historical register are currently classified as exceptional. The rest of Visalia’s historical structures and sites in the “focus” category—good to excellent quality that have significant value—and “background” category—may not be historically significant or unique and of themselves, but contribute positively as a group to the “visual fabric” of Visalia—are relatively unprotected from demolition under the current ordinance.

The Odell-Mor’s “background” classification left the historic building vulnerable. Now the empty lot serves as a reminder of the shortcomings in protecting Visalia’s historic buildings as HPAC and the city look to update the historic preservation ordinance.

Having previously suffered from a lack of participation, and now that six of seven seats are filled, HPAC has decided to conduct a full comprehensive review of the existing local register to look for any inaccurate classifications. The last historical register review was made in 2013. Chair of HPAC Patricia Kane said the Odell-Mor’s fate could be the same for many of Visalia’s historical buildings if adjustments aren’t made.

“Some areas we need to add properties that weren’t reviewed or have aged enough to be significant,” Kane said, “we have a process to do that. It’s important if we are going to maintain that we actually take care of these properties.”

Kane said she expects the number of structures and sites in the historical register to increase significantly upon review.

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