City marks 2022 for historic preservation

Visalia City Council approves signs designating the city’s Historic District in and around downtown

VISALIA – The Historic Preservation District has existed in the downtown area since 1979 but most people don’t know it exists, including some of those who live in it.

The city of Visalia is hoping to change that by decking the district with signage it approved late last year. Councilmember Brett Taylor advocated for the signage and happily allocated $13,000 for the signs and staff time to install them as part of a unanimous vote at the Visalia City Council’s Nov. 15 meeting.

The three areas that make up the Historic District are located north of Downtown Visalia, north of Redwood High School, and within the geographical boundary of South Bridge Street, South Conyer Street, West Tulare Street, and State Highway 198.

Walter Diessler, chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, said he estimates the city will begin putting up the signs in February. Diessler, who helped form the committee in 1979, returned to town a year and a half ago to find the committee had dwindling participation and had not updated its survey of historic buildings since the committee’s creation. One of the critique’s of the HPAC and the historic district is that many people are unaware of it or its boundaries.

“We have people living in the district who don’t know there is one,” Diessler said. “And that could be detrimental if they try to make changes to those buildings before they find out.”

The signs will also help draw the general public’s attention to the area as HPAC begins its work to develop a walking tour brochure of the district in partnership with Visalia Heritage. Created out of the need have a nonprofit organization to raise money to help preserve the inventory of historic sites, Visalia Heritage was formed shortly after the city completed the original survey in 1978.

“I don’t think a lot of people even know we have a historic district,” Visalia Heritage president Michael Kreps said in a previous interview.

The district contains a small portion of sites on Visalia’s Local Register of Historic Structures which have been designated as “exceptional,” meaning they are historically significant and in excellent condition and are protected from being demolished or relocated under the city’s ordinance. Yet 90% of the nearly 400 sites on the list fall into either the “focus” category—good to excellent quality that have significant value—and “background” category—may not be historically significant or unique in and of themselves, but contribute positively as a group to the “visual fabric” of Visalia—which are relatively unprotected from demolition under the current ordinance.

The city has already lost one piece of residential history when the Odell-Mor building was demolished in May. The 1914 bungalow at 209 N. Encina was believed to be Visalia’s oldest multi-family housing development but the property was only given a background designation, so nothing could be done to prevent the building’s demise. The empty dirt lot now serves as reminder of how quickly the city’s history can be lost if it isn’t preserved.

HPAC has almost completed its survey of all of the buildings in the city’s historic overlay district and will spend the next months reviewing properties which may need to be added to the list. Anyone interested in helping complete the new survey of the city’s historic buildings in and around downtown should call the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee at 559-713-4443.

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