Michael White Adobe is Under Siege

Folks, we've got a crisis.

First, hats off to Ann Gray for alerting me to the evil machinations of the San Marino School District, who want to knock down a 164-year-old adobe to expand their high school swimming pool. Yes, you read that correctly.

Here's the brief story: "The adobe was constructed in 1845 by Michael White, a European sailor who adopted the name Miguel Blanco and became a Mexican citizen so he could own land in California, which was under Mexican rule at the time. White's mother-in-law was Eulalia Pérez de Guillén Mariné, who worked at the San Gabriel Mission and owned land that eventually become part of Pasadena, South Pasadena and San Marino." And then 100 years later, they built a high school right next to it. In the past few years they've spent $35 million on infrastructure to the high school, exactly $0 on the adobe (which is actually pretty well preserved – it isn't just a ruin) and now that they're out of money, it's called an "economic downturn," and they want to pave it until funds become available to expand the pool.


How about "you idiots built the pool in the wrong place."

Here's where it is: 2701 Huntington Drive, San Marino, CA 91108

Here are the villans on the Board of Education:

President Jeanie Caldwell
Vice-President Dr. Jeng Yen
Clerk C. Joseph Chang
Member Karen Preston
Member Chris Norgaard

and here's when the adobe gets the hatchet:

Board of Education Meeting
10/27/2009, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM

Location: District Office Board Room

1665 West Dr., San Marino, CA 91108

Please write them a letter and tell them what you think about their ideas of "economy" and "progress."



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~ by ravenjake on October 5, 2009.

3 Responses to “Michael White Adobe is Under Siege”

  1. This just in from Cindy Toffelmier in the Office of Historic Preservation. Although the adobe is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places, it otta be. So let's save it, and then preserve it, y'all:
    I would like to clarify the status of the Michael White Adobe. The property is not listed on the National Register. It does, however, have a "3S" status code, which means it appears to be eligible for listing on the National Register through survey evaluation. It does not appear to have been nominated to the National Register. The Office of Historic Preservation has commented on this property under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. You may request a copy of the comment letter. I am Ccing Michelle Messinger on this email, as she is the Office of Historic Preservation's CEQA coordinator. Please contact Michelle directly if you require a copy of the comment letter. Sincerely, Cynthia Toffelmier State Historian II Registration Unit Office of Historic Preservation 1416 9th Street, Rm 1442 Sacramento, CA 95814 (916) 653-5789 (916)653-9824 fax ctoffelmier@parks.ca.gov http://www.ohp.parks.ca.gov

  2. Our girl Terri at Pasadena Heritage thinks the building is worth saving too, and has been writin' letters for the cause. She says that Mike Buhler, the Advocacy Director for the LA Conservancy, thinks the Environmental Impact Report ain't right, and he ought to know. Look, when you got all these folks sayin' an old house is worth more than a swimming pool or parking lot, they're gonna be right:
    "Thanks very much for your email and your interesting and insightful comments about the Michael White adobe. Pasadena Heritage shares your concern and dismay about the possible fate of the building. I wrote a letter on PH's behalf to the San Marino Board of Education about two weeks back expressing this, and urging them to re-think their plans. I have also had numerous conversations with Mike Buhler, the Advocacy Director for the LA Conservancy, and he feels that the EIR for the project is terribly flawed. As you likely know, the LA Conservancy has been advocating on behalf of the adobe since this all began. Unfortunately, we have a major workshop for our members happening on October 27th, but still hope to be represented at the School Board meeting to express our concern and show solidarity on this with other preservation groups. Thanks again for your email, and feel free to contact us any time! Terri Geis, Ph.D. Preservation Director PASADENA HERITAGE 651 South Saint John Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91105 tel: 626.441.6333 ex. 17 fax: 626.441.2917 web: pasadenaheritage.org email: tgeis@pasadenaheritage.org

  3. This just in from Michelle C. Messinger, the CEQA [CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act] Coordinator . It is the local government unit OHP's [Office of Historic Preservation] CEQA letter for the Michael White Adobe project at San Marino High School.

    Basically, the Office of Historic Preservation is just letting the Board of Education have it and exposing their lies. Is it enough to save the adobe? I don't know, but it's another voice against them:
    To: Julie Boucher
    Assistant Superintendent, Business Services
    San Marino Unified School District
    1665 West Drive
    San Marino, CA 91108

    September 25, 2009

    – Sent via facsimile (626) 299-7010 and United States Postal Service –

    San Marino High School Michael White Adobe Project Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), # 2008101154

    Dear Ms. Boucher

    The State Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) has broad responsibility for the implementation of federal and state historic preservation programs in California. We thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) issued under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As we indicated to you, our office did not receive a copy of the DEIR via the State Clearinghouse. Per your phone message on September 17, 2009, we received an extension for our comment letter. We also were contacted by concerned members of the public, Mr. Andrew DiConti and Mr. Leroy Tolles about the planned demolition of the Michael White Adobe.

    My office is very concerned with a number of issues which we will be addressing in greater detail but foremost we are very troubled with the flawed CEQA process for this project and the proposed demolition of a rare and significant historical resource representing California’s history. The District has a legal obligation to comply with CEQA’s procedural and substantive mandates, and moreover as a lead agency, to “prevent the elimination of . . . examples of major periods of history.” (Public Resources Code 21001(c))

    Significance of Historical Resource
    The Michael White Adobe is a significant and rare historical building constructed in 1845. It is locally designated as a San Marino Landmark. It was found individually eligible to the National Register of Historical Places under Criterion B for its association with Michael White in a survey. The District’s consultant’s evaluation resulted in a finding that also in addition to Criterion 2 of the California Register of Historical Resources; the Adobe appears to be significant under Criterion 3 as a rare and unique property type in the region and under criterion 3 for its construction technique for its period of construction, 1845. The property continues to express its adobe construction though its form, thick walls and deep openings. Extant adobe buildings are an increasingly rare and important building type. Also the site of the Adobe appears significant under criterion 4 for the information potential it may yield about construction techniques and evidence of domestic life for the period of 1845 – circa 1920. In the early history of San Marino the Adobe is referenced as “one of the oldest buildings in San Marino still standing”. (Historical Resources

    Technical Report, Page 3-4) Therefore, it is important to reiterate that the Michael White Adobe is a one of a kind historical resource with wide-ranging significance and should be preserved, instead of razed.

    The Adobe overall retains a sufficient degree of integrity to convey its significance because it retains its location, its design, integrity of materials and workmanship and association. Due to the failure to recognize the significance of the historical resource and shortsighted planning, the construction of a swimming pool on two sides of the building has compromised the setting; nevertheless the overall integrity of the Adobe is intact.

    It appears that the San Marino Unified School District views historical resources as liabilities. To demolish the significant Michael White Adobe to create net useable asphalt space on campus is not a good use of a historical building. The Adobe indeed is small in physical size but huge for its historical significance in early California history. Moreover, there appears to be historical evidence that in 1928 what was to become the San Marino School District acquired the Adobe and its remaining land for construction of a future school. The PTA history even references a donation of land and adobe for the creation of schools in San Marino. (SMUSD website) In any case, the historical nexus between the development of schools in San Marino and the Adobe appears to be evident and the District should honor and preserve this historical resource with its connection to the (early) education in San Marino; one aspect of the Adobe’s importance among its other varied layers of significance in early California history.

    CEQA Concerns
    The San Marino Unified School District (SMUSD) released a Notice of Preparation (NOP) and Notice of Public Scoping Meeting on October 31, 2008. The final Initial Study is dated, October 2008. According to these three documents in the public record the project is the San Marino High School Pool Expansion. However, in the circulated DEIR the project description was changed to the San Marino High School Michael White Adobe Project. Now, according to the DEIR the sole project is the demolition of the Adobe. The District has changed the project description and project objectives in the middle of the environmental review process, thus defining the project so narrowly that any reasonable consideration of alternatives to the project is precluded.

    Moreover, under CEQA project segmentation is not permitted. But the San Marino Unified School District is violating CEQA by segmenting the Adobe demolition project from the future San Marino High School Pool expansion. The only physical use identified in the project objectives for the Adobe’s demolition is the “expansion of useable recreational space on campus.” (DEIR 3-1) You indicated on the phone, that “the High School Pool Expansion was currently not pursued due to lack of funding.” But implied is that in the future when the District has re-gained enough funds, the Pool Expansion project would occur. However, pursuant to CEQA all phases of a project, the project “as a whole” require to receive environmental review. The demolition of the Michael White Adobe is part of the future High School Pool Expansion and should be reviewed as a single project.

    The proposed project is the demolition of the Adobe; once the adobe is demolished it will be replaced with a concrete-asphalt open area for students to congregate. But since the project has been changed from a pool expansion to only the demolition of the Adobe, any potential discussion of alternatives to the pool expansion and the preservation of the Adobe have been removed. In the NOP, three different scenarios

    were considered by the District, scenario A, the expansion of the pool in its current location, scenario B and scenario C the relocation of the pool to the basketball courts, and relocating the basketball courts to the areas of the pool and the Adobe. (NOP page 2) But by reducing the project, no further consideration of any reasonable alternatives to the project is possible.

    One of the project objectives for the Adobe demolition is the maximization of net useable space and to ensure the efficient and responsible use of District funds. Considering the footprint of the Adobe (less than 1,200sf) and its surroundings the net useable space the campus will gain is less than 3,000sf (see Preliminary Estimate Carmichael-Kemp, Architects, 3-9-09). For the SMUSD to gain less than 3,000sf asphalt which students might not even use, the District will spent $ 176,500 for the costs of the demolition, documentation and site restoration, etc. and to this dollar amount one also must add the costs for the environmental review process and its documents which are certainly not minor. This does raise the question whether spending easily over $200.000 for the demolition of a historical building is indeed an efficient and responsible use of District funds if the net gain of useable space is less than 3,000sf. Perhaps investing these funds in needed work on the Adobe, for its maintenance, would seem a good solution and thus interpreting the Adobe’s history for the benefit of the students and community.

    One of the alternatives the current DEIR examines is Rehabilitation in situ following the Secretary of Interior’s Standards. But the District has concluded that compliance with the Standards precludes compliance with the requirements of the Division of State Architect (DSA) since the building would not comply with DSA safety requirements, it could not be used by students or staff of the District. (DEIR 7-4)

    The rehabilitation alternative only examines rehabilitation to the highest standard. The District has not examined other preservation alternatives and solutions. One possibility that should be examined in the CEQA process is the use and benefit of a conservation easement. While conservation easements are effective preservation tools they also provide a tax deduction that could benefit the District. Another possibility could be the sale of the Adobe to a new owner such as an interested non-profit or local historical society who also with the use of a conservation easement could rehabilitate the historical building and open it for regulated public use in its original location.

    Demolition of the Adobe
    Considering the evidence before us, it is clear that the SMUSD appears to have committed itself to the demolition of the historical Adobe. The CEQA document seems to be merely an-after-the-fact requirement justifying this decision. This approach is counter to the intent of CEQA which requires a lead agency to provide decision makers, in this case the School Board, with information about the environmental effects of their project so they can make an informed decision about approving a project based on the facts before them in the DEIR. This appears not to be the case here because several actions by the District all point to the fact that the District has already pre-determined that the Adobe will be demolished.
    ü At the August 18, 2009 San Marino Unified School Board meeting there was discussion wherein it was stated that proposed demolition would be paid for by the District’s insurance company.
    ü In the Pasadena Star-News on September 4, 2009 the District advertised for solicitation of bids for the Michael White Adobe demolition at San Marino High School. A walk-through was going to be held on Sept. 22nd, 2009 at the High School. The close of the public comment deadline for the DEIR was the following day, September 23, 2009.
    ü By September 11, 2009, consultants hired by SMUSD were on site implementing HABS documentation of the Adobe. (source: Los Angeles Conservancy) Although HABS documentation is recommended in the DEIR as a mitigation measure for the demolition, the School Board has not approved the DEIR. The Board is not scheduled to act on the Final EIR until October 27, 2009.

    It is evident from these actions that the San Marino Unified School District seems to have already “approved” the demolition of the historical Adobe and the CEQA process is a meaningless paper exercise.

    Adobe Condition & Liability Issue
    The District refers to maintenance costs for the Adobe but there is no reference what the annual maintenance costs for the Adobe are, what the annual regular maintenance consists of or which regular work over the last five to 10 years has been performed maintaining/improving the condition of the building.

    No condition assessment for the adobe was performed as part of the DEIR. A qualified preservation professional with specific knowledge of and experience in assessing adobes for earthquake stability should be consulted. Evidence of this adobe’s stability is the fact that it is still standing after 164 years and the Getty Conservation Institute’s Survey of Damaged Adobe Building in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake has concluded that the Michael White Adobe did not suffer any damage. (Page 143)

    The local San Marino Historical Society has led regular tours of the Adobe until 1998 and according to their website also stores their archival materials and records there and for over fifty years the Michael White Adobe has been fenced in on the campus of the San Marino High School and been used. The DEIR does not provide any information about known claims or accidents. The Loss Control Field Inspection report, dated August 2008 (Appendix C DEIR) recommends several basic maintenance measures which would minimize potential risks. These measures include increasing the height of the fence, regular interior and exterior inspections of chimney, windows, and roofs, trimming of landscape features, new signage, lighting, smoke detectors, and more. The report does mention that there is termite damage and some water damage and recommends repairs. At a minimum, SMUSD should be implementing these recommendations as part of their regular maintenance and in addition, discuss the feasibility of addressing some of the other repairs in the DEIR. However, the need to demolish the Adobe is not mentioned once in the report.

    We very strongly recommend that the District consider the many deficiencies outlined in this letter and re-initiate the CEQA process. The new CEQA document should be based on a complete and accurate project description that considers the project as a whole and develops a range of alternatives taking into account SMUSD future plans for the High School and for the preservation of the Michael White Adobe for the benefit of future generations.

    We thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above project. Please understand that our comments herein are specifically related to the environmental review process and adequacy of documents prepared
    for the environmental review purposes. We do not take positions in support of or against projects, but rather focus on the environmental review process itself.

    If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Michelle C. Messinger, Historian II, CEQA Coordinator Local Government Unit at (916) 653-5099 or at mmessinger@parks.ca.gov.


    Milford Wayne Donaldson, FAIA
    State Historic Preservation Officer

    Cc: Anthea Hartig, Director, Western Office, National Trust for Historic Preservation
    Cindy Heitzman, Executive Director, California Preservation Foundation
    Linda Dishman, Executive Director, Los Angeles Conservancy
    E. Leroy Tolles
    Andrew R. DiConti
    Eugene Sun, Mayor, City, San Marino
    Gary Woods, Superintendent, San Marino Unified School District
    Stacy St. James, Coordinator, South Central Coastal Information Center
    Richard Conrad, Ex-Secretary, State Historical Building Code Safety Board
    Ave Bortz, President, San Marino Historical Society
    State Clearinghouse

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