The Kenwood Press
News: 03/01/2014

Glen Ellen historic district plan will be reviewed

Initial study shows plans may be premature

Jay Gamel

It’s been almost a full year since the county’s Landmarks Commission (LC) looked at the possibility of implementing a Historic District designation for a part of Glen Ellen and approved a second phase of inventory and assessment, which is now complete. The Commission will discuss the idea further at its March 4 meeting in Santa Rosa.

Basically, a historic district designation imposes a further level of scrutiny on development and remodeling plans for both empty and previously developed properties, and applies to how the exterior of the buildings comport with the historical character of the district, not to how the insides are configured. Sonoma County has established historic districts in Bodega, Duncans Mills, Freestone, Occidental and Petaluma.

Painter Preservation & Planning prepared an Assessment of Historic Resources for the Community of Glen Ellen over the past year, commissioned by the Sonoma County Landmarks Commission. Company principal Diana Painter found 33 percent of the surveyed properties met the basic criteria to set up a historic preservation district. National guidelines suggested a 60 percent level to be considered to be eligible for the designation.

“This really hasn’t risen to an History District yet in my opinion,” Painter told the LC meeting in January. “There’s no strong message in the make-up of the corridor,” she said, referring to the corridor between downtown Glen Ellen and Jack London Village.

The mix of buildings in the area also poses challenges to finding a homogenous historical district, Painter noted in her assessment. “For example, the property on which the Glen Ellen Inn is located also includes the Glen Ellen Grill, the fig caf, a dentist’s office, a veterinary hospital, the Glen Ellen Grocery, the Glen Ellen Post Office, and Allen Real Estate, whose dates of development range from about 1880 to 1962. Note also that some of these buildings are conjoined, further challenging recordation and a determination of historic significance. For example, the circa-1930 veterinary hospital would be a contributing resource, but for the fact that it is attached to the non-contributing dentist’s office and the fig caf.”

Charles Mikulik, current president of the Glen Ellen Historical Society (GEHS) and a graduate student earning his Master’s in cultural preservation at Sonoma State University, wants to get the community involved in the whole idea of historical preservation.

“Citizens have a right to their history,” Mikulik told GEHS members in late February. In a presentation entitled, “Not Losing the Real Glen Ellen,” he said citizens must take control over their own heritage. He used the example of the community coming together to keep an antique cannon donated to the town in 1905 that sits on the corner of Arnold and Jack London drives, at the Jack London Lodge. After learning it was to be sold to a collector, community activists actually chained themselves to the cannon until a deal was worked out to keep it on the property.

“The Glen Ellen Church and the cannon are part of Glen Ellen’s history, and help define who we are and where we are going.”

Documentation is a critical part of historical preservation, collecting as much information as possible about properties and buildings. Mikulik is trying to work up a simplified documentation and stewardship program and is looking for volunteers to “adopt” local buildings and follow up by taking pictures and gathering as much information as they can about the property, and keeping the photos and information current a couple of times a year, if possible.

Yolanda Solano of the Permit and Resource Management Department (PRMD) said the LC will explore their options, “but establishment of a historic district or revision of the Glen Ellen Design Guidelines would require a long public process including public outreach and workshops to be sure there is support.”

The March 4 meeting of the Landmarks Commission will be held at 5 p.m. at the PRMD hearing room, 2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa.