HomeCouncil Chooses Spanish Colonial Revival for Renovated Center

Council Chooses Spanish Colonial Revival for Renovated Center

The designs for the new San Marino Center will reflect a Spanish colonial revival aesthetic, following the direction of a sharply divided City Council last week.
Vice Mayor Ken Ude, Councilwoman Susan Jakubowski and Councilman Steve Talt voted to proceed with this direction, which will task designers with altering the current midcentury modern style of the building in their concept design, which the council expects to review in December. Assuming those designs are approved, work will begin on the blueprints for the building’s renovation.
Mayor Gretchen Shepherd Romey did not mince words in her expected dissent here.
“If we wanted to go this route, then we should be talking about tearing it down and building something like the library,” she said at Friday’s meeting. “I think it’s a huge and fatal mistake, that this would ever be a successful project, regardless of the other decisions in the interior.”
The mayor on Friday made an impassioned case for retaining the current style, sprucing it up and patching over the imperfections that have developed throughout the years from additions or patch-jobs. She said “we’re going to kid ourselves” that the architectural style change will be a good use of the approximately $400,000 it’s expected to add to the project.
“When I want to change my home, if I want to make it from a Tudor into a Spanish house, I’m not going to leave my same home, stick on a tile roof and call it ‘matching Spanish style,’ and I’m also not going to match my neighbors,” Shepherd Romey said. “I don’t think we live in a community where we look around and we want to match our neighbors.”
The bulk of the San Marino Center’s renovation will replace and upgrade utility lines and structural defects, as well as make the building compliant with Americans With Disabilities Act requirements. The council also voted to relocate the kitchen to the south side of the building and to replace it with a catering kitchen rather than a full version, to relocate the bathrooms closer to the main entrance and to do away with the upstairs projection room.
Additionally, at Shepherd Romey’s urging, the council agreed to have the Planning Commission review the finished concept design in November, before the council takes it up again.
The decision on architectural style had been delayed from a prior meeting after there were unanswered questions as to the potential historical significance of the building, which was constructed in 1952 for the San Marino Woman’s Club and was designed by noted architect Marion Varner, who is said to have resided in San Marino at some point.
“I think if we step back and look at this, the very fact that it is, I’m going to say, resembling a traditional home is exactly what Varner intended this to be because it was for the women’s club,” Shepherd Romey said, later adding, “That is so fundamental to what it should look like, in my mind, and why it needs to be preserved. If you had a report done and somebody went back and looked at the way it is, they would see that it still retains high integrity.”
It transpired that the building is indeed listed as a California Resource by the state, but by virtue of it apparently being San Marino’s first community center rather than any significance about its construction or integrity. Additionally, Mary Ringhoff, with the firm Architectural Resources Group, conducted her own evaluation of the building.
“In her independent evaluation, she had found that the building was not eligible based off artistic value nor architectural style,” explained Community Development Director Aldo Cervantes. “It is my understanding that this fact allows for certain leeway of architectural changes to the building, as well as ADA improvements.”
Added Talt: “As long as we retain this and retain the elements that make this a community center, we are appropriately saving the integrity of what makes it a California historic resource. That, in my view, is the important element.”
The revamp of the San Marino Center was a priority initiative of the council this year and is largely intended to help extract the city’s Recreation Department — itself experiencing a redesign — from the Stoneman School building. A task force was convened in July to work on taking community input and developing recommendations for what to change, based on that information.
The city also contracted with Crane Architectural Services as the designer for the project, based on the firm’s familiarity with both the city and its buildings. The council ultimately adopted all of the task force’s recommendations, which are intended to form a true community center alongside the Crowell Public Library.
“I would love to see this be a San Marino Center that is both library and this building and to feel a flow between the two,” Jakubowski said Friday. “I fully respect the logic and the support for keeping it in light with the library and my bottom line is, if we didn’t want to weigh these different parties and surveys as part of our input, why use them?”
Talt said he agreed and indicated he was persuaded to change his initial opinion to keep the current style after speaking with residents.
“After having really heard the discussion, like many members of the task force, I changed my mind,” he said. “Then I went out in the community and started asking questions … really, with the exception of those whom I’ve seen on iPetition or who have commented today, most of the people said we should change the front.”
Councilman Steven Huang, who joined Shepherd Romey in voting to keep the building midcentury modern, wondered why no one thought to design the library to match the San Marino Center when it was built from the ground up.
“It’s a shame that they didn’t make the library harmonious to this center when it was built,” he said. “How come nobody mentioned that when the library was built? We could have saved a lot of money when we built that library.”
Ude pushed back against cost-related gripes with the decision and pointed out that even if the city just did the bare minimum to address deferred maintenance and ADA compliance, which costs $3.1 million of the projected $5.2 million. This, in his eyes, makes him frame the issue as a $2 million question.
“When I look at the numbers, the cost is not that significant to me, so I think then that we need to do what’s right,” he said. “I don’t think San Marino is a ‘cheap’ place. I think San Marino is pretty special, and we should do what we can to continue to invest in the community, make it better and enhance it.”

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