Property Survey Shaping Up as History Lesson for Homeowners

Director Aldo Cervantes
Photo by Zane Hill / OUTLOOK
Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes guides more than a dozen residents at Monday’s Town Hall meeting on what the draft map of the city’s potential historic resources indicates.

When completed, the city’s historic resource survey will not designate any properties as historic landmarks — only the City Council, with the consent of the property owner, can do that — but it will help educate residents on the history of their homes and neighborhoods.
Armed with that information, residents should be better equipped to maintain their homes in a manner consistent with their architectural integrity and to decide whether to apply for historic landmark designation, according to city Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes. The survey, which is being performed by Los Angeles-based Architectural Resources Group, will serve as “a tool for staff to help guide a property owner.”
“We’re able to use that as a tool to encourage the preservation of property,” Cervantes said, speaking to more than a dozen residents at Monday’s Town Hall meeting, which concerned the ongoing survey.
Using a draft map of what the survey indicates at this point, Cervantes showed residents that aside from some formally designated historic landmarks — the Huntington Library, Thornton Estate and Edwin Hubble Home, for example — a significant number of properties in the community that are potential historic resources; this indicates that there exists enough context on such dwellings to trigger certain state mandates regarding their upkeep.
There is “a certain level of respect” owners must have for those homes, Cervantes explained. These “character-defining traits,” whether it’s the low-pitch red tile roof of a Spanish Colonial Revival home or the tall, narrow multi-pane windows of Tudor homes, should be maintained to the best of the homeowner’s ability, per state law.
“And we have to help you do that,” Cervantes added.
Other such traits can include the fact that a home was designed by a prominent architect or built in a neighborhood during a pivotal time in San Marino’s history. Historical significance can also refer to prior owners of a home, as in the case of astronomer Hubble’s home.
“It could list a mural inside the house, for all we know,” Cervantes said. “Once you let these elements deteriorate or replace them with modern elements, you are potentially losing a historic resource. There’s a lot of moving pieces to this tool. It’s not a matter of saying, ‘This room needs to be saved but everything else can go.’
“I can tell you that there are a lot more properties than are currently on this map that are going to qualify [as potential historic resources] based on architectural integrity alone,” he added.
Relatively strict guidelines on modifying a home won’t be news for San Marino residents, as the city’s design review and planning guidelines already stipulate that projects adhere to the existing character of a property and its neighborhood. Fleur Drive, for example, is populated almost entirely by Spanish Colonial Revival homes, Cervantes pointed out.
“In doing work on that street, you have to make sure the architectural style, the architectural purity, is maintained,” he said.
However, Cervantes warned, merely being a potential historic resource is enough for the state to enhance those restrictions and mandates.
“If you’ve made it on this survey, that label means that you have to take into account there will be limitations to the work you can do,” he said, adding that part of the city’s work will be to ensure real estate agents communicate this reality to prospective buyers.
A property owner who formally designates his or her home as a historic landmark through the City Council could reap benefits, Cervantes explained in response to audience members’ questions. The designation opens up a home to a Mills Act agreement, in which the homeowner is granted a substantial reduction in property tax for 10 years as a form of financial relief for maintaining the property.
A historic landmark also tends to have an uptick in property value, should the owner ever wish to sell. Landmark designation also serves as a repellent for Senate Bill 35, which can force municipalities to accept affordable housing developments under some circumstances.

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