Survey Will Provide a History Lesson About Local Structures

San Marino’s ongoing historic resources survey — the city’s first — is expected to be presented in final form to the City Council in October, after which the report is slated to become the newest tool for the Planning and Building Department and local residents.
The 145-page draft of the survey’s context statement as well as the draft resource map of San Marino are available for viewing on the city’s website at cityofsanmarino.org. They combine to illustrate for the first time a comprehensive architectural history of the residential suburb known for the aesthetic quality of its homes.
“We’ve talked about it for the last five years and now it’s out there,” said Planning and Building Director Aldo Cervantes in a phone interview. “There have been attempts to develop a preservation ordinance in the past, but those had not made it past the discussion point with the past [city] councils.”
The historic preservation ordinance approved last year — a signature issue on then-Mayor Steve Talt’s agenda, as well as throughout the prior council election — commissioned the survey, which was ultimately assigned to Los Angeles-based Architectural Resources Group Inc. In general, the survey identifies the myriad eras of residential development in San Marino before and after its 1913 incorporation and identifies the criteria by which a property or structure may be formally designated as historic.
“By establishing a comprehensive list of the city’s potential historical resources, this document serves as a valuable information tool that can help to guide planning and land use decisions,” ARG states in an overview in the draft survey.
The draft identifies four distinct eras of development in San Marino: Early Development (1870-1912), Becoming a City (1913-1930), the Great Depression and Wartime (1931-1945) and Postwar Development (1946-1980). It also highlights the various uses of certain architectural styles through the city’s development, particularly throughout certain tracts or neighborhoods.
“We’re able to identify who the owners were, who designed the house, who the architect was,” Cervantes said. “There’s just a lot more detail.”
The draft survey confirms, for any skeptics, that San Marino began as an affluent residential suburb of single-family homes and minimal commercial real estate and with a reputation for strict planning and zoning. Like much of California, the city saw population and residential expansion during the post-World War II boom, though the report clearly establishes when the municipality reached its limit; by contrast, the surrounding communities continue to expand in population.
“Between 1940 and 1950, San Marino’s population increased from 8,175 to 10,656 people, and by 1960 it had reached 13,658,” the draft survey reads. “It has hovered around that size ever since, with the exception of a 1970 height of 14,177; this is a clear indicator that the city had reached its physical capacity for development by then.”
Whereas longtime residents are exceedingly familiar with established landmarks such as the Old Mill or the Michael White Adobe, this document will be able to provide additional information about their homes or neighborhoods, particularly useful if current or prospective property owners are mulling a remodel or new construction. There will be at least minimal information about every home in town. Indeed, much of the public lobbying for the preservation ordinance was fueled by the mounting number of teardowns of homes seen as a necessary part of San Marino’s character — teardowns approved amid the lack of a mechanism to legally prohibit them.
“With this information being a tool, we’re able to tell people, ‘Well, if you’re thinking about tearing this house down, you might want to take a look at this,’” Cervantes explained. “It’s certainly going to give some ammunition to the preservationists out there who want to say, ‘Hey, let’s not jump the gun here on these projects.’ It does sort of shape how we move forward. It becomes part of the public documentation. It’s sort of our way of saying, ‘We’re looking for preservation of our architectural homes and not so much seeing them go.’”
The survey identifies both wide swaths of neighborhood and specific properties that have historic qualities; for obvious reasons, these are more plainly identified in the accompanying map.
Cervantes emphasized that the survey does not and will not give immediate, formal designation as historic landmarks to
any property, and presents only the variety of qualities by which
a property could be considered
for landmark designation. Property owner consent must still be attained for formal designation.
“This process doesn’t automatically designate properties,” he said. “What it does do is bring it all to the forefront, not only telling staff but a potential resident coming in that a property or district you’re coming into has some significance to it.”
ARG’s work through the past year has included input from city officials, the San Marino Historical Society (which has been “right by our side every which way to help build the list,” Cervantes added) and a variety of local residents. Additionally, the city’s monthly town hall meeting scheduled for Monday, Aug. 5, will be dedicated to historic preservation.
“We’ve had residents show up at those meetings and they were very vocal about whether they should look at this or that, even to the point of them giving ARG specific addresses to check out,” Cervantes said. “A lot of folks have had a hand in this.”

Leave a Reply