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Royal Oak

Historic designation to be studied for neighborhood

June 9, 2014

» click to enlarge «
Mitch Gaska stands in front of his childhood home that he now lives in with his wife along the 1100 block of North Altadena Avenue. His family moved to the home in 1958. Gaska supports having the entire neighborhood designated as a historic district.

Royal Oak’s Historic District Study Committee, normally tasked with examining a single building to determine its historic value, is about to take on its largest project ever — an entire neighborhood.

The committee will be looking into whether the 1000 and 1100 blocks of North Altadena Avenue, dominated by homes built in the 1920s, deserve a historic designation.

The blocks, officials say, are unique in Royal Oak in that the homes were all built by the same designer for employees of an auto supply company that provided automakers with springs for shocks.

The homes are set back farther from the street than most homes in the city, and the trees lining the streets are fully matured.

“It’s got a warm feeling to it, as if you are in a real neighborhood,” said Ruth Cleaveland, the chairwoman of the Historic District Study Committee.

The task ahead, though, has left Cleaveland with many questions. One of them: How does a six-member committee tackle the inspection of 30 homes in a timely manner?

She said the committee has never taken on more than one building for a study. Just one alone can take nine months to put together.

“We have always done individual buildings — either homes or businesses,” she said.

Rita Weaver, a resident of the neighborhood for 28 years, approached Cleaveland earlier this year with the idea of having the blocks considered for historic designation.

When she and her husband first moved to Royal Oak 30 years ago, they rented a place a block east of Altadena, fell in love with the homes there and waited a year for one to go up for sale.

Nearly three decades later, she is worried a resurgent housing market that has seen new homes sprouting up throughout the city could destroy the integrity of the block.

“Even a brand new home on our block would completely change the facades of the houses,” she said.

In the spring, she invited Cleaveland and other members of the committee to her home for a question-and-answer session on what exactly the designation would mean.

Weaver said 29 residents representing 17 homes in the neighborhood showed up to what turned out to be a two-hour meeting.

Days later, she canvassed Altadena collecting petition signatures. In all, 24 of 30 homeowners gave the OK to start the study, according to the Historic District Study Committee.

That majority may not be enough for eventual approval of the historic district.

After the study is complete, the committee will put together a report on its findings. The report will go before the Planning Commission and then the City Commission for final approval, and some commission members have said that without 100 percent consensus from homeowners on the list, they will not approve it.

Essentially, the designation would require a homeowner who wanted to make changes to the exterior of the home to first seek approval from the Historic District Commission, an extra step some residents are not willing to make.

“We love the block and we love our city, but as this proposal stands, we are not in favor of it at all,”  said Rob Taylor, a resident whose house is slated for the study.

He spoke at the June 2 City Commission meeting, when the commission was to decide on placing a six-month demolition moratorium on the block while the study was being conducted. The commission voted against the moratorium.

Taylor said he was both against the moratorium and the historic designation.

Cleaveland has not set a deadline for when she hopes to have the study completed.

“I wouldn’t want to do that because that would be pushing people and that’s one thing as a chair I do not do,” she said. “I’d rather (the study) be correct and precise rather than ‘hurry up and get it done.’”

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