There’s a lot of angst about the possibility the former Whitaker Home at East Yosemite and Commerce avenues could be razed and replaced with a McDonald’s fast food joint.
There are even those who are avid enemies of concepts such as eminent domain where a government agency essentially compromises property rights for the public good who can’t understand why the City of Manteca could let such a thing happen.
The house is being called a landmark by some. That obviously is a debatable point. What isn’t, though, is the fact Manteca has very little in the way of notable structures that would qualify for legitimate landmark status and absolutely no organized civic effort to preserve them.
Ironically, the home didn’t attract much attention at all until 12 years ago when development started transforming the 362-acre Spreckels Sugar refinery that was once next door. Part of a private sector deal that made Commerce Avenue possible and ultimately allowed Home Depot to build paid the property owner for a strip of land with cash and put in place much of the extensive landscaping you see today. Growth breathed new life into the hybrid plantation-style home that has housed everything from antique sales to a spa over the past decade.
The problem with creating a historic preservation ordinance is the simple fact it starts eroding property rights. Some just give a home the designation while other municipal laws - such as the one in Berkeley - puts extensive review and approval process in place that even simple repairs to a building with a historical landmark provision requires city advisory boards and the bureaucracy to grant approval first.
The land where the house stands is clearly zoned commercial. Like it or not, it is perfectly within the owners’ right to sell it to a company that wants to build a fast food venture. And unless you are willing to out-bid such a buyer, the property owner is free to do as they wish.
There is a legitimate argument to preserve older and significant structures through municipal ordinances. Just remember, though, that it could one day impact you.
Some cities, for example, are trying to confer historical landmark status on styles of production houses from those that came from catalogues of a century ago such as Sears to flat-tops and straight-forward California ranch-style tract homes.
The argument is the evolution of neighborhoods with remodeling as well as demolition and replacement not only changes the character but is thinning the ranks of historic housing styles.
They’ve got a point - to a degree. The natural forward progression of civilization ultimately changes the looks of a community. Many preservation laws are anchored in the belief that a community’s unique character needs to be preserved so it doesn’t become a vanilla copycat of what is best described as California suburban-sprawl.
But then again, when there is something worth saving, the private sector seems to do quite fine. Look at classic 1920s to 1950s neighborhoods in the Bay Area and even neighboring Modesto and Stockton as well as parts of Ripon near downtown that boast of majestic giant sycamores lining streets.
There is enough appeal that people move into those neighborhoods for the specific feel. Rarely do you see major departures from the architectural style even in remodeling.
There aren’t really significant concentrations of such neighborhoods in Manteca that are defined by architectural styles save the tract homes that started appearing in the 1960s. There are individual homes here and there - the Powers Home next to the museum and the old cotrell house just across the street on West Yosemite Avenue - that are significant enough and in good shape to perhaps one day constitute a serious municipal effort toward preservation.
But doing so will compromise property rights. How can those dead set against a city using eminent domain to build streets justify that same city putting in place rules to essentially take away property by limiting its ultimate use by imposing specific rules that will not allow you to alter the building in significant ways that would otherwise be legal.
There is a delicious irony in all of this. Some cities deep into the preservation mode are making pitches to avoid the demolition of some original McDonald’s restaurants.
It might strike you as a bit off but if the current McDonald’s next to the Manteca Bowl is still around unchanged but being used for other purposes 75 years from now and someone wanted to tear it down, there might just be a cry and a hue to preserve it as well.