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By Larry Culbertson
San Clemente was incorporated as a city on Feb. 28, 1928, a little more than two years after Ole Hanson began selling lots from a tent located near where the Hotel San Clemente was later built. Our City Council has declared the last Saturday in February to be San Clemente Day to pay homage to our founding as a city. On Feb. 28, 2018, San Clemente will officially turn 90 years old. Special celebrations are being planned, but we should do more.
An important part of celebrating our history is recognizing and honoring the structures still extent from our founding years. We have 203 public buildings, commercial buildings and homes listed on the Designated Historic Resources and Landmarks List. In 2007, the city determined the 22 most significant of the 203 would be further designated as landmarks. Five of the 203 are important enough to our history that they have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. All 203 are protected but not well recognized or acknowledged. If you travel down the streets of old San Clemente, you can usually spot the “Ole Hanson Houses” because of their characteristic look. But few have any indication of their importance to our history.
Thirty years ago, the San Clemente Historical Society initiated a program of medallions affixed to the most important historic buildings. A few of those still exist but most are gone. We are working on a new program that would make plaques available to all historic structures to help the public appreciate our heritage.
Another important tool the city needs to reconsider is the implementation of one or more historic districts. A historic district is a group of buildings, properties or sites that have been designated as historically significant. Not every building within a historic district needs to be historic. Some have hundreds of structures, others have just a few.
San Clemente’s historic resources are spread through the original village from Casa Pacifica at our southern tip to the Ole Hanson Beach Club in the north. They are mostly concentrated around the city’s central core. A good option might be to have several small districts that hold special significance to our history. For instance, North Beach, the T-Zone (Avenida Del Mar and surrounding), the Pier Bowl and Cazador Lane.
The idea of establishing historic districts was suggested in the Historic Resources Update that the city completed in 2006. In 2009, a Joint City Council/Planning Commission Workshop formally took up the issue in an “Analysis of the Potential for Designation of a Historic District in North Beach.” Another study was done by the outside consultant. Again, the consultant extolled the virtues of designating a historic district at North Beach. Because of fear that such designation might delay two projects that were in the development pipeline, the City Council opted not to pursue the designation.
Those two projects were the Casino San Clemente and Playa Del Norte. Neither of those two projects happened. Fortunately, the Casino was marvelously restored, and the triangle lot will continue to provide much needed parking for the Beach Club, beach and trail users, Metrolink, and the historic buildings surrounding it.
It would serve the city of San Clemente well if the amazing transformations that have occurred in North Beach, downtown and the Pier Bowl would be designated as Historic Districts during our 90th anniversary San Clemente Day celebrations next year.
Larry Culbertson has been a resident of San Clemente for more than 10 years and is the vice president of the San Clemente Historical Society.