Two architecturally notable homes — one designed by George Washington Smith and the other by Julia Morgan — won't be listed because they've returned to dust. Their wealthy owners — Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison, respectively — were less than enthusiastic about preserving them.
Asserting one's property rights would still be an option for owners in a historic preservation ordinance the Town Council is considering. During an April 9 study session on a draft ordinance, the council told staff to add a requirement that no property would be added to the town's list without the consent of the owner. Town officials are also looking for ways to encourage preservation. After three hours of review and comment, the draft went back to staff for further refinement.
Among the issues that arose:
• Woodside's deferral to homeowners notwithstanding, the state requires buildings 50 years old or older to be evaluated for historic significance before demolition or major alteration. Since such evaluations cost $2,500 to $3,500, the council considered whether the town should help the owner cover the costs.
• The state's Mills Act of 1972 offer owners of historic structures some property tax relief in exchange for their maintenance efforts. The council discussed its own incentives such as allowing more residential floor area and paved surface.
• A new owner of a preserved property, or that owner's attorney, may find loopholes in regulations. Mr. Jobs removed the windows and doors of the Jackling House — to prevent them from being vandalized, he said — as he engaged in a 10-year legal battle for demolition rights. The draft ordinance defines "demolition by neglect" and will establish penalties. The council considered what an effective penalty would be to residents who could absorb a five-figure fine with barely a blink.
Woodside officially cares about the town's history, as does the state through its register of historic structures. The Woodside general plan, its de facto constitution, includes a chapter on historic preservation. "The continued preservation of the historic environment is dependent upon the continued stewardship by its citizens," the plan reads. "By understanding its history, the Town of Woodside can preserve its unique sense of place and quality of life. Preservation celebrates the historic and cultural resources that define the community, and ensures historic Woodside will survive to enrich lives for generations to come."
The Jackling House will not be enriching any more lives; perhaps its artifacts will. The town salvaged a 50-foot flagpole, a copper mailbox, roof tiles, an organ, woodwork, fireplace mantles, light fixtures and moldings. Some are in storage, some are displayed in the town museum, and a Woodside couple has asked the town for the right to use some in a new house celebrating the style of the architect.
The Jackling House suffered intrusions from weather and wildlife, both botanical and zoological. Woodside's preservation ordinance, if enacted, would serve to raise the alarm through "standards for reasonable care." Sagging, leaning, splitting, listing or buckling on a historic building could be considered a sign of neglect, whether it's a wall, a floor or a chimney. Roofs and exterior walls would require protection from the weather. Repairs would be necessary for broken or deteriorating doors and windows.
In determining what to celebrate from the past, waiting is important, said Planning Director Jackie Young. Passing time tends to weed out passing fancies. The common benchmark, defensible in court, is 50 years, she said, a standard the council agreed to. That would bring 60 percent of Woodside's homes under the scrutiny of state laws that consider "historical resources" part of the environment and require assessment of their historic value before demolition or major alteration.
The recent past shows that Woodside property owners shouldn't lose any sleep. In a staff report, Ms. Young noted that of 272 residential and commercial projects that have come before the town in recent years, the Architectural and Site Review Board and/or Planning Commission have asked for evaluation reports of historic significance for 27.
Seven of those 27 reports found the sites eligible for state listing, and all seven were subsequently "saved or adaptively re-used," Ms. Young said in an email. The other 20 were demolished. "It has been our recent experience that the majority of structures being demolished in Woodside are less than 50 years old," she added.
Eligibility can depend on the quality of the architecture, but it can also take into account a structure's place in history, the staff report says. Today's cutting-edge zero-carbon-footprint home could be a significant artifact in 50 years, Ms. Young told the council.