The End of Downtown Anaheim, Part II

My March 4th post about the destruction of Downtown Anaheim (with photos from Dave Mason) clearly touched a lot of nerves. And it definitely generated a lot of comments, emails, and links on Facebook. I'm told it even gave a renewed burst of energy to  some folks in Anaheim who are currently working on a preservation-related project.  

The best response I received, however, was from Diann Marsh herself, who -- along with Andy Deneau -- led the charge to save Downtown Anaheim. She now lives out of the area, but read my post. She began in the comments section of the post, writing...
"I LIVED that time--right in the middle of it! ... We lived north of redevelopment, but I fell in love with the buildings downtown. Andy Deneau and I went to Norman Priest, Redevelopment Director and asked him how the buildings could be saved. He said that if they were listed on the National Register of Historic Places, we would save them. We looked at each other and thought, 'We can do that.'"
Diann continued the story in an email to me: 
"We attended the State Historical Commission hearing in Los Angeles and managed to get the nomination approved. When it went to Washington, Anaheim officials went along to block it. They persuaded the feds to deny it on the basis that an archaeological study was not done. As far as we know, that excuse wasn't used for any other applications. I guess ours was special!"
"Andy was a dispatcher for the Anaheim Fire Department. I was a housewife, mother of seven, and an artist. So I guess we could be termed as 'nobodies.' Andy was the first president of the Anaheim Historical Society and I was vice-president, in 1977. The fledgling group of 12 people were harshly criticized for wanting to save downtown. To say that a lot of people didn't like us is putting it mildly."
Diann went on to describe some vicious personal attacks by people you'd THINK would support the preservation of their own town. I'm leaving out some names here not because I want to protect the guilty, but because I don't want this blog to turn into something political. (People of all political stripes can and have been blinded by redevelopment madness in Orange County over the years.) Suffice it to say that people in the community who wanted redevelopment handouts stood against her, some city officials stood against her, and state officials who thought thwarting preservation was their ticket to Washington, D.C. also stood against her.

One important elected official was quoted in the newspapers, saying, 'We don't care how we get the buildings torn down. We just want them gone.' According to Diane, another official, when told that 25 square blocks of homes would be demolished, "remarked that the people in those neighborhoods didn't care and probably didn't even speak English."
The photo above is a 1955 view of the S.Q.R. Store (1925) at 202 W. Lincoln Ave. It was demolished in 1978 during "Redevelopment Project Alpha." S.H. Kress & Co. is visible on the far right.

Diane continued,...
"My husband and I, lived north of Redevelopment, on North Philadelphia St., and I represented the Anaheim Historical Society on the Project Area Committee. ...I  met a fellow who lived on Broadway, in Redevelopment. He and I printed and distributed flyers throughout the neighborhoods.  The next Tuesday night 68 mad people turned up at the P.A.C. meeting! Of course [the committee leadership] cancelled the meeting and, by the time we met two weeks later, had developed a plan to divide the neighborhoods into five sections. That's called Divide and Conquer -- I think it was invented by the Romans.

"Four  of the neighborhoods worked with the city and were saved, including the 50's neighborhood between the railroad tracks and East Street. However, the people in the 72-house Kroeger-Melrose neighborhood did not like the city officials and would not go to meetings. Then someone got a notice that the bank would not okay their refinancing because they were going to be demolished!"
[Ed: The photo above shows the Martenet Hardware Store, at 323 W. Center St. in 1979 -- the year it was demolished.]

But not everyone was an impediment to preservation. The dozen or so original members of the Anaheim Historical Society put up a good fight, and according to Diann,...
"The staff in the State Office really wanted to help preservationists. During the 22 years I worked with them they stood up for historic preservation time after time and rescued me more than a few times.

"Aaron Gallup worked with me on the National Register application on that 72-house neighborhood, including the layout. The process included a visit by a member of the State Historic Preservation Commission.  Aaron was driving, with the Commissioner in the front seat. Aaron cut across the front yard of one house, so the Commissioner would not see an ugly carbuncle of an addition on the roof of one of the houses.

"At the Commission hearing, Anaheim officials were told that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for wanting to destroy the neighborhood. A reporter from the local newspaper wrote a true account of the proceedings and was promptly fired. I really felt bad about that but he said it was okay. Six meetings later,  I was voted off of the P. A.C right in front of my face. I was proud of myself for not bursting into tears. Oddly, most of the members did not get what they wanted from the city."
Efforts at preservation were not a total loss, as the Kraemer Building, the Carnegie Library, Pearson Park, and many square miles of charming historic neighborhoods are still standing. But Downtown Anaheim is still essentially M.I.A., a fact that has served as an object lesson for other cities.

Diann went on to work for preservation in other places, beginning with French Park in Santa Ana. She writes,...

"We moved [away] from Anaheim in 1986, because we found an Italianate house in Santa Ana that was going to be torn down if no one agreed to take it the next day. We agreed and moved the house three times before it was put on our lot in the French Park Historic District. The people that bought our house, in Anaheim (the Olesons) banded together with  the Torgersons, the Hortons, the Caldwells and others. They  took over the fight and were able to do some great things. They continued with the neighborhood work and were responsible for a lot of the restoration of Kroeger-Melrose District.

"We lived in and were active in Santa Ana for 11 years before moving to Illinois in 1999...

"I don't regret our time in Anaheim. It was really a special time and I knew so many wonderful people in Anaheim as well as in several other cities. It was the beginning of my interest in historic houses. Times were so different! Most people didn't even understand what a Craftsman house was or its significance.

"I guess I would do it all over again, but be a lot wiser and a lot more politically savvy."