A man standing outside his single-family home on a sunny day
San Jose resident Rob Katcher puts additional affordable housing ahead of historic designation. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

After decades of residents requesting historic status, San Jose is starting the process to create a new city landmark district — the first since 2007.

The San Jose City Council earlier this month voted unanimously to nominate Alameda Park/Schiele Avenue as a historic district, with Councilmember Omar Torres absent. The designation would protect homes in the tree-lined neighborhood west of downtown along Schiele, Harding and Pershing avenues between Stockton and Hoover avenues. The area includes Queen Anne, Tudor and Spanish Revival style houses built in the 1800s and bungalows built in the 1920s.

Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, said a city landmark designation protects buildings from extensive exterior changes or being torn down. According to the city, exterior alterations to a property within a designated city landmark district require a historic preservation permit and the project must conform with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Regular maintenance repairs or painting don’t require a permit.

“San Jose has a lot fewer both individual landmarks and historic districts than peer cities,” Leech told San José Spotlight. “It’s a tool that has not been used as much as it could be, or frankly should be.”

A designation would protect homes in the tree-lined neighborhood west of downtown along Schiele, Harding and Pershing avenues between Stockton and Hoover avenues. Screenshot of ArcGIS map.

There are only six designated city landmark districts in San Jose: Hensley, Lakehouse, Reed, River Street, St. James Square and the Alameda right-of-way transportation corridor, but the last doesn’t include buildings. San Jose also has two national register districts and seven conservation areas, for a total of 15 historic designations.

The process has lagged due to document requirements. Councilmember Dev Davis said the city’s financial situation and an intermittent shortage in staffing have added to the delays.

“Doing all the work that’s necessary to ensure a neighborhood qualifies for a historic designation does take some time,” she told San José Spotlight, “and unfortunately that process was interrupted multiple times due to different historic designation officers leaving.”

In addition, the designation faces opposition. In March 2021, when the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee approved the nomination, a public outcry arose over the Alameda Park tract prohibiting non-whites from living there in 1922. This concern was raised at a recent San Jose City Council meeting by resident Lori Katcher.

“How can we repair harm that’s been done in the past?” Katcher said at that meeting. “For me, it’s more important that we find ways that our neighborhood can contribute to equitable housing policies, with or without a historic district.”

Historic districts preserve the look and feel of a neighborhood. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Leech said creating a historic district wouldn’t perpetuate racial inequality or make it unaffordable. He said historic districts preserve starter houses and include a diverse mix of homeowners and renters.

Art Saldana, who has lived in his Victorian home for about 10 years, said the neighborhood is diverse. But Saldana told San José Spotlight he objects to the historical designation because it would limit his ability to make exterior changes.

Leech said residents wouldn’t have to restore historic homes to their original condition, but exterior changes would require permitting. He said historic status would allow for homes to be converted into rentals or backyard homes to be added. Residents advocated for the historical designation to keep the look of their neighborhood, he said.

“Their fear isn’t more density or renters, it’s teardowns,” Leech said. “They’re seeing smaller houses get torn down and McMansions replacing them.”

Rob Katcher, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2002, said he understands residents’ concerns about restrictions and the cost of maintaining the appearance of historic homes.

“There’s also clearly a housing shortage in the area,” he said. “If I had to trade getting more housing versus preserving the historic nature of this particular neighborhood, I might opt for more housing as much as I love the way this neighborhood looks.”

Davis said historic districts can preserve history and avoid displacement.

“Preserving those styles of homes helps give a sense of the history of our city in a much more tangible way than just having a bunch of plaques,” she told San José Spotlight. “For our affordable housing plan, we talk about preservation and protection as well as production. Historic designation is part of that preservation.”

Doug Baird doesn’t want older homes torn down and replaced with ones that don’t fit the neighborhood. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

Doug Baird has lived in his home for 35 years and is eager for the area to become a historic district.

“I want to keep the integrity of the neighborhood, he told San José Spotlight. ” I don’t want these old homes torn down and replaced… with homes that don’t fit. I want the neighborhood to remain as it is, a charming neighborhood.”

Community meetings are scheduled for May 30 and June 13. Then, the issue will go through the San Jose Historic Landmarks Commission, Planning Commission and City Council with a final vote expected in September.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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