E-Mail Forum
City Staff Caves In To Developer - Allows Historic Building To Be Demolished
July 10, 2001

For the entire time I have lived in Richmond - 28 years - I have promoted, defended, publicized and enjoyed our city’s historic resources. I believe that the proper conservation and adaptive reuse of these resources can bring pride to our community, stabilize and enhance neighborhoods, and bring jobs and economic development. However, in order to provide an appropriate framework for historic preservation, certain standards should be observed. These are not only widely accepted; the have been codified in state and local laws.

Unfortunately, some are either ignorant of these standards or refuse to be bound by them. City officials, whose job it is to enforce the law, appear to be a major part of the problem. The letter that follows, is an expression of my outrage over one particularly egregious example of the flouting of these laws and standards.

Fortunately, the building in question is neither remarkable nor unique. It is, however, a contributing structure in the Point Richmond Historic District, and it is irreplaceable. 

Some of you will believe that I have gone overboard on this, both in my passion and my criticism of the individuals involved, and I probably have. I’m sorry; I can’t help it. That’s the way it is with things I believe in.


Thomas K. Butt
Richmond City Council Member
235 East Scenic Avenue
Richmond, CA 94801
510/236-7435   510/237-2084   510/232-5325   tom.butt@intres.com


Isiah Turner
City Manager
City Hall
2600 Barrett Avenue
Richmond, CA 94801

Subject:      36 Railroad Avenue  DR 00-15

Dear Isiah:

I have to tell you that I am outraged, saddened and disappointed by the incompetent, inexcusable, gutless and probably illegal attention given to the subject project by your Planning and Building Regulation staff, not to mention the Design Review Board and the architect of record.

In the processing of Design Review for the subject project, which was supposed to have fulfilled both state and local law under CEQA, the Richmond Zoning Ordinance, and the Richmond Historic Structures Code, the applicant’s architect, Jay Betts, submitted a letter dated February 2, 2000, which summarized compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation. That letter included the following description of the proposed work:

·         The property will be used as it was historically and there will be no change to the distinctive materials, features, spaces and spatial relationships.

·         The historic character of the building will be retained and preserved ... The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces and spatial relationships that characterize the property will be avoided. The façade consists of the distinctive oversized gable, pent roof enclosing the gable, cornice, crown moldings, wood cladding, 1 X 6 trim, front door and window. They make up the front character defining features of the building. They will not be removed or altered. 

·         No changes to create false historical development or history will be undertaken.

·         Distinctive materials and features including the oversized gable, pent roof enclosing the gable, cornice, crown moldings, wood cladding, 1 X 6 trim, shall be preserved. Presently, the existing wood siding and other newer items is covered with either shingles or plywood siding. The newer siding and other newer items shall be removed. All distinctive materials and features hall be carefully removed and stored including all siding, trim, etc., from the sidewalls. After repair and reframing they shall be reinstalled and refinished.

·         The historic features will be repaired, reinstalled and refinished. Typically, the oversized gable, pent roof enclosing the gable, cornice, crown moldings, wood cladding and 1 X 6 trim is in poor to average condition but can be reused and refinished if done properly

The letter quoted above would lead one to believe that the intact and character defining portions of the building would be maintained and restored. In fact, the staff report for the May 5, 2000, DRB meeting stated:

The wall section surrounding the front window will remain at the zero setback line but the windows themselves will be replaced. The wall section north of the doorway will also remain at the sidewalk, where it will serve as a screen for utility meters. The south wall, but not the roof, pediment and cornice, of the existing building will be removed and a new wall will be moved a foot and a half inward in order to gain DA compliance width for the walkway on the easement in the south side yard.

What all this would lead an informed reader to conclude is that the rehabilitated structure would bear some resemblance to the existing building and preserve or 

incorporate the character defining elements of the existing building.

In my opinion, the architect subsequently pulled a fast one on the City by fudging the working drawings away from preservation and toward disassembly and reconstruction. Unfortunately, no one caught it. Even then, the notes on the drawings were sufficiently ambiguous to lead one to believe that some of the structure would remain intact, including the following: “Disassemble entire building and remove, except the following: 1. front façade including all trim, framing, pent roof, o.h. [overhang] & original siding.”

On February 11, 2001, I reported to Isiah Turner, Dan Shaw, Martin Jacobson and Fred Clement that the building had been virtually demolished. The only thing standing was the rear gable of the original building. A day later, it was gone.

A note of unidentified authorship in the City file states: “ We have problems. Everything FLAT gone. No permit. Air Quality. Pest Control”

On February 14, 2001, a memo from Habte Asfaha to Fred Clement stated: 

Although the description of work done by me should have never been crossed out, still the fact that it said “ per drawings on file for bldg. Permit” makes it absolutely clear hat the drawings approved by the Planning Department were to be followed in the demolition process. If the contractor chooses not to follow instructions explicitly detailed in the drawings and decides to demolish a bldg., then he has to account for it - the act 

On February 22, 2001, the architect wrote a letter to Fred Clement defending the total demolition of the building, and the law firm of Archer Norris became involved on behalf of the owner.

On March 2, 2001, Fred Clement wrote to the owner, Mr. Feagley, “The ‘Stop Work Notice’ is being rescinded and you may proceed with foundation work only. You will need to resolve all of the outstanding issues regarding preservation work with the Planning Department.’

On March 5, 2001, the architect, Mr. Betts, wrote to Fred Clement:

As an unanticipated result of Tom Butt’s intervention into Jerry Feagley’s project, most of the original redwood siding was stolen sometime between 2/12 (Stop Order posted) and 2/20 (meeting w/you). We were unable to secure and store the distinctive materials during that time period.

Not only has the building been totally demolished, the apparent theft of any remaining historic material has been blamed on me.

I was subsequently told by Fred Clement that the project would have to go back to the Design Review Board before any further work could be done. When I brought to his attention during the first week in July that the framing was proceeding, he told me that Martin Jacobson had administratively approved the continuance of the project.

Based on my recent observations, the front façade has changed even more, with some sort of bay window being added. It turns out that the excuse for the exit easement and passageway along the south wall may also be a sham. The adjacent lot that could have provided the exit without diminishing the size of the existing building is also owned by Mr. Feagley, a fact that has never come out during the discretionary review process.

You should all be ashamed of the damage you have done to the integrity of the Point Richmond Historic District and to historic preservation in general. I hope you are pleased with the results.


Thomas K. Butt