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Letters From West County Times Readers - Desecration Continues
June 25, 1998


Thursday, June 25, 1998
Section: Opinion
Page: A17

Desecration continues

The Richmond City Council made a terrible mistake in continuing to condone and endorse the desecration of its historic City Council chamber.

What started as a request by several council members to clean the grease off of their desks was taken by the previous city manager as a mandate for a major remodeling.

The council chamber is the heart of the Richmond Civic Center, constructed between 1949 and 1950, designed by the famous San Francisco architects, Milton and Timothy Pflueger. Featured prominently as the original centerpiece in the chamber is a mural by African-American modernist Sargent Johnson, which the City Council is also considering removing.

The complex was hailed by the magazine Architectural Forum as "the first modern United States civic center," the first to integrate the functions of city hall, public safety, municipal auditorium and library built as a cohesive complex.

Shortly after, Richmond was declared an "All-American City."

Without any design-related consultation with the City Council, professional design assistance, public input, program preparation or evaluation of alternatives, the former city manager ordered a highly skilled and well-meaning, but culturally naive, city carpenter to make over the classic 1950s-era meeting hall to look like a neoclasssic revival courtroom.

The existing flush and lightly stained hardwood paneling is being replaced by traditional wood wainscoating and the walls are being covered with a wallpaper that resembles a familiar pattern of cheap kitchen-floor linoleum.

There are a number of legitimate shortcomings in the Richmond council chambers, the most obvious of which KCRT watchers will recognize as modern audio-visual equipment.

The public would put a much higher value on such technical improvements than the ongoing facelift.

A skilled professional designer could have come up with multiple alternatives to improve the lighting, acoustics, appearance and ambiance of the council chambers without making major changes to the Pfluegers' original interior design concepts.

There is an unfortunate, but real and distinct disdain for design professionalism at the Richmond City Council, as if such an approach were somehow elitist or excessive.

The State Office of Historic Preservation has now stepped in to remind the city that it is in violation of state law by not conducting a proper California Environmental Quality Act review of the project.

Regardless of the merits of the design, the city has once again ignored process, that governmental obligation to air its plans in public and seek citizen input before spending taxpayers' money.

Councilman Thomas K. Butt