Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Historical Commission Declares 315 D Historically Insignificant: Do the Facts Support that Action? (90)

At the November 26th meeting of the City of Davis Historical Resources Management Commission (HRMC), city planners asked that commission to declare that the 1913 home at 315 D Street “does NOT meet . . . criteria for historical significance.”
The Planning Department’s written evidence in support of this action consisted of four unnumbered pages termed an “evaluation” written by a contract-research organization hired by that department and dated June 10, 2008. These four pages and the larger document can be read online here:

Or here:

The unnamed author or authors of this “evaluation” claim that 315 D does not meet any of the three ordinary criteria of historical significance, which involve exhibiting outstanding architectural aspects or having association with historically significant events or persons.
Leaving aside the architectural criteria, what is odd about this report is that it shows no evidence of attempting to determine if the building was associated with significant events or persons. As I read it, both criteria are swept aside with this sentence: “The building is not associated with any individual important in the history of Davis or the region.”
There is no discussion of who actually lived there or what had happened there.
Seemingly based on this document, the HRMC granted the planners their request.
I was not at this meeting and had paid little attention to this matter. But then I heard reports from people who were there that they were perplexed that a decision on the historical significance of a home would be made on the basis of such limited research.
The Commission decision and the perplexity about it stimulated my curiosity. So I spent half an hour looking at some Davis history resources I had at hand to see if I could determine the name of at least one person who had lived there.
In that brief and casual browsing, I found that the Professor Arthur Henry Hoffman family resided at 315 D from 1919 to 1952.
With only a little more effort, I discovered that Professor Hoffman, in particular, was a major figure in the history of agricultural engineering and a significance presence in Davis civic and social life of the 1920s. I reproduce Davis Enterprise obituaries on Professor and Mrs. Hoffman that report on these matters. (These two documents are among others on the family I subsequently and easily identified and that support these characterizations.)
I do not know if Professor Hoffman meets the criteria of being a “significant person. . . in the history of Davis.”
I DO know, though, that the material presented here is sufficient to argue that Professor Hoffman’s relation to 315 D ought at least to have been made known to the HRMC in the “evaluation” report.
There seems to me to have been a due diligence failure in the research on 315 D Street. As well, I think the HRMC should have demanded more and better research before making a decision on that property.  
Enough is now known, I think, to justify further, City-contracted research on the history of the house. And, it would certainly seem appropriate for the HRMC to reconsider its decision in the light of this and other new information.