Sunday, April 20, 2014

Recycle the WPA restroom

I am writing regarding the Works Progress Administration restroom in Central Park. I was deeply disappointed to hear that this historic building might be demolished in order to build a “history plaza.” It will have nothing to do with history, but instead provide more space for Farmers Market vendors.

In the new Central Park plan, there is plenty of space for vendor stalls, and retaining the WPA building does not infringe upon the Farmers Market’s ability to expand. A history plaza that also incorporates a historic building surely would be more appropriate.

The restroom in Central Park is the only surviving WPA building in Davis, and represents an important movement in the 1930s toward strengthening the economy through community improvement. The symbolic significance of the WPA building strongly complements the addition of a new ADA-compliant playground in Central Park, because the WPA restroom originally was built to allow women and children to enjoy the outdoors with dignity. The WPA restroom is a powerful reminder of the commitment shown by Davis residents toward underrepresented groups.

The best way to save a historic building is to put it to use. The Hattie Weber Museum of Davis has proposed that the building be converted into desperately needed storage space for the museum. Most museums display only a small fraction of their collections at any one time, and rotate artifacts on and off exhibit. This helps protect delicate objects from excessive exposure to light, dust or other detrimental factors, and results in exhibits that are more effective and varied.

The Hattie Weber Museum hopes to transfer some of its more durable, bulky objects to the historic WPA building. For the health of the collections and the interpretive ability of the museum, sufficient storage space is essential.

Davis residents value reuse and sustainability. Demolishing a usable historic building is wasteful and counterproductive. Our historic heritage is a non-renewable resource — once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Alyssa Scott

Letters to the Editor


Discussion | 11 comments

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  • Colorful ClayDecember 17, 2013 - 6:01 pm

    I keep reading this weird assertion: "The restroom in Central Park is the only surviving WPA building in Davis." Not so. The old City Hall, built in 1938, is a surviving WPA building of greater significance and has been saved, albeit with a new purpose.

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 17, 2013 - 9:25 pm

    Clay, I think you are mistaken, but I am not 100% sure. I was told that the only WPA funds the city received for the 1938 City Hall was for the sidewalks around it. I believe there is a WPA stamp on the old City Hall's sidewalk. But I concede I do not know for sure. I am basing my view on what we were told by experts who testified before the Historic Resources Management Commision, on which I serve, and which decided the WPA restroom does not fit the city's criteria for historic designation. …….. I do know that in order to build old City Hall, the residents of Davis voted to tax themselves to pay for a bond. Early in 1938, the issue was debated by the City Council. Mayor Calvin Covell argued the case in favor and it passed. Some weeks later they put it up to a popular vote in a special election and the tax hike was passed. And then only a few months after the voters approved gave the okay, construction began. And in a matter of weeks, the building was done and ready for occupancy. …….. By contrast, it has taken about 4 years to decide what to do with the little WPA restroom building in Central Park. We live in much different times and a much different democracy. Some of that difference is better; some is not.

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  • Sebastian OnateDecember 18, 2013 - 9:52 am

    The stamp is on the curb between the City Hall parking lot and PDQ. None of the surrounding sidewalks have it.

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  • Colorful ClayDecember 18, 2013 - 11:26 am

    Rich, granted I could be wrong. I was just going by what Living the New Deal website, a historical society that specializes in sort of things. I don't think the fact that the old City Hall had some local financing (municipal bonds) means that it was not WPA project, necessarily. I think WPA projects sometimes involved some State and local financing in addition to federally financed labor. I will have to look that up. BTW, I really appreciate your writing skill and ability to research and marshal the facts on a variety of subjects. You provide a unique perspective that really make me think about assumptions I've mad and conclusions I've drawn. Thanks. --Clay

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  • Colorful ClayDecember 18, 2013 - 11:55 am

    "The WPA was a national program that operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10%-30% of the costs." So the old City Hall did have some municipal financing (bonds) involved.

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  • Been where?December 18, 2013 - 4:18 pm

    Let me get this straight, an inordinate amount of time and resources are being spent to save an old, dilapidated concrete building that constant reeks of urine and is home to advanced species of microorganisms which has evolved in the filth? WHY? For God's sake, why is it so important to waste all these resources preserving an outdated and unkept restroom instead of replacing it? As a lifelong Davis resident, I'd like to say that this is why everyone from the outside thinks our city is nuts (think "Toad Tunnel" level of waste). This is clearly indicative of the dusfunctional mindset that is sending our city down the fiscal drain.

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 18, 2013 - 4:40 pm

    "Let me get this straight." …….. What you assert after requesting you 'get this straignt' is entirely or mostly incorrect. As a result, the conclusions you draw are not well founded or straight. You should speak with the docents of the Hattie Weber Museum before making up your mind. They will clearly explain to you why repurposing the WPA structure is the most economical and advantageous decision for the taxpayers of Davis, if that is a concern of yours.

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  • Puddin TaneDecember 19, 2013 - 10:04 am

    Ran by there this morning Rich, and it still stinks to high heaven of urine (and who knows what else, it's pretty musty) so it looks like I got that assertion right. The city has been unable to do anything about it due to its "historical" status, so I'd say I'm right about that, too. Though now that I've had a chance to think about it, it's probably better for the downtown businesses if we leave it, since their traffic probably picks up due to the people who actively avoid using that restroom.

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 19, 2013 - 12:58 pm

    Puddin, you are operating on the assumption that it will be used in the future as a restroom? If so, that is not correct. The proposal approved by the CC is to repurpose it as a storage facility for the Hattie Weber Museum, next door. (The rehab costs will be borne by voluntary contributions.) Once completed, it will look on the outside much like it did back in the late 1930s. All added parts will be removed. But on the inside, the toilets and all other plumbing will be gone, and so will any urine smell. As money permits, the Hattie Weber volunteers will build shelving and other facilities inside to safely store excess display items. As it now stands, the Hattie Weber has a tough time rotating its displays--or accepting new contributions which reflect the history of Davis--because there is no good place to store anything not on display. ……. The proponents of demolishing the WPA building--led by the Chamber of Commerce activists--have falsely called the proposal to save the WPA building "a money pit." Yet, in reality, the real money pit is the $600,000 concrete patio which is going to be installed in the park, just west of the Hattie Weber and the WPA building. All the funds for that falsely named "history plaza" are coming from your and my pockets. No taxpayer money is going to be used to rehab and repurpose the WPA building, other than the dollars the city will save by not having to pay a demolition company to destroy it.

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  • Rich RifkinDecember 19, 2013 - 1:13 pm

    The only other argument in favor of demolishing the WPA building is "safety." It was cited by Rochelle Swanson as the deciding factor for her in voting to demolish the historic building. The Farmers Market president has said that she believes having a very small building there is a "magnet for crime," because "scary people" can do criminal acts out of sight from the street. On every ground, this argument does not hold water. The back side of the small WPA building is visible at all times from B Street and from 5th Street. The crime statistics in the park itself have fallen to almost zero in 2013 Just 7 arrests in 12 months. And mostly not near the WPA facility. ……. If the contention is that having a building in the park creates a space for criminals to hide, then why not also knock down the Hattie Weber Museum? And demolish the US Bicycle Hall of Fame building? In fact, the HOF is many times larger than the little WPA facility. If a police officer is at the intersection of 3rd & B, he could never see "the criminal element" lurking on the north or east sides of the HOF building. Yet, I have not heard the Farmers Market lady or the Chamber of Commerce gent call for the destruction of that (rather ugly) shrine. The "safety first" chanters during this debate never once mentioned the crime stats from 2012 to the present, because they make the area look perfectly safe.

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  • EricDecember 20, 2013 - 12:33 am

    Anything Rich Rifkin writes doesn't hold water, just hot air.

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