I am a naive idealist who honestly believes that urban design and architectural guidelines are a silver bullet for revitalizing a downtown. What is the significance of architectural guidelines on economic revitalization? Well-articulated architectural styles give a community a definable character, history and uniqueness that reinforce the community as a destination rather than an “Anywhere, USA,” which seems critical to an area that is dependant on tourism revenue.
In order to develop community appropriate architectural guidelines, it is essential to determine the genuine character of the community. Architectural guidelines should reinforce the character of the community by building on its setting and history. For instance, log cabins and mountain rustic architecture doesn’t make sense in a desert setting because there are no trees. Santa Fe influenced architecture really doesn’t make sense anywhere outside the desert southwest, just as the Anasazi didn’t migrate and build cliff dwellings in the pacific northwest.
Something I’ve always struggled with in my endless obsession with revitalizing the Owen’s Valley is defining what the architectural character of the valley actual is. The eastern sierra has always been a relatively impoverished area, so there are very few examples of defining civic architecture or neatly identifiable residential styles. The western facades that were put up along the main streets of Lone Pine, Big Pine and Bishop were placed there post-facto as a pathetic attempt to create a defining community character – an attempt lacking any historical integrity and therefore making as much sense as imposing any other building style onto the towns. But what is the historic architecture of the area? What is the real character of the towns?
I think there are a few answers to that question, depending on what types of buildings we are discussing. There was some historical influence in relation to various gold rushes in the Sierra and Nevada, which occurred after the opulence of the Victorian-era that defined San Francisco and the mining towns of Colorado, and instead manifested in a genuine frontier-town style (e.g. the Monument Bank Building). The charming downtown neighborhoods of Bishop incorporate a number of California Craftsmen Bungalows that are completely adorable. The LADWP had an enormous influence on the area, and living in Los Angeles, I can see a relationship between their buildings in the valley and the distribution stations located all over the city. In fact, the relationship between the valley and Los Angeles is critical to the area’s history and therefore its character.
The most defining architecture of the valley imported from Los Angeles is its authentic, Route 66, 1950’s retail. Bishop, in particular, had at one time a plethora of streamline moderne storefronts (think Joseph’s Market, Brockmans, etc). Whoever covered up all the completely killer art deco in the town should be dealt some frontier-style justice. (Seriously, whose idea was it deliberately make the town look like Bodie?! How was Bodieyour model for success?!). The valley should embrace its history and bring back moderne. Here are some lovely examples from which to draw inspiration: