Preserving Mid-Century Architecture: Keeping The Mid-Century Vibe Alive

As I mentioned earlier this week, it seems that the issue of preserving our Mid-Century architecture is becoming a growing concern. The challenge is in keeping the spirit of Mid-Century design alive when remodeling and maintaining the character of Mid-Century neighborhoods – all while acknowledging the time honored notion that “my home is my castle.”  It can be somewhat of a controversial issue and finding a starting point for the homeowner who wants to keep that Mid-Century neighborhood vibe alive and well can be a dilemma.  There is no one "right way" to approach the issue, but here are some thoughts, along with a few resources that might help point you in the right direction.

  • Respect thy neighbor!  There needs to be a consensus among the neighbors.  Bringing the neighborhood together is an important first step in any effort to set “rules” for renovations or remodels.  Not everyone is going to agree on what is appropriate – and admittedly, not everyone sees the issue of losing our Mid-Century identification as a problem.  People are entitled to their opinions, but it helps to have open dialogue.  Block parties and BBQs, an active community website, newsletters, and regular neighborhood meetings are good ways to help neighbors get to know one-another, create a sense of unity and, hopefully, get everyone on the same page - or at least reading the same book!
  • Know what might already be in place.  Many neighborhoods have architectural review committees and/or CC&Rs.  Many Mid-Century neighborhoods have committees and CC&Rs that have fallen through the cracks. Check out the deed to your property, there might be a long forgotten committee or CC&Rs already in place.  Several communities, including the Lucas Valley Eichler development in San Rafael, River City Commons in Sacramento (Streng homes), and Fairgrove in Cupertino, have strong committee support and/or have developed handbooks for residents.
  • Don’t overlook city/county ordinances.  Check your city or county for any zoning restrictions that may be on the books but aren’t being enforced.  Many areas have restrictions (often called overlay zones) about what can and can’t be done in specific neighborhoods.  Triple El, an Eichler tract in Palo Alto, is protected by a single story overlay and several Eichler neighborhoods in Sunnyvale come under the purview of Sunnyvale’s Eichler Design Guidelines.  If there aren’t any such directives in your area, you may – with community support – be able to encourage your local agency to create a new ordinance.
  • Look into historical status.  This isn’t for the faint of heart, as it is a long arduous process, but gaining status as a national or local historic district brings pride of community and a certain amount of leverage in maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood. Green Gables and Greenmeadow, Eichler communities in Palo Alto, CA are both on the National Register of Historic Places.

There are a number of resources out there for help in preserving the integrity of your Mid-Century neighborhood.  For starters you can check out the Los Angeles Conservancy and Palm Springs Office of Neighborhood Involvement.  These are SoCal based, but certainly have advice that can benefit all of us.  If you are looking into obtaining historic status, the Office of Historic Preservation, Preserve America, and National Trust for Historic Preservation are good starting points.  Your most important resource, however, is probably in your own backyard.  Talk to your neighbors and visit your local planning department.

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