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Historic Preservation: Today's Lesson "Historic Significance"

This is a town of uneducated rumors. It is also a town that at its substrate does value the physical expressions of its intact history. This blog hopes to educate and inspire.

I am diving straight in here, but why is the Italian history in Martinez significant above, say, the Norwegian or Swahili history in Martinez? What makes something not just merely "old" but "historic" and then also "significant". Why is not just everything in every old newspaper "signficant?" And for that matter why are historic places "signficant" to a society? Just to back up a bit some ideas have to be shared:

I will be defining and discussing terms through the lens of decades of expertly tested and defined parameters in which an object, structure, building, or site can be listed on the State or National Historic Register. Such listings provide CEQA protections which are finite but at least provide a hesitation before destruction of "historically significant" places. Localities can deem something historically signficant if they like, i.e., the "Joltin Joe" (subject of a further blog) but that does not make something legally or academically historically signficant.

Something can be on a State and/or National Register of Historic Places at either a local, State, or National level. The List does not dictate at which geographic size the significance effects. For example: The Muir House is on the National Register of Historic Places at a national level of Significance because it was proven that John Muir effected the outcome of the Nation. The City library is on the National Register at a local level of signifigance because it embodies in an exempliary way, the historically signficant architecture of Art Deco for Martinez only. The Sharkey Building (630 Court) is on the State Register only because its physical integrity (alterations) made it ineligible for the National Register. Sharkey building is associated with a significant person (William Sharkey) who made contributions that effected at least the local level, so the Sharkey Building is at least locally significant.

The Post Office is about to be announced as on the Federal and National Registers. The Federal register is for federal properties. All Federal Historic Properties are automatically on the National Register. Likewise, all National Register and California Point of Interest and Landmarks are automatically on the State Historic Register. Sharkey is unusual in that way, that it was nominated directly to the State Register. The Post Office is significant under three criteria at a local level. It is the exempliary physical expression of the New Deal in Martinez, and is signficant under the criteria of "Art", "Government & Politics", and "PWA Art Deco Architecture". The PO is also eligible for the Multiple Property Submission "Development of Post Offices in California". Yeah, the PO is awesome!

OK, so you can see why it would be difficult to impart this information to the public. But I will continue to try. If you want to read up on this please see this bulletin: http://www.nps.gov/nr/publications/bulletins/nrb15/.

OK, so back to why specifically Italian history is more signficant to Martinez than probably any other specific people: The Italian immigration to Martinez is signficant to the formation of Martinez. 1. The structures that are associated with the fishing village either by being built for Italians for both residence and commerce, or modified by the Italians for the same, are many and have kept alot of their integrity. 2. Within that "village" the Italians were a unique subculture, lived in the same places over decades, (click here to see), and brought Martinez that which it would not have otherwise--ie, Bocce. 3. The Italians significantly contributed to the economy of Martinez, and thereby its growth. Through fishing, immediate commerce, canneries, and then in the commercial develpment of the Downtown Core as they came up in the world. You should also know something, that many academicians think that Italians were the most important contributors to creating the American middle class. They had incredible skills such as stonemasonry, farming, fishing, and more. But as far as Martinez is concerned, it is mostly those fisherman that affected the development of the town. In otherwords, the town would be quite different if those Italians had never settled on our shorelines. "Development" is another criteria for "historic signficance".

Basically, if something or someone had enough influence over the physical area that it appears the way it does NOW because of something the person or trend created, then it is historically significant.

Historic significance means our world is the way it is today because of something that was done in the past that effects our physical environment. In other words, the person or trend has meaning to us as a collective society today. The town's character was shaped by forces and persons in a way that describes our lives today and probably in the future. These forces, these images that rise up out of the day to day pixels of living, tell us how to live in a way. They tell us that life has meaning, and it is not just about money itself. It is about a simple man from Scotland creating the National Park Service. It is about a bunch of hardworking and starving Sicilians coming here to make the best of themselves and us. It's not just media moguls and ultra rich that can tell us what to think, how to live, what we can and cannot have, and hijack our tax base and our City Council. That does not mean that future developments are meaningless, it just means future developments are part of a continuum of life's meaning and in archictectural terms, should reflect the best thinking and purpose of our times.

I think I need to go over the above point again in another blog post, because I think it is the one that this town is going to need to first understand. I hope you have made it this far in the reading. I don't know everything, but I know enough. If anyone would like to help me do more research on the Italians, which I have planned, please let me know. I have alot to teach, particulary as I hold a Masters in Library and Information Science and I really despise how in this town at this time, the one percent are controlling our political outcomes and stealing our democracy. They should not be the only ones to control future outcomes of our city, that's not what "historically significant" means.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Donna Allen April 16, 2012 at 06:15 PM
Thank you, again, for your insight. I am far more aware of the Italian influence than the Portuguese, but would like to learn more them. Do you have any insight into the Portuguese history?
Kristin Henderson April 17, 2012 at 05:03 AM
I will let you tell me!
Kristin Henderson April 17, 2012 at 05:33 AM
Per Patch's Susana Park story: "Along with the redwood tree, 19 trees from all over the world were planted in the park, including a Deodar Cedar tree, a Monkey Tail tree, and several Portuguese Cork trees. In the early days of Martinez, the area where the park is now was known as “Portuguese Flats”, due to the large population of Portuguese who lived there. Cork trees are abundant in Portugal and today 50% of the world's cork production comes from Portugal. It is believed that the people in the community included Portuguese Cork trees in honor of the home they left behind". Hers is backward logic. Just because 50% of the world's cork oak come from Portugal, does not mean that all Portuguese cork oaks were planted by Portuguese. I replied to her "The perimeter cork oaks were planted about 70 years ago, when the other trees were planted by CWA funds including the cypress and the redwood that was eventually dedicated to FDR. This per an arborist.There is a 250 yr old cork oak in the NE corner, and any group of people--particularly the Spanish--could have planted this cork producing tree. In 1927, the Masons gave the property over to the City." Maybe Portuguese lived in the Susana Park area, but the church, rectory, 1135 Estudillo, and a few post 1920 era places WERE NOT Portuguese originated. I don't know the Victorians. Assessor maps might tell. But It is not as strong as the Italians & the Shoreline. From what I know, which is obviously limited.
Kristin Henderson April 17, 2012 at 05:44 AM
When did they Portuguese live here and what did they leave behind of themselves? What did they build and contribute themselves as a GROUP? Or can they be viewed individually? Can we research and prove it? Was it so long ago it might be archaeological? Whatever/whoever we are speaking of must have left a physical remnant that can either yield information (archaeology mostly in this criteria), or exists and is the best physical expression of an individual, a trend/developmental force, or art/architecture. There's a difference between preserving something three dimensional and preserving oral or written history. Chinese were here too, but we do not have a Chinatown to show for it.
Kristin Henderson April 17, 2012 at 05:52 PM
correction: 250 yr old cork tree is in the SE (not NE) corner and the other trees are about 75 yrs old. Moreover, I am assuming that the trees came from the CWA funds because there was CWA (New Deal) funds that planted 400 trees in Martinez and in, as the article that included "the City Park". Part of the problem is that the City minutes and ordinances are missing from 1933 to 1940. Were there Portuguese who donated cork oak seeds? That would need to be verified. But that does not mean the park nor the area is associated directly and wholly with the Portuguese. With "historic preservation" one must be able to write the nomination as if one day it would face an attorney.

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