By Mitch Stone, Historian
As we think about the merits of moving Santa Paula City Hall to a new location, I’ve noticed a lack of consideration of what I see as some of the most important issues connected to it. These are, the symbolic, economic, and historical values of keeping all of the city’s offices at the center of our community. Any discussion of this plan that omits our history, the vitality of our downtown, and our sense of civic pride, is bound to come up short.
Santa Paula’s City Hall has occupied many locations since incorporation in 1902: a Main Street storefront, the basement of the Blanchard Library, an abandoned grammar school near the Post Office, and temporary buildings in what we now call Veterans Memorial Park. Finally in 1957 the city decided to roam no more, building its first, permanent, purpose-built City Hall. It was constructed on Ventura Street alongside the new Police Department building completed in 1951. Local architect Robert Raymond designed them. Completing these two buildings (both used for City Hall today) was a major event in the city’s history. It was a real step forward.
The buildings were new, but they were in keeping with a longstanding tradition. All of the City Hall locations throughout our history had one thing in common: they were in downtown, in the heart of our city.
This is hardly out of the ordinary. Look around the county at other city halls, and what do we see? With the exception of some of the county’s shapeless suburban cities (where we Santa Paulans choose not to live), all of their city halls are found at the geographical and historical centers of their communities. This is true even in cities where growth and space needs forced a move.
When Ventura outgrew it city offices during the 1970s, they took over the historic County Courthouse. It was an expensive and controversial idea back then. But today, it would be impossible to imagine Ventura without their City Hall located on its grand promontory overlooking downtown. Then look to Fillmore. When they had an opportunity to build a new City Hall during the 1990s, a civic building worthy of the name was constructed. They also built it downtown. The message is, we should think about city halls as something more than just office space.
This decision to relocate City Hall demands a full appreciation of the consequences. Have we considered where this hub of activity is needed most? Do we understand what it means to move a large part of the city’s services from downtown, where they have been for more than 115 years, to an industrial building on a cul-de-sac far from the center of town, and creating a City Hall in name only in the undersized United Water building? Are we thinking seriously about the kind of statement this would make about our community. Are we considering how all of our community interests are best served?
As we approach this legacy decision, we should be asking: how can we serve these interests, for today and into the future, any better than by keeping City Hall, all if it, where it has always been, in downtown.
Originally written as letter to Editor in Santa Paula Times.
Note: there will be a special meeting at 7:00 pm on Monday, April 15, 2019 to discuss relocation.