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Solana Beach to recognize older buildings with plaques

SOLANA BEACH — After receiving unanimous support from City Council at the Feb. 25 meeting, the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society is launching its historical plaque program for commercial buildings on Coast Highway 101 and Cedros and Valley avenues.
Owners whose property predates 1950 can voluntarily place on their building a ceramic tile that identifies the date the structure was built and the name of the original owner and business. As requested, the city has issued a letter confirming that participation in the program does not deem the building an official historic landmark because only City Council is authorized to make such a designation. Therefore, participants would not be required to conform to city codes.
“I think this is a great idea,” Councilwoman Lesa Heebner said. “You learn more about the city that way. I appreciate you doing this very much.”
The idea to establish the program began about 18 months ago, after a Mormon church built in 1949 was bought and razed, Jim Nelson, chairman of the historical society, said.
“The society tried to prevent that from happening,” Nelson said. “It pointed out to the society that the city hadn’t really identified its old structures.”
Nelson said under the municipal code, property owners are eligible for tax reductions if their buildings are officially designated historic landmarks, but they must also receive city approval for any modifications.
“There were very strong feelings that the tax benefits don’t justify council review of any changes,” Nelson said. “So there was no interest in that.”
Nelson said his organization began looking at what other cities were doing to recognize their older buildings. Many installed bronze plaques. Nelson said his group opted for the ceramic tiles, which
are being fabricated by local artist Kathryn Schmiedeberg, because ceramic “reflects Solana Beach.”
The original focus was on structures built between 1923 and 1941, but when funding became available through a foundation grant, which is covering the cost of the tiles, the program was expanded to include buildings that dated to 1949.
So far, Nelson said 33 qualifying buildings have been identified using aerial and street photos, testimonials from longtime residents and an “authoritative oral history” from George Wilkens, who lived in Solana Beach from 1925 until he passed away in December 2005.
The historical society is also working with First American Title to confirm the age of some buildings.
At the request of Councilman Joe Kellejian, Nelson said he will look into including Hideaway Cafe on South Acacia Avenue even though it is outside the designated area.
“Frankly, we hadn’t thought of it but we’d be happy to include it,” Nelson said.