Still time to save Pismo’s old city hall

Like most small California beach towns, Pismo Beach is far better known for its outdoor amenities — sand, surf and sunsets — than for its historic architecture. While there are plenty of older shops and bungalows in the downtown, many have been so extensively remodeled that they’ve lost much of their historic charm.

Now the City Council is signaling its intent to demolish one of Pismo’s oldest and most distinctive structures — the old red brick building at 1000 Bello St. that housed an elementary school and was later used as City Hall.

Built in 1923, the structure has been vacant for the past dozen years and requires extensive renovation, including earthquake retrofitting, that would cost more than $6 million.

In November, the City Council directed staff to pursue demolition of the building, while trying to save the bricks and other features to incorporate in a new structure.

Some South County residents, including former students of the elementary school, say that’s not good enough.

Effie McDermott, the city’s unofficial historian, is one of the most vocal proponents of preserving at least the original portion built in 1923. That includes the distinctive front porch and three classrooms.

“Buildings hold within themselves our history,” she told us. “History is much easier to experience and explain and understand when you have something physical — aplace or a building — associated with it.”

We agree. We understand the financial constraints that local governments face, but giving up without a fight robs future generations of their history.

While saving the entire building may be economically impossible, we would urge the city to preserve at least portions of it, rather than simply razing it and starting fresh.

Other communities have managed to preserve buildings in disrepair through a combination of public money, grants and private fundraising.

We’re concerned, too, that there has not been much public discussion of the project; only two people spoke at the November meeting, and one was from the firm that prepared the assessment report. We’ve since heard complaints that the item wasn’t clearly noticed on the agenda.

The demolition of the old City Hall is not a done deal; there must be some additional study, including an assessment of other uses for the site. The Planning Commission also must approve the action, and the city has to allocate money for the demolition.

There is still time, in other words, to explore other options. We urge South County residents interested in preserving the building in some form to do so before it really is too late.