Opinion Columns & Blogs

Historical District standards run amok

It’s a Sunday morning on Mill Street in San Luis Obispo. The sun’s out, the air’s crisp and sweet; the signature trees that overhang the arboreous boulevard are filled with chattering birds . . . until a highly polished 1930 Chevrolet Landau Phaeton pulls up to a residence, and a bullhorn lightly buzzes and crackles.

“Mr. Swillenale, Mr. Robert Swillenale, this is the Historical District Cosmetic Regulation Unit. Please exit your historical structure and report to the curb.”

Peering around his well-seasoned, heart-of-redwood Queen Anne-style front door, the resident sees a Brylcreamed young man with jodhpurs and a Sam Brown belt that sports a pair of holstered binoculars. The bullhorn hangs on a lanyard around his neck.

Walking up his pansy-lined flagstone walkway, he says, “I’m Bob Swillenale, officer, what can I do for you?”

“It’s been reported that your circa 1923 2-story Collegiate Gothic-style home has had a recent roofing repair. And said repair, sir, isn’t in accordance with Historical District standards.

Can you please explain?”

“Well, I dunno. The wife and I had a backed-up rain gutter, which we found was faulty, and while up there looking around, we noticed some roofing materials that needed to be replaced. So we replaced those and had a new gutter mounted on the eaves. Really, officer, it’s no big deal. Really.”

“No big deal, Mr. Swillenale? No big deal? Well, your neighbors think it’s a big deal, a big enough deal to drop a dime on you asking that we come out today and take a look at your ‘no big deal.’

“According to our records, Mr. Swillenale, your historically significant home — on which you receive handsome tax breaks for said significance, I might add — was originally roofed with slate quarried from the Peach Bottom Township in Pennsylvania. Is that correct, sir?”

“I guess so. I mean if you say so, officer.”

“Yes. It’s so. And what did you use to replace your Peach Bottom 3/16th inch thick by 10” x 6” slate squares? Hmm, Mr. Swillenale?”

“Uh, equally sized Waste Manager’s Waterproof Sponge asphalt tiles? They were so much cheaper than slate that I really didn’t have a choice.”

“No choice?” asks the officer. “No choice? I think not. Do you realize what you’re monkeying with here, Mr. Swillenale? A HISTORICAL DISTRICT. What if your neighbors wanted to capriciously paint their home fawn with fulvous trim because it was cheaper than their historically accurate burnt umber with citrine trim? Eh? I think you’ll agree that that’s not a pretty picture. No sir.

“No, this calls for a fine of $5,000 per day until those Peach Bottoms are back in place.”

Then, deftly whipping out his binoculars and training them on Swillenale’s eaves, he added: “Now, about those freshly replaced rain gutters. Are they early 20th century roll-formed copper Collegiate Gothic ...?”

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 791-7852