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April 1, 2009 > Letter To The Editor

Letter To The Editor

Dear Union City Council members, City Manager, City staff,

Last night at the City Council meeting there was a discussion on the Horner-Veasy Parcel. When I read the information in the packet, I did not see anything that would worry me. When I talked with Tony Acosta on the issue during the break, I mentioned the homes out in that area, and he said that they could easily be demolished. Given the long history of that area, I would hate to see the two historic homes at the corner of Veasy and Horner be demolished. I thought I would write a letter to the City Council reminding them of this historic nature of that area. Before doing this I decided to use Google Maps to see the homes and the area.

Much to my surprise, dismay and utter shock, the satellite image on Google Maps clearly showed that the two historic homes have already been demolished. Where once sat buildings older than any current Union City resident, there is now an empty lot with weeds. Once again, the City of Union City has given total disregard for historic preservation and its own history.

In 1850, John Horner founded the town of Union City, close to the intersection of Horner and Veasy streets. Even when most of the area was called Alvarado, up until the 1920's, the area around Horner and Veasy was still known as Union City. Over the years most of the buildings have been demolished, leaving an old Victorian home, built before 1886, and a home next to it that could be much older, based on its style. These two homes were the last and only remnants of the original Union City. Without so much as a peep to the public, these homes are gone.

I have been before the City Council numerous times talking about historic preservation and how important it is that Union City preserve its historic homes. When the Mary de Sa home, which was covered by the Historic and Landmark Overlay Zone, came up for demolition, the City Council told me that this home could not be save, but that "we will save the next one." That did not come true for the Jacinto home on Horner, nor the home on Mission that housed Tom's Flowers, nor the old Frank George building on Union City Blvd. And now it did not hold true for these two historic homes.

In 1998, the City contracted with Architectural Resources Group to survey the historic homes in Union City and enacted the Historic and Landmark Overlay Zone. It seemed that Union City actually took the concept of historic preservation seriously. But every time an historic home came up for demolition the city approved the demolition, most with very little notice to the public.

The General Plan states, "Goal NHR-C-1 - To protect, to the extent possible, the City's significant archaeological and historical resources." It also states "NHR-C.1.5 The City shall support public and private efforts to preserve, rehabilitate, and continue the use of historic structures and sites." In over 10 years as a Union City resident I have not seen these goal put into action. Time and time again, historic homes are demolished with nary a whisper from City staff to local historical groups.

I have spent the last three years donating countless hours to the UC50th Anniversary team, with a large number of those hours documenting and creating a book covering the last 50 years of Union City. I have stressed to all those I meet how important the history of Union City is and how we need to document and preserve all that we can. During these same years, I put together a book for Arcadia Publishing, that covered the full history of Union City, and where all author royalties were donated to the Museum of Local History. From both the City Council and City staff I have received compliments on these books, and the other writing that I have done on Union City.

It bothers me that these same people are also part of an organization that has done its best to ignore and destroy the historic buildings in Union City. Did it not occur to City staff that a building that is more than 100 years old is of historic interest? Did City staff not know what there are those of us in Union City that are keenly interested in these historic homes? Did City staff not realize the historic importance of the buildings at the corner of Veasy and Horner? Did they not realize that that is where Union City started?

They say that ignorance of the law is not excuse. I believe that ignorance of history is no excuse. There was no excuse not knowing the historical significance of those buildings, nor any excuse for not finding out. Hall Ranch Park was recently renamed because no one could remember who John Hall was. In 50 years will we do the same to Kennedy Park, because no one will remember who Charles Kennedy was? Will we do the same to William Cann Memorial Park?

As I give historic tours of Alvarado and Decoto, I will point out the locations of those buildings that have been demolished in the last 10 years. I will stress to those attending the tours how important historic preservation is.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am with the City of Union City for the demolition of these buildings. The City's General Plan says great things about historic preservation, but these promises are as empty as the lot where those historic homes sat.

Timothy Swenson
President, Museum of Local History

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