A team of architecture students from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo finished a 2-day design study of downtown Fillmore this week by advocating the demolition of Mayor Gary Creagle's gun shop.
Creagle, reached on city business in San Diego, burst out laughing when informed of the suggestion. "If they can afford the condemnation proceedings," he said, "they're quite welcome to it."
The 5th-year undergraduates are sent out to judge and adjust the design of California communities each year as part of an advanced architecture course taught by Cal Poly professor Paul Neel. Their suggestions provide city governments with a conceptual plan for improvement, rather than a practical outline.
"Ultimately, I hope they become a spark for a new kind of thinking about downtown," said Fillmore city planner Mitch Stone, who wants to incorporate the students' 15 sketches into a book for local distribution.
"I think we could actually see some of these things done," he said. "There are things nobody's thought of before."
The Cal Poly plan advises Fillmore to level Creagle's shop and a shoe store across Central Avenue, the town's chief commercial thoroughfare.
Pedestrian walkways would replace both shops. From the area vacated by Creagle's gun shop, "Up in Arms," pedestrians could reach businesses on the neighboring block; the shoe store passageway would allow access to rear parking, an outdoor cafe and a few arcade-style shops. The conversion reflects the city's original design, which included this passageway, said student Tim Conlon, who led one of three subgroups in the project.
Behind the businesses, a parking redesign could increase capacity by 30% and one-way traffic through the lot would route drivers past more retailers.
The buildings' facades, which date from the 1920s, would be restored, with rebuilt cornices, cloth awnings and original brick replacing plaster and paint, according to the plan. Sespe tile, from the area, would be used for crosswalks and the pedestrian pathways.
The Cal Poly wish list also includes the dramatic replacement of Fillmore's "spine"--a Southern Pacific railroad track that parallels a portion of Main Street and then curves north. The area would be transformed into a greenbelt, complete with a meandering path for walkers, bikers and horses. The greenbelt would encompass an existing park, house a new city hall, playgrounds, tennis courts and a train station, student James Smith said.
The students say these changes are not only aesthetically pleasing but break with Fillmore tradition.
For years, the solution to downtown deterioration has been to cover old walls with new plaster, metal sheeting or other material, students said. Now that material is falling into disrepair: metal is rusting, plaster walls are cracking, tiles are pulling apart.
"You need to go back to the very beginning and refurbish that," said Conlon, who acknowledged that the expense and trouble of full-scale rehabilitation discouraged some local businessmen.
"There doesn't seem to be much incentive for the merchants to fix up their buildings," he said.
According to Neel, many communities implement the students' ideas. The Northern California city of Palo Alto liked them so much the group was asked back. Coalinga turned to the students after its severe earthquake a few years ago, and the city of Ventura consulted with the undergraduates in 1985.
"Many of these little cities can't afford to get a high-powered planning concern to come in and take a fresh look at their city," Neel explained. "We provide that opportunity."
Ventura's redevelopment agency is working to implement some of the students' recommendations for downtown redesign, including the addition of a false front to a freeway bridge and construction of a pedestrian trail near the old Peirano grocery, a downtown landmark, redevelopment administrator Miriam Mack said.
"Three years later, people are still talking about it," she said.
Fillmore has consulted with architects in the past without much success, Stone said. "People thought the result of it was not Fillmore," he said, praising the students' "fresh, unprejudiced viewpoint."
As for the students, their next redesign may be the city of San Luis Obispo, the hometown that has yet to consult with its own. If so, will the mayor there also suffer?
"We like to find the most influential person in the city and give him a jab by pulling out his building," warned Conlon. "It's become a trend."