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Developer, Preservationists Battle Over Old Market : Council: Two sides lock horns over city's oldest brick structure. Realty wants to raze building, others want to use it as an art gallery.

March 08, 1994|PEGGY Y. LEE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A local developer battled with historic preservationists before the Ventura City Council late Monday evening, debating the fate of the 117-year-old Peirano building, the city's oldest brick structure.

Ventura Realty wants to buy the former Italian grocery store from the city for $75,000 to $100,000 and demolish most of it to show off an old laundry beneath that may have been used by Spanish missionaries 200 years ago. The developer would preserve the front and west side of the building and make the laundry, or lavanderia , the main focus of a new courtyard surrounded by a restaurant, shops and offices.

But many artists and preservationists argued for another developer's proposal because it would save the old grocery and an adjoining photography studio, which would be converted to a municipal art gallery.

Ventura Realty officials said they would also consider leasing space to a city gallery.

Before Monday evening's meeting, most council members said they were inclined to side with Ventura Realty.

"It's an eyesore, and it's a dead corner," Councilman Gary Tuttle said in an interview. "It's been frustrating for the city."

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The city purchased the Peirano building in 1987 for $185,000, intending to preserve it and lease the space. But few tenants came forward because officials required that they pay for most of the $430,000 needed for seismic repairs.

Council members said they favored Ventura Realty's proposal to showcase the lavanderia , which they consider more significant historically than the Peirano building.

City leaders found Ventura Realty's project more financially appealing than a proposal by developer JKL & M Associates, whose proposal local artists and historic preservationists supported.

Ventura Realty wants a $500,000 loan for construction costs. But JKL & M, which would convert the Peirano building into a restaurant or shops, wants the city to pay the $430,000 for an earthquake retrofit.

About 40 Peirano building supporters marched in protest from the vacant store to City Hall about an hour before Monday evening's meeting.

"You can't replace authentic things with copies," Robert Chianese, who sits on the city Historic Preservation Commission, said at the meeting. "We don't want to create a Cannery Row of history,"

But Tom Wood, president of Ventura Realty, argued that the lavanderia would be better displayed if the Wilson photo studio and the Peirano building are razed.

"There's very few (lavanderias) that exist in a pristine form," Wood said.

The lavanderia is a tile-lined pool that measures about 26 by 30 feet, and is one of only seven discovered in the state. It may have been used for the San Buenaventura Mission's laundry, and is tied into the mission's aqueduct system. The lavanderia , dating back to the 1700s, was unearthed in September, 1991, when city officials were planning to replace part of the grocery's floor.

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Preservationists also pushed to showcase the lavanderia , but were upset that displaying the old laundry would come at the expense of the grocery.

Wood contends that by keeping the front and west wall of the grocery store, some of the building's historical significance would be preserved.

Officials at the state Historic Preservation Office said the city can allow demolition of a state historic landmark as long as a series of federal and state environmental reviews are done.

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