Plans to move structures on the historic Buffalo Ranch to the Orange County Fairgrounds received a boost this week when the City Council approved the concept.
The 4-1 vote came as a disappointment to some local preservationists who had hoped the red barn buildings would remain at their current home on MacArthur Boulevard and that the site might be transformed into a park.
But council members said the city lacks the money to preserve and restore the ranch, which was an amusement park in the 1950s and served as the headquarters for the architects who designed Irvine and UC Irvine in the 1960s.
"I know (the city) loses something of historical significance if (the buildings) are moved. But at least if they move to the fairgrounds, people can use them and see them," Mayor Michael Ward said.
The council vote was meant only as an advisory measure because both the ranch buildings and the surrounding land are owned by the Irvine Co.
For several months now, the Irvine Co. and Orange County Fair Board have been crafting a plan to relocate some of the 15 ranch buildings to the fairgrounds' Centennial Farms area, where they would be used as meeting halls and classrooms.
Moving and restoring the structures could cost more than $1 million. The Irvine Co. has expressed a willingness to pay for some of the expenses, and company officials are now negotiating with the fair on exactly how much they would contribute.
Even if financing can be found, the relocation project would still require the completion of an environmental impact report.
At Tuesday's council meeting, Irvine historian Judy Liebeck urged city and Irvine Co. officials to keep the buildings at the original ranch site. She said moving the structures would destroy any chance preservationists had for placing the ranch on the National Register of Historic Places.
Liebeck noted that the ranch was used by architect William Pereira to design UCI, portions of Irvine as well as Fashion Island in Newport Beach. Pereira, who once appeared on the cover of Time magazine, also designed the distinctive Transamerica pyramid building in San Francisco.
Councilman Greg Smith, who voted against the measure, wanted more information about whether the ranch could be preserved in Irvine.
The ranch land is zoned for residential development, and the Irvine Co. said it intends to one day build homes in the area.