Exterior of the building located at 701 Third Street. photo courtesy of the city of San Juan Bautista.
Exterior of the building located at 701 Third Street. photo courtesy of the city of San Juan Bautista.

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A wall collapse during a renovation has led a residential unit in San Juan Bautista to lose its historical classification. In an effort to avoid similar cases in the future, the city is considering requiring property owners to go through a list of approved structural engineers and architects to oversee the projects. The city also approved a study session for a gas station project.

Interior, 701 Third Street. Courtesy of the city of San Juan Bautista.
Interior of the building located at 701 Third Street. Photo courtesy of the city of San Juan Bautista.

At its Nov. 7 meeting, the San Juan Bautista Historic Resources Board and Planning Commission, which consist of the same members, discussed both projects.

The first matter was a home renovation gone wrong at 703 Third Street, where substantial damage had been done to the structure while ostensibly adding a connecting passage between it and another home.

“Unfortunately, the walls came down and the roof came down and there was no floor left, either,” said Meg Clovis, the city’s architectural historian. “So the only thing that is remaining of the house is the front facade and the front porch. It is almost like a stage set when you walk through the front door.”

Clovis said that with so much of the historic fabric of the building lost, the property is no longer classified as a historic resource. She concluded that the house is still in a historic neighborhood, and every effort should be made to maintain the outward appearance of the house.

Commissioner Dan DeVries asked whether the work had been done under a permit and whether it had been completed before Clovis had a chance to assess the building.

Assistant City Manager Brian Foucht said that a permit had been issued for some interior remodeling and that the city did not have an architect or a structural engineer advise the applicant on how to treat the interior. 

“Our understanding of the permit is that it added 300 square feet to attach this particular house to the unit located behind,” he said. “The idea was for the owners to connect the two with a small breezeway. Then, as the interior work was being done, the walls fell.”

Foucht said a stop work order had been issued when the wall collapsed, and that the city was treating the construction as a brand new project. 

DeVries asked if it was a coordination issue in Clovis’s inability to assess the property before the collapse, or if the builders had exceeded their intended renovations to the project.
“How do we keep something like this from happening again,” he asked, “and is there any penalty for owners who exceed permits like this? I don’t think we can allow this to happen again.”

Commissioner Jose Aranda agreed with DeVries’s concerns.

“I don’t want to see us losing these historic structures because there was an ‘oops’ or a misstep,” Aranda said. “I do get that these things happen, but I want to be sure that we are doing everything we can so that these buildings keep their historical integrity.”

Clovis said that she had discussed the matter with Foucht and suggested that a list of structural engineers and architects should be put together and attached to projects of this nature.

“The contractor on the project said that the wood structural elements fell apart as if it was straw,” she said. “Perhaps if we had someone who could have assessed the condition, this could have been prevented.”

Foucht said that it was possible that, had an expert in historical architecture inspected the building, it might have been discovered that the structure would collapse if the finishes on the wall were removed. 

“There might have been some effort to brace the walls during construction,” he said. “I think that kind of thing needs to be incorporated in the conditions for approval.”

The commission voted 3-0 to approve the new construction project. Commissioner Tony Correia was not present.

Following the vote, a redesign of the Alameda/Hwy 156 gas station project was presented to the commissioners and once again failed to win approval. The new design added an extended facade and arched windows. 

All three commissioners expressed their dissatisfaction with the new design. Medeiros described it as looking “aesthetically heavy” and suggested the design be more open.
Aranda said he wanted to move forward with the station but wanted it to be more special and something the community would love. 

“I want it to be one of a kind the way the town is one of a kind,” he said. “I don’t think for me this is meshing well with the rest of the town, particularly with it being at the entrance.”

DeVries agreed with Aranda, saying that the design was beautiful, but “this just isn’t it. Morgan Hill or Hollister would buy this in a second, but it does not sit well with the Windmill Market design, which is catty-cornered to it.”

Aranda suggested setting up a study session with the owners of the station, and for the matter to be reconsidered at the next Planning Commission meeting. The motion passed unanimously.

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