My stay in San Francisco included another Tweetup, this time held at the Tonga Room. The Tonga Room is the Tiki bar and restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel (1906). Complete with floating bandstand and half-hourly rainfall with thunderstorm, the lounge appears relatively intact and true to its late 1960s update on an early 50s-adopted Tiki style.
While I wouldn’t first think of leisure and recreation spaces as part of threatened mid-century resources, they clearly are. Whether it’s the external appearance of a structure or the interior, the use and form of built space does change over time. Recreation and leisure patterns certainly changed after the 1950s, and places like the Tonga Room do document that. Unfortunately, there was not enough light inside to take any good pictures.
The Tonga Room, though, is currently threatened. Despite an apparent uptick in business following the announcement of its contemplated closure, the hotel is considering turning the space occupied by the Tonga Room into parking spaces for the condominiums that are to be fashioned from the space currently with hotel rooms.
By way of highlighting the hodgepodge of preservation laws at the state, federal, and local level, I spoke with Andrew Wolfram, AIA who is the Commissioner of the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission. He indicated that city of SF has a 30 year period of significance, which I thought was interesting given the range of other cities’ rules. He also wears hat of DOCOMOMO NOCA who have identified fifty significant buildings in San Francisco that are eligible to be listed. The local listing has only three!
I also spoke with Cindy Heitzman of the California Preservation Foundation. As a statewide group, their advocacy is primarily accomplished through education, such as their annual conference. Their programs are targeted to both the general public but also for local governments since, as we discussed, the best policies are those which are well thought out at the time they are first implemented, rather than altered piecemeal over time. The 2009 conference was held in Palm Springs and included a large amount of panels and programs on mid-century modernism. But it is important to remember, as Heitzman noted, that a statewide organization should not provide services better managed and coordinated on a local level.
Beyond a more formal conference environment, the California Preservation Foundation does other educational outreach. Corrine Ingrassia also joined our conversation to provide me with a sense of the youth-focused programs currently underway. While the foundation does not yet offer curriculum guides or educational tours like some other statewide preservation organizations do, they have begun a new program to build youth interest in their 2010 conference to be held in Nevada County. As part of this program, students are asked to develop videos to be uploaded to YouTube, conceived of as a unit within art classes. These videos would be part of short film competition to cover the same topics as the conference will address. Art teachers have apparently liked the idea so much they are trying to have a poster competition, too, also to advertise the conference. All of which I thought was a really cool idea.
Next stop: Las Vegas
Seth Tinkham is a self-employed grant writer and preservation planner located in Alexandria, Virginia. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for the citywide preservation organization in Washington, DC helping to plan activities related to modern architecture.