The City of Long Beach has eighteen recognized historic districts. Within these districts are beautiful and unique homes that fall under the guidance of the Cultural Heritage Commission. The commission aims to recognize and protect these properties through policies that preserve these historic and beautiful buildings. Those fortunate enough to own one of the landmark homes know that the unmatched beauty of the home parallels the inherent problems. Many of these homes still have antiquated electrical and plumbing, causing homeowners endless headaches. While many custom touches, like built-in bookcases and ornate exteriors, add to the charm, many older floorplans don’t match today’s desire for open spaces. When upgrading a historic home, it’s essential to balance preserving the historical elements that make it unique while creating comfortable, useable living spaces that leverage today’s technology to create a comfortable, efficient home.
A Complex Approval Process
Let’s be honest; home renovations and remodels are challenging in the best of situations, and they range wildly in scope, from simple interior design work to major overhauls. Drawing up plans that meet the local and State codes is daunting for a novice. Without someone to guide you, getting permits and approvals can often take much longer than expected, causing frustration along the way. But for homeowners in one of the eighteen historic districts in Long Beach, getting approval for home renovations also requires review from the Cultural Heritage Commission. Commission member and Long Beach Architect Mark Grisafe acknowledges this extra layer and believes it adds value to the community. Grisafe said, “I believe that having pride in one’s community makes that community a better, safer, and a more special place to live. This pride grows out of an understanding of the community’s heritage and history. By serving on the Cultural Heritage Commission, I feel that I’m doing a small part to preserve the story of Long Beach so that future generations can experience the pride and sense of place in history that I have enjoyed.”
A Pathway Forward
Owners of homes in one of the historic districts in Long Beach might initially think they are saving money trying to work through the process independently. These attempts usually end in frustration trying to meet code requirements, obtain permits, and meet the Cultural Heritage Commission guidance. Using a professional architect is the best way to ensure thoughtful design, strategic development, and detailed documentation will lead to obtaining timely approvals. The “Henry Clock House” is a perfect example of a successful renovation. When the owners of this Monterey Revival style home wanted to renovate it, they hired an architect to restore the areas that the previous homeowners altered in ways that were inconsistent with the style. At the same time, the new homeowners wanted to create open spaces for entertaining and improve access to allow them to remain in their home as they aged. In this case, the architect worked closely with the homeowner and designer to ensure the project met all State and local ordinances, including the Cultural Heritage Commission. It didn’t hurt that Mark Grisafe, the owner of the architect firm for this project, is also on the Cultural Heritage Commission. Having Grisafe on the commission allows his team to leverage his insight into the regulations that apply to historic properties in Long Beach.
The City’s historic districts are places of pride in the unique heritage of Long Beach and are worth preserving. As homeowners in these districts decide to renovate and restore these gorgeous homes, they must do so with the understanding that their approval process is even more complex than the average homeowner. The path to renovation might be smoother when accompanied by experts familiar with the terrain.