On November 20 the Fullerton City Council officially added the Hunt Branch Library located at 201 S. Basque Ave., to the list of the city’s Local Landmarks. The designation is meant both to recognize significant structures in the city and to prevent them from being inappropriately remodeled or destroyed. The addition to the list was unanimously recommended by the six members of Fullerton’s Planning Commission present for their October 24 meeting.
According to the staff report given by the Community Development Department’s Joan Wolff, “This designation is given to a building, structure or natural or manmade feature having a historic character or historic, cultural, architectural or aesthetic value with respect to the heritage of Fullerton, which merits preservation, restoration and/or protection.”
The report cited three of the ten criteria under which buildings can be designated Local Landmarks, including its significant style and outstanding design, as well as the importance and influence of its architect William Pereira. The presentation included images of the library dating to 1963, just a year after it opened, along contemporary views, noting that the building looked very much the same as it did over half a century ago. Ms. Wolff described the Hunt’s style as International, although its roofline incorporates elements of the more Brutalist style employed by Pereira in his later works, some of which, like San Francisco’s Transamerica building and UC San Diego’s Geisel Library were also shown in the presentation.
The City of Fullerton owns the Hunt Branch Library and surrounding grounds, although the building is currently leased out to Grace Ministries International (GMI), who, in 2000 purchased the adjacent property that once served as the headquarters of Hunt Wesson/ConAgra. The library’s architecture echoes that of the GMI-owned four story office building, also designed by William Pereira. Together, the two structures and the surrounding park were conceived as a unified campus by Mr. Pereira and his client, Norton Simon, although GMI has since added other large buildings to it. Norton Simon commissioned the Hunt Branch as gift to the city in 1962, but the Fullerton City Council has not to allocated the necessary funds to operate it as a library branch since 2013.
No members of the council had any questions for Ms. Wolff. Public comments began with Bob Linnell, representing Fullerton Heritage, who had submitted the lengthy, well-researched application to the city. Mr. Linnell thanked the staff for the presentation and noted that Fullerton Heritage has also submitted an application to California’s State Historical Resources Commission “requesting that the Hunt Library and the former Hunt Administration Building and the surrounding campus be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.” The application is expected to be heard by the state panel in February next year, and the state’s recommendation passed to the federal government in early summer for a final decision. Noting that a Landmark status adopted by the city was important to the National Register decision, he nonetheless observed that it would be Fullerton’s Local Landmark designation itself that would “better protect the building from any future threat of demolition or mistreatment or some compromise of the building’s architecture.”
Jane Reifer expressed the community group Save The Hunt’s support for listing the property as a Landmark, and thanked Fullerton Heritage for their years-long effort to that end. Fullerton Heritage’s application to the National Register includes all of the original Hunt Library and Office Building campus, but City Council changes to the Local Landmark process made within the last two years now make it more difficult to list privately held properties without the cooperation of owners, so only the city-owned Hunt Library was included in the local application.
Councilmember Greg Sebourn called it “an honor” to move the item. Mayor Chaffee, who has in the recent past supported selling the building, called the Hunt an “architectural gem” before voting along with the other four members of the council to unanimously designate it as Fullerton’s most recent addition to its list of Local Landmarks.