Local News

Fullerton: A “Preserve America Community”

Entering Fullerton city limits on Chapman Avenue, one sees a sign that says Fullerton is a “Preserve America Community.” It turns out that the Preserve America Program, a federal initiative developed to highlight efforts to protect the nation’s heritage, designated the city of Fullerton a Preserve America Community in 2009. This is due to the efforts of members of Fullerton Heritage, a local non-profit organization that has been very active in the restoration, preservation, and promotion of Fullerton’s rich collection of cultural and architectural resources. A committee of Fullerton Heritage members spent hours working on historical research, coordinating with City staff, soliciting letters of recommendation from City, County, and State officials, and filling out numerous forms in order for Fullerton to gain recognition as a Preserve America Community.

Administered by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Preserve America Community program was started in 2003 under the leadership of then-First Lady Laura Bush.

On the program’s website, it says it recognizes cities that “protect and celebrate their heritage, use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization, and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs. The goals of the program include increasing a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past, strengthening regional identities and local pride, increasing local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets, and supporting the economic vitality of our communities.”

Debora Richey, a member of Fullerton Heritage, remembers filling out the application for Fullerton’s Preserve America designation and leaving a copy in the Local History Room. “The program still exists, but at the time, it was getting a big push from Laura Bush,” she said. “It is a wonderful way to recognize preservation-oriented communities. Fullerton Heritage has been able to use the designation a number of times when dealing with government officials and agencies. I do not, however, think that it is widely known in the City that we are a Preserve America City.”

At the Fullerton Public Library’s Local History Room, Local History Archivist Cheri Pape was able to help me locate a copy of the original application form, which runs about 20 pages long. All the application’s supporting documents fill a binder. The application process was initially led by Fullerton Heritage board members Katie Dalton, Debora Richey, Cathy Thomas, Noelle Rossi, Nick Derr, and Jim Powell. It was approved and submitted by then-Mayor Sharon Quirk.

“In order to qualify, certain requirements had to be met, such as conducting a historical survey because there needed to be some mechanism for designating historic buildings,” wrote Richey via email. “There also had to be some description of a historic preservation project that had been completed within the last few years. It has been a long time, so I have vague memories of this. I don’t remember it as being arduous, but it did take quite a bit of time. Fullerton Heritage formed a committee to ensure that the nomination was completed.”

According to the May 2009 issue of the Fullerton Heritage Newsletter, the selection process was based on a community’s ability to meet certain criteria, such as a “historic or cultural preservation project that has promoted…heritage tourism or otherwise fostering economic vitality.” Selection was based on whether a “governing body has recently adopted a resolution indicating its commitment to the preservation of its heritage assets,” and whether “the community meets at least five criteria specified in three broad categories—discovering heritage through historic places, protecting historic resources, and promoting historic assets.” The Fullerton Heritage committee recognized that many of the “already in-place preservation efforts and resources” would qualify the City for the honor of being named a Preserve America Community, and quickly began work on the application.

From reading over the application, I learned how the formerly rundown industrial section of Santa Fe Avenue was developed into the historic SOCO district. I learned that Fullerton’s Historical Building Survey, the Museum Center, the library’s Local History Room, the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, as well as the interpretive programs and exhibitions offered at the Visitor Center, and Dr. George Clark House’s and Office at the Fullerton Arboretum helped the City earn its designation status under the “discovering heritage through historic places” category of the application. Fullerton Heritage’s efforts, such as docent-led downtown walking tours, in addition to local history education programs for all of Fullerton’s 3rd graders also helped with the City’s application.

SOCO district in downtown Fullerton.

Fullerton has preserved many of its historic buildings as Observer readers may already know. A number of these buildings are even listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fullerton Heritage’s downtown walking tour takes visitors past preserved places such as the Spanish Colonial Revival-style building, which was built in 1941 and once housed the City’s public library (now the Fullerton Museum Center); the 1930 Santa Fe Depot; the relocated Union Pacific Depot, completed in 1923 and a major example of Mission Revival architecture; and the Amerige block of commercial buildings built in 1920, each with a glazed tile façade.

In the application’s second broad category of “protecting historic resources,” Fullerton Heritage members went into detail about the City’s establishment of the Landmarks Commission, adoption of historic preservation in the overall Fullerton General Plan, and establishment of the Redevelopment Design Review Committee. Under the third category of “promoting historic assets,” Fullerton Heritage members wrote about and pointed to the City’s “A Night in Fullerton” program, “Railroad Days,” “Fullerton First Night,” and the “Winterfest” program. They also wrote about Fullerton Heritage’s “Preservationist of the Year” and “Golden Hammer” awards for the “historic preservation awards or recognition program” application item.

Fullerton’s Preserve America application gained a lot of support at the time. Interestingly, when I looked back at the webpage of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, I found that San Clemente and Santa Ana are the only other cities in Orange County listed as Preserve America Communities. According to the May 2009 issue of the Fullerton Heritage newsletter, communities designated through the program receive national recognition for their efforts. In fact, Preserve America Communities are featured in National Register Travel Itineraries and in “Teaching with Historic Places” curricular materials created by the National Park Service. The federal program also allows communities to use the Preserve America logo on signs and promotional materials. Other benefits for the city include “notification to state tourism offices, listing in a Web-based directory that showcases Fullerton’s preservation efforts and heritage tourism destinations, and eligibility for Preserve America Grants.”

So, the next time you’re driving into Fullerton, be sure to be on the lookout for the Preserve America Community sign. A copy of the Preserve America Community Application is available at the Local History Room in the Fullerton Public Library. For further information on the Preserve America program, visit http://www.preserveamerica.gov. 

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