The Medford City Council has agreed to look into a proposal that would protect historic houses from demolition in older neighborhoods.
"It's horrible that we have a tendency to bulldoze our past and our heritage," said Sal Esquivel, a Medford state representative who has been restoring his own historic house.
Esquivel and the Old East Medford Homeowner's Association asked the City Council on Thursday to consider an ordinance that would protect houses older than 50 years from demolition.
The City Council agreed to have city staff look into the idea.
Esquivel said historic neighborhoods can be damaged when an old house is removed.
Replacing that link to the past with a double-wide manufactured home or an apartment complex can destroy the character of the street.
He cited a neighborhood on Quince Street in west Medford where older houses surround a manufactured home that since it was installed about 15 years ago has changed the neighborhood.
Esquivel said that under certain circumstances he could understand why a dilapidated home would need to be demolished, and the ordinance would have provisions that would allow that.
"We don't want to dictate to people that you will do this and you will do that," he said.
However, he said, the city should be able to insist that any new structure at least have some architectural features that help it blend into the neighborhood.
Esquivel and the homeowner's association offered an ordinance adopted by the city of Ashland that could be used as a template for Medford.
The idea of protecting older houses from demolition has been discussed for years, but the issue became more pressing after a proposal came before the city to add a sky bridge connecting to a house at 815 East Main St. that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The city rejected the idea because the sky bridge wasn't compatible with a historic structure, but neighbors have expressed concern that the city doesn't have laws in place that would protect the house from being demolished.
Designed by noted local architect Frank Clark, the house was originally built for local Realtor W.H. Humphrey, but John Mann, owner of Mann's Department Store, lived in the house from the 1920s to 1950s. In the 1960s, the house was converted into medical offices and has been extensively remodeled over the years.
Shelley Spliethof, spokeswoman for the homeowner's association, said the East Main Street house was the first built in her Minnesota and Geneva streets neighborhood.
"We want to make sure it doesn't get torn down," she said.
Spliethof said that over the years apartment houses have been built on streets such as Oakdale Avenue that are lined with historic houses.
"We see a lot of historic homes being taken down on both the east and west sides of town," she said.
Council members noted that residents in many historic neighborhoods try to maintain the original look and feel of their houses.
"Sal, I support a lot of what you are saying," Councilman John Michaels said.
However, Michaels added, he was concerned that city staff had enough work to do without adding a review of the ordinance to its workload.
Other council members thought the issue was pressing enough to warrant immediate attention by city staff.
"Time is of the essence," said Councilman Dick Gordon. "It is a higher priority."
Councilman Bob Strosser said the city can't afford to lose more historic houses, so he thought it appropriate that the city planning department look into the ordinance.
"We also just don't want it to languish," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.