BY TREVOR CADDEL
Events on June 12 at the Reid building in Banning left dozens of citizens as well as some Banning officials concerned with the future of Banning’s oldest commercial building.
Residents were shocked to suddenly discover workers appearing to tear the building down at the corner of Livingston Street and San Gorgonio Avenue, sparking phone calls from many passers-by who were in disbelief to see the building being so dramatically changed.
Pedro Hernandez, a contractor who was working for the owner of the building — though he declined to identify the owner, who is not from Banning — told the Record Gazette that the two buildings comprising the Reid building involved a faux partition that was not part of the original structure.
The west-facing doors that are currently part of the structure, were not part of the original building, either.
The owner’s intent, Hernandez said, was to combine them again into a single building that would house six commercial units.
Wednesday afternoon, the partition had already been torn down.
At the time, he anticipated an overhaul of the building to be completed within two months.
Renovations had started a day earlier, when they cordoned off the entire building in construction fencing.
He offered a hard hat to a reporter and invited him to glance inside at what the permit was originally intended for.
Trash, strewn articles of clothing, broken glass littered the floors; a wall leading from one unit to another had a giant person-sized hole in it, allowing easy access between units.
Hernandez said that his employees had found used drug needles among the paraphernalia lying around.
While the basic structure seemed sound, there were signs of termite damage and dry rot, according to Hernandez.
The system framing, he said, would be reinforced.
However, while renovations for the interior had been approved, the city — and historic preservationists who rallied to the spot to document activity at the building — the exterior had not been approved for an overhaul. That violation allowed the city to immediately apply a stop-work order.
Hernandez said that the owner was interested in working with the city, and in ensuring that the building is preserved.
The Reid building, formerly known as the Henderson building, was the first permanent structure in downtown Banning, and is the city’s oldest commercial building. According to the Guide to the Historic Landmarks of Riverside County, California — based on information compiled by local historian Pat Murkland — the building was originally constructed in 1884 and served as a general store.
The business changed hands and names many times over the next few years and was eventually acquired by Charles A. Reid, who renamed it the Reid Building.
According to Banning City Manager Doug Schulze, a stop-work order was issued immediately by the city when officials became aware that non-permitted work was being done at the property.
“We were very surprised at yesterday’s (June 12) events,” Banning Mayor Art Welch told members of the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society during their June 13 meeting at the Beaumont Woman’s Club.
“We want to make opportunities for us to work together to make it happen. The Reid building was the call to step it up,” Welch said.
Schulze said he became aware of the issues at the Reid building around 11 a.m. on the morning of Wednesday June 12 when he was leaving for a meeting unrelated to the work.
He said he saw what was unmistakably a pile of wooden planks from the exterior of the building, which was not a part of the work agreed to by the city when the permit was issued.
According to Schulze the permit acquired by the property owner was specifically intended for the renovation of interior walls, as well as the creation of a new section within the building, but the permit made no indication that the building’s owner intended to remove any portion of the exterior façade.
“This gives us leverage now that unpermitted work was done. We will encourage them with that leverage to return it (the Reid building) to wood-clad rather than stucco,” the façade style the workers were planning to implement.
“We’ll continue to work on this to turn what is really an unfortunate event into one that is more positive,” Schulze said.
The presentation for the historical society by Schulze and Welch was originally intended to explore and outline ideas for the city to partner with the historical society in an effort to better preserve historical locations in Banning, but ended up being largely focused on the events that happened at the Reid building.
Schulze emphasized the need for the city to commit more to its general plan and to implement policy change that expands and enhances historical efforts as well as encourage public participation in historical preservation so that should an issue arise similar to this one, the city will be in a better position to deal with it.
The city currently does not have the authority to stop work on historical sites that are privately owned.
Welch, along with others voicing their concerns at the meeting, felt that one of the biggest hindrances in producing real change within the system is the inability for long-term consistency due to the revolving door of political figures with differences of opinion.
Welch pointed out that the historical society also has had its ups and downs in membership over the years, which has limited its ability to make more impactful, lasting changes.
He said a key element in preventing the destruction of historical sites in Banning is developing a close working relationship between the city and the historical society to outline and implement ordinances that gives the city the power to be more proactive in the preservation of future projects to prevent the destruction of Banning’s history.
Staff Writer David James Heiss serves on the San Gorgonio Pass Historical Society’s board of directors, and contributed to this story.