Vote to Demolish 108-year-old Brothel Disappoints Coalition of Preservationists and Downtown Advocates; Wrecking Ball Looms for the Historic Bell Rooms

The historic Bell building on the corner of Shasta and California streets in Redding will be demolished. Photo courtesy of Michael Flanagan.

The historic Bell Rooms on the corner of Shasta and California streets in Redding will be demolished. Illustration courtesy of Michael Flanagan.

An impassioned plea by a community coalition seeking a 12-month stay of execution for the 108-year-old Bell Rooms failed to sway the Redding Area Bus Authority board, which voted 4-2 on Monday to demolish the historic brothel at the corner of California and Shasta streets.

The Bell Rooms and the adjoining former Bing’s Automotive and American Lock & Key buildings will be razed to create additional parking for RABA’s downtown transportation center.

The Shasta County Arts Council, in alliance with the Shasta Historical Society and with backing from the philanthropic McConnell Foundation, argued to save the Bell Rooms building.

Debra Lucero, the arts council executive director, told the RABA board that historic structures like the Bell Rooms are not just cool old buildings, they’re economic drivers that can anchor a cultural district, attract creative talent to the downtown area, promote tourism and create jobs.

Debra Lucero argues for preservation.

Debra Lucero argues for preservation.

Lucero cited the arts council, which is headquartered in Old City Hall (which is a year older than the Bell Rooms) as an example of a private-public partnership that flourishes in an historic building.

The Bell Rooms could easily be folded into a downtown cultural district, similar in nature to the Eureka Arts District, Lucero said. Many of the success factors are in place: a unique identity, community support, strong amenities like restaurants and lodging and clear signage.

Besides, “the greenest buildings are the ones that are already built,” Lucero said, noting that Jack’s Grill continues to prosper after 76 years in the same building (which also sported an upstairs brothel back in the ’30s and ’40s).

Millennials are looking for affordable places to live and work and they want to be downtown, Lucero said. “Some may ask, ‘why do we want to save that old whorehouse?’ but to a 30-year-old, they wouldn’t know. Or maybe they’d be intrigued by its past … please hold off and give us a year’s time to come up with something creative and vital.”

Mike Ashby, an attorney with Carr, Kennedy, Peterson & Frost who represents the McConnell Foundation, seconded Lucero’s request for more time to see how the Bell Rooms could be incorporated into downtown Redding’s future.

Besides which, he added, it just doesn’t make sense to demolish the buildings just as work begins on a Downtown Specific Plan, the Diestlehorst-to-Downtown pathway and the project by K2 Development to transform the old Dicker’s department store into a four-story, mixed-use building.

Mike Ashby explains McConnell Foundation's interest in the project.

Mike Ashby explains McConnell Foundation’s interest in the project.

In addition, Ashby said the McConnell Foundation is making progress in its negotiations with Union Pacific Railroad on a potential land swap that would open up the downtown rail yard to a variety of public uses.

“Let’s not be quick to irrevocably wipe them off the map when there’s no compelling reason to do so,” said Ashby, adding that the McConnell Foundation would be willing to make a grant of $5,000 or more to RABA to pay for steel doors and shutters to help secure the Bell Rooms building in the interim.

The Bell Rooms situation came before the RABA board on Aug. 15, at which time the board voted to delay any discussion of demolition plans for two months to allow the Committee to Preserve the Bell Rooms to come up with alternatives.

In his report to the RABA board, Redding Public Works Director Brian Crane said RABA received a $1.1 million state grant to expand the Downtown Transit Center and has spent about $860,000 of it on acquiring property—including the fenced-in parking lot across from the former police station—relocating tenants and preparing for demolition.

The parcel with the Bell Rooms and the two other buildings was purchased for $345,000 and another $172,000 has been spent on it. If the McConnell Foundation, the arts council or any other group were to purchase the Bell Rooms building, RABA would need to recoup about $800,000 in costs, according to Chuck Auklund, the assistant public works director who oversees RABA.

Chuck Auklund offers the project history.

Chuck Auklund offers the project history.

After the historical society first expressed interest in the Bell Rooms, the city hired two consultants, who both concluded the Bell Rooms did not qualify for listing on either the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources.

Redding Mayor Missy McArthur, who sits on the RABA board, said she supports parks, trails, the arts “and all the amenities that make the community great” but she also supports mass transit and realizes that RABA’s Downtown Transit Center’s space is limited. RABA’s expansion plans have been in the works for four years and the RABA board has to be forward-thinking, she said.

In balancing the future of mass transit against a “this might happen as an arts district” scenario, McArthur said she leans toward the city staff’s recommendation for demolition. Councilwoman Francie Sullivan said she went and looked at the Bell Rooms earlier in the day “and I’m not seeing this is as a building to fall on a sword for.” She questioned the wisdom of spending thousands of dollars to bring the building up to code.

Staff recommendations.

Staff recommendations.

Council members Kristen Schreder and Gary Cadd said they wouldn’t support McArthur’s motion. Schreder said there’s already “lots of regret” over the historic buildings Redding has lost and Cadd said he was satisfied that the preservation committee had mobilized and developed the framework of a plan to save the building.

RABA board members Richard Kern (Shasta Lake City Council) and Norma Comnick (Anderson City Council) expressed concern about RABA’s ability to recoup its expenses and the costs of maintaining the Bell Rooms.

Kern and Comnick joined McArthur and Sullivan in voting for the demolition; Cadd and Schreder cast the dissenting votes. Redding Vice Mayor Brent Weaver was absent and board member David Kehoe recused himself since he also serves on the Shasta Historical Society Board of Directors.

Schreder called the vote “very disappointing.” Following the meeting, Lucero also expressed disappointment. “Guess we’ll have to endure yet another fenced parking lot,” she said. “How does this make more sense than waiting a year until the Downtown Specific Plan takes shape? We’re tearing down our assets before we know the possibilities. It’s really crazy.”

Photos by Jon Lewis.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis is a freelance writer living in Redding. He has more than 30 years experience writing for newspapers and magazines. Contact him at jonpaullewis@gmail.com.
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36 Responses

  1. Sue Lang says:

    What a shame that one of the last old buildings will be demolished for a parking lot!  Some of the board has not had a chance to review the new  transportation plan  nor  the  yet-to-be completed Downtown Specific Plan, so what is the hurry.  The parking lot need represents a 20- year projection, not an immediate need.  When some of the board said they were looking to the future, what kind of future is it that discourages creative public-private partnerships?  Any young person with a new idea could be turned off with this kind of thinking.  If we really are looking to the future, it will require — to use a hackneyed expression — “out- of- the box” thinking.  This decision was not that at all. When McConnell Foundation stepped up to the  cover costs of the delay in demolition, that  demonstrated  true community leadership. Even staff indicated that 6 months to one year would not appreciably alter RABA’s expenses, and yet the board sent a resounding message to any grass-roots  creative initiatives with its decision.

    If we look back to 1961, the city council voted to demolish the Carnegie Library to make way for a parking lot. Do we learn from our history?

    • Steve Lindsey says:

      What you people need to realize is that a parking lot is more than a place to store automobiles.   It is a future building opportunity.   For something in keeping with the values of our age.   Maybe a McDonalds or a Pizza Hut.

      • cheyenne says:

        Parking lots are dead zones.  You can’t erect anything there and for parking they are totally inept.  The push now is for parking garages.  Here in Cheyenne, with less than half the population of Redding, we have a three story parking garage right in the middle of downtown.  It gives indoor covered parking with a short walk to all the revitalized buildings around Depot Square, which will have a water sculpture added this next year.  Several people in Redding, as has been noted on here, have visions of what Redding could be.

  2. Rod says:

    I caught your common theme Jon.  “Old Brothels” downtown.

    Schreder’s right,  it’s too soon to demolish these core businesses downtown.  It seems that downtown is being singled out to park our cars rather than our needs.  There’s a lot of income potential getting trashed.  I believe that the employment possibilities are large.

    I was raised a few years as a child in Nevada.  The town sported 2 brothels which were constantly busy.  Tourists came from Las Vegas to enjoy the atmosphere.  I couldn’t say how the taxes were levied,  it got worked out because the town relied on the Red Rooster and the Willow Tree to pony-up for civic  costs.

    I think Redding should hold the wrecking ball while we sort this out.

     

  3. I feel sickened by this decision to destroy the Bell rooms building.

    Redding has a shameful history of embracing demolition of its historic places and shunning preservation.

     

     

  4. cody says:

    If RABA paid $345 for the place, and spent another $172 on it, that totals $517 thousand.

    Why are they asking to recover $800 grand then?  Where did the other $283,000 go?

  5. Peggy Elwood says:

    I thought we already ruined downtown enough??? We are supposed to learn from past mistakes, right? It’s not like Redding has an overabundance of Historic buildings of charm and character…we certainly love to pour concrete though…

  6. Mike says:

    The headlines tomorrow should read:

    Citizens of Redding Still Getting Screwed at the old Whorehouse

  7. cheyenne says:

    All one has to do is travel 30 miles south and see how Red Bluff has handled historic restoration and it looks good.

  8. Jon Lewis says:

    Links to the staff report and correspondence between the Shasta Historical Society and the McConnell Foundation are available here: http://reddingcityca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2681

  9. Jeannette says:

    In my hometown of Santa Cruz which was the epicenter of the 1989 earthquake, several downtown demolitions were approved and executed quickly, to the lasting and continuing regret of residents and city leaders. The motivation there was safety which is not an issue in the Redding Bell Rooms issue, but the beautiful old buildings which were so important to Pacific Avenue and the rest of the city, were reduced to rubble before the more intensive and professional safety assessments were done. Later it was determined that they could have been saved and the demolition was unnecessary. The newer buildings that have taken their place are alright, but the historic, cultural, and visual value of the original structures cannot be replaced once gone. It’s so important to retain reminders, including some but not all old buildings, of a community’s history, for many reasons.

    • K. Beck says:

      I was heartbroken when I saw the Loma Prieta earthquake damage in downtown Santa Cruz. That was an old haunt of mine every time I went to Santa Cruz. I didn’t hear the follow up. What a shame they didn’t save those buildings. I am with you in your regrets.

    • cody says:

      The Pacific Garden Mall – it was sad to see that destroyed…

  10. Nina says:

    I’ve lost count of how many historic buildings this city has demolished. I’m ashamed of the city for it’s continued disregard for it’s past. Shame on you City of Redding.

    • K. Beck says:

      LOOK AT THE INCOME PRODUCED BY OLD TOWN SACRAMENTO! Yes, I am yelling!

      All these different entities in Redding need to start talking to each other. There needs to be a comprehensive down town plan. This piecemeal helter-skelter business needs to stop. That is why the downtown area is such a mess already.

      Stop tearing down all the old buildings and putting in parking lots and new hideous architecture which is already outdated.

      How about turning the building into a place where there is a restaurant downstairs, with some boutique type businesses and refurbish the upstairs as B & B bordello bedrooms? Think tourists. They could all park their cars in the RABA parking lot. :  )

      I still miss, and will probably always miss, the old Greyhound building.

      PLEASE DO NOT TEAR DOWN THE OLD JAIL BUILDING!

       

  11. K. Beck says:

    RE: RABA parking, go underground. Do something creative with the above ground areas. What Redding does NOT need is another huge, ugly, barren, asphalt parking lot! Nor does it need another ugly parking structure like the one down the street that appears to be falling apart.

  12. Duke K. says:

    The two members of RABA’s board who are not Redding residents should have recused themselves from voting.

    • Lori V says:

      The same thing occurred to me, Duke. Is there any chance  that a citizens’ coalition, working with the SHS and McConnell, can overturn this sorry decree?  I hope Francie Sullivan and Missy McArthur are reading these comments. Redding has lost way too much of its historical personality.

  13. JeffG says:

    Don’t it always seem to go
    That you don’t know what you’ve got til its gone
    They paved paradise
    And put up a parking lot…

  14. Breakfast Guy says:

    “Stop tearing down all the old buildings and putting in parking lots and new hideous architecture which is already outdated.”  — Tell it, K. Beck!

  15. V. Lam says:

    Really? Another downtown building with an interesting history is not valued by City of Redding. And to replace it with a parking lot and more concrete? Wow!

  16. Steve Lindsey says:

    Like the 50s and 60s, this time will be remembered as one of great change and great loss.    The sense of community has been lost across the nation, and the citizenry traumatized by the Great Recession.   The Preservation Movement has all but collapsed.    If you’re a developer or a special interest, now is your time to make a move.

    • cheyenne says:

      Maybe the preservation movement has died where you are but it is alive and well here in Cheyenne as extra taxes are being pushed to revitalize downtown.  And it is happening all along the front range as towns like Loveland have been restoring their downtown.  And in Omaha the Old Town and riverfront areas have gone through a complete makeover from what it looked like ten years ago.  Many towns, large and small, are revitalizing their downtowns to attract tourists and businesses.

  17. Virginia says:

    Amazing, Americans spend a fortune to visit Europe to see old buildings and enjoy the history, but they only want to tear their own history down!

  18. Scott Lyon says:

    This is another disappointing decision made by local leadership.
    It’s understood that RABA needs to plan for the future, however, RABA needs to realize that folks still aren’t giving up their autos in favor of riding the local public transport system.

    Does ridership really necessitate this level of expansion?
    Seems that there are more members on the RABA board than there are on an average RABA bus.

  19. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    Well now, that just sucks.

  20. Steven Towers Steven Towers says:

    Once you tear an old building down, there’s no getting it back.  It’s a damned shame.

    That said, I’d trade the already-razed Greyhound station, the two craftsman-style buildings on Yuba Street scheduled to be razed, and the Bell Rooms for a genuine and sustained effort to fix the abomination that is Downtown Mall during my lifetime. Taking the lid off wasn’t enough. Those hideous support piers need to go, the street needs to be opened up to through traffic, and the facades of the historic buildings restored to look like historic buildings.

    (Speaking of aesthetics….I can’t be the only person who thinks that when the Lorenz was being refurbished, the rubberized red paint over the brick and stone probably wasn’t the most aesthetically appealing and historically preservative option available. Only in a town that has so brutalized its historic buildings could the Lorenz still look like one of the crown jewels of preservation efforts following the application of that layer of clown makeup.)

    Market Street may never be Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, but it could be a far better approximation of Higuera Street than it is today.

  21. David Armstrong says:

    Redding – a little Los Angeles/Las Vegas – no sense of history.

    SHAME!!!