Holbrook-Palmer Park buildings could get national historic status


Long before Atherton was known for being the home of some of Silicon Valley's most successful residents, it was a rural agricultural community.

The Friends of Holbrook-Palmer Park (formerly the Atherton Dames) want to honor some of the last remainders of that agricultural legacy by getting the park's carriage house, built in 1897, and water tower, built in 1883, put on the National Register of Historic Places.

At their Sept. 16 meeting, members of the Atherton City Council unanimously approved allowing the Friends to go ahead with the application. If the buildings are given the historic status, they will join only one other building in Atherton on the national register, the Watkins house, built around 1866 and moved to Alejandra Avenue in 1998, according to Marion Oster of the Atherton Heritage Association.

Susan Masetti, who has been shepherding the project for the Friends, told council members that getting the two buildings put on the national register has only upsides. The Friends are paying all costs of the application. If the buildings are added to the national register, they will be eligible for grants to preserve them and also eligible to use California's special historic building code.

Town building official Brett Hale said the historic building code provides that certain "allowances" may be granted in current regulations to preserve the historic integrity of a building. One example, he said, would be permission to put handicapped access to the side of a building instead of at the main entry.

Putting the buildings on the registry will not make it harder to make changes in them, consultant Christopher VerPlanck told the council, because they have already been identified as historic buildings. Any changes made in them are already governed by the historic preservation regulations in the California Environmental Quality Act, he said.

"These buildings are rare and unique examples of rural outbuildings" in Atherton, Ms. Masetti said. "These two buildings represent an era in our town's history."

When council member Mike Lempres asked if any other council members could think of a downside to the application, only one was brought up.

"There could be bus tours," council member Cary Wiest said.

The council also showed its appreciation for Atherton's history at the meeting by naming September "Atherton History Month," and issuing proclamations recognizing Marion Oster for her work with the Atherton Heritage Association, along with Isobel Christensen, Ginny Nile and Phoebe Rowles, who all work in the town's Heritage Room organizing and preserving the town's historic information and artifacts.

Mayor Rick DeGolia said Ms. Oster and the others "give an enormous service to this town."

"This association is critical" to the preservation of the town's history, he said.

The council also gave a proclamation to Sam Wright, who recently published a book about the annexation of the Walsh Road area to Atherton.

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