Annaise M. Goldsby: Historic preservation is art
I have been coming to Nevada City since I was 3 years old. I even lived there for a year. So I was perplexed by the “Other Voices” opinion penned by Stuey Weills.
She thinks Nevada City is missing something, and that something is art. Some may fail to recognize that historic architectural preservation is art. Architecture, after all, is just art that we live in.
This visually captivating canvas is so valuable that it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town and its restored buildings, uncluttered sidewalks, narrow streets and minimal signage are a part of that vision.
Historic preservation never comes easily. It would be a shame to lose what the city and its community has worked so hard to protect. I think the Nevada City most people love and come to visit has a lot to do with the city’s diligent application of the Historical District Ordinance, not in spite of it.
Compromising historic preservation is a slippery slope. It can create unintended issues which impact the beauty and functionality of the city.
Regarding the lack of visitation, Nevada City seems to have a multi-layered problem. Some issues can be traced to COVID-19, while others are the result of the city’s attempt to chase trends that have been implemented in other cities.
Consequently, the city looks cluttered and now has a serious parking shortage due to blocked-off streets and the addition of temporary dining structures.
Meanwhile, the residents are bearing the impacts of cars parked on narrow neighborhood streets and the increasing inability to navigate through the obstacle course that has become downtown Nevada City. This makes it more difficult for seniors and people with disabilities to access businesses.
Ms. Weills states she has been disappointed. During recent visits, I see it looks like she’s correct. I’m disappointed, too. Nevada City is losing ground, but in my opinion, it’s not due to the lack of art. It is due to too many knee-jerk decisions leading to a collective disappointment in Nevada City by its residents and visitors alike.
What draws people to Nevada City in the first place? The test of time would indicate it’s the historic architecture, Nevada City’s connection to its mining past, and its place in the history of our state.
I think people like the fact that Nevada City looks like Nevada City and not some town on the outskirts of Sacramento or Los Angeles. Part of what made me decide to choose my undergraduate degree in history was my time in Nevada City.
Some of my favorite memories include walking down Broad Street, and visiting the Searls Library, where I studied their old photos and maps. I also spent more than a few idyllic summers reading primary source materials housed at the Doris Foley Library. Of course, any visit to Nevada City isn’t complete without a trip to the Firehouse No.1 Museum. Which by the way, according to the National Register of Historic Places, is the most photographed piece of art in the city.
Art does not have to be permanently installed as murals or signs. Doing so runs the risk of becoming humdrum and obsolete. I think art should be fresh and transitory.
What about alternative options? Perhaps local artists could share space with the Farmers Market. Artists could set up in Robinson Plaza and Calanan Park in a piazza-style setting. This would maintain access to streets, sidewalks, parking, and would allow for the continued preservation of the historic ambiance of downtown. It would also eliminate the present danger in the event of fire brought on by the cacophony of barricades, structures, and planter boxes.
I think everyone would agree that art is highly subjective. How would one choose what will be allowed and where it’s placed? Changes and exceptions to historical ordinances, while in the moment can seem like novel ideas, can quickly become like accidentally squeezing too much toothpaste out of the tube with no way to put it back.
I would be hesitant to jump on board a trending train that is currently popular in other places and derail Nevada City for good. It should stay on its tried-and-true course of fiercely protecting historic preservation.
Otherwise, Nevada City may lose what has always made it stand out from the rest. Trendy does not last — nor do pandemics.
Annaise M. Goldsby lives in San Francisco.
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