A decade of political chills, spills

THE ’00s decade is history and like most journalists, I’m sitting at my desk trying to make some sense out of them. It’s an occupational hazard; we think life’s events should be wrapped up in a tidy headline. But the more I try, the more I realize life, or news, don’t lend themselves to neat summaries, unless of course you count those Christmas letters you receive from long lost friends.

So for now, I don’t have a title for this decade. Instead, I can only write about the 2000 years as filtered through political news and my own prism of experience. Here goes:

In November 2000, we tried something new. We brought local commentators into the newsroom to write about the presidential election as it was unfolding. When there was no winner it made for some creative hedging. One time campaign strategist Ted Snyder of Whittier wrote: “In a presidential election this close, a mandate is an illusion.”

Another memory from Nov. 8, 2000 was jumping out of my car, putting a quarter in the news rack next to the Albertson’s and picking up our newspaper with the headline: “A nation divided.” It was a huh? moment. The next day’s headline was equally on the money: “Countdown to history,” as was the following day’s banner hed which was simply, “To be continued …”
It was some way to start a decade.

In September 2001 we went from indecision to incredulity. Waking up, I turned on the news and in the next minute, saw the second plane plow into the World Trade Center. New York City, my hometown, was under attack.

Here in the SGV, the bright sunshine falsely declared nothing was wrong. My wife and I sent our elementary school students to their first day of school that year. At night, I attended a Bible Study in Arcadia and my son, Andy, who was 9, handed me a pencil-and-crayon drawing he made in school that assured me things would be OK. Something of blue skies and an eagle. Earlier that day, a few of us in the newsroom gathered on the sidewalk for a group hug and more prayers. We wrote an editorial and slapped on the headline, “Why did it happen here?” and included a drawing of the Statue of Liberty crying.

2002 and 2004 summers were fun, for those were years my son, Andy, won Little League championships. In ’02, I remember sitting in the stands in Long Beach at a state 9-and-10-year-old state tournament, reading about the Anaheim Angels and their lock on first place. The Angels won the World Series that year for the very first time and haven’t won one since. In ’04, the Temple City National Little League won district — the first time our little city took that trophy since 1980. No Temple City majors team have won the trophy since then.

On Oct. 7, 2003, the state voters got real worked up and recalled Gov. Gray Davis and put Arnold Schwarzenegger in his place. But new people don’t make as much difference as new systems. Here’s hoping the system of governing California changes in 2010 with a new constitutional convention and the beginnings of redistricting reform.

Also in 2003, the state suffered some of the worst wildfires in history. A picture on our front page showed Arnold hugging a fire victim. He would do that a great many more times this decade.

In 2004, George W. Bush — as our newspapers aptly put it — finally got his mandate. I remember interviewing voters who made me proud to be an American.
“I was nervous but I feel I am doing the right thing,” was how 42-year-old first-time voter Nancy Holmes of West Covina described her emotions. “Now I can speak my mind,” she told me.

Elections come and go and they affect us differently. I remember the phone calls on my cell when the media declared Barack Obama the winner in 2008. I remember all the winners and losers from school boards and city council races — too numerous to mention in this small space. They, too, made up a political decade that was filled with chills and spills.

Historical resources are treasures

35472-Whittier Earlham Street and Nelles historic buildings dec 1 09 003.jpg

A view into the Nelles facility in Whittier, where several historic buildings beyond the parking lot are in excellent condition.

I didn’t realize what treasures were buried in our first home in Monrovia until my wife and I tore the knotty pine paneling off the lath and plaster walls, ripped up the worn carpet exposing oak hardwood floors, and stripped three layers of mustard yellow paint from the living room fireplace’s Batchelder tiles.
Blue flamingos. That was the design the legendary artisan chose to create on that hearth in that house in that year, 1924.
When we sold the house in 1998, those arts and crafts amenities were what attracted the buyer, what sealed the deal.
During a tour of some Whittier living history last week, that story popped into my head as an object lesson with a moral: Historical resources have value.
Unfortunately, sometimes communities don’t realize this truth until the bulldozers have come and gone.
“The cities just need to open their eyes — a lot of these treasures lay buried in their own communities,” said Joe Garcia, a Monrovia city councilman and expert on historical preservation.
In Whittier, I was taken with the Fred C. Nelles Youth Correctional Facility which operated for more than 100 years but was closed in 2004. Now, the state is selling the property and the city hopes to develop it. A quick tour of two buildings that were in impeccable shape show numerous historic features — stone fireplaces, stained glass bay windows and doors with wrought iron accoutrements and leaded glass windows. The facility is listed as a state historic landmark.
An old Whittier Register newspaper from 1897 shows pictures of the facility as “Whittier Industrial School” where the boys learned industrial arts at the “Carpenter Shop,” the “Tailoring Dept.,” and the “Printing Office.” A picture at the “Blacksmith Shop” shows two boys pounding out horseshoes.
While much of the 75 acres will undoubtedly be developed with retail uses, I sure hope these buildings could be adaptively reused, perhaps as a senior housing village.
Also on the property are other buildings that could have historical significance, such as the chapel where the wayward boys went to services and an auditorium, as well as other residences.
Adaptive re-use is not easy to do. It takes out-of-the-box thinking and a developer/architect experienced with historic structures.
But many cities in our area have kept old commercial buildings or at least the facades and incorporated them into a redeveloped downtown. Old Pasadena and Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia are two excellent examples.
Monrovia’s Garcia, whom I remember wearing a top hat and knickers at Monrovia Old House Preservation Group’s home tour in the 1980s, helped write the city’s preservation ordinance, which to his surprise, was adopted. Preservation of Monrovia’s old homes and old commercial buildings have been an integral part of that city’s renaissance during the last 15 years.
“It is part of the Monrovia culture. People see this as part of a quality of life — along with having a nice library or preserving our hills,” Garcia told me.
San Dimas also has done a fantastic job in the preservation and restoration of the nationally registered San Dimas Mansion, known now as The Walker House.
Garcia said cities that have worked on keeping and adaptively reusing old buildings and homes are doing better during tough economic times. It is just another resource they can point to when marketing their city.

35473-Whittier Earlham Street and Nelles historic buildings dec 1 09 002.jpg

Obama speech on Afghanistan

Very presidential. There’s no doubt this president can give an eloquent speech. That’s not in question, especially if you watched his speech on Afghanistan from West Point tonight.

The question is, will an extra 30,000 troops help us accomplish our goals in Afghanistan? And second, what are those goals? I would’ve liked to have heard more on the latter from the president.

Still, it showed wisdom when he spoke almost as much about Pakistan as Afghanistan. Our maneuvers in Afghanistan, rooting out the Taliban, turning weaker, less-committed Taliban to our side (or to the side of the Afghanistan government) and helping the Afghan troops and security forces stand up on their own, are all important. But so is working closer with Pakistan. I noticed Obama spoke about our relationship with Pakistan, which he said should be based on mutual respect and mutual trust. That has not been the case. It remains to be seen if we can trust Pakistan to work together with us and our increased troops, when Pakistan has implicitly harbored terrorists in their midst, or in the very least, done little about them.

These indeed are perilous times.