Leftovers column: Nobody seems to care about old houses in Covina

By Ben Baeder
Staff Writer

I can’t stand it when people go all out to save street trees. Unless they’re grand old native Oaks or cottonwoods or some other California tree, I’ll choose the cracking, root-clogged sewer line over the tree every time.

Sorry tree huggers.

But I’m a sucker for old houses. You can’t grow those.

In October, I noticed that no one seemed to care when a fire torched three turn-of-the-century homes on Center Street near downtown Covina.

We got no telephone calls decrying the loss of history. On the reader Internet posts, only one woman lamented the loss, and that was only because she grew up in one of the homes.

According to our statistics, not too many people read the story online.

If the fire was in Pasadena, or Whittier or Monrovia, this would have been among the day’s most-read stories on those cities’ newspaper Web sites.

But it was only Covina.

Despite having some of the oldest homes and buildings in the county, the people of Covina, for some reason, don’t seem to care much about the city’s historic character.

Councilman Kevin Stapleton first realized this years ago when he and his wife tried to drum up momentum to increase preservation efforts.

After getting a little initial support, the effort soon fizzled.

Stapleton said Covina has a Mills Act program in place, which allows owners of historic homes to get property tax reductions in exchange for a promise to keep a property looking

But no one ever signs up, said Stapleton, whose home was built around 1905.

“I love older homes,” he said. “You actually have rooms. Things like a dining room, a living room, things like a yard for relaxing.”

Perhaps the city’s conservative residents don’t want “the man” telling them what to do with their old house.

“Maybe people don’t turn to government as readily as they may in other cities,” Stapleton said.

But Covina resident Rudy Uribe has evidence that old-home lovers do exist in the eastern San Gabriel Valley.

He owns the big green house on San Bernardino Road and North Larkin Avenue next to the old Badillo homestead.

He bought the the 1910 American Victorian for $300,000 10 years ago, and he has been working on restoring it ever since.

He recently repainted most of the outside, and most of the inside is immaculate. It has hardwood floors, barreled ceilings, pocket doors – all the things old-home nerds like me go gaga for.

Uribe, an electrician, said the restoration has been hard work – way more than he thought when he bought the 3,300-square-foot monster.

But when he’s working outside, people let him know they appreciate what he’s doing.

“They stop by all the time,” Uribe said Friday after he climbed down from a ladder. “People wave, honk, they tell me they love it.”

Stapleton said it might be time to try to stoke the passions of preservation again – especially because the city’s downtown is thriving.

“It might be time to talk about it again,” he said.

As for the trees, maybe they can be milled down and used for facia.