Time to rethink history projects at Cuesta Annex
What many residents involved in Cuesta Annex workshops thought would be retained as natural open space has become the City Council's dumping ground of things not natural.
The proposal to put the old Pearson house at the Annex is the latest. Why is that house so historically important that it must be saved? Or is this just a matter of it being a freebie to the city in a deal with a developer who wants to build a multi-story building downtown?
How many other old homes might vie for the same consideration if this precedent is set? Should the Annex house them all? I suppose streets could be paved into the Annex and these older homes could become, "Ye Olde Town of Mountain View." Those who want to preserve the uniqueness of the natural open space at the Annex can then kiss it good-bye.
If one looks at all the elements now proposed for the Cuesta Annex, it is easy to see that the City Council considers it a dumping ground. Since no suitable city land for the Historical Association to build its museum was determined, the council suggested that the association vie to be in the Annex. That's why the museum is to highlight the agricultural past, since the Annex at one time was an orchard.
Isn't the city's history more than agricultural? Since the history association seeks to promote the agricultural past, then the museum should be near the historic Rengstorff House at Shoreline. It can be placed to the west of the Rengstorff House near the lake — a seldom-used area of Shoreline Park.
Between the two structures along a connecting pathway, sheds can house the agriculture equipment that is now proposed as another structure at the Annex. If it is at Shoreline, students on one field trip can see how the city's pioneers both lived and worked. If at the Annex, additional land will be needed for more parking for museum customers.
Is the footprint of the proposed museum complex at the Annex actually 10,000 square feet as stated for the large two-story museum, secondary building of agricultural equipment, courtyard, and walkways with landscaping? What initially was conceived as a one-story building of 1,000 square feet has certainly expanded. A quarter-acre orchard will also be planted to show fruit trees to visiting students. Unfortunately, while they bloom in spring, the fruit will be ripe when school is out and the trees leafless during the winter months.
If the museum complex is built at the Annex, then fruit trees should be part of its landscaping since a few trees of each variety are all that are needed. This will eliminate an unnecessary, quarter-acre orchard taking up more of the existing natural area.
If the council is serious about a city museum, the best site for it would be downtown. The Annex is in the far southern border of the city and in a park where people specifically go to play and picnic. The museum could be built on land next to the west wing of City Hall, with the two possibly connected. Its footprint would be smaller than now proposed at the Annex, since it could have a basement level and two or three floors above for museum and meeting spaces, while matching the architecture of City Hall.
There is downtown and library foot traffic, and parking should not be an issue. Most of historic Pioneer Park would not be disrupted if the history museum were next to City Hall. If the museum fails as an enterprise, that building could become part of City Hall. If it fails at the Annex, it would be an albatross for the city.
It is time for the City Council to rethink what it has proposed at the Cuesta Annex. If the large water retention basin takes up the entire front portion, and a museum complex is in the back, with an orchard is next to it, and picnic tables are somewhere, what land is left that is not man-made or altered? The Annex is a much-loved natural area that costs the city very little to maintain — just seasonal mowing, no irrigation, little garbage pickup and no additional parking needed.
That would certainly change with all the alterations proposed. While some people only value places that humans have created, others cherish that which is natural and relatively untouched. It's a shame that we have so little left in the city of the latter, and that proposed plans will significantly alter one of the few that remains.
Andi Sandstrom lives on Tulane Drive.