The Town Hall tells its story: Designing with respect for the past and the future

As do all old buildings, the Tomales Town Hall reflects the passage of time. It has been altered in ways big and small since it was built in 1874, and many of those alterations have been altered. This layered quality connects us to the building’s origins, and probably contributes to its comfortable and familiar quality.

My favorite design plans involve integrating the old and existing with the new. George and I are currently working on our own house a few kitchen and bathroom changes in a Victorian-era cottage give me the opportunity to do bit of redecorating. In the kitchen I just hung a 1949 “ball clock” above a stove alcove consisting of a copper hood that a favorite, late neighbor fabricated for us nearly 40 years ago, and the old kitchen’s original chimney cabinet. This juxtaposition of three distinct eras into one corner of the kitchen is representative of the life of the house. And it has inspired me to elaborate on the Town Hall project, especially the idea of preserving the old while simultaneously and carefully introducing change.

The Hall’s biggest alteration, of course, came in 1931 when the building was jacked up and dug under to provide room for a basement space and kitchen. Fifteen feet of space was added to the façade, allowing for a small anteroom upstairs.

The design of this “new” faҫade is Mission Revival-inspired. An allusion to the Spanish missions in California, the style was popular for three decades before it was used at the Hall. The wisdom of blatantly attaching this style to the gabled wooden building is, at best, questionable. I often wonder how the decision was made — and what the locals thought of it at the time! But it was done, and this odd decision from the past is now an enigmatic-but-familiar part of today. (The perspective of these almost nine decades has done its welcome job.)

And surely, 1931 seems an unusual time for local citizens to “modernize” and enlarge. The region had just lost its railroad; the majority of Tomales’s business district burned to the ground a decade earlier. Was the Hall’s remodel a message of optimism or bravado? We may never know. But it is a message — of community mindedness if not of architectural preservation — and the Hall’s trustees of the 1920s did finally vote to improve, not demolish, the old building.

As we, today, plan the next steps of the Town Hall’s Rejuvenation, we are aware of the past, and of our counterparts at the end of the 1920s, planning what we have begun to think of the Hall’s first rejuvenation. We know they had some of the same concerns we have about use and space, about bringing the Hall “up to date,” and inevitably, about financing. (To this end, they held card parties and luncheons, and a raffle for what is only described as “the Chevrolet.”)

Along with safety, structural, and accessibility upgrades for the building, an important focus will be the basement level’s improvements, including increases of useful space and natural light, and a convenient access to the Buckeye Lot and its planned patio. Much of this basement work will be the focus of Rejuvenation’s Phase One. A meeting with a structural engineer is on the calendar. We are on the way!

And always we will follow the project’s Design Guidelines — preserving the defining details of the original building and its 1931 remodel, and maintaining its simple, unpretentious attitude. These two all-important principles will guide us while we improve this building that embodies so much of the region’s history.

In the meantime, here’s to the merriest Christmas for us all. May a happy, inspired, and productive 2018 be part of our story.

Ginny Magan