The Rundown

By Allen David

Posted October 4, 2012 in News


“Never again!” the architectural preservationists proclaimed—ohhh, guess it must be a year now—when a little, Spanish revival building that had been tucked behind the Fox Theater in downtown Riverside for 86 years was . . . 86’d. The Press Bindery Building, it was called. But since the heavy equipment came in and got, you know, heavy, it’s just plain inaccurate to call it anything but the Press Bindery Building façade. That’s all that’s left . . . that, and the excuses and explanations, which amount to an “oops” and a “sorry” and an “accidents will happen.” To which, to repeat, the architectural preservationists of Riverside are responding, “Oh, no they won’t! They point to new policies by the City of Riverside intended to help save significant structures. They point to a special fund established for that goal. But the specifics of these changes sound rather general. For example, one new policy is to place “preservation easements” on historic buildings under the city’s control. Another would allow developers who control properties that include historic structures to develop other portions of their land at a greater intensity in exchange for preserving the historic structures . . . in other words, they get to more completely f#@k up the present if they don’t totally f#@k over the past. And speaking of the past, the $500,000 the City is putting into the Historic Preservation Fund would have amounted to a lot of clout . . . ohhhh, 86 years ago. Today, well, it has just $150,000 in it and won’t reach $500,000 until 2015. Never again? Never say never.


And another thing about this never again stuff. Not only was the demolition of the Press Bindery Building an accident, the structure wasn’t even mentioned on historic registries kept by Riverside or California. Only after the walls came tumbling down did local officials kind of quantify the Press Bindery Building’s historic value . . . basically because it was designed by Henry Jekel, the architect of Benedict Castle.


And another thing about this “designed by Henry Jekel, the architect of Benedict Castle” stuff . . . Benedict Castle??? Never heard of it. Well, I know now: In 1922, Charles Benedict started what turned out to be a 9-year project to build a castle he called “Castillo Isabella,” like the ones he’d seen in Europe . . . principally like the Alhambra Castle in Granada Spain. Henry Jekel, who designed the Biltmore Hotel, was the architect for Benedict’s 10,000-square-foot residence. Perhaps the most unique of the 19 rooms is the domed breakfast room. With its cloud-covered domed ceiling and the 500-year-old old tile floor from a monastery in Mexico, the acoustics are near perfect, allowing even whispers to be heard clearly across the room. Also? A secret passageway behind an oak china cabinet that leads to an underground room where liquor was hidden from Prohibition-era agents. Finally? A darkly foreboding clue about its future—Benedict Castle is officially designated as the City of Riverside, California Cultural Heritage Landmark No. 13.


The lumps of Christmas coal are already tumbling down the chute. The California Riverside Ballet isn’t going to perform The Nutcracker this year, instead concentrating on the Halloween season’s Ghost Walk. What the hell—or in the heavens, if you prefer—is going on when the Devilz Day takes precedence over the Little Lord Jeezus? Not that the Jeezter has a role in The Nutcracker. But it’s a Christmas story, although mostly about misplaced priorities. In fact, from a certain perspective, last year’s sold-out engagement of The Nutcracker epitomized the transformation of Christmas from the story of a “virgin” saying she was impregnated “immaculately” by God (and her husband totally buying it) and giving birth to the Son of God in a horse stable into something outlandish. In other words, losing The Nutcracker might not be such a ball-buster.


Nutcracker, Schmutcracker. Less than four weeks remain until California Riverside Ballet delivers its annual Ghost Walk—calendar-markers, mark Oct. 26 and 27. Ghost Walk Riverside is billed as “a spooky storytelling experience that travels through some of Riverside’s oldest and most historic buildings downtown.” Our personal favorite: Press Bindery Building, which, swear to God, looks as though it has been destroyed right up to the façade—those darn schmutcrackin‘ goblins!




Twofer Tuesday!


Be the first to comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.