Monday, April 04, 2005 | The downtown Broadway spectacle that Neil Morgan anticipates with such enthusiasm may indeed be “the largest and noisiest imploded demolition in city history.”

It also will be another savage rape of the city’s fragile urban history, an outrageous sacrifice of an irreplaceable building to stroke the bloated egos of the arrogant federal judges Morgan flatters so breathlessly.

The Hotel San Diego of 1914 is a solid, attractive monument to the memory of the Spreckels Family, which did more to build San Diego in the early 20th Century than any developer since. Not only is it a welcome relief from the sterile architecture surrounding it and a warm reminder of the city’s roots but also its 225 guest rooms could readily be adapted for one of the most critical downtown needs: low-income housing.

Instead, in a series of cynical, bullying tactics which shamelessly ignored local, state and federal laws of historical preservation, the San Diego Hotel has been seized, trashed and doomed to make way for an empire-building federal court establishment that desires even more plush quarters than its two present downtown buildings afford.

If, as Morgan writes, there is such an “overwhelming caseload” here, then why hasn’t the federal government selected a nice slice from its thousands of San Diego acres and moved the courts where they could expand at will without slashing through historical sites, closing a block of Union Street and plunking another 22 stories full of federal employees downtown without parking?

Perhaps the judges (who will have parking in the new building) just like the ambience of downtown. Well, don’t we all? That’s why historical preservationists have fought – and continue to fight – for reasoned, balanced and sensitive reuse of the city’s architectural heritage.

There’s no acceptable need to raze this building but there are plenty of excellent reasons to recycle it, not the least of which is the cost factor. However, given the grim efficiency with which the court bulldozed all efforts to explore compromises, appeals of logic, legality, practicality and good taste probably will be useless.

At the very least, then, can we be solemn and respectful of the city’s loss rather than join Morgan in celebrating it as a titillating extravaganza?

Welton Jones is a retired San Diego Union-Tribune writer who is on the board of directors of the Save Our Heritage Organisation and the Committee of 100.

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