In the late 1980s, an old warehouse building in the Gaslamp Quarter was slated for demolition, and the Save Our Heritage Organisation mounted an aggressive fight to save it. It lost, and the T.M. Cobb building was ultimately torn down. But not before legal fees drained the nonprofit’s bank account.
After that, director Bruce Coons said, the organization was determined to have the money to take preservation battles to court without risking its stability. Battles like its current one opposing a renovation plan for Balboa Park.
It has generated revenue by expanding what Coons said is still the group’s main focus and expense despite its occasional legal fights: educating people about the value of historic preservation.
It hosts historic house tours and other special events that bring in a stream of income. Since 2000, the group has also taken over operation of two historic houses and turned them into museums with stores: the city-owned Marston House in Balboa Park and the county-owned Whaley House in Old Town, which Coons said attract about 100,000 visitors a year.
Tax forms document its recent growth. In 2008, it brought in about $700,000. In 2009: $866,123, including about $565,000 from operating the two museums and stores, $200,000 in private and government grants and $24,000 from membership dues. Last year it had a budget of about $1 million, Coons said.
He said that while the museums have been successful, much of their revenue up to now has gone back into their restoration.
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“We need the Whaley House like we need a hole in the head,” he said. “We need the Marston House like we need a hole in the head. But we do it because we think it’s important.”
Still, he said the group has enjoyed steady gains in revenue in recent years even through the recession. He attributed that to financial conservatism and the group’s eye toward history.
“We’re historians,” he said. “We know about booms and busts, and we’ve never seen a boom as big as that last one.” The group didn’t have much money in stocks, he said.
Oh, and in case you were wondering why the group uses the British spelling of Organization (“Organisation”), Coons said that was a decision its founder, Robert Miles Parker, made it 1969.
“I guess he thought it was more historic,” Coons said.
Adrian Florido is a reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?
Contact him directly at email@example.com or at 619.325.0528.
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