TRUCKEE, Calif. - While local newspapers are filled with news of growing corporate development, seemingly beyond our control, Truckee is in danger of letting a valuable public asset, central to our values and prosperity, slip through our fingers.
An iconic, publicly owned property is well into the process of being sold to a private party. Through a series of negotiations, generally unknown to the community, Truckee Donner Recreation and Park District and Nevada County have paved the way to sell the Veterans Memorial Building.
This historic site, where luminary C.F. McGlashan (publisher of our first newspaper and author of "The History of the Donner Party") built a museum and the "The Crystal Palace" residence in the late 1800s, features The Rocking Stone, a sacred site of the early Washoe and one of only 25 geologic phenomena of its kind in the world.
When the mansion burned down in 1935, the McGlashan family donated the site to our community, and, since we were not yet incorporated, Nevada County held the property on our behalf. After a successful building drive by the American Legion, the Veterans Hall Memorial Building opened in 1939.
The iconic Gothic Revival presiding above Truckee has been continuously used by veterans and the community for 70 years, housing a CHP shooting range, weddings, veterans' meetings, county services, community blood drives, noon basketball, cribbage, youth soccer, visiting youth groups and many more activities.
In 1960, the Olympic Torch spent the night here on its trip to the Squaw Olympics.
TDRPD purchased the Vets Hall and Rocking Stone from Nevada County for $1 in 1994. The deed required the building be used for recreation and veterans. However, with the additional square footage of the new Rec Center, the TDRPD deemed the Vets Hall facility "surplus property" and, without soliciting public input, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors agreed to lift the deed restrictions.
In addition to loss of this public property, consider these points:
• Those familiar with the steep, winding and narrow streets know how dangerous this area is, especially in winter. It cannot safely hold the increased traffic that a church would create. This small, residential neighborhood already houses one church and paid parking, and events downtown have created additional traffic issues. A high use building here is a dangerous idea.
• There is a reason why the street going straight up the hill from the old jailhouse is called Spring Street. When I-80 was built for the Olympics, it created drainage problems that continue to flood properties around the Vets Hall. Parking requirements for a church would necessitate cutting down an aspen grove and paving to the freeway, creating an impermeable surface that would exacerbate drainage.
• Historic character is a major reason for the prosperity of Downtown Truckee. The Rocking Stone and Vets Hall are part of the Historic Downtown Walking Tour, frequented by visitors and local public school classes alike. If the Vets Hall becomes a church and the Rocking Stone becomes its backyard, this spot will no longer be a public space.
• While a church may describe itself as being open to anyone who wants to attend, is this really a public use? Why would we want to lose a public asset with capacity to serve a diverse community of 16,000 residents and thousands of visitors to a religious community of 100-200 people? Why are we giving up an asset we own that will never return to public use?
• Recently, the Blue Star Mothers of America dedicated two plaques at the Vets Hall for local marine heroes, who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Sierra Sun reported, "The dedication was the culmination of months of negotiating; finding the appropriate location..." The American flag that currently flies proudly on the site celebrates a landmark that honors our history and our countrymen, rather than one group's house of worship.
It is unfortunate the community did not have a chance to weigh in on the use and preservation of this asset. However, it is not too late.
Now that the community is aware, there is pressure for TDRPD to re-think this action. Ideas brought forward include a museum to house historic archives, resources and photographs. Other uses could be nonprofit office space, a training/meeting center, child care or a Boys and Girls Club. We are sure our smart, creative community can come up with more ideas.
This irreplaceable asset belongs to us. Attend a public meeting Tuesday, March 5, 6:30 p.m. at the Vets Hall or email the Rec District at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruth J. Hall, Stefanie Olivieri, Val Kelly, Buff Cano, Bill Millholen, Ben Trustman, Rolf Godon, Pam McAdoo, Nancy Wilkins and Patty Lomanto are Truckee residents.