Tuolumne County officials have postponed a public meeting originally scheduled for Monday to consider approving a permit to demolish the historic West Side Lumber Co. office building at 18652 Main St. in Tuolumne.
The Tuolumne Economic Development Authority, the business arm of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians, has applied for a permit to demolish the structure originally built around the turn of the 20th century.
Quincy Yaley, assistant director of the county’s Community Resources Agency, stated in an email Friday afternoon that the meeting was postponed due to the need for additional review because the building is located in the county’s “historic combining” zoning district.
Yaley did not know an exact date for when the meeting will be rescheduled.
No one from the tribe who could comment was available Friday afternoon.
According to the county ordinance code, the purpose of the historic combining district is “to preserve and enhance places and things of particular importance in local, state or national history.”
The building is one of the last surviving reminders of the lumber mill that served as the town’s economic lifeblood from about 1899 to 1960.
Records from the California Department of Parks and Recreation included with materials for the cancelled meeting stated that the building was rebuilt as one story in 1903 following a fire that burned the top floors the previous year.
A partial restoration of the building occurred in 1976.
Today, the building sits vacant in a state of disrepair with broken windows, boarded up doors, and a chain-link fence surrounding the perimeter. The only visible sign of what it used to be is the faded “West Side Lumber Co.” lettering along the parapet facing Main Street.
The West Side Flume and Lumber Co. was originally incorporated in 1898 by a group of men who were involved with the Sierra Railroad that was then under construction. It was sold in 1903 and reincorporated as the West Side Lumber Co.
In the early 1900s, the company’s mill located on property to the west of the office building produced 90,000 board-feet of lumber per day and employed over 1,000 people. The mill burned down not long after shutting down in 1962 amid worker strikes and aging machinery.
A series of investors, including Taco Bell founder Glen Bell, tried to develop what is now called the Westside property in the ensuing decades to no avail, before the tribe purchased the land at a foreclosure auction in 2002.
The tribe has wanted to develop a golf course on the property west of the office building where the mill used to sit. They also have plans for a 69-lot residential subdivision on the property abutting the would-be golf course to the east, though no homes have been built yet.
Part of the delay in the development has been blamed on the housing market collapse in 2008 followed by the five-year drought from 2012 to 2017, in addition to the need for repairing a historic dam on the property that used to hold back water in the operation’s mill pond.
Documents included with the background materials for the cancelled meeting stated that the tribe hired the environmental planning and science firm Environmental Science Associates in 2016 to conduct an analysis on the integrity and condition of the West Side Lumber Co. office building.
The purpose of the analysis was in support of proposed permitting for the “Tuolumne Westside Dam Rehabilitation Project,” according to the documents.
The firm’s analysis concluded that the building posed a potential safety hazard because it was showing signs of collapse due to physical deterioration.
The firm also determined the building no longer conveyed its significant historical associations and lacked “the physical integrity needed for continued eligibility as a contributor” to the West Side Discontiguous Historic District, which is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Yaley said the project is being reviewed by the county because, although the tribe owns the property, it is not located a federal trust land.
The Demolition Review Committee is comprised of at least three members of the county Historic Preservation Review Commission.
Yaley said the committee is not subject to the same rules in the Brown Act as those that include elected supervisors, so the agency is only required to physically post the agenda in the garage of the A.N. Francisco Building where other agendas are currently posted.
Though the agenda for the committee’s Dec. 11 meeting was posted online, Yaley said the one for the now-cancelled meeting was not because of changeover in clerical staff.
“We do our best to put them on the website, but we’re not required to do that.” she said.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.