An embarrassment to downtown may be becoming a public menace
■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
For more years than most of us can remember, downtown Hemet has been praying for a miracle worker to come upon the scene and restore the city’s sense of pride in this historic community.
One might as well wish for a movie star to fall in love with you sight unseen. What was once a proud structure, originally known as the Gibbel Building, now quivers in an unhealthy state of decay with moldy walls and no flooring or even a roof.
Problems with the building date back years to 1968 when local architect James Calkins was asked by the city fathers to come up with a plan for improvement and preservation. Since then, city councils ad infinitum have either ignored what conceptual plans were set before them or spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on projects that were still-born.
Much will be discussed in the next few months about the various problems with downtown, but first things first. We believe that Simon Chu owns the Gibbel Building, one of a dozen or so buildings in downtown Hemet that he owns and rents out to business owners.
Councilwoman Linda Krupa has referred to Chu as “Mister Hemet,” and former Mayor Lori Van Arsdale, recently appointed to an open seat on the Hemet Planning Commission, says of Chu: “Nobody has invested more in downtown Hemet.”
Along with the old Hemet Train Depot (which has kept abreast of the times), the historic Gibbel Building for some time has been a focal point of downtown, being at the intersection of Florida Avenue (Highway 74) and State Street (an extension of Highway 79) and thus high on the list of priorities for various city administrations intent on improving the appearance of the city’s downtown district.
We haven’t been able to verify what we believe may have been a significant allocation of funds by the city to help restore the historic Gibbel Building. However, we do know that the building’s memorable brick exterior has been replaced by less costly stucco and some cheap-looking Styrofoam (read fake) Roman columns that are already cracking and ready to pull apart from the building.
The ridiculous phony and out-of-character columns may even compromise the necessary 36-inch clearance required by the State of California for ADA compliance for downtown patrons in wheelchairs.
What happened to the traditional solid brick facade? It was tragically removed and stacked, brick by brick, on the sidewalk for whomsoever wanted it – and take it they did! We’ve heard reports of one person building a backyard barbecue with them.
The once classic edifice, made famous in a Thomas Kinkade painting of historic downtown Hemet, now sits falling apart at the seams and appears to us to pose a significant risk of literally collapsing. With no roof and sinking floor, it shivers in the wind, a receptacle for trash and debris piling up at its back door.
Is this failed refurbishment project not a safety risk to the general public? If not, it’s certainly an eyesore of such magnitude as to be an embarrassment to every respectable business owner along Florida Avenue, if not every homeowner within Hemet’s city limits.
As the building rots away day by day from lack of attention, one wonders what Hemet’s City Council and Code Enforcement Department plan to do – if anything – about this once proud but now sorely degraded structure.
We would welcome our readers’ comments.
Author’s Note: Matt McPherson helped substantially in researching material for this column.