Sunday, April 22 , 2018, 2:04 am | Fair 53º


Ron Fink: Old Town Area of Lompoc Needs a Redo

As Lompoc grew out of its temperate beginnings, the central business and entertainment hub of this growing community became the area surrounding H Street and Ocean Avenue (State Hwy. 1). It stayed that way until about 40 years ago.

The building on the southwest corner was once home to Miller's Pharmacy; George Miller later sold it to Carl Braun and it became Braun’s Drug Store.

You can almost feel the aura of the family-run drug store. The sweet smell of lotions and perfumes, the clatter of the soda fountain, aromas of roasting nuts and a full-service grill, notions of every kind, and friendly clerks eager to help you chose a card or small gift for your mom or sweetheart.

These smells, sights and sounds, along with the clank of the manually operated cash register are long gone. Today, this area is punctuated with abandoned buildings, smelly doorways, blistering paint, broken windows, empty lots and lost dreams.

The Lilley Building on the northwest corner, built around 1890 and named for Robert J. Lilley, a prominent businessman of the times, was once a bank and land office. It now is home to several small retail businesses and offices.

The large art deco Rudolph Building in the 100 block of South H is painted yellow with black trim and was built in 1890 for Arthur Rudolph and his wife Lucy. It was remodeled in the 1930s and once housed a fine clothier, with apartments above.

Its squeaky wooden floors recall a time when buying a new suit included tailoring and a hat was a must. For the ladies, corsets, slips, lace and button-up high-heeled shoes went with the elegant dresses and broad-brimmed hats of the day.

This building now houses a friendly coffee shop and musical instrument store; the apartments are no longer occupied. Here a person can sit and sip a favorite flavor of coffee and eat a snack while reading the paper or a book. Political gossip and friendly discussions are heard daily at every table.

This is a good spot to just sit and watch the street life on busy South H.

These have all been replaced with big box stores, and the only odors you smell in them are in the detergent aisle. Shoppers buy off the rack from discount stores and hats are a thing of the past.

The 60-year-old architecture of the east side of H Street isn’t as historically significant as the west side. The only building of any significance is the Lompoc Theater, which opened in May 1927.

Although the building's exterior is rather plain, its interior has some interesting characteristics reminiscent of days past.

A nonprofit, with private funding, is making the first meaningful progress on renovating the old building and I hope it will succeed.

A decade ago, the City Council was so concerned with the downtown that it “directed staff to draft a list of ten properties that most need code enforcement action” and that three properties on South H were to be the priority. Today, they remain a problem.

The town's business center seems to have progressively shifted north; construction in the late 1960s and early '70s focused on the North Avenue/H Street area, which was then the extreme north end of the city. Later, in the 1980s, the area near Central Avenue and H Street became the new downtown.

Now, this intersection is the busiest in Lompoc and it isn’t uncommon to wait through two traffic light cycles going north or south on H Street during the daytime hours.

The now-defunct Lompoc Redevelopment Agency was the primary vehicle of the city for ensuring the long-term economic vitality of the community. 

The Old Town Redevelopment Project Area was created in 1984 to deal with the historic heart of the city, but it was amended three times to add area and covered more than 1,000 acres bordered roughly by Cypress on the south, Barton to the north, V Street to the west and Third Street to the east.

But, money earmarked for downtown redevelopment was instead used construct the Aquatic Center, the DeWees Community/Senior Center, and provide a loan for a Ford dealership, which was torn down shortly after it was built to make way for a new hotel.

With the demise of the RDA, there isn’t any public money available to encourage redevelopment. But, there are some bright lights and hope for the area.

The Solvang Brewing Company and Hoptions eatery at Chestnut Avenue and H Street, replaced an aged and long-abandoned auto dealership, and has dramatically improved the look of the area. It appears successful and the hope is it will attract other businesses to the downtown.

A vacant, two-story newspaper office in the 100 block of north H Street has been sold and the new owner plans to redevelop this site into a mixed use-commercial business location.

The core of our city could return to its former glory with new investment and ideas and the area could once again could be the center of town.

All it takes is money.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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