An upscale hotel will soon replace an Old Town Temecula building composed of historical elements, leaving historians, longtime Temecula residents and the designer of the building saddened and wistful for a bygone era.
But while the old building, Butterfield Square, will face certain demolition to make way for a $75 million hotel project spearheaded by developer Bernie Truax, not all is lost. Historical elements from the building’s facade will find a new home on the other side of Third Street.
Richard Beck and wife Christine Greer, two owners of the historic Hotel Temecula on Main Street, have acquired wood paneling, windows, shutters, lights, signage, metal railing and other items from the building.
They said they plan to use those elements on the outside of a new building that will be constructed on a vacant portion of their property that abuts Third Street.
Beck and Greer are still in the early phases of figuring out how they want to use the new building, but they’re considering using some of it for retail space.
They’re also in the early stages of determining what the building itself will look like, but they know a lot of the ideas will come from now 84-year-old Bob Morris. It was Morris who built the original Butterfield Square building in the 1970s.
“At this point we kind of want to let the design flow out of Bob, because he gets his visions,” Beck said. “He gets a really good idea of what he wants to do.”
The artist and his favorite work
Morris first arrived in Temecula on horseback in 1969 as he followed the Juan Bautista de Anza trail from Calexico to Riverside.
“I looked to the right and left, and of course there was hardly anything there, but I really liked what I saw,” he said.
He bought a home in Murrieta with his wife before later purchasing and building a home in De Luz in the late ‘70s.
Morris’ first project in town was the Butterfield Square building. He spent five years collecting the materials from myriad sources. A boardwalk and porch railings from the Santa Fe stockyard in San Bernardino, banisters from the Elsinore Hotel and granite pieces from the Temecula quarry were just some of the historical elements collected.
When the building opened in 1979, it was home to a number of businesses, including a ballet studio and frame shop, and was highly praised by the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce.
“The architecture and workmanship there is outstanding and the improvements to Butterfield Square will stand as a monument to the pioneers who passed through our valley at the turn of the century,” reads a plaque given to Morris by the chamber. “Your dedication to Temecula’s western historical motif will also serve as an example to others and an inspiration toward Temecula’s future growth and development.”
The Butterfield Square building was so prized in the city that it showed up on the front of financial reports and on the cover of phone books.
Photography students from Cal State Long Beach would come and snap pictures of the building as well.
Morris’ other projects included the wooden “water tower” building on Front Street, the clock tower building on Main Street, the arches on each end of Front Street and seals on the city sidewalks.
But despite all that he’s accomplished, Morris said the Butterfield Square building was still his favorite. There was nothing like it he had built since.
“The other buildings, things had changed,” Morris said. “You had different requirements and for Butterfield Square, this was brand-new to the county. They’d never done something with using recycled wood.”
Morris said collecting the materials and giving them new life was by far his favorite part of building and designing.
In the case of Butterfield Square, ramps from the San Bernardino stockyard that were used to load cattle onto trains were reused as the building’s boardwalk and the support pieces for the ramp were made into steps.
Morris said he still remembers the reaction of the roughly 80-year-old stockyard owner who rode down to Temecula on a motorcycle and witnessed the materials from the stockyard being put into the building.
“It brought tears to his eyes knowing that his wood was being put back to use,” Morris said “Cause he’d built all the stockyard.”
Morris admits he’s saddened to see his creation go and wishes more could have been done.
“The city really should have thought about preserving Butterfield Square,” he said.
The fight to keep the building
The Temecula City Council voted 3-1 in early September, with Councilmember James “Stew” Stewart dissenting, to approve the Truax hotel, a 150-room luxury hotel which would span the length of Third Street between Front and Mercedes streets.
Historical preservationists fought the project both in its initial stages and as it came before the city council.
In a letter to the Temecula Planning Department, Temecula Valley Historical Society President Rebecca Farnbach stressed that the building was a unique part of Old Town and its history.
“Even though most of the Butterfield Square structure does not meet the definition of a historic building according to National Park Service, National Register guidelines, there are several features and architectural components of the property that are historically important,” the letter reads. “All of these features together make this a unique property and the demolition of such would affect the integrity of Old Town.”
Several people spoke in the hours before the project was approved.
A referendum that would require the city council to undo its approval or put the project to a vote, did not materialize.
Instead, Beck and Greer – two of the leading figures in circulating the referendum – reached an agreement with the Truax group that allowed them to retain some of the materials from the building.
“We worked out an agreement to be able to save historical elements and we’re very appreciative to the Truax group for doing that,” Beck said.
Beck said he feels that one day, the city will regret not having done more to keep the structure together.
Decades worth of memories line the walls and bookshelves inside Morris’ De Luz home. He has sketches of his work, pictures of past girlfriends and antique items at every corner.
Inside a garage on his property, he keeps the legendary “Sodbuster”, his tractor. Sodbuster won the first ever Temecula Tractor Race and participated in many more after that.
Every item in Morris’ home as a story behind it and Morris loves telling all of them.
He’s very proud of telling the stories of the sites he played a role in designing or constructing.
“Temecula was a big part of my life and it let me be an artist,” he said.