County looking to acquire downtown buildings

As part of its plans for acquiring necessary land for future buildings, Riverside County is negotiating to purchase two buildings in downtown Riverside. The purchases of the buildings, which opened months apart in 1961, would consolidate county ownership of the block bounded by Main, Orange, Thirteenth and Fourteenth streets.

MS Virtual Earth

First American Title

Mile Square Building

Though no immediate plans have been announced for the site, the long-term fate of the existing buildings — First American Title Insurance Co. and Mile Square Building — could be in question. According to statements given to The Press-Enterprise, the county’s director of facilities management, Rob Field, says it’s not likely the county would tear down the First American Title building, which fronts Fourteenth Street. However, even less assurance was given to the Mile Square Building, which faces Thirteenth Street.
Most folks will instantly recognize the First American Title building. Its traditional brick veneer, Colonial-style facade indeed is an instant eye catcher. The building was designed by Riverside architect Dale V. Bragg and constructed by Vern L. Miller of San Bernardino. City permits show the 2-story building at 8,766 sq. ft. (likely per floor) with a cost of $203,000. A 1978 permit shows an additional 7,276 sq. ft. tacked onto the building.
Also built by Miller and designed by Bragg is the adjacent and nearly twin-sized Mile Square Building. Though built at the same time as the neighboring Title building, Bragg designed the 2-story Mile Square Building with a sleek modern facade, using a mixture of earth-toned brick veneer and large panes of glass. City permits list the building at 8,850 sq. ft. (again, likely per floor) with a cost of $235,000.
In our opinion, the Mile Square Building — along with the 1960 (former) IBM Building located nearby at 3610 Fourteenth Street — is a nice representation of the “modernism” style of architecture popular during the 1950s and 1960s. But as with many buildings from this time period, the building — and the style — is often overlooked.
Though on the surface most folks might disagree, we’d rather see the Mile Square Building retained over the First American Title if only because the former pinpoints a specific period and style of building from America’s post-war boom. Although an attractive and distinctive building in its own right, the same cannot be said of the Title building’s early-American inspired motif (a style employed by First American Title on many of its buildings elsewhere).
Are the buildings worth preserving? For us, much would depend upon what eventually replaces one or both. Simply knocking them down for newer low-rise buildings — or worse, asphalt parking — would seem pointless and wasteful. With regards to the Mile Square Building, we’d hate to lose one of Riverside’s distinctive 1960s, Mid-Century Modern office buildings. However, as it currently stands, the block is mostly underused and this portion of downtown is indeed best suited for future, large-scale office buildings. Thus, if a “super-block” plan emerges for the site, one which produces a “signature” building, the long-term benefits of such a development could likely sway us.

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