December 2016

An architect's concept drawings for dormitories at Villa Park Orchards Association Packinghouse site. The top drawing is from Palm Avenue looking North. The bottom drawing is from the packinghouse looking South. 

An architect's concept drawing illustrates the layout of the dormitory building and the two smaller historic structures in relation the Villa Park Orchards Association Packinghouse. The buildings outlined in white near Walnut Avenue and Cypress Street are not part of the project.

Chapman proposal for dormitories at packinghouse site meets resistance at Orange Design Review Committee

Courtesy of City of Orange

By Daniel Langhorne

Chapman University officials are facing headwinds from some Orange Design Review Committee members who argue a planned four-story dormitory building would crowd the site of the Villa Park Orchards Association Packinghouse.

The packinghouse itself would be restored and used as an expanded gallery and storage space for the Hilbert Museum of California Art. If the project is approved, the museum would grow from 7,500 to 19,000 square feet.

At a November hearing, Committee Chairwoman Carol Fox and committee member Ann McDermott voiced concerns about adding student housing, which would accommodate 400 beds, on the northwest corner of Cypress Street and Palm Avenue. They were also unhappy with Chapman’s idea to move two historic industrial buildings north of the packinghouse, which was built in 1918.

“My top priority is to preserve that packinghouse, and not crowd it with everything else that is going on the site,” McDermott said. She acknowledged the need for more on-campus housing so fewer Chapman students rent single-family houses in Orange, but emphasized that the city needs to be a steward of the federally protected packinghouse.

History collides

Fox said an internal courtyard in the proposed dormitory’s layout seemed foreign to Old Towne Orange. She also didn’t support Chapman’s plan to relocate a former fertilizer shed and truck maintenance building to the northern portion of the 4.1-acre site; both structures are recognized as contributing structures to the Old Towne Orange National Historic District.

Committee Member Robert Imboden said he wasn’t troubled by the proposed relocation of the two smaller buildings, because they wouldn’t be as significant without a connection to the packinghouse’s rich history. “They’re accessory, possibly very accessory,” he said.

Kris Olsen, vice president of campus planning and operations, said Chapman has been carefully considering what to do with the packinghouse site since 2011. It was originally going to be home to the Schmid College of Science and Technology, but university officials elected to construct a new science building at Walnut Avenue and Center Street.

Thinking it through

“What you see before you is something that has gone through a number of iterations,” Olsen said.

Jeff Frankel, preservation chairman for the Old Towne Preservation Association (OTPA), said his group supports the project, but is concerned that the new dormitory building would block the historic view of the packinghouse from Palm Avenue. “This is the first piece in a big puzzle of getting students out of the homes in the district,” Frankel said.

The Orange Home Grown Farmer’s and Artisans Market, currently located on the site, would need to be relocated if Chapman’s plan for the packinghouse is approved. Olsen said Chapman will try to accommodate the market’s vendors any way they can, possibly at a parking lot south of Marion Knott Studios.
A moving target

With the Design Review Committee considering three large projects in the Cypress Street Barrio, Chapman’s continuous acquisition, renovation and redevelopment of properties west of its campus raises concerns about the gentrification of an historically Latino neighborhood, said Robert Baca, vice president of the Orange Barrio Historical Society.

“This seems to be Chapman's only way out of the constant bombardment by OTPA and affected residents dealing with the need for on-campus housing,” Baca said. “But it also makes you wonder: does that mean that everyone between Cypress Street and Glassell Avenue has been forcefully placed on campus since the packinghouse is classified as on-campus housing?”