Red Barn vies for historic designation

The red barn at the intersection of highway 101 and San Juan

Once known as the

World’s Largest Hay Barn,

the Red Barn could soon be declared a historic resource and
qualify for special treatment under a state building code for
historically important buildings.
Once known as the “World’s Largest Hay Barn,” the Red Barn could soon be declared a historic resource and qualify for special treatment under a state building code for historically important buildings.

On Thursday, the county’s Historical Resources Review Board will consider a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors to place the iconic structure – dubbed the Ellingwood Hay Company Barn – on the county’s Register of Historic Resources.

Built by the Kaiser Aluminum Company for Harry Ellingwood in 1945, the massive 20,000-square-foot building off Highway 101 on the northern edge of Monterey County is 52 feet tall and has served as a well-known and highly visible landmark for decades.

Meg Clovis, the county’s Cultural Affairs manager and liaison to the Review Board, said the historical designation would mean the Red Barn would be subject to the state Historic Building Code, which she said is a “little more lenient” than regular building codes as an incentive for maintaining a structure’s historical integrity.

According to the State Office of Historic Preservation Web site, the state Historic Building Code endorses reasonable alternatives for situations where strict compliance with regulations would “negatively affect an historic resource’s historic appearance or jeopardize its economic viability.”

That could prove to be a boon to the Red Barn’s owners, led by Fran Ellingwood – the original owner’s daughter-in-law. The county yellow-tagged

the structure last fall for interior improvements, including storefronts, completed over the years without the required permits. Until it was closed, the Red Barn was used for about 40 years as a kind of indoor swap meet, as well as for sales of antiques and other merchandise.

A county code enforcement team found a series of other code violations on the site, which has hosted a popular Sunday bazaar for more than 30 years, and issued a corrective order in December. Owners have until Thursday to comply with the order or face possible fines and other legal action.

Scrutiny of the operation intensified after a dispute between the Red Barn’s owners and county officials about a 30-year-old use permit for the outdoor market. County planners found the market exceeded the boundaries of the use permit, and an appeal to the supervisors is set for Jan. 26.

Attorney Myron “Doc” Etienne, who represents the Red Barn’s owners, said the goal is to preserve as much of the Red Barn and its interior as possible.

Fran Ellingwood did not return a phone call from The Herald.

According to a proposed resolution recommending the barn for historical designation, the building “represents an established and familiar visual feature of the area.”

The barn is known for its innovative aluminum and steel three-hinged arch truss support method of construction, using 22,000 pounds of aluminum supported by 100 tons of steel framing set in a concrete pad, according to a report prepared by historic preservation consultant Kent Seavey, a member of the Review Board.

It was built for free by Kaiser Aluminum at the end of World War II to advertise the potential of the company’s lightweight material.

Harry Ellingwood sold hay, lumber and hardware out of the barn, which had “World’s Largest Hay Barn” emblazoned on its gambrel-style roof in large painted letters. According to the family, Ellingwood sold hay to the Army at Fort Ord and provided the first hay barriers for Laguna Seca Raceway.

Except for a series of advertisements on the roof, including one for Langendorf Bread, the building remained unpainted until 1969-70 when it was painted red. Currently, the wording on the roof includes “Disneyana,” “Flea Market” and “Antique Shops,” which were added in the early 1970s, the report said.

County Building Department director Tim McCormick acknowledged that the Red Barn could get a break from “strict enforcement” of building codes, but all the key safety issues raised by county officials in regard to the structure – including the need for fire sprinklers – would still be addressed.

“It’s not a blank check,” he said.

McCormick said the owners have been issued a permit to take out all non-permitted interior construction. Removal had begun, but plans have since been changed as part of an attempt to retain one of the interior storefronts.

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