Richard B. Hastings, an architect and archaeologist who was a pivotal figure in the movement to protect Sacramento’s historical buildings as the city’s first preservation director, died July 14 at 83.
He had congestive heart failure and other ailments, said his wife, Audrey.
Mr. Hastings was a leader in efforts to halt the destruction of Sacramento’s architectural heritage as developers demolished old Victorians and longtime landmarks to build shoebox apartment complexes and bland commercial structures in the central city. He became a city planner in 1975, two years after the beloved Alhambra Theatre was torn down to make way for a supermarket – a move that galvanized local sentiment for preserving historical buildings.
Appointed to implement a preservation program adopted by the City Council, Mr. Hastings oversaw a survey of old buildings that became the city’s Register of Historic Places. As executive director of the new Urban Design/Preservation Board, he reviewed applications for demolition, building permits and moving permits.
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Meanwhile, he also served on a state board that set building codes allowing historical structures to be preserved in a way that closely reflects their original design.
“Dick helped save a lot of the city’s significant buildings,” retired city planner Gene Masuda said. “He had a lot of battles to fight, because it was such a new thing and there were lots of efforts by property owners to tear down old buildings and put up something new.”
A jovial, engaging man with a strong knowledge and appreciation for architecture and urban design, Mr. Hastings was often in the middle of political issues between developers and preservationists. In addition to reviewing blueprints and legal documents, he visited construction sites, testified at public hearings and led tours of historical buildings and landmarks.
“He was such a good advocate,” said Paula Boghosian, who was chairwoman of the city’s first preservation board. “He was able to talk to people and generate public interest and involvement in a project, but he wasn’t combative. He was the right person at the right time to help the city move forward with preservation.”
Mr. Hastings’ influence is widely felt in Sacramento’s central city today. Besides saving old buildings that house new restaurants and clubs, he helped pave the way for today’s lively street scene in midtown and downtown by proposing design elements for a new city ordinance allowing sidewalk seating at cafes and restaurants, Masuda said.
“The city was doing an urban design plan ... in the early 1980s,” Masuda said. “We took a couple of six-week vacations to Europe together, and we took a whole bunch of photos of sidewalk cafes and developed guidelines to allow it here. It was pretty far reaching at the time.”
Mr. Hastings, who worked as a carpenter in college, brought extensive experience to his role as a building preservationist. He was born Oct. 20, 1930, in Los Angeles and raised in Twentynine Palms, where his parents ran a lumber yard.
After two years in the Air Force, he studied architecture at University of Southern California and worked at architecture firms in Los Angeles. He uncovered artifacts in Old Sacramento for his master’s degree in anthropology with a specialty in historical archaeology from UC Davis.
He spent a year with his wife on an archaeological dig at Tel Gezer, a historical site in Israel, and designed kitchens for an architecture firm in Belgium. He returned to Sacramento and was an architect for the state parks and transportation departments.
Mr. Hastings worked on archaeological digs in California and the Channel Islands. After retiring from City Hall in 1995, he served as a consultant for the restoration of the historic Stanford Mansion downtown. An excellent cook, he prepared meals on cross-country trips for the Sacramento Wheelmen bicycle club.
“He was a modest and very likeable person,” Sacramento architect Mike Malinowski said. “He had a huge impact on the community, and he did it in a very unassuming way.”
In addition to his wife of 48 years, Mr. Hastings is survived by two daughters, Hilary and Jocelyn. A private celebration of his life is planned.