After years of uncertainty and facing potential demolition, Fire Station 9 in the Los Cerritos Neighborhood of Long Beach will officially be declared historic, after the City Council agreed Tuesday that parts of the nearly century-old building should be preserved.

The council partially upheld a recommendation from the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission to declare the exterior of the building as well as a handful of interior elements as historic landmarks. However, rather than requiring the building’s next owner to preserve interior features, the city will request that they be saved if it’s feasible.

“What we’re trying to do is find that correct balance between strict rules and allowing the building to live onward,” said Christopher Koontz, the city’s director of Community Development.

The City Attorney’s office will now draft an ordinance for the council to vote on at a future date to formalize the building’s historic designation and “conditional” preservation of the interior elements.

The Los Cerritos Neighborhood Association, which has fought to spare the building from demolition, submitted the application to declare the fire station historic. In November, the Cultural Heritage Commission recommended saving parts of the building and its entire exterior.

Interior elements included in that request were the station’s reception room fireplace and built-in cabinets, the fire hose tower and the wooden truss ceiling in the garage where the fire apparatus used to park.

A screenshot of a city inspection photo showing the wooden ceiling inside Fire Station 9 that city staff said could be included in the historic designation recommendation. Photo courtesy city of Long Beach

But city staff said that to provide flexibility to the next tenant, the council should not require those interior elements to be preserved. A memo to the council said the interior portions did not qualify for historic status and that it is rare for a building to have its interior protected with a historic designation.

Koontz said that if things like the fixed cabinets in the reception room aren’t incorporated into the building’s next use, they could be salvaged. However, because of potential fire hazards, the truss ceiling in the garage would likely be incompatible with a current proposal to convert the space into a commercial bakery.

“There’s an opportunity to cover it and if in 20 years [the building] changes uses and it’s a ballroom, then there wouldn’t be an issue with having it exposed,” Koontz said.

But requiring that a new owner save the stairs (a potential accessibility issue) and anything in the interior that may have to be removed because of mold could be too restrictive and prevent the space from being purchased or leased, Koontz said.

The building’s future was thrust into uncertainty when it was closed in 2019 after what the city said were recurring mold issues that were endangering the firefighters who lived and worked in the station.

Fire Station 9 has stood at 3917 Long Beach Blvd. since it was built in the 1930s as part of the Works Progress Administration, a Depression-era program that helped the city replace the former Fire Station 9 that was destroyed in the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake.

Water leaks in the building and its inability to house larger fire apparatus eventually led to the City Council approving a new Station 9 that’s expected to be built a few blocks north on Long Beach Boulevard, which will finally bring that station’s personnel back to its service area.

Neighborhood advocates have fought to preserve the station, arguing that it was historic, while the city pushed to find a buyer for the property, which could have meant demolition of the building.

Several ideas of what to do with the old station were proposed, with suggestions calling for it to be turned into affordable housing and a community-led effort to convert the building into offices for nonprofits and a neighborhood gathering space.

Long Beach is currently negotiating with a popular Filipino bakery looking to expand its footprint outside of West Long Beach. In November, the Tolentino family, which owns the Gemmae Bake Shop, said it intends to use the old fire station as a production bakery that would include a dining area in the old reception room.

Catherine Tolentino told the council Tuesday that her family understands the importance of preserving history and would work with the neighborhood association if they take over the space.

“But in order to create a safe environment for our business to operate in, we need the flexibility to address the issues that exist in the firehouse,” Tolentino said.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.