I make no apologies for the length of this post. Tighten up, Taco Bell.
Franchise restaurants certainly present numerous challenges to communities, and it is a considerable victory for localities to be able to work with such businesses to craft designs that break with corporate stock examples in some degree. However, to craft a Taco Bell, for example, that resembles what might well be a local historic building type—particularly one that resembles a domestic structure—is a dangerous conceit. While it is unlikely that such a design would be taken for a an authentic period building that had been adapted for use as a restaurant, the greater the faithfulness of that Taco Bell’s design to identifiable local traditions, the greater the chance that the meaning of the original type be distorted and cheapened. James Fitch, founder of Columbia’s Historic Preservation program, wrote, “[e]ven when the mass production of the facsimile leaves the prototype unaltered and intact, mass distribution confronts it with another danger. Heedless repetition of the form ends by emptying it of emotional force: overfamiliarity reduces its cultural potency and ends by destroying its capacity to move us.”
The prototype being the original old structure and the facsimile being the Taco Bell, Fitch makes clear that contextualism or even compatibility taken too far has dangerous implications for our ability to relate to artifacts of the past. It does not matter that the Taco Bell might not be a literal replication of a specific local building. Rather, it is critical that an attempt to re-appropriate what are likely historically accurate or historically spirited design elements and crossing them with modern elements such as signage, doors, and even such subtle things as brick color and mortar composition commingle elements that never would have existed together in the prototype. Any potential accuracy in the facsimile is compromised by the question of how each individual element was designed, manufactured or constructed, and assembled. For Fitch, the scientific data contained in the prototype is confused with the speculation offered by the facsimile, and the observer—quite possibly ignorant of the information contained in the original—is left to sort out the question of meaning totally unequipped for the task. If design guidelines are to encourage or allow buildings that have this impact, they represent for the field of historic preservation an acute threat and must be tightened up.
PS: San Loco destroyed your Cheesy Gordita Crunch with its magnificent Queso Loco--which I'm sure uses meat above Grade R. Look out!