Back in the Black: Historic UCSD chancellor residence reopens after lengthy remodel

UC San Diego’s recently rehabilitated chancellor residence (re-christened Geisel House) features breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and Black’s Beach. Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

Audrey Geisel University House
■ Former Name: University House
Purpose: Official residence of UCSD chancellors
■ Built: 1952 (first house in La Jolla Farms)
■ Original Owners: William and Ruth Black (who developed La Jolla Farms)
■ Style: Pueblo Revival
■ Original Architect: William Lumpkins (Santa Fe/La Jolla, 1909-2000)
■ Rehab Architect: Ione Stiegler of IS Architecture
Original Inhabitants: Native Americans
■ Principal Donors: Audrey Geisel, Rik and Flo Henrikson
■ Purchased by University of California: 1967
■ Mandate: University policy requires chancellors to live in university-designated housing on or near campus, to carry out fundraising or other entertaining duties.

By Pat Sherman

Following an extensive rehabilitation set in motion nearly 10 years ago, UC San Diego’s chancellor’s residence (rechristened the Geisel House in honor of primary donor Audrey Geisel) is again habitable and ready for current Chancellor Pradeep Khosla and his family, who will move in during the holiday break.

Built in 1952 by renowned Santa Fe, N.M. architect William Lumpkins for William and Ruth Black, the Pueblo Revival-style home (also known as the William Black House) is a national, state and local historic landmark.

Ione Stiegler of IS Architecture, the lead architect on the rehabilitation, said she sought to preserve as much of the home’s historic integrity as possible. Wood beams, corbels and posts that had rotted throughout were replaced with historically accurate reconstructions.

The oak veneer flooring — one of the earliest uses of wood veneer flooring Stiegler said she has encountered — has also been accurately reproduced.

Subtle modern upgrades, including light fixtures and hand-painted tiles, also were added, as well as two new ADA-accessible public restrooms.

The entry of UCSD’s Audrey Geisel University House features an original octagonal tile feature made of encaustic tiles that was added by the home’s original owners in 1952.

An advisory group, consisting of members of the La Jolla Historical Society and Save Our Heritage Organisation, as well as representatives from UCSD, the University of California system and Native American tribes, consulted on the project throughout the design and construction phases.

All inspection and review of the property was conducted by UCSD, which has its own building inspectors and fire marshals. “The university is considered its own review body, sort of parallel to the state,” Stiegler said.

Khosla will be the first chancellor to inhabit the residence since Chancellor Robert Dynes, who moved out after noticing the home’s deteriorating condition. Dynes commissioned a study on the property in 2004, after which it was deemed uninhabitable for health and safety reasons — including structural weaknesses, utility line problems and erosion of the cliff on which the home is situated.

Though she never lived in the house, UCSD’s previous chancellor, Marye Anne Fox, made the decision to move forward with the rehabilitation, helping raise much of the funding for it.

Stiegler said the original two-foot-thick exterior adobe walls were “incredibly solid” and crack-free in most areas.

The rear of UCSD’s Geisel House on La Jolla Farms Road features a 100-foot-long, 40-foot-tall retaining wall to secure the cliff.

However, interior cross-walls (load-bearing walls) were made of wood, and had to be replaced with those that could better carry the weight of the house.

“It was like this long, heavy (adobe) snake around the perimeter that, if it got pushed with seismic forces, could have collapsed to the inside,” Stiegler said.

“The logs for the ceilings were just sitting on the walls … not tied in physically. In an (earthquake), they could have separated from the walls and the ceiling literally fallen in on the chancellor.”

All windows were replaced with safety glass, and a 100-foot-long, 40-foot tall retaining wall trenched into earth along the cliff to stabilize it.

Lumpkins, who resided in La Jolla for 10 years and also designed a portion of the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, incorporated his design philosophies into the home, one of which was the ability of the woman of the house to see the front gate from the kitchen, Stiegler said.

“He was also an early advocate of passive solar heating,” she said. “He (used) very large windows facing south to bring in a lot of natural light.”

The living room features distressed wood beams that were a happy accident created by William Black Jr., who unwittingly charred a stack of beams while cutting rebar during the home’s construction. Photos by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications

The home’s mostly original wood doors — hand-carved on-site by a master craftsman — were all restored.

Another consultant on the property was William Black Jr., son of the home’s original owner. Black was just 16 when the house was built, and helped with the construction while on summer vacation. Black is responsible for the distressed look of the ceiling beams.

La Jolla-based architect Ione Stiegler, who served as principal architect on the project, discusses the challenges of rehabilitating the 1952 structure. It was built on cliff-hugging land that has since been designated a sanctified Native American cemetery.

“He was cutting rebar for the contractor and he accidentally scorched a pile of logs,” Stiegler said. “To hide his mistake, he took a wire brush and brushed them down.” Though the blunder was discovered, Black’s parents liked the look so much they had their son replicated it for all the ceiling beams.

The Black family’s original, indoor barbeque room also has been preserved.

“It was quite a labor of love for all of us and the contractor, because the fire marshal did not originally want us to keep it,” said Project Manager Joseph Reid, of IS Architecture. It was approved after a commercial hood and fire suppression system were added to the room.

Respect for original inhabitants

Most interior doors of the Geisel House are original, and were hand-carved on site by a master craftsman. Photos by Pat Sherman

Partway through the rehabilitation process (2008), the seven-acre property was named a sanctified cemetery by the California Native American Heritage Commission. As such, any digging or excavation had to be handled delicately, Stiegler said.

A small amount of Native American artifacts — including a grinding stone and human and fish bone — were discovered on the site while boring soil samples on the patio, and while digging in another area for sewer, water and electric lines.

Representatives from the Kumeyaay people, deemed likely the most recent descendants of the land, oversaw much of the work.

To obtain environmental approval for the project, the university, architects and contractors had to assure that they would follow federal guidelines established under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The university initially commissioned a subterranean survey of the land, using ground-penetrating radar, said Jeff Gattas director of UCSD’s marketing and media relations department. “If we thought there was an anomaly, we would avoid that area,” he said.

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Posted by Pat Sherman on Dec 20, 2013. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

1 Comment for “Back in the Black: Historic UCSD chancellor residence reopens after lengthy remodel”

  1. Hypo Critt

    can we request the District Attorney or State Attorney General open an investigation into the rampant fraud that must have occured to bring a remodel project up to over $900.00 per square foot cost? How many kids could have gotten college scholarships in lieu of this obvious boondoggle?

    $900.00 per foot??? You can build anything ground up as fashionable as you like for a maximum of HALF that cost…..the rest must be left to be investigated and let’s hope the officials and folks at the LIGHT and Voice of San Diego will demand hard budgets and allocations to protect the public money spent on this unbelievably expensive project! Calling all journalists??????

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