UPDATED OCT. 22: One of two beloved ficus trees cut down during $3 million Top of the Cove remodel

The stub of a felled ficus tree protruded like an amputated limb from behind a padlocked gate at the Top of the Cove Restaurant Monday afternoon.
The stub of a felled ficus tree protruded like an amputated limb from behind a padlocked gate at the Top of the Cove Restaurant Monday afternoon.
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The base of a ficus tree at the Top of the Cove restaurant on Prospect Street, in a photo taken last week before it was felled with a chainsaw Monday afternoon. A source close to the La Jolla Light said last week the property owner and architect intended to remove the tree. Pat Sherman photos

By Pat Sherman

One of two beloved ficus trees at the Top of the Cove restaurant on Prospect Street met its fate at high noon Monday, as construction crews took a chainsaw to it during ongoing renovations.

La Jollans were abuzz last week about the possible removal of one or both of the trees, which have adorned the front patio at Top of the Cove restaurant since it opened on Prospect Street in the mid-1950s.

The restaurant, which for decades offered one of Southern California’s most breathtaking and romantic coastal views, has sat shuttered for six years. It is currently undergoing a roughly $3 million makeover designed by La Jolla’s Marengo Morton Architects.

Several community members eyeing the ongoing renovations contacted the

La Jolla Light

last week to express their concern that the trees might be removed.

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One of two ficus trees at Top of the Cove restaurant during a current remodel. “There has to be a plan for how to move machinery in and out without stressing the trees,” said Realtor and past La Jolla Historical Society board member Don Schmidt.

One source, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was told by the architect and demolition contractor that the tree on the left side would be removed.

The source said the trees contribute to the “special” character of the Village and should not be removed “just because the architect didn’t take the time to design it in a way that allows the tree to stay.”

Realtor and past La Jolla Historical Society board member Don Schmidt expressed concerns about whether the trees were being distressed or damaged during renovations. A recent visit to the site showed construction materials pilled against the tree on the left, before it was cut down.

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One of two ficus trees at the Top of the Cove restaurant met its fate at high noon, Monday Oct. 22 when construction crews took a chainsaw to it.

"There has to be a plan for how to move machinery in and out without stressing the trees,” Schmidt said.  “I would have liked to have seen a plan for how they were going to mitigate without disturbing that tree.”

Though the city’s Historical Resources Board or Urban Forestry division may designate a mature tree to have historical significance as part of the cultural landscape — for instance, if it was planted by a city pioneer such as Kate Sessions or Ellen Browning Scripps — a Historical Resources staff member said neither the Ficus trees, nor a beach cottage built on the property in 1893 and 1894 were deemed to be historically significant. A historical site review was conducted at the Top of the Cove property in 2004, and an addendum to it occurred in 2007.

According to Deborah Marengo, vice president of Marengo Morton Architects, what remained of the cottage was to be demolished, while the roughly 10,000-square foot restaurant is transformed into a two-story, 12,000-square foot shell, suitable for a tenant to come in with a design to meet their needs.

Marengo said renovations should be completed in about nine months to a year.

The La Jolla Community Plan, the community’s blueprint for development, states that, “The city should encourage the retention of significant trees ... and of endangered species on both public and private land, in order to preserve community character.”

However, community activist and development consultant Joe LaCava said there is no specific language that says a private property owner has to “preserve and protect” iconic trees, including La Jolla’s endangered Torrey pines.

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