Historic home demolished? Questions arise about extent of changes to Cliff Robertson’s former La Jolla estate

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What remained last week during renovation of the 1922 estate home built by Philip Barber, founder of La Jolla’s Barber Tract neighborhood. Actor Cliff Robertson (1923-2011) bought the home in 1963, adding upgrades and securing a local historic designation for the property in 2002. He sold it in 2005. Pat Sherman

Casa de la Paz/ The Dunes house

■ Owner (1922-1937):

Philip Barber, developer of La Jolla’s Barber Tract neighborhood

■ Original design by:

Architect J.H. Nicholson; the city’s Historical Resources Board stated in a 2002 report, ‘It cannot be established that (Nicholson) was a master architect.’

■ Owner (1963-2005):

Actor and native La Jollan Cliff Robertson

■ Robertson’s lost additions by:

Master architect Thomas Shepherd

By Pat Sherman

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Actor Cliff Robertson in 1965, two years after he purchased his Dumemere Drive home in La Jolla, and three years before he would win an Academy Award for his role in the film, 'Charly.'

Preservationists driving by the estate home once owned by the late Academy Award-winning actor Cliff Robertson say they are alarmed by how much of the home has been demolished as part of an ongoing renovation. Only concrete and terracotta block walls of the historic home (sans roof) remained last week.

Historic real estate specialist Linda Marrone said she contacted the city’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) recently, believing the property owner may have had too much of the home demolished. The HRB granted a local historic designation for the property in 2002, per Robertson’s request.

“At first I assured neighbors that everything was going to be OK, because the house was designated, and of course the HRB staff would be looking at it and critiquing the plans,” Marrone said. “Then when I saw the façade being held up, basically by a couple of boards and beams, I thought, what’s going on here?”

Philip Barber, who developed La Jolla’s coastal Barber Tract neighborhood, built the Spanish eclectic-style home and guest quarters/gatehouse in 1922 (it was designed with Barber’s guidance by architect J.H. Nicholson). It went through several changes of ownership before Robertson purchased it in 1963, residing there on a part-time basis until he sold it in 2005.

Questioned about the ongoing development, project architect Tony Crisafi (of Island Architects) said the home’s historic designation is based only on the era when Philip Barber owned it, and that it is being restored to how it appeared in the 1920s. Windows have been removed temporarily for restoration, he said.

“There were a lot of things that were added onto the façade — lighting and a number of different types of tiles and small decorative items that were not original to the house, so those are being removed,” Crisafi said. “We’re un-decorating it, if you will, and bringing it back to the original condition.”

Vonn Marie May, a former HRB member who Robertson hired to write and submit the nomination papers for the designation, said those elements added by Robertson and master architect Thomas Shepherd in the early 1970s were included in her nomination paperwork as part of the property’s historicity, and should have been preserved (including a master bedroom designed by Shepherd, which was removed as part of the ongoing renovation).

May contends that Robertson’s legacy was crucial to the history of the home. In a 2002 Final Resolution deeming the project historic, the HRB refers to the property by both the titles given it by Barber and Robertson, while in a staff recommendation to designate the home historic, the HRB refers to the Robertson’s modifications as “sensitive to the original character.”

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