Board designates black pioneer's La Jolla home 'historical'

Edgar Coleman was an entrepreneur and an African-American pioneer of La Jolla who worked as a gardener, a janitor and a realtor in his time. "He eventually owned three trucks and was often hired to move old cottages that made land available for the building of the La Valencia Hotel," reads a chapter of the book "La Jolla, California Black Pioneers and Pioneer Descendants 1880-1974," which is dedicated to him.

One of the book's authors, Lorenza Taylor-Pace, is Coleman's granddaughter. "He was some kind of a guy. My grandfather Ed was a real strong person in the community, very well thought of. At one time he owned four lots on Draper Street," she said.

The Historical Resources Board (HRB) designated the Ed and Carrie Coleman Residence as "historical" during its Sept. 20 meeting at the City Concourse Building downtown. The property includes two cottages that were moved there and one on-site development. The Coleman family lived in one of the cottages and rented out the other two. "He lived there until he died in 1979," said Taylor-Pace.

The property came before the HRB for consideration "by the owner, as part of a constraints analysis for future sale of the property," as the staff report of the property states. An independent survey by IS Architects and the staff report both recommended the property be designated "historical" under HRB Criterion A.

"The resource reflects a special element of La Jolla's historical, cultural, social and economic development and retains integrity to the circa 1946-1957 period of significance, the time period in which the structures were relocated or constructed on the site," the staff report continues. "Specifically, the structures represent the entrepreneurial efforts of La Jolla Black pioneer Edgar Coleman and retain integrity for an association with La Jolla's Black community."

However, during the hearing, Patrick Hattori, attorney and commercial director at KW Commercial ("the commercial real estate arm of Keller Williams Realty," as stated on its website), made a case for the board to dismiss the designation.

"He was a gardener, that's not unusual or significant, there's nothing special about it," Hattori argued. "There's no special element, whether it's social, economic or historical. There were alterations to the (buildings), which were not original to the properties because they were moved. And also, just because he's Black, that's not a good enough reason to designate this property as 'historical.' "

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Diane Kane (architecture historian and chair of the Preservation Committee of La Jolla Historical Society) spoke out for the designation, arguing, "Mr. Coleman's entrepreneurship is representative of that trend in the immediate Post-War period, when a severe material shortage led to scavenging of available construction materials to accommodate the pent-up demand for affordable housing."

During discussion, HRB chair Courtney Ann Coyle expressed her support for the designation, "This is in my neighborhood in La Jolla, so I'm very familiar with this area. … I'm happy to see this designation coming because we have lost a lot of our earliest structures in La Jolla, so this makes this a rare example."

A motion to designate the property "historical" passed unanimously, and included all three buildings on the property.

The first house, at 7510 Draper Ave., is a one-story stucco vernacular beach cottage constructed in 1906 and relocated from an unknown location. The second structure, 7512-7514 Draper Ave., was constructed in 1905 and moved to the rear of the first building (also from an unknown site) in the late 1940s. The third building, at 7516-7516 and 1/2 Draper Ave., was constructed on the south side of the property by Coleman in the Minimal Traditional style.

The Colemans and La Jolla's Black History

Edgar Coleman moved to La Jolla in 1919 from Baskerville, Arkansas. His wife, Carrie, and his children, Madie Lee and Frank, joined him one year later. His entrepreneurial efforts illustrate the existence of an African-American community that once provided a wide range of domestic services in La Jolla.

Kane explained that the designated property is one of few African-American resources that have been officially recognized. "This complex adds to our understanding of their presence in and their contribution to the community," she said.

As the "La Jolla, California Black Pioneers and Pioneer Descendants 1880-1974" book states, Coleman purchased several lots in the La Jolla Park Subdivision, and those were zoned for multiple units. "He bought some of the cottages and moved them to his own lots on Draper Avenue. He completely refurbished and restored the cottages and made them available as a rental unit."

Added granddaughter Taylor-Pace, "That's how all those little cottages got there, which are all gone except the lot he lived on. At one point, he tore down the stables at The Bishop's School, and moved the wood onto one of his lots, and then he built bedrooms out of that lumber and those were our bedrooms."

In 1923, her mother, Madie Lee, was the first black female to attend La Jolla High School. "She was not happy there, because back in those days, it might have been prejudiced that it was not right, but she went there. She had no friends, there weren't any other black females."

Criterion B discussion

Research on Criterion B, the standard the HRB uses for designating historical properties related to an individual or an event for its significance, was carried out by Kane and handed to board members at the Sept. 20 meeting. Her study found that the ability to designate historic resources under Criterion B has decreased since it was introduced in 2000.

"This has been especially acute during the past three years, when it has become almost impossible to get anything designated under Criterion B," her report reads.

Recent debate on the still-to-be-determined historical designation of the late Nobel Prize winner Maria Goeppert Mayer's home at 2345 Via Siena in La Jolla, prompted the discussion.

The Criterion B guidelines will be further addressed at the next Policy Subcommittee meeting of the HRB, 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 10 at Conference Room 4C on the fourth floor of Development Services, City Concourse Building, 202 C St.

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