Deep-Sixed: The Top 6 architectural losses in La Jolla history
As La Jolla marches forward into its 170th year as a part of San Diego, it does so without many of the important structures that would have preserved its history for future generations.
While there are many success stories — the preservation of La Jolla’s original Scripps Hospital was spotlighted in the Light’s Aug. 29 issue — too many other important buildings continue to be lost, some say to greed and/or bad planning.
The following list was compiled via a consensus of some of La Jolla’s pre-eminent architectural historians and community activists, most of whom only agreed to contribute anonymously.
1. Windemere Cottage: 1328 Virginia Way
Every single list included this early Irving Gill Craftsman, erected in 1894 at 844 Prospect St. and relocated in 1927. (Gill went on to build the Bishop’s School, Wisteria Cottage, La Jolla Woman’s Club, La Jolla Recreation Center and Ellen Browning Scripps’ home.)
Built almost entirely of old-growth California redwood, Windemere is believed to have been not only the master architect’s first home in California, but the first Craftsman home in our state. It was mentioned in the first La Jolla Community Plan in 1947 as an important resource, and in every subsequent update.
Yet on Dec. 23, 2011, two days before Christmas, the remains of the cottage were deposited in dumpsters after a morning of hastened demolition.
Seeking to develop a modern house there, four months after Frank and Mina Bottini purchased the property, they withdrew the former owners’ nomination to have the City designate Windemere historic, according to Light reporting at the time. Several months after that, the Bottinis had their attorney, Scott Moomjian, ask the City to review the cottage for its historic significance (a step required to develop a property containing a structure 45 years old or older).
On Sept. 22, 2011 the city’s Historical Resources Board (HRB) ruled that Windemere was not historic. That same day, the Bottinis requested that the City inspect the property to determine if it was structurally safe. The city’s Neighborhood Code Compliance department declared the structure unsafe on Dec. 21, 2011 and ordered the Bottinis to obtain a demolition permit, which they did, demolishing the property two days later.
“It was a major, major historic resource loss,” said La Jolla Historical Society executive director Heath Fox. “The new owner caused damage to be done to the house and then had the City of San Diego issue him an emergency demolition permit citing that building was unsafe.”
Added architectural historian Diane Kane: “How the Historic Resources Board failed to designate it as historic is still unfathomable to me. The folly of this act is still evident.”
2. Green Dragon Colony: 1258-1274 Prospect St.
In 1895, Anna Held — a former governess for the family of Ulysses S. Grant Jr., the 18th president’s son — hired an architect to design a hillside cottage for herself on the site of the building that now houses Eddie V’s restaurant, 1270 Prospect St. (Legend has the architect as Irving Gill, but there is no proof.) After its completion, she had guest cottages built to rent to friends. By 1906, there were 12 cottages in all.
The development — at first named “Green Dragon Camp” by a frequent guest, British novelist Beatrice Harraden — was, according to historian Molly McClain: “an extraordinary art colony that people all around the world knew about, and it was the reason a lot of people first learned about La Jolla.”
In 1944, the land was purchased by the Moshers — a retired produce broker named Jack and his opera-singer wife, Alice — as an investment. But they found the property so beautiful, they lived in one of the residential cottages until both their deaths (in 1974 and 1976). Their son, Robert Mosher, was an artist-turned-architect whose earliest projects included remodeling the shop cottages into larger, more modern buildings. (Robert’s firm, Mosher Drew, opened an office in one of them, at 1264 Prospect St., in 1948.)
In 1986, the City designated the Green Dragon Colony historically significant, according to news reports from the time, thwarting Mosher’s plans to raze the remaining four cottages and build a 41-unit hotel. Preservationists celebrated the victory, but it was an empty one. The cottages sat unused, boarded up and dilapidated until July 10, 1991, when Mosher and the City agreed to invoke the Permit Streamlining Act and got a court order allowing him to demolish the cottages immediately.
That action was overturned by an appellate court decision resulting in an after-the-fact demolition permit that required any new development to incorporate the historical characteristics of the original buildings.
“There was a hearing downtown as to whether they could tear down the building,” recalled community activist Melinda Merryweather, “and when the decision was made that it could not be torn down, the tractor fired up, pulled in front of the cottages and dropped its huge shovel on the smallest cottage. The (developers) just decided to pay the fine, and we all stood there crying as we watched windows fly in to the air.
“So much of our history was destroyed that day.”
When then-California Gov. Pete Wilson signed a 1991 bill tightening controls on historical properties, he specifically cited the Green Dragon Colony demolition as an example of why tougher laws were needed.
3. Philip Barber/Cliff Robertson House: 325 Dunemere Drive
Philip Barber, who developed La Jolla’s coastal Barber Tract neighborhood, built this Spanish eclectic-style home and guest quarters/gatehouse in 1922. (Alternately referred to as Casa de la Paz or the Dunes House, it was designed with Barber’s guidance by architect J.H. Nicholson.) Forced to sell during the Great Depression, the architect and his family found themselves residing at the Windansea Hotel.
By 1963, several changes of ownership later, the house found itself in the hands of Cliff Robertson. In the early 1970s, the Oscar-winning actor and La Jolla native employed master architect Thomas Shepherd to expand the house, according to reports. Then, three years before he sold it in 2005, Robertson had it historically designated.
Yet a 2013 renovation by meatpacking mogul John Miller left only the concrete and terracotta block walls. At the time, project architect Tony Crisafi told the Light that the home’s historic designation was based only on the era when Barber owned it, and that it was being restored to how it appeared in the 1920s.
However, Vonn Marie May, a former Historical Resources Board member who Robertson hired to write and submit the nomination papers for the designation, told the Light (also at the time) that the Robertson/Shepherd additions 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).
“I think whoever the (HRB) staff and board members were at that time probably didn’t (handle the designation) right,” May told the Light.
4. Tyrolean Terrace Colony: 1290-1298 Prospect St.
Two La Jolla developers bulldozed the Tyrolean Terrace just as architectural analysts from the California Office of Historic Preservation were about to visit La Jolla and consider it for potential historic designation in 1976, said former La Jolla architect and preservation activist Tony Ciani. (The land, but not the buildings, were already registered historic by the City.) By then, used for homes and retail space including the Gatekeeper natural-food restaurant and the original La Jolla location of the Pannikin Coffee & Tea, Tyrolean Terrace was built in 1911 as a collection of Craftsman cottages with carports.
“This was a historical site with a marvelous collection of historic structures,” Ciani said. “The historical significance of the structures was supported by architectural historians throughout the country — including David Gephard of UC Santa Barbara — and there was a reasonable beneficial use of that property, including an offer to buy the property for $1 more than was being offered to the owners to tear them down.”
5. First National Bank: 7807 Girard Ave.
Built in 1929, the First National Bank building was designed by Richard Requa — the master architect also responsible for the Old Globe Theater and Del Mar Castle (once home to motivational speaker Tony Robbins).
Called one of La Jolla’s “lost architectural treasures” by La Jolla Historical Society historian Carol Olten, the bank building was a beautiful example of Spanish-revival architecture that defined Girard Avenue for decades. Yet the new owner wanted a totally new building, according to an architectural historian the Light agreed not to name, so it was demolished in 1972 to make way for today’s Union Bank.
“I remember going to that bank with my grandfather and thinking that was the most beautiful building I had ever seen,” Merryweather said.
At least its beautiful mural, “The Progress of California” by Hugo Ballin, was saved. Since 1975, it has decorated the La Jolla Rec Center’s main meeting room.
6. Hopi House: 7964 Princess St.
Architect Frank Mead had an affinity for all things Native American, and spent a great amount of time on reservations across the Southwest. Former president Theodore Roosevelt wrote in 1913 that Mead “has done admirable work of the kind by adapting Indian architectural ideas in some of his California houses.”
According to the website socalarchhistory.blogspot.com, Mead and his partner Requa — who were both former partners of Irving Gill — employed Native Americans to build a two-story Pueblo Revival house next door to the residence Mead and Gill had designed for businessman Wheeler Bailey in 1907.
But the Hopi House eventually fell into the hands of owners who proposed an annihilating remodel and addition in 1977, according to another unnamed Light source. Architectural historians from the State Office of Historic Preservation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation wrote to the California Coastal Commission to oppose the construction. But the permits went through, granted only with the condition that the historic trail leading down from the house be protected.