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La Jolla Historical Society creates Jewel Awards and names first winners for preservation and rehabilitation

The Florence Palmer house and studio at 360 Fern Glen won the Jewel Award for historic preservation for owners Adriana Diakiw and Hal Meltzer.
The Florence Palmer house and studio at 360 Fern Glen won the Jewel Award for historic preservation for owners Adriana Diakiw and Hal Meltzer.
(Courtesy)

The La Jolla Historical Society’s Landmarks Steering Committee and Preservation Committee have honored the owners of two houses with inaugural Jewel Awards, recognizing efforts to preserve and restore La Jolla homes.

The award for historic preservation went to Drs. Adriana Diakiw and Hal Meltzer for their 2018-19 restoration of the Florence Palmer house and studio at 360 Fern Glen

The award for historic rehabilitation went to Michelle and Brett Lanuti for their 2017 refurbishing of the Anna Vickers house at 1419 Virginia Way.

The Landmarks Steering Committee nominated the Palmer house, and the Preservation Committee nominated the Vickers house.

Speaking to the cultural value of the properties, Landmarks Steering Committee Chairwoman Seonaid McArthur said: “What sets La Jolla apart from other communities? It’s the character of the neighborhoods. Each one has certain history of when it was created, architects that worked within it, and that is what gives our town its own character. It’s who we are. If those homes disappear, what happens? Our identity is gone. We lose our connection with our past and all the people that contributed to it.”

The Landmarks Steering Committee was inspired to create the Jewel Awards by the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) Award in Coronado, which recognizes properties that were acquired and restored and contribute to the community. After seeing the work on the Florence Palmer house, the group was inspired to give the preservation award.

McArthur said the Fern Glen house is not far from her own, and she watched work take place there over several years.

“I would see work going on year after year on this house, and all the neighbors were worried [it would not be restored historically],” she said. “We watched them work on this house and wondered what was going on.”

Diakiw and Meltzer “did an extraordinary job,” McArthur said. “I thought they deserved recognition, so we decided to give them this award.”

The house is in the Barber Tract and is one of three English Tudor Revival cottages in a row at the intersection of Fern Glen and Monte Vista.

“The property originally served as the home and studio of Florence Palmer, one of only a few women architects working in San Diego in the 1920s,” according to a statement from the La Jolla Historical Society. “Completed in 1929, the two-story home has steeply pitched gables, leaded windows, a tall central chimney and the diminutive scale of an English cottage.

“The sensitive restoration of the Florence Palmer house protected and stabilized a property that was severely threatened by water incursion. Dr. Diakiw worked with restoration specialists across the country to determine the original plaster finishes, appropriate shingles, original color of the house, preserving the home’s original architectural design.”

Diakiw enthusiastically explained her process: “My goal was to make it as close to how it looked in 1929 as possible in the 21st century, but we had a lot of structural issues we had to address. So I did a lot of research into historical building practices and I learned about the techniques that were used in those days, and I find them more beautiful than the techniques we use today. For example, the stucco that was used back then was a lime-based stucco with natural pigment that was harvested locally from riverbanks or the ocean. When they combined those natural minerals with lime, the reaction crystallized the stucco so it has an iridescent [look] in the sunlight you cannot reproduce with modern techniques. I wanted to honor those building techniques … it shows the pride people had in their craftsmanship.”

She took some stucco out of a wall and had it analyzed so it could be reproduced to historical accuracy.

She also had the shingles matched and laid by hand. The paint was stripped to its base layer so it could be matched to what Palmer had when she built the house.

"[My] insistence on historically accurate restoration can be found in every detail of this exquisite home — the delicate wooden shingles, shimmering lime stucco, leaded glass windows and copper canopy — that reflect the beauty of the architect’s vision and the pride of skilled artisans in their work,” Diakiw said. “There is a charm and grace in the old ways of building that cannot be duplicated by modern methods. Restoring the Florence Palmer house to her original appearance does not merely honor the past, it reminds the present of the timeless value of craftsmanship and preserves this legacy of grace and beauty for the future.”

Meltzer added that “we are so honored to receive this award. We hope ... people understand that La Jolla has this unbelievable historic legacy dating back into the 19th century.”

The Anna Vickers house at 1419 Virginia Way won the Jewel Award for historic rehabilitation for owners Michelle and Brett Lanuti.
The Anna Vickers house at 1419 Virginia Way won the Jewel Award for historic rehabilitation for owners Michelle and Brett Lanuti.
(Courtesy)

The project at the Anna Vickers house on Virginia Way “breathed new life into a 90-year-old Tudor Revival home,” according to the Historical Society. “The work combined the dual interests of preserving the original character while adapting the structure to a contemporary indoor/outdoor lifestyle.

“Working with architect Laura DuCharme, the owners were able to retain much of the original fabric while modernizing the fabric of the long-admired residence.”

Homeowner Michelle Lanuti said, “It’s such an honor to receive this award, but the credit really belongs to Laura DuCharme and her brilliance in taking our vision and really combining it with the existing house and being respectful of the architecture.”

The frontage of the house remained the same after the renovation, “but as you move through you see the warm modern elements,” Lanuti said.

Before the statewide stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus, the plan was to hold a reception at a historic house in La Jolla to present the awards — a clear tray with an image of the winning house and the Jewel Awards logo.

Now the intent is to give the awards at a ceremony next year for 2020 and 2021 recipients.

Also in 2021, nominations will be open to the community at large. Criteria have not yet been posted, but McArthur said houses don’t have to be historically designated, just “a house that was upgraded and fixed up and contributes in a wonderful way to the community.”

Details will be posted on the La Jolla Historical Society website, lajollahistory.org, as soon as they are available. ◆