La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa landmark designated ‘historical’

A Spanish Eclectic home built in 1927 at 5805 Camino de la Costa was designated “historical” by the San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB) during its June 22 meeting under the name “Charlotte Gray Barnum House.”

The designation process started in 2016 when owners Raul and Lisa Albanez filed an application with the City to see their house appointed “historical.”

“It really took a village to designate this house,” Raul told La Jolla Light. The item was first docketed for review in November 2016, when City staff recommended the Lower Hermosa house not be designated for “lack of integrity.” (City staff makes recommendations to the HRB, whose members have the last word as to what gets designated locally).

At that time, the item was continued to April 2017 at the request of the applicant to explore the building’s eligibility under other criteria. At the April HRB meeting, a second continuance was granted to explore newly found information.

The Albanez’s said they found support from their community in the quest to get their house designated. The La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) got involved and helped put together an Addendum to the Application with further historical research. Also, La Jolla planner Joe LaCava sent a letter of recommendation to the HRB in favor of designation. “Our neighbors came forward to give us information, a lot of different folks helped us,” Lisa explained.

As to why they decided to start the long path for historical designation, Raul said, “When we first bought it (in 2013) we learned it was a very special house, one of the first built in Lower Hermosa.” Lisa added, “We fell in love with it, it’s a beautiful home in a great neighborhood. And, of course the (Mills Act) tax break (that aids owners of historical structures in maintaining them) helps.”

The historical research stated that 5805 Camino de la Costa was one of the first 12 houses to be constructed in the Lower Hermosa subdivision. “La Jolla Hermosa was La Jolla’s first planned residential community,” it reads, “In contrast to the small vacation cottages built in the Barber Tract, or in the La Jolla Village, La Jolla Hermosa was oriented toward year-round residents.”

However, the City staff recommendation doesn’t acknowledge the significance of the home’s early existence in the neighborhood. An excerpt reads: “The Addendum does not demonstrate how the subject property is unique among the other 12 first constructed in the subdivision, nor does it justify how being one of the first 12 would necessarily make it more significant than the first or one of any other quantity within the subdivision.”

On that matter, LJHS executive director Heath Fox told the Light, “It’s unique in the sense that its location astrides La Jolla Boulevard and marks the southern entry point of the neighborhood into the boulevard. It has been the anchor for the neighborhood since it as built in 1927.”

Still, City staff did not relent. “The property’s location at the southern entrance to the subdivision alone does not amount to significance,” its report continues. “Furthermore, to propose that the property is also a special element based upon its function as an ‘architectural landmark’ would require the building maintain a high degree of architectural integrity, yet the building has been subject to numerous alterations that have directly impacted its integrity of design, materials, workmanship and feeling.”

The Albanez’s said the additions, constructed in the 1980s by previous a owner, amount to a total of 400 square feet. “The family room was pushed out, and to the bathroom was added some space,” Lisa elaborated. City staff argued that the location of the additions on the façade isn’t in concordance with the Secretary of Interior Standards of the State of California, the document used for reference in such cases.

“There was no other space for additions,” Lisa said, mentioning the semi-circular corner shape of the lot, with more exposed façade than the average house. “And (previous owners) kept the additions within the Spanish Eclectic style,” Raul noted.

The A.M. Southard Building Company

  • Local preservationists are beginning the process to get the A.M. Southard Company designated as a ‘master builder.’ It has been identified as San Diego’s largest, custom, residential home-builder from 1926 to 1929.
  • The Company was founded by Alfred Mansel Southard and his wife Julia Southard in 1920.
  • The firm’s preferred architectural style was Spanish Eclectic. The Barnum House is cited as one of the earliest examples of a A.M. Southard Company home.

Source: Research report by Scott Moomjian