Construction on former Burns Drugs building underway in La Jolla; Owner hopes to find new tenants within months

The commercial building at 7824 Girard Ave., where the beloved Burns Drugs store operated for 62 years before going out of business, is undergoing a remodel. The architect in charge of the project, Paul Benton, said the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, is renovating the property to house one or two retail tenants on the ground floor and two residential units in its second story.

Possible tenants have not been identified.

Since Burns Drugs went out of business in May 2014, The Village storefront has been vacant. To maximize its utility for today’s market, Benton is building a street level flexible space that could house one or two retailers. “We can put two entrances and two tenants, and if one tenant wants the whole thing, they’re welcome to that as well,” he told La Jolla Light.

The downstairs features 4,591 square feet of commercial space, and the residential units will be a one-bedroom 1,222-square-foot apartment and a two-bedroom 1,531-square-foot single-family residential unit. A garage in the rear of the building will be constructed to add two parking spaces, in compliance with the residential parking requirements of the City of San Diego.

For residential use, two windows will be added on the second story, facing the street front. Historical photos show that the building originally had such windows, but those were removed when Burns Drugs reshaped the building.

The second story’s ceilings are quite high, and according to Benton, “The kids from La Jolla would gather and play basketball there. It’s really a nice space.”

Building history

The two-story commercial building was originally built in 1919, according to the book “La Jolla: Then & Now” by Carol Olten and Rudy Vaca. “At the street level, it housed the Barnes & Calloway grocery and the La Jolla Post Office. The upstairs was a meeting room for the La Jolla Brotherhood men’s organization,” it reads.

Olten said the old Burns Drugs set the pace for Girard’s commercial turn, adding that the use of the street, originally known as Grand Avenue, was at first residential. “Along Girard, change has always been constant,” Olten wrote in the article “Girard Avenue: The Grand Evolution,” published in the La Jolla Historical Society newsletter, “Timekeeper,” in the Fall 2014 edition. The story tells how the street started as a “dirt road with a few beach cottages” and became “a commercial core for ever-changing storefronts.”

The owners of 7824 Girard Ave. are once again leading the changes along the street by bringing a commercial/residential mixed-use building to a block where most other buildings are exclusively commercial.

Benton hopes the next retail tenant(s) can be up and running within a few months. “In the coming months, you’re going to see a lot of changes on the outside. We’re probably going to spend more time on the back, and the remodeling of the residential units,” he said, adding that if a possible occupant of the commercial space required further changes, the building owners would gladly incorporate them while construction is underway.