City Council overturns historic designation on black pioneer’s home in La Jolla


The San Diego City Council overturned the historic designation of the Edgar and Carrie Coleman property at 7510-7516 1/2 Draper Ave., at its March 11 meeting downtown.

The San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB) designated the Coleman Residence as historical in September 2016, under Criterion A, which indicates the house “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.” 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,” according to the HRB staff report on the property.

Coleman was mentioned in the book “La Jolla, California Black Pioneers and Pioneer Descendants 1880-1974.” The property consists of three residential structures, including two one-story beach cottages, identified as 7510 and 7512-7514 Draper Ave., which were constructed around 1906 and 1905 and moved to their present location from other sites, according to reports.

The current property owners sought to appeal the designation because development firms have offered to purchase the houses, and would offer more for the collective lot without the historic label.

Representing property owner Steve Ross, attorney Scott Moomjian told the City Council the HRB erred in issuing its historic designation and was presented with information containing factual errors in making its decision. Among them, he said there was “no historic evidence” to support some of the claims about Coleman. “What this comes down to, is Edgar Coleman as an individual … and information presented to HRB at the time of hearing … overstated the role of Mr. Coleman and his legacy in La Jolla,” he said. “He was not the community pioneer and entrepreneur he has been made out to be.”

Moomjian said Coleman in the 1920s and ’30s was actually a laborer, farmer, gardener and chauffeur, among others jobs.

Speakers in favor of the appeal included property owner Ross, who is Coleman’s former son-in-law. “Mr. Coleman would talk about most things that happened to him in La Jolla, one of the major things he complained about was cleaning trucks parked in front of the house. He wasn’t regarded in any entrepreneurial sense, if so, he would have told me,” he said.

Seemingly affirming Coleman’s job as a gardener, speaker Keith Johnson — who worked for Coleman — said: “he was a professional gardener and tree trimmer and hard-working man. He kept La Jolla looking beautiful.”

Speakers against the appeal represented San Diego’s historic communities.

Save Our Heritage Organisation historic resources specialist Amie Hayes said: “The designation acknowledges the Colemans as founding members of La Jolla … the contributions of African-American communities are under-recognized, so this is an important building for this recognition.” She also said the City Council had the option to send the property back to HRB for additional review.

La Jolla Historical Society board member David Goldberg read a letter from executive director Heath Fox, and spoke about the significance of the property itself and how it represents African-American history in La Jolla.

“This appeal must be rejected; it does not present new information nor identify factual errors to the original case presented to the HRB when the designation was determined in September 2016,” he read. “The La Jolla Historical Society supports the staff recommendation to uphold this designation in the strongest terms, and we implore the Council to reject this appeal.”

During brief City Council comments, District 1 representative Barbara Bry said: “This is not a conversation about the contributions of African Americans to La Jolla. Based on the information I’ve heard today, I make a motion to grant the appeal and overturn the historical designation.”

Fellow Council member Monica Montgomery, representing District 4, said while she doesn’t “think we’ve done a good job telling the black story in San Diego,” she didn’t want to “punish a black family in the process” and agreed to support the motion.

The motion passed unanimously. <end_bug_diamond>