'Sunbeam' cottage fails City historical designation

A 1911 beach cottage built at 1271 Cave St. recently came before the City of San Diego Historical Resources Board (HRB) under the 45-year review rule, a historical screening process triggered by an application to fix up, change or demolish a building age 45 or older. With one story, square shape and wood shingles, the construction represented many characteristics of the Craftsman style, featured in most early La Jolla beach cottages from 1880 to 1930. (See story on A18.)

But a series of additions in the form of gables, sheds and a brick chimney and fireplace across the façade distorted that image, and eventually prevented the HRB from designating the property “historical” when it came up for review during its Feb. 23 meeting.

Property owners Babak Roboubi and Marjan Keramati, who reside in Maryland, were not present at the HRB meeting.

The additions to the property started as early as 1936 with re-roofing (also in 1939 and 1943). The chimney and fireplace were added in 1943. The independent consultant’s report, prepared by attorney Scott Moonjian, recommended the board not designate the property. “The original size, appearance and the character of the property have been radically changed, so it no longer reflects its original design construction,” Moonjian writes.

The City of San Diego Historical Resources staff’s report agreed with the consultant, recommending the board not designate the property. It almost passed without designation on the consent agenda, but HRB chair Courtney Coyle pulled the item for full review at the Feb. 23 meeting.

“I pulled this because I think we need to have a discussion about it ... we have so few of these properties,” she explained, adding that as a resident of La Jolla, this type of building is “near and dear” to her heart.

HRB trustee Priscilla Berge stated, “We have designated La Jolla cottages ‘historical’ that have had modifications, but the designation is under Criterion A (structures that are significant to the history of a community) and not under Criterion C (structures that are architecturally significant), so we’re not focusing so much on the architecture characteristics.”

City senior planner Kelley Stanco replied that historical resources staff had, in the past, recommended La Jolla cottages be designated regardless of modifications, “but we are recommending against designation in this instance, not only because of the cumulative modifications, but very significant changes to the front façade with the chimney. This building now feels like a Mid-Century cottage,” she said.

In the 1955 book “La Jolla Year by Year,” by Howard Randolph, a picture of the cottage with the name “Sunbeam,” is included, but no further information. Also, as the independent consultant’s report indicated, the property wasn’t documented in any other historic inventory of the era.

Still Coyle insisted, “What I struggle with, on this one, is that it’s a ‘name’ cottage, and a bungalow of La Jolla, we don’t have a lot of them. From my standpoint, it is a surviving example of the properties that played an important role in the development of La Jolla. For those of us who live in La Jolla, we get sort of attached to our name cottages.”

HRB trustee Todd Pitman offered, “there is an argument to be made about Criterion A, but I just don’t feel that this particular resource has the ability to convey that history ... it’s just too varied, it doesn’t read as that type of cottage to me.”

Berge put forward a motion to designate the property as “historical” under Criterion A, but the motion failed 2-4-0.

Coyle concluded that she was glad the discussion happened “regardless of the motion,” and hoped that the independent consultant took notes as to what information to include for the HRB in future reports.

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