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San Diego board designates 3 La Jolla houses in Hermosa area as historic

The Max and Louise Gross/Russell Forester house at 5911 Folsom Drive in the La Jolla Hermosa neighborhood.
The Max and Louise Gross/Russell Forester house at 5911 Folsom Drive in the La Jolla Hermosa neighborhood has been given historic designation.
(Courtesy)

Modifications to a La Jolla house by master architect Russell Forester were at the center of debate for the San Diego Historical Resources Board, which narrowly decided that the property is historic under two criteria and voted to designate it as such during its July 23 meeting online.

The Max and Louise Gross/Russell Forester house at 5911 Folsom Drive in the La Jolla Hermosa neighborhood was built in 1962 in the post and beam style.

For the record:

9:13 AM, Aug. 05, 2020This article originally reported the neighborhood for 211 Avenida Cortez incorrectly. It is in Lower Hermosa.

According to a staff report about the property, “the post and beam style was popular between 1950 and 1970. The style is primarily characterized by direct expression of the structural system, which is usually wood or steel, and floor-to-ceiling glass. Other character-defining features include horizontal massing, flat or shallow pitch roofs with deep overhangs or no parapet, repetitive facade geometry, minimal use of solid load-bearing walls, absence of applied decoration, strong interior/exterior connections, open interior floor plans and the frequent use of wood, steel and glass as exterior finish materials.”

City staff recommended designating the property under Criterion C, which says a property “embodies distinctive characteristics of a style, type, period or method of construction or is a valuable example of the use of natural materials or craftsmanship.”

However, a historical resource research report by Brian F. Smith and Associates concluded that because of modifications to the property, it is not significant and should not be designated.

The research report was conducted as part of an analysis for future development. Details of the future development were not discussed.

Jennifer Stropes, representing the homeowners, said the house had been modified several times, including additions and enclosing a carport.

“In 1979, a studio addition was constructed under the cantilevered portion of the west facade of the building and the addition was expanded further west in 1992,” she said. “In 1986, the carport was enclosed and extended five feet north and 10 feet south, a fireplace was added and windows were added to the north, east and west facades. These modifications negatively impacted the original open, cantilevered design of the building.”

Stropes did not respond to a request from the Light for further comment.

But city staff further recommended that the house be designated for its connection to Forester under Criterion D, which states that a property is “representative of a notable work of a master builder, designer, architect, engineer, landscape architect, interior designer, artist or craftsman.”

According to the staff report, Forester was born in Idaho but moved to La Jolla as a child and graduated from La Jolla High School.

He is credited with helping to introduce the International style to San Diego and began designing in the Modernist style in the early 1950s. He designed several Modernist structures in La Jolla and participated in the design of airports, a naval base, hospitals and California First Bank buildings. Seven of Forester’s works are designated as historical resources by the San Diego Historical Resources Board.

While two board members said they were “on the fence” about whether the modifications were enough not to designate the Folsom Drive property, member and La Jolla resident Courtney Coyle said the signature openness was not lost.

“It’s at the top of that hill in that part of La Jolla and it seems to still ... have its connection to the sea through its views, so when you are in that property, you still have that openness,” she said.

Board member Todd Pitman said he is familiar with the architect’s work and said there was a “significant loss of integrity of that building” and that the addition to the frontage was “destructive.”

A motion to support the staff recommendation to designate the property passed 6-3.

Other designations

Two other properties in La Jolla were designated historic on the board’s consent agenda, without discussion or presentation.

The Louis and Frances Stroud/Thomas Shepherd residence at 211 Avenida Cortez in Lower Hermosa was designated under Criterion C, with a period of significance of 1948, and under Criterion D for its connection to architect Shepherd.

The Louis and Frances Stroud/Thomas Shepherd residence at 211 Avenida Cortez in Lower Hermosa.
(Courtesy)

According to a staff report, the house “embodies the distinctive characteristics through the retention of character defining features of the Custom Ranch style and retains a good level of architectural integrity from its period of significance.”

Further, the property is “representative of a notable work of master architect [Shepherd] … because it marks a shift from his use of European-inspired designs to the popular Custom Ranch style.”

The Oswald and Gladys Trenchard/Cliff May house at 6126 Avenida Cresta in Lower Hermosa was designated under Criterion C, with a period of significance of 1936 to 1985, and under Criterion D for its connection to master architect May. The only modification to the designation was to add the military rank of colonel to the property’s name in recognition of Oswald Trenchard’s service. It will be designated under the title “Col. OHB and Gladys Trenchard/Cliff May House.”

The Col. OHB and Gladys Trenchard/Cliff May house at 6126 Avenida Cresta in Lower Hermosa.
The Col. OHB and Gladys Trenchard/Cliff May house at 6126 Avenida Cresta in Lower Hermosa.
(Courtesy)

According to a staff report, the house is in the Spanish Colonial Revival/California Hacienda style and features a “U-shaped plan form; fully enclosed central courtyard; low-pitched gable and hipped roof sheathed in irregularly laid red clay tile; wide eaves that are open with exposed rafter tails; fixed wood shutters grills; tile vents; carved wooden gates and door; wood windows and a stucco exterior.”

It also is considered a “well-executed” example of May’s integration of indoor/outdoor living in the Spanish Colonial Revival/ California Hacienda style. ◆