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La Jolla Shores group supports proposed historic designation for Walter Munk house

The landscaped house known as Seiche, home of late La Jolla oceanographer Walter Munk, is up for historic designation review.
The landscaped house known as Seiche, home of late La Jolla oceanographer Walter Munk, is up for historic designation review next month.
(Courtesy)

The Shores Association board also is looking for the outdoor dining program on Avenida de la Playa to be made permanent.

The proposed historic designation of the La Jolla home of the late Walter Munk, renowned for his research at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, has the support of the La Jolla Shores Association.

The board this week unanimously approved sending a letter to the secretary of the State Historical Resources Commission, which will hear the nomination for historical designation April 30, indicating that LJSA “strongly supports” the proposal.

For the record:

4:42 PM, Mar. 18, 2021This article has been updated to correct that Walter Munk’s second wife was Judith (Horton) and his third wife was Mary Coakley Munk. His first wife was Martha Chapin.

The home, named Seiche, was built by Munk, who died in 2019, and his second wife, Judith, who died in 2006.

Munk’s third wife, Mary Coakley Munk, had lived in the house until this year. Munk’s will specified that the home was to be turned over to UC San Diego as a donation.

Coakley Munk did not specify who nominated Seiche for historical review when she asked for the letter of support at LJSA’s March 10 meeting. “Anyone can bring a nomination for a home to be designated, whether they own it or not,” Coakley Munk said.

She said “Walter had originally not wanted the home to be historic when it was part of his estate; it would have made a difference in the value of it.”

After Munk decided to donate Seiche to UCSD, “some of his friends made it clear to him that because he had to donate it as an endowment, there was some concern that the university would either sell it, which is what they often do with donated properties, or that they would change it significantly,” Coakley Munk said.

She said Munk then asked her to pursue historic designation for the house. “He wanted it to remain as much as possible as it was to keep the spirit,” she said.

In January, Seiche sustained damage to its guest house when a tree fell over during a storm. At the time, the incident raised concerns about its possible impact on the designation process.

Coakley Munk told the La Jolla Light that the damage was “fully repaired before I moved, so it will have no impact on the nomination for historic designation.”

The repairs “were done in an effort to replace what was existing,” according to attorney Courtney Coyle, a San Diego Historical Resources Board member who said she was not commenting in that capacity. The intention was that the repairs be consistent with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and “thereby not affect the pending designation,” Coyle said.

Coyle told the Light that “historic designation is largely honorific and recognizes the significant value of important persons and what they achieved in association with a property. Designation allows for changes to a property consistent with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards.”

If Seiche were to get historic designation, “it does not mean no changes are possible,” Coyle said.

Coakley Munk said at the meeting that UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla “has opposed the nomination.”

UCSD representatives did not respond to the Light’s requests for confirmation of the chancellor’s position. But Scripps Oceanography’s director of strategic communication, Lauren Fimbres Wood, said Munk signed a notarized letter in 2006 attesting that he did not want his home to be considered for or given historical designation.

“Last fall, Chancellor Khosla wrote to the California Office of Historic Preservation to support the nomination and historic designation of the Munk Laboratory at the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UC San Diego,” which Munk founded in 1959.

“If granted, the historic designation of IGPP would honor Walter’s legacy and his many contributions,” Wood said.

The university’s plans for Seiche have not yet been decided, Wood said. The University of California regents are in the midst of a 120-day deliberation period “to decide the best future use of Seiche,” she said. The period began Feb. 8 and involves Khosla, Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen and Munk’s trustee, James Cairns.

“The university should not be afraid of or oppose the designation,” Coyle told the Light. “Designation allows for application of the State Historical Building Code, which could result in cost savings for any required retrofitting. Finally, several studies have found that historical designations can actually increase the value of a property.”

During the LJSA meeting, Shores resident Terry Kraszewski said the house’s “rich history to the La Jolla community is amazing. Having it designated would be fantastic.”

Outdoor dining permanent?

LJSA board member Phil Wise asked the group to approve a letter to San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, District 1 City Councilman Joe LaCava and the city Development Services Department asking to make The Shores’ outdoor dining program permanent.

The program, begun in July in response to pandemic-related restrictions that limited restaurant operations, has closed one block of Avenida de la Playa to vehicle traffic to allow restaurants to place tables on the street.

In January, that block of Avenida de la Playa, between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata, was made one way going west at night, after restaurants are closed, so emergency vehicles can pass through.

The letter, approved unanimously, states the restaurants and neighboring retailers have benefited from the street closure and that LJSA would like to see the program “emulated citywide.”

“We could be the leader in San Diego for street closures,” board member Brian Earley said. ◆