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Architect reports progress toward converting Bird Rock’s Piano Building to restaurant

The Piano Building at 5680 La Jolla Blvd. was built by architect William Kesling.
(File)

Plans to convert the Piano Building in Bird Rock to a restaurant are making headway, the architect behind the project told the Bird Rock Community Council during its Sept. 7 meeting online.

During a BRCC meeting in March, owners Eric and Zoe Kleinbub said they plan to make only minor changes to the exterior and primarily will renovate the interior and surrounding sidewalk spaces to better accommodate restaurant use. The bulk of the interior will be a restaurant and bar, with a retail component on the Bird Rock Avenue side.

However, BRCC board members expressed concern that the sidewalk work would encroach into the area managed by the Bird Rock Maintenance Assessment District.

Bird Rock’s beloved Piano Building on the corner of La Jolla Boulevard and Bird Rock Avenue is slated to become a restaurant by the end of this year, according to an announcement at the March 2 Bird Rock Community Council meeting.

In beginning the process to renovate, crews found a way to divert most of the work away from the MAD area. “We have gotten into the building itself and done a little bit more digging,” said AJ Remen of La Jolla-based architecture firm Bennett + Associates. “We did some demolition within the structure and found a way to navigate all the utilities away from La Jolla Boulevard. We will not be digging into La Jolla Boulevard for any of the right-of-way work.”

He said the crew is “probably a month or so” from doing any street work and that more information and specific dates will be available next month.

Bird Rock resident and architect Trace Wilson said the yet-unnamed restaurant would be “an amazing anchor” for Bird Rock.

But resident Don Schmidt questioned whether the building could be historic.

“Our focus has been getting this restaurant up and running, but historicity is something we have talked to with the owners,” Remen said. “We’ve discussed the pros and cons of getting the building designated, but it hasn’t been on the forefront of our focus.”

While the owners haven’t decided whether to pursue historic designation, Remen said all the changes thus far have been in line with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties and “anything of the details that we would do to the building would be reversible. … We plan on preserving the building, structurally and architecturally, to the best of our ability.”

The Piano Building got its nickname because it once housed Schroeder Piano Co., and the “Pianos” sign was never removed. In 2015, Peter Schroeder vacated the building after pleading guilty to four counts of theft from an elder in connection with pianos placed on consignment at the store by people who were not fully paid for their sales.

Since then, the building has housed various retail stores, but when it was sold to the Kleinbubs in 2019, it was closed in preparation for renovation.

The structure was designed by William Kesling, one of a handful of Southern California architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright, R.M. Schindler and Richard Neutra, who defined the shape of modernist design in the mid-20th century.

The Bird Rock Community Council discussed the Piano Building and more during its Sept. 7 meeting online.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Other Bird Rock news

Afghan assistance: Jess Brown, representing the office of U.S. Rep. Scott Peters (D-La Jolla), said that over the past several weeks, Peters’ office has been “inundated” with requests to assist U.S. citizens and Afghans who have helped Americans evacuate from Afghanistan after the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops.

“We have processed requests for about 500 people, but we are not getting regular updates from the State Department with how many have gotten out,” Brown said. “We know of at least 100 who have been evacuated, so we are happy to see that, but it is likely much higher than that.”

Moss Lane sprinklers: Four months after a notice of violation was issued to a homeowner next to Moss Lane in Bird Rock over the use of sprinklers, resident Mary Lynn Hyde said the issue has been resolved.

“The sprinklers have been taken down, the water has stopped,” she said. “Moss Lane has been cleaned up, the vegetation has been removed and it’s very usable now.”

For being a tiny street in the middle of Bird Rock, Moss Lane has gotten a lot of attention over the years.

The west side of Moss Lane, which is bisected by Dolphin Place, is a paved pedestrian path leading to a coastal overlook in a public right of way between two houses and is identified as an “unobstructed public view area” in the La Jolla Community Plan.

A complaint filed with the city of San Diego’s code enforcement division stated that in addition to the sprinklers being used as a deterrent to the public — sometimes being turned on when people were sitting at the overlook — they may have contributed to increased bluff erosion.

City spokesman Scott Robinson said in May that a notice of violation was being issued to the homeowner outlining corrective action that needed to be taken before facing fines.

Welcoming walkers: The fundraising Susan G. Komen 3-Day walk is returning to San Diego this year and will proceed through Bird Rock in mid-November. BRCC Chairman John Newsam said Bird Rock merchants are encouraged to support the walkers by decorating their storefronts.

The 60-mile 3-Day walk raises money for breast cancer research and care (participants must have raised at least $2,300 to walk). Learn more at the3day.org.

Next meeting: The Bird Rock Community Council next meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 5, online. Learn more at birdrockcc.org.