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Eads Avenue house in La Jolla is designated historic despite questions about shutters

The Ervin and Ethel Jesse House at 7402 Eads Ave. in La Jolla was designated historic May 26.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

A question of what constitutes a minor change went before the San Diego Historical Resources Board on May 26 in connection with a house in La Jolla.

City staff’s recommendation was to designate the Ervin and Ethel Jesse House at 7402 Eads Ave. as a historical resource with a period of significance of 1938. The designation would be under HRB Criterion C, indicating the house 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.

According to a staff report, the house “embodies the distinctive characteristics through the retention of character-defining features of the Minimal Traditional style and retains a good level of architectural integrity from its 1938 period of significance.”

Specifically, the report cited things such as a single-story gable-and-wing roof form, a small front porch, a brick chimney, wood double-hung windows and a large picture window.

However, HRB Chairman David McCullough had questions about shutters installed on the house after it was built. He acknowledged that features being added or adjusted after a dwelling is built happens “quite a bit” but said he wanted to raise the issue so the board could provide consistency in rendering decisions when changes are made to potentially historic properties.

“There have been modifications … that would be consistent with the style. But it is hard to tell if the shutters were originally part of the architects’ design for the structure,” McCullough said. “I’m wondering if the addition of the shutters conveys an incorrect historicity of this resource. The distinctive characteristic of the style is really the lack of distinctive elements.”

Given that the staff report suggested designation, San Diego senior planner Suzanne Segur said “every style is different, every property is unique. We look how each one meets the criteria. For this property, we felt that it embodies the character-defining features of the style. We did analyze the shutters in our integrity analysis and we found it retained design material, workmanship and feeling as it relates to the historical significance of a Minimal Traditional house. … There are levels as to how each [modification] impacts integrity.”

The San Diego Historical Resources Board meets May 26 on Zoom.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Other questions came up about the replacement of portions of wood siding that looked “too perfect.”

“It looked so perfect that it didn’t look like wood,” McCullough said. He added that the pristine condition was “really rare” for a house that age.

Representing the homeowner, IS Architecture founder Ione Stiegler said “all the front and sides are primarily original, and the replacement was at the rear. So the [homeowners and renovators] had the existing wood to draw from.”

Stiegler argued that the house still meets “almost all” the city criteria for historic designation.

“It is minimal, but it is so evocative of that Federal Housing Administration time period and moving us out of the Depression and into new housing,” she said. “It was a critical time for the development of housing across the U.S. In San Diego, it’s interesting because [this style] is almost always seen as infill housing on random empty lots that still exist.”

HRB member and La Jolla resident Courtney Coyle spoke in favor of the designation, saying: “In La Jolla, I’m always happy when I see what I will call a more modest structure coming forth for designation; we’ve lost so many here in the community. It tells part of the development history of La Jolla. I would like to see more of these properties come forward. ... It adds to the story. We often look at the coastal cottages … but there is more.”

Given the additional information from staff and input from fellow board members, McCullough made a motion to accept the recommendation to historically designate the house, and it passed unanimously.

Benefits of historic designation include availability of the Mills Act program for reduced property tax for owners to help maintain, restore and rehabilitate historic properties; use of the more flexible Historical Building Code; use of the historical conditional use permit, which allows flexibility of use; programs that vary depending on site conditions and the owner’s objectives; and flexibility in other regulatory requirements. However, houses cannot be modified significantly once they are designated historic.

The San Diego Historical Resources Board meets monthly. To learn more, visit sandiego.gov/development-services and click on “Public hearings, meetings and notices.” ◆