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Potentially historic house in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa may be demolished on Coastal Commission order

A 1924 La Jolla house (center) has failing footings and might be demolished.
An image presented to the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee shows a 1924 house (center) that has failing footings and might be demolished.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

A project representative says the bluffside home’s footings and foundation are failing and that the house is unsafe.

The planned demolition of a potentially historic “landmark” house in the Lower Hermosa neighborhood raised eyebrows at the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee meeting Nov. 8 and opposition from local preservationists.

Saying it needs more information, the committee asked the applicant team to return at a future meeting.

The house, known as La Casa de los Amigos (Friends House), dates to 1924 at 6110 Camino de la Costa on a bluff. Applicant representative Matthew Segal said the footings and foundation are failing and that the house is unsafe.

Segal said the intent was to remodel and preserve the house but that, while he was seeking the appropriate permits, the California Coastal Commission required that the house come down. The Local Coastal Program adopted in the 1970s — which serves as a planning document for coastal communities — requires a 40-foot distance between a structure and a bluff. Part of the house is in that setback and would need to be removed as part of any renovation.

Thus, Segal is seeking coastal development and site development permits to demolish the house and build a new three-story, 10,567-square-foot residence with decks. It would be similar in size and scale to what is currently there, he said.

The existing house has not been designated historic on any register, but it has been determined eligible for listing on the San Diego Register of Historical Resources.

However, Segal said, “the footings are so deteriorated … that our structural engineer and a third party came to the conclusion that the house shouldn’t be habitable. It’s falling apart. … It is not safe on the bluff edge, and the Coastal Commission doesn’t want any structure, regardless of historicity, in that setback. … The Coastal Commission has no leniency on this and said any alteration of any foundations within the bluff edge requires you to remove what falls in that setback. The Coastal Commission is demanding we remove the existing structure from the site.”

He added that the owners “are familiar with the dangers of living in the current house. … The potential for it to fall into the ocean is a very real concern at this point because the foundations are destroyed.”

Segal said the original plan to remodel the house would require work the Coastal Commission did not allow.

“So you’re basically saying geology trumps history?” said DPR trustee Greg Jackson.

“We’re saying the Coastal Commission trumps everything,” Segal responded. “Our intent was to save the house, and that is just not possible. The reality is it cannot be saved.”

Coastal Commission representatives did not immediately respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment.

The plan for the new house has been revised based on comments from various San Diego city departments and the Coastal Commission. Segal did not have exterior designs or renderings at the DPR meeting, saying they were “in process,” but he compared the modern design to a house nearby at 6005 Avenida Cresta.

Seonaid McArthur, chairwoman of the La Jolla Historical Society landmark group, said there was “considerable concern” when she and others involved in historic preservation heard that the existing house would be torn down, because “this is the first or second house built in Lower Hermosa. … It has been a landmark for years.”

Little of La Casa de los Amigos at 6110 Camino de la Costa is visible from the street, except for a decorative entryway.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

McArthur said the house qualifies for historic designation under several criteria, including its connection to a historically significant person (Herbert York, founding chancellor of UC San Diego, lived there), plus its example of Spanish Revival architecture and connection to master architect Herbert Palmer. La Casa de los Amigos has a detached garage with maid’s quarters above designed by Palmer, according to a report submitted to the city by BFSA Environmental Services.

“The building will be designated, there is no question about that,” McArthur said.

“Our intent was to save the house, and that is just not possible.”

— Matthew Segal

DPR member Diane Kane read a letter from the Historical Society stating its opposition to the demolition.

There also was talk of whether the basement level in the planned house is actually a third story, and some board members desired renderings to see how the project would fit with its neighbors. Others in attendance asked to see the correspondence between the applicant and the Coastal Commission indicating the current house would have to be demolished.

According to the report to the city, the notice of completion for La Casa de los Amigos indicates construction was finished Dec. 31, 1924. Since then, the residence has undergone alterations, primarily on the west facade, consisting of the extension and partial enclosure of the rear balcony and construction of a finished basement between 1934 and 1939, and the replacement of four original windows on the west facade after 1946.

“Despite these alterations, the building was evaluated as retaining six of the seven aspects of integrity,” according to the report. ◆