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Question of demolishing La Jolla blufftop house brings claims of ‘misrepresentation’ and ‘misunderstanding’

The 1924 house La Casa de los Amigos (center) has failing footings and might be demolished.
An image presented to the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee shows the 1924 house La Casa de los Amigos (center), which has failing footings and might be demolished.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The California Coastal Commission disagrees with how the applicant to remove La Casa de los Amigos in Lower Hermosa characterized the commission’s position to La Jolla’s DPR Committee.

An applicant of a home project in La Jolla is being accused of misrepresenting the California Coastal Commission’s position on whether a potentially historic blufftop house in the Lower Hermosa neighborhood must be demolished.

At issue is whether the Coastal Commission said the entire house, or just a portion of it, must be torn down as part of plans to redevelop the property.

While applicant Matthew Segal denies misrepresenting the facts, he acknowledged there may have been a “misunderstanding” of the circumstances.

During the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee meeting Nov. 8, Segal said the house, known as La Casa de los Amigos (Friends House), which dates to 1924 at 6110 Camino de la Costa, has a failing foundation and footings and is unsafe.

Segal said the original intent was to remodel and preserve the house but that, while he was seeking the appropriate permits, the 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 said he is seeking permits to demolish the entire 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.

But Seonaid McArthur, chairwoman of the La Jolla Historical Society’s landmark group, called La Casa de los Amigos “the first or second house built in Lower Hermosa. … It has been a landmark for years.”

She said the house qualifies for listing on the San Diego Register of Historical Resources under several criteria, including its connection to a historically significant person (Herbert York, founding chancellor of UC San Diego, lived there), its example of Spanish Revival architecture and connection to master architect Herbert Palmer, who designed part of it.

McArthur said the house would be historically designated if considered by the San Diego Historical Resources Board.

However, Segal said at the meeting that “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 is demanding we remove the existing structure from the site.”

The DPR Committee asked Segal to return with more information at a future meeting.

At the time, Coastal Commission representatives did not respond to the La Jolla Light’s request for comment about Segal’s characterization.

But in the days after the DPR meeting, commission Coastal Program Analyst Alexander Llerandi said in an email to local historic preservationists that was shared with the Light: “Commission staff has already been made aware of the … misrepresentation by the project’s architect of his conversation with me. The comments that I submitted to the city [of San Diego] on this project and which the architect was included on made no mention to the historicity of the structure, nor did it explicitly state or imply that historicity of a structure is not relevant to the certified Local Coastal Program and review of coastal development permits under it.”

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)

He added in separate correspondence that “according to the plans reviewed thus far, the existing home is non-conforming with the requirements of the certified Local Coastal Program in several regards, including its proximity to the natural bluff edge on the site. ... Instead of repairing or retaining the portions of the foundation within the bluff setback area, the non-conforming segments should be removed.”

Therein lies the confusion, Segal said. He and his father and business partner, Jonathan Segal, said 60 percent of the house is in the setback and needs to be removed as part of any redevelopment plan.

So while the Coastal Commission did not expressly require that the entire house come down, “when you take away so much of the house, the parts that are there don’t make sense [to keep],” Jonathan Segal told the Light. “We don’t want to integrate [substandard] architecture and keep the front of the house because people think it’s important. If we could save it, we would.”

“We disclosed to the Coastal Commission that the foundations were in disrepair, they are falling apart and cracking, the concrete is falling apart, the outside of the building is crumbling,” he added.

The plan to demolish the house drew responses from La Jolla Light readers, with Rob Silveria suggesting in a letter to the editor that the house be moved out of the setback and placed on new footings.

Anthony Kampmann wrote, “If La Casa de los Amigos is so important to the [La Jolla] Historical Society, they should pay to have it moved and relocated.”

“Our report said it is unsafe unless you fix it,” Jonathan Segal told the Light. He said that would require renovation, which in turn would require removing the portion of the house in the setback.

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

“Despite these alterations, the building was evaluated as retaining six of the seven aspects of integrity” that would be considered in a historical review, according to the report by BFSA Environmental Services.

The Casa de los Amigos project will return to the DPR Committee with renderings during its meeting online Tuesday, Dec. 13. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆