‘I don’t know how to resolve this’: Historical resources committee struggles with La Casa de los Amigos plans

La Casa de los Amigos (center) is in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa neighborhood.

Without first seeing an engineering report, officials can’t be sure whether suggested alternatives to demolishing the house are possible, committee members say.


The design assistance subcommittee of the San Diego Historical Resources Board couldn’t reach a decision this week on how to proceed regarding the planned demolition of the historic La Jolla house known as La Casa de Los Amigos.

During the subcommittee’s April 5 meeting, applicant representative Matthew Segal and local preservationists presented alternatives to demolition. However, the panel said it was unable to make an informed decision about the alternatives’ viability because there is documentation that has yet to be reviewed. Thus it opted to wait for another meeting.

Segal said in November that the footings and foundation of La Casa de los Amigos (Friends House) at 6110 Camino de la Costa in the Lower Hermosa neighborhood are failing and that the house, built in 1924, is unsafe.

He said he and his father and business partner, Jonathan Segal, originally wanted to remodel and preserve the house. However, 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. Matthew Segal said 60 percent of the house — including the living room, dining room, basement, two bedrooms and the dormer — is in the setback area and would need to be removed as part of any renovation.

At the time, California Coastal Commission Coastal Program Analyst Alexander Llerandi said 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.”

Though the Coastal Commission did not expressly require that the entire house come down, Segal argued it didn’t make sense to keep it.

Thus, he proposed to tear down La Casa de los Amigos and build a new three-story, 10,567-square-foot residence with decks. Jonathan Segal would live in the new house, which would be similar in size and scale to the current one, he said.

Local preservationists objected, saying La Casa de los Amigos is the first or second house built in Lower Hermosa and that it could qualify for historic status.

A decorative entryway at La Casa de los Amigos at 6110 Camino de la Costa.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

The Segals sought historic designation for the old house in hopes that it would clear up confusion about how their planned development of the property could proceed and what mitigation measures would be needed.

The Historical Resources Board designated the property in January.

Preservationists noted last month that local engineering firm MDEP assessed the condition of La Casa de los Amigos and its footings in July 2021 and “found the house is in good shape for its age and location on the coast,” according to David Goldberg, a La Jolla Historical Society board member and president of the San Diego-based Save Our Heritage Organisation.

The report “includes a path to repair and reinforcement to extend the useful life and performance of the structure,” Goldberg said.

However, “after going back and forth a few times [with the city], the plan is to demolish the structure,” Matthew Segal told the HRB subcommittee. “We have no intent of saving the structure at this point and wasting another six to 12 months of the process only to find out it has to be demolished anyway. … So we are 100 percent moving forward with the demolition of this residence and construction of a new residence at this site.”

Though he presented alternatives to demolition, he said none was considered viable due to the Coastal Commission’s requirement that no portion of the house remain in the 40-foot setback should the property be renovated.

The alternatives he presented are:

  • Removing the portions of the house in the 40-foot setback and rehabilitating the rest of the house
  • Raising the house and moving it so it would be outside the setback
  • Relocating the house to a comparable empty lot in Lower Hermosa
  • Rehabilitating the house to habitable standards onsite

Angeles Leira, a member of the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee, presented similar alternatives to the subcommittee and offered her support for them.

“I understand the [applicant’s] frustration, but I think it’s worth really looking at the structural studies, have a good conversation with the Coastal Commission and … work together,” Leira said. “Total removal should be a last resort.”

City staff members said they had not had a chance to review an engineering report the Segals needed to submit, which could indicate whether any of the alternatives are possible.

“We have not been able to analyze all the different pieces … and we are going through that process,” said city senior planner Suzanne Segur.

HRB member David McCullough agreed that without the engineering report, officials couldn’t be sure whether the alternatives are possible. But his opinion, he said, is that suggestions such as moving the house or parts of it “are not a viable option” because they would change the character of what made the house historic.

“Others have tried it, and not only is it very expensive but it is difficult to find places to relocate the house to,” he said. “In my mind, the only options are [demolish the house and build a new one] and [rehabilitate the house to habitable standards onsite]. I don’t know how to resolve this.”

Acting subcommittee President Kristi Byers concluded the meeting without the board making a formal decision, noting there would be future opportunities for additional review.

The HRB design assistance subcommittee is composed largely of HRB members with professional design experience, including architecture, landscape architecture and design. The committee’s purpose is to provide assistance to owners of historically designated properties in the design of projects affecting designated historical resources and to advise property owners and HRB staff on a project’s consistency with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. ◆