‘We want everyone to be happy’: Plan for La Casa de los Amigos replacement gets revisions
Architect says recent meetings with local preservationists produced a compromise design that includes rehabilitation and preservation of ‘prominent historic elements.’
A project to replace the historic house known as La Casa de los Amigos in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa neighborhood has undergone some changes following meetings between the applicants and local preservationists.
The controversial project to tear down the blufftop “Friends House” at 6110 Camino de la Costa and build a new three-story, 10,567-square-foot residence in its place has been reviewed several times by local planning groups, but architect Matthew Segal said he thinks the recent meetings produced a design that will please as many parties as possible.
Segal told the La Jolla Light that the meetings “guided us to refine our project.” Changes include preserving the street-facing garage and wall and rehabilitating other street-facing outdoor features in accord with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
“No one will know anything has changed unless they look over the wall,” Segal said.
The revised design “allows for more visual connection to the ocean” by opening a coastal viewpoint, he added.
In an email to local planning groups, Segal said “this compromise entails the rehabilitation and preservation of the prominent historic elements that define the existing Casa de los Amigos.”
“Furthermore,” he said, “our new design evolution introduces enhanced transparency and openness on the eastern and northern sides of the structure. … Importantly, the bulk of the new house assumes a secondary role, allowing the historical frontage and the majestic expanse of the Pacific to take center stage.”
He told the Light: “I think it will be better [this way]. We want everyone to be happy and get this project going.”
No major changes were made to the planned new house, except for a garage on the street front, changing an eastern wall from solid material to glass and making a set of stairs more “low-profile than before,” Segal said.
Segal has said the new home would be similar in size and scale to the current one.
David Goldberg, a La Jolla Historical Society board member and president of the San Diego-based Save Our Heritage Organisation, said that while he still hopes the existing house, built in 1924, can be saved, “the design of the new house is attractive.”
He said demolition of La Casa de los Amigos would be “a significant loss to the community. … But if the house can’t be saved, then it can’t be saved.”
Renderings of the new house are not yet available for public view, but the revised design plan, including updated images or models, will be presented to local planning groups, likely starting with the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee at 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 13, at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St.
The final agenda for the meeting will be posted 72 hours in advance at lajollacpa.org.
Segal said in November that La Casa de los Amigos’ footings and foundation are failing, making it 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, Alexander Llerandi, a California Coastal Commission coastal program analyst, said “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 residence that Jonathan Segal would live in.
The Segals sought historic designation for the old house in hopes of getting clear guidance from the Coastal Commission and the city of San Diego on what they could do there. The San Diego Historical Resources Board designated the property in January.
Goldberg noted that the property was designated historic under four criteria, “which is rare,” and said “that shows how important it is.”
But in March, the Segals decided to move forward with their plans for demolition and new construction, saying possible alternatives had not panned out.
It had been suggested that the historic house be moved to another lot, which would have to be in Lower Hermosa due to the home’s connection to the area. But Matthew Segal said the applicant team investigated that possibility and couldn’t find a comparable available lot.
Jonathan Segal said the applicants also met with city staff and offered to save the existing house if they could redo the west-facing facade, but he said staff “went silent” after they submitted their plans.
The city Development Services Department disputed the assertion that staff had been unresponsive and said the department had assigned a development project manager to work with the applicants about processing their site development permit application.
Matthew Segal has said the applicants would provide historical documentation about La Casa de los Amigos and take other measures to help record its notable features. The documentation would be saved in an archive likely connected to city of San Diego historical resources.
On March 14, the Development Permit Review Committee tied in a vote on whether to support the Segals’ project.
Preservationists noted that engineering firm MDEP had 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,” Goldberg said in March.
The report “includes a path to repair and reinforcement to extend the useful life and performance of the structure,” he said.
On March 21, the DPR voted in favor of sending the Historical Resources Board a list of alternatives to demolition to consider:
• Lift the house to build new footings and put the house back in place
• Move the house to a comparable lot
• Preserve the north wing of the house
• Move the whole wing to the front of the house and rebuild on the rest of the available lot
On April 5, the HRB’s design assistance subcommittee said it was not yet able to make an informed decision about the alternatives’ viability, pending city staff’s review of an engineering report the Segals needed to submit. ◆
Get the La Jolla Light weekly in your inbox
News, features and sports about La Jolla, every Thursday for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the La Jolla Light.