Hidden Valley house in La Jolla is designated historic, but involvement of landscape architect is left out

An image of the Jerome and Joyce Shaw/Lloyd Ruocco house at 7245 Rue de Roark in La Jolla
An image of the Jerome and Joyce Shaw/Lloyd Ruocco house at 7245 Rue de Roark in La Jolla is presented to the San Diego Historical Resources Board.
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

San Diego Historical Resources Board could reconsider the late Joseph Yamada’s role in the Jerome and Joyce Shaw/Lloyd Ruocco house on Rue de Roark at a future date.


The impact of late landscape architect Joseph Yamada played into the San Diego Historical Resources Board’s discussion of whether and how to designate a La Jolla house as historic.

When the board took up the potential designation of the property known as the Jerome and Joyce Shaw/Lloyd Ruocco house at 7245 Rue de Roark in the Hidden Valley area on June 22, it was asked to consider including Yamada’s landscaping.

For the record:

4:49 p.m. July 3, 2023This article was corrected to state that HRB motions for designation must get six votes to pass.

Ultimately, the board voted to designate the property with a period of significance of 1966 under HRB Criteria C (indicating that it 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) as an example of the organic geometric style.

It also was designated under Criterion D (indicating it is representative of a notable work of a master builder, designer, architect, engineer, landscape architect, interior designer, artist or craftsman) for its connection to master architect Ruocco.

Yamada, a La Jolla resident and San Diego landscape architect who designed for places such as SeaWorld and UC San Diego, was not included in the designation.

The current owners, Samuel and Ann Amukele, sought the designation and agreed to return with more information about Yamada’s role so the board may consider adding him to the designation in the future.

A west-facing view of the Jerome and Joyce Shaw/Lloyd Ruocco house at 7245 Rue de Roark in La Jolla
(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

According to a city staff report associated with the nomination, the house “embodies the distinctive characteristics through the retention of character-defining features of the organic geometric style and retains a good level of architectural integrity from its 1966 period of significance.”

Further, the house “exemplifies Ruocco’s typical design aesthetic through the lack of ornamentation, use of natural materials, indoor-outdoor living, unobstructed views and siting adapted for the ocean views of San Diego,” the report states.

HRB member Courtney Coyle argued that the landscaping is a “notable example of Yamada’s custom residential design work,” featuring his “signature design aesthetics, including meandering front concrete entry, role of the northwest and south facade landscape plantings, and plant palette.”

She added that Yamada partnered with Ruocco and the original homeowners in designing the landscaping and therefore should be included in the Criterion D designation.

Yamada worked in the landscape architecture firm Wimmer Yamada & Associates. He and his wife, Elizabeth, also were active in educational efforts to preserve Japanese American history.

The Yamadas lived at 1676 El Camino del Teatro in the Muirlands area from 1973 until their deaths days apart in May 2020. When their house was designated historic in November last year, Yamada’s landscaping work was considered in the designation.

The Muirlands home is named after landscape architect Joseph Yamada and his wife, civic activist Elizabeth Yamada, who lived there from 1973 until their deaths in 2020.

Nov. 19, 2022

Megan Walker, an associate planner with the city of San Diego, said Yamada and partner Harriet Wimmer “co-designed the space” at the Rue de Roark house and that more information and documentation is needed to prove that Yamada was involved enough to be part of the designation.

Further, Walker said, while Yamada was a master architect, Wimmer was not, complicating how to include Yamada in the designation without including Wimmer. The board also would have to show that the landscaping at the Shaw/Ruocco house is considered a “notable example” of Yamada’s work, Walker said.

Some HRB members argued that because plants are less permanent than a building, it is important to include landscaping in historic designations whenever possible.

HRB motions must get six votes to pass for designation, and two were made. The first, to approve staff’s recommendation to designate the property under Criteria C and D, passed unanimously. The second, to include Yamada in Criterion D, failed because the vote was 5-2.

However, the homeowners stated their willingness to return to the board with more information about Yamada’s role.

Two members of the public submitted written statements opposing the home’s designation.

One said the city loses money in property taxes by designating “whiter, wealthier homes.” Another said a disproportionate number of houses are designated in wealthy communities.

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 and the historical conditional use permit, which allows flexibility of use; and flexibility in other regulatory requirements. However, houses cannot be modified significantly once they are designated historic.

Other HRB news

A second La Jolla property was slated to be considered, but the hearing was postponed because the applicant’s representative could not attend the meeting. Further, several HRB members said they hadn’t visited the site before the meeting.

The property, to be considered at the next HRB meeting, is known as Helmhurst Cottage at 1570 Virginia Way in The Village.

According to a report associated with the nomination, city staff is recommending designation under Criterion A (indicating the property exemplifies or reflects special elements of … a community’s or a neighborhood’s historical, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, engineering, landscaping or architectural development) with a period of significance of about 1911.

The Historical Resources Board meets monthly. To learn more, visit and click on “Public hearings, meetings and notices.” ◆