Preserving Your Historical Property

At GDC Construction, we know it is important to preserve the history and charm of our unique community of La Jolla. With so many architectural gems in this “jewel” we call home, we passionately believe in historical preservation.

Over the years, we have worked on dozens of preservation remodels of historical properties. These include: my grandfather’s remodel of the La Jolla landmark the Athenaeum in 1956, which now serves as an art and music library; my father’s 1984 remodel of the YMCA La Jolla Firehouse as a youth center; my renovation of the La Jolla Community Center; and GDC’s recent remodel of La Jolla Firehouse 13.

The San Diego Historical Resources Board is responsible for designating a local home or building as historic. Then, the California Mills Act allows homeowners to get a tax rebate for maintaining a historical property, an incentive that can go a long way to helping preserve the character that people have come to associate with La Jolla.

Preserving a historic property isn’t always simple. If you are interested in restoring or preserving a historic property, there are some important steps to consider.

If you are interested in purchasing an older property and want to know if it is listed as a historic home, you can research the home’s deed trust to discover its original build-date and learn more about its history. The National Register of Historic Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation provide lists of historic homes and properties for sale. Also, you can check with local building conservation associations or historic societies in your area, such as the La Jolla Historical Society.

However, if you are wanting to permit a significant alteration, or demolition, to a building that is older than 45 years old, it will automatically trigger a review by the historic resources board during the permit process. If the property has characteristics of a specific style, is associated with persons or events that were historically significant, or a master architect, designer or builder, you will need a site-specific historic report. This report will be reviewed by the historic resources board and at a hearing, it will be determined if you property is designated historic or not. Historic properties will come with restrictions on what you may do to alter the exterior of the building and landscape, but not the interior.

Therefore, it is crucial to always make sure you hire a licensed contractor who specializes in restoration or rehabilitation.

Also, there is a big difference between “restoring” and “rehabilitating” historic properties.

Restoring a house means returning the appearance of both the exterior and interior of the structure to the time period in which it was built. For homes of a certain age, strict preservation usually isn’t possible. For example, if the house did not originally have indoor plumbing, but you plan to live in the home and don’t want that level of “rustic authenticity,” then you will likely not choose a strict restoration!

Another reason not to seek strict restoration might be historic renovations made to the home, especially if provenance comes into play. For example, if Marilyn Monroe previously owned your house and retiled a wood floor in hard-to-find pink ceramic tile, there may be a strong historic appeal to keeping that addition.

Restoring can be costly, but recreating old woodwork and other handcrafted elements of the original home with original artisanal materials will also restore its value and will boost your appreciation of your historic home.

Rehabilitating an historic house means making it functional and livable for contemporary life, while maintaining its important historic and architectural features.

Often, rehabilitated homes will have all the modern conveniences of updated plumbing and electrical systems, a modern kitchen, and other potential upgrades. However, in all cases you should be sure to take care to minimize the interference with the integrity of the historic quality of the home. This may also, of course, include removing any previous additions that were poorly designed or executed, or have compromised the integrity of the historic home.

Whatever you do, make sure you have a solid plan in place when restoring or rehabilitating your historic property, just as you would with any build or remodel project. Know your team and make sure the contractor and tradespeople are communicating. A plumber may need to cut a hole in plaster to access a pipe, but a carpenter may be necessary to do that part of the work to maintain the historic integrity.

Any potential environmental hazards in a historic property should be handled with caution. Many older homes in La Jolla contain asbestos and lead paint, and you don’t want to expose workers or occupants to these elements unprotected.

Try not to install new windows in your home if the old windows have an historic quality. Often, heat retention can be boosted with glazing, crafty carpentry, or strategic weatherstripping. On average only 10 percent of a home’s heat loss occurs through windows, so there may well be more effective ways to handle this heat loss and preserve what might be an important feature of the historic home.

Finally, make sure you document existing conditions and each part of the restoration or rehabilitation process, especially with a digital file to help further preserve the historic home’s ongoing history.

For more information on preservation in the La Jolla community, or if you want more information on restoring or rehabilitating an historic home, visit us at www.gdcconstruction, or come see us at GDC Construction, 1031 Silverado Street, La Jolla, CA 92037 858-551-5222.