‘No experience that can compare’: Former La Jollan shares memories of living in two iconic cottages
Charlie Marsden is a rare tenant of both Red Rest and Red Roost.
Though they have stood vacant and run-down for decades, La Jolla’s Red Rest and Red Roost cottages were once home to dozens of inhabitants over the years.
“It is a segment of my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything else,” said Charlie Marsden, a rare tenant of both historic cottages.
Red Rest and Red Roost, which are next to each other at 1179 and 1187 Coast Blvd., respectively, were built in 1894 for George Leovy and Dr. Joseph Fishburn. They are the oldest buildings on their original sites in La Jolla.
Some 2½ years after a fire destroyed Red Rest and damaged Red Roost, plans are in the works to rehabilitate the cottages and build a new four-story, eight-unit condominium building nearby with an underground parking garage.
Before the last resident left in 1977, the cottages saw regular movement of tenants through their doors. Famed Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist Walter Munk and his second wife, Judith, lived in Red Rest in 1952, according to the La Jolla Historical Society.
When Marsden, now a sheep rancher in Doyle, Calif., moved into Red Rest in 1964, the structures belonged to Hewitt Cochran and Mary Jane Cochran Thompson, who bought them in 1960.
Marsden, who then was a gastroenterology assistant in the Scripps Clinic formerly on Prospect Street, was tired of commuting to La Jolla from Ocean Beach and called Realtor Virginia Dalton.
“She said, ‘I don’t really have anything for rent except for these two old red houses by The Cove,’” Marsden said. “I knew what they were. I never even in my fondest memories or dreams … thought I’d be living there.”
Marsden toured Red Rest with Dalton 30 minutes after learning it was empty. “It was a little dirty and dusty, but I was sold,” he said.
Marsden rented the cottage for $160 a month, finding a couple of roommates to help with the rent.
After moving to Point Loma in 1966 to help after his father had a stroke, he got married to his first wife, Linda, in 1969. They had two children and lived all over San Diego County before getting divorced in 1974.
Marsden wound up back in La Jolla, this time at the Red Roost cottage. His kids would stay with him on weekends, he said.
“I was lucky to do that,” he said. “I tell my daughter, Robin, ‘You’re one of the only people that ever stayed in one of those red houses.’ She’d get to sleep in my old bed. There was a little tiny breakfast place on the corner of Girard and Prospect we’d visit.”
“There’s no experience that can compare” to living in the cottages, he said.
“I would come home at night a lot of times and I would go swimming,” Marsden said. Before La Jolla Cove became an ecological reserve and later a state Marine Protected Area, many of his meals consisted of abalone and lobster he caught in those waters.
“I can remember going out one afternoon [and finding] a halibut … and that was dinner,” he said.
“It is a segment of my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything else.”
— Charlie Marsden
In 1967, the cottages were bought by Jack Heimburge, president of the adjacent La Jolla Cove Hotel. A few years later he announced his intent to demolish the cottages and replace them with an apartment building.
Several community members led an opposition campaign and eventually succeeded in getting Red Rest and Red Roost listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
However, Heimburge continued to fight for a development permit.
Marsden remembers being part of the preservation effort and standing at The Cove with fellow cottage tenant George Ravenscroft asking for signatures on a petition to save the cottages.
Ravenscroft had 2,000 signatures and went to the city of San Diego to “stop any construction of anything,” Marsden said.
San Diego Coast Regional Commission hearings on the matter were crowded, Marsden said, with members of the public clamoring for an opportunity to comment. “You had a hard time getting out of the building,” he said.
The commission denied Heimburge a permit in 1977, and he issued eviction notices to all cottage tenants, citing liability concerns if deterioration of the structures led to tenant injury.
Red Rest and Red Roost have since been uninhabited, their state of disrepair worsening. Preservation advocates have claimed the cottages were being destroyed through neglect.
Heimburge died in 1989 and the cottages were acquired in 2014 by Denver-based Apartment Investment and Management Co. In 2018, AIMCO sold the cottages and the La Jolla Cove Hotel & Suites to a group of investors in the hotel business.
Marsden said he hopes the cottages will again be suitable for tenancy someday.
San Diego city spokesman Perette Godwin said discretionary permits for the rehabilitation and condo project are still under review.
Project applicant Paul Benton did not respond to requests for comment. ◆