Plan to demolish La Jolla’s historic La Casa de Los Amigos moves ahead after alternatives stall
The blufftop home in Lower Hermosa would be replaced by a three-story, 10,567-square-foot house after efforts at preservation failed, applicants say.
After a rocky road and several meetings over recent months, plans are moving forward to demolish La Casa de los Amigos — a century-old blufftop home in La Jolla’s Lower Hermosa neighborhood — and build a new house on the site.
The historically designated two-story house at 6110 Camino de la Costa would be torn down and replaced with a three-story, 10,567-square-foot residence with decks.
Various possibilities for the property, ranging from moving the house to preserving some of its parts, have undergone local review since November.
Applicant representative Matthew Segal presented the current plan at the La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee’s March 14 meeting.
Because the house, built in 1924, is historically designated, “we have to deal with mitigation measures … to retain the heritage of the house,” Segal said. “We will probably have to file a report, provide documentation of architecturally accurate drawings of the house. ... We may interview the original owner’s daughters and upload that video and maybe more.”
However, no physical parts of the structure would remain.
The documentation would be saved in an archive likely connected to city of San Diego historical resources.
The proposal surprised some DPR trustees, since the home’s recent historic designation had raised hopes that it might be saved.
The board’s vote on a motion to support the plan resulted in a tie, and the matter will proceed to the La Jolla Community Planning Association for possible further review.
Segal’s father and business partner, Jonathan Segal, who would live in the new home, said after the vote that “progress has been made.”
At previous hearings, Matthew Segal said the footings and foundation of La Casa de los Amigos (Friends House) are failing and the house is unsafe. He said the intent was 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. Sixty 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, Segal said. Thus, he argued it didn’t make sense to keep the house.
Nevertheless, Segal said, the applicant team worked with various San Diego city departments and the California Coastal Commission to try to reach a compromise or receive guidance on what the team could or could not do with the property.
“The city did not commit to letting us save the existing historic home, so this is the result,” he said. “Unfortunately, that is the direction we have had to go with this.”
The San Diego Development Services Department said in a statement to the La Jolla Light that department staff members have been communicating with and assisting the Segals throughout the process and “the applicant ... is continuing to seek input on the project.”
DPR trustee Diane Kane acknowledged the shock among her colleagues about the plans but said: “I think the building here is a total loss. Anything that could be preserved is not the soul and character of what that property was. This is one, believe it or not, that I am willing to let go and let the Segals have the opportunity to build something beautiful [that will last] the next 100 years.”
She made a motion to support the demolition and new construction — with a request that the applicant be “thorough” in the historical documentation — but the board voted 3-3, with Greg Jackson customarily abstaining as acting chairman. Typically, the chair can vote to break a tie, but Jackson, after a dramatic pause, decided not to.
There was no other motion.
At the onset of the process, the property was not historically designated and the DPR Committee voted in December to postpone its final review of the project until the San Diego Historical Resources Board ruled on whether La Casa de los Amigos is a historic resource.
During earlier DPR hearings, some local preservationists argued that the house is a La Jolla landmark and should be saved.
The Segals sought historic designation for the home 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.
In January, the HRB designated the property under multiple criteria.
According to Jonathan Segal, the applicant team met with city staff and offered to save the house if it could redo the west-facing facade.
“We submitted our plans ... and gave them a deadline to express their support and they went silent,” he said. “We tried to save it and can’t.”
The Development Services statement said “Mr. Segal’s project ... has a development project manager assigned by the department to enable a single point of contact for his project review who communicates with him regularly about processing his site development permit application.”
The department disagrees with “the assessment that city staff have been non-responsive,” the statement said.
“Anything that could be preserved is not the soul and character of what that property was. This is one, believe it or not, that I am willing to let go and let the Segals have the opportunity to build something beautiful [that will last] the next 100 years.”
— DPR trustee Diane Kane
DPR trustee Angeles Leira asked March 14 whether the new development could have nods to the original structure, such as the shape or material of the roof. “When you do that, then whatever you do around it has to maintain the feel and the sense of the traditional house,” she said.
However, Matthew Segal said the new property would be made largely of glass “with concrete elements” and that the street frontage would be largely covered by vegetation. He said the project would maintain the view corridor to the ocean and feature a large staircase and a courtyard. The team also is requesting a variance for the front yard setback.
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 Segal said the team investigated that possibility and couldn’t find a comparable available lot.
According to a report to the city, construction of La Casa de los Amigos was finished Dec. 31, 1924. Since then, the house has undergone alterations, primarily on the west facade, consisting of extension and partial enclosure of the rear balcony and construction of a finished basement between 1934 and 1939. Four original windows on the west facade were replaced after 1946.
“Despite these alterations, the building was evaluated as retaining six of the seven aspects of integrity” that would be considered in a historical review, according to the report by BFSA Environmental Services.
Other DPR news
The board also heard from applicants on two other projects, both of whom were asked to return at a future meeting.
One of the projects would demolish a 1,078-square-foot single-family residence at 960 W. Muirlands Drive and build a new two-story, 4,270-square-foot single-family home with a 472-square-foot deck and a subterranean two-car garage.
But with questions about the height and how the new house would relate to its neighbors, the board asked the applicant to return.
The other project, at 812 Havenhurst Point, calls for demolition of an approximately 3,000-square-foot single-family residence and construction of a 12,979-square-foot, three-story single-family house.
Similar to the first project, the board had questions about how heights were measured and asked the applicant to return.
Meetings: The La Jolla Development Permit Review Committee meets the second and third Tuesdays of each month, pending items to review. The group currently is meeting at the La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. Learn more at lajollacpa.org. ◆
10:39 a.m. March 21, 2023: This article was updated with comments from the San Diego Development Services Department.
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