Crumbling historic cottages ‘roost’ in perpetual limbo

La Jolla Light

’s two-part series on The Village’s historic beach cottages (Part 1 was published in the Aug. 30 issue) continues this week with an update on the ongoing saga of the Red Rest and Red Roost cottages on Coast Boulevard.

By Pat Sherman

For decades, tourists and locals have wondered how an unsightly anomaly has been allowed to fester across from the world-famous La Jolla Cove, pairing nature at its best and neglect at its seeming worst.

Since the late 1970s, two examples of La Jolla’s historic beach bungalow architecture have largely been left to the elements, permitted to crumble as trees and weedy vegetation suffocated them.

Through the years, the Red Rest and Red Roost cottages have remained a top priority for the nonprofit Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), which once sued the city over them, claiming officials failed to enforce ordinances regarding the upkeep of historic structures, and the general abandonment and willful neglect of properties.

“It’s our biggest, longest-running frustration,” SOHO’s executive director, Bruce Coons, said. “The city has the power to fine them, confiscate the property and sell it to somebody else to make something happen, but they haven’t been willing to do any of that.”

In October of 2008, the city filed suit against the owner of the cottages, Cove Properties, Inc., a subsidiary of the corporation that owns the adjacent La Jolla Cove Suites. The criminal complaint cited numerous violations of San Diego’s municipal code, including: allowing graffiti to remain on the structures; failing to maintain an unoccupied designated historical resource in a manner that preserves its historical integrity; failing to lock, barricade or secure all doors windows and openings in a vacant structure; and failure to remove litter, waste and excessive vegetation from the yard.

However, in January of 2010 the city dismissed its complaint against the owner.

Asked why this occurred, Chief Deputy City Attorney Diane Silva-Martinez paused for 30 seconds, then said, “I don’t know the actual reason, but I think generally it would be because we can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip and they didn’t have the money to comply.” She added that the owners claimed to have spent $28,000 defending the criminal complaint.

“They have been trying to involve developers and investors,” Silva-Martinez said. “Filing of a criminal complaint would certainly be an obstacle to that. ... Of course, we’re more interested in people spending their money on rehabilitating the structures rather than paying the fines.”

In 2010, the owners put the cottages on the market for $10 million apiece, a price Coons told the

La Jolla Light

at the time he felt was an unrealistic “stalling tactic.”

A cottage’s road to ruin

The La Jolla Cove Motel and Hotel Apartments (today known as the La Jolla Cove Suites) purchased the property on which the red cottages are situated in 1967, which included the La Jolla Bath House, later demolished to make way for the annex portion of La Jolla Cove Suites.

The owners also intended to demolish the red cottages and construct an apartment building on the site, though they met with resistance from the community. In 1975, the San Diego City Council withdrew its objection to demolition of the cottages, though the owners never obtained the required development permit. In March 1976, unbeknownst to the owners, the cottages were placed on the register of the California Office of Historic Preservation.

That designation, and a subsequent designation from the National Register of Historic Places, have largely prevented the owners from proceeding with demolition. Denied permission to develop the property as they wished, in 1977 the owners evicted the tenants and began to engage in what appears to be prolonged neglect of the cottages.

Between 2001 and 2006, the property was embroiled in litigation among various parties maintaining shares of the property, though that litigation — which froze assets and prevented the owners from proceeding with preservation or development — has long been resolved. Both Coons and Silva-Martinez said Krista Baroudi, part of the cottages’ family ownership and chief executive officer of La Jolla Cove Suites, has demonstrated willingness to develop the property in a way that includes restoration and preservation of the cottages.

However, Baroudi said the down economy and the prospect of repairing the cottages have made potential development partnerships unattractive to investors. Numerous such deals have fallen through during the past decade, she said.

One plan, that never materialized, was to renovate and move the cottages forward on the property and build a three-story boutique hotel behind them, though the hotel would have to be cantilevered and built into the hillside, which proved unattractive to development partners, said Baroudi and her attorney, Richard Annen.

“It’s an expensive means of developing,” Annen said. “The other challenge is, if you’re going to put anything on that property — condos, timeshares, anything — you also are going to have to put in parking. There’s a tremen- dous cost to putting in under- ground parking, which would mean moving or lift- ing up the red houses and setting them somewhere else while you’re doing that.”

As to what will actually happen with the property, Baroudi said, “We’re still try- ing to figure that out. It’s what’s in the best interest of the property and the community.”

Annen said Baroudi and her family are interviewing architects this month to put together a design plan for the red cottages, which they hope to submit to city planners by the end of the year or early next year.

Coons gave Baroudi credit for paying to have a historic site report conducted on the cottages, which found that the cottages could be restored.

However, Baroudi and Annen disagree with the report’s findings. They argue that the cottages cannot be restored and instead must be demolished and replicated, at a cost of about $250,000 apiece.

“That report did conclude that they were viable for a restoration,” Annen said. “We think that’s in error. Every contractor that has looked at that property for us has confirmed that there’s essentially not a usable board in the building.

“Let’s put it this way,” Annen added. “If anyone wants to enter them, you’re required to sign a release, because if you fall through the floor, you’re going to pay your own medical bills. The structures on the outside and the timbers are preserved, but it isn’t like you’re going to put a new coat of paint on them here, and a new door there, and you’re set to go.”

Silva-Martinez said the city continues to keep tabs on the cottages and assure the owners are in compliance.

“They agreed to check in with us every 60 days to keep us informed on their progress in obtaining devel- opers or investors. We enforce the law as prosecutors,” Silva- Martinez said, noting that with an historic structure, the owner is required to keep the property weather- proofed and free of litter and excess vegetation.

However, a recent visit to the site by the

La Jolla Light

showed that weatherproofing tarps covering the site were in a tattered condition, and vegetation surrounding the buildings was overgrown.

Baroudi said that because of the cottages’ fragile state she has been layering the tarps, rather than removing the old ones as they wear thin. In response to the Light’s inquiry about the cottages’ condition, Baroudi sent a contractor out to begin repairing the tarps late last month, though her attorney said the work was halted shortly after.

“A worker’s foot went through the roof and another worker inside had his foot go through a floor board,” Annen said, via e-mail. “Neither were injured, but Krista had them stop work until she can meet with them to ensure that the installation of new tarps can be done in a manner that does not put any worker at risk of injury.”

Danna Nichols, a deputy city attorney with the code enforcement unit, assured that the tarps would be replaced, excess vegetation removed and any other code violations corrected, though she said there are certain portions of the case she could not discuss.

“Now that we are aware (of the potential violations), they should be taken care of very quickly,” she said. “I don’t think that the city is giving the property owner so much leeway. ... They are on very tight, 60-day deadlines.

While it looks like there’s not a lot of movement ... it takes a lot of back work. ... Each deadline has different requirements.”

For now, Baroudi said she is “interviewing architects for the entitlement process,” a legal method of obtaining required approvals to develop property for a desired use.

However, it is a process that could take several more years to complete.

“The family has nobody else, at this point in time, who’s interested in (develop- ing) this, but they’ve made the decision, we’re going to move forward,” Annen said. “If they can get the property entitled for a viable develop- ment, then a developer may be more likely to come in and partner with them because the ground work has already been done.”