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Fate of historic beachfront cottages as yet undecided

The question now is not whether the historic Red Roost and Red Rest beach cottages are to be restored, but how best to do that in the most fiscally sound way.

Plans for redeveloping the site of the historic California bungalow-style, 109-year-old cottages overlooking the Cove at 1179 and 1187 Coast Blvd. are inching forward.

“No matter what, the red houses will be restored,” said Richard Annen, an attorney representing the cottages’ owners, Cove Properties Inc., a subsidiary of La Jolla Cove Motel Apartments owned by the Heimburge, Jackman and Baroudi families.

The historic cottages were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. They have been vacant for more than a quarter-century.

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Cottage owners have unveiled plans to turn both structures, which are designated as national and local historic landmarks, into timeshare units. Completed in 1895, the redwood cottages are among a handful of dwellings left from La Jolla Cove’s early development as a seaside resort and artist colony. The Red Roost and Red Rest purportedly influenced the styles of renowned architects Irving Gill, who built widely in La Jolla, and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Recently, a historic structure report - a thorough analysis of the dilapidated cottage structures - was completed, a first step and guide toward rehabilitating them. Annen said the structural report’s goal is to ensure historical accuracy in restoration. Historical photos of the cottages from their heyday and personal accounts from people who lived there were used in the analysis.

“The report analyzes what these structures looked like,” said Annen. “It tells you, ‘Here’s what needs to be done to put it back to its orginal condition.’ From there, you do your cost estimates as to what it would cost to put these back in that condition.”

Restoring the historic cottages will be an expensive proposition.

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“First of all,” said Annen, “it’s already been determined the homes have to be moved forward a little bit and put on new foundations. Our preliminary plan shows the timeshare units being built cascading down the hillside with the red houses in front to stand out. It’s not clear, at this point, whether the cottage units themselves will be rehabilitated and used as timeshares or as more of a common area or perhaps a restaurant use.”

The executive director of the La Jolla Historical Society knows what she’d like to see done with the Red Roost and the Red Rest.

“The best case would be to find some adaptive use for them so they could stay there,” said Pat Dahlberg. “These are the only two structures left that were from that early period of La Jolla. They’re very important to our heritage. They give people an idea of what this was like when it was just a beach community, when people came here to paint and to relax. I think the owners should be able to do something with them that brings them some income.”

Oceanographer Walter Munk and his wife Judith lived in one of the historic beach cottages 50 years ago. Judith Munk said she has fond memories of their former home, the Red Rest, and is sad to see the state of disrepair it’s now in. She’d like to see the historic cottages redeveloped.

“They could be made into a little restaurant like Brockton Villa,” she said. “We lived in them after we were married 51 years ago, and they were in super condition. We painted them red. It was great fun. We had wonderful breakfasts with our friends.”

Judith Munk said a lot of work, particularly with the electrical wiring, would need to be done to update the beach cottage structures to modern standards.

“The wiring and all that stuff would be hideously expensive,” she said. “People would have to be very forgiving about it. Maybe it would be best to restore it the way it was with old-fashioned lighting and wiring."Munk remembered a community planning meeting she and her husband sat in on years ago discussing the fate of their former home.

“There was a hearing about it being torn down,” said Judith Munk, “and Walter and I came in and sat in the back of the room. One person said, ‘No one of any consequence ever lived there.’ We had to laugh. I guess we’re not consequential at all, that lets us out.”

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Eugene Ray, a San Diego State University architecture professor known for the colorful contemporary home off Nautilus he built with the help of his students, helped write the language that got the Red Rest and Red Roost designated as historical 30 years ago. Ray said there was an agreement in principle then between the owners and the city to restore the cottages.

“If they were in Europe, they would have been saved and restored long ago,” Ray said. “The Europeans know how to make money by turning them into little museums. The red tape to get that done is just horrendous.”

Ray wrote papers and made slide presentations to government boards years ago to save the cottages.

“They should be restored,” he said. “They could become a tourist center for information. It would draw many people and bring money into the community of La Jolla. There is a tremendous body of information behind the value of those structures that relates to the historical evolution of architecture in this country.”

Annen estimated redevelopment of the Red Rest and Red Roost beach cottages is at least three years away.

“I don’t know what the timeline might be,” he said. “You might actually refurbish the cottages and move them forward before you do the rest of the development.”