Forgotten La Jolla survey dusted off as potential preservation tool


Historical society hopes document will help safeguard La Jolla’s character-defining features

By Pat Sherman

A comprehensive, 308-page survey of La Jolla’s cultural landmarks — from its historic buildings and majestic trees to its bridges, view corridors and cobblestone-lined curbs — has been pulled from a shelf for further consideration, nearly a decade after its completion.

The draft document was finished in 2003 and submitted to the city, though those who worked on it say the survey was shelved because the city didn’t have the budget to pay for staff to review it.

Diane Kane, who serves on La Jolla’s Development Permit Review (DPR) committee, facilitated a presentation on the long- forgotten survey at the DPR committee’s Jan. 8 meeting. The La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) retrieved the survey following media inquiries about the removal of one of two old ficus trees at the Top of the Cove restaurant last year — and the question of whether La Jolla’s planning and development documents offer protection for La Jolla’s significant trees.

“(We) remembered that we had this cultural landscape survey that nobody had ever looked at,” said Kane, who was a staff planner for San Diego’s Historical Resources Board when it was commissioned. “We started looking at it and ... we were so impressed by what we saw that we scheduled it for our (DPR) agenda this month ... to see if it’s something that, not only the historical society can use, but that community groups can use for planning purposes.

“It’s more detailed than the La Jolla Community Plan,” Kane added. “The plan is a very broad-brushed vision for the community and this is much more focused. It really clearly documents things with maps and with photographs and written descriptions.”

Former LJHS member and architect Milford Wayne Donaldson, who served as California’s State Historic Preservation Officer until his retirement in September, was contracted by the city to produce the survey. His architectural firm had produced similar surveys on Kensington, Hillcrest and Golden Hill, though those documents were approved by the city and are referenced today when significant landmarks are at odds with development.

“Cultural landscape surveys were still pretty much on the cutting edge at the time,” Donaldson said, noting that LJHS volunteers and students helped prepare the document, which updated a historical resources inventory compiled in the 1970s by former LJHS President Patricia Schaelchlin.

Once the city adopts such a survey, Donaldson said, “it becomes a nice planning document. It really helps provide a pride in the neighborhood and people look at these (resources) a lot differently than before.”

La Jolla’s cultural landscape survey includes obvious landmarks such as the Fay Avenue Bike Path, Torrey Pines City Park, Children’s Pool seawall and La Jolla Rec Center, as well as hidden gems such as two concrete, arched bridges built around 1930 and cobblestone curbs and gutters along Muirlands Drive. Significant street trees noted in the survey include various palm, ficus, juniper and coral trees, as well as Italian stone pines along the southern portion of La Jolla Boulevard.

Donaldson said when selecting buildings for inclusion in cultural landscape surveys, architects refer to criteria established by the Secretary of the Interior, which include a building’s level of integrity (or how many of its original, character-defining features remain), as well as its craftsmanship, setting, location and period of significance.

“Of course, every local historical group has its own criteria that they feel is important,” he said, noting that sometimes a building may not possess the same architectural “polish” as others, though it may be associated with an important person or events, and worth of consideration.

Though the city reviewed the architectural portion of the survey, Kane said it was paper-based and incompatible with today’s electronic archival systems.

“By the time that survey was done it was obsolete, because everything I was working on was electronic and ... could be shared among departments,” she said.

In addition, Kane said that, due to some errors in the architectural portion, then District 1 City Councilmember Scott Peters asked that the city not use the survey until it could be reviewed further.

“The whole thing just kind of fell through the cracks, so, at this point, the historical society is reviewing it,” Kane said.

The portion documenting cultural landmarks such as trees, view corridors, trails and parkland, completed by San Diego landscape architect Sharon Singleton of the firm KTU+A, was produced electronically and thus can be more easily revived for current use, Kane said.

“She has descriptive forms filled out for each feature, which photographs and documents it at a specific point in time so we can track changes over time,” Kane explained.

Kane said she hopes to forward the list of trees identified as “significant” in the survey to the city’s Community Forestry Advisory Board as an official document of trees the community wants protected.

“That doesn’t mean that’s all the trees,” Kane said. “We need to (review) this because the information is about 10 years old.”

Though the survey would help protect trees within public rights-of-way, trees on private property, such as the ficus at the Top of the Cove site, are only protected if the property owner takes steps to have the tree registered with the city as a “legacy tree.” The property owner may also request a deed restriction preventing its removal by future owners.

According to city’s tree protection policy (which can be viewed at

), the city does not restrict the removal of a designated tree if it has been deemed a threat to public safety.

Singleton, whose daughter learned to drive on the streets of La Jolla while she photographed and documented landmarks from the passenger seat, said that until the survey is officially recognized by the city, it can serve as a guide to help designate some of La Jolla’s trees as heritage (those that are 50 years or older or have a connection to a historic event, building, district or were planted by a historically significant individual, such as Ellen Browning Scripps).

Kane said she plans to bring the survey before the La Jolla Parks and Beaches committee and the La Jolla Community Planning Association for consideration and input.

“It’s a great document,” she said. “It tells us what La Jolla looked like in 2003 when the survey was done, and it gives you a baseline to judge change against, and to make further planning policies. What do we want to protect? Are we losing views? Are there views we could gain if we had some favorable policies in place? How do we make La Jolla a better community?”