Historian’s dream for home showcase closer to reality


In 1978, Schaelchlin was successful in petitioning the San Diego Historical Site Board to designate the lot at the corner of La Jolla Boulevard and Arenas Street as historical site number 128. Her vision was to save at least three early cottages there and have them restored to their original condition.

It was also her intention to find a way for the historical housing complex to be economically viable and self-supporting.

Schaelchlin’s husband Bob recalled how his wife - who has since passed away - first conceived of Heritage Place.

“She was very involved in the saving of houses in Heritage Park in Old Town,” he said, “and working to get things on the National Register (of Historic Places). My wife’s thought was to prove to people that saving and using historic houses could have an economic benefit.”

In 1974, the Schaelchlins bought the corner lot on La Jolla Boulevard with an existing historical home on it, the Horace E. Rhoads duplex built in 1917 and relocated there from Wall Street in 1928. Rhoads was a newspaperman who managed the Pacific Coast Penny Papers and was also co-founder of the San Diego Athletic Club.

A second historical cottage, the Victorian-style 1890s Galusha B. Grow cottage, nicknamed the Yellow Cottage for its distinctive coloring, was relocated from 7831 Ivanhoe Ave. to Heritage Place in 1979. The final piece in the showplace historic complex, the Corey House, the residence of one of San Diego’s first female doctors, was moved from Draper Avenue to the historical site in the 7200 block of La Jolla Boulevard in November 2003.

There is a fourth structure on the historical site, a two-car garage with a studio apartment built above it.

The finishing touches are being put on the restoration of the Corey house. Renovation work is also ongoing at the Rhoads home.

Current Heritage Place owners Terry Jo and David Bichell, who bought Heritage Place from the Schaelchlins in 2001 and presently live in Tennessee, are fulfilling the potential of the historical complex. They intend to reopen all three historic homes as vacation rental properties once work is complete.

Bichell said her family will grant the Schaelchlins’ wish in making the historical properties income-generating.

“They wanted to demonstrate that historical cottages and houses in La Jolla could pay for themselves,” she said, “that people don’t always have to just knock them down and put up a condo in order to maximize profits on a piece of land.”

Matthew Welsh is the architect who’s done the restoration work on both the Corey and Rhodes homes for the Bichells. He said the Rhoads duplex has been reconfigured to add a family room, modern kitchen and a large bedroom and deck upstairs.

“We wanted to restore it and make it livable in today’s world for a large family,” he said.

Welsh said it’s more difficult to restore an older home than it is to build from scratch.

“Nothing’s square, nothing matches,” he said. “It takes about twice as much work.”

The architect said work on restoring the Rhoads home hopefully will be finished by Thanksgiving.

La Jolla Historical Society President Judy Haxo applauded the efforts of the Bichells in maintaining the historical integrity of their property.

“It’s great some of our cottages are going on private property,” she said. “We prefer to have them in view so the public is reminded - as with the Reading Room at The Bishop’s School - of the history of La Jolla. It’s important to this community to see where its roots are, to understand that people didn’t always live the way we live today.”

The general contractor for the Rhoads home renovation project, Tom Grunow, said the law requires that there be a visual distinction, in a historical home renovation, between the old and the new.

“We’re not exactly trying to match it,” he said. “But it has to be pretty subtle.”

Grunow agreed that remodeling is more difficult than building a new structure.

“When you’re building from scratch, you’ve got a blank slate,” he said. “Everything can just flow. With a remodel, you have to work around constraints. You’re constantly trying to come up with things that are going to function and look right, but you have to work around existing conditions.”

Carpenter James Comstock did restoration on the Corey house at Heritage Place, which took about a year to complete. He said restoring such an old home was a challenge.

“It’s the most special job I’ve ever had,” he said. “Any time you start taking and old house like that apart, it seems like every other day you open up a new can of worms that has to be dealt with and can be time consuming and trying.”

To restore the Corey house, Comstock had to rely on all the knowledge he’s acquired over the years. He’s especially proud of the work he did on the front door of the home.

“It’s the original front door,” he said, “and there’s very few of those doors left in the world. That door was in pretty bad shape. I had to piece it back together. The building inspector said that’s probably one of the most special doors in San Diego County, and he sees a lot of doors.”

La Jolla landscape architect Jim Neri is handling work on the exterior landscaping at Heritage Place. In redesigning the lay of the land, he said the trick was to unify all three homes.

“We took an old photo of the Corey cottage to determine which plants were used,” he said. “The idea was to use materials prevalent in that era, including local cobblestones everyone finds when they dig up their yards.”

Neri’s goal was to create communal spaces that felt like they belong to individual homes, but also to create courtyards that were communal.

“It flows from one courtyard space into the next,” he said.

Neri enjoys working on historical projects. “I’m always pleased to see some of the history of this place saved. So much of it has disappeared.”

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