Historical Resources Board designates 1910 La Jolla home ‘historic’
Denying designation for sister cottage clears the way for its demolition and new home
The La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) and its Preservation Committee parted ways last month on the fate of two 1910 beach cottages near the intersection of Prospect Place and Cave Street in the Village — with the Preservation Committee moving to designate (and thus preserve) both cottages, while the LJHS board agreed with the property owners that only the street-facing cottage should be saved.
Prior to the LJHS’s Feb. 23 meeting, board members reviewed a historic report on the cottages prepared by the property owners’ representative, attorney/historian Scott Moomjian, as well as a recommendation from staff at the city’s Historical Resources Board (HRB). During the meeting, the owners’ representatives and the Preservation Committee presented diverging recommendations and fielded questions from the LJHS board.
While both the Preservation Committee and property owners Kevin and Melissa Steel agreed the front cottage at 7991 Prospect Place qualified for an historic designation, only the Preservation Committee felt the rear cottage at 7993 Prospect Place qualified.
The Steels originally said they planned to seek a historic designation for both cottages and build a two-story addition between them that would connect the two structures (read more at bit.ly/ProspectPlaceCottages). However, those plans would have required a variance from the city to move the rear cottage further toward the back of the property — a move the adjacent property owners opposed.
Although the Steels’ representatives and city staff argued that the rear cottage had been altered too much over the years, and no longer maintained enough “integrity” to qualify as historic, the Preservation Committee argued that the changes were reversible, and that this type of architecture “was meant to be changed over time as wear-and-tear and termites took their toll,” explained LJHS board president Ellen Merewether.
After privately discussing the matter, the LJHS board voted 11-5 to agree with the owner and city staff to designate only the front cottage, while remaining neutral on the rear structure.
“Overall, I believe board members felt this was the best compromise between the homeowners’ interests and the interests of historic preservation in La Jolla,” Merewether told La Jolla Light, via e-mail. “It was not an easy decision and it was not one taken lightly, given the loss of historic properties in La Jolla over the years.”
During the Historical Resources Board’s Feb. 26 meeting, LJHS Preservation Committee chair Leslie Davis argued that both cottages were listed in inventories of significant beach cottage architecture in La Jolla — despite Moomjian’s assertion to the contrary.
“These are two of the last (beach cottages in La Jolla),” Davis told the HRB, noting that there are probably less than 25 beach cottages remaining in La Jolla built in 1910 or before.
“That back cottage still does keep its feel,” Davis said. “There are multiple criteria for integrity and I believe both cottages meet all the criteria. When you walk by them you get the sense of old La Jolla. ... We are losing the last of these cottages and I am here to bear witness to my community and to the people who started it as a very modest beach community.”
Moomjian argued that enclosing a porch at the back of the rear cottage, adding another porch to its front side and other changes made to it between the late 1950s and 1974 “occurred outside the period of significance for La Jolla beach cottage development and irreparably and adversely affected the original integrity (of the cottage) in terms of design, setting and materials.”
However, HRB member Priscilla Ann Berge argued it appeared to her from documents in his historic report that the porch on the front cottage had also been altered, though the owners and HRB staff “don’t seem to be too troubled by it.
“If we look at the front cottage we would agree there’s been changes to what is really the primary façade — what the public sees,” Berge said, adding, “Just last week we designated ... a single-walled, shingle- covered little faux-Craftsman home that the (historic) Sanborn (Fire Insurance) Map showed did not (originally) have a front porch and did not have a side porch, and yet it was designated as a Craftsman.”
Berge said both cottages are significant within their setting and context. “I don’t think the changes to the porch in either of these beach cottages is enough to say the cottages lack historical integrity,” she said.
Both Davis and La Jolla Community Planning Association president Joe LaCava (speaking as a private citizen) requested the matter be continued to the March 10 HRB meeting because interested parties had “less than five working days” to review the historic report and did not have time to counter its “omissions and inaccuracies” (an assertion Moomjian and the owners attorney, Matt Peterson, both rebutted). The continuance was not granted.
In the end, the Historical Resources Board voted to adopt the recommendation of its staff and the LJHS board to designate only the front cottage, clearing the way for the Steels to demolish the rear cottage and develop a new, single-family residence in its place.