La Jolla people and projects receive preservation awards

SOHO recognizes several La Jolla projects with 2015 ‘People in Preservation’ awards

Several La Jollans were among those honored last month with a 2015 People in Preservation Award for their painstaking efforts to preserve or restore historically significant structures and sites.

The awards are presented each year by San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO). This year’s La Jolla recipients include Bird Rock homeowners Anne and Richard Kruse, Ione Stiegler and Joseph Reid of IS Architecture and John Norris, building and grounds committee chair at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church.

Culturally Sensitive Rehabilitation

The historic Pueblo Revival-style estate that UCSD uses as its Chancellor’s residence — condemned and threatened with demolition a decade ago — received a new lease on life thanks to the work of La Jolla-based IS Architecture, whose principal, Ione Stiegler, and senior project manager, Joseph Reid, received SOHO’s Culturally Sensitive Rehabilitation Award.

Stiegler said rehab of the 12,000-square-foot estate, perched on a failing coastal bluff off La Jolla Farms Road, was a monumental undertaking.

The estate is situated atop sacred Native American burial grounds, so special care had to be taken not to disturb or desecrate the site, which has been occupied for at least 10,000 years and is closely monitored by the Kumeyaay Nation and California Native American Heritage Commission.

Stiegler and her team had to install new plumbing as well as new cable, phone and electricity lines all without digging in soil that hadn’t been previously disturbed.

“The drainage off of the roof of the house was exasperating erosion on that bluff edge,” Stiegler said. “We had to re-pitch the roofs, capture the water and take it to the other side of the building, so it can now drain back toward the road.”

A 100-foot-long, 30-foot-tall retaining wall also had to be designed and installed along a portion of the bluff using three-dimensional mapping technology, making sure heavy machinery needed for the job didn’t disturb the sacred site.

Traditionally known as the William Black House (today Geisel House), the home, designed by Santa Fe architect William Lumpkins (1909-2000) and built in 1952, is designated as a state and federal historic landmark (read more here).

Divine Restoration

John Norris at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church worked with architects and contractors to assure a nearly seamless, $900,000 restoration, which began in 2013.

Norris said he accepted SOHO’s Divine Restoration Award on behalf of “many hands in the kneading of the dough,” including Paul Benton of La Jolla-based Alcorn & Benton Architects, who donated consultation and other services.

“I guess SOHO liked what we ended up doing,” Norris said of work to the building designed by architect Louis John Gill (1885-1969), who also designed original buildings and enclosures for the San Diego Zoo and was involved in designing the San Diego County Administration Building.

“It was basically restored 95 percent of the way he designed it,” Norris said. “We are really pleased with it.”

Although St. James does not have a historic designation, Norris said San Diego’s Historical Resources Board nevertheless had its “eyes and hands on what we were doing all the way through. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t inadvertently, or innocently, make any changes that would affect the historicity of the church.”

The most crucial part of the job, Norris said, was re-stuccoing the exterior of the church — particularly the bell tower, which required a crew of 16 workers atop scaffolding.

“It had to be a continuous thing until it was completed,” Norris said. “They just threw the bodies at it and got it done in one Saturday.”

The work also included removing, cleaning and restoring the chapel’s lower-level stained glass windows and removing carpet added to the chapel during the 1970s. It was replaced with tile from Malibu Tile Works, specifically called for in Gill’s original plans but never installed (Norris suspects the omission was due to a lack of funds brought on by the Great Depression, which struck as the chapel and bell tower were nearing completion in 1930).

“Malibu Tile Works went out of business sometime in the ’30s, but it was resurrected, so to speak, by a father and son and they call it the Malibu Ceramic Works now,” Norris said. “Their production plant, which I visited, is in Long Beach. We tried to go back to the cradle.”

The congregation didn’t want to interrupt Sunday services, its music program, previously scheduled weddings or unforeseen funeral services due to prolonged construction in the chapel, Norris noted.

“I was over there all the time talking to the trades,” he said. “Every Friday I’d go buy pizzas or Subway sandwiches. That really helped keep their heads in the game, I think.”

Harmonious Addition

Anne and Richard Kruse received the Harmonious Addition Award for a historically authentic kitchen addition to their Chelsea Avenue home, which was designed by architect and builder William Kesling (1899-1983). Kesling, who once had an office on Girard Avenue, was most known for perfecting the Streamline Moderne style of architecture characterized by horizontal lines, utilitarian framing and the use of materials such as concrete, stucco, Vitrolite and Carrara glass — considered ultra-modern in the 1930s and ’40s.

(IS Architecture also served as architect on this project). According to, Kesling’s local work was “re-discovered” in 2000 when San Diego architect Wayne Donaldson identified his row of houses on Dowling Street in La Jolla (derisively and endearingly referred to as “Kesling’s Kozy Kowsheds”). It is believed he may have completed as many as 3,000 houses prior to his death.

Richard Kruse said he and his wife did not initially know when purchasing the house in 1991 that it was a Kesling home, though they’ve since come to learn they live in “probably the best representation of a William Kesling house outside of the Silver Lake area (of Los Angeles),” he said.

“Kesling was all about the rooflines and floor-to-ceiling glass. We have 100-something panes of glass — it’s amazing,” Kruse said. “Everybody’s tearing (his houses) down and modifying them, but ours is literally unaltered, for the most part, except for the little kitchen area.”

Despite a smattering of Kesling homes in La Jolla, including one by Kellogg Park once photographed for Life magazine, much of what he built here is now gone.

“Hollywood’s buying it up left and right — it’s the big thing for them. Sadly, it’s not down here,” Kruse said, adding he probably could have built a new home for what it cost he and his wife to restore their Kesling house over the past two decades.

“We want to leave a legacy of some kind — and this is it for us,” he said. “We want to preserve it and not have happen what’s sadly happening all over La Jolla. You can’t replace what’s not there anymore.”