A state commission has unanimously nominated UCSD’s University House for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that confirms its historical significance but does not preclude the very real possibility of the 55-year-old structure’s demolition.
Recently in Palm Springs, the State Historical Resources Commission voted 6-0 in favor of University House’s inclusion on the National Register. The commission ruled the residence qualified both for its period archictecture and signifcance as a Native American archaeological site.
The state commission’s confirmation of University House as historical, however, in no way seals its ultimate fate. “This is a landmark,” noted Pat Dahlberg, co-chair, along with Don Schmidt, of the La Jolla Historical Society’s historicity committee. “But this doesn’t mean they (university) can’t demolish it.”
Wayne Donaldson, state historic preservation officer, said the state commission’s decision reaffirms University House’s stature in the public’s mind. “What it does is raise the height of its awareness as a historic property,” he said. “It also raises the height of awareness that this is one of the earliest Native American (archaeological) sites we have along the West Coast.”
Donaldson pointed out UCSD could do a lot of modification to University House without disqualifying it for inclusion on the National Register. “They could preserve enough of its architectural integrity to make sure it doesn’t get delisted from the Register,” he said. “If they follow their current plan (to demolish it), they would need to consult with us (Office of Historic Preservation) and we’d ask the same kind of questions, ‘Why do you have to do this (demolish the home) to meet your programmatic needs?’ ”
La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS) was instrumental in laying the groundwork to have UCSD Chancellor’s House designated as historical. “It’s the first (historical) nomination the Society has ever filed,” said Dahlberg, “and the first cooperative effort between the Historical Society and Native Americans. They backed us. It’s taken us almost four years to do this.”
Don Schmidt of LJHSpointed out University House, in and of itself, is more than deserving of historical designation.
“The home is really a unique and fine example of the Pueblo-Revival style of master architect William Lumpkins who designed it,” said Schmidt. “He was part of the whole Pueblo-Revival movement in Albuquerque and Rancho Santa Fe (New Mexico) in the ‘20s and ‘30s. I think University House is the greatest and grandest example of the Pueblo-Revival style in San Diego. There’s nothing else like it in the city and the county.”
Since 1967, University House at 9360 La Jolla Farms Road has been the residence for chancellors at UCSD. According to UC policy, all chancellors must live in designated University Houses on or near campus to fulfill their public relations’ responsibilities as hosts and fund-raisers.
Completed in 1952, University House was built as the private residence for William Black, the pioneering San Diego financier and real estate developer who created La Jolla Farms neighborhood. In 1967, the UC system bought the house and its surrounding 130 acres for $2.7 million.
University House, however, was closed in June 2004 due to structural deficiencies and code compliance problems. The current structure does not meet California seismic code regulations. The bluff property is also believed to be in danger from slope destabilization.
Dolores Davies, UCSD’s executive director of communications & public affairs, said University House’s historic designation requires a higher level of scrutiny and review. “But it does not necessarily assure that the house will be preserved,” Davies said. “We have already provided that higher level of review in the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) which includes mitigation measures for the project.”
A thorough EIR for the University House project, which included a public review period, has been completed. Davies said UCSD is in the process of responding to questions and concerns raised by the public about the historic home. “The EIR evaluated several project alternatives for the site, including renovating the existing structure and building a new residence,” she said. “The existing proposal, which was selected for programmatic and practical reasons, calls for reconstruction of the house on the existing site. Some structural and historic elements of the existing adobe house would be retained in a new facility that would better meet the entertainment and functional needs of the UCSD chancellor.”
Several alternatives were examined in the University House EIR process, including renovating the existing structure, renovating the existing structure and adding a new public building, and relocating the house and building a new structure. It was determined these alternatives either did not meet programmatic needs, or resulted in environmental or archeological impacts deemed unacceptable.
Davies added the project EIR will require review and certification by the UC Regents, who will need to approve the project in order for it to move forward.
Courtney Coyle, a La Jolla attorney representing Native Americans who’ve been monitoring archaelogical investiation of the University House site, believes it would be unwise for UCSD not to consider evidence of the property’s mounting archaeological significance.
“I think the university would be putting itself in a very vulnerable position, legally and public relations-wise, if they were to proceed with the project as proposed in the draft EIR,” Coyle said. “It (home) is on an ancient Native American burial ground. The university has several feasible preservation alternatives out there, some of which were studied in the draft EIR, that would actually cost less money than the new structure they want (to build). We would hope that, with this (historical) nomination, that will give extra incentive for them to to consider and select one of those alternatives.”
Carmen Lucas, a Native American monitor at University House, said the home’s site is significant both for cultural and religious reasons. “I have to voice my concern about the prehistoric human remains that are there,” Lucas said. “It’s a well-known, documented fact that’s a prehistoric cemetery. My concern is that there could be spiritual violation of an area that holds our ancestor’s remains. That is the crux of what the Native Americans’ issues are.”
Will University House ultimately be torn down?
“I think it’s going to be preserved,” said state historic preservation officer Donaldson. “The site is just too unique, and too precious, to mess with. They (university) can meet their programmatic needs with adaptive reuse of the house. That will also preserve any kind of Native American excavation work.”