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UCSD’s Chancellor’s House to receive some saving grace

Preservationists are seeking to save the UCSD Chancellor’s House, once the home of La Jolla pioneer William Black in La Jolla Farms, from the wrecking ball by having it designated historical.

“We’ve become aware the university is moving ahead with plans to replace University House,” said Pat Dahlberg of the La Jolla Historical Society, on whose behalf an application is being filed with the state’s Office of Historical Preservation attempting to have the structure and 7-acre property upon which it rests designated historical and placed on the national register. “This house is the only one of its kind in La Jolla: a Spanish revival adobe with beautiful details. It’s very unusual and very indicative of what La Jolla was like in the early days.”

The dwelling’s master architect, William Lumpkins (1909-2000), was also a modernist painter who amassed a huge collection. He lived in La Jolla from 1950 to 1967, during which time he worked in both art and architecture. Known for his Spanish Revival adobe architecture, his classic guide for home builders, Santa Fe’s Ancient City Press published by La Casa Adobe, is still in print.

Originally purchased by the UC system in 1967, the one-story residence was constructed in 1952 and designed by Lumpkins for William Black, a financier and oilman who was a prominent real estate developer in San Diego in the 1920s. In 1949, Black bought the pubelo land above Scripps Institution of Oceanography and developed the 200 acres as La Jolla Farms.

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Over the decades, Chancellor House underwent modifications and additions to its public and private spaces. As recently as July 2006, the University of California Board of Regents had been considering spending $7.85 million in mostly private funds to rebuild University House, which had been a meeting center and chancellor’s residence. The 56-year-old facility was closed in June 2004 due to structural deficiencies and code compliance problems. The 11,400-square foot structure, comprised of 7,400 feet of public space and 4,000-square-feet of private living quarters, does not meet California seismic code regulations and faces serious slope destabilization. The structure was deemed uninhabitable and in need of significant and costly renovation or redevelopment.

The idea behind University House was to have an ideal setting near UCSD’s campus for the chancellor to live and host guests connected with university business. But Marye Anne Fox, UCSD’s chancellor since August 2004, has never been inside the residence, let alone lived there. “An engineering study basically condemned the house, which has a lot of structural defects,” said Fox. “Our engineers have told us renovation would be more costly (than demolition). We really need an area to entertain, a University House of the caliber that you see with many of our peer institutions.”

Wayne Donaldson, state historic preservation officer, said there are problems with the application initially submitted seeking historic designation for University House. “The application was sent in for listing on the California register,” noted Donaldson, “but the application was not in a proper format. They used the national registration criteria to put it together, and there is a difference in the criteria.”

In any event, historical designation is just one part of a process to protect University house and does not, in itself, safeguard it. “Just being on the California or national register does not protect it in perpetuity, does not protect it from being demolished,” said Donaldson. “But being so designated, a process is invoked under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), that requires a detailed environmental impact report or assessment be done showing alternative uses rather than demolition, whichdelays it (demolition).”

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Demolishing the structure before jumping through environmental planning hoops would be illegal, added Donaldson.

La Jolla environmental attorney Courtney Coyle said there are reasons to protect Unversity House, and the property on which it sits, for reasons other than historical architectural preservation. “This area is an extensive, ancestral Native American burial ground,” Coyle said. “What’s true today was true then. It’s a beautiful bluffside location with gorgeous views overlooking the ocean. It was an important site for tribal people, and for their descendants stille living here today who really care about the integrity of those burials.”

A best-case scenario for Coyle, would be for the home to be preserved as it was, and the land upon which it rests left untouched. “Ideally, they should strip away the more recent additions to the structure,” said Coyle, “and rehabilitate the Lumpkins structure and courtyard areas. That should be the chancellor’s residence for public functions. The site should be sensitively designed so that public space is in an area that will not cause additional impacts to Native American burials.”

Dahlberg said the university isn’t concerned with the historicity of University House. “They want to tear it down and put in a more modernistic conference center along with the chancellor’s residence,” she said. “We’d like to see them restore it, rehab it.”

Dahlberg noted Lumpkins was an important La Jolla architect, whose large body of works includes the Athenaeum in the downtown Village. “He also did the Post Office extension,” she said, “and a patio building where George’s (At The Cove) is now on Prospect.”

Donaldson noted historical structures reflecting the heritage of local communities, like University House, are deserving of special consideration. “It does not meet UCSD’s mission requirements,” he said, “but in fact most of these older buildings are the absolute, precise seed where everything really started with the university. To destroy those things is really, I believe, not paying attention to your own history.”