University house to escape being razed

It’s back to square one again for University House, as UCSD is apparently abandoning plans to raze the historic La Jolla Farms home in favor of redeveloping the 130-acre site, which has been a chancellor’s residence and meeting facility.

“The primary goal of the University House project is to properly use this extraordinary property by providing a comfortable personal residence for UCSD’s future Chancellors and their families, including modest space for specialty events,” said UCSD’s communications department in an e-mailed response to a query about the fate of the historic one-story structure built in 1952 by noted Santa Fe-based architect William Lumpkins. Lumpkins built the house for William Black, a prominent La Jolla developer for whom Black’s Beach is named. The UCSD communication department added that “we are currently looking at alternative solutions that will enable this property to be used in a way that will be productive and acceptable to all involved.”

The 56-year-old University House 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.

In the years since the house was built, the property on which it sits was discovered to be a Native American burial ground.

Reacting to the news that University House will not be destroyed and replaced but updated and preserved, John Bolthouse, executive director of La Jolla Historical Society, said: “They did the right thing. We commend this step, which recognizes this home is part of their (UCSD’s) history and honors their obligation to the Native American community as (the property is) an anthropological site. We extend our hand, and we hope, if there’s any way we can, to help with preserving the house. We certainly are there for them.”

Originally purchased by the UC system in 1967 for $2.7 million, 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 the house at 9360 La Jolla Farms Road. According to UC policy, all chancellors must live in designated university houses on or within four miles of campus to fulfill their public relations responsibilities as hosts and fund-raisers.

Courtney Coyle, a La Jolla attorney and spokeswoman for Native American groups, concurred that the University’s decision not to continue with plans to raze the former Black’s home structure is a step in the right direction for all concerned parties. Said Coyle: “What I’ve seen is a letter from UCSD which, in essence, says they are abandoning the project, which was to demolish the house and put in the meeting center and new residence, in favor of a rehabilitation or restoration project, that would presumably be restoring the Lumpkins house and renovating it, upgrading it for a chancellor’s family and then programatically scaling back on the size of the public functions they (UCSD) wanted to hold there.”

Coyle said preliminary plans laid out by UCSD proposed meeting facilities within the chancellor’s residence to accommodate up to 250 guests. She added that number could be scaled back to fewer than 100 people.

However, Coyle said there are a great many questions yet to be answered by the University as to what will now be done with planning for the chancellor’s residence. “What does restoration really mean?” asked Coyle. “What does rehabilitation really mean? Will it be done on the same footprint as the existing structure? What are the landscaping and utility issues? Hopefully, these are things the University will work with the community on, as they said they would.”

Asked what prompted its decision to do an about-face and restore rather than raze University House, UCSD said: “Our passion about using this property in an appropriate manner has not waivered. We know this is a property that has great meaning to and is valued by both the San Diego and UCSD communities, and we intend to continue to respect these interests.

“The challenges we have faced as we have worked to propose the most optimal solution has helped us to get where we are today: in closer relationships with our Native American friends and working in tandem with the Historical Society to find an optimal solution.”

UCSD said there are four related issues it is working on to create and bring a new design proposal forward for the historic La Jolla Farms structure. They are:

  • Meeting with the California Native American Heritage Commission and other interested parties regarding the repatriation of Native American remains.
  • Considering a variety of rehabilitation options for the property to address issues of erosion, water runoff, archaeology, historic preservation, neighbor support, etc.
  • Solidifying support for the project.
  • Providing the UC California Regents an informal update.

UCSD added it fully expects to see fewer cultural resource impacted with the future redesign of University House. “We are looking forward to working with all interested parties on ways to avoid impacts, minimize disturbances and provide all appropriate mitigation measures,” said the University in a prepared statement. “We welcome the opportunity to work with the Kumeyaay Cultural Repatriation Committee, others in the Native American community and those concerned with historical integrity as we move along.”
UCSD added both a new schedule and budget will be prepared following completion of the revised and reduced University House project scope. It is expected that this programming phase will be completed this summer.

The University also admitted it may take an extended period before a UCSD chancellor once again inhabits the historic Lumpkins-designed dwelling: “Unfortunately due to the time it takes to rebuild, it will take many years for this house to be completed. Based on the very thorough review, consultative, approval, and building process – there will be a good deal of time before anyone will inhabit the property.”