Every year, SOHO – Save Our Heritage Organization – puts out a list of the most endangered historic resources of the county. Here’s their latest:
2018 Most Endangered List of Historic Resources – And one lost site from the 2017 list
SOHO’s annual reckoning with the state of preservation in San Diego County is again a bleak one. This year’s list, which is intended to raise public awareness about landmarks and feasible options, and to bolster political will for crucial historic preservation and restoration, includes 9 significant sites. Two of them—the Villa Montezuma in San Diego and Big Stone Lodge in Poway—did not appear on the 2017 MEL. Tragically, one from last year’s MEL was needlessly demolished by Southwestern College in December 2017. [Ed: for links to each site, go to SOHO here.]
Balboa Park, San Diego
For residents and visitors alike, Balboa Park is highly regarded as San Diego’s crown jewel. After nearly a decade of litigation, the battle to protect the park’s historic character from a proposed $80+ million bridge-and-parking-garage boondoggle is still not over. The recent appellate judgment in the City of San Diego’s favor did not resolve the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Addendum issue at the heart of SOHO’s lawsuit. SOHO is raising funds now for the next phase of our legal efforts, and you can expect to hear about new filings in the weeks ahead. SOHO continues to urge the City to abandon this ill-conceived plan, which would bring more, not less, unwanted automobile traffic into the historic core.
The new construction would decimate Palm Canyon, adversely impact the peace and tranquility of Alcazar Garden, and permanently alter the iconic Cabrillo Bridge—a picturesque landmark that has symbolized Balboa Park’s beauty for over a century. Instead of wasting time, effort, and public money on pushing this disaster through hurdles, the City should be investing resources into the estimated $500 million needed for the park’s critical repairs and safety upgrades, such as long overdue earthquake retrofits. Although the City is focused on implementing this destructive plan, there are still steps that will need to be re-evaluated. The construction bids will likely exceed $100 million, $20 million more than the City and donors expected. Revenues for the proposed parking garage must be reassessed in light of various dockless and alternative transit options for park visitors.
And the City Council must approve the bond necessary for financing this misguided plan. That is unlikely as long as the bond is the center of another party’s legal challenge. Our venerated Balboa Park will remain on SOHO’s Most Endangered List until the City of San Diego’s elected officials demonstrate that they understand and will protect its historical and cultural importance, respect its prestigious National Historic Landmark District status, and live up to their responsibilities as park stewards. Only then will we all be assured of continuing to enjoy and learn from its historic architecture, gardens, grand walkways, and cultural landscapes now and for generations to come.
Presidio Park, Old Town San Diego
Listed as a National Historic Landmark—the highest possible level of designation—Presidio Park was once one of San Diego’s most heavily visited parks. Today, it is a decaying and unkempt embarrassment with few tourists to be found. Considered the “Plymouth Rock” of the West Coast, the 1769 Spanish expedition founded not only the first mission in Alta California here, but also the presidio, port, and town of San Diego. George Marston, a civic visionary and preservationist, commemorated this inspiring feat by purchasing the site for a park almost a century ago and commissioning the prominent architect William Templeton Johnson to design the Serra Museum upon its hilltop. Marston and his wife, Anna, then donated the land and museum to the City for public enjoyment.
Unfortunately, in recent years, it has become painfully clear that this extraordinarily significant place—the city’s place of origin—is not receiving the public attention or maintenance it rightfully deserves from its steward. The museum building and Serra cross are severely deteriorated, the once magnificent park sculptures are often littered with food and broken bottles, and important elements of the historic John Nolen-designed landscape have died or are near dead. Along with a complete restoration, the City must adopt a comprehensive landscape management plan using the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Presidio Park is nationally and locally significant and warrants immediate attention. For a city whose economy has been fueled by tourism since the 1880s, it is incomprehensible that this and other historic places that reliably attracted millions of visitors for decades are tossed aside and left to decay.
In 2018, SOHO urged the mayor to form a committee to raise funds and commit to restoring Presidio Park’s cultural landscape. SOHO is encouraged that the entrance arbor has been restored, thanks to Mission Hills Heritage’s collaboration with the City, a project that began in 2016. SOHO has been working to identify and strategize with interested community partners to find solutions for the substantial deferred maintenance and crucial preservation of San Diego’s founding site. Now, on the eve of the founding’s 250th anniversary in 2019, we strongly urge District Three Councilmember Chris Ward to look for additional ways and funding to restore the site and take the necessary steps to care for this national treasure.
San Diego Stadium, Mission Valley
As the City of San Diego negotiates the complex sale of a huge swath of Mission Valley to San Diego State University, the deal must include saving and reusing San Diego Stadium (its original name). The award-winning structure with a design that was nationally ahead of its time is a viable and far cheaper option for fulfilling the university’s need for another stadium—and an enormously catastrophic candidate for our overflowing landfills. When it opened in 1967, its innovative features included pre-cast concrete walls, pre-wired light towers, and spiral concrete pedestrian ramps. In 1969, it earned an American Institute of Architects Honor Award for outstanding design—the first such national award for a San Diego building and for a U.S. sports stadium.
Now, this multi-ton, concrete sports magnet is one of the last remaining mid-century designed, multi-purpose stadiums in the United States. Designed by Frank L. Hope Associates, a leading San Diego firm for decades, the stadium opened in 1967, originally as home to the San Diego Chargers, San Diego Padres, and yes, the San Diego State Aztecs football team. The stadium’s novel form (eight concentric circles) provides excellent sight lines, a key requirement for ticket sales and design success then and now.
City officials must insist in its sales agreement that the university find a way to reuse this celebrated, iconic, and adaptable Modernist Era monument. De-listing a significant, adaptable City-owned historical resource and dumping untold tons of concrete into our landfills are both unacceptable. Preserving and sensitively adapting the stadium to meet the future needs of San Diego would be a win-win-win for environmental sustainability, for optimizing centrally located land for the highest and best public good, and for preserving a living symbol of San Diego’s national sports history.
Big Stone Lodge, Poway
Long after a stage line from San Diego to Escondido stopped running near here, Dr. Homer Hansen and Daniel Stuck of the San Fernando Valley purchased land in the 1920s and envisioned building a resort complex called Camp Big Stone. The main lodge building, along Old Pomerado Road, was unusually constructed of gigantic roof beams and large granite boulders, as opposed to the cobbles commonly used in Poway, and the lodge was intended to be a place for community functions, such as dances and socials. Plans also called for camping facilities, a store, a service station, and more. However, the Great Depression stopped development and the resort was never fully completed.
Now known as the Big Stone Lodge, the landmark has seen numerous owners and proprietors over the years who operated it as a restaurant, bar, and dance hall. Its decline in popularity likely began with the straightening of Old Pomerado Road, which hid the Big Stone Lodge from the street for potential patrons.
Fast forward to 2003. The now defunct City of Poway Redevelopment Agency purchased this 1.7-acre property to protect and preserve the resort buildings; however, funding was never found and the property sat vacant. In 2006, Poway City officials determined the main lodge building could not be saved and demolition was approved to build more housing. Now twelve years later, the property is inexplicably abandoned and grossly deteriorating behind a chain link fence, with many questions lingering over the intended demolition. The City still has abundant opportunities to revive this historic site, including adaptive reuse, new housing, and a community center. A commitment to preserving the Big Stone Lodge—a vibrant and exceptional piece of Poway and San Diego history—must be included in any new plan.
Hillcrest Commercial Core, San Diego
The commercial core of Hillcrest grew up along a streetcar line during San Diego’s early 20th-century building boom, when the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in nearby Balboa Park fueled rapid suburban expansion. Hillcrest’s historic character remains relatively unchanged since its early years, with one- to three-story structures filled with street-level shops, banks, and restaurants and a mix of apartments and businesses above. A variety of early 20th-century architectural styles along the main corridors include Spanish and Mission Revival, and Art Deco.
Throughout the core, many original single-family Victorian and Arts and Crafts era residences still stand, although many have been converted to multi-residential and commercial uses. Its long-documented embrace of the LGBTQ and art and literary communities lends a bohemian vibe and a sense of urbanity within a walkable, village-like atmosphere. However, in recent years, a surge in development interests and political lobbying has become a major threat to the historic neighborhood. A group of commercial property owners formed the Uptown Gateway project, pushing for a 200-foot or more height limit to build high-rises that would dwarf Hillcrest.
Redeveloping entire blocks of this dense community will eliminate the very character, historic resources, and significant links to its LGBTQ and cultural heritage that drew people here in the first place. SOHO has joined Mission Hills Heritage in legal action to protect the Uptown area, including Hillcrest, from profiteers who are poised to destroy the human scale and authenticity that have historically made it a unique, welcoming, and magnetic place to live, visit, and work.
Granger Hall, 1615 East Fourth St., National City
Loosely draped in a weathered old tarp, a brief glimpse of the Granger Music Hall from the I-5 freeway is enough to evoke concerns about the fate of this unusual masterpiece by San Diego Master Architect Irving J. Gill. Completed in 1898 at the Paradise Valley estate of Colorado silver magnate Ralph Granger, the small but elegant building was used for private concerts and to house Granger’s notable violin collection. Gill’s knowledge of acoustics, gained from his earlier work in Chicago, achieved outstanding results when he designed the original 19′ x 36′ room and two later additions.
In 1969, the building was moved to East Fourth Street in National City. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the currently dismal exterior condition betrays nothing of its splendid interior, with its 75-foot ceiling mural featuring Euterpe, the Greek goddess of music, and cherubs painted on linen by New York artist D. Samman. An intricately carved fretwork grille of kiln-dried cedar used to screen a large pipe organ. To allow this esthetically unique historical resource to deteriorate further is unacceptable. For music to be heard once again from within the walls of the acoustically perfect Granger Music Hall, it is imperative that National City stop delaying the plan to relocate the building to a permanent site near Pepper Park, and to commit to its immediate professional rehabilitation.
Red Roost and Red Rest Bungalows, La Jolla Cove
SOHO’s longest-running preservation battle is laser-focused on the Red Roost and Red Rest Bungalows, which have endured more than a quarter century of shameful, deliberate neglect. Located in the otherwise polished Village of La Jolla, this ghost-like pair of deteriorating 1894 redwood beach cottages are a curious sight to tourists, not to mention residents, who are unaware of their history and the on-going struggle to preserve them. Dating to the early period of local development, they are the last of a cluster of simple vacation cottages and an artists’ colony built on the hillside overlooking La Jolla Cove.
Although simple in design and construction, the Red Roost and Red Rest are considered rare and significant architectural forerunners of the popular Arts and Crafts bungalows still lining streets throughout San Diego’s early 20th-century neighborhoods. However incomprehensible, despite multiple attempts on SOHO’s part to negotiate for the restoration or adaptive reuse of the cottages as part of a larger project, the property owner would prefer to see these important pieces of history serve as a black-eye on the community rather than returned to productive cultural and economic use. The City of San Diego, adding to the frustration, has so far refused to enforce its own laws protecting historic resources from illegal “demolition by neglect.” City code requires owners of unoccupied historic buildings to maintain them in “a manner that preserves their historical integrity.” Yet in this case, both the owner and the City refuse to act and are flagrantly allowing the ravages of time and weather to bring the Red Roost and Red Rest increasingly closer to collapse.
Barrett Ranch House, Jamul
The Barrett Ranch House was placed on the Most Endangered List in 2014 after multiple concerned citizens reached out to SOHO regarding its troubling condition. Rural farmhouses are particularly rare in San Diego County. Built in 1891, this large two-story farmhouse in Jamul has been left vacant and vulnerable for years. The wood façades and special architectural elements, such as double front porches and a bay window, are still painted barn-red with white trim, as is the large barn next to the house.
While the most recent owners are know to be Vecellio Group Simpson Farms, the property is rapidly slipping away, assisted by rampant trespassing and vandals who have stripped much of the interior and committed other senseless acts of destruction. Despite many scars however, there is no mistaking the architectural beauty or historic charm of this impressive, once-proud East County homestead. Since 2014, the Jamul Dulzura Community Planning Group has wanted to turn the ranch into a community park. But in approaching the County of San Diego with this idea, they understand that first, funds must be raised to purchase the land, and then more funds are needed to plan for and maintain the property as a park—a large feat for any volunteer group. SOHO appreciates the regular active interest in rescuing this endangered property, but a solid solution is still elusive.
Designed by the renowned architecture firm of Comstock & Trotsche, the ornate, polychrome 1887 Villa Montezuma has been a beloved landmark ever since it was built for the world-famous concert pianist and spiritualist Jesse Francis Shepard. The colorful artist invited friends and neighbors for classical concerts and mysterious séances in grand rooms with specially commissioned stained-glass windows at a time when cultural offerings were relatively scarce in San Diego.
Returning to SOHO’s Most Endangered List after a three-year absence, the Villa remains empty and vulnerable, and City officials still have not managed to get a non-profit group to operate it. It is well past time for the City to provide regular public access to this magnificent site, as the community deserves to have its most iconic landmark back. The City has been working with The Friends of the Villa, a neighborhood group that hosted an open house four times a year, but even then public access remained limited. The rest of the time, this architecturally fragile residence is shuttered, and its complex paint schemes and delicate exterior trim deteriorate by the day. Since early 2009, when its lease was abandoned and the Villa reverted back to City supervision, this captivating landmark has remained mostly closed, and highly vulnerable to vandalism and decay.
SOHO helped save this important site in 1971, when the then-occupied house first left private ownership. Because of this early association, when SOHO was only two years old, and the subsequent success of operating as a beloved house museum and community meeting space for two decades, it is difficult for our members to see this special building ignored for so long. Before the house suffers any more, the city must restore, reopen, and maintain it. One of our region’s finest Queen Anne-style Victorian homes, the Villa Montezuma is an alarming, high-profile example of how the city of San Diego is overwhelmed, understaffed, and ill prepared to properly care for our irreplaceable historic resources. SOHO continues to offer gratis our professional and expert advice and assistance for preserving the Villa, as well as for all other City-owned heritage sites and resources. SOHO is willing to work with and guide any nonprofit the City installs to oversee this treasured home.
SAVED / REMOVED FROM THE LIST
California Theatre & Caliente Racetrack Mural, 1122 4th Avenue, San Diego
When the Spanish Colonial Revival style California Theatre opened in 1927 with an impressive 2,200 seats, it was heralded as the Cathedral of the Motion Picture. Placed on SOHO’s Most Endangered List in 2008, this majestic building was dismissed by the City Council in 2016 for a development project that made a mockery out of this historic resource. The tide turned earlier in 2018, when SOHO won its legal challenge, because the project did not follow the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Removing the California Theatre from the Most Endangered List is a great success and a huge relief that San Diego will retain one of its most iconic buildings and murals for decades to come. Settlement details are still being worked out, but stay tuned in 2019 to learn more about the restoration and rehabilitation of the California Theatre.
SAVED / REMOVED FROM THE LIST
Teachers Training Annex #1, 4193 Park Boulevard, San Diego
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the elegant 1910 Italian Renaissance Revival style Teachers Training Annex #1 in University Heights has been decaying for decades under the ownership of the San Diego Unified School District. With more recent heightened community attention on this once beautiful eyesore, the school board has invested in a long overdue and much-needed new roof that will help protect the structure and extend its life in preparation for a new era. With the passage of ballot measure YY, and in alignment with the board’s adopted policy for adaptive reuse of the Teachers Training Annex, the school leaders intend to use funds from this ballot measure to restore and rehabilitate the National Register building, which will once again be an asset to the entire community.
LOST: Southwestern College Mayan Modern Gymnasium, Chula Vista
The distinctive, 1960s Modernist Era gymnasium at Southwestern College was demolished shortly after being placed on the MEL in late 2017. Architect George Foster, whose firm Kistner, Curtis and Foster designed the college’s original campus in 1961, created this Mayan-influenced building in 1966 in homage to California’s pre-European history. Foster, who also served as campus architect until 1973, is recognized for developing the neo-revivalist Mayan Modern style, which in San Diego can be traced to the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park. Ignoring the gym’s historic and architectural significance as well as its potential for new uses, Southwestern College single-mindedly moved ahead with plans to demolish a character-defining historic structure to construct a contemporary, new math and science building. As rumors circulate about more impending campus demolitions, the college leadership unfortunately does not appear to place any value on its own unique architectural heritage and history.
Please support SOHO’s preservation work by attending public meetings we alert you to, writing letters, and donating to our Legal Defense Fund. We appreciate all that you do for these endangered sites, and more.
Editordude: BTW, SOHO is now 50 years old.