Republished with permission from SOHO
Save Our Heritage Organization’s annual Most Endangered List is a sobering assessment of the state of historic preservation in San Diego County. SOHO is releasing the names of 11 threatened properties this month to coincide with the announcement by the National Trust for Historic Preservation of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
SOHO has nearly a half century record of saving important historic buildings, sites, and landscapes through advocacy, public education, and negotiation, but there are always properties at risk. The Most Endangered List, now in its 29th year, raises public awareness about the valuable historic and cultural resources that are currently threatened with demolition or irreparable alteration by development, deterioration, or neglect.
As the San Diego region’s largest and most effective preservation action group, the Most Endangered List is a respected tool and a call to action by residents, business and community leaders, and government officials.
SOHO’s 2016 list includes four new sites and seven carried over from last year. Newly threatened are:
Balboa Park finds itself back on the most endangered status. The park’s historic core — a National Historic Landmark District — is in jeopardy of being altered and damaged forever by an ill-conceived and convoluted automobile-centric project that would cost $80 million and is unfunded. The project would cut through a section of the 1915 Cabrillo Bridge with a massive, concrete freeway off-ramp and new roadways that funnel cars into a parking structure that abuts the 1915 Spreckels Organ Pavilion.
Heavy-handed highway engineering would decimate Palm Canyon (which pre-dates 1915) and the assault on lovely Alcazar Garden (1935) would be devastating to one of the park’s most significant and popular spaces. In addition, the plan would introduce paid parking into the park that has always been free and open to all. The parking garage, which would net only 230 additional spaces, is not needed because the zoo’s large, new garage removed 650 employee parking spaces from public parking areas.
This unprecedented parking fee can only lead to paid parking throughout the park. Over $500 million is needed for crucial repairs in the park, yet, instead of addressing these urgent needs, the City is focused on a plan to spend millions on constructing unnecessary and destructive new roads and buildings that will require maintenance and staffing. This is irresponsible fiscal policy and poor management of one of the City’s most valuable assets and resources.
Wonder Bread Building, 171 14th Street
SOHO’s 2007 landmark Warehouse District settlement agreement saved 10 buildings within nine city blocks, and, as predicted, those industrialized blocks of San Diego’s East Village are now thriving businesses and residences prized for their historic character and gritty authenticity. The same weak arguments in 2007 that would have had the public believe that a new ballpark was more important than some old, dilapidated warehouses would have demolished the Western Metal Supply Co. building, Showley Candy Factory, and Levi Wholesale Grocery Co., and seven other now thriving historic sites. As foolish then as they are today, wannabe stadium developers are threatening the brick Wonder Bread building.
This outstanding and appealing example of early 20th-century San Diego would be wiped out if a new stadium were built as proposed. The Chargers even have the impudence to suggest a façadectomy would be acceptable as mitigation for demolition. That’s not the way to honor an 1897 structure that has grown over the decades to become four interconnected buildings under the famed Wonder Bread banner, and it certainly goes against any climate action best practice. An outstanding example of adaptive reuse, the complex is the current home of Mission Brewery, humming with activity and contributing to San Diego’s urban culture and economy.
That the Wonder Bread building would even be considered for demolition is senseless and highlights the City’s and the Chargers’ lackluster vision.
Once one of San Diego’s most visited parks, Presidio Park is now in dire straits with few tourists to be found. The Plymouth Rock of the West Coast, where Junípero Serra’s 1769 Spanish expedition founded not only the first mission in Alta California, but the presidio, port, and town of San Diego.
George Marston, a civic visionary and preservationist, commemorated this inspiring feat by purchasing the land almost a century ago and commissioning master architect William Templeton Johnson to design the Serra Museum on the park’s hilltop. Marston then donated the land and museum to the City. Although it is a National Historic Landmark, this park does not receive the public attention or maintenance it deserves.
As San Diego approaches the 250th anniversary of its founding in 2019, the museum and Serra Cross are severely deteriorated, the magnificent sculptures are often littered with food and broken bottles, and the John Nolen landscape is nearly dead and could be lost. Along with restoration, a comprehensive landscape management plan using the U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s standards must be adopted.
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 the places that reliably attracted millions of visitors for decades are tossed aside and left to decay. It’s not smart business. We urge the mayor to form a committee to raise funds, and under strict historic restoration and preservation guidance, restore the city’s place of origin in time for its 250th celebration.
Hillcrest Commercial Core
The heart of Hillcrest is known for its bohemian vibe and LGBTQ-friendly society among walkable urban blocks of shops, eateries, bars, a movie theater, and a few apartment buildings. Most structures are only one or two stories tall and neighborhood character is rooted in a variety of architectural styles such as Mission Revival and Art Deco. This bustling area owes its commercial pedigree to early streetcar lines and the two expositions in nearby Balboa Park, which brought waves of residential development in need of services.
Now, a group of commercial property owners has formed the Uptown Gateway Council to lobby for a 200-foot-height limit so they can build high-rises that would dwarf most of Hillcrest and eliminate its rich past. These developers would scrape and redevelop entire blocks of this dense community, robbing Hillcrest of its character, historic resources, and LGBTQ history. They have also sent out flyers and letters using scare tactics, and littered with untruths.
The seven sites that appeared on last year’s Most Endangered List are all located in the City of San Diego except for Barrett Ranch House, which is in Jamul. They include:
Red Roost and Red Rest Bungalows
La Jolla Cove
These 1894 redwood beach cottages are the last of a cluster of simple vacation cottages and an artists’ colony built on a hillside overlooking La Jolla Cove. Their sad fate of severe and illegal neglect has been the focus of SOHO’s longest running preservation battle, stretching into more than a quarter century. They are part of a row of properties, including La Jolla Cove Suites, which was recently bought by the Denver-based Apartment Investment and Management Company.
Aside from its name, there’s a red flag with AIMCO. They demolished five units in a historic, mid-century Venice apartment complex called Lincoln Place Apartments before preservationists could get a hearing for a pending stay of the demolition permit. Then, they turned around and worked with Los Angeles Conservancy to rehabilitate the remaining complex, which by then had been added to the National Register.
Asked about their plans for Red Roost and Red Rest, a company official said design concepts will go through all required public review and “will take into account the historic sensitivities of the site.” They need to know: Two 122-year-old cottages are not “historic sensitivities.” They are national treasures-rare examples of the architecture that led to the California bungalow-and they must be restored or adapted for a new use.
California Theatre & Caliente Racetrack
1122 4th Avenue
This long-abandoned and neglected Spanish Revival theater was heralded as the Cathedral of the Motion Picture when it opened with 2,200 seats in 1927. It later became a popular rock concert venue due to its fine acoustics. Now the theater is threatened with demolition, along with the popular 1960s racetrack mural on the rear wall that promised entertainment at Tijuana’s Agua Caliente Racetrack, for high-rise residences. Out-of-town owners think they know what’s best for San Diego. We think they will realize it is a lot smarter to work with the public’s wishes and not against them.
California Theatre & Caliente photo gallery
Teachers Training Annex #1
4193 Park Boulevard
This 1910 Italian Renaissance Revival beauty in University Heights is deteriorating under the ownership of the San Diego Unified School District for records storage. Community leaders have suggested this National Register property could be adapted for a neighborhood library, foreign language school, or art studios. The community has asked for it to be returned as a vital contributor once again. Why are public funds being squandered using this exceptional building as a storage unit, when the community has real needs and desires for this important site? The school district’s history is not a proud one when it comes to demolishing its own cultural icons. The least they can do now is vacate the site for the community good.
Teachers Training Annex photo gallery
St. Luke’s Chapel
Historians maintain this small, 1897 Mission Revival-style building was designed by the prominent San Diego architecture firm of Hebbard & Gill for All Saints Episcopal Church. This attribution is based on design hallmarks and the men’s church membership. The church has generously offered to contribute the cost of demolition to a new owner’s relocation expenses. Numerous interested parties have come forward, so far without success. The chapel is still looking for its new home. If interested, please contact SOHO right away.
St. Luke’s Chapel photo gallery
Henry B. Jones House
4040 5th Avenue
This may be the last residence remaining from Hillcrest’s original Hillcrest development. Built in 1911, this historic landmark now stands boarded up and fenced in on Scripps Mercy Hospital property. The community rallied around it, but time is running out. If the house is not moved, it will be demolished. As of this publishing we have just heard from an interested party, it’s too early to know where this inquiry will lead, but we remain hopeful this beautiful historic home will be saved.
Jones House photo gallery
The J Street corridor has returned to life as part of the Petco Park redevelopment of East Village. Shops, restaurants, and sports bars have brought pedestrians to the area and put a spotlight on San Diego’s former workaday warehouses. This airy structure, built with lightweight steel roof trusses and board-formed concrete in 1924 by the Spreckels Brothers Commercial Company, holds great potential for adaptive reuse. It is also important as J Street’s western anchor.
Spreckels Warehouse photo gallery
Barrett Ranch House
Built in 1891, this two-story farmhouse has been vacant and vulnerable for years, and is deteriorating. 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. It appears vandals have stripped the interior and uninvited guests may have moved in. Rural farmhouses are rare enough; this one needs to be preserved.
Barrett Ranch House photo gallery