Save Our Heritage Organisation, San Diego’s only countywide historic preservation advocacy group wraps up this year with its 22nd annual Most Endangered List of 12 historic buildings, sites, and landscapes. The pandemic’s stressors of uncertainty, inequity, and loss underscore the unifying power of our shared multicultural heritage and venerated historic places. The pandemic also threatens historic buildings and places that are not now regularly used, visited, or monitored due to restricted activities.
These threatened sites also reflect and define San Diego’s authentic character, and cry out for preservation before it is too late. Key among these are the vulnerable redwood Red Roost and Red Rest bungalows, which have overlooked La Jolla Cove since 1894. Sadly, a recent fire severely damaged Red Rest and partly burned Red Roost. The pair has appeared on SOHO’s Most Endangered List for more than 25 years, longer than any other threatened historic resource. Fire is always a primary worry for preservationists, as are the woeful conditions of other buildings on this year’s list: abandonment, deferred maintenance that can lead to structural weakness, and the unlawful “demolition by neglect.”
This year’s Most Endangered List, ranges from the seriously neglected Presidio Park in Old Town San Diego to Granger Music Hall, an acoustic gem in National City designed by renowned San Diego architect Irving J. Gill; and from Point Loma’s fabled Marine Corps Recruitment Depot to the fragile Pottery Canyon kiln hidden in a La Jolla hillside.
The 2020 list includes prominent and remote buildings and sites throughout San Diego County carried over from the 2019 list. Two were removed from last year’s list (La Playa Piers are likely saved, the national award-winning San Diego Stadium is being demolished), and six are new entries.
Among those new to the endangered list: A rare cluster of c. 1928 beach cottages in Oceanside, a Chase bank building of architectural distinction that glitters with San Diego-inspired mosaic murals by the acclaimed artist Millard Sheets, and a folk Victorian house in San Marcos built by a Union Army officer turned pioneer farmer. Stately old pepper trees fringe his former house while dozens of century-old pepper trees are under threat by the City of San Diego along historic Kensington streets.
SOHO releases this annual list to raise awareness among the public, property owners, decision makers, students, and developers regarding threatened landmarks and memorable places in historic built and natural environments. These are the sites that stitch together an irreplaceable patchwork quilt of stories, deeds, and achievements. Any or all of these pieces could burn, crumble, topple, or otherwise vanish forever if not vigilant. SOHO is sounding the alarm about these 12 places.
Chase Bank, Pacific Beach
Proposed for demolition by Chase to accommodate a drive-through restaurant and new bank building, this original Home Savings and Loan branch is the only one left in San Diego. With its exquisite murals and Modernist design, the building displays scenic San Diego mosaics, a bronze seal sculpture, and an interior folk mural. SOHO staff is preparing a historical designation report to submit to City staff. Chase Bank has declined to comment on retaining the architecturally distinctive building and its interior murals by Millard Sheets, but has plans to relocate the exterior murals to the new Balboa Avenue Trolley Station.
Kensington Pepper Trees
Since early 2018, when a “Conserve-a-Tree” application was submitted to the City of San Diego for 37 street trees, the Kensington-Talmadge Planning Group and SOHO have been advocating to retain now 36 c.1910 pepper trees, which provide abundant shade and character to the historic neighborhood. Years before that, residents such as Maggie McCann were organizing to save these stately trees planted when the original subdivisions were built. However, the City is violating its own policy regarding public notification for undergrounding utilities that will impact these trees, and it is failing to process the Heritage Tree nomination that would protect them. Two legal challenges are pending on the removal of two specific pepper trees without following the municipal code process, and others are at risk of surprise removal by City crews.
Roberts Cottages, Oceanside
A rare and finite collection of historic buildings, these seaside cottages were constructed c. 1928 by A.J. Clark and are the best surviving examples of auto-court beach cottages. Demolition is a real possibility due to the ever-rising cost of buildable land and the lack of historic designation, which would help, and lovers of beach and cultural history are worried.
When leisure travel by auto became all the rage, convenient lodging along the way became necessary. The first generation of these auto-courts, built in the late 1920s, ’30s and ’40s, were known as cottage courts or traveler’s courts. Roberts Cottages is one of the first.
Designed and built by the Whiting-Mead Co., the 12- by 24-foot cottages by the 1950s had been sold individually to various owners. This is said to be one of the first times the condominium concept was used in the state of California.
These unique beach buildings represent an important part of Oceanside’s early tourism industry, and figure prominently on motor Route 101 that runs directly through the city. Today many of them are still available for weekly rentals, continuing their role in welcoming visitors.
Marine Corps Recruitment Depot, San Diego
Due to a Congressional mandate to integrate the sexes in the military, the Marines are considering their options for MCRD, designed more than a century ago in the Spanish Colonial style by Bertram Goodhue, the renowned New York-based architect who also created Balboa Park’s 1915 exposition buildings and gardens. Twenty-five of the depot’s buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. A study, to be completed in 2021, is evaluating ways to accommodate women as residents and trainees. Renovating the facilities or selling the base, on about 388 acres of prime land near downtown, is possible.
Merriam House, San Marcos
Deteriorating due to neglect, the wood-framed Merriam House has been unoccupied for more than a decade. Built in 1889 in the folk Victorian style by Gustavus French Merriam, an early settler of Twin Oaks Valley, it was crudely expanded three times. Now, the two-story house is suffering decay from abandonment, exposure to the elements, and piles of tree leaves rotting on the pitched roof. Few people even know of the home’s threatened status, as it occupies land owned by a nonprofit organization with private operations. The group has not fulfilled its decade-old agreement with San Diego County to rehabilitate and reuse the house. Meanwhile, the 21st-century is encroaching on this fragile building, with heavier traffic on Deer Springs Road and the area’s waning agriculture.
Merriam, a farmer producing wine and honey who had been a major in the North’s army in the Civil War, helped settlers who followed him to Twin Oaks Valley. He also provided a school for the community and served as vice president of the First National Bank of Escondido. In addition to Merriam’s contributions, his niece Florence Merriam was a nationally influential ornithologist who pioneered studying birds in the wild, rather than as specimens in a museum. Bird watching while riding sidesaddle, she eventually wrote eight books, including A-Birding on a Bronco, which features her observations in Twin Oaks Valley astride her horse Billy.
Presidio Park, Old Town
The park still waits for the City of San Diego to honor the national significance of this historic, cultural, and archaeological site with proper and consistent maintenance as well as a master plan that sets priorities for the entire presidio, park, and museum site. The Junípero Serra Museum got a new coat of paint in 2019, but there remains a lack of stewardship and attention to this entire National Historic Landmark. Further, a proposed parking lot would negatively impact the site of the 18th-century casamata (fort), which was built on higher ground to defend the presidio. As this proposed project would forever alter and destroy the historic setting and landscape, the City needs to prepare an Environmental Impact Report.
Join in urging Mayor Todd Gloria ([email protected]) and District 3 Councilmember Stephen Whitburn ([email protected]) to continue the progress and greater focus on the care and appreciation of this unique National Historic Landmark.
Hillcrest Commercial Core Historic District, Uptown
The City earmarked grant funds to develop the Hillcrest Plan Amendment to increase density, which will impact the area’s historic resources and a potential historic district in the neighborhood’s commercial heart. Although the historic commercial core will be evaluated, the protection and retention of historic resources is not assured. Further, despite the pandemic, Hillcrest continues to have properties undergoing historical review and development projects pushing ahead. The City is on the brink of losing walkable, bohemian Hillcrest, long a magnet for residents and visitors alike.
Red Rest, Red Roost Bungalows, La Jolla Cove
SOHO's longest-running preservation battle, which is far from over, focuses on these two remnants of La Jolla village’s origins as a seaside art colony. The cottages have endured more than a quarter century of shameful, deliberate neglect. While there was an unfortunate fire in late October that took most of Red Rest and damaged Red Roost, the owners appear willing to take on reconstruction and have tried to salvage materials.
Barrett Ranch House, Jamul
Placed on SOHO’s Most Endangered List in 2014 after multiple concerned citizens reached out to SOHO concerning its dilapidated condition, this well-known rural farmhouse still triggers regular inquiries. Since 2014, the Jamul - Dulzura Community Planning Group has wanted to turn the house and ranch into a community park, but they must first raise funds to purchase the land and then more funds to plan for and maintain the property as a park—a big challenge for any volunteer group. A solid solution is still elusive.
Granger Music Hall, National City
While the Port of San Diego’s evolving master plan does not address this languishing landmark, this unique masterpiece represents a rare, currently stymied chance for a rewarding partnership. While the 1898 building known for outstanding acoustics continues to deteriorate, there is still a ripe opportunity for the Port and National City to join forces in relocating this important resource to its intended permanent home, Pepper Park. As part of the master plan process, a survey will identify all the historic resources within the Port’s jurisdiction, which should include Granger Music Hall.
Email Mayor Alejandra Sotelo-Solis ([email protected]) and the National City Council ([email protected]) as well as the Port of San Diego ([email protected]) and ask to hear music again in a rehabilitated Granger Music Hall.
Big Stone Lodge, Poway
The Camp Big Stone resort was never fully realized, but the rustic complex is an unusual assemblage of gigantic roof beams and large granite boulders thought to have been brought from the steep local hillsides. Designated as Poway Historic Site 16, it is eligible at the state level to become a historic district. The lodge’s significance stems from its bold architectural style expressed in local natural materials and its association with the resort’s original owners and other notable people in Poway’s development.
At a public workshop in February 2020, City officials said that no decision to demolish the lodge had been made, yet neither has a project materialized to revive the property. An online petition with almost 1,900 signatures and other signs of community enthusiasm all support at least retaining and reusing the lodge.
Contact Mayor Steve Vaus ([email protected]) and the Poway City Council ([email protected]) to share your memories of the site, concern for the demolition, and support for preservation of the Big Stone Lodge to be rehabilitated. Sign the petition HERE.
Pottery Canyon Kiln, La Jolla
Located on a private lot next to Pottery Canyon Natural Park in La Jolla, the endangered kiln is a round wood-burning adobe structure. Cornelio Rodriguez, who arrived to La Jolla in 1928 from Guadalajara, Mexico, operated a pottery in this area through the 1980s. At the time of its local historic designation in 1976, this pottery works was the oldest still in operation in San Diego and thought to be the oldest in all of Southern California.
The City of San Diego’s historic staff is working with code compliance officials to address the kiln’s deteriorated condition with a shelter of sorts. While a designated site, the park is a developable parcel, so City staff must be diligent to ensure this unique resource is not lost. Report any activity near the kiln to San Diego's Code Enforcement staff, either through the Get It Done San Diego mobile app or HERE.