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Group Works to Preserve Historic S.D. Homes


Aired 10/26/09

Like a lot of cities, San Diego is surrounded by numerous fairly new housing developments. But closer to the center of the city are neighborhoods filled with historic homes built near the turn of the last century. Now there’s an effort underway to make sure more of those homes are preserved and not sacrificed for more modern developments.

This historic home is located on Albatross Street in Hillcrest.
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Above: This historic home is located on Albatross Street in Hillcrest.

— Like a lot of cities, San Diego is surrounded by numerous fairly new housing developments. But closer to the center of the city are neighborhoods filled with historic homes built near the turn of the last century. Now there’s an effort underway to make sure more of those homes are preserved and not sacrificed for more modern developments.

Janet O’Dea strolls down Albatross Street in Hillcrest pointing out some of the different homes. O’Dea says the tree lined street is one of her favorites. It’s full of different kinds of houses, each one different from the last, but each one representative of the bygone era in which it was built. If O’Dea had her way more of the streets in San Diego would look like this one.

Historic homes restored to their glory without a boxy apartment complex or ultra-modern house breaking up the flow and character of the neighborhood. O’Dea is part of the Uptown Planners group which is working to preserve historic buildings in neighborhoods like Hillcrest, University Heights and Bankers Hill. She says to often homes are demolished before neighbors knew what was happening.

“I think people in neighborhoods like Hillcrest here and Mission Hills, where I live, they really understand the qualities of the neigh

borhood. But they are wrapped up in their lives and taking care of their kids or their parents or having a social life, as we all want,” she says. “And then the next thing they know a house disappears and what goes up there doesn’t really replicate that same sense of feeling that the neighborhood has.”

O’Dea and her group are asking the city to close loopholes that allow historic homes to be torn down with little public notice. The group also wants the city to do historic reviews on older homes before they’re demolished. And it wants renovation and demolition permits clearly posted on construction sites so people know what’s going on. Preservationists in the area have a house they point to as an example of homeowners skirting the rules on historic homes. The Tin House sits at the corner of 10th and Robinson in Hillcrest in Councilman Todd Gloria’s district.

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Above: The "Tin House" sits at the corner of 10th and Robinson in Hillcrest. When the owners remodeled, they removed 90 percent of the original home with a very modern structure.

“It was processed as a remodel. And what happened was about 90 percent of the original home was removed and replaced with a very modern structure with tin siding,” Gloria says. “And it’s really outside of the community character. It abuts several craftsman homes and it just sort of stands out.”

Gloria says he agrees that there needs to be more oversight of what happens to historic homes with a great public voice. But he says preserving older structures doesn’t mean new development is forbidden. Gloria says he likes the idea of establishing conservation districts which are a bit less strict than historic districts.

“What it does is engages the neighborhood to say what are the features that you like in your community that you want to keep. And it’s really more of a form and a function that you want to maintain. Again, it encourages development but it says when new development comes in that they should maintain certain things, like the length of a window or a particular use or orientation to the street. Just so that things match a bit better,” he says.

But Mark Goldman says the city should be careful when creating rules that might limit how property owners can use their land. Goldman is a Real Estate Lecturer at San Diego State University and a mortgage broker. He says it’s important to let the property respond to the market because land use patterns are always changing.

“People want to move in to be closer to their employment, be closer to shopping, be closer to recreational activities and that creates a stronger demand for certain locations. And if the density of the property is limited, the owner of that property might lose value,” Goldman says

Goldman says lawmakers need to find a balance between preservation and progress. But Janet O’Dea says the experience of living in her historic home has been priceless.

“I’ve had the fortune of meeting some people that have lived there in the past that come by and they said I lived here when I was knee high and played cards with my grandpa in the kitchen and talked about all sorts of different things. And that is a joy,” she says.

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Avatar for user 'psoutowood'

psoutowood | October 26, 2009 at 8:06 a.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

Keep in mind that at the time they were built, Arts & Crafts style homes were considered modern. By not permitting "modern" homes to be built in Hillcrest and other neighborhoods with historic style homes, you are limiting the architectural character of a neighborhood to a snapshot of a period. Imagine if Hillcrest in the early 20th century had limited development to just Victorian styles and excluded the new "modern" Arts & Crafts!

La Mesa, CA

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Avatar for user 'mispaty'

mispaty | October 26, 2009 at 3:13 p.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

It also has to be kept in mind that the "modern" Arts & Crafts style home for the most part were NOT built upon the demise of a Victorian style home. I believe that is the concern here.

The ultra modern house does have a place in society, but the tearing down of the older (salvagable) homes to do so is not the way to do it. I have seen an owner leave the original 1920's Arts & Crafts style home & build up on it to provide for a larger living space. I have to say I was pleased that they kept the orginal bottom part of the house, since it had been an old family home for our family & was sold w/out all the family being offered a chance to buy it.

There are plenty of communities that limit the style of housed built within in order to keep a certain look or feel to, and it works.

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Avatar for user 'Hardcover'

Hardcover | October 26, 2009 at 4:42 p.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

Peter: your comments might sound correct at first but do not stand up to real knowledge. I doubt you can find case where a 'Victorian" era house in Hillcrest was demolished to make an Arts & Crafts style house. Why would this happen with the Victorians being only 10-20 years old and their being more vacant lots than developed ones. Arts & Crafts houses were not considered "Modern" at the time in our current understanding of the term. Phrases such as "Quaint", "Home-like", "Simple" or even "Convenient" were more typical. The "tin-house" was built by being sneaky and playing the rules. As long as there are vacant lots and really ugly buildings, things like this should not be erected. And some of us like the "snapshot of a period" look and moved to where we are because of that. I do appreciate the best of our current architecture, but on the other hand, I can't think of a single historic house that was demolished and something nicer built in its place. I do not define "nice" as "profitable". Usually, a lack of respect for older architecture goes hand-in-hand with a lack of design talent.

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Avatar for user 'PreservationArchitect'

PreservationArchitect | October 27, 2009 at 7:08 a.m. ― 7 years, 3 months ago

Mr. Goldman implies that preservation limits density, when the opposite is the case. When preserving an historically designated structure, the City of San Diego has several incentives that can increase the development rights. These incentives are not available to a "scrape" developer. Additionally, the Mills Act provides a very nice property tax rebate. In my experience, the City has been very accommodating and interested in working with property owners to find a workable solution for the new and historic buildings. The problem is that typically the architect and/or developer wants to take the quick and easy way (scrape the site), and not take the time to create a design that is truly a "win - win" solution.

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