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Coronado’s History On Display

Audio

Aired 4/26/10

In honor of National Preservation Month, the City of Coronado is offering a tour of the craftsman homes of Frederick Winchester, an early 20th century mid-western transplant who worked with Congressman William Kettner to develop real estate in Coronado. 17 of the homes he developed still exist, some thanks to the relatively new Coronado Historic Resource Commission.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. National Preservation Month is right around the corner. This May, notable sites around the country will be honored and toured under this year's great slogan, "Old Is the New Green." The City of Coronado is celebrating with a tour of the 100-year- old homes developed by entrepreneur Frederick C. Winchester. The 17 Winchester bungalows that still exist in Coronado have been called one of the finest collections of their style of architecture in existence. To tell us more about these historic homes and the new tour are my guests. Chris Ackerman is architect and owner of a Winchester bungalow. Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS ACKERMAN (Architect): Good morning. Great to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And Doug St. Denis is a member of the Coronado Historic Resource Commission. Welcome, Doug.

MS. DOUG ST. DENIS (Member, Coronado Historic Resource Commission): Thank you. It’s nice to be here.

CAVANAUGH: Now, let me ask you, Chris. You live in a Winchester bungalow. Can you describe it to us?

ACKERMAN: Well, actually I live in the Winchester’s bungalow.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

ACKERMAN: It was the first one he built.

CAVANAUGH: Ah.

ACKERMAN: And their family lived there five generations, and I purchased it from descendants of Winchester in 2004.

CAVANAUGH: And what are those distinctive characteristics?

ACKERMAN: Well, his house, single-story bungalow, has a river-run rock front porch, which is fairly distinguished for it. And there is a glassed-in hallway at the back of the house that connects a large studio room that I use for my architectural practice that was originally built for his father who had tuberculosis. And it has continuous windows on three sides, all the way around, and those windows slide down into the wall. They’re multi-paned wood and glass windows, and so when they’re open it feels like you’re in an outdoor porch kind of.

CAVANAUGH: Wow, that’s nice.

ACKERMAN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Doug, I think when many people hear the name Winchester, they may confuse it with the remarkable Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Tell us who this Winchester is.

ST. DENIS: This Winchester came from Chicago? Where did he come from, Chris?

ACKERMAN: Somewhere in the east.

ST. DENIS: Yeah. And he was in the coffee business and I think they came here to Coronado for the weather. And many members of the family came and developed these wonderful cottages which is, for Coronado, they’re typical Coronado. In fact, the homes that are on this home tour are in this area where, if you took the cars off the street, you could – they would be a wonderful setting for a movie…

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

ST. DENIS: …of the era because the scale of them, they’re not grand mansions. They are, you know, by some of our grander Coronado homes, they’re modest Craftsman bungalows, which were the way people lived then, most people. And to have them preserved the way they are today is such a treasure for us in Coronado. We’re really aware of what we have and becoming more so, I think.

CAVANAUGH: And we’re talking about the years maybe 1906, 1908, something like that.

ST. DENIS: 1902…

ACKERMAN: 1909 to 1912, I think.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay.

ST. DENIS: Right, right.

CAVANAUGH: That’s – so it’s right on the centennial. That’s wonderful. What’s special about the California Craftsman style bungalow, Chris?

ACKERMAN: It was in response to the Victorian era and, in general, in the Victorian era everything was architecturally tall, narrow, vertical was emphasized. And in the Craftsman, it became more and more horizontal to emphasizing the contextualism with the earth and the closeness to the earth.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, I see.

ACKERMAN: Wood siding was horizontal. Window panes were more horizontal.

CAVANAUGH: Now I understand that you found a bill of sale in your Winchester house. Tell us about that.

ACKERMAN: Oh, yes. The original deed with the house was an old hand – copy of an old handwritten document where Winchester bought 28 lots on this one block of Coronado bound by B and C and 7th and 8th, 28 lots for $10.00 from the Coronado Beach Land Company. Now property…

CAVANAUGH: Was that a down payment or was that the entire payment?

ACKERMAN: That was the entire payment.

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

ACKERMAN: And that was not market value, of course. And so there was some other financial arrangement with the Coronado Beach Land Company…

CAVANAUGH: I see.

ACKERMAN: …which were the original developers of the hotel so…

CAVANAUGH: So even back then it was worth way more than $10.00.

ACKERMAN: Way more than $10.00 or twenty-eight cents a lot.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Doug, tell us what else visitors will see on this Winchester legacy tour.

ST. DENIS: Well, besides the Craftsman bungalows, we do, in that very same neighborhood, have one 1896 Victorian, which is just a little treasure of a house. And the tour will start at our 1906 Lodge, which is on Adella Avenue, and that also was once owned by the Winchester family. He didn’t develop it but it was designed by two of Coronado’s star architects, William S. Hubbard and Irving Gill. And when the owners of 1906 Lodge bought it, it was a teardown. It was just seemingly beyond, you know, repair and they’ve done such a magnificent job. It’s just a treasure. So to be – to start the tour there and – either there or the Coronado Museum, Historic Museum at 1100 Orange Avenue, where you can get your tickets, I mean, it’s just a great starting point for the Coronado – I was listening to your previous guest and Coronado – We’re so fortunate because it really is a walkable city. It’s – and we have walkable neighborhoods. What people now are trying to achieve, we just have.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ST. DENIS: And so we’re so interested in preserving it and protecting it. This is the Coronado Historic Association’s major fundraiser every year and it draws lots of people from across the bridge and also from Coronado.

CAVANAUGH: I want to talk more about that but, Chris, I just wanted – were you – I believe that you were involved in the renovation of the 1906 Lodge?

ACKERMAN: Yes, I did the conceptual design work and getting the approvals through the city on that.

CAVANAUGH: Now, how do – when something is in such a state of disrepair, how do you know how to reconstruct it, I mean, how to renovate it?

ACKERMAN: It all depends on the particular project.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

ACKERMAN: This house had some hollow clay tile in it, which made it a particularly interesting project. The property – the structure on it needed to be lifted up so that an underground parking garage could be built underneath…

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

ACKERMAN: …which was quite an undertaking.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ACKERMAN: So the owners really, really had to put in a lot of effort to do it.

CAVANAUGH: To maintain the old and yet update it so that it can be used today.

ACKERMAN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: That’s a challenge. Let me talk to you, Doug, just a little bit about the background for this tour, if I may, and its connection to National Preservation Month. Why should a community preserve its old houses?

ST. DENIS: Why should a community preserve its old houses. Well, because they are who we are. If, you know, it’s – Who was it who said, you know, how can we tell who we are if we don’t preserve who we were? And they tell the story – In Coronado particularly, they tell the story of Coronado. And Coronado was developed over time and every era of Coronado is represented in Coronado, and it wasn’t until the year 2000 that we had a Historic Resource Commission. We had the Coronado Historical Association, which was founded in 1969 by two wonderful little old ladies who loved history and started to educate Coronado about what we had. You tend to take things for granted that you are living with, and then when you start to see them disappearing, you realize, you know, once it’s gone, it can never be brought back again. And so it’s just important. And so now that we have a Historic Resource Commission, what we do as, you know, we are officers of the city now, appointed by the city council, serving at their pleasure, is try and work with the owners of these treasures, houses, to say don’t tear it down, we can…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ST. DENIS: …we can help you preserve it and tell you what you have and it’s more – It’s mostly education and awareness is what it is.

CAVANAUGH: So if someone has a great old house in Coronado and they want to, you know, sort of completely modernize or they want to tear it down and start from scratch, what do you go in and do?

ST. DENIS: If you want to tear it down?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah. Umm-hmm.

ST. DENIS: Start – Well, if it’s over 75 years of age, since 2000, you can’t go in and just get a demo permit and tear it down the way you could before. It will come before the Historic Resource Commission and that’s what we do, we say no, you can’t. You can always, if you want to tear something down, you can but, you know, it’s protected by CEQA, the state law…

CAVANAUGH: That’s interesting.

ST. DENIS: …and we have the Mills Act, which we got in 2000, which is a wonderful program. It’s a California State program that – where you get a property tax benefit if you, you know, qualify to be a Mills Act house.

CAVANAUGH: I see. So there are benefits to the homeowner to preserve a historic house.

ST. DENIS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

ST. DENIS: Always, yes.

CAVANAUGH: It is rather difficult, though, and time consuming and expensive to restore an older home, though, Chris. Tell us a little bit about that.

ACKERMAN: Oh, well, for instance, my house, the foundations were sorely lacking and there was no seismic connections between the main structure and the footings. A lot of accreted modifications to homes over the years need to be pulled out. In the studio in the back of my house, a lot of the windows had actually been boarded up because subsequent generations just didn’t want so many windows in their bedrooms. So things change over time. And, like I say, each house has its own specifics.

CAVANAUGH: But I wonder what are the benefits of living in a house that has that much history in it?

ACKERMAN: Oh, the benefits are just the enjoyment of a past era. And getting back to the Mills Act, there are tax benefits to that.

CAVANAUGH: Sure.

ACKERMAN: And my house does have Mills Act designation and what you do is you more or less say that you’re going to leave the exterior of the house that’s visible from the street as is and maintain it but you’re free to do what you want with the inside.

CAVANAUGH: I see.

ACKERMAN: And so a city can encourage you to maintain the interior in its historic way but they can’t—and do not—force you to do so.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Okay.

ST. DENIS: And even if a house does not – is historic but does not qualify as a Mills Act house, there still are benefits. I mean, sometimes these old houses have been added on to and they just aren’t quite pristine enough to qualify for Mills Act but there are other – there are relief from zoning standards, which we’ve toughened up in recent years and if you have your house designated historic, the city works with you to be able to add on and be able to live with that but retain the integrity. It’s the story of who we are, you know, it just is. There’s something about living in an old house that until you’ve done it, you – It’s magic.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to tell everyone they can see these old houses, these Winchester bungalows, in Coronado. It’s the Coronado Historic Home Tour: The Winchester Legacy. It’s sponsored by the Coronado Historical Society. It’s this Saturday, May second, and for more information you can visit coronadohistory.org. I want to thank my guests, Doug St. Denis and Chris Ackerman. Thanks so much for telling us about this.

ST. DENIS: Thank you.

ACKERMAN: Thank you very much, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two of These Days coming up in just a few minutes right here on KPBS.

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