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Horton Plaza's Role In San Diego History

Horton Plaza in this undated photo
Neiko Will
Horton Plaza in this undated photo
Horton Plaza's Role In San Diego History
Horton Plaza's Role In San Diego History GUEST:Jennifer Van Grove, reporter The San Diego Union-Tribune

This is KPBS midday edition I'm worrying Cavanagh. There is no argument that Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego has outlived its usefulness as a shopping mall. It only has a few retail tenants left and is largely a ghost town sits smack dab in the middle of downtown. So news this year about its sale and proposed renovation into a high tech office park was largely met with some relief but now a group of historians and architects say San Diego will lose an important part of its history. If Horton Plaza is demolished they're asking the city to consider preserving certain portions of its innovative architecture. Joining me is Jennifer Van Grove who covers growth and development for the San Diego Union Tribune. And Jennifer welcome to the program. Hi Maureen. Thanks for having me. The group that wants Horton Plaza preserved. What did they say makes it an important structure for San Diego. So these say it is a archetype of postmodern architecture and that as you know one of just a handful of buildings that is recognized on a national level. And sometimes international level for its historical significance and the other buildings are SOL. And I believe the La Jolla Women's Club. And actually if you go back in history you know some of what happened actually supports the argument but they believe that Horton Plaza completely changed not only downtown and what downtown is to San Diego but changed the way the world approaches malls. And so there's a bunch of different elements that are significant from that perspective. And they just want the city to take a harder look at whether or not it should be preserved in some capacity. We spoke with David Marshall owner of heritage architecture and planning. Here's what he said about Horton plazas architecture. The main elements of Korchnoi plaza that are of architectural significance are associated with the internal courtyard it has which is kind of a connecting spine of various shapes and bridges and stairs and overlooks balconies where this kind of street that was created diagonally through the center of the mall. That's really where the rubber hits the road as far as architecture and experience people have in the building and that I think could easily be preserved as part of any use. So Jennifer when Grove since Horten Plaza is so innovative or was so innovative and it used to draw so many people into downtown why is it dying now. There's a number of reasons right. So it was intentionally built like a fortress because the climate of downtown in the mid 80s was such that you did want to wall off this retail center from the rest of downtown you didn't want this seedier element kind of coming in. But as downtown was revived it worked to cut off flow. And so now you know it really is hard to get in and out of Wharton Plaza. It's it is its own fortunes it's an island in the center of downtown. So that's one element. You know you have the changing landscape of retail the rise of e-commerce. You know people expecting different things from retail centers. And alongside that Westfield the former owner they went back and forth on plans to pump hundreds of million dollars into Horton Plaza to renovate it. But what ultimately happened was you know they put that money towards UTC and UTC is is thriving Horton Plaza did not get that attention. And so retailers started to leave and that slow trickle turned into a mass exodus. And that's kind of where we are at now with just a handful of tenants maybe two handfuls of tenants that are just waiting out their lease terms before they exit completely Stockdale Capital Partners purchased the space in August. What physical changes are they planning for that. Horton Plaza area you know they're not demolishing everything but they are tearing it down to the studs and building it back up and they've they've only released like one or two renderings to the public. I've seen a couple more but it is a complete overhaul of what we have now and developers BIEC it's a repurposed theme but that repurposing you know think lots of lights so lots of windows you know very modern office creative office architecture open floors. They want to completely got that corridor that David Marshall was talking about because they do want to create a thoroughfare that people can easily come in and out of the center and make it less of a fortress make it less walled off but you know at the end of the day would be really unrecognizable from its roots. So what about this idea of historic preservation for Horton Plaza. What has the city said about whether the building can be considered historic at this point. So the city is is taking the stands right now and it's not popular with the preservationists Of course they're taking the stance that there's nothing that they can do because the way that these processes work Stockdale Capital Partners they need to you know come before Civic's San Diego with a quote unquote project and that project would automatically trigger some sort of historical review and it would be a historical research report. If the building was 45 years or older but because it's not the only other trigger is whether or not the project that Stockdale puts forward requires an environmental review and there's a couple other caveats as well so we don't know at this point if anything Stockdale puts forward would would require a historical research report. So the city is saying because there is no a project we can't say you know whether or not there will be this historical review. But on the flip side you have the Historical Resources Board which is you know the city city's governing body for determining historical significance. They're the ones who make that decision and they can't make a decision until they're presented with a report which may or may not happen. And some of those board members are all volunteers some of them expressed at the. One of the more recent meetings that they would like to see a report they would like to have a say in the matter. But their hands are tied as well on Stockdale Capital Partners saying about all of this. Well they're not saying anything. I you know I can only speculate as to why they're not saying anything but I think it behooves them to probably be quiet. I mean they spent 175 million dollars to buy this property completely transform and I'm sure they'd like to make money on it. They probably don't want to be told how to do their development. So I mean and you know if if no historical research report is required that works in their favor for the vision that they have and so I think they're just going to stay mum on the issue until they have to say something. What's the timeline that they're operating on for this transformation of Horton Plaza. Well a couple of things have to happen so that project that I mentioned that does have to be submitted to civic San Diego and there will have to be city council weigh in on at least one factor. So Horton Plaza has what's called a owner participation agreement and that agreement carries over to the new owner and that agreement requires that there is 600000 square feet of retail and so it's 900000 square foot site. So that's about two thirds well Stockdale has no you know no plans to do 600000 square feet of retail. So they need to get that agreement changed that will have to go through city council in order to do that. But you know they they told me in the past they don't see that as being you know a major obstacle. The city of San Diego really wants to see that that center revived. They want it to you know to thrive and so the proposal in Stockdale's mind should carry through. Right. But there's scenario they would like to see tenants in there in about two years. So it's a pretty fast timeline. I've been speaking with San Diego Union Tribune reporter Jennifer Grove. Jennifer thank you very much. Thanks Maureen. We reached out just Stockdale Capital Partners for their reaction. They did not get back to us by airtime. And you're listening to Kate PBS midday edition.

There’s no argument that Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego has outlived its usefulness as a shopping mall. It only has a few retail tenants left and is largely a ghost town set smack dab in the middle of downtown. So news this year about its sale and proposed renovation into a high-tech office hub was largely welcomed.

RELATED: Retail Oasis Or Ghost Town? The Future Of San Diego Malls

But now, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports, some local historians and architects say San Diego will lose an important part of its history if Horton Plaza is demolished.

They have asked the city to consider preserving certain portions of its innovative architecture. Architect John Jerde designed the property in the postmodern style. It opened to great fanfare in 1985.

"The main elements of Horton Plaza that of architectural significance are associated with the internal courtyard it has which is kind of a connecting spine, various shapes and bridges and stairs and overlooks and balconies where this kind of street that was created diagonally through the center of the mall. That's really where the rubber hits the road as far as the architecture and the experience people have in the building," David Marshall, who is asking for city to study the building's historical significance, said.

Marshall, who is the owner of Heritage Architecture and Planning said he believes that internal courtyard could be preserved as part of any new use.

Jennifer Van Grove, growth and development reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune, discusses the story Wednesday on Midday Edition.