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SOHO has sights set on ‘endangered’ historic sites

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Preservations and developers don’t have to be at odds, according to Bruce Coons, executive director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation, or SOHO. In fact, the two factions often have a lot in common: a mutual appreciation for good design and function, and a desire to reflect a community’s character with iconic, well-planned buildings.

“A lot of people think preservationists are in the way of developers. That’s not true,” said Coons. “It’s our job to work with developers to preserve our most important sites.”

So with SOHO’s recently released 2011 Most Endangered List of Historic Places, the private nonprofit hopes to provoke architects, developers, civic leaders, investors and property owners to give new life to otherwise-forgotten San Diego landmarks.

“I think there are a number of properties that lend themselves to redevelopment,” Coons said. “They could be something spectacular. It’s an incredible opportunity for the right developer, or an enlightened architect.”

The Western Metal Supply Company Building’s renovation and incorporation into Petco Park in downtown San Diego is a “terrific example of redevelopment done right,” said Coons. He hopes the “endangered” list will spur more developers to likewise be mindful of San Diego’s historic sites.

“Each battle over a community resource is important because once we lose it, it’s gone forever,” he said.

The list of 10 sites identified by SOHO as facing an “imminent threat of development, demolition or neglect” includes five new entries. They are:

* The Teachers Training Annex on Park Boulevard in University Heights: The 1910 building, designed in the Italian renaissance revival-style, is a National Register site owned by the San Diego Unified School District. SOHO said the community wants to see the building become a new library or community center, but that no plans have been made.

* Top’s Nightclub and Fat City Steakhouse near Lindbergh Field: An example of Streamline Art Deco architecture, SOHO said the site is the last of its kind along Pacific Highway. SOHO objects to plans by architect and project owner Jonathan Segal to replace the building with multi-story, low-income housing.

* The 1911 Star Builders Supply Company Building: At the corner of West Beech Street and Kettner Boulevard, the concrete warehouse is built in the Edwardian Commercial style. According to SOHO, the building is an important connection to the neighborhood’s history as a warehouse and industrial district. The County of San Diego, meanwhile, would like the site to be a parking structure.

* The 1911 Henry B. Jones House: Located off Washington Avenue in the Uptown district, the two-story, shingle-sided Craftsman-style building is weathered on the exterior but architecturally intact, according to SOHO. They’d like to see Scripps Mercy use it as a grieving and counseling center, or for someone to relocate it.

* Balboa Park: SOHO is opposed to a redevelopment plan for Balboa Park backed by Mayor Jerry Sanders and Qualcomm Inc. founder Irwin Jacobs. SOHO argues that the proposed plan “serves only to implement an extensive and highly intrusive system of new automobile-friendly infrastructure that will, by design, desecrate the iconic entry, Cabrillo Bridge and the Spanish colonial architecture” of the park.

“It’s something that, if it were to be done, will be cursed by generations. It’s one of worst things we’ve seen in 50 years,” said Coons, noting that SOHO instead supports a more flexible parking and traffic plan being called Precise Plan “light.”

Meanwhile, SOHO’s current list of endangered sites also includes five holdovers from previous years. They are:

* The 1927 California Theatre in downtown San Diego: According to SOHO, the Centre City Development Corp. has been shortsighted by not incorporating the aging building into downtown revitalization plans. A recent San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art-endorsed installation of graffiti on the façade “was a painful reminder of the insensitivity this historic site has had to endure,” said SOHO officials. * The 1887 Villa Montezuma: The City of San Diego-owned building has been vacant since the San Diego History Center left four years ago. “There are few more threatening situations for a historic site than to sit empty,” according to SOHO.

* The 22,000-acre Rancho Guejito in North County: Considered by SOHO to be “the last, most intact example of an original Mexican land grant,” Rancho Guejito is the subject of a potential ballot initiative that would allow development on the site.

* The Golden Hill Fountain Grotto: SOHO said this Arts & Crafts-style inglenook has been largely neglected for more than 50 years. Architect Henry Lord Gay designed it in 1907. * The 1897 Red Roost and Red Rest bungalows in La Jolla: SOHO has been working with the city and the property owners to arrange a buyer for site.

Coons said the list is in no way a comprehensive inventory of all the endangered historic sites in San Diego, but is an indication of where SOHO will be focusing its efforts and resources this year. The nonprofit, with offices at the Whaley House Museum complex in Old Town, has 22 part- and full-time employees.

Said Coons: “A lot of people don’t think about historic preservation on a daily basis. But these sites influence us, whether we realize it or not. We don’t usually notice until it’s gone, and then it’s too late. These are sites that give us a sense of place, a sense of San Diego.”


McEntee is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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