Council Votes to Save Historic La Jolla Cottages

Times Staff Writer

Rejecting a developer's appeal, the San Diego City Council on Tuesday voted to designate four remaining cottages from La Jolla's Green Dragon Colony as historically significant, thwarting for a year the property owner's plans to demolish them.

Council members acted after an appeal by attorney Donald Worley, who argued that the cluster of buildings near La Jolla Cove is not worthy of historical significance. Worley represented Robert Mosher, who previously had announced that he wanted to tear down the dwellings to build a 41-unit hotel.

However, minutes before the council voted on the appeal, Worley announced that Mosher no longer plans to build a hotel. Pressed by council members, Worley said that he did not know how Mosher planned to develop the property.

The council's vote means that Mosher is prohibited for a year from tearing down the four board-and-batten cottages. During that period, city officials must reach an agreement with Mosher about how to preserve the buildings. If the parties cannot reach an accord on the buildings, Mosher would have to file an environmental impact report with the state Coastal Commission and get its approval before tearing them down.

Worley charged that the 15-member City of San Diego Historical Site Board was deceived by misleading evidence when it voted in May to designate the dwellings as historically and architecturally significant. The council's vote merely gave the board's decision final approval.

"There is no famous or historic architect associated with these buildings," said Worley. "The board was hoodwinked by a deceitful presentation of evidence and responded emotionally and sentimentally."

He blamed Tony Ciani, a La Jolla architect who is leading the drive to preserve the buildings, for deceiving the board. Worley charged that Ciani and his supporters' purpose in preserving the cottages is an "unrealistic wish to return to a La Jolla that is no longer."

Worley's charges were refuted by two architects, including a member of the Historical Site Board. Jeffrey Shorn and board member Milford Wayne Donaldson argued that there is no reason why Mosher, who is himself an architect, cannot develop the property with a modern structure and preserve the buildings.

The council voted to protect the structures despite Mayor Maureen O'Connor's opposition to the move. Several times during the discussion, O'Connor said that, in her opinion, the buildings were not a priority. Instead, the mayor suggested that discussion should focus on how the one-acre wooded lot where the cottages are situated should be developed.

But before council members voted on the appeal, O'Connor warned Worley that a vote against preservation should not be construed as council approval for a hotel on the site. Council members Bill Cleator and Judy McCarty voted with O'Connor against designating the buildings as historically significant.

The Green Dragon Colony was founded in 1895 as a mecca for authors, artists, playwrights and composers by Anna Held. The first cottage, which was called Green Dragon and subsequently torn down, was designed by Irving Gill. Eventually, eight dwellings were built, but only four survive in their original condition--the Gables, the Jack O'Lantern, the East Cliff and the Dolly Varden.

Held and her friends planted numerous eucalyptus trees and plants, which grew to form a lush canopy over the colony. At the turn of the century, Green Dragon became famous as a Bohemian retreat and was recognized as a key element of the early 20th Century's Arts and Crafts Movement.

Eventually, Held sold the property and the colony's influence dwindled. However, the artistic influence was continued by other artists who turned the cottages into galleries and studios. Over the years, some of the cottages were renovated and remodeled.

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