The city of San Diego's Historical Site Board on Wednesday rejected a request to allow demolition of four turn-of-the-century cottages known as La Jolla's Green Dragon Colony, after a wealthy real estate investor showed an eleventh-hour interest in buying and preserving them.
However, representatives of the owner vowed to take the fight to the City Council and appeared miffed at the unexpected interest by Bob Barrymore, who owns waterfront property in both La Jolla and Palm Beach, Fla.
"We're going to take a look at it, of course, but I wonder why it showed up at this time," said Jerald Lewis, senior vice president of San Diego Trust & Savings Bank, representing the trust that owns the Green Dragon property and is seeking the demolition permit.
In 1986, the council voted to designate the cottages historically significant. That does not make them immune to demolition, but it does require the owner to prove that preserving them is impractical for financial or architectural reasons.
Offer May Provide Best Hope
An offer from a well-heeled preservationist would appear to provide the best hope yet for the La Jolla forces that have been fighting for two years to block the Alice B. and Jack Mosher Trust from tearing down the cottages.
But, even before he has spoken to Barrymore--who relayed his interest in acquiring the property by letter three days ago--Lewis raised the ante.
He said the trust would not be interested in merely selling the one-third of an acre containing the cottages.
Any purchase, he said, would have to include the full one-acre parcel, which also includes the Chart House Restaurant and some of the swankiest shops in La Jolla--a boutique, a jewelry store, an art gallery, a glassware store and assorted doctors' offices. He would not put a dollar figure on the property, but said it would be well over $1 million.
The site is on a wooded lot that slopes steeply from busy Prospect Street down to Coast Boulevard just north of La Jolla Cove.
The four surviving and empty cottages--the Gables, the Jack O'Lantern, the East Cliff and the Dolly Varden--were built from 1895 to 1906 during a bohemian movement that brought writers, artists and craftsmen to La Jolla for the solitude, the inspiration and the quality of light. The first cottage, since demolished, was called the Green Dragon.
"These buildings represent the most significant example of how La Jolla began as a humble seaside village," said architect Anthony Ciani, who has fought for preservation. "La Jolla is more than just the La Valencia and the Irving Gill (buildings)."
Ciani likened La Jolla circa 1900 to San Francisco in the 1960s.
"There was the same Flower Children, back-to-nature feeling," he said. "Just like in the movie 'The Graduate,' where the young are rejecting the plastic world, the colony in La Jolla was also attempting to relate to nature more openly."
Architect Robert Mosher and his widowed mother, Alice, did not attend the Historical Site Board meeting.
At first, the Mosher trust had hoped to build a 41-room hotel on the site, but that idea was scrapped after the La Valencia snagged La Jolla's quota of new hotel rooms permitted under San Diego's General Plan. No development plans have been submitted for City Hall approval.
The Mosher trust was represented at the meeting by Lewis and architect John Henderson. Lewis said the Moshers are increasingly frustrated at being unable to control their own property because of the controversy.
Henderson said the cottages are structurally unsound and unsuitable for commercial use. He said they have been modified significantly since the early years and therefore are not a true representative of period architecture.