By Ann Jarmusch | Preservation Matters
Our precious historic parks and buildings are at grave risk, places that contribute to San Diego’s unique character and our cultural heritage. To combat this alarming situation, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), the region’s largest and most effective historic preservation advocacy group, recently released its 2016 list of “Eleven Most Endangered Places” in the county. Below we will review the ones that are most relevant to Downtown News readers.
The list is sobering, and not least because Balboa Park has returned to the list, due to revived efforts to implement the Paid Parking Plan that would destroy the historic heart of the park. With a massive, ugly new freeway-style off-ramp and roadway leading to an unnecessary new paid-parking garage, this plan would destroy Balboa Park as we have known and loved it. It would also lead to paid parking throughout the park, which would be a hardship for many.
This irresponsible, not-yet funded $80 million plan — made moot in part, by the Zoo’s new parking garage — is all the more egregious on the part of city officials because the park needs over $500 million in repairs.
Across town, Presidio Park is in dire straits from years of neglect. The Plymouth Rock of the West, this park commemorates Junipero Serra’s founding of California in 1769. The Serra Museum and Serra Cross have become severely deteriorated and the historic landscaping is nearly dead. As San Diego approaches the 250th anniversary of its founding in 2019, this landmark park urgently needs restoration.
Two valuable East Village buildings are endangered. The Chargers have cast a harsh, senseless eye on the famed Wonder Bread Building (1897), which would be demolished if the team’s proposed stadium were to be built. They would wipe out this local landmark — now home to Mission Brewery — in defiance of its economic benefit and any climate action best practices. Spreckels Warehouse, a 1924 contributor to San Diego’s historic warehouse district, should join the other J Street warehouses converted to new enterprises, like restaurants, shops, offices and housing.
Another Downtown landmark, which is threatened by proposed high-rise residences, is the Spanish Revival California Theatre and the popular, 1960s Caliente Racetrack mural on its rear wall, which faces Third Avenue near C Street. The long neglected, 2,200-seat theater, which opened in 1927, is known for its fine acoustics. Out-of-town owners are ignoring public demand for adapting the building and preserving the mural.
Hillcrest’s commercial core is the target of unwanted proposals to transform its bohemian, low-rise character into residential towers around a huge open space. Speculative investors, who are lobbying for a 200-foot height limit, would rip the heart out of Hillcrest and wipe out its LGBTQ history. And one of Hillcrest’s earliest homes, the 1911 Henry B. Jones House, located at 4040 Fifth Ave., will be razed unless a new owner who is willing to move it can be found soon.
Elsewhere in Uptown, the San Diego Unified School District is squandering the Italian Renaissance Revival Teachers Training Annex #1, which it uses for storage despite community pleas to convert it to a library or something else that would serve University Heights.
St. Luke’s Chapel, a small, Mission Revival gem from 1897 and attributed to architects Hebbard & Gill, awaits a savior in North Park. All Saints Episcopal Church will donate the cost of demolition to anyone willing to move the chapel, but time is running out.
If San Diego is to remain special and authentic, we must preserve the historic places and buildings that enrich our lives and embody our common heritage. Once lost, they are gone forever.
To review the complete list of most endangered places, visit this article online at sandiegodowntownnews.com.
—Ann Jarmusch, the former architecture critic for the San Diego Union-Tribune, is a SOHO member and chief writer for Preservation Matters. For more information about Save Our Heritage Organisation and the Most Endangered List, visit sohosandiego.org.