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Time is Not on our Side

By Allen Hazard

The hole


An 8' high block foundation, the beginning of a MacMansion


I went jogging. I think going for a morning run where I live in Mission Hills is bad for my health, at least bad for my spiritual health. I have many running routes in my neighborhood, but this particular morning I ran in a part of Mission Hills that I hadn't jogged through for a month or so. I was shocked when I saw a vacant lot; a deep dirt hole had replaced a 1920's English cottage, a quaint little wood shingle home with mature landscaping. All gone. Perhaps Mick Jagger was wrong when he sang "Time is on our side." Time is NOT on our side for preserving San Diego, for preserving the older communities such as Mission Hills, North Park, South Park, Golden Hills, Sherman Heights and University Heights.

This is my story. Over two years ago, my wife and I were happily living in a fairly new 2000 sq. ft. three-car-garage tract home in Scripps Ranch with a view of the nearby mountains. We were living the American dream. Then we made a big mistake. We started going on SOHO home tours and to Arts & Crafts Weekend events. We started watching shows such as HGTV's "Restore America" and "If These Walls Could Talk." While visiting my in-laws in Chicago, we visited Frank Lloyd Wright homes. We joined SOHO and the San Diego Historical Society. We got hooked. Big time!

We started driving to Missions Hills for a jog around the neighborhood. We packed our bikes for rides on Fort Stockton and on Sunset Blvd., and we dreamed of living in such a wonderful community with tree-lined streets where the homes are unique. We learned to identify Craftsman bungalows, Prairie-style homes, Spanish Revival, English Tudors and more. We even started to notice how many TV commercials featured beautiful Craftsman homes in the background.

We began having breakfast, lunch and dinner (but not on the same day!) at the Mission Hills Café and browsing around the Private Collector for A&C antiques. We fell in love with old homes and everything that goes with them: a wealth of historic older homes built with character and charm, a sense of community, a sense of history, and a sense of appreciation for an era that no longer exists except in San Diego's older neighborhoods. We made the next obvious move and purchased our own California Craftsman.

Joining the community has heightened our concern about the present and the future of Mission Hills and other established communities. How will Mission Hills look in 5 years, in 10 years, or in 2020 when our California Craftsman turns 100 years old? We are excited to see several of the older homes being restored by new neighbors. Jamie and Ed MacBean are doing a great job on their run-down airplane bungalow on St. James; Jim Marich and Scott Sandel just won a SOHO People in Preservation award for saving their Swiss-style bungalow on Ft. Stockton; and long-time Mission Hills residents Carol and Don Mayfield just bought a Prairie-style home on Arden to save it and to bring it back to life. And we love the work Rich Bellows and Erin Matthews have done on Hickory. We are truly blessed to have such preservation energy at work here.

However, we can't help but notice the old homes being torn down, and in many cases, being replaced by "MacMansions." A "MacMansion" refers to a new, out-of-scale structure that is usually quite large (3000 sq. ft on average) that does not fit into a historic neighborhood. These structures are usually tall and massive, losing the side yards to this mass and losing the front yards to large three-car garages and driveways. These "Tara on a quarter acre" overwhelm the homes next to them. "MacMansions" stick out like a sore thumb, both architecturally and culturally. The livability of historic neighborhoods is eroded as these new monster houses destroy the fabric of these communities. Last year, the National Trust placed "Teardowns in Historic Neighborhoods" on its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. In San Diego, only 5 percent of our remaining housing stock were built before World War II. That English Cottage on Hawk Street is not coming back. It is gone forever. That lovely two-story wood shingle Craftsman down on Lyndon is gone. I wish that I had taken its picture. The monster house replacing it is over 4,500 square feet! Its mass overwhelms the lot. There will be NO front yard or side yards! An imposing deck in the back of this colossal uber-house has changed the integrity of the neighbor's backyard privacy.

My wife and I fell in love with a historic neighborhood. We could have stayed in Scripps Ranch if we loved tract homes. We don't understand how Mission Hills, a community developed by George Marston and Kate Sessions, a community featuring many of San Diego's great builders and architects from the turn of the last century - Louie Gill, David Owen Dryden, Nat Rigdon, Richard Requa, William Templeton Johnson, Emmor Brooke Weaver, William Hebbard and others, isn't already protected from people with more cents ($$) than sense!

An old home is not a renewable resource. The loss of these homes affects us all. While these particular homes cannot be saved, there are things that can be done to save others from a similar fate. In response to these recent "teardowns," we have united with of a group of Mission Hills citizens mobilized into action to stop this trend. Our most powerful tools for saving our historic neighborhoods are communication, community-wide support, and historic district designation. Toward this end, we have spoken to the Mission Hills Residents and Design Committee. We have garnered the support of Uptown Planners, Councilman Michael Zucchet, and SOHO. Because it has become clear that the majority of our neighbors support a historical district in our neighborhood, we met with the City Historical Planners and are working on a traditional historical district designation. (For more details about historic district designation, please see Reflections April '03 for details.)

There are so many benefits of living in a historic district. Our homes and our neighborhoods will be here long after we are all gone. Future generations will have an opportunity to see and to live in a type of community that is nearly extinct in San Diego. A historic district will put "time on our side." It's too late for that lovely English Cottage. It's too late for the rustic Craftsman on Lyndon. It's too late for many old homes already lost in Mission Hills. I hope and pray it's not too late for the citizens of Mission Hills to be moved into action to save one of the most intact older communities in San Diego!

Call to Action
Let your city council representative and the Mayor's office know that preserving our historic communities is important to you; otherwise, the trends to demolish these historic structures will continue. Contact information can be found at City Hall.

For more information, contact SOHO at (619) 297-9327, or Allen Hazard and Janet O'Dea at (619) 574-6247.


Photos by Allen Hazard

2003 - Volume 34, Issue 3

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