Saved buildings
save our heritage organisation logo

Yahoo  MSN  Google

The Cultural Landscape Connection to Historic Preservation

By Alana Coons

“Through education, advocacy, and stewardship SOHO's mission is to preserve, promote and support preservation of the architectural, cultural and historical links and landmarks that contribute to the community identity, depth and character of our region.” This is SOHO's mission statement.

The cultural landscapes that contribute most to our unique identity, depth and character are gravely endangered right now.

Many of the same insensitive developers motivated by greed that we deal with in trying to save our heritage in the urban areas of our county are even less concerned by the importance of preserving cultural landscapes. They view landscapes as blank canvases. These are seen simply as spaces upon which to implement the next housing development or shopping mall.

Turn-of-the-century farmhouse in San Pasqual.

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. - The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

But these landscapes are essential to us on the deepest levels of our psyche. Landscapes like our historic buildings and neighborhoods provide a sense of place. A historic cultural landscape is a place where its usage spans generations; it is a part of the people who have traversed and shaped the land and who were shaped by it. It is essential to our quality of life.

When the Otay Valley was completely and utterly destroyed for the Eastlake development, one of the arguments that was often used was that there was plenty of land left in San Diego's back country and that this 23,000 acres of open space must be developed to make room for more people to live. Piece by piece, disinterested parties are systematically eroding all traces of our region's natural setting, a region that has historically always been referred to as one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The argument for decades has been, “We must make room for more people and we have plenty of space to do it.” This assertion is still made today despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Not long ago it was said by these same folks, “What's one more Victorian house downtown, we have blocks of them.” Note that there are no longer blocks of Victorians downtown today. We are left with only a spattering of them that SOHO had to literally force the city to save.

Otay Valley, thousands of homes as far as the eyes can see, a spralling scar upon the land.

“Increasingly, the world around us looks as if we hated it.”
- Philosopher Alan Watts

Just recently, this comment was heard at a San Diego HRB meeting in regard to the demolition of a craftsman home, “We have lots of them, it's not special.” SOHO often has to argue the case for the “last, or best of its type.” Why are we at the “last one“ so often? And why does it have to be the best?

“There are plenty of historic houses in San Diego,” is yet another battle cry that developers and their attorneys like to use. But the truth is, less than 5% of San Diego's building stock can be considered for historic designation and only a fraction of 1% will be likely ever designated.

Apparently the same goes for open space. When Otay Rancho was developed those who allowed it could sleep at night telling themselves there's lots more land where this came from. Oh yeah, and out of those 23,000 acres they have given the community 13 acres of park space. They use that in their ads, boasting constantly of their generosity. We have all heard it, they say, “What kind of company sets aside 13 acres for parks?” Every time I hear that promo, I think, “Yeah, what kind of company, all right?”

Whaley House during porch restoration Whaley House during porch restoration

The cultural landscapes of San Pasqual Valley: (left) the view down the valley; (middle) the 1880's Judson house; (right) the adobe school house currently on SOHO's Most Endangered list.

Note to city officials, policy makers and public agencies: there's not much left! In a 2005 interview with the National Trust, author Wendell Berry said, “There is no way to get a good result from an economy that institutionalizes greed as an honorable motive and excuses waste and destruction as acceptable costs.”

San Diego's hills and valleys have been decimated for too many years. The hills have had their heads chopped off, leveled for nondescript housing, its valleys filled and scarred with all manner of things, such as major shopping centers built in flood plains and our waterfront assaulted at every opportunity. These are our cultural landscapes, and we are losing more of them every day. We must not allow this to continue, we have so little left.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation puts it best: “Cultural landscapes give us a sense of place. They reveal our relationship with the land over time. They are part of our national heritage, and part of each of our lives.” I encourage you to check out their website,

Please don't let the assault on San Diego continue. “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” these famous words that Mahatma Gandhi charged us with are so important. I know in my heart we can do it, but it takes some level of sacrifice on our part.

Make yourself heard! Get involved. Write, complain, and become a thorn in the side of the 'bad guys.' Maybe you don't have time; then send money. Don't have any extra money? Skip the Starbucks just once a week, put it in a piggy bank, and when it's full, donate it.

We can all find ways to help. Stand up and fight, make your voice heard at every turn, especially when voting. Vote for quality-of-lifers, vote politicians beholden to developers out of office! Do it.

Save what's left.

2007 - Volume 38, Issue 1


VIEW digital online version

From the Editor

Most Endangered

A Brief History of Rancho Guejito

Another Part of the Story

The Threat

The Beauty of our State Parks in Peril

The Cultural Landscape Connection to Historic Preservation

What is a Cultural Landscape?

The Historic Home Landscape and Gardens

A Short Landscape Glossary

Importance of the Garden in Home Planning

When was Modern New?

Every Bungalow Represents our History

History Repeating

The Sherman-Glbert House

150th Anniversary of the Jackass Mail


Strength in Numbers

Lost San Diego

VIEW digital online version

DOWNLOAD full magazine as pdf (15.4mb)


2476 San Diego Avenue · San Diego CA 92110 · Phone (619) 297-9327
Home | Contact