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Windemere Cottage & Heritage Lost

By John Bolthouse

Admirers of La Jolla's architectural and cultural heritage are deeply saddened by the recent demolition of historic Windemere Cottage, formerly located at 1328 Virginia Way. This incredible 1894 structure was one of the first designs of Irving Gill, a celebrated master architect who would later conceive other icons of La Jolla and San Diego: The Bishop's School, Wisteria Cottage, La Jolla Women's Club, La Jolla Recreation Center, and many others. Windemere's Orient-influenced "flying" eves, decorative roof brackets, and rare, two-story single-wall construction made this Craftsman-style architecture unique among California's disappearing turn-of-the-century beach bungalows. Originally located on Prospect Street, Windemere was moved to Virginia Way in 1927 - a common occurrence in La Jolla throughout the twentieth century, for even as our community grew, Windemere and other La Jolla structures of historic significance and architectural character were deemed worthy of preservation.

Until now.

During late summer of 2011, with indications that the cottage was at risk of being demolished, the La Jolla Historical Society and its allies worked hard to convince the City of San Diego's Historical Resources Board (HRB) to grant historic designation and, hence, greater protections. The Society conducted extensive research to build its case, and the preponderance of the documentary evidence clearly showed Windemere met at least the minimum threshold for HRB's own designation standards. The Society's efforts to secure historic designation were strongly supported by the La Jolla Town Council and Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO). In an astonishing move, however, HRB staff advised against designating Windemere as historic. Then, at its September 2011 meeting, the HRB board itself, operating under a confounding process that truncated due diligence, failed to support historic designation.

Courtesy La Jolla Historical Society


Given this decision, and the lack of an appeals process, the La Jolla Historical Society reached out to the property's new owner in late November to broach the idea of allowing the cottage to be relocated to another site. We gave our word to the owner that, if given such an opportunity, the Society would do everything it could to expedite the move and limit the owner's financial burden as much as possible. The owner was receptive to the idea and a partnership seemed to emerge. The Society had every indication that a mutually beneficial compromise was at hand. Our volunteers and staff began surveying locations in La Jolla for the relocation of Windemere and we expected to begin taking the next steps after the first of the new year.

Then we woke up on December 23, 2011. We were shocked to watch this 117-year-old cottage ignominiously deposited in dumpsters after a morning of hastened demolition. And in the blink of an eye, another piece of our heritage was gone.

All that remained on December 23, 2011. Photo by Dan Soderberg


How could this have happened? Our questions about the process are many. We want to know how the City of San Diego could grant a demolition permit without the state-required Coastal Development Permit. Ultimately, we want to understand why the City's historical review process seems so stacked against preservation. The culture within our local government that permits the systematic disregard and removal of the historic landscape is disheartening. It is here where our collective disappointment should be directed. As long as we, as a community, accept a status quo that devalues the heritage of our built environment, expect more Windemeres in the future.

The La Jolla Historical Society believes that preservation and progress are not mutually exclusive. Preservation is progress. The extraordinary historic architecture of Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Antonio, and Charleston, South Carolina, stand as shining examples of communities that not only value their heritage but also incentivize their protection. And they enforce these values, as reflected in the culture these communities demand of their government.

It's up to us, La Jolla. Demand better.

About the author John Bolthouse is Executive Director of the La Jolla Historical Society.

Volume 42 - 2011

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San Diego's First Chinese Community


Temple Beth Israel


Archaeological Myth Busting


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Most Endangered List of Historic Resources


Windemere Cottage


People In Preservation Winners


In Memoriam


Preservation Community


Recent Acquisitions


Save Balboa Park


Lost San Diego


Strength in Numbers


Donations 2010-2011


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