By Allen Hazard
I went jogging this morning. I think going out for a morning run where I live in Mission Hills is bad for my health. At least bad for my spiritual health. My architectural health. I have many running routes in my neighborhood and this morning I ran in a part of Mission Hills that I hadn’t jogged by for a month or so. I was shocked when I saw a vacant lot, a deep dirt hole where previously stood a 1930’s English cottage wood shingle quaint little home with mature landscaping. All gone. Perhaps Mick 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. This is your story. Over two years ago, my wife and I were living happily in a fairly new tract home in Scripps Ranch with a three-car garage in front of our 2,000 sq ft house with a view of the nearby mountains. Living the American dream. Then we made a big mistake. We started going on Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) home tours, Arts & Crafts weekend events, and we started watching shows such as HGTV’s “Restore America” and “If These Walls Could Talk”. We visited Frank Lloyd Wright homes while visiting my in-laws in Chicago. We bought Paul Duchscherer’s classic bungalow books and marveled at these historic homes. We joined SOHO and the San Diego Historical Society. We got hooked. Big time! We started driving on Sundays to Missions Hills for a jog around the neighborhood, we packed our bikes and rode on Fort Stockton, Sunset Blvd and dreamed of living in such a wonderful community with tree lined streets and where the homes were different. We even started to notice how many TV commercials featured beautiful Craftsman homes in the background. We bought even more books on the Arts and Crafts Period; we learned to identify Craftsman bungalows, Prairie-style homes, Spanish Revival, English Tudors and more. We found ourselves 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. In short, we fell in love with old homes and everything that goes with it. A sense of community that we failed to find in Scripps Ranch, a sense of history, a sense of appreciation of an era that doesn’t exist anymore except in our older neighborhoods. We were attracted to Mission Hills for all the reasons the vast majority of our neighbors were. Historic older homes built with character, charm and a sense of social history as well as mature landscaping I even found out that R.E. “Pappy” Hazard, an early San Diego civic leader (and slightly related) lived across the street from the bungalow that my wife and I bought over two years ago. However, we are now concerned.
We are concerned over the present and the future. How many Mission Hills look in 5 years, 10 years in 2020 when our California Craftsman turns 100 years old? We are excited to see a several of the older homes being sold and brought back by new neighbors. Jamie and Ed are doing a great job on their run-down airplane bungalow on St. James, Jim and Scott have 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 have just bought a Prairie-style home on Arden to save it and bring it back to life. And we love the work Rich and Erin have done on Hickory. We are truly blessed to have such preservation energy here.
However, we have also noticed a few old homes being torn down and in many cases, so called “MacMansions” being built. A “MacMansion” refers to a new, usually quite large (average sq footage is 3,000), out-of-scale structure that does not fit into a historic neighborhood. “MacMansions” stick out like a sore thumb, both architecturally and culturally, they are usually quite tall, massive, have lost their side yard to its mass, they have lost their front yard to a large three car garage and driveway and this “Tara on a quarter acre” overwhelms the homes next to it. The livability of historic neighborhoods is eroded as these new “Monster” houses destroy the fabric of our historic 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% of our housing stock was built before WW2. That English Cottage on Hawk Street is not coming back. It is gone. Forever. An old home is not a renewable resource. Its loss affects us all. That lovely two-story wood shingle Craftsman down on Lyndon is gone. I wish that I had taken its picture. The “Monster” house being built now is over 4,500 square feet! The mass of this “MacMansion” 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. That privacy is gone, just like the old home.
My wife and I fell in love with a historic neighborhood. We could have stayed in Scripps Ranch if we loved tract homes. We didn’t. We don’t. 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 developers and people with more cents ($$$) than historical sense!
We are part of a group of citizens that have been mobilized into action by this recent trend of “teardowns”. Unfortunately, that’s how movements usually happen. We have spoken to the Mission Hills Residents and Design Committee, Uptown Planners supports us, Councilman Michael Zuccert supports us, SOHO supports us, and the majority of our neighbors support a historical district in our immediate neighborhood. We have met with the City Historical Planners and are working on a traditional historical district designation. What does that mean? It means NO MORE TEAR-DOWNS to build your dream “MacMansion”! Who needs 4,500 sq ft anyway? What else does a historic designated district mean? A historic district entitles the contributing homes (original architectural features intact) to the Mills Act. The Mills Act, named by Mission Hills native son Senator Jim Mills, is a preservation law that gives the homeowner a 30-70% property tax reduction for maintaining the architectural integrity of the home. This benefit is passed on when you sell your home. A great selling feature for when you do sell your home. For potential-contributing homes in a historic district (i.e., homes with aluminum windows for example), you can restore your home and make it eligible for the Mills Act. A “MacMansion” house or a vastly altered house would be a “non-contributing” house and would not be eligible for the Mills Act. However, all homes in a historic district reap the 10-25% higher property value that such districts typically enjoy. There are few restrictions in a historic district, other than NO TEAR-DOWNS! You can remodel or make an addition to your home as long as it stays within the original architectural design of the home. Charles and Kelly’s Dryden house on Sheridan and Sunset Blvd features an excellent example of a sensitive and appropriate addition. Even Don Covington (the late renowned Dryden expert from North Park) remarked that he had a hard time telling the addition from the original part of the home. The remodeling ordinances are also often less restrictive than with a new house, as many components of remodeling are “grandfathered” in. Of course, you are free to remodel your kitchen, bathroom, etc, as the historical status only protects the exterior of your home. There are so many benefits of living in a historic district. Your home, your neighborhood will be here long after we are all gone. Future generations will have an opportunity to see and live in a community that is nearly extinct in San Diego. There really aren’t any cons. Unless you want to built a “Monster” home and destroy the fabric of a neighborhood. A historic district will put “time on our side”. A historic district will not destroy my morning run in Mission Hills. 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 gone in Mission Hills. I hope and pray it’s not too late for Mission Hills to be moved into action to save the most intact older community in San Diego!
Lets “Make Kate Proud” of her legacy in Mission Hills! Preserve Mission Hills for a long time to come!