It just happened that the beginning of my planned trip to Italy with my nieces coincided with the council’s decision on the “final solution” for the cottages at Big Bend. I had done all I could think of, to no avail. I was sorry to hear by email that the council had voted to demolish the cottages.
Scott Tenney and Mike Blakemore gave a heartfelt try at cottage rescuing. They made a great contribution to the field of cottage-saving by suggesting that the city approve a task force to oversee the process of moving and restoring the cottages. We should have had this all along, to move the effort from a half-hearted concession to historical political correctness to a genuine, enthusiastic exploration of ways to preserve our city’s heritage. Perhaps then we could have not only reinvigorated those cottages, but established a methodology for saving others.
Will we have other chances? More cottages and historical houses are in jeopardy and there are chances with some of them. Last week the Heritage Committee voted to preserve the oldest portion of the South Coast Water District’s cottage at Fourth Avenue and Virginia Way.
Still, on the same agenda “Stonehenge” one of the first two houses of the 1924 Coast Royal development was being considered for demolition. The Skidmore brothers, Joe and Guy, were the original sub-dividers of Coast Royal—the area in South Laguna along the coast that includes Camel Point and extends to Bluff Drive, and inland includes Brooks and Monterey Streets, all the way to Catalina Street and Eagle Rock Way. Each brother built himself a house in the early days of promoting lot sales. “Stonehenge,” the home of Guy Skidmore, is just north of the Laguna Royale condominium. In the last few years the house has been in code enforcement because someone did a partial demolition—removing the exterior stucco and siding and gutting the interior without permits. Now the building is in the hands of the bank, and a potential buyer wants permission to finish the demolition and build a new house on the property. “An uphill battle,” said the Heritage Committee, “We don’t reward illegal behavior by granting permission to demolish a building that should be preserved and restored.”
Other historical houses are slowly deteriorating, proceeding through the process of “demolition by neglect.” I visited one in north Laguna, a 1916 cottage with an interior of unpainted redwood planks. It is a step back in time to experience this unremodeled anachronism. When I asked the realtor to see the house, the answer was, “ You can just go in; the door is open.” Graffiti inside told the tale of illegal occupants. The unsecured house and leaking roof, invitations to destruction and decay, are ways to harm the integrity of the structure, thus skirting historic preservation concerns when new construction is desired.
We need a city program and policy to provide for proper protection and maintenance of vacant buildings, especially heritage structures.
Unless a miracle happens (I always hold out, especially after my trip to Rome), the Big Bend cottages will be gone, and all that will be left will be our memories of what could have been and the painting Saim Caglayan made of them. Within days of my having seen Saim’s painting at the Hotel Laguna I was told that a man from Italy purchased it. “Now even the memorial painting won’t be in Laguna any more,” I thought.
Miracles do happen though, at least as far as paintings are concerned. It turned out that the “man from Italy” was really my husband Alfredo, and when I returned from my trip here was a birthday present—the painting of the cottages. Bittersweet, it will always be reminding me of someone who cares for me and others who care as I do for saving the remnants of old Laguna.
Ann Christoph, a former mayor, works as a landscape architect.