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Village Matters

The House that’s not a Home

By Ann Christoph

Across the street from us is a vacant house.  The couple that lived there with their little boy has moved out as part of a foreclosure.  Now I guess the bank owns it. They posted no trespassing signs with threats of jail time.  Last week a crew cleaned up, trimmed the shrubs and ivy, but left a spread of pine needles on the roof.  Now it looks like a fuzzy-roofed, bare, neglected house.

 

It has its own Christmas tree though, the gigantic Torrey pine, whose branches spread over two lots and two streets.

 

If it could be the subject of a traditional Christmas card it would be so quaint and charming with the glowing lights in the window and the imagined scent of cinnamon cookies baking, the pine tree sheltering the scene.

 

But as it is, it looks like the house will spend the holidays cold and alone.  And we have uncertainty and a center for neglect in our neighborhood.

 

This isn’t the only case of neglect and worse happening to properties nearby.  There are two partially finished houses built up into the hillside above Mar Vista.  Hulking concrete foundations, graded slopes—this has been the condition of the property for months.  How sad that these beautiful sites have been cut and disturbed only to leave hazardous and unsightly remnants of unfulfilled dreams.

 

Down on Coast Highway the Stonehenge house has a story that is more strange.  It is a historical house built by Guy Skidmore in the late 1920s.  Guy and his brother Joe developed the Coast Royal tract.  Each of them built their own homes there, among the very first ones, perhaps the equivalent of model homes, to demonstrate their commitment to quality construction.  Then there was the 1929 crash, the Skidmores lost most of their interest in the development and a bank took over.

 

Eighty years later, in 2009, First Newport Properties took over the Stonehenge house from Donnie Castro who had owned it since 1978.  That same year, after being cited for unpermitted construction, First Newport applied to remodel and restore the house.  These plans were approved by the Heritage Committee and Design Review and permits were ready to be pulled by March, 2010.  Instead, at some point, unpermitted demolition of all exterior and interior surfaces took place, leaving the house uninhabitable. City code enforcement issued an administrative citation for the illegal partial demolition in September 2010.  These documents show Chase Bank as the new owner.

 

Did this partial demolition occur by the foreclosed-on party to limit future refinancing opportunities?  Or, by either party to destroy the house’s historic value, opening up more options for new construction?  We don’t know the reason why, but we do know that in June 2011 the property was in escrow and the prospective owner, John Meehan, asked the Heritage Committee if they would approve complete demolition of the house since the historic value has been severely compromised.  The Committee advised that granting a complete demolition permit based on illegal damage to a historic resource would be “an uphill battle.”  Still, Meehan persisted and in August officially applied for complete demolition as the new owner.  The Heritage Committee recommended denial of his request and directed him to implement the reconstruction of the building based on the already approved plans.

 

Now the Design Review Board considers the matter.  Meantime the house that was completely livable and attractive stands with its bare framing, a skeleton.

 

The huge Mar Vista house above the South Laguna village has been under construction for years.  It is on the market again.  As far as we know no one has ever lived there.

There has been huge damage to the terrain, and millions invested in new construction.  Contractors and others have lost investments.

 

In the end it seems no one gains, no one is happy when a house is seen as a speculative vehicle for profit and not a home.

 

 

 

Landscape architect Ann Christoph is a former mayor.

 

 

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