Alterations may destroy fabric of historic building

By Larry Culbertson

On Feb. 19, the Planning Commission will decide the fate of one of San Clemente’s more important historic buildings.

The residence at 418 Cazador Lane is important because of a person who lived there, its location and its beautiful architecture. It is known as the Gloria Swanson House because the late actress once lived there. The location is important because it is on a highly visible corner lot, with a commanding ocean view, at the end of Cazador Lane. The end of Cazador Lane was the hub of what was once known as the Pasadena Colony. A number of wealthy people from Pasadena built elegant Spanish Colonial Revival mansions there and on Pasadena Court, which is a short street off of Cazador Lane. The Ann Harding House, Judge Warner House and Robison House are three other very important historic houses that abut 418 Cazador Lane.

The 1,596-square-foot home with servant’s quarters downstairs was built in 1926. A 540-square-foot addition was completed in 1948. The house has a number of interesting and unique architectural features.

Modifications have been proposed to the building that are outside accepted standards. On the west façade, original windows would be replaced with larger ones to improve the view. On the north façade, a new architectural feature would be added by cutting a new door with a Juliette balcony. On the south façade, a bay window that has been there since the 1948 addition would be demolished and replaced to increase floor area. The proposed alterations would be contrary to our city design guidelines, contrary to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards and in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

San Clemente design guidelines specify, “New improvements to renovate or alter a historic site should demonstrate a diligent effort to retain and rehabilitate the historic resource.” And, “distinctive stylistic features shall be treated with sensitivity.” Demolishing character defining features is certainly not retaining them or rehabilitating them or treating them with sensitivity.

The city design guidelines go on to specify, “Historic buildings which are renovated are encouraged to follow The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitation of Historic Buildings.”

Other applicable standards include:

  • The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces and spatial relationships that characterize a property will be avoided.
  • Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements from other historic properties will not be undertaken.
  • Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved.
  • Distinctive materials, features, finishes and construction techniques or examples of craftsmanship that characterize a property will be preserved.

This project would trample these standards. Distinguishing qualities like its unique windows would be demolished. Adding a new balcony is falsifying the design of the original architect. Alterations done in 1948 are being considered non-historic, when in fact they have, “acquired significance in their own right.”

The strongest protection this and other historic buildings have is the CEQA. This California law prohibits demolition or significant negative impacts to historic resources if there are reasonable alternatives to the project. The reasonable alternative is to accept this historic house with its existing exterior character defining features. There is no need to destroy features or add new ones just to add square footage, improve a view or facilitate furniture placement.

If you have never visited Cazador Drive, please do. It is a beautiful street. Check out 418 Cazador Drive. Let the Planning Commission know how you feel about permitting alteration of this city landmark.

Larry Culbertson has been President of the San Clemente Historical Society since 2012.

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comments (2)

  • great article, larry.

  • leave them alone//wooden windows suck and your are not sanding and scraping them and painting them over and over////
    bigger view windows add value and new materials and energy efficiency is better for the environment //// without these improvements the alleged buildings may fall into disrepair just go and look at the Miramar theater or the hotel san clemente

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