La Jolla home of ‘prominent’ landscape architect being considered for historic designation

Given that one of the La Jolla homes submitted to the San Diego Historical Resources Board was owned by a landscape architect, the role of landscape architecture in its potential historical determination was a point of discussion during the board’s September 22 meeting.

Joseph and Elizabeth Yamada’s home, located at 1676 El Camino Del Teatro in the Muirlands area, was adjacent to Arklow Cottage at 11 Fay Ave hoy ya site for which there is no address.

The Yamada house was discussed before the board finally asked the bid team to return, and the other two projects were approved as consent items, meaning there was no discussion or debate. Items are included on the approval agenda when all parties agree to the staff recommendations and the proposals are deemed uncontroversial.

While the HRB trustees agreed to designate the Yamada house, the features to be included in the designation were up for debate.

City of San Diego official Alvin Lin explained that the property is named after “prominent San Diego landscape architects” Joseph Yamada, who designed for institutions such as SeaWorld and UC San Diego, and Elizabeth Yamada, who worked “at the well-known landscape architecture firm Wimmer and worked at Yamada” and “led activism and educational efforts to preserve Japanese-American history”. The two lived on the property from 1973 to 2020, until her death in May 2020 — just days apart.

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A report prepared on the property that found the home to meet Criterion B (which indicates a property is identified with persons or events significant to local, state, or national history) and Criterion C (stating that a property has distinctive features of a style, type, era or construction, or is a valuable example of the use of natural materials or craftsmanship).

The home of Joseph and Elizabeth Yamada in the 1676 El Camino Del Teatro.

A picture shown to the San Diego Historical Resources Board shows Joseph and Elizabeth Yamada’s home at 1676 El Camino Del Teatro.

(Screenshot by Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

But HRB Trustee Ann Woods said: “I find it ironic that we are designating a landscape architect’s home and there are no landscape components in the designation. … Aren’t there components that should be included?”

The natural rock walkway and waterfall next to the front door are mentioned in the nomination, but including other landscape features — which can grow, change and die — is more difficult to include, according to city officials.

San Diego lead planner Suzanne Segur said: “Once you get into more abstract things, it’s really hard to regulate. In the past we have named certain trees or plants and certain objects, but they have been specifically named. But it’s hard to regulate things that grow.”

IS Architecture’s Kelsey Kaline, who prepared the historical report, added that the nomination had been in the works since January and, from a procedural standpoint, “a mountain of work would be required” to reconsider the landscape design. However, she said the team is ready to map certain landscape features.

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In support of this idea, HRB trustee and La Jolla resident Courtney Coyle said she wanted a full designation, saying, “I don’t want to be on guard that we’re missing something important that might be there.”

A motion to postpone the vote to November to give the team more time to consider whether to include landscaping elements in the designation passed unanimously.

Arklow Cottage

Arklow Cottage was brought before the HRB because owner Leigh Plesniak wanted the property to be designated as a historic resource.

According to the HRB, a historical report was prepared by Landmark Historic Preservation which concluded that the resource can be designated under Criterion A (which states that a property contains distinctive elements of the historical, archaeological, archaeological, cultural, social, economic, political , aesthetic, technical, landscape or architectural development) and criterion C.

While city officials agreed that the site is a significant historical resource under HRB Criterion A, they did not agree to listing under Criterion C.

The argument for Criterion A is that the property implied that the cottage “has the key features typical of La Jolla Beach Cottages: one story, small apartment, low sloping ceiling, wood paneling, and exposure to an available coastal view.”

The property was thus designated as an object of approval under criterion A.

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Mut kula xuy/mut lah hoy ya side

In lieu of a house or other form of property, the Board also determined that Site No. 11 of Mut kula xuy/Mut lah hoy ya was historic under Criterion A.

Although the address was not given, a City staffer’s report related to the nomination stated: “The subject property is within the mapped boundaries of a regionally important archaeological site known as the Spindrift Site. … This site includes a large residential area known to Kumeyaay residents as Mut kula xuy/Mut lah hoy ya (“Place of Many Caves”). The area consists of several large Midden ranges, temporary encampments, pottery and stone scatters, various shell scatters, and burials found in several consecutive strata representative of different cultural phases in the San Diego area.

The location was designated as an object of approval under criterion A.


Benefits of historic designation include the availability of the Mills Act reduced property tax scheme for owners to assist in the maintenance, restoration and rehabilitation of historic properties; Use of the more flexible historic building code; Use of the historical conditional use permit, which allows for flexible use; Programs that vary depending on site conditions and owner’s goals; and flexibility with other regulatory requirements. However, houses cannot be significantly altered once they have been designated historic.

The San Diego Historical Resources Board meets monthly. To learn more, visit and click on “Public Hearings, Meetings and Announcements”. ◆

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