UCSD Perhaps the most prized piece of real estate throughout the University of California, San Diego, is the seven-acre site of University House, home to the UCSD chancellor. The rambling adobe home, with its row of south-facing windows, its patios and portales, was built on the precipitous edge of a canyon. From the back patio the view of the Pacific’s blue horizon and La Jolla’s benign cove is spectacular. The residence, in the La Jolla Farms enclave west of UCSD, has been used to entertain wealthy San Diegans who, with the chancellor’s persuasion, donate to the school.
Four years ago, due to structural problems, the residence was declared unlivable. Since then, the university has sought to demolish the home and replace it with a larger one. But this plan has brought the ire of historic-home preservationists who oppose tearing it down. It has also brought opposition from Native Americans, whose ancestors once lived on and buried their dead on the site. In fact, University House is perched on a Native American cemetery.
In the last century, the ancestral remains of the Kumeyaay have been removed from the site, angering the tribe. The Kumeyaay believe that any digging into the area they call Skeleton Hill desecrates the dead. On top of the fight to prevent further disturbance is the Kumeyaay’s frustrated attempt to have remains previously removed repatriated so the tribe can rebury them.
The feud between a prestigious university and the Kumeyaay Nation begins with UCSD’s purchase of the home and 130 acres in 1967. That year the university bought the property from William Black, a banker, philanthropist, and real estate magnate who developed the lots and horse stables called La Jolla Farms on the steep cliffs above Black’s Beach. (Eventually UCSD sold most of the acreage.)
In 1949 Black and his wife hired the noted architect and painter William Lumpkins, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, to build a large adobe home in the Southwestern style. Lumpkins was an advocate of this style, also termed Pueblo Revival. The home, modeled on Native American pueblo architecture, features exposed-beam ceilings, long covered porches, and adobe-brick walls, whose stuccoed surfaces are painted white.
The home is one of few adobes ever built in the county. The 11,400-square-foot U-shaped building includes the chancellor’s residence (4000 square feet) and a facility for public meetings and parties (7400 square feet) where university donors are feted. Meet-and-greets range from lunches for 12 to receptions for 250.
From 1967 until 2003, six chancellors have occupied University House. Richard Atkinson was chancellor from 1980 to 1995. He was succeeded by Robert Dynes, who served for seven years. As late as August 2003, Dynes and his wife, Frances Dynes Hellman, hosted Irwin and Joan Jacobs, Richard and Rita Atkinson, and a few dozen others at a gala chamber music concert on the property. By the end of the year, Dynes was leaving to become president of the University of California. His replacement, Marye Anne Fox, has never lived in the house and instead has lived in a La Jolla home, leased for $6500 per month.
Dynes was the catalyst for the University House project. In January 2004, as UC president, he directed UCSD to hire Island Architects to investigate the property’s condition, for which the firm was paid $108,000. Island’s study showed that the slope was falling (three of the seven acres are eroded slope), the house had numerous code violations, the drainage was improper, and the house needed an earthquake retrofit. The next step was to set up a committee that would develop a plan either to renovate or replace the home. The group Dynes chose consisted of university administrators, faculty, and students. Although there was one “community representative” — the founder of a real estate investment company — no Native Americans were on the committee.
The Union-Tribune reported in July 2004 that “some” on the committee “say they were asked by UC to not make the matter public for fear of politicizing the issue.” Donald Tuzin, a professor of anthropology and committee member, said he didn’t want the group “pressured.”
The committee’s study was finished in August. The report found that University House had “no architectural significance,” but it did have “cultural significance” in La Jolla history. The home “has a special place in the hearts and minds of some in the community.” Some alumni and members of the UCSD Foundation wanted to retain the current property.
Three options were suggested: the house could be renovated, demolished and replaced, or sold. Each option had its price: renovate, $5.8 million; demo and replace, $7.2 million; and rebuild elsewhere, $7.7 million (although selling the house might bring as much as $16 million).
No matter which option, something needed to be done: the wiring was inadequate, the public area of the home had only two bathrooms, the heating system needed replacing, and so on. Though renovation cost the least, this option wouldn’t expand the home to more comfortably accommodate meetings, parties, and events. In addition, mere renovation was “not fiscally prudent” because given the “potentially costly unknowns typical of renovation projects,” the estimate might prove too low. Selling the home and rebuilding elsewhere was not recommended because the oceanfront property had greater emotional than economic value and because UCSD didn’t want to site a new home on land that might later be needed for classrooms, lab buildings, or parking lots.
The committee recommended that University House should be demolished and rebuilt, as long as “archaeological, environmental, and community” concerns were resolved and enough private funds were raised by January 2005. Otherwise, the committee should reconsider selling the property. The report identified “archaeological resources” as a consideration: “If remains or artifacts are discovered during the construction process, a recovery and relocation program would be implemented.” The committee designated the San Diego Museum of Man — and not local Native Americans — as the liaison to “relocate significant artifacts.”
Courtney Coyle is a La Jolla attorney who advocates for Native American rights. Coyle believes that a new home was the default position before the committee made its assessment. With a Public Records Act request, she acquired UCSD emails written in 2004 which she says show that the university had decided not to take care of the home because they wanted it replaced. School officials appeared, she writes, “to be admitting the school’s responsibility for the decay of the building.” Other UCSD emails say, she writes, that the “facility received limited care/maintenance over the years due to fiscal constraints,” and “primarily cosmetic improvements were undertaken — little or no renovation or restorative care.”