The sprawling former estate of a fallen San Diego savings and loan kingpin may soon lose its historic designation in a city council action sought by John Cahalin, ex-proprietor of a once-infamous Fort Lauderdale nightclub and major donor to GOP mayor Kevin Faulconer.
The prominent house on Point Loma’s San Elijo Street — just up the hill from the former twin mansions of ex-mayor Maureen O'Connor and her sibling Mauvorneen — was once owned by Kim Fletcher, the financial mogul who oversaw the ruin of HomeFed Bank during the great financial blowout of the 1980s.
At the time of its 1992 seizure by federal regulators, HomeFed was the biggest savings and loan failure in American history.
Following the collapse, Fletcher unloaded his Point Loma manse and decamped to North County, where he now backs an anti-immigration group called Californians for Population Stabilization, which argues, “If we slow mass immigration, we can slow population growth and save some California for tomorrow.”
Before Fletcher crossed its threshold, his colonial revival-themed estate, built in 1929 by Alliene Wetmore and Edna Love Treadwell, had been lived in by several other famous San Diegans, including David G. and Loula Fleet, of the famous Consolidated Aircraft-owning family, and after that by Dr. Roy M. Ledford, Sr. and Lucille Ledford.
The Ledfords — ancestors of city hall lobbyist Richard Ledford, a cousin to Mission Bay's Evans Hotel, Inc. leisure-time magnates — were noted for their opulent GOP fundraisers held on the mansion's front lawn, including one for Senator George Murphy, the ex-actor who paved the way for fellow Hollywood thespian Ronald Reagan's career in politics.
The Ledfords also hosted an annual Easter egg roll that attracted hordes of well-heeled children.
The size, fame and infamy of the mansion, along with its majestic, if Disneyesque, design landed it a historical designation by the city's Historical Resources Board in May of last year.
Enter Cahalin, who, according to an October 2013 lobbyist filing, hired professional influence peddler Jim Bartell to convince the city council to delist the property.
Later the same month, campaign disclosure filings show, John and Helen Jo Cahalin of Fort Lauderdale gave a total of $4000 to the mayoral campaign of then-Point Loma councilman Kevin Faulconer.
According to a July 1 public notice, the council is now set to hear the matter on July 15. If the council delists, the huge property could make a record teardown.
Judging by published accounts, Cahalin and his wife are big whales in Florida. In 2005, the nightclub owner had a deal to sell his $18.5 million waterfront Harbor Beach mansion to Miami Heat center Shaquille O’Neal, though the arrangement later fell through.
"The waterfront home was built in 2003 and is about three times the size of surrounding houses," the Miami Herald reported at the time. "It includes a 1,800-square-foot nightclub/play room, a nine-hole putting green, a 10-car garage and two guest houses."
"John Cahalin 'was basically ready to let it go,' said Kelly Gessa, a real estate agent with The Elmes Group at Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate, which had the listing. 'He was carrying it for a while.'
"Cahalin and his family moved to Fort Lauderdale's Rio Vista neighborhood 'quite a bit ago' because it's 'more geared to families,' he said. He referred additional questions to his real estate agent."
According to a May 2006 write-up of Cahalin's club in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "China White's most distinguishing feature is a giant elephant overlooking the debauchery. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling, complementing the antique mirrors that line the way to the steps.
“On the second floor, lighted branches transport the bar and VIP areas to somewhere more exotic than Himmarshee, and an outside deck wraps around the side of the club."
A November 1995 report in the St. Petersburg Times noted that Helen Jo Cahalin had inherited 20 percent of the $500 million estate of her grandfather Alpheus L. Ellis, a Florida banker who at his death was one of America's richest men. Another 15 percent of the estate was set aside for great-grandchildren, the paper said.
Wrote the New York Times, "starting in the 1950's, Mr. Ellis began buying banks in Florida, putting together an extensive business, the Ellis Banking Corporation, that grew to about 75 branches with assets of $1.6 billion by 1984, when he sold it to the NCNB Corporation, which later became NationsBank.
"The secret to his success was 'good friends and good credit,' Mr. Ellis once said."