Jack's Island, the triangularshaped Victorian structure on a postage stamp-sized lot bounded by National Avenue, 26th Street, and Sicard Street.
Baseball players and convicted felons get three chances to succeed. When it comes to city-financed redevelopment in Barrio Logan, the City of San Diego Housing Commission thinks two strikes may be enough. At least that is the call for one of the barrio’s quirkiest historic buildings.
Sometime this year, the city council is expected to decide whether to accept a low-ball $30,000 offer for the nearest thing Barrio Logan has to a flat iron building, the triangularshaped Victorian structure on a postage stamp-sized lot bounded by National Avenue, 26th Street, and Sicard Street. Councilman Juan Vargas, who represents the district, has balked at the deal, forcing the housing commission to go back and look at the historic implications.
This is the second time the city has owned the tall, skinny building, which residents of the area refer to as Jack’s Island and preservationists call The Jewel of the Barrio. The Housing Commission would like to get the building off its real estate-owned list once and for all.
Mary Hernandez, an aide to Vargas, says the councilman is concerned that the structure, which does not yet have a historic designation, is being sold without a good idea of what will happen to it.
“There’s such an attachment to it in the community,” Hernandez explained. “People are proud of it. It’s a landmark. We’d like to have some type of assurance, to feel comfortable with the buyers and to think that they would rehab it.”
Built on the 848-foot lot around 1911, the building was originally neighbored by citrus groves, orchid greenhouses, sanitariums, and the Sweetwater Racetrack. The ground floor was a grocery store and the second and third floors were the Flat Iron Apartments.
During prohibition the store was converted into a distribution center for malt and hops. When the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1934 it became a liquor store and later, Jack’s Island Tavern.
Now painted a deep, electric blue-green with bright white trim, the shabby clapboard structure is partly uninhabitable and deserted, though a beauty parlor on the ground floor remains in business and pays its rent to the city. Some residents in the area complain that the homeless -— and sometimes prostitutes — have taken possession of the two upper floors.
The city first got involved with the property in 1982 when the Housing Commission guaranteed a $27,500 rehabilitation loan to two private businessmen, using the building as collateral. Less than a year later, the borrowers defaulted and the commission got the property — now surrounded by junkyards, dismantles, and metal plating outfits — at a trustee sale.
In the spring of 1985 the commission again sold the property to a group of investors and took back a $63,000 first-trust deed. Since then the property has changed hands twice, and each time the city loan was assumed. The third holders of the loan defaulted, and in May 1994, the city got the jaded jewel once more in a trust-deed sale.
The commission ran notices in local newspapers, advertising the property for sale “as is” at its appraised market value of $83,000. This time, there would be no public financing. There were no takers at that price.
Tom Krause, owner of New Visions Real Estate, and painting contractor Andy Burger offered $30,000 in cash for the building. The commission made a counter offer of $56,000, which the pair rejected unless the Commission financed the deal. The buyers asked for a 6 percent loan with interest-only payments, with the entire loan due in ten years. They also wanted $10,000 for upgrading costs.
The city rates the overall condition of the building as poor to fair. There is settlement and water damage, floors are warped, and plumbing and electrical fixtures have not been updated in years (nobody knows how long for sure).
The commission recommended that the city council take the $30,000 cash offer, even though it means that the commission will go in the red $23,797 on the deal when various costs are paid.
Why the Housing Commission got involved in the property in the first place is not clear, since the building contains only four small apartments and is located in an area less than ideal for housing. One of the reasons the Housing Commission would like to unload the property is its unsuitability for family housing. Selling it to a private developer, whatever the price, is no doubt better than carrying the derelict building on city books, says Housing Commission executive director Betsy Morris.
City foreclosures and sales at a loss have happened numerous times to property that was financed by the San Diego Housing Commission, says commission activist Mel Shapiro. “This is a small foreclosure,” Shapiro explains. “There have been a lot of big foreclosures. In some cases [the loan] never forecloses. They just write it off.”
The Housing Commission’s loss, however, may become Barrio Logan’s gain. Krause and Burger say they have promised the city council they will restore the building.
Krause, whose real estate office is in Golden Hill, nextdoor to the Big Kitchen, is in the business of rehabbing old structures such as The Jewel. He says he wants the building, even if it is designated an historic site.
Some developers run from officially named historic buildings because of the tangle of strings attached. In the past 20 years, Krause and Burger have renovated about 30 buildings, mostly in Golden hill and Sherman Heights. “It doesn’t make any sense to do anything else,” he says. “The market in San Diego right now doesn’t support construction. It’s too expensive.” Furthermore, the wedge of land on which the building sits is too small to build much of anything new.
But for Krause, the purchase of Jack’s Island fulfills a dream. “I’ve always wanted to own an entire city block,” he says.