The Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) is in the midst of restoring one of the largest barns in San Diego. In spring 2015, the group bought the land the barn sits on for $30,000 from the county. The Dutch-style structure sits next to the circa-1884 Santa Ysabel Store property that the organization purchased in 2011.
In fact, it was a week after the latter purchase that a lifelong Santa Ysabel resident, Bob McDaniel, showed SOHO executive director Bruce Coons a letter from the county informing Santa Ysabel residents that the barn was considered a nuisance and would be burned down in just weeks.
According to Coons, once his group alerted the county to the barn's historic significance, they stopped plans to burn it and funded the study that confirmed the barn's age and importance.
Gig Conaughton from the county said on April 7, “We searched our records but haven’t been able to find anything saying we had planned to burn the barn down."
Conaughton also said the county used the barn to store and mix pesticides for 60 years but it has stood vacant for some time. "Before the county sold it," Conaughton said, "we conducted a study for pesticide contamination and performed a cleanup to make the property available for limited public uses, like a museum.”
Last week Coons said, ”The restoration started about six months ago and we are about half done. We still need to do the electrical, carpentry of the outside, the roof, and to paint the barn. We hope to have it all done by mid-summer." Coons expects the full restoration to cost $100,000.
"It's one of the largest barns in San Diego," said Coons. "It's also the biggest landmark in the area; you can't miss it off in the distance. There are only a handful of 19th-century barns left in San Diego. In 1800s San Diego, barns were very common, even in town with carriage barns. Most residents of any good-sized home had some kind of barn. Of course, the Whaley House that we oversee [in Old Town] has a barn."
Was the barn and store the first structures on this site? "No, Santa Ysabel is a very old place," said Coons. "There were Indian villages there before the Spaniards came. Then there was an 1818 mission where archaeological evidence are all that remain. The land was obtained through a Mexican land grant in the 1840s. The town of Santa Ysabel wasn't laid out until 1896, years after the store was built."
The H-frame barn sits on Washington Street — the original street name when David Leonard Hoover built the barn out of Douglas fir and redwood imported from Northern California. Hoover worked as the store's druggist and also as a rancher, according to a 2011 county historic report.
Coons said that Hoover's descendants have made historic photos available to help in the restoration. After the restoration, Coons said that the barn will house a recently donated turn-of-the-century carriage as well as other historic vehicles in the barn's former horse stalls.
When asked if anything special has been found in the barn during restoration, Coons replied, "The barn is the special thing. The most unusual thing is the split-level loft area. It still has the original tack room. The horse stalls are gone but you can see where they had the windows for the horses to look out."
Coons said SOHO is working on registering both the barn and the store on the National Register of Historic Places.
As far as the process, Coons said, "While public sentiment matters, the structure has to meet stringent criteria first. Once the application is accepted, it goes to a hearing at the state historic preservation commission. If it gets national recognition, then the state and local registrations are mostly a formality. The categories are important — why matters as much as what. Whether it be to the community or person or for an architecture or events. Also, the structure has to have sufficient integrity."
Coons said his organization is grateful to McDaniel for getting the ball rolling. McDaniel died in February 2016 at the age of 86, but not before knowing he had helped save the barn.
It was personal for McDaniel, as his family managed the store next to the barn for decades. McDaniel even worked at the store as a little boy. Coons said the McDaniel family has donated historic items from the store's past that will be on display once the restoration is finished.
Anyone who would like to donate to the restoration fund for the barn can do so through SOHO.