The three-story Truax House at the entrance to Maple Canyon,  corner of Laurel and Union streets
  • The three-story Truax House at the entrance to Maple Canyon, corner of Laurel and Union streets
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Stephen Hill, policy advisor for councilmember Todd Gloria, says city staff has determined that due to uneven terrain, dilapidated houses, and absent a clear path to Maple Canyon, the city-owned property in Bankers Hill should be sold. They will make that recommendation to a city-council committee on January 20.

As first reported in the Reader, the city's desire to sell the property angered residents and volunteer planners who say the site, with a little work, is prime to be made into an open-space park that provides an entrance into Maple Canyon. Others say the houses on the property should be preserved as a historic resource.

Now, as residents have begun to lobby Gloria's office to at least hold off on selling the parcel, more information on the house and parcel has come to light.

According to an email written by Gloria's policy advisor and obtained by the Reader, the city purchased the property and the two houses on it in the 1960s with revenues from a gas tax. The property was purchased in order to make room for a road leading into Maple Canyon. The road was never built and the city, despite two efforts to sell the property in the 1980s, has retained it ever since.

In the late 1980s, one of the two houses was turned into a residential housing facility for AIDS patients run by the AIDS Assistance Fund and later named the Truax House in honor of Dr. Brad Truax, who died from AIDS-related complications. After the Truax House closed, the city leased the house to Father Joe Carroll for one dollar a year, and it was used as a halfway house.

Meanwhile, the front house, which was turned over to the San Diego Housing Commission to rent, was leased to a resident. Both were built in the early parts of the 20th Century; the Truax House was built around 1910.

The age of the older house, as well its history of housing terminally ill AIDS patients in the 1980s when the disease was ravaging LGBT community and when treatment was in its infancy, are among the reasons why some members have lobbied to make it a historic resource (for a great article on the Truax House, see this 1989 Los Angeles Times story).

In fact, according to an article in the LGBT Weekly, councilmember Gloria was celebrated for securing funding to turn such properties into historic sites. One such property up for designation, claimed the article, was the Truax House.

Reads the article, "Congratulations and thank you to Lambda Archives, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Councilman Todd Gloria for securing state and local financial grants to preserve San Diego LGBT historic sites. Lambda Archives deserves credit for starting the campaign to focus on this most important issue and now comes word that the Truax House is being considered as a historic site and indeed it is. I remember talking to a very ill Dr. Brad Truax in the 1980s to get his permission so that the AIDS Assistance Fund, and I (president and co-founder) could name the three story house after him and he modestly said yes. I look forward to other LGBT historic sites to be named."

However, efforts to designate the Truax House seemed to have failed and now the city wants out, claiming that the two houses are run-down and would cost approximately $1.48 million to repair.

Gloria policy advisor Stephen Hill is now telling residents that they might need to look at other options in order to save the house. "There is no buyer lined up at this time," Hill wrote to one resident. "Councilmember Gloria’s thoughts are that if you feel the Truax House has historical value to the LGBT community, you might begin exploring financing options that would enable Lambda Archives to purchase the site."

The current tenant in the front house, who wished to remain anonymous, says there have been other nonprofits that have expressed interest in the property.

"When Father Joe left, I told San Diego Youth Services about it because I knew they are always looking for places to use as transitional housing facilities," writes the tenant. "They were very interested and had the funds to put into the house, but when they tried to find out information from [the Real Estate Assets Department], they were completely shut down. This led me to believe that [the department] was not following proper procedures and simply wanted to sell the parcel to a commercial developer."

Added the tenant, "I've been particularly disappointed in [Gloria's] lack of interest in this, though not at all surprised by the way [the Real Estate Assets Department] has handled it.

"...I brought this [information] to [councilmember] Gloria since he presents himself as a supporter of LGBT community, but he didn't seem to care. No one does. This simply comes down to money and Faulconer wanting to reward his friends in the commercial development industry."

According to Hill's email, the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee will hear the item on January 20. No agenda has been posted as of this writing.

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Ponzi Jan. 11, 2016 @ 10:24 p.m.

The city hall is a ghost. They will not do anything. All of the council are busy collecting funds for the next step in their career pursuits. The mayor is a ghost, Todd Gloria (now that he is entrenched) is a ghost. They just care about how to add more $$$ so they can climb the political ladder. Serving the locals is not a concern anymore because money is what drives their careers, not representation.


Ponzi Jan. 11, 2016 @ 10:26 p.m.

Presidio Park has a challenging terrain too. Maybe it should be sold.


HonestGovernment Jan. 13, 2016 @ 1:08 p.m.

The big house on the hilly spur of Union Street overlooking Maple Canyon is now called the Truax House, but it should be called the Edward A. Kavanagh (also spelled Kavanaugh) House. It's original address, in 1912/1913, was 2511 Union; by 1914, the new owner, Kavanagh, used the address 2515 Union (Historic City Directories). Today you can see on the house's right front pillar the last three house numbers, "513," that were used for the address, "2513 Union," in the last years that anyone lived there. The house was built on a lot that was originally platted out in Pueblo Lot 1135, part of the subsequent Horton's Addition in the 1800s.

Kavanagh petitioned to build the house in in mid-1912; in these same historical minutes the San Diego City Council also approved grading, sidewalks, and curbs for Union Street between Ivy and Laurel.

Kavanagh was a wealthy entrepreneur who was one of four men who filed for incorporation of the Whiting-Mead Commercial Company, which became the San Diego branch of a Los Angeles giant in the building industry. Kavanagh sold the house between 1919 and 1920, to an older, wealthy Calexico stock breeder/rancher, Thomas B. Owen.

In 1922, the house was the residence of the newly married son of former San Diego Democratic Mayor, James E. Wadham, James E. Wadham, Jr. Mayor Wadham was quite an interesting character but not a particularly brave one, when it came to standing up to local vigilantes. Mayor Wadham advised activists Emma Goldman and Ben Reitman to leave town, as he couldn't protect them from the vigilantes or the police during protests against San Diego's rather amazing ordinance against any kind of public demonstration.

The house still stands, with it's ghosts, and looks in pretty good shape. The inside would be interesting to examine, given that Kavanagh had access to all of the best building materials and modern home conveniences, through his Whiting-Mead company.

What a shame to tear it down.


jelula Jan. 20, 2016 @ 11:28 a.m.

Thank you for the historical timeline.


HonestGovernment Jan. 24, 2016 @ 12:42 p.m.

Thank you, jelula. Walter G. Meyer at Gay San Diego took some of this info and reported it as his own in a Jan 22 online article, without crediting me for the info I reported here and without linking to The Reader article. Really not a very good thing to do. I put an enormous amount of time into tracking down the history of this house.


nostalgic Jan. 14, 2016 @ 9:17 a.m.

The city has a particular problem with renting houses on park land, and a list of commercial rentals owned by the city would be interesting. At what point does the city compete with local rental businesses? They solve this problem by renting at below market rates, which is not the business the city should be in. The city auditor has had a few words to say on this in the past. Making this house historic may or may not impact a conversion to parkland, but it is definitely a factor.


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