A work crew recently tearing the stucco face off the old O'Connor's Church Goods building on El Cajon Boulevard uncovered an intricate red brick face that one planning group member said "may be the prettiest building in Normal Heights."
Caroline McKeown, a longtime member of the Normal Heights Community Planning Group, said the brickwork's existence was unknown until the crew began rehabbing the building.
O'Connor's Church Goods was located in the building from 1964 until 2015, when the O'Connor family sold it to Grasshopper Development, which plans to have a charter-school project where students run businesses housed there.
"It used to be a lumber store on one side and the other side was billeting and support for the Atlas manned and unmanned space launches," John O'Connor said. "That was when Convair owned it."
The O'Connors were never sure how old the building is but said they believe it's from around 1908.
"The city's records were destroyed in a fire," O'Connor said. "Then they made us go through all kinds of contortions about non-reinforced masonry because they couldn't find their own records that showed it was reinforced."
O'Connor's has moved to new digs on Mission Gorge in Mission Valley but remain fond of their old home on El Cajon Boulevard, he said.
David Iwashita, Grasshopper's principal, said he plans to retain the historic brick on the south and west faces of the building — something that workers on the site concurred are their instructions. "We are leaving it here," one said. "We think it's beautiful, too."
This isn't Iwashita's first go-round with historic brick: in 2010, the developer took over the Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club and Bungalows about a mile and a half to the west on El Cajon Boulevard. The company restored the red brick and preserved the hotel and pool (which was designed by Johnny Weissmuller) and upgraded the building.