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Streamline Moderne at 4th and Palm loses out

Historic Resources Board overruled by city council

Salyers building. Prior owners attested to two additions along the south side, as well as new stucco, porthole windows, and signage.
Salyers building. Prior owners attested to two additions along the south side, as well as new stucco, porthole windows, and signage.

The San Diego City Council on Monday overturned the historic designation of a small, nondescript commercial building on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and Palm Street in Banker's Hill.

Built by master architect Charles Salyers in 1936, the L-shaped office building at 2851-2881 4th Avenue is a somewhat rare example of the Streamline Moderne style, also known as Art Moderne, in San Diego.

The Dr. Roy and Herma Ledford/Charles Salyers Building, as it's named, was designated historic by the city's Historical Resources Board on January 28, 2021. Both the would-be buyer, Michael Rush LLC, and seller, Michael Lerner, who operates a medical office, filed appeals. At stake was a 70-unit mixed use development that was planned for the site.

At stake is a 70-unit mixed-use development planned for the site.

Under city code, the council may reject historic designations based on factual errors in information presented to the board, violations of bylaws or hearing procedures - or new information, which is what swayed the council.

"Almost half the building is known to be a new addition, and not built by a master architect," said Stephen Whitburn, who represents the uptown community where it is located.

"While I am a strong supporter of historic preservation, after reviewing the historic review of this particular property, I cannot support the designation," he said.

The Historical Resources Board designated the building under criterion D, as a notable example of Streamline Moderne by master architect Salyers, a prolific residential designer who focused on the style in his later career.

Commercial and multifamily examples of Streamline Moderne are found in Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, Point Loma, downtown, Normal Heights, South Park, North Park, and Kensington, as well the El Cajon Boulevard, Park Boulevard, and University Avenue corridors, according to the board's report.

But compared to other styles of the period, "Streamline Moderne architecture is relatively rare in San Diego."

Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization, said it's actually "very rare," seen mostly along Pacific Highway and up the slopes," celebrating the city's place in aviation history.

"Unfortunately we lost most of it except the Civic Center," he said, and a few on Pacific Highway. Coons said there are no legal grounds for granting the appeal.

"We are committed to working with the developer when you uphold the designation."

Scott Moomjian, who represented Michael Rush LLC, argued that the building has expanded over time, and that prior owners attested to two additions along the south side, as well as new stucco, porthole windows, and signage.

Appellants pointed out that Historical Resources Board member Dr. Ann Woods has served seven terms, when no more than four are allowed.

"The city should take a hard, long look at how HRB is being governed, which is only exacerbating the housing crisis in San Diego," said John Allen, founder of Streamline Development.

Council member Joe LaCava seconded a motion made by Whitburn to uphold the appeal, but added, "throwing the entire HRB board under the bus is not the way to appeal to the City Council."

According to the city clerk, Dr. Woods was appointed in 2009, and has served four, two-year terms, which expired in 2017. The city attorney noted that her fourth term is still in effect because no replacement has been found.

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Salyers building. Prior owners attested to two additions along the south side, as well as new stucco, porthole windows, and signage.
Salyers building. Prior owners attested to two additions along the south side, as well as new stucco, porthole windows, and signage.

The San Diego City Council on Monday overturned the historic designation of a small, nondescript commercial building on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and Palm Street in Banker's Hill.

Built by master architect Charles Salyers in 1936, the L-shaped office building at 2851-2881 4th Avenue is a somewhat rare example of the Streamline Moderne style, also known as Art Moderne, in San Diego.

The Dr. Roy and Herma Ledford/Charles Salyers Building, as it's named, was designated historic by the city's Historical Resources Board on January 28, 2021. Both the would-be buyer, Michael Rush LLC, and seller, Michael Lerner, who operates a medical office, filed appeals. At stake was a 70-unit mixed use development that was planned for the site.

At stake is a 70-unit mixed-use development planned for the site.

Under city code, the council may reject historic designations based on factual errors in information presented to the board, violations of bylaws or hearing procedures - or new information, which is what swayed the council.

"Almost half the building is known to be a new addition, and not built by a master architect," said Stephen Whitburn, who represents the uptown community where it is located.

"While I am a strong supporter of historic preservation, after reviewing the historic review of this particular property, I cannot support the designation," he said.

The Historical Resources Board designated the building under criterion D, as a notable example of Streamline Moderne by master architect Salyers, a prolific residential designer who focused on the style in his later career.

Commercial and multifamily examples of Streamline Moderne are found in Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Bankers Hill, Point Loma, downtown, Normal Heights, South Park, North Park, and Kensington, as well the El Cajon Boulevard, Park Boulevard, and University Avenue corridors, according to the board's report.

But compared to other styles of the period, "Streamline Moderne architecture is relatively rare in San Diego."

Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organization, said it's actually "very rare," seen mostly along Pacific Highway and up the slopes," celebrating the city's place in aviation history.

"Unfortunately we lost most of it except the Civic Center," he said, and a few on Pacific Highway. Coons said there are no legal grounds for granting the appeal.

"We are committed to working with the developer when you uphold the designation."

Scott Moomjian, who represented Michael Rush LLC, argued that the building has expanded over time, and that prior owners attested to two additions along the south side, as well as new stucco, porthole windows, and signage.

Appellants pointed out that Historical Resources Board member Dr. Ann Woods has served seven terms, when no more than four are allowed.

"The city should take a hard, long look at how HRB is being governed, which is only exacerbating the housing crisis in San Diego," said John Allen, founder of Streamline Development.

Council member Joe LaCava seconded a motion made by Whitburn to uphold the appeal, but added, "throwing the entire HRB board under the bus is not the way to appeal to the City Council."

According to the city clerk, Dr. Woods was appointed in 2009, and has served four, two-year terms, which expired in 2017. The city attorney noted that her fourth term is still in effect because no replacement has been found.

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