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La Jolla house touted as part of the Green Dragon Colony established by Anna Held

Held purchased an undeveloped hillside in what would become La Jolla Village for a reported $165.

Craftsman-style architecture with Tudor Revival influences...and copious water damage.
Craftsman-style architecture with Tudor Revival influences...and copious water damage.

We don’t seem to care very much about old buildings here in San Diego. I spent some time looking for a nice old home to write about here, as I tend to do every couple of months, and what I found was a touch disappointing. I asked my search tool to show me houses for sale that were built before 1950 (which isn’t all that old, really) and priced at $2 million or more. As of late February, there were only 43 such properties to be found.

Worse, it doesn’t seem like people have much interest in making sure most of these older homes endure — listing after listing began with a headline like “Development opportunity!” or “Build your dream home!” or some similar invitation to tear down any building that’s surpassed a human’s life expectancy and so make way for an ultra-modern cube of enclosed luxury that stretches far too close to your neighbor’s lot line for comfort. Well, my comfort, anyway.

As I scrolled through the listings, my interior landscape grew bleak. Have I already showed you, dear reader, all of the cool old houses that San Diegans are selling? I hope not, but...Perhaps we’ll get some more offerings in the spring, when “real estate season” starts in earnest. For now, I’m going to show you an old house that has seen better days, but still, it seems to me, looks like it deserves a happier fate than complete demolition.

Zillow pitches 1424 Olivet Lane as a “hidden gem looking for the right person to transform or recreate this wonderful property in the heart of La Jolla.” The listing goes on to say that both the main house and detached garage (built somewhere between 1914 and 1918, apparently) were “part of the Green Dragon Colony of artists and educators established by Anna Held.” Held came to San Diego as a governess for the family of Ulysses S. Grant Jr. in 1894 (coincidentally, we looked at his house almost exactly a year ago), who purchased an undeveloped hillside in what would become La Jolla Village for a reported $165. Yes, one hundred sixty-five dollars. She then hired an architect to build her a cottage around a stone fireplace she had herself built from rocks gathered along the bluffs.

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More guest cottages followed between 1895 and 1906, and Held began hosting gatherings of famous and influential artists, writers, actors, and musicians from around the world. British novelist Beatrice Harraden is said to have coined the “Green Dragon” moniker for the enclave, and for many, visits there served as an introduction to La Jolla — and to San Diego more broadly.

Maybe some of the timber can be saved, despite the water damage.

Alas, the build dates don’t quite match up here: Held sold out in 1912 for a reported $30,000 (not a bad return on that $165), and our Olivet Lane home was built after that. So was this really a Green Dragon house? It’s hard to know, but the Zillow remarks do say that “Harry Child, President & Co-founder of the Yellowstone Park Co., used this as his Winter home,” There’s another Grant connection, as the president (not the son who settled in San Diego) signed a law in 1872 that paved the way for the creation of that park.

Let’s have a look at the buildings, which the listing says feature “Craftsman-style architecture with Tudor Revival influences.” Oh dear, this does not start well. There’s a bunch of staining on the red brick that covers the first half of the lower level exterior, nearly all of the front windows are boarded up, and most of the roof is covered in a sad blue tarp. (And what isn’t under the tarp does not look to be in good shape at all.) The next picture, taken from a slightly higher elevation, only makes things look worse. From the gated driveway at the street, things look a little better, but only because the house is farther away. Also, a chain link fence wrapped with construction privacy fabric is not what I would expect for a multi-million dollar house — though upon consideration, it’s probably more of a deterrent, meant to keep people away from the dilapidated structure.

The grounds look pleasant, if a bit derelict. There are some good old-growth trees spread across the lot, which spans nearly two-thirds of an acre. And maybe a little water and seed could bring the vast lawn back to life — though that might not be the best idea in Southern California, anyway.

The detached garage, which looks like a house unto itself that happens to sport a couple of small garage doors, doesn’t look much better. There are no roof tarps, but the windows are still boarded up, and I’m wondering if the absence of tarps just means there’s nothing worthy of preservation inside. There’s also a boarded-up studio that looks like it might feature some rustic wood siding, but don’t be fooled: a closer look reveals that there’s no siding at all; we’re just looking straight through the exterior wall.

We get another dozen or so depressing shots of the exterior before we’re finally invited inside. First up is the massive living room. The fireplace looks good: old and regal, what we’d expect of a house of this age. It looks like someone has tried to freshen up the paint on the walls and maybe update the lighting fixtures, but there’s also evidence of a pretty bad roof leak, and I’m not sure if any level of sanding and polishing can save those hardwood floors. A wood-paneled dining room has coffered ceilings and a chandelier that looks old if not grandiose, but there’s water damage here, too. It’s not as bad as the living room, so maybe some of the timber can be saved?

Next we get to another wood room, this one with an interesting hexagonal shape and what look like some disused built-in bookcases. There are the makings of a home office here, and I find I’m getting either more hopeful or more delusional as we look around. I’m starting to imagine the stately bearing this home once possessed — and might someday again.

My hopes are somewhat dashed when we get to the first of four bathrooms. The stains on the walls here (the walls that still exist, anyway) are overwhelming, and the flooring has been ripped up, exposing lots of rotten wood. The light fixture dangling from a cord in the shower adds to the overall creepiness of setting. Our dejected tour continues from there until we reach the kitchen, where we find signs of life. It looks like, at some point in the last 15 years or so, someone attempted an update, with newer stone countertops and glass-faced cabinets. Maybe the level of seemingly years-old decay isn’t really the result of decades of neglect? Or maybe I keep reassuring myself for no good reason.

We continue through a parade of abandon: there’s the studio guest house, ripped down to the studs almost everywhere. A bathroom addition on the garage probably was undertaken with great intentions, but even when it was functional, the plumbing would have looked amateurish. One window on the top floor of the main house has had the strand board pried away so that we can look out at the ocean.

Then we get to something entirely unexpected: a weird plaster-walled passageway with a curving ceiling and openings in the wall placed seemingly at random. One leads us to a tile-floored room with round walls – is this the “oversized ‘crawl’ space/basement” the listing promised us?

Alas, that’s it for items of interest, aside from more devastation. I guess we’ll never know the story of this house, or whether any of the famous minds of the Green Dragon collective actually spent any time here. The listing does say that “this house has POTENTIAL Historical Significance,” but based on the all-caps shouting, I think “potential” is doing the heavy lifting here.

Public records list a Jane Ryan as the home’s owner. Given the incredibly low tax basis of $287,000 and no history of other sales, the home has likely been in the family for a very, very long time. And despite all of its many failings, homes in La Jolla still don’t come cheap. Listed for the first time in mid-February, the asking price of $4,395,000 remains unchanged to date. Start with that much, and then plan on doubling your investment to get this property back into shape. But please, don’t knock it down and build another McMansion.

  • 1424 Olivet Lane | La Jolla, 92037
  • Current owner: Jane Ryan | Listing price: $4,395,000 | Beds: 6 | Baths: 4 | House size: 3568 sq ft
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Craftsman-style architecture with Tudor Revival influences...and copious water damage.
Craftsman-style architecture with Tudor Revival influences...and copious water damage.

We don’t seem to care very much about old buildings here in San Diego. I spent some time looking for a nice old home to write about here, as I tend to do every couple of months, and what I found was a touch disappointing. I asked my search tool to show me houses for sale that were built before 1950 (which isn’t all that old, really) and priced at $2 million or more. As of late February, there were only 43 such properties to be found.

Worse, it doesn’t seem like people have much interest in making sure most of these older homes endure — listing after listing began with a headline like “Development opportunity!” or “Build your dream home!” or some similar invitation to tear down any building that’s surpassed a human’s life expectancy and so make way for an ultra-modern cube of enclosed luxury that stretches far too close to your neighbor’s lot line for comfort. Well, my comfort, anyway.

As I scrolled through the listings, my interior landscape grew bleak. Have I already showed you, dear reader, all of the cool old houses that San Diegans are selling? I hope not, but...Perhaps we’ll get some more offerings in the spring, when “real estate season” starts in earnest. For now, I’m going to show you an old house that has seen better days, but still, it seems to me, looks like it deserves a happier fate than complete demolition.

Zillow pitches 1424 Olivet Lane as a “hidden gem looking for the right person to transform or recreate this wonderful property in the heart of La Jolla.” The listing goes on to say that both the main house and detached garage (built somewhere between 1914 and 1918, apparently) were “part of the Green Dragon Colony of artists and educators established by Anna Held.” Held came to San Diego as a governess for the family of Ulysses S. Grant Jr. in 1894 (coincidentally, we looked at his house almost exactly a year ago), who purchased an undeveloped hillside in what would become La Jolla Village for a reported $165. Yes, one hundred sixty-five dollars. She then hired an architect to build her a cottage around a stone fireplace she had herself built from rocks gathered along the bluffs.

Sponsored
Sponsored

More guest cottages followed between 1895 and 1906, and Held began hosting gatherings of famous and influential artists, writers, actors, and musicians from around the world. British novelist Beatrice Harraden is said to have coined the “Green Dragon” moniker for the enclave, and for many, visits there served as an introduction to La Jolla — and to San Diego more broadly.

Maybe some of the timber can be saved, despite the water damage.

Alas, the build dates don’t quite match up here: Held sold out in 1912 for a reported $30,000 (not a bad return on that $165), and our Olivet Lane home was built after that. So was this really a Green Dragon house? It’s hard to know, but the Zillow remarks do say that “Harry Child, President & Co-founder of the Yellowstone Park Co., used this as his Winter home,” There’s another Grant connection, as the president (not the son who settled in San Diego) signed a law in 1872 that paved the way for the creation of that park.

Let’s have a look at the buildings, which the listing says feature “Craftsman-style architecture with Tudor Revival influences.” Oh dear, this does not start well. There’s a bunch of staining on the red brick that covers the first half of the lower level exterior, nearly all of the front windows are boarded up, and most of the roof is covered in a sad blue tarp. (And what isn’t under the tarp does not look to be in good shape at all.) The next picture, taken from a slightly higher elevation, only makes things look worse. From the gated driveway at the street, things look a little better, but only because the house is farther away. Also, a chain link fence wrapped with construction privacy fabric is not what I would expect for a multi-million dollar house — though upon consideration, it’s probably more of a deterrent, meant to keep people away from the dilapidated structure.

The grounds look pleasant, if a bit derelict. There are some good old-growth trees spread across the lot, which spans nearly two-thirds of an acre. And maybe a little water and seed could bring the vast lawn back to life — though that might not be the best idea in Southern California, anyway.

The detached garage, which looks like a house unto itself that happens to sport a couple of small garage doors, doesn’t look much better. There are no roof tarps, but the windows are still boarded up, and I’m wondering if the absence of tarps just means there’s nothing worthy of preservation inside. There’s also a boarded-up studio that looks like it might feature some rustic wood siding, but don’t be fooled: a closer look reveals that there’s no siding at all; we’re just looking straight through the exterior wall.

We get another dozen or so depressing shots of the exterior before we’re finally invited inside. First up is the massive living room. The fireplace looks good: old and regal, what we’d expect of a house of this age. It looks like someone has tried to freshen up the paint on the walls and maybe update the lighting fixtures, but there’s also evidence of a pretty bad roof leak, and I’m not sure if any level of sanding and polishing can save those hardwood floors. A wood-paneled dining room has coffered ceilings and a chandelier that looks old if not grandiose, but there’s water damage here, too. It’s not as bad as the living room, so maybe some of the timber can be saved?

Next we get to another wood room, this one with an interesting hexagonal shape and what look like some disused built-in bookcases. There are the makings of a home office here, and I find I’m getting either more hopeful or more delusional as we look around. I’m starting to imagine the stately bearing this home once possessed — and might someday again.

My hopes are somewhat dashed when we get to the first of four bathrooms. The stains on the walls here (the walls that still exist, anyway) are overwhelming, and the flooring has been ripped up, exposing lots of rotten wood. The light fixture dangling from a cord in the shower adds to the overall creepiness of setting. Our dejected tour continues from there until we reach the kitchen, where we find signs of life. It looks like, at some point in the last 15 years or so, someone attempted an update, with newer stone countertops and glass-faced cabinets. Maybe the level of seemingly years-old decay isn’t really the result of decades of neglect? Or maybe I keep reassuring myself for no good reason.

We continue through a parade of abandon: there’s the studio guest house, ripped down to the studs almost everywhere. A bathroom addition on the garage probably was undertaken with great intentions, but even when it was functional, the plumbing would have looked amateurish. One window on the top floor of the main house has had the strand board pried away so that we can look out at the ocean.

Then we get to something entirely unexpected: a weird plaster-walled passageway with a curving ceiling and openings in the wall placed seemingly at random. One leads us to a tile-floored room with round walls – is this the “oversized ‘crawl’ space/basement” the listing promised us?

Alas, that’s it for items of interest, aside from more devastation. I guess we’ll never know the story of this house, or whether any of the famous minds of the Green Dragon collective actually spent any time here. The listing does say that “this house has POTENTIAL Historical Significance,” but based on the all-caps shouting, I think “potential” is doing the heavy lifting here.

Public records list a Jane Ryan as the home’s owner. Given the incredibly low tax basis of $287,000 and no history of other sales, the home has likely been in the family for a very, very long time. And despite all of its many failings, homes in La Jolla still don’t come cheap. Listed for the first time in mid-February, the asking price of $4,395,000 remains unchanged to date. Start with that much, and then plan on doubling your investment to get this property back into shape. But please, don’t knock it down and build another McMansion.

  • 1424 Olivet Lane | La Jolla, 92037
  • Current owner: Jane Ryan | Listing price: $4,395,000 | Beds: 6 | Baths: 4 | House size: 3568 sq ft
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