Historic House Disputes Reflect Development Push in E. Village

By Gene Cubbison
|  Monday, Jan 27, 2014  |  Updated 8:40 PM PDT
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Builders are really back in business now in East Village. And as high rises go up, old structures are coming down. NBC 7's Gene Cubbison looks at a house whose official designation as a

Builders are really back in business now in East Village. And as high rises go up, old structures are coming down. NBC 7's Gene Cubbison looks at a house whose official designation as a "historic resource" is being challenged.

A city hall battle over the historical significance of a century-old downtown house is raising issues that figure into a larger story about a resurgence of development of East Village.

When Petco Park was being built early in the 21st century, East Village became a magnet to major real estate investments that are changing the urban landscape there.

Recessionary times beginning in 2008 drove out a forest of construction cranes, but an economic upswing has sparked fresh interest in the market.

And as more high-rise buildings go up, old structures are coming down.

Now, longtime locals and historic preservationists are fighting to maintain pieces of the past.

A centerpiece of the dilemma is the so-called “Sanford B. Myers Spec House #1” at 1619 J Street, built in 1906.

It carries an official city "historic resource" designation, and as such, presents obstacles to the owners' plans to sell the underlying property to developers.

So they've filed an appeal at City Hall challenging that designation in the name of the Jerome Navarra Family Trust, whose namesake owns and operates the San Diego-based Jerome’s Furniture Store.

The woman who’s rented the house on a month-to-month basis for 18 years didn’t want to go on camera with NBC 7, but her grown son agreed to share his concerns about the underlying development issue an interview Monday.

“It's not cool, I lost a lot of my neighbors because of it,” said Sergio Sanchez. “The people that own these houses own the ones across the street. They've sold them out, you know? But what can we do about that, though?"

The Myers house sits on a quarter-block property that also encompasses two nearby businesses – a restaurant equipment supply store and iron gate factory – and another house that are advertised for sale by commercial brokers.

The view to the west takes in Petco Park, the new downtown library, and signs of a building boom that's transforming long-decaying stretches of East Village, many heavily populated by the homeless.

Some village residents welcome seeing new money gentrify their neighborhoods, and acknowledge the developers’ challenges.

"There is no way in the world I would buy a big property and come outside and my car's robbed,” says Deborah Dean, “or I’ve got to run down the street because some crackhead is beating some woman or selling some dope in front of my building."

It's a dilemma that doesn't figure to be resolved without some anxieties and displacements.

The broad hope is to preserve the best pieces of the past while eliminating the worst of the fallout from a century of urban neglect.

"You know, we have kids and sometimes we don’t let them go outside because we don't know what's going to happen,” said Elvis Santiago, a five-year resident of East Village. “We're talking about new buildings, and it's good for the city -- because the money talks, and the city's growing.”

But Santiago, a neighbor of the Myers house, made sure to add this caveat: "Don't take the history. I mean, we see a lot of houses. And we're not going to see any more if they bring them down."

The attorney for the Navarra family trust and city officials – who recommend against lifting the house’s historic designation -- did not respond to requests for comment made Monday by phone and email.

But according Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation, a City Council hearing on the Navarra appeal is being pulled from Tuesday’s docket because talks are under way to resolve the disagreements.

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