Modern architecture enthusiasts are hoping to save a distinctive small condominium known for its whimsical appearance near Carlsbad’s Magee Park.
The 40-year-old building, sometimes referred to as Victor Condo, on Garfield Avenue is one of the earliest examples of a postmodern style often referred to as “Blendo” created by San Diego architects Ted Smith and Kathleen McCormick.
“Victor Condo clearly has cultural significance and… a fine example of a pivotal historical period in the growth of Carlsbad’s building environment, from a small coastal community to a vibrant city worthy of vibrant architecture”, said Peter Jensen, writer and editor at Sunset Magazine and San Diego Home / Garden magazine for 40 years.
As “affordable but elegantly important housing (not to mention exciting dwellings)”, the buildings are an example of late 20th century innovation in an area that too often relies on cookie-cutter architecture. ” Jensen said in comments on a petition to save the structure.
The owner and developer of the property is Renee Wailes, who is represented by John Beery of BGI Architecture in Carlsbad. Beery declined to answer questions about the project.
The proposal to demolish the building and replace it with a three-unit luxury condominium project was originally scheduled for a Carlsbad Planning Commission hearing on January 19. However, the city recently requested a third-party review and will reschedule the hearing, likely for a meeting in a month or two, a city spokesperson said.
Alarmed by a yellow project notice posted on the front of the Garfield Street property, neighbors and supporters of the building launched an online petition titled Save Victor Condo on ipetitions.com. As of Friday, it had more than 210 signatures and 70 comments.
“We believe the building qualifies… as a design at the forefront of a significant architectural movement,” says the petition released by San Diego architect Patrick Cordelle, who works with Smith and McCormick.
“Ted and Kathy have been a huge inspiration to me,” Cordelle said via email Tuesday. “Both are responsible for some of the most beautiful and inspiring buildings in our region, and I believe they will go down in history as some of the greatest American architects of our time.”
Smith and McCormick created the Blendo style to overlay the surrounding styles in a single building. The Garfield Street structure blends the styles of the adjacent Victorian house, now a museum, in Magee Park with the white buildings of the nearby Military and Naval Academy and other surrounding styles.
The architects nicknamed their project the Victor Condos in reference to the modified Victorian style of the facade, Cordelle said, and the nickname has stuck to this day.
The style spread to Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s, where leading architects began to explore new ways to tap into various local sources in a way that brought humor, free form, and a philosophical agenda to their designs.
Other San Diego projects by Smith, McCormick, and fellow partner Lloyd Russell include the Abpopa Hotel in Hillcrest, the Merrimac Building in Little Italy, and the Essex Apartments on State Street.
A historical analysis report completed for the Carlsbad Planning Department in October by San Diego attorney Scott Moomjian concludes that the Garfield Street property is not historically or architecturally significant.
“No historical evidence has been identified that would support the claim that the property illustrates or reflects special elements of Carlsbad’s cultural, social, economic, political, aesthetic, technical or architectural history,” Moomjian said in his report. “The building does not in any way illustrate or reflect any ‘special elements’ of the city’s history, nor other existing structures, similarly located, within the community. “
Among those who aren’t agree with the conclusion of the lawyer.
“The Victor Carlsbad Project is a vital example of Smith’s early work and is clearly worth preserving,” Sutro said in a rebuttal to the attorney’s report.
“Victor Condos is a whimsical and distinctive building in a neighborhood that does not usually stand out for its unique architecture,” he said. “It is the most eye-catching building in the area.”
The front facade of the building “takes the form of three separate townhouses and has an engaging playful feel reminiscent of a theme park or Hollywood movie set,” Sutro said. “The use of glass brick is reminiscent of buildings from the era of Art Deco architecture in the 1930s.”
His creative use of concrete, wood and stucco in simple forms is an example of how base materials can be used in exciting ways, Sutro said.
Preserving the building reduces the need for wood, glass and other materials that are scarce, require transportation, and increase a region’s carbon footprint, he said.
In addition, the existing building has three main condominiums and three smaller apartments for a total of six rental units. Replacing it with three luxury units would reduce the city’s housing supply and increase housing costs, Sutro said.