Effort to preserve historic Carlsbad house gains support

Efforts to preserve a two-story Victorian mansion on Highland Drive in Carlsbad are being backed by the Carlsbad City Council.

The council unanimously asked city staffers last week to look for ways to save the structure built in 1887 by Alonzo Jackson Culver, who also constructed the landmark Twin Inns downtown on Carlsbad Boulevard.

“It’s the most historic residential property in the city,” said Chad Majer, chairman of the city’s Historical Preservation Commission, in a presentation to the council. Majer said he lives across the street from the house, known as the Culver-Meyers-Capp house.

“It looks a little rough on the outside,” he said. “But on the inside it’s very well preserved. It’s a time machine. It’s got period antiques that would go with the property. Everything from the fixtures, to the wallpaper, to the toilets are all 100 years old and could easily be preserved.”

Majer excused himself from the commission’s discussion of the house in March because he lives nearby, but the group voted to recommend the City Council consider preservation efforts.

The Twin Inns were mirror-image Queen Anne-style mansions built in the 1880s on what today is Carlsbad Boulevard. One, known as the Wadsworth mansion, fell into disrepair and was torn down in 1950. The other was a restaurant popular with coastal travelers for many years and is now part of the Village Faire shopping center at the corner of Carlsbad Boulevard and Carlsbad Village Drive.

The Culver-Myers-Capp house, named for its succession of owners, was built at the corner of Highland Drive and Oak Avenue with materials left over from the construction of the Twin Inns.

A 1967 article in the San Diego Union said the homeowner at the time was Gertrude Myers, 82, a widow and watercolor artist who had lived there 31 years and was known as “The Grandma Moses of Carlsbad.” She planned to sell the house for $35,000 so she could move in with her daughter in Santa Monica.

Stained glass windows “run nearly to the top of the 11-foot ceilings,” on the first floor, which has “a huge kitchen and pantry, a parlor and a front room with a Ben Franklin fireplace.” The redwood flooring is “secured to sturdy joists with handmade square nails,” the article said.

An orchard with avocado, peach, grapefruit, guava, tangelo, pear, apple, lemon persimmon and macadamia nut trees grew on the grounds.

The two-story, four-bedroom house and an adjacent carriage house, now on 1.27 acres, were originally part of 30 acres with a blacksmith shop, a well house and other outbuildings. The most recent occupant, the late Gerald Capp, bought the house in 1969 and made extensive repairs and upgrades.

His heirs asked the city to consider buying the house in a Jan. 8 email to the City Council. The property was listed for sale in May for $2,995,000 and remained on the market as of late last week.

An ordinance passed by Carlsbad voters in 1982 requires a citywide vote to spend more than $1 million on real estate property, which would make it difficult for the city to buy the property. But other options are available.

“A common practice would be to sell (the house) to the city for a dollar, and we would pay to move it to another site,” said resident Gary Nessim, who suggested Magee Park on Carlsbad Boulevard as a possible location.

Assistance also could be available through the Mills Act, which the City Council would have to adopt. Under the Mills Act, the city can grant benefits such as a property tax reduction or exemption to the owner in exchange for a guarantee that the building would be preserved for a period such as 10 years. That would give the owner and the city more time to work out a permanent solution.

Moving the house to Magee Park would be a challenge, said Deputy City Manager Gary Barberio. The building is too tall to go under Interstate 5, so it probably would have to go to the nearest overpass at Las Flores. Utility lines and other obstacles also would be factors.

“We really need to make some sort of effort,” said Mayor Matt Hall, who said entering the house is like stepping back in time.

“If there was ever one (place) where you want to preserve the history of this city, this is that piece of property,” Hall said.

City staffers will return to the council with more information about the possibilities, the costs and where the money might be available, Barberio said.

The house was one of 19 sites the city designated as historic between 1986 and 1990, of which only 13 remain.