By JILL DIAMOND | Uptown News
Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, the founder of the San Diego Zoo, would probably be thrilled his former residence in Bankers Hill has served as headquarters to the Junior League of San Diego (JLSD) since 1981, and is undergoing a restoration.
Dubbed “The 210 Maple Restoration Project” – the multi-year, multi-phase initiative will provide an inclusive, safe and functional space to serve its 1,000 volunteer members, 120 community partners and 1,200 youth exiting foster care, according to Andrea Myers of the Junior League of San Diego.
“We’re pretty pleased to have such a great community asset and continue to use it as such to connect, train and mentor JLSD members, as well as ultimately develop exceptional San Diego leaders and community partners,” Myers said.
Considered a “true jewel,” JLSD acquired the home in 1981 and is celebrating its 90th anniversary in the community. Additionally, the organization helped to have the home designated a historical landmark in 1981. At press time, the organization had raised nearly $400,000 of its $750,000 goal for the renovation project.
Designed by Louis Gill — a principal in the office of his uncle, famed architect Irving Gill — for Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth and his family in 1916, the house is two levels and about 3,900 square feet. It included many modern amenities when it was constructed, according to architect Tim Martin of Martin Architecture.
“The architecture is pretty amazing due to it being a largely intact example of Louis and Irving Gills’ work,” said Martin who is a lead in the project.
The renovations include a new training kitchen, flexible seating area for trainings and meetings, new lounge, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant improvements, upgraded technology, and a records room that will be used to pay tribute to the JLSD’s nine decades in San Diego.
“It was a classic single-family home with many modern amenities when it was designed and built. It has changed little over the years and remains a fine example of Gill’s work,” Martin said.
A central formal entry with grand staircase is flanked by a living room and dining room, with a sunroom to the west off the living room, and a kitchen behind the dining room, with a conventional bath near the rear of the house and a two-car garage. The upper level has several bedrooms, baths with copper tubs and porches once used for sleeping.
Some minor changes were made by another local architect in 1981, which involved converting the home into a commercial-use property from a residence when JLSD took occupancy, according to Case Irwin of Irwin Builders, also a lead in the renovations.
The kitchen is perhaps the most extensive part of the restoration project, which will bring it up to speed for teaching and to meet other current building codes.
“The kitchen is cool and has a lot of original elements still there that we’re trying to incorporate,” Myers said. “One is a huge gas stove that will be kept and we’re trying to save the old doors from the original ice boxes.”
Irwin said at the time the home was built it was advanced as far as techniques. For instance, he said in the basement — which won’t be renovated and is about 1,700 square feet — they found a whole house vac system.
“There is also a dumbwaiter, laundry shoot, and all the baths have trap doors to access plumbing and plumbing fixtures that were ahead of the time,” Irwin said. “There was also some sort of solar device that helped heat water.”
Full steam ahead
For the time being, the JLSD has temporarily relocated to the former SD Women’s Club — now Parq West — directly across the street until the project is completed in December.
Martin said he has worked on a lot of remodels and old homes but the Wegeforth is “truly a gem.”
“It’s going to be an interesting process and we are proud to be able to deliver what will serve JLSD very well for many years to come,” Martin said. “It’s still very stately, simple and very much the Gill style. It has been well preserved over years and has remained intact with little work done from the exterior that wasn’t original. It’s a pleasure to work on something like this and advance its life for another 100 years.”
Added Myers: “Junior League is proud that its headquarters is so deeply connected to the history of San Diego and the renovations will only continue to preserve the historic landmark.”
— Jill Diamond is a Southern California freelance writer with a penchant for interesting historical pieces. Reach her at JillDiamondHistory@gmail.com.