PIP “Adaptive Reuse” Award goes to Historic Mission Hills Bungalow
By Charles Shaw
Every day for more than 35 years Robert McLeod would leave his comfortable Mission Hills home and travel downtown to the high-rise offices of his law firm, Lindley Scales & McLeod. There he would, as he put it, “spend my days hermetically sealed in a glass box many floors in the air.” For most of that time it made sense. During the firm’s most successful years practicing civil, probate, and estate law and commercial litigation, there were as many as twenty lawyers working under him.
But in recent years the daily trip downtown no longer made sense. His partners retired and eventually passed away, and slowly the firm contracted to where it is today, with McLeod working as a sole practitioner. With no more need for a large commercial office space, and with the ability to finally craft a work environment of his choosing, McLeod decided to purchase a classic Craftsman-era bungalow on Hawk Street in Mission Hills and turn it into his new office. For his efforts, he was awarded the Save our Heritage Organization’s “People in Preservation” award for what’s known as “adaptive reuse,” or the process of recycling old structures to be used other than initially intended, such as turning old warehouse space into lofts.
Presented each May during National Preservation Month, the “People in Preservation” award recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of historic preservation. An independent jury of architects, preservation professionals, and business leaders select the award winners using the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation in their review.
The home on Hawk Street was originally built in 1919 by master builder Martin V. Melhorn, back when San Diego was a boom town. The Melhorn Construction Co. was a prolific builder of bungalows in Mission Hills during that period as Melhorn worked with his partner, carpenter John J. Wahrenberger, to build Craftsman-style houses that emphasized high-quality carpentry cutwork and incorporated Prairie style, oriental, and stucco finish architecture. It was known in art circles as the “Arts and Crafts Movement,” which predated Art Deco, existing between approximately 1880 and 1910.
“Each one of these [Melhorn] bungalows are quite unique and depict the history of San Diego at the time,” McLeod explained. “The restoration of these properties has been beneficial to the community as a whole by improving appearances and property values. But for me it was just a fun project, a pleasant place to have an office, with a breeze coming off the bay, church bells in the background, and kids playing outside … quite a different atmosphere from a sealed building downtown.”
The small two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot bungalow had been abandoned by a developer who had originally purchased this and other homes in the Hawk Street block in order to raze the houses and build a block-sized development. Those plans fell through, so 18 months ago McLeod was able to purchase the property from the developer.
At the time of his purchase, the home had been terribly vandalized, windows were broken or missing, all the copper piping had been stolen, the sewer connections were plugged, and the place was in a general state of disarray. But structurally the building was quite sound, despite a number of shocking Modern Era renovations which had bricked up the fireplace (and in true and baffling 60s fashion, replaced the fireplace with a faux lava rock wall), dropped the ceiling, and painted over the beautiful hardwood oak and maple floors and molding.
McLeod redesigned the home to use the dining room as his office, living room as the conference room, and the two bedrooms for his office staff. The kitchen and bathroom were completely reconstructed, the floors stripped and refinished, and sliding aluminum windows were installed throughout. The roof was restored using the same kind of red roofing materials as San Diego’s famed Hotel del Coronado.
Despite the quality and intention behind the restoration work, McLeod had no higher ambitions, and in fact, was quite surprised when we discovered he had won the PIP award after a friend had submitted the Melhorn Bungalow for consideration unbeknownst to him. He is proud of the award and all, but what really makes him happy these days is that after all these years, he finally gets to walk (or bike) to work.
Charles Shaw is a widely published writer and editor whose work appears in Examiner and the Huffington Post. A longtime community activist, he recently moved to San Diego and lives in the Hillcrest area.