Old and improved

Posted: March 23rd, 2018 | HouseCalls, Top Story | No Comments

By Michael Good | House Calls 

Mission Hills Heritage’s annual walking tour departs from tradition

For an organization devoted to keeping things the same, Mission Hills Heritage (MHH) has been changing it up a bit lately.

One of the houses included in Mission Hills Heritage’s walking tour, slated for April 14 (Courtesy MHH)

Last year, the organization moved their winter lecture series to the spring and merged it with their annual walking tour. The lectures, which previously steered toward the academic, took on a more populist tone; one discussion focused on building a modern Craftsman, rather than preserving an old Craftsman in amber.

MHH added a panel discussion last year as well, which I moderated. In a bit of a departure, homeowners were invited to ask the experts for advice on how to update, upgrade, maintain and repair their house. Some of the best advice came from the homeowners themselves.

This year, MHH is departing even further from the past. The lectures — now called seminars — are shorter, and the audience will be invited to participate. Though the details are still being refined, at this point, some of the seminars might closely resemble workshops — although you won’t be asked to bring your tools. (Actually, please don’t bring your tools.)

As with last year, there will be a number of tradespeople on hand, stationed at tables in the courtyard of the Francis Parker School, the event’s location. Homeowners can quiz these experts, look at photographs of their work, handle wood samples and hardware, and set appointments for in-home visits.

The 12 exhibitors have been carefully selected. Expect experts on window repair, wood refinishing, finish carpentry and chimneys, as well as historical architects and researchers.

There will be seven seminars. Brick and tile expert Jim Crawford will cover “Chimney Safety” and architect Ione Stiegler will discuss “The Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation.”

Carpenter William Van Dusen is presenting an overview of millwork, starting with the definition, “since a lot of people don’t know what it is,” he explained. (Simply put, millwork is wood trim.)

According to Dusen, he will also cover “the wood that was used and where it came from, the universal millwork numbering system, and the different styles of entry doors that were available in San Diego.”

Local real estate agent Krista Lombardi will discuss the effect of the Mills Act on real estate values. In 2008, University of San Diego (USD) economist Andrew Narwald found that when a house qualified for the Mills Act — as well as a property tax reduction — the value of the house, and the entire neighborhood, went up; this benefits both the homeowner and the city, in terms of tax revenue. Lombardi has completed follow-up research on Narwald’s findings, which undoubtedly will show that prices for historic houses are rising in Mission Hills.

Amie Hayes, Save Our Heritage Organisation’s historic resources specialist, will cover historic designation and the oft-misunderstood Mills Act. According to her, she’ll touch on the facts, the process and the benefits.

“Some people don’t understand you have to be designated first before entering into a contract,” Hayes said. “You have to do step one before you can do step two.”

With every passing day, and every dumpster in the driveway piled with splintered redwood, the early-20th-century bungalow is becoming increasingly rare in San Diego. The homeowner who seeks to preserve it is becoming rarer still.

The Mills Act aside, it seems that no one in government is looking out for the old house, or the old house owner. In the for-profit world, it’s easy to find a plethora of bad advice and bad advisors. That leaves the nonprofits — the historical groups and neighborhood associations — to guide the novice old house owner.

Both Mission Hills Heritage (MHH) and Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) have compiled lists of recommended tradespeople, but MHH’s spring event provides a rare chance to talk to these carefully vetted experts in one place on one day. Additionally, you can also walk around the neighborhood and enjoy beautiful houses.

Speaking of which, this spring the walking tour departs from tradition as well, venturing below University Avenue into South Mission Hills — a neighborhood once dismissed as not deserving of the Mission Hills moniker by certain members of the Architecture Police.

Yet the neighborhood is full of spectacular surprises, as the tour’s title — “Gems of South Mission Hills” — would indicate. The seven seminars and workshops run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The exhibitors will be on hand until 4 p.m.; the walking tour runs until 3 p.m.

For those who don’t want to actually go there, or aren’t able to, historian Ron May will be providing a virtual tour at 10 a.m. that day, back at Francis Parker Auditorium.

While much is new at this celebration of the old, some things never change. As in years past, there will be handcrafted cookies. For the chronically hip, there will also be food trucks parked outside the Francis Parker School. (What’s next? A beer garden?)

— Contact Michael Good at

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