After Hours Demolition of Historic Movement Birthplace Angers LGBTQ and Preservation Activists

by on June 2, 2015 · 1 comment

in Civil Rights, Culture, History, LGBT rights, San Diego


By Doug Porter

Shortly after 5pm on Friday, May 29, one of San Diego’s two remaining historic Saltbox houses was bulldozed by contractors working for developer HG Fenton. Adjoining properties were left untouched. And what some consider the birthplace of the local LGBTQ movement became a pile of rubble.

Local LGBTQ activists and the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) had hoped to work out a deal to save the property, either by incorporating architectural details into the finished development or by moving the house to another location. A Friday morning conversation between representatives of the Lambda archives and the developer made no mention of the building’s impending destruction.

Activists weren’t concerned about demolition because they had an email from City of San Diego Development Services specifically stating that if a demolition permit is applied for the subject property would be reviewed for historical determination as a 5 year period had passed since the original permitting.

Just two days prior to the after-hours demolition, preservationists were informed that the Bernie Michels-Thom Carey house at the corner of Florida Street and El Cajon Blvd was to be considered in August for the National Register of Historic Places by the State Historic Preservation Resources Board.

UPDATE: (via

“I don’t think there’s any honest explanation for how something like this could happen,” said Jay MacAskill, president of Save Our Heritage Organisation.

The building near the intersection of El Cajon Boulevard and Florida Street was scheduled for review by the state’s Historic Resources Commission in August. According to emails, city staff notified developer H.G. Fenton the site could not be demolished until the building’s historic status was decided.

But on Friday, the city granted Fenton a demolition permit anyway around 1:30 p.m.

“The demolition permit may have been issued in error,” according to a second city document that was hand-delivered to the site hours later. By then it was too late.

The building in question is considered significant because it includes the space where Bernie Michels and other activists in the early 1970s developed and wrote the initial planning and incorporation documents for the LGBTQ Center for Social Services, now known as The Center.

From the FaceBook page set up by activists working to save the property:

One could almost say this was where the San Diego LGBTQ movement sprang forth from and wouldn’t go back into the closet. It was here that Bernie and others decided that our community needed to take care of ourselves and be proud of who we are.

Calling the destruction of the building a tragedy, activists have sent a letter calling upon the City Attorney, the Mayor and City Council members to investigate why a demolition permit was granted.

They are calling on people to attend a June 4th meeting of the University Heights Community Association (Alice Birney Elementary School Auditorium, 6:45pm) where John La Raia from HG Fenton is scheduled to appear to discuss the project.

The block where the property once stood includes the old 7-Up bottling plant. H. G. Fenton Company purchased the 1.5-acre site in 2014 for $7.7 million from American Property Enterprises.

Efforts to save the property were endorsed by Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition, which includes the Albatross Neighborhood Association, Between Heights Community Association, Burlingame Neighborhood Association, Greater Golden Hill Community Development Corporation, Heart of Kensington, Hillcrest History Guild, La Jolla Historical Society, La Playa Heritage, Mission Hills Heritage, Normalites for Normal Heights, North Park Historical Society, Ocean Beach Historical Society, Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO), University Heights Community Development Corporation, and University Heights Historical Society.

It’s my understanding that objections to the demolition are not because people were opposed to the development–which is currently a real eyesore–but stem from what activists consider bad faith negotiations undertaken by HG Fenton.

 This is an excerpt of Doug Porter’s column at our online media partner, San Diego Free Press.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Lori Saldaña June 2, 2015 at 10:15 am

FYI, Allen Jones might be a good person to contact re:how the permit was issued by the city, possibly in error.


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