Abandoned Craftsman House on Voltaire Street Badly Damaged by Fire

by on November 26, 2018 · 7 comments

in Ocean Beach

Damaged Craftsman house at 4921 Voltaire St. Photo by Brett Warnke, Nov. 24, 2018

UPDATE: “Feigley House” Burned – Once Considered Historic (See below)

It was really bound to happen. On Friday night, Nov. 23, in the wee houses, a fire broke out in the old, abandoned Craftsman house at 4921 Voltaire St. (U-T listed it as “4927”.) By time firefighters arrived around 4:40 a.m. it had already been badly damaged. They had the flames out in minutes.

Fortunately, a retaining wall prevented the fire from spreading. San Diego Fire-Rescue and San Diego Police departments investigated the incident, and by later that morning, authorities had determined there was no indication of criminal activity.  San Diego Union-Tribune

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Locals remember this house very well. It’s been abandoned for years, all-boarded up. The property was sold not too long ago, and back in September 2017, the new property owner – who has plans to build a 2-story mixed-use building on the lot and was going to demolish the structure – had agreed to give the old Craftsman house away to whomever wanted it – but they had to come and actually haul it away themselves. No one took the offer.

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The OB Planning Board on September 6, 2017, approved the design for the new structure. Here’s our report:

4921 Voltaire Street Commercial and Residential Project

Here’s the former design:

Most of the Board was so relieved and enthusiastic about the new design of a commercial and residential building to replace the current eye-sore at 4921 Voltaire Street, that a majority easily approved it.

It’s an application to demolish the current structure and construct a mixed-use building, with 800 sf of commercial downstairs, with 2 residential units upstairs. Each of the residences will be 2000 sf. There’s also planned 2 parking lifts for the residents, as well as parking for the commercial space.

When the owner – developer first appeared before the Board in July, he was admonished to check out the OB Community Plan and to “give a nod to history” using the old craftsman house, dilapidated as it was, as part of the new design.

Here’s the current design:

See the difference?

As noted, several members of the Board approved the new design enthusiastically and described it in glowing terms for bringing in elements of the old craftsman house. The developer plans, in fact, to utilize the original porch and front columns in the new building.

Not all were happy with the new shape of things, however. Chair John Ambert said the new design, “doesn’t go far enough,” and “doesn’t preserve the character of the craftsman.” With him the lone hold-out, the Board voted 10 to 1 to approve.

Photo by Brett Warnke

Why the old building hasn’t been demolished yet is not publicly known. It has sat around empty all this time, and probably accessible to houseless people. But this fire will certainly speed up the process.


Local Writer Tracks Down History of “Feigley House” – at 4921 Voltaire Street

Local writer Tony de Garate has written an excellent piece in the San Diego Reader about the history of the “Feigley House” – the boarded up old craftsman at 4921 Voltaire Street – soon to be demolished. (Tony has also written for the OB Rag.) The OB Rag has been following this project for a while – even offering to help arrange a free house if it was timely removed. Tony writes:

Once upon a time in Ocean Beach, a fellow who bought a vacant lot at 4921 Voltaire Street may well have been flipping through a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog to get inspiration for his future house. Not for the furnishings, but for every piece necessary to build the structure itself — which, by some estimates, would have included 30,000 or so parts weighing some 25 tons, arriving to the lot by rail boxcar and truck.

William Feigley, a recent arrival from Kansas, didn’t want to build here for the now-famous O.B. vibe. This was the mid-1920s, many decades before the area would attain its status as a free-wheeling beach community. Most likely, according to a research report, Feigley was looking to build quickly, find a buyer, and cash out. …

The one-story Craftsman-style cottage has been vacant for years. It may literally be a shell of its former self — the building was gutted of its bedrooms in the 1980s when it was converted to a doctor’s office. Records of its occupancy since the medical practice left in 1989 are spotty. Complaints about squatters, trash, vandalism, and weeds have been rampant.

De Garate also recounted how the new owner’s plans to demolish the old house and build a 2-story mix-use building were almost derailed:

At the October 27, 2016, hearing of the city’s Historic Resources Board, staff recommended designating the Feigley House as a historic resource, which would have all but prevented its destruction. … When it came time to vote, only three boardmembers supported historic designation — far short of the required six.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

OBKID November 26, 2018 at 1:20 pm

looks like SDPD didnt catch the OB arsonist…wish they would do their jobs and stop hiding facts and figures when it comes to crime in OB. I guarantee they are not classifying this as an Arson.


Frank Gormlie November 26, 2018 at 8:11 pm

It doesn’t have to be arson. Many fires inside abandoned old houses are set accidentally. This is what happened in City Heights before I-15 was built thru 40th Street. Blocks upon blocks of abandoned houses – and the fire department was kept very busy responding to the all the fires, usually accidentally set by homeless people – some of whom were also drug addicts.


OBKID November 28, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Frank – come one, what would have set it all of the sudden? place has been abandoned for years..like the SDPD said about the 50+ fires committed last december were vandalism and not arson – ha sure.


Eric November 26, 2018 at 8:08 pm

That’s convenient. So does insurance pick up the demo and off haul bill now?


Frank Gormlie November 26, 2018 at 8:11 pm

The new owner had pledged to use the old columns of the craftsman – but now ….


Frank Gormlie November 26, 2018 at 8:27 pm

This is the “Feigley House” – I’ve added Tony de Garate’s great history of the house to the post.


Ol OB Hippie November 26, 2018 at 8:30 pm

Sometimes, property owners have been known to light fires in their own, abandoned buildings. And collect the insurance and have less to demolish. No one I beleive is suggesting that here. It’s merely coincidence that the building was to be torn down and a fire damaged it. Probably homeless people trying to keep warm. But where has the property owner been? He or she simply left it there as an eyesore and as an opportunity to use as shelter.


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