Demolition Threatens Mission Hills’ Red Bungalow

by on May 10, 2023 · 13 comments

in History, San Diego

The Little French Shop charmingly decked out for customers in an undated photo. Courtesy Marielle and Pascale Giai

By Barry Hager – Mission Hills Heritage/ SOHO May-June 2023

For the last 110 years, the Craftsman bungalow now affectionately known as the “Red Bungalow” or the “Red House,” has graced the northeast corner of Fort Stockton Drive and Goldfinch Street near the eastern entrance to the Mission Hills neighborhood.

The bungalow at 850 Fort Stockton Drive was built in 1912 for Perry and Olive Griswold, whose family lived there for more than 20 years. The Red Bungalow is unusual in that it was originally built as a duplex with two full-size porches, one facing Fort Stockton and the other facing Goldfinch. Featuring two clinker brick chimneys, a low-pitched roofline, multiple gables, and wide eaves, the bungalow embodies Arts and Crafts aesthetics.

In 1947, as the surrounding area changed after World War II, the bungalow began a new use as the Mission Hills Pet Shop, a Mission Hills fixture for over 40 years. In 1996, the bungalow became Maison En Provence, also known as “The Little French Store,” operated by Marielle and Pascal Giai. Generations of Mission Hills and other residents have memories of visiting both stores.

Red Bungalow when it was the neighborhood pet shop, c. 1970s. Courtesy Vintage San Diego

When Marielle and Pascal retired in 2021, a Los Angeles-based developer bought the property and the lots surrounding the bungalow. Initially, in 2021, the developer/owner sought a preliminary review to determine whether the building was historically significant. This report to the City of San Diego concluded that the building was eligible for designation under multiple criteria.

The report also disclosed that the developer planned a multi-story project on the site and claimed that, despite the bungalow’s historical value, it would need to be removed or demolished. Upon learning of these plans, Mission Hills residents embarked on a petition drive. With 1,161 signatures, they presented their petition to the city in 2022.

Undated photo of the Griswold family outside their home at 820 Fort Stockton Drive in Mission Hills. Courtesy Ron May

However, in its continued quest to demolish the Red Bungalow, the developer recently submitted an entirely new historical research report. This second report, from a different consultant, blatantly ignores, and is completely at odds with, the first report and concludes that the Red Bungalow is not eligible for designation under any criteria. This suggests that the developer is “result shopping” with consultants, in hopes of achieving its goal of demolishing the building.

Furthermore, the developer’s new report places great emphasis on the building’s deteriorated condition. In 2022, the developer removed various original materials from the building, including a portion of a porch balustrade and multiple sections of siding, exposing these areas to the elements, and accelerating the property’s deterioration. To date, the developer has not replaced any of these materials or otherwise sought to protect the structure.

Mission Hills Heritage disagrees with the developer’s new report and, given the community’s high interest in saving the Red Bungalow, the group has submitted detailed comments to city staff. SOHO has also submitted comments challenging the developer’s recent report. The Red Bungalow is an early example of adaptive re-use for a new purpose and it is our hope that the proposed project will be modified to incorporate the Red Bungalow for yet another use.

The city’s Historical Resources Board is very likely to consider the Red Bungalow for historical designation in the coming months. Mission Hills Heritage will update the community when we learn the hearing date. Hopefully, this beloved bungalow and long-time corner beacon will be restored, preserved, and enjoyed for many generations to come.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Gravitas May 10, 2023 at 3:06 pm

Many thanks for the update. WHY must the older neighborhoods be turned into high-rise mega development monstrosities? Look at what replaced the spot of the old library…the infills…etc. Can fix the streets, but can build more project-like housing. BRING BACK THE CITY ARCHITECT..and hire a City historian!!!


Zack May 11, 2023 at 8:01 pm

Why do people think they can block what others do with their rightfully-owned property? If Mission Hills Heritage wanted to preserve the house, why didn’t they buy it when it was for sale?


Frank Gormlie May 12, 2023 at 10:05 am

Pretty much since humans have been living in cities, there’s been restrictions on what land-owners can build. For example, Zack, if you owned a small piece of property within the city of San Diego, you could not build a 200 foot tower (unless of course it was a bigger piece and you were a major developer abiding by San Diego’s new housing policies).


Zack May 12, 2023 at 10:54 am

Indeed restrictions have existed in some places. But this is not a restriction about building something. It is a restriction about tearing something down or modifying it significantly. Why make the new property owner go through with that? It’s un-American in my view to subject property owners to arbitrary aesthetic preferences when it doesn’t harm your health or property


Frank Gormlie May 12, 2023 at 11:06 am

Whoa, Zack! A little over the top there, buddy. Is the 30-foot height limit “un-American” as well?


Zack May 12, 2023 at 2:20 pm

Sure, I think you could say the 30-foot height limit is un-American. The purpose of it was aesthetic. “We like to be able to see the beach and so now we will prevent everyone else from doing what they want with their property because we like looking at the beach so much”. It had nothing to do with people’s health or safety. It was just a busybody “nose in everyone else’s business” affair.


Chris May 12, 2023 at 4:51 pm

Just because someone owns property does not mean they can do whatever they want with it.


Chris May 12, 2023 at 4:48 pm

Truth is, nothing about it is un American nor to you hold the opinion that it is. Why did you make that statement?


JON May 12, 2023 at 10:15 am

Unlike the county and cities surrounded it, San Diego municipal code states that 45 years or old is to be determined by Historic Planning Staff, and/ or Historic Resource Board. The developer should have known better.


Mat Wahlstrom May 12, 2023 at 11:11 am

Why do YIMBYs think the only time property owners have rights is when it comes to historic preservation requirements?

Because when it comes to actual “takings” from homeowners by adjacent projects (such as ADUs, STVRs, and multi-story buildings) exempted from paying for their impacts on sewers, water, power, and parking, they flip to accuse homeowners of racism, classism, and just plain selfishness.

The only throughline is YIMBYs enable developers no matter the situation, not a matter of principle.


Chris May 13, 2023 at 4:49 pm

I think it’s fair to say human nature. No matter what side we are on any issue, we all cheery pick.


Frank Gormlie May 12, 2023 at 4:19 pm

Editordude: Zack’s comments have been placed in moderation because he violated our comment rules.


FrankF May 14, 2023 at 8:41 am

Hey! I used to buy tropical fish at that pet shop in the early 60s and then walk home. Just inside the front door to the right was where the fish tanks were located. I remember the lady who owned the store, she was very skinny, always wore a dress and glasses. She reminded me of my grandmother.

I was kinda bummed when in the 80s, old neighborhood buildings were torn down and replaced with mid and high rises. It kinda guts the character of our traditional places. There is a place for high density residential development and it’s not in our 100+ year old neighborhoods.


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