Sunday, May 26, 2024

2024 GEM Award Finalist: 520 J Avenue

For 83 years, the Spanish Revival house at 520 J Ave. was owned by one family. Capt. Ivan Miller and his wife, Eleanor, had the home built in 1938 for $5,800 and it stayed in the Miller family until 2021, remaining unaltered except for repairs.

The one-story house with a rounded tower entrance was designed by architect Saul H. Brown who worked for Pacific System Homes of Los Angeles. It is the only known home in Coronado designed by Brown. (As a side note, Pacific System Homes made the first commercially produced surfboards in the early 1930s. Meyers Butte, son of the company’s owner, was hooked on surfing and convinced his father to start the side business.) The builder D.C. Stevens of Trask & Stevens was also associated with Pacific System Homes.

Capt. Ivan Miller was one of the country’s first Marine aviators. He earned a master’s degree in aeronautical aviation from MIT in the mid-1920s and was assigned to aircraft design and maintenance duties along with training ground personnel. 

The Millers first moved to Coronado in 1928 and would move often while Ivan Miller was in the Marines, but they always maintained their J Avenue house and eventually retired there. Ivan Miller lived in the house until his death at 99 in 1997. The house passed on to his son and daughter-in-law. 

Miller’s military career took him to Hawaii in 1940. By then he was a major and oversaw the construction of Marine Corps Air Station Eva on Oahu. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and reassigned to Quantico, Virginia, in 1941, before Pearl Harbor was attacked. During World War II, he returned to Hawaii and then moved to the South Pacific becoming brigadier general. His post war assignments included Miramar, El Toro, and Cherry Point, North Carolina. He retired in 1951 in Hawaii as the commanding general of the Pacific Fleet Marine Forces.

The Millers returned to their J Avenue home after retirement and were involved in the community. Among Ivan Miller’s many interests was the library and he became a charter member of the Friends of the Coronado Public Library. Eleanor Miller was an active member of the Coronado Woman’s Club and the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

When the current owners acquired the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, they restored the front façade, which had been damaged by water. The entry tower had sunk a few inches due to wood rot, the owner said.

Throughout the restoration process, the owners salvaged what they could. They reused all the roof tiles that weren’t damaged and saved tiled details, such as the gable vents, returning them their original location when the house was freshly stuccoed. The front-facing windows were repaired instead of replaced. They had discovered the original blueprints in the house, which helped them rebuild true to the original look of the home. 

Inside, the house was updated, with a new kitchen and bathrooms, and a second story ADU was added to the back of the house. The setback of the second story keeps it from interfering with the look of the home.

“When we moved in and everything was finished, a lot of people came by and said how much they appreciated keeping the look original and historic,” the owner said.


In honor of the 10th Anniversary of the GEM Awards, the Coronado Historical Association is pleased to announce that there is a prodigious group of ten finalists for this year’s award, the largest group of finalists in the awards history. This year’s finalists include historic properties at: 1026 Flora Avenue, 1045 Loma Avenue, 1135 Loma Ave, 1315/1319 5th Street, 275 J Avenue, 350 D Avenue, 519 Ocean Boulevard, 520 J Avenue, 870 H Avenue, and 874 A Avenue. 

Established in 2013, the GEM Awards have become a tradition in recognizing homeowners who retain and maintain Coronado’s unique character. By choosing renovation over replacement, homeowners are celebrated for their unwavering commitment to preserving the island’s architectural history and fostering connections to the past. These awards serve as a public acknowledgment of their dedication to the past. This year’s Awards Ceremony, where the winners will be announced, will be held on Wednesday, April 3rd at 5:30 pm at the City’s Nautilus Room. Tickets can be purchased on CHA’s website or by calling 619-435-7242.

To delve into the remarkable preservation efforts undertaken by the nominees, CHA is spotlighting the history of each home.

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