Saturday, May 25, 2024

2024 GEM Award Finalist: 870 H Avenue

With its window grilles, courtyard design, red-tiled roof and decorative wood entry door, the house at 870 H Ave. has all the elements of a Spanish hacienda-style home designed by Cliff May. But research shows no evidence that the popular architect, who became the “father of the ranch house,” designed the house. It was built by Walter Vestal in 1939 for $6,850, and most likely Vestal, a local contractor who had worked with May, designed the house based on May’s vision of an early California house. 

Vestal came to Coronado in 1926 when he was 20 years old and started in the building business as a cement worker and carpenter. By 1932, he founded the Walter Vestal Construction Company and worked alongside architects such as May. In 1938, he worked on two projects with May in Coronado — homes at 535 Margarita Ave. and 160 G Ave. By the time Vestal starting building the H Avenue house, May had moved to Los Angeles, where his career would take off with his modern ranch house design in both tract and custom homes.

Between 1930 and 1940, Vestal was at the height of his building career. During that time, in 1938, he was the contractor for La Avenida Café at 1301 Orange Ave., probably his most high-profile project. 

Vestal entered politics in 1950s, first winning a seat on the City Council and then becoming mayor in 1954. He served two terms, from 1954-1956 and from 1964-1966. He was an early proponent of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge and helped establish the Coronado Municipal Golf Course. In 1967, he became a San Diego Unified Port District commissioner, a position he held for 10 years.

Harrison and Mary La Salle bought the parcel of land in 1939 to build a home following the retirement of Harrison La Salle from the Navy in 1940. Cmdr. LaSalle was stationed at Naval Base San Diego (which was on North Island) at the time. He started his naval career in World War I. The Spokane, Washington, based dentist joined the Navy in 1917. His career took him to China, Samoa, and the Philippines. 

The couple was married in Bremerton, Washington, in 1926, and by the time they settled in Coronado they had two young children, which they raised in the H Avenue house. Today, the third generation is living in the family home, which has never been sold. 

When La Salle’s granddaughter and her husband took over the house in 2022, they restored the tile floors in living and dining rooms and remodeled the bathrooms and the kitchen, modernizing the interior. She grew up in the house and had always wanted to return to Coronado. The couple had been living in Hawaii for the last 20 years.

The front façade is just as it was when the grandparents built the home; everything is original, but with a fresh coat of paint. 

The couple has also worked on the landscaping and are planning on adding an olive tree, Cliff May’s signature landscaping statement, and a fitting way to honor his influence on the family home. 

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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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