Thursday, April 11, 2024

2024 GEM Award Finalist: 519 Ocean Boulevard

When businessman Howard Baker decided to build a home in Coronado in 1915, he turned to one of his classmates from Cornell University, William Sterling Hebbard. Baker wanted something with an East Coast feel and a place where he could entertain. The result was a 16-room estate clad in brick on the lower half and shingles on the second floor. The design, with distinctive cross gables, has both Craftsman and Tudor Revival influences. It also had a host of modern conveniences for its day, including seven separate furnaces to heat each of the living spaces separately and a telephone connection in each room. 

Baker named his home Las Olas (meaning “the waves” in Spanish) because of his direct view of the Pacific. He had a wall built around the property before construction and filled it with dirt, raising the land three feet so the house sat high enough for an ocean view from every main room. The house cost $28,000 to build and the landscaping added another $12,000. 

Baker was quoted in the San Diego Union, saying, “All in all, I think I will have a rather attractive little winter home when things are finished as I now have them planned.”

Hebbard was a well-known and influential architect in the region around the turn of the 20th century. Among his designs are Christ Episcopal Church in Coronado, Crown Manor at 1015 Ocean Blvd. and the Marston House, now a museum by Balboa Park. He designed Crown Manor and the Marston House with his partner at the time, Irving Gill, becoming a solo practitioner in 1907. Hebbard was known for working in an eclectic variety of styles — English Cottage, Tudor Revival, Craftsman, Mission, and Classical Revival— and utilizing different materials on the first and second stories. 

Sadly, Baker didn’t get to enjoy his home for long. He died of pneumonia in 1919. 

In 1929, Walter and Franke Fitch bought the property for their family of seven. Fitch, an engineer at his father’s copper mines in Utah, retired at 33, and the family moved to Coronado. The Fitch family owned the Ocean Boulevard property for more than 40 years, and it was the scene of many parties and social activities.

Walter Fitch died in 1971, and a year later Clark and Nina Hartwell bought the house, renaming it Seashore. Clark Hartwell owned the Hartwell Corporation, which designed and manufactured latches, latching systems, complex doors, and other components for the aerospace industry. He was also chairman and later president of Velcro Industries, which he sold in 1973. Velcro became such an integral part of the NASA program to combat weightlessness that the Hartwells were invited to watch the Apollo 11 space launch.

The Hartwells’ permanent residence was in Las Vegas, but they also owned homes in New York, London, Montreal, and Nassau, as well as the Coronado Shores.

Nina Pavloff was Hartwell’s third wife. She was an immigrant from Russia whose family left the country in the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution when she was an infant. She continued to live in Coronado part-time after the death of her husband in 1986, and the house remained as part of the Hartwell Trust until her death in 2017.

By the time the current homeowners bought the house in 2018, it needed a lot of TLC. The house had an East Coast feel, which they liked, so they embarked on a five-year labor of love to basically rebuild the home, restoring the outside and turning the inside upside down. The living areas are now on the second floor and the bedrooms on the lower level.

“Why hide the view, which is wonderful?” the homeowner said. 

The exterior has fresh cedar shingles and a new roof. Because the home has been historically designated by the City of Coronado, alterations to the façade have been kept to a minimum. The owners were given permission to add folding doors leading to the upstairs balcony overlooking Ocean Avenue.

“It’s been a long haul, but it definitely has been returned to something special” the homeowner said. “When you walk up the staircase and see the ocean view, it’s really hard not to feel happy.” 

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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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