Master Plan Threatens Historic Spring House

By James D. Newland

I am writing to those interested in the preservation of the heritage of La Mesa-- and its current and future civic health.

The City of La Mesa Development Department has recently released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Collier Park Master Plan.

The Plan is now in the period in which public comment is accepted as part of the project's requirement to comply with the guidelines and processes of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Overall the plan calls for a major renovation of the historic Collier Park (the whole park along with the 1907 constructed Spring House is listed as City of La Mesa Historical Landmark #3).

The major goals of the plan call for improving and upgrading the existing facilities, adding new gathering, event, and recreational facilities, and generally making the park more attractive for visitors, while discouraging the loitering of those who are using the park for illicit and illegal activities.

These are all goals for the improved future of Collier Park that most La Mesans can and should support.

However, the plan's current "preferred alternative," as written in the Draft EIR, would do so at the cost of the complete demolition to the historic 1907 Collier Spring House (one of the few buildings in La Mesa that has been determined to be eligible for both the California and National Registers of Historic Places as well as a listed City Landmark).

In CEQA, such an adverse effect to a listed, or eligible for listing, Historical Resource, is a significant adverse impact to the environment. This is because demolition is an irreversible action to a historical property.

The City’s Master Plan puts forth some “mitigation measures,” such as recordation of the historical Spring House with photos and drawings, and the construction of a new structure as an interpretive exhibit.
These efforts cannot truly replace the irreversible loss of the original building.

This is especially the case since this building is a touchstone to our community's heritage for our now century-old city.

The Spring House was constructed for David Charles (D.C.) Collier in 1907. Collier was a pioneer community developer in La Mesa and throughout San Diego County. He would become the President of the 1915 Exposition in Balboa Park--just one of his notable civic accomplishments.

Although the original hope for the Spring House was as a commercial bottling operation of the natural springs that first attracted rancher Robert Allison to the area in 1869, the Spring House and park evolved into a place reflecting La Mesa’s community and civic pride.

It was Collier who offered this property, including the Spring House, to the community in 1910 if they incorporated. Collier Park thus became our first city park after incorporation in 1912 (which we just spent a year celebrating), and later becoming the home of the city's first public swimming pool, and a site of civic honor in 1948 when the Spring House and park got its last major renovation through a community-wide volunteer effort in concert with the City.

Unfortunately the city owned and managed building, (one of the two City of La Mesa-owned historical landmarks) has sat boarded up for some 30 years--awaiting use that would result in its care and maintenance.

Luckily, the Collier Park Master Plan DEIR, as required by CEQA, provides additional alternatives that consider less environmentally impacting actions to the draft plan's current preferred alternative scope.

And in Section 8.2.2 of the DEIR, there is an alternative that would result in the preservation and reuse of the Spring House. This Spring House Rehabilitation alternative would eliminate the significant impacts under CEQA and the un-mitigable, irreversible demolition of this listed historical property.

The Rehabilitation Alternative, with the restored and rehabilitated Spring House clearly provides a better match for the uses called out to replace it in the plan. The rehabilitated Spring House could be used for the proposed interpretive facility to help educate Park visitors to the site and community’s history as well as providing support space for the Park's proposed new amphitheater and group event spaces.

Therefore the Spring House alternative reduces the mitigation costs associated with its demolition, the potential for legal challenge to protect it from the current plan’s demolition, and better compliments the Master Plan's goals for the future benefit of the Park.

And to indicate that this was not an infeasible or imprudent preservation demand, I have spoken to City staff and offered my twenty plus years of experience and knowledge in historic preservation to help the City scope and implement necessary historic structure assessments to ensure that all adaptive reuse alternatives that haven't been considered, or studied at this point, are brought forward.

In this way, the City and community can make informed, prudent and feasible recommendations in preserving our historic building, which includes finding a new use that will give it renewed life for another century of civic usefulness.

Since I and others in the community have brought this issue forward, I have been approached by several other civic leaders as to the offer of support for a fund raising campaign to help assist the city with these necessary studies and if necessary, interim mothballing of the structure while permanent restoration funds are found (currently there is no funding in place for any of the plan’s proposed improvements).

The first step in ensuring the appropriate treatment of our historical resource is to make certain that the Spring House Rehabilitation Alternative becomes part of the preferred plan for the final Collier Park Master Plan.

The city needs to hear from all those that agree that the historic resources of Collier Park need to be preserved—especially the already listed Spring House.

Whether an individual and/or organization, it is important for your position to be documented in the comments to the DEIR.

The Collier Park Master Plan DEIR has a written comment deadline of March 11, 2013.
You can download and read the document and appendices at:

Send your comment letters to the DEIR to:
Chris Jacobs, Senior Planner
City of La Mesa
8130 Allison Avenue
La Mesa, CA 91942

It would be bitterly ironic after spending three years prepping, and over a year celebrating, our city's Centennial to have the city demolish the only historical landmark in their direct management.

I, as are many others in our community, am truly committed to helping participate, organize and guide an effort for the prudent and feasible reuse of the Spring House historical landmark property as part of a newly re-furbished and invigorated Collier Park for La Mesa's next century.

And with your help and participation, we can assist the city with implementing this visionary project--perhaps somewhat similar to the community-builder who foresaw a suburban community here over one hundred years ago--and offered this property to us as a civic resource for posterity.

James D. Newland, a La Mesa Resident, is vice president of the La Mesa Historical Society.

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