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Mission Valley: Home Depot's Proposal To Replace Midcentury-Style Building for Store Spurs Blowback

Some Redevelopment To Retain Elements From Property's 1950s Bowling Alley Origins

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News March 4, 2021 | 6:43 P.M.

Lots of people want a say in Home Depot's latest version of a home improvement project in San Diego.

The retailer is seeking approval to demolish most of a 1950s futuristic "Googie"-style building to make way for what would be its 21st store in San Diego County. But the plan is encountering brushback from residents concerned about increased traffic and preservationists who would like to see certain midcentury elements of the former bowling center kept in place on the site.

The project at 1895 Camino del Rio South in Mission Valley is expected to be reviewed by the San Diego City Council at an upcoming meeting, likely this spring, after recently passing through the Planning Commission. If approved, Home Depot would purchase a portion of the property from the local Masonic fraternal group known as Scottish Rite, which has operated the existing building for most of its life as an events center.

Home Depot has already expressed willingness to incorporate the historic elements into the redevelopment and also to help deal with traffic concerns.

"We look forward to the public hearing and discussing [the project] with the City Council," said a Home Depot spokeswoman in an email to CoStar News.

Home Depot, based in Atlanta, is looking to serve an area that has also been among the region’s hotbeds for construction of new houses and apartments during the past decade, within projects including developer Sudberry Property’s 200-acre mixed-use Civita community. The area, which is central in the city, is already home to a significant number of retailers including home improvement retail competitor Lowe's and two major malls.

Filings with the city indicate the proposed redeveloped 14-acre site would include a new Home Depot spanning nearly 300,000 square feet, next door to a new smaller, two-story building for the Scottish Rite spanning 40,000 square feet.

Both buildings would replace the current single-story, 64,000-square-foot building housing the Scottish Rite, which bought the property in the 1960s.


Preservationists want to see future redevelopment retain the Googie-style architectural elements from the Mission Valley property's early days as a bowling alley called Bowlero. (Save Our Heritage Organisation)

Local building preservationists are seeking to retain elements that have been part of the current property since its opening in 1957, when it operated as an upscale bowling alley known as Bowlero.

Save Our Heritage Organisation, which is focused on preserving buildings from San Diego’s past that might not necessarily be classified as historic, is not opposed to a new retail store at the site.

But it would like to see Home Depot retain the building’s current archway entrance designed in the Googie architectural style that was popular in the early days of the U.S. space program.

At that time, many building designers deployed what was considered a futuristic style, incorporating steep-angled roofs, curves and glass surfaces to evoke jet-age technology. Buildings from that era remain in portions of California and other Western states but are increasingly being replaced by newer projects.

“The Bowlero continues to be a special and iconic element of Mission Valley and San Diego, remains intact, and is the only surviving bowling center of this era within the city,” said Amie Hayes, senior historic resources specialist for Save Our Heritage, in an email to CoStar News. “The loss of this resource [would be] a loss to the built environment of San Diego and Mission Valley.”

Hayes said the Googie-style element was designed by well known local architect C.J. Paderewski, and its main defining feature, “the fabulous porte cochere” or covered entrance, is visible from Interstate 8 as the most iconic component of the building.

If the city or Home Depot is able to preserve it, the preservation group said, that component of the redevelopment would likely be eligible for local, state or national historic registers.

Bowlero closed in 1964, but Scottish Rite retained the Googie elements after acquiring the Mission Valley property later in the decade.

City Council is expected to have final say on the Home Depot design if the project is approved, including how well it fits in with the surrounding neighborhood.

At the recent Planning Commission meeting, objections came from some local residents and neighboring business operators concerned about heightened traffic in what is already among San Diego’s most traffic-clogged neighborhoods. Opponents include occupiers of nearby properties such as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, First United Methodist Church and local private school operators.

Mission Valley is among San Diego’s most retail-heavy neighborhoods, thanks in part to its location in the city’s geographic center and numerous major freeways that flow through it. But that has also helped make it one of the region’s most notorious neighborhoods for traffic congestion.

Developers Simon Property Group and Westfield each have one of the region’s largest malls in that neighborhood, and there are several strip centers anchored by major chains such as Costco Wholesale, Ikea and Lowe’s.

Some detractors have said the addition of another big-box store runs counter to recent efforts of other developers to create self-contained mixed-use projects that are intended to minimize vehicle use in Mission Valley. Projects that are now underway, including redevelopments of the Riverwalk golf course and the former Chargers NFL stadium, have been geared toward access to adjacent existing stations of San Diego’s light-rail trolley system.

The city historically has looked to keep big-box retailers to the south of Interstate 8 within Mission Valley, which is where the Home Depot project is planned.

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