By Jim Bishop.
I met Scott Borden in September of 1994. November of that year we visited Maui. In June of 1995 we spent my 40th birthday mountain biking and hiking in the eastern Sierras. By 1996, we were alternating spending weekends and occasional weekdays at our respective houses, Scott’s in Hillcrest and mine in Encinitas. We were spending a lot of time on the freeway and doing house maintenance. His house was near his office in Old Town and mine in Encinitas had a great garden. His was too small for both of us and mine was too long a drive for him, so we set out to look for a new house. We decided that we wanted something centrally located with some space for gardening and not too far inland or from our workplaces. After looking for a while, we didn't find anything that didn’t need a lot of work, so decided it might be easier to buy a lot and build something new. We soon found that most undeveloped lots had their own set of unique challenges. First, most were usually behind existing neighborhoods and difficult to get to. Many were on very steep hillsides and almost all that we looked at had lots of freeway noise. We finally found what we thought might be a suitable lot on Racetrack View just north of the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The lot was owned by the attorney that had worked on the subdivision to the east next to the freeway. It was almost an acre that backed up to the Torrey Pine Reserve and the San Dieguito Lagoon Conservancy in the front; consequently, 50% of the lot could not be developed. We worked with an architect to see what could be done and he came up with a conceptual house with very high ceilings and the back of the house was mostly glass which provided views of the eroded bluffs and Torrey Pines from most rooms in the house. I envisioned a mostly native plant garden that would blend in well with the natural landscape.
In doing discovery on the property we found that it had an ancient landslide where the bluffs had eroded. This caused problems getting a good estimate of what it might cost to grade and build and we couldn't get a good soil report on the lot without paying for some excavation. Near the close of escrow and with no clear resolution, we decided to not buy the property.
Front of the house when purchased it
We next found a lot in Mission Hills not far from our current home. It too was on a canyon. The owner had designed a very contemporary dream house for the property, but never built it. We weren't particularly interested in the house that had been designed, but did make several attempts at purchasing the lot, but they would not negotiate on price.
Shortly after moving in
This lot however got us thinking more about Mission Hills and we started looking at houses in the area as they came onto the market. We looked at a lot of scary properties. Finally in January of 1998 in a break between El Niño storms, we saw a house that might work. It had most everything on our list and many things that we didn't want. It was on a quiet street, had a small 2 car garage, 3 bedrooms, and a red tile roof. It had an incredible view. Oddly, I briefly had looked at the similar house next door when I first moved to San Diego in 1983 and decided it was on too steep a lot and had too much freeway noise. There was almost no landscaping near the house, which was good, but most of the property was inaccessible and overgrown with chaparral, eucalyptus and lots of invasive plants. The worse part was it had a very unattractive pool area below the house with lots of cracked retaining walls and planters. The pool decking had serious cracks in it and the pool had started to move and was higher on one side than the other. The house seemed to be holding up well in all the rain, but was in terrible condition and was a collection of 50 years of bad remodeling choices. The price seemed a bit high, but we had been outbid on every other house we had offered on, so we made a full price offer and would take the house "as is" since we knew we would be remodeling it.
Damaged Swimming Pool
In two years of house hunting we had missed out on many deals, and figured this one would be no different. To our surprise our offer was accepted. The house inspection turned up 8 pages of defects. The inspector said in his 30 years of house inspection, this was one of the worst. Still we proceeded and bought the house on steep hillside with freeway noise and the unwanted swimming pool. We weren't sure what we had gotten ourselves into but our big adventure was about to begin.