Renting Mid-Century San Diego

Just inside USDA Zone 10a [coastal Southern California] / Sunset Zone 24 [room temperature often], lies this apartment complex. I often drove by it when I lived in San Diego 25 years ago, going to my nearby aunt’s / uncle’s home, or a friend’s bachelor pad. I never paid it another look, except to get through Clairemont and their often marginal areas quickly.

How I’ve changed my thinking about Mid-Century Modern architecture, which I mostly disliked then. Or anything that fell into disrepair in need of renovation. Now I see the great bones – including plants.

Plus, I was born near the end of the Mid-Century period, and I’m heading towards a mid-century age. How time flies…

Photos from my vacation in mid-January 2014 –

the original sign…nice detail on these walls…

This is where minor pruning of the tree, to see the sign better, would make all the difference in the world. I think it’s a Carrotwood, but I may be wrong…if so, that’s an invasive in some areas.

Yucca elephantipes and Tecoma stans var. stans…blooming in January!

Such flowering, but they had a warm winter. It was also a dry winter, and the media has covered their uber-drought. That part of San Diego, though not as hot as further inland, only averages 9″ of rain / year and most in winter – they are up to 2.90″ for 2014. They depend on water from the few watersheds in the mountains to the east, plus the Colorado River.

All are good reasons to renovate using low water-use native and adapted plants, while protecting the existing palm root zones from drying out.

but on the ground, we have some issues, starting with red lava rock mulch…

A neutral-toned mulch, inorganic or organic depending on additional plants desired, would really go further. Then again, so would some additional, suitable plantings.

a general lack of upkeep, large rocks that need to be re-set…
wood railings very nice, but replacing with steel in a similar pattern would last indefinitely…

In some markets, this type of place with such architecture, but add interesting hardscape to existing planting bones – and 10 minutes from legendary beaches and countless local amenities – would be renovated and priced into the stratosphere. Not that San Diego is cheap, but somehow this spot is escaping such gentrification.

gentle re-grading could allow the edges along the stepped walk to go away, allowing a cleaner look…
mini-jungles using palm groves always make a lush interior space…

It would be great to form a quality design-build team, then get paid to renovate a number of details on this property – architecture to the site, grading, water harvesting, and landscape! But in a way that present renters are not priced out of their homes. I would certainly be game.

no clue what this is  a mature Finger Tree / Euphorbia tirucalli looks like an undersea plant…that blue sky… (thanks for the ID, Forest and Laurin!)
one of a few Cereus peruvianus…
quite happy…so was I, that perfect last day in San Diego…
the grand finale…the interior space…what bones to work with

That grouping of stately, huge “cacti” looks like yet another Euphorbia for milder places than mine…but there just perfect to work around. (yes, I said work-around:-)

This space implies some low walls, part paving and part sandy beach to relax on in more style. I’m also picturing complimentary plantings, mostly a mix of xeric flowering plants – including locally native species – and varying heights of succulents.

Since it’s San Diego, with Palomar Observatory not far away, dark night sky laws will negate the idea of uplighting of the palms can occur. But more modest changes are all that may be needed here?

What do you think?

8 Replies to “Renting Mid-Century San Diego”

  1. Sounds like time for a kickstarter project… Get your drawings ready!

    I only need time! (have a few such projects, but paying work…)


  2. Yes, just needs a little love, a little care, and a lot less red rock.

    Exactly, and a few SD / dry Mediterranean natives:-)


  3. I think I found the name of the tree that you think looks like and undersea plant. Euphorbia tirucalli, also know as a Finger tree, finger euphorbia, petroleum plant, pencil tree. I have one in pot on my porch and had no idea they can become trees.
    Here is the best link I found –

    I think you nailed the ID; thanks for the link…wow! My guess is in the more frost-free areas (esp. far S TX or Florida), it gets larger? I wonder what you could do in HOU; maybe some in warmer, inner areas??


  4. Oh that would be a fun project! As for the red rock my grandma was a big fan, if it’s out of place there just imagine how wrong it was in Spokane, WA!

    Red lava is a version of the gravel cop-out (or lawn cop-out). So many cool xeric plants can work in SD, plus their existing ones to work with!


  5. I love your ideas! I do that too..see places I would love to renovated. There are such nice bones in the building and the gardens.

    And this one is begging for a renovation; you may remember this place, too!


  6. Interesting how our perspectives change on styles as we get older! I’ve never warmed up to red lava rock mulch though, except as a filter medium for my pond. does it look better in a desert situation? I also agree with your ideas for spiffing up the place. Some gorgeous plants there.

    Like how teenagers often care less about history classes, but once older, they have more history and relate to that! Never seen lava mulch work even in desert, except when used near basalt…and carefully. Could be fun to work with those plants!


  7. I agree with everything except replacing the balcony rails – they’re classic! What a great building. Would love to see that interior space enhanced and the rest of the plantings added to. Somebody did a good job 50 years ago – now it just needs a facelift. Were I the deep pockets, I’d hire you in a minute for the design-build team.

    True, their climate may allow wood railing members to last longer than in desert extremes. I’ve seen metal work do something similar, but lower maintenance. Yes to the interiors, facelifts…a person in Phoenix does such things, may ask him for advice –


  8. You are just the one to do it, and do it beautifully!
    My guess is that plant is a mature Euphorbia tirucalli.

    Thanks for the ID and encouragement…wish I was closer to SD! Glad to be a part of a similar arch here, though a retailer.


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