Mt. Helix’s midcentury suburban heritage revealed

Posted: October 28th, 2016 | Features, Home & Garden, Lifestyle, Top Stories | No Comments

By James D. Newland

Get ready to step back to a time when the suits were grey flannel, the ties skinny, the heels 3-inches high, the hair-dos higher, the cocktails flowing, the children prolific, and the “modern” suburban lifestyle was simply the ultimate.

This was the midcentury and the ultimate in suburban lifestyle — and architecture.

On Nov. 5 the La Mesa Historical Society Historic Home Tour provides a chance to go back and see the ultimate in the ultimate of our local midcentury Modern landscape.

This year, the society has chosen the Mt. Helix/Calavo Gardens area for its Annual Historical Home Tour with Mt. Helix providing another wonderful chapter in the society’s Historical Home Tour legacy.


Midcentury Modern homes were designed to highlight an indoor to outdoor experience. (Courtesy of La Mesa Historical Society)

Midcentury rural suburbia

During the midcentury era, the area around Mt. Helix provided a unique opportunity for realizing young San Diego’s post-World War II version of the American dream — especially those dreaming of raising a baby-booming, post-war nuclear family in the California suburbs. The indoor-outdoor style, represented by a new modern house, was inspired through the forward-thinking, futuristic midcentury Modern-designed landscape and subsequent lifestyle.

Tapping into that intersection of organic architecture and arts and crafts aesthetic made logical sense amongst the granite-filled view lots of Helix and environs. Larger, individual lots and a generally younger, professional generation found the semi-rural landscape perfect for this version of suburban bliss. Visionary architects of San Diego’s Modernist community found design palettes, and willing clients, here in Mt. Helix.

Stepping back into the midcentury landscape

This year, the society’s Historical Home Tour enters its 11th year — having earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the most popular and enjoyable home tours in the county due to its “free-style” touring that allows for ticket-holders to tour the homes at their own pace.

The society has arranged for tour guests to experience seven of the most pristine and high-quality examples of Mt. Helix’s midcentury Modern heritage — homes designed and built for local professionals, including several doctors, lawyers, business leaders and their families.

The tour features designs by famed and revered midcentury San Diego architects and builders including Lloyd Ruocco, Homer Delawie, Henry Hester, John Mortensen, Tucker-Sadler and John Mock.

The society is also delighted to welcome distinguished and prolific local architects John Mock (Timken Museum, Hanalei Hotel), and Hal Sadler (San Diego County Operations Center, San Diego City Concourse) who are scheduled to be present at the homes of their design featured on this year’s tour.

These homes, although well-preserved examples of this distinctive period and style, are illustrative of how such well-designed and constructed houses continue to serve as family homes and not architectural artifacts.

This year’s generous owners, who are the heroes of these tours, are sharing these architectural gems for the society and community’s benefit. Although tastefully and compatibly period-furnished and landscaped, they continue to provide the current owners (several with young children) the same functions and assets that the original owners experienced well over 50 years ago.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-9-30-07-amInformation and tickets are available at Tickets can also be purchased on the day of the tour at the check-in, shuttle stop and parking center at Foothills United Methodist Church at 4031 Avocado Blvd. (Check the society’s website for updates as the tour may sell out).

All tickets are will-call and need to be picked up at the check-in on the day of the tour. All attendees must take the complimentary shuttles due to the narrow streets and there is no parking at home sites. No driving to the homes is permitted.

Once again, the La Mesa Historical Society’s Historical Home Tour is a not-to-be missed event.

—James D. Newland is president of the La Mesa Historical Society. Reach him at

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