• Todd Pitman

La Mesa Ruocco Design Threatened

Updated: Sep 8, 2018

Those who are familiar with Lloyd Ruocco's work are likely most familiar with his residential work. Over the past decade there have been a handful of his residential designs that have been lovingly restored and several have been published online or in design publications. Most are less familiar with the commercial work that he did. The vast majority of those projects have been razed or heavily remodeled and are therefore unrecognizable. Where his commercial designs have been preserved or restored time has proven them to be some of the best pieces of modernist architecture in San Diego. Many of California's most notable architects, historians and authors have pointed to Lloyd Ruocco's 1949 Design Center on 5th Ave as one of San Diego's best examples modern architecture.


Ruocco's most well known commercial design. The Design Center housed his architectural practice and Ilse Ruocco's interior design businesses. Photo Credit Darren Bradley

His approach to commercial architecture was much like his approach to his residential designs. Ruocco believed that the structure, art and landscape were all parts of a greater composition. The structure could serve as a canvas for art or a frame for the landscape beyond. To that end he often partnered with artists when designing his commercial work. His 1950 design for commissioning client Anthony Leone at 8371 La Mesa Blvd was typical of that approach. Ruocco's plan included the extensive remodel of a 1926 Pontiac garage. Leone's vision included a retail space that could accommodate several small shop owners. Ruocco's plan utilized an angular massing, a light trellis, large triangular planters of brick stylized signage and a glassy storefront to capture the attention of foot traffic on La Mesa's main street. At the interior Ruocco used even more glass to divide small storefronts within the larger building enclosure with a geometry that echoes the exterior planters.



Interior shown in "After" photo below. La Mesa Scout article courtesy Jim Newland and the La Mesa Historical Society

As was typical of his work at the time, Ruocco also partnered with artist Jon Helland who painted a mural of 31 x 21 feet depicting an semi abstracted tree at the buildings interior. Helland was perhaps better known for large commissions for the US Grant Hotel and Del Mar Race track


La Mesa artist Jon Helland at work on mural for Leone's Lane. La Mesa Scout article courtesy Jim Newland and the La Mesa Historical Society


The finished project was named Leone's Lane as shown in this 1951 photo


Exterior as it appeared in 1951

Although the interior of the project is no longer extant the exterior of the building remains largely intact possessing most of the character defining features designed by Ruocco almost 70 years ago.



Exterior as it appears today

A demolition permit is currently under review by the City of La Mesa for 8371 La Mesa Blvd. These old historic buildings bring character and a strong sense of place to La Mesa's Village. There have been many great examples of businesses in town that have enlivened and retained these historic buildings. Fourpenny House, Public Square, Re-Animated Records and others have brought life to town while maintaining the unique character of the Village. It would be great to see this project do the same.

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