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Demolishing San Diego LGBT history: The Truax House

Another San Diego residence which might hold historical value for the LGBT community may be getting sold by the city and possibly razed to make way for condominiums.

You may remember back in May of 2015, the Bernie Michels-Thom Carey house was abruptly demolished despite actions by Lambda Archives to save it as an LGBT historical site.

Doctor A. Brad Truax was a major San Diego voice for people living with HIV/AIDS. As a leader and forward thinker, Dr. Truax dedicated his life to bringing awareness and prevention to the San Diego community in the middle of the 80's AIDS epidemic.

He was a main voice in getting San Diego's many bath houses closed to prevent further infections.

In 1987, Dr. Truax himself became personally affected by the disease; he found a Kaposi’s sarcoma and subsequently was diagnosed with having the AIDS virus.

In September of 1988, the AIDS Assistance Fund named a 1910, six bedroom, two story home in his honor which was then used as an emergency facility and hospice for those suffering from the disease. Dr. Truax died in 1988 at the age of 42.

The Truax house located at 2513/2515 Union Street, and its sister home located on 540 West Laurel Street, on the same parcel, are currently owned by the city of San Diego and are scheduled to be reviewed for sale by the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee (SGLUC).

However the Truax is not designated as a historical property as of yet, but many think it is significant in San Diego LGBT history as the first AIDS hospice in the county.

Councilmember Todd Gloria, who sits on the SGLUC committee, released a statement saying that the sale of the Truax house will be an agenda item to be discussed at their bi-monthly meeting on Wednesday, January 20.

According to Gloria’s office and the Real Estate Assets Department staff (READ), The Truax house was purchased with Gas Tax Funds in the 1960’s to extend Maple Canyon Road. However that extension never took place and it wasn’t until 1980 and 1987 (R-252539 and R-268357) that the entire property was examined for possible sale.

Anything purchased by the Gas Tax fund, if sold, must have the proceeds returned back into said fund.

Today the SGLUC staff are re-contemplating the sale of the parcel containing both dwellings, hoping to yield the market value or above for the land.

Cybele L. Thompson, Director of Real Estate Assets of San Diego, told SDGLN that since there is an unknown association of historic value connected to the Truax house, the land was appraised on its highest and best use as if it were vacant.

Thompson also points out that the Truax house is not on the City's list of Historical Landmarks and therefore not designated as a historic structure by the Historical Resources Board.

"It is possible that the two-story house that served as an AIDS clinic run by Dr. Brad Truax may have some historical significance, but the potential or probability of historic designation is unknown at this time," Thompson said. "If the structure/site were to be designated historic, meaning that the Truax House could not be removed, the structure will need significant repairs. Any potential buyer of this site will need to evaluate this potential when making a purchase offer to the City."

However, there is another human element tied to the property. Suzanne Tison has been renting the home in front of the Truax house for 22 years and told SDGLN she would love to continue renting the Spanish revival single story residence, however her home is inclusive of the parcel (site 11A) and the fate of the Truax property is integral to her own.

She is living in the small two bedroom house facing Laurel street on a month-to-month basis by way of the Housing Commission.

Tison says that the community organization, Friends of Maple Canyon would like a park to replace the buildings, but fears that might lead to some unsavory patronage.

READ counters her claim in a statement and says a park is not conducive to the regional topography:

“Due to slope issues, existing structures, and lack of connectivity to Maple Canyon Open Space, City staff cannot justify this location for park uses,” they said in an e-mail statement.

Tison “accidently” found out that the City wants to sell the land as “surplus,” and that the city is hoping a re-developer will buy it and manufacture modern condominiums.

In regards to the Truax house, it remains in poor condition and according to READ, repairs would cost upwards of $1.48 million.

Lambda Archives President Maureen Steiner told SDGLN that she would like to see this proposal stalled at the committee level before it gets to the City Council.

“I believe that what we need to do is address the committee members and ask that they reject the staff recommendation to sell this property,” she said. “There are several bases to do that from the LGBT perspective: One, we believe this to have significance to LGBT community. Two, we believe this to have historic significance to the City and to the LGBT community as the first AIDS hospice in San Diego.”

Finally, Steiner adds, “The City is in midst of LGBT Historic Context Statement. Anything that may qualify as LGBT/LGBT Historic should be off-limits at this time! Let the process get completed.”

SDGLN reached out to committee member and council member Todd Gloria. Although he understands the passion to pursue the Turax house as an historical property, he will remain unbiased until he has heard from the public.

“I am sensitive to the community’s concerns about the property. I also understand that the Planning Department staff is not in favor of preserving the parcel as park land or open space,” he said. “The input from the public and City staff will help inform my decision about its potential sale.”

The scheduled committee meeting is to take place on Wednesday January, 20 at 9 am, in the City Council Committee Room, 12th Floor, City Administration Building.

For more information on Lambda Archives, click HERE.

SDGLN will keep you up-to-date on developing details about the Truax house.

Timothy Rawles is Community Editor of SDGLN. He can be reached at editor@sdgln.com, @reporter66 on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to 888-442-9639, ext. 713.