LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV) - People from all over the world come to La Jolla Cove for its beauty, its water and to get an up-close look at the seals and sea lions living on the rocks.
The two eyesores they don't come to see, however, are impossible to miss.
"I suddenly turned around and saw these two structures and said, 'whoa! How'd that happen?" said Rich Heleniak, who was visiting the Cove on a recent Friday.
Heleniak was referring to cottages called Red Roost and Red Rest. Built in 1894, they are the oldest structures still on their original location in La Jolla. At first glance, it's easy to see they have been crumbling for decades.
"They've been vandalized over the years, bricks have been thrown, there was an arson fire," said Corey Levitan, a journalist for the La Jolla Light newspaper who has tracked the cottages for years.
The cottages were designated historic in 1976, meaning former owner Jack Heimburge could not redevelop them into apartments. Instead, he neglected them until his death in 1998. Heimburge also owned the La Jolla Cove Hotel and Suites next door, so his motivation to ignore them was up for debate.
"There was never enough money to take care of the cottages properly," Levitan said. "Then again, this guy owned the hotel, I think there was enough money to take care of the cottages properly."
In his will, Heimburge split the ownership of the cottage among his heirs.
A multi-year legal battle over what to do with them settled in 2018, clearing a key road block to revamping the cottages.
"Take the original structure and rebuild the outside, and they've got carte blanche on the inside to do whatever they want, right?" said Catherine Oborne, a tourist who stopped to see the cottages.
The parent company of Cove Properties Inc., which also owns the Cove Hotel and Suites next door, did not return messages seeking comment.
The group has retained La Jolla architect Alcorn Benton to design the project. The firm declined to comment, saying the owner is currently reviewing the alternatives and that the schedule is not yet finalized.
The cottages were originally called the Neptune Bungalows. A Los Angeles attorney named George Leovy designed them and used one as a vacation home in the 1890s. A banker named Joseph Fishburn owned the other.