borrego modern


Borrego Springs Shopping Center & Villas Borrego Apartments (1965)

One of the most significant commercial projects in the community, the Borrego Springs Shopping Center and Villas Borrego was the largest development at the time of the DiGiorgio Corporation, which had extensive landholdings in the Borrego Valley, much of it used to grow table grapes. The project development was headed by George Kuhrts with underwriting by Robert DiGiorgio and A.A. Burnand. The Borrego Sun announced the more than $1 million dollar project in 1965 with a banner headline.

The project featured a shopping mall, bank, gas station and 28 apartment (today condominium units) with two pools on a 20 acre site between Palm Canyon and Country Club Drive.

For this project, Zerbe would collaborate with La Mesa architects Raymond Lee Eggers and Joseph Pisciotti and Associates of San Diego. 22



22 Author's Note: Several years ago my wife and I (along with other members of her family) met with a group of long time friends of Lou

and Dorothy Hodgson, my wife's grandparents. Lou had passed away many years before - this meeting of their group was to remember the

recent passing of Dorothy Hodgson, my wife's grandmother. Among those at the table that afternoon was Lee Eggers, the same Raymond

Lee Eggers who more than 40 years earlier had collaborated with Dick Zerbe on the design and construction of "The Mall". The Hodgson',

Eggers and the rest of their friends met some 50 years earlier - the men of the group all meeting during World War II, while working at

Convair. Former NBC News Anchor and Author Tom Brokaw called them "The Greatest Generation". One of the things that made them great

was their friendship - how for more than half a century they lived near one another, supported each other, raised families together and grew

graceful as they aged, and mourned (not with sadness, but with joy for their time on this earth) the passing of each member of "their

group". At that meeting I had mentioned I was doing research n Borrego architecture and specifically Dick Zerbe. Lee Eggers said he

designed a project in Borrego, along with a Julian architect by the name of Dick Zerbe. Lee remembered Dick - it was the only project that

they worked on together. It is truly amazing to think that forty years after Dick Zerbe and Lee Eggers worked together on a project, I would

be sitting at a table with friends and family and learn of their collaboration. It is a small world.

Ground was broken for the project in October, 1965. In December, a ceremony was held where a time capsule was buried in the center to be opened in the year 2000. Students from Borrego Elementary and High Schools were invited to compete in an essay contest on "What Borrego Will Be Like in the Year 2000', with the winners receiving a $100 savings bond and their paper placed into the time capsule. 23
The essay of Levina Houck, a junior at Borrego Springs High School won the contest, envisioning Borrego Springs in the year 2000 as "having a monorail that crossing the mountains to the coast; towering skyscrapers around Christmas Circle; Clark Dry Lake dry no longer and the state park will be reduced in size." Taking part in the sealing of the time capsule were developers Robert DiGiorgio, A.A. Burnand, and W.A. Patterson, who was President of de Anza Country Club and Chairman of the Board of United Airlines. Also participating in the ceremony were Mr. and Mrs. Kuhrts, Werner Lusardi of Vista, president of P.H. Lusardi Co., the builder, and Richard M. Zerbe of Julian, one of the architects. 24

Today the shopping center known as "The Mall", and the Villas Borrego Condominiums, remain a significant element of Borrego's main street. Ironically the shopping center buildings face the less used Country Club Drive, and turn their back on the busier Palm Canyon Drive. The reason, confirmed by architect Lee Eggers, was that plans called for Montezuma Grade, the new road that cut travel time to Borrego, to end at Christmas Circle, using Country Club Drive. The route for Montezuma Grade was changed, meeting Palm Canyon Drive at Hoberg Road near the entrance to Anza Borrego State Park. The Mall's relationship to Palm Canyon Drive was left unchanged.

23 Borrego Sun, December 11, 1965
24 Borrego Sun, January 8, 1966


25 Borrego Sun, February 18, 1967

Balancing Development and Quality of Life

With the development of the Borrego Valley, A.A. Burnand and partners in 1949 formed the Borrego Springs Community Association and laid the foundation for deed restrictions to protect the quality of life in the Valley. "In many ways, the Borrego Springs Community Association was similar to a modern homeowners' association, responsible for enforcement of deed restrictions established by the original developers; for example, a requirement that homebuilders could not remove more than ten percent of the native growth around their homes. In 1949, this was still a novel idea." 26

26 BorregoBeginnings, Phil Brigandi, page 125

From 1962 to 1987 Dick Zerbe was the advising architect to the Community Association Board of Directors - contracted to review all plans for development in the Valley. It was this position into which he threw his passions for good desert design. While known for being fair, his tough stance didn't, at times, win him many friends. His written comments (which he did in red pencil) on the plans for one home:

"The concept and construction details are evidently thought to lower costs. I think this is a misconception that reflects the designer's lack of understanding of the many principals - not to mention economies, climate, vagaries of materials, etc.

Designer and owner should talk to old time desert builders (If there are any survivors). Also: One might make an engineer out of an architect but it seems less likely that one might make an architect out of an engineer - maybe there's a perception that architecture is either more rewarding or easier (or both) than engineering" 28

In a 1980 letter to the chairman, of the Architectural Committee of the Association, Zerbe wrote:

"My objective is to use my knowledge of Borrego to help all applicants produce the best possible structure for the occupant and the community. Anything we can do to accomplish this in such a way as to build good will instead of resentment will further my objective"…

*I'm sure we might make more friends if the committee operated as a rubber stamp and issued only compliments or tactfully ignored poor design - but is the gain worth the loss of a few who might due irreparable harm to the community?
Yours truly,
s/s Dick
R.M. Zerbe, Architect

*What I'm saying is that if we are irresponsible, we might win 'em all. If we're responsible, we win some and we lose some but who needs the ones we lose? 29

In 1981, the County of San Diego initiated a General Plan Update, which prompted the Community Association to begin the process for a "Town Center" plan. Proposed changes in zoning and uses that were in conflict with existing community character were of special concern (there were proposals to increase industrial development in the town core where the 1947 deed restrictions placed on much of other valley property were not in effect).


27 Interview, Betty Zerbe, 2008
28 Zerbe Architectural Archive
29 Zerbe Architectural Archive, Borrego Springs Community Association

December 23, 1980
Borrego Springs Community Association
James Brainerd, President

Dear Dick,
You have asked that, to assist you in performing your function as a land consultant to this Association, we provide you with a written statement outlining our wishes and attitudes in respect to the formulation of the Town Center Plan which is now in progress. This is a joint effort of the citizens committee known as the Borrego Springs Community Land Use Study Group and staff of the San Diego County Department of Planning and Land Use.

In my opinion, the views of the Directors of the Borrego Springs Community Association include:
1. A desire to assist the Group in the formulation of a plan for the orderly growth of the study area which will not diminish the area's attractions that brought the current population to the Borrego Valley,
2. A defensive posture toward efforts to alter or weaken our Declaration of Protective Restrictions. We recognize that the Restrictions are not perfect but it is the firm conviction that they have served well since the first of them was invoked in 1947. I believe that in general they constitute a pioneer planning effort of high quality and that of the development of covenant area were completed in accord with them, we would have in Borrego a resort residential community of excellence. (I think it is very unfortunate that the covenant area did not include at least all of the central portion of the area). The Directors and officers of the association are charged with the enforcement of these Restrictions and did not have the authority to amend them. Amendment can only be accomplished by our owner/members in accordance with Article XIII.
3. A strong feeling of responsibility toward our member/owners who have in good faith purchased properties within the covenant area with the expectation that they could rely upon the Protective restrictions.30

In 1987, with his resignation from the position of advising architect, he warned that unchecked development would have a devastating effect on the quality of life in Borrego - an opinion that haunts the present and future Borrego community. In the early 2000's the long chipping away at the Community Association and its regulation of development was successful when a landholder/developer successfully convinced property owners in the covenant area to dissolve the Association, and with it, the enforcement of the restrictions that remain in each property owners deed. It is an event in Borrego Springs history that deserves its own further examination. Today the Borrego Springs


30 Zerbe Architectural Archive

Sponsor Group advises the County of San Diego on development issues, which is in the process of its 2020 Plan Update. 31

In addition to his work in Borrego Springs, Dick Zerbe was a preservation pioneer, instrumental in creating the guidelines that protect Julian's historic character. During his career obtained his State Contractor's License, was a member of the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the State Board of Architectural Examiners. In 1997, the State retired his Architects License (C4004).
Richard Monroe Zerbe died in 1999. His work remains a symbol of the period when Borrego boomed - a legacy that lives today.

31 For more information on proposed San Diego County General Plan updates for Borrego Springs see:

http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/dplu/docs/bos_may04_desert.pdf. Also the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce website for the

Powerpoint presentation www.borregospringschamber.com/dai/CIV8_1_24.07.ppt