Hillcrest’s Design Center

Tree-lined Fifth Avenue at Brookes Street is home to an architectural masterpiece designed by architect Lloyd Ruocco. Born in Maine in 1907, Ruocco moved to San Diego in the early 1920s. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Ruocco is widely credited with pioneering the post-war modern architectural movement in San Diego.

Characteristic of Ruocco’s early designs, the Design Center (1949) is primarily redwood and glass. Its flat roof, floor-to-ceiling glass and decks over the canyon are core design elements of California Modernism. The openness of the design reflects Ruocco’s concern that a building’s relationship with the outdoors should be a harmonious one.

design-centerRuocco’s studio was located at the Design Center, along with the studio and showrooms of his wife, interior designer and professor Ilse Hamann Ruocco. The couple brought artists, designers, photographers and architects to the Design Center shaping the city’s arts community.

In 2002 Blue Sapphire Holdings LLC purchased the building and restored the original fasçade. In 2003, Grace Hollis Lowe Hanson & Schaeffer LLP began using the lower level of the Design Center, while renting the other floors to design professionals. The American Institute for Architecture (AIA) toured the building during its national convention in 2004. The following year GraceHollis hosted a series of legal seminars at the Design Center.

Elected a Fellow of the AIA in 1974, Ruocco designed over 100 projects in San Diego. He died in 1981. Nine years later the city designated the building a Historical Resource Site. The continued preservation of the Design Center helps sustain the legacy of this architectural giant and San Diego’s cultural past.

About the Author: Art history major Elle Bertoli is the former Business Development Director for GraceHollis.

(First published in HillQuest, volume 4)

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