Villa Surf

Villa Surf

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Article by Allison Morgan:

Update: Since this article was written the Villa Surf has been completely demolished.  Nothing remains in its memory.

If you visit Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in Point Loma, you'll notice four foundations for a series of small houses near the cliffs that no longer exist, but should never be forgotten.

Native San Diegan Daniel Paul Dixon purchased the property at 4401 Ladera in the early 1950s and constructed a grand house with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean that he named Villa Surf.

Villa Surf

Dan was a flamboyant character, and he traveled the globe expanding his fortune with real estate investments. Famed eccentric artist Andy Warhol was his next-door neighbor in Paris during his globe-trotting years.

It seems he traveled frequently, but Dan always returned home to San Diego and his beloved Villa Surf.

Shortly after constructing the 3,272 square foot mansion on the cliffs, Dan started adding guest houses to the property around what was known as a "legendary party house," and became known as the Dixon Lodge.

It is speculated that some of the guest houses may have been built by Dan himself due to the lack of permits on file with the City of San Diego, eclectic design, and sub-standard building materials in some structures.

In all, there were four guest houses; the Pole House (865 square feet, including the small addition), the Surf House (480 square feet), the cliff-side Cliff House (250-400 square feet, reports vary), the Library and its addition, the Boat House (1,600 square feet, including the small addition).

In 1964, Dan sold his beloved Villa Surf estate to California Western University (now Point Loma Nazarene University) with the caveat that he was allowed to continue living in the guest houses under a Life Estate agreement.

The property was purchased by the city in 1973 and included in the master plan for Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. Rumblings over rehabilitating the aging mansion or demolishing it began in 1980.

In 1985, after many years of Villa Surf-hosted black tie affairs and use as a faculty residence, the City of San Diego demolished the grand house due to instability of the bluffs. Members of the community failed to save the mansion by the sea, and Dan was devastated.

Tragically, Dan was murdered in Ensenada, Mexico in February 1992 at age 70. A 23-year-old man reportedly confessed, but no charges were ever filed. Following his death, title to his property reverted to the City of San Diego.
The City continued to rent the guest houses for another decade. During that time, one of the most notorious residents of this small housing compound on Ladera was Paul Shanley.

Before he became known as a pivotal figure in the child abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church, Paul and his non-clerical roommate, Dale Legace, quietly lived in the Surf House.

Someone later spray-painted "Welcome to Hell" on the inner walls of the collapsing cinder-block dwelling... one can only wonder at the painter's motivation.

In April 2013, after a tiring decade of criminal activity at the now-closed/abandoned housing compound, a group of people carelessly ignited a tree overhanging the roof of the Library.

Due to the extreme proximity to the cliffs, firefighters had a difficult time extinguishing the flames, and less than an hour later, it was obvious... total demolition was imminent.

As of July 7, 2013, nothing remained but foundations. Gone forever is the plaque on the front of the library, defiantly facing the Pacific:
"To the parochial Philistines who alas will inherit this lovely isle The Villa Surf, 1981"

It was near that plaque where this researcher met Olen. Quietly sipping his fermented adult beverage, he took a long drag off a hand-rolled herbal cigarette and glanced towards me with sadness in his eyes.

I asked him what he knew about the ruins perched on the cliffs, and he replied, "This was the happiest place I've ever been." Olen used to attend days-long parties here during the 80s and reveled in the atmosphere and the "really cool hippies" that lived there, fifty feet above the crashing waves.

He appeared crushed when I informed him of the planned demolition; he pondered what could be done to save it. I left him sitting there on the wall of the Cliff House with his memories.

He reached into his backpack and popped the top on another cold one, quietly kicking a piece of broken glass with his flip-flop.

Not all of the houses related to the Dixon family have been demolished. The Dixon House in Point Loma has been added to the Historic Register for San Diego (HRB #401).

The stately Queen Anne on Dixon Place may be deserving of her own page on Hidden San Diego.

Dan Dixon's ashes are there, along with his self-penned epitaph: "It is my wish to return to the house and soil of a family I love midst a people I don't."

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