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Monday, April 22, 2013


Leading architect, visionary, Graham Downes died Sunday afternoon, April 21 after succumbing to severe injuries allegedly inflicted a day earlier by an employee of Downes architectural firm.  Police have not released details.  The employee remains jailed.

I met Graham professionally, when I interviewed him for an article on the completion of his hotel project, Tower 23 in Pacific Beach.  Later, I interviewed him for another feature on his new Bankers Hill home that he and his then life partner, restaurateur Tracy Borkum [Cucina Urbana], were in the process of remodeling.  Back then my task was to write a feature on the homes of prominent restaurateurs for the annual restaurant issue of San Diego Magazine.  I planned writing about the home restaurant owner Tracy Borkum and her architect significant other Graham Downes a full year earlier.  When it came time to write the article (reprinted below) about the Borkum/Downes home, the historic residence was far from being completed.  Thanks to an understanding editor, Tom Blair, he accepted and published the only article I ever wrote on a remodel in progress.

“A WORK IN PROGRESSIVE,” San Diego Magazine, August 2005
By Thomas Shess

“My architectural style evolves so quickly,” said architect Graham Downes, one of San Diego’s top architects and hospitality designers.  “I didn’t want our home to be one particular style.  Then in ten years I’d have to move because I was no longer happy living with that mood.”

So what did San Diego’s leading 21st-century minimalist architect do to remodel one of San Diego’s first great homes of the 20th century?

First, he didn’t do anything alone.  The revamping of their newly purchased 1910 Jackson/Klauber home is a “we” effort of Downes and Tracy Borkum.

Graham Downes photographed at his Bankers 
Hill home by Will Gullette. The image appeared
in the February 2013 edition of 
San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles in a 
profile entitled "Man About Town," by Mark
Hiss.  The image above was posted on his firm's 
This couple’s respective careers couldn’t be more prime time.  Tower 23, a spectacular seaside boutique hotel in Pacific Beach designed by Downes, held its grand opening last month [July, 2005, San Diego Magazine].  Restaurateur Borkum is on a hot streak, too.  Recently, she added Laurel (now renamed Cucina Urbana) to her roster of popular eateries that include Kensington Grill and Chive in the Gaslamp Quarter.

Downes' reputation in local hospitality design is legend.  In addition to Tower 23, his firm Graham Downes Architecure (GDA), has created the design for Chive, Thin, Gran Havana Café, Jimmy Love’s Shaker Room, Martini Ranch, Seau’s, Nine-Ten, Brasserie Excelsior, Pasquale and a recent remodel of The Marine Room.

Early on, Borkum liked the idea of living upstairs in her new 1910 digs while occasionally having the downstairs and the grounds available as a site for catering private parties.  The home has a history of being an entertainment and wedding venue.  Its Bankers Hill location is central to Borkum’s operations and GDA’s new headquarters in a Barrio Logan retro brick warehouse.  The home catering idea didn’t catch on.

Downes immediately liked the horizontal lines of the house. “It really fit in with our remodeling design ideas,” he says.  “The modernizing challenge was made easier because the home was already considered modern when it was built,” Downes said.

Ninety-five years later [in 2005], the clean stucco lines designed by Los Angeles architects Train & Williams remain contemporary, as do many of the homes built by Train & Williams contemporaries: Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright and Pasadena’s Greene brothers. Downes and Borkum did little to alter the exterior, and passersby will be hard pressed to see any modernization of its wisteria-covered pergolas and Craftsman-style perimeter fencing.

A design necklace outside is the surrounding frieze molding under the eaves, shaped as a Greek key.  That pattern is repeated throughout the house and its grounds.

“Overall, we improved the interior functionality of the home by asking the termites to leave an by wiring and lighting the home with the latest high-tech wizardly,” Downes said. “As for the interior woodwork, we caught a break.  The red mahogany in the paneling, wainscoting, moldings, frames, doors and windows remained fairly pristine.  In fact, if there was damage to the woodwork, we probably did it—and had to quickly repair it.

“Of the 118 windows and doors (facing the exterior), we redid them all.  We replaced what was broken and refurbished what we could to the period,” he said.

The 1910 Jackson residence after the Downes/Borkum
remodeling, 2006.  It was a remarkable job
of period restoration of a Prairie style home.
The prairie-style home offers views of San Diego airport, the Bay and Point Loma.  Because it was built when the airport site was only a marsh, original owners Frederick and Mary Jackson didn’t have to worry about low flying jetliners.  Downes had general contractor Phil Milana Construction install heavy-duty, soundproof, aluminium-frame, double-pane Jeld-Wen windows.  He demonstrated the success of the new windows by opening one during one of more than 40 flyovers that occurred by midday.  With all the windows closed, the silence is dramatic.  “These windows give us the quiet that we need to live here,” he said.  “Also, the windows match the original exterior appearance of the home, which will warm the heart of the most ardent preservationist.”

The home’s décor is still evolving.  Downes didn’t want to furnish the 6.000-square-foot home in Victoriana or Craftsman style.  Since he was keeping all the historic woodwork intact, he couldn’t see the need to decorate with the oak furnishings popular in Craftsman-era homes.

“The interior is light and bright,” he said.  “You’ll see plenty of white in wall paint and lighter, brighter colors in the furnishings to offset the darkness of the wood.”

Downes and Borkum reflect a more European attitude, where the ancient exteriors are preserved while the interior reflects a more exciting, modern flair.  The furnishings will mirror the taste of a minimalist architect, especially the kitchen and personal spaces: bedrooms, seven baths, his/her studios and twin upstairs solariums surrounded by tall casement windows.

“It was the most modern home in San Diego when built,” said Downes, “and once we’re finished, it will be the most modern home in San Diego—only this time as a remodel.”

Images from Graham Downes company website.

Local News updates: 

Monday, April 22:

Tuesday, April 23:

Wednesday, April 24:

Tuesday, April 30:  
Because I don't subscribe to the local daily newspaper I am no judge of how the coverage has been on Graham Downes death.  One local blogger, however, has taken the media to task in probing deeper into the architect's death.  The blogger raises questions that should be answered.

May 28, 2013:
Downes firm to close.

April 14-15, 2014:
Higinio Salgado appeared in San Diego Superior Court April 14, 2014, the first day of testimony in the trial, which Salgado is accused of beating to death architect Graham Downes.  Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund told the jury that one motive for the homicide was that Salgado “...was angry at the victim because he felt a sense of betrayal by the victim.”

Salgado, an employee of Downes’ prominent architectural firm, feared he was going to be replaced.

The night of a happy hour outing by Downes and his employees ended up at Downes home, where the deadly confrontation between Downes and Sagado occurred.

DDA Maund said Downes was struck 17-21 times with blunt force to his head.  He died days after the beating.

Defense is saying while it was unfortunate that Downes died it was not a murder.

Here is early coverage of the trial:


April 25, 2014:
FINAL VERDICT: A Superior Court jury convicted Higinio Salgado of second degree murder. 
Media speculation is Salgado will receive 15 years in prison.

July 8, 2014:
SENTENCING: Convicted murderer Higinio Soriano Salgado was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Joan Weber to 15 years to life in state prison for the slaying of Graham Downes.  

Personal Note:

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