The finished product, April 1967: 174,000 square feet of luxury apartments for Point Loma, or four acres of floor area. Le Rondelet contractor Leonard Teyssier laughs, “How many people buy a building by the acre?”
Playful Point Loma neighbors watching the circular Le Rondelet rise likened it to the Italian Coliseum in Rome. They attached a homemade scoreboard to the first floor balcony that read, “COLISEUM SCORE BOARD”. In Roman numerals the final score: “LIONS II - CHRISTIANS 0”. Below the scoreboard, a large drawing of a lion.
Leonard Teyssier, looking at blueprints of Le Rondelet.
All the while Ocean Beach Fishing Pier was being raised over the Pacific, pier contractor Leonard Teyssier was conceiving his notion of building a luxury high rise on the site of an old tuna cannery in Point Loma.
Before dredging spoils were dumped on the unlovely shoal that became Shelter Island, “Boats came up 10 feet to our building line,” remembers 89-year-old Teyssier. “Fish were off-loaded into the cannery, which was an old rusty sheet metal building. When my friends heard I was building down there, they advised me to stay away from that nasty, smelly cannery.”
But Teyssier’s luxury Le Rondelet apartment complex was ideal with bay views, and its 5-minute proximity to the airport and downtown San Diego.
“When we started planning the building, it became more and more obvious that everyone should share in the view and round was the obvious answer,“ Teyssier remembers.
“Before we started construction, we set up scaffolds in a straight line 60 feet up, then went to each level and took photos of the views you’d have when the building was finished.”
Family friend Lynn Gildred, wife of Fox Theatre owner, Philip Gildred, offered the name Le Rondelet after studying in France.
During construction the building began to resemble the first-century Italian Coliseum, an oval amphitheatre in the center of Rome. Point Loma neighbors of the project playfully attached a large sign made of dry wall scraps to the lower balcony, which read, “Coliseum Score Board.” Below these letters, in Roman numerals, a line of scores, finally, “Lions II. Christians 0.” Nearby, another sign was hung with an image of a lion.
Leonard notes, “I remember later when I was in Rome, resenting that the Romans had copied my design!”
Two architects and a draftsman worked with Teyssier for three years designing the building. “I didn’t want any feature that I wouldn’t be happy to live with. This was our gauge, and I knew what I wanted.”
For economy and longevity, pre-cast concrete was used instead of wood. “When we poured wall panels, and inserted rebar, we laid the panels on the floor then stood them up. In another six or eight years, this became the way of doing things. Bigger equipment being manufactured meant you could pick up bigger pieces of walls.” A few hundred balcony posts and rails were also precast.
White concrete was sandblasted to give it a finished, colorful appearance. “The building is 50 years old now,” Teyssier says, “and it has not be necessary to repaint or refinish these natural colors. The building looks recently constructed.”
Teyssier designed the complex with open walkway balconies so it didn’t need corridors, air-conditioning, lighting, or carpeting. Outside walkways would be easy to maintain. To avoid people seeing inside another’s space as they walked by, designers placed windows five feet high along the walkway.
The six-story Le Rondelet on Anchorage Street stands at 60-feet tall.
According to The San Diego Union, April 16, 1967: “The building, of reinforced concrete, swings in a half circle around a central recreation complex with swimming pool, terrace, two sauna baths, recreation room, and hobby shop. It contains 77 luxury apartments, ranging from single bedroom, single bath units of 1,000 square feet to deluxe penthouses of 2,100 square feet, with three bedrooms and three baths, which will rent for $1,200 a month. The lowest price on the rent schedule is $400 a month.”
“We designed 16 different floor plans,” Teyssier chuckles, “and we charged a different price for every unit. When you’re trying to fill a new building you have to compromise the rent a little to get it started, but then everybody else wants the same price. “
Standing in the center courtyard is a 63-year old tree that has grown taller than the six-story building. Teyssier had seen it along the route of a future freeway in Riverside and asked to have it. He sent a backhoe and trailer, and crane operator Joe to collect it. Too big to go under the freeway, and limbs were broken. “Leonard, I’m not unloading that tree until you look at it. Miserable looking thing.”
“I told Joe to take it off the trailer, put it in a hole. We ordered heating cables from Chicago to wrap around the roots of the tree because we knew it grew well in Hawaii at 80 degree temps,” Leonard says.
Teyssier exchanged the complex in 1972 to Lincoln Property’s Peter Bren and Joe Landau in trades for 17 other properties in California, Texas, and Arizona. Teyssier shakes his head. “I was on the phone in a simultaneous exchange to satisfy IRS rules, telling 17 property owners in three time zones, close! “
Son Paul Teyssier said of the tax deferred exchange, “It was historic, the biggest title transfer at the time. The title people remembered it for years after.”
Originally built as luxury and penthouse apartments for investment property, Le Rondelet stands strong today as privately owned condominiums.
“Equivalent to an Isolated Family Farm…”—Paul Teyssier
“Building Le Rondelet was another burden equivalent to an isolated family farm where everybody in the family had to pull in the crops,” says Paul, oldest of Leonard’s eight children.
“Dad’s prouder of this project than of any other. He designed it. Worked on everything about it. It was an extraordinary finish that took just one year. I remember when they were plastering the walls, Dad taking a golf tee out of his pocket to measure the mix. ‘Too much sand, not strong enough,’ he insisted.’”
Like so many other projects taken on by his contractor father, Paul remembers sitting in the car when he mentioned the idea of building a high-rise apartment complex. “Oh, hell’s bells, Dad, just leave it alone, not another crisis!”
Paul never doubted his father could pull off the huge job, but the construction lender wasn’t so certain. “Mother was always his sounding board.”
“Leonard’s office staff and foreman were extraordinary. Tradesmen came and followed him one job to another,” Paul says. “It was a tightrope. Dad attracted extremely loyal employees, and we kids were pressed to tasks suitable to our ages.”
The building had been opened a few months when a regional forest fire raged, and breezes blew ashes and cinders over Le Rondelet’s outside balconies. All eight children were sent to clean it up right away. The youngest carried buckets of water to the other kids.
Son Ralph remembers that, “Once the project was done, we were still enrolled every Saturday – unless there was a Boy Scout campout – for pulling weeds, moving furniture, and vacuuming the buildings.”
There is a gentlemanly nature to Leonard Teyssier’s disposition, but behind it an edge – a tenacity for big dreams and hard, honest work. When asked if he ever doubted he could do the job, he answers, “No, I didn’t know any better.”
Leonard has earned a reputation of excellence over his long career. (At this, his eyes well up, and a broad smile comes across his face.)
Interestingly, as the construction superintendent began digging the footings for Le Rondelet, he discovered a buried diesel tank that had been used by the cannery. It was hauled off, but a problem with water and oil in the hole caused some uproar at the nearby yacht club. “Hang him from the yardarm!” members fussed. But when the commodore heard it was Leonard Teyssier’s project, he said, “Forget it, he’ll take care of it!”
When asked if he were to teach students of contemporary construction, what would he tell them? His lofty lesson, “Don’t sell Le Rondelet!”
Teyssier’s $3.5 million complex that sold in 1972 for $6 million, is worth $60 to $80 million today.
Residents of Le Rondelet and special guests celebrated the historic occasion of 50 years strong with champagne, catered buffet, and music on April 8. Happy anniversary, Teyssier family!