Thursday, February 19, 2009
On Foot in San Diego: Villa Montezuma
After leaving the Marston house, I headed down to Sherman Heights to find Villa Montezuma, another historic place the San Diego Historical Society had to close in 2006 due to lack of funds. I wanted at least to check out the outside-- and what an outside!
I hadn't looked up much of the history ahead of time, so all I knew was the house was built in 1887 some distance from the booming "new town" of San Diego and that it was an ornate Victorian House.
Every window was a piece of art.
Spires and quirky things on the roof.
Even for Victorian, this house was a little over the top. Not only that, there was a strangely Russian flavor.
Check out this Russian church...
and our San Diego house.
Stepping over the "No Trepassing" sign I looked in through the window. Wow, an ornate wooden stair case. I was cursing various things, like the money spent on the Iraq conflict and Sarah Palin’s wardrobe instead of on our amazing Villa Montezuma, and wishing I could go inside.
I settled for coming home to read about the house and its flamboyant original owner, Jesse Shephard. His story is as complicated as the house, but in short he was a pianist, operatic singer and writer who spent his early years entertaining in salons in Europe and, guess what, Russia. When he passed into San Diego to play in some missions, two rich San Diego brothers built this house for Jesse and his "companion/secretary" of forty years, Lawrence Tonner. The dusty, frontier atmosphere of San Diego didn't come up to the level of European and Russian salons and royalty. Jesse and Lawrence left after two years, about the time the real estate market was declining. Declining real estate is something we can all relate to out here now. Well, it's happened before, dramatically so in the late 1880's.
San Diego population in 1880 was 2,600, in 1885 about 5,000 and by 1887 an amazing explosion of 40,000. Wonder why? Well, it seems the the Santa Fe Transcontinental Railroad was finished in 1887, ending in San Diego. Travel from east to west coast was now about a week. There was a land rush to San Diego with property sometimes turning over two to three times in a day. Our guy, Marston, made some good money in real estate and Wyatt Earp -- in his mid-thirties and always the gambler -- came out in 1886, likely part of the land fever. He was here for four years, speculated in real estate, opened a saloon and was sheriff for a while.
Unfortunately, in a short time, the Santa Fe railroad decided to reroute the railroad to Los Angeles and San Diego became just a spur line. By 1890 the population had dropped to 16,159. Earp was one of the defectors in 1890, moving on to San Francisco.
George, we're glad you stayed.
This weekend I'm going to check out the Old Police Headquarters. Seems like they're having a liquidation sale of cell doors, sinks and toilets. I'll be looking for the Spanish Colonial architecture before the Headquarters are razed for a shopping center. Can you believe it?
P.S. We're appending this comment to the body of the post so you're sure to see that Zorro (FOVM) is on the way and deserves our support! "Pat and Kathie, I enjoy your blog! Did you know that the Friends of the Villa Montezuma, Inc., have been around since 1974 and incorporated in 2006 to better help the Villa? We've done amazing things the past three years, and we hope to have all the funds needed to fix the Villa foundation and chimneys this year in order for us to reopen and hopefully operate the museum. See www.VillaMontezuma.org for more info. We do walking tours of the Sherman Heights Historic District. We'd love for you to be our guest to learn more about Jesse's neighborhood of downtown San Diego. If you're interested, send us an e-mail at Friends@VillaMontezuma.org. Louise Torio, Chair, FOVM"