A brief history of your local plumber

Powers Plumbing looks ahead with a century in its wake

Hutton Marshall | Uptown Editor

In early April, Powers Plumbing closed traffic to an entire block in front of their storefront on West Lewis Street in Mission Hills. The local plumbing company had just turned 100 years old, and they needed room to properly celebrate.

An early shot of the Powers Plumbing building that operates today. While the exact date of the photograph isn't known, it's safe to say that it was taken in the first half of the 20th century. (Courtesy Powers Plumbing)

An early shot of the Powers Plumbing building that operates today. While the exact date of the photograph isn’t known, it’s safe to say that it was taken in the first half of the 20th century. (Courtesy Powers Plumbing)

Live music, water balloon contests and local vendors lit up the block that Powers Plumbing made its home back in 1917, moving from the Downtown location it established three years prior.

While the store’s owner Janet O’Dea just took over the company in 2010, she holds the store’s historical ties to the community dear. In fact, she and her husband started Mission Hills Heritage back in the early 2000s when she first arrived in the city, and she continues to work on the historic Pioneer Park. Now, she’s put her own company under the magnifying glass to explore its lengthy history.

Not much is known about Luther B. Powers, the founder of what now does business as “Powers Plumbing.” He started the L.B. Powers Plumbing shop at 805 Eighth Ave. in Downtown, after moving from Los Angeles in time for the Panama-California Exposition, which earned San Diego recognition by the international community as a prosperous port city.

In 1917, his son Calvin joined his business, as would his brothers Benm and Mel before long. They changed their name to L.B. Powers & Son, packed up shop and spent a year relocating to 1619 W. Lewis St. in Mission Hills — across the street from their current location. What’s in 1619 W. Lewis St. today? A ballet studio.

Then, a few years later in 1923, L.B. Powers & Son moved for a final time. They constructed the building that to this day stands at 1705 W. Lewis St.

Luther retired from the family business twelve years later, and “Cal” went on to run the business for another 33 years until selling the business to Jack Detrick 1968. But that’s not to say the Powers family broke their ties with the business there. Cal continued to show up to the shop daily, even living right next door for a time. The Powers also retain ownership of the building.

Detrick incorporated the business the following year, running it until 1983 when employee Phillip Stull took ownership. In Stull’s hands the company remained until its fifth and current owner Janet O’Dea entered the scene.

On a fateful day in 2007, O’Dea’s toilet stopped working. She called Powers, which not only fixed the toilet, but offered her a part-time accounting job. Already an active member of the Mission Hills community running a small business of her own, O’Dea’s interests slowly transitioned to Powers as she got more and more involved. Then, whether she was ready to take over or not, Stull was hit with medical issues that forced him to scale back his involvement with Powers. There was a leadership gap after his leaving that O’Dea filled, becoming the official owner in 2010.

Stull continues to stop by the shop regularly, and the employees even get a visit from time to time by the granddaughter of Luther B. Powers, who now owns the building.

There’s a sense of community at Powers — close bonds characteristic of a long-standing family business. Indeed, O’Dea has recruited her husband Allen, a local professor, to come lend a hand in the shop part time. Now with great familiarity of the community, Powers prides itself on being able to accommodate its many historic homes, enabling customers to flush without asking them to compromise their home’s historic integrity. With Powers Plumbing, O’Dea hopes to continue this close marriage with Mission Hills for many years to come.

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