DIY history at home

Posted: July 14th, 2017 | Columns, Feature, PastMatters, Top Story | 1 Comment

By Katherine Hon | Past Matters

City Clerk’s website offers a wealth of information

On May 18, Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) awarded a well-deserved Outstanding Public Service Award to San Diego City Clerk Elizabeth Maland.

What does that mean to you? If you own a historical-age home, the odds of finding your home’s birth year and the people involved in that blessed event are now much higher. And if you are interested in the history of San Diego, there are hours of amusement waiting for you on the City Clerk’s Digital Archives website at

Classical Ionic columns enhance the Alonzo and Sophia Finley House on Louisiana Street south of Landis Street. (Photo by Katherine Hon)

The three groups listed under the Collections button on the website are: Document Collections, Land Records, and Special Collections. The time span extends from 1850 to 1966.

Records available in the Document Collections include the Burial Registry for Mt. Hope, the municipal cemetery, from its beginning in 1869 to 1970. Mt. Hope is the final resting place for many of early San Diego’s most prominent citizens, such as Alonzo Horton, considered the father of modern San Diego; and George Marston, who helped organize the YMCA and San Diego Public Library System and established the Serra Museum as well as his famous department store.

The Land Records collection contains documents created by various city departments related to lands, taxes, purchases, sales, assessments and planning. There are deeds from 1876 to 1947, a USGS map of the city from 1904, and four volumes of Abstracts of Pueblo Lands, which record transfers of Pueblo Lands to individuals prior to 1888.

Fancy half timbering, brackets and corbels adorn the facade facing Landis Street. (Photo by Katherine Hon)

Of great value to anyone searching for their home’s birth year is the collection of Lot Books. These large books recorded land ownership and assessed value from 1873 to 1930. The first Lot Book only lists the names of landowners of blocks and lots within different tracts in 1873. This reflects some of the earliest subdividing in the city, including for Roseville, New San Diego, Horton’s Addition and Sherman’s Addition. Not surprisingly, the names Louis Rose, A.E. Horton and M. Sherman appear frequently in Lot Book 1 as owners of whole blocks.

Lot Books for later years provide more information. The pages on the left in these Lot Books list the names of landowners as of Jan. 1 in each year, and the pages on the right present columns for assessed value of “Real Estate” (vacant land) and “Improvements” (a structure).

A number recorded in the “Value of Improvements” column indicates a structure had been built on that lot. The information is organized by block and lot within each tract. (Tract, block and lot are shown on property tax bills and deeds for individual properties.)

The sign by the door says “Circa 1909,” and Lot Book 100 confirms that is the actual birth year of this American Foursquare home on Arizona Street south of Landis Street. (Photo by Katherine Hon)

As an example, Lot Book 100 lists owners and assessed value for individual lots from 1908 to 1911 within various tracts including Pauly’s Addition, Park Villas and West End. These tracts encompass the area in North Park between University Avenue and Upas Street from Alabama to Boundary streets. The time frame of Lot Book 100 reflects the beginning of urbanized development in those North Park tracts.

In Pauly’s Addition, very few lots have structures on them as of 1911. But some of these earliest homes still stand with much of their historic integrity intact. F.L. Edwards owned the house with the highest assessed value in Pauly’s Addition in 1911 ($880).

This rambling bungalow at the northeast corner of Texas and Landis streets retains its original elegance with ornate windows, scrolled rafter tails and rustic brickwork. Seven modest homes built in 1909 on Arizona Street south of Landis Street still exhibit elements of their American Foursquare charm. On Louisiana Street south of Landis Street, A.A. Finley’s graceful 1911 home with its fluted columns and Victorian roofline has been historically designated.

Clinker bricks and embellished windows distinguish this 1911 home at the corner of Texas and Landis streets. (Photo by Katherine Hon)

In Special Collections, the city has compiled documents related to various topics, including A.E. Horton, Balboa Park and Kate Sessions. In addition, historical City Directories from 1926 through 1954 can be viewed here. These valuable research tools list names, addresses and occupations of residents and businesses.

After 1926, the City Directories include a “reverse” listing by address, which is very useful for finding who lived in a particular house, or what business occupied a particular building. There is also a special 1874 directory published by the San Diego Chamber of Commerce with a business directory and lengthy discourses on climate, resources and wildflowers of the area.

The City Clerk’s historical official documents such as Minutes, Ordinances, and Resolutions from 1817 to 1966 are also in the Digital Archives. The Historical Photo Gallery rounds out the information conveniently available online. There are photos of the 1915-16 and 1935-36 Expositions, Balboa Park, Downtown San Diego, and many other places and people.

So go online, have fun researching, and join the North Park Historical Society in thanking City Clerk Elizabeth Maland for leading the Archives Access and Preservation Project that made such a wealth of information easily available.

—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at or 619-294-8990.

One Comments

  1. Sue Sneeringer says:

    Thanks for this article! Preserving the remaining historical houses in San Diego is so important.
    I am proud to live on this property:
    Hall-Sherman House. Built in 1891 this simple Queen Anne is one of the oldest surviving residences in Hillcrest.

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