By Katherine Hon
From his arrival in San Diego in 1912 through the 1940s, Edward F. Bryans built structures in every style of the time, including Craftsman, Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival, Italian Renaissance, and Neoclassical. He also was prolific, constructing hundreds of homes as well as many apartments (“flats”) and commercial buildings throughout the city.
In May 1913, he obtained a building permit for 3544 Oregon St. (now Pershing Avenue), which was his home with his wife Myrtle until 1916, when they moved to 3022 Upas St. On April 29, 1926, Bryans obtained a building permit for 3401 Granada, and this was his family residence from 1927 until 1961. His wife died in 1956. Bryans moved to 525 Spruce St. in 1961 and lived there until his death on Aug. 12, 1973 at the age of 92. His obituary noted he was a retired building contractor, that he moved to San Diego 60 years ago, and was a contractor for more than 40 years. He was born in Minnesota on April 16, 1881, to Irish parents and grew up on a farm.
Bryans was established as a master builder in 2011 with the designation of the North Park Dryden Historic District. He built more than a dozen homes within the historic district, including the following 11 homes on Pershing Avenue between Upas and Landis streets: 3420, 3510, 3521, 3530, 3544, 3552, 3593, 3607, 3612, 3635, and 3652. He also built the homes at 3520, 3570, and 3711 28th St. in the historic district.
Many of the apartment buildings along Park Boulevard between Upas Street and Pennsylvania Avenue were built by Bryans. One of his earliest buildings is the Craftsman house at 3689 Park Blvd., which he built in 1913. In 1921, he built a house at 3535 Park Blvd. for Nat and Ella Sebastian; Bryans also constructed several apartment buildings along Park Boulevard for the Sebastians.
Buildings constructed by Bryans anchor the proposed “Park Boulevard Residential Historic District” along both sides of Park Boulevard generally between Upas Street and Robinson Avenue. Apartment buildings constructed by Bryans along Park Boulevard during the 1920s include 3401, 3418-20, 3422-24, 3430, 3444-46, 3501-07, 3511, 3517, 3521 and 3611.
About a decade into his San Diego building career, Bryans became heavily involved in a front-page-news tragedy related to a recently divorced client, Mrs. Helene D. Henrich, for whom he had just completed the apartment building at 3511 Park Blvd. The Evening Tribune’s Dec. 1, 1922 page one headline exclaimed, “Kills Self in Home; Whole Estate Left to S.D. Contractor.” Bryans was that contractor.
The San Diego Union’s Dec. 3, 1922 issue reported the testimony presented at the inquest. Bryans testified that Henrich had called him on Thanksgiving evening and asked him to come over to her apartment near her new building and repair a door that had jammed. He could not get in through the bolted front door, so he went around to the back and up the stairs to the rear porch. There he found a note for him that read in part, “The doors are all bolted, so you cannot get in. Now please do just as I ask you to do: …This is very important. Now go and get a policeman, and tell him that I phoned you to come over and now you can’t get in, so you want him here…Now go at once and don’t get a neighbor. Get a policeman.”
Bryans said he drove away and telephoned the police station from the Sebastian home on Park Boulevard, as they were also his clients. He continued, “Mrs. Sebastian and I then went back to Mrs. Henrich’s apartment and as we mounted the stairs, we both heard a sound similar to that of the firing of a small caliber automatic. As the rear door was still bolted we waited for the police.”
Detective Harry Kelly (profiled in the July 12-25, 2019 issue of Uptown News), Chief of Police James Patrick and Patrolman Griffith were the responding officers. Chief Patrick testified that Kelly and Griffith had to use a ladder and break through a second-floor bedroom window to get inside. They found Henrich’s body on a blanket in the bathroom, “a .25-caliber automatic clutched in her hand.”
In a letter found at the scene, Henrich wrote to her mother: “Mother, dear: My first two marriages were hell. I won’t go through the experience again. I am leaving my property to Mr. Bryans who I feel will carry on my work. Please do not interfere.”
The jury brought in a verdict of “suicide while despondent,” and Bryans became the executor of her estate.
If Henrich’s intended work was to leave a legacy of beautiful buildings, Bryans certainly accomplished that. In addition to University Heights, he built in the tracts of Horton’s Addition, Blair’s Highlands, Pauly’s Addition, Park Villas, West End and Mission Beach. A highly regarded professional, he was a charter member of the San Diego Chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America — which formed in 1927 — along with other well-known local names in construction such as Daley Corporation, V. R. Dennis, R. E. Hazard, H. G. Fenton and M. H. Golden. Bryans served as vice president of the organization in 1945 and president in 1946.
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.