Ralph Hurlburt is San Diego’s only designated Master Designer
By Katherine Hon
Ralph Hurlburt is best known in historical circles as half of Hurlburt and Tifal, a partnership responsible for many beautiful homes built throughout San Diego during the 1920s and 1930s.
Hurlburt himself seems a bit of a mystery. House Calls columnist Michael Good included him in a shortlist of “unsung and all-but-unknown visionaries who shaped our urban landscape 80 or 90 years ago” in a Jan. 6, 2012 San Diego Uptown News article.
Those interested in Hurlburt’s professional career and personal life can now access a treasure trove of photographs and stories online, thanks to Jacqueline Liggett Proctor. She contacted the North Park Historical Society, saying, “I recently inherited more photos of Ralph Hurlburt and was inspired to finally catalog all I have about him on my family history website: bit.ly/2ACxrDI. If you are so inclined, I would appreciate your posting its existence on the North Park Historical Society Facebook page, as I hope it is an interesting reference for those in your area who live in his homes.”
Proctor is related to Ralph Hurlburt through her great grandfather, James B. Liggett, whose sister Etta was Hurlburt’s mother. The Liggett family also has interesting history in San Diego, which Proctor details on other pages of her website.
The city of San Diego’s List of Established Masters includes many architects and builders, but Ralph Everett Hurlburt is San Diego’s only designated “Master Designer.” He was born in 1888 in Utica, Nebraska. His mother died when he was 3 1/2 years old, and Ralph went to live with his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. George Liggett. He later rejoined his father, Clifford Hurlburt, who started a sales company in 1909, purchasing a train car full of touring automobiles in Omaha, Nebraska to resell in Utica as Hunter and Hurlburt and later the Utica Auto Co.
Ralph Hurlburt started his career as an apprentice with Lincoln National Bank. In 1909, he married Nettie Goodbrod, and they visited San Diego on their honeymoon trip along the Pacific coast. The couple had a son, George Gordon Hurlburt, born May 27, 1914 in Utica.
Ralph joined the Navy at the outbreak of World War I and earned the rank of ensign. In 1916, Ralph and his family relocated to San Diego. Ralph’s father, Clifford, joined him after settling the estate of his father, George Hurlburt. Ralph and his uncle, Arthur C. Hurlburt, renovated the Mathew Sherman home into the Sherman apartments once they arrived in San Diego, which his father described as “a very fine place, where we all lived for about three years.”
In 1920, Ralph was listed as a building contractor, real estate agent, Realtor, real estate sales, and partner in the firm of Hurlburt and Tifal, Architectural Designers and Realtors. His partner, Charles H. Tifal, is included in the city of San Diego’s List of Established Masters as a Master Builder. They published a promotional booklet in 1925 titled “Distinctive Homes.”
Proctor includes photographs of pages from this booklet, illustrating some of San Diego’s outstanding architectural landmarks in North Park, as well as the Kensington, Marston Hills, Mission Hills, Point Loma, and other Uptown communities of San Diego.
Hurlburt and Tifal were skilled in creating Period Revival buildings, which included French Norman and Tudor Revival styles inspired by the architecture, history and literature of medieval and pre-industrial periods in the United Kingdom and northern Europe. They also built high-quality homes in the Spanish Eclectic styles that became especially popular in San Diego due to the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition.
In 1942, Hurlburt died at age 55. Ironically, and perhaps contributing to his being somewhat “unsung” as a master, his obituary noted a career as a banker, real estate agent and insurance salesman, but did not mention his design work. If you visit Proctor’s family website and see the photographs of Hurlburt’s many beautiful homes, you will agree he was a master of multiple styles and well-deserving of the unique “Master Designer” designation.
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.