By JILL DIAMOND | Uptown News
While many older, historic buildings get demolished, some are saved.
Take the Sherman-Gilbert House, which has a long history and was moved from the Bankers Hill area to Heritage Park in San Diego where it has been on view since 1971.
According to Ellen Sweet, historian at County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation, it all started when John Sherman purchased the land where the Sherman-Gilbert House originally stood at 139 Fir St. in 1887 for $9,500. He contracted with architects Comstock and Trotsche to build the home, and they designed it in the Stick Eastlake Victorian style. Construction was completed in 1889.
Sweet said Sherman then sold the home to W.E. Willis, who never lived in the house but rented it to others from 1889 until 1897 when Augusta Gilbert bought the home. Gilbert later had three children and two of them remained in the home until 1965 — Gertrude and Bess, artists, patrons of music and performing arts, and frequent hosts to internationally famous entertainers and soirees.
The Sherman-Gilbert home stood vacant for a few years, until 1969, when a developer offered to sell the structure to the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) for $500 — giving them two months to clean and move the house to a new location. Mary Ward, later County Parks’ first historian, was part of the fundraising activities. Multiple time extensions were granted, but SOHO was struggling to find a relocation site, according to Sweet. Ward prepared a report for the city’s Historic Board and had the structure declared historic while additional fundraising efforts ensured.
“In 1971, the County purchased a 7.8-acre property bordering Old Town Historic Park for the specific purpose of opening an 1880s-style ‘Victorian preserve,’” according to Jessica Geiszler marketing and public outreach manager for County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation. “This was after citizens voiced concern over San Diego’s rapid growth, which was threatening many fine Victorian homes with destruction.
“Today, Heritage County Park preserves the mid-Victorian era and serves as a transition between the Spanish-Mexican, early-American periods and the modern city of San Diego.”
Private and public funds were used to acquire, move and restore these unique Victorian structures. The County Board of Supervisors budgeted $1.2 million over a 10-year period, and a HUD open-space land grant paid for paving, grading and landscape improvements, she added.
On May 20, 1971, the Sherman-Gilbert House was removed from its original location. It was split into two portions requiring three trucks per side. The move was no easy feat; utility wires had to be raised and the trucks had to navigate the steep grade of Juan Street hill! Moving costs alone were about $10,000, Geiszler said.
On June 16, 1976, the County Board of Supervisors approved the relocation and exterior renovation of three additional Victorian structures: The Christian, Burton, and Bushyhead residences. Senlis Cottage and McConaughy House were added by 1981.
“All of the houses at Heritage County Park were originally located in Downtown San Diego, roughly between Fir and Cedar streets and Union and Third streets in an area we now know as Bankers Hill, but that was originally referred to as ‘New Town’ by earlier residents,” Geiszler said.
“Heritage County Park is an interesting property — full of history and intrigue, art and beauty. Victorian homes that are well over a century old have found new life in a park that’s dedicated to preserving stories from our past.”
The park is open sunrise to sunset, seven days a week, and free docent-led tours take place the first Saturday of every month at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
— Jill Diamond is a Southern California freelance writer with a penchant for interesting historical pieces. Reach her at JillDiamondHistory@gmail.com.