By JILL DIAMOND | Uptown News
A special house at 4152 Ibis St. in Mission Hills earned its historical designation in March 2016 and has since been known as the Holly and Nellie Perrine/Thomas Faulconer House after a one-time director of the San Diego Zoo.
According to Alexandra Wallace, principal researcher at La Jolla-based Legacy 106, Inc., who was involved in preparing the now historic home’s nomination report for historic designation along with husband Kiley Wallace, an architectural historian at the firm: “Thomas Faulconer (no relation to Mayor Kevin Faulconer) was a director of the San Diego Zoo in the early to mid-1920s.
“He [Thomas] traveled to Australia and in 1925 brought back several live animals for the zoo’s collection — including two koala bears — the first koalas in the United States. This was quite a sensation and really helped to elevate our zoo’s reputation,” said Wallace, of the firm that offers historic preservation and archaeology services for homeowners seeking such historic designation.
Home sweet home
The house on Ibis Street is an example of the early Craftsman architectural style in the Mission Hills neighborhood of San Diego and was built in 1910.
Owned by numerous people throughout the decades, the original owner, Holly R. Perrine, was born in Ogle County, Illinois, in January 1850. The 1880 U.S. census lists Holly as a resident of Hyde Park, Illinois, and as a cattle dealer. In 1884, he wed Nellie M. Hogan in Lincoln, Nebraska.
The couple had the home constructed in 1910 and lived in it until 1916 and rented it out to the Fordmann family in 1917. When Holly sold the home in 1920, he was a widower; he died in San Diego in 1935.
From 1923 to 1926, Faulconer and his wife Margaret owned the home, and during this time he worked as one of the earliest directors of the Zoological Society of San Diego.
Faulconer earned the title of executive secretary to the San Diego Park Board in 1913 and by 1922, was appointed as part of the zoo’s first hired staff. A year later, he became the zoo’s executive director in 1923 for two years. He replaced Frank Buck, who was fired after less than three months following an argument with zoo officials, according to the report.
Faulconer was personally financed by businessman and local philanthropist John D. Spreckles to find animal examples from around the world for San Diego’s new and failing zoo in Balboa Park.
In December 1924, Faulconer headed to San Francisco, where he left by steamship for his excursion across the Pacific Ocean. He was the only zoo employee on the journey, which was financed by Spreckles, Wallace discovered.
He traveled to Australia and returned to the U.S. in January 1925 with two koalas and several other animals for the zoo’s collection.
“This was the seminal period of the early San Diego Zoo and the acquisition of the two koalas began the zoo’s important history of displaying, conserving and eventually breeding koalas at a time when the animals were almost unknown in the U.S.,” Wallace said.
Even the local newspapers touted his accomplishments: “Faulconer scored a major victory for the San Diego Zoo for bringing koalas Snugglepot and Cuddlepie to San Diego. Other animals that Thomas Faulconer brought back from Australia at the same time included 40 kangaroos, 6 emus, wombats, dingoes, phalangers, birds of paradise, and an echidna. Unfortunately, the stress of the journey was too much for Cuddlepie and he died a few days after arriving in San Diego,” according to an article in the San Diego Union, Feb. 5, 1925).
Faulconer quit the zoo in March 1925 for his own business venture. He was replaced by Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, the zoo’s founder, until Faulconer’s assistant Richard A. Addison was given the title of executive director. The 1926 San Diego city directory lists Faulconer’s occupation as an assistant auditor for the Union Title Insurance Co., according to the Wallace report.
“I tracked down Thomas Faulconer’s daughter-in-law, who lives in Point Loma, ; she was married to Thomas’ son Philip [now deceased],” Wallace recalled. “She gave us two great photos of Philip as a child, holding the koalas in the backyard of 4152 Ibis St., shortly after his father returned from Australia!”
— Jill Diamond is a Southern California freelance writer with a penchant for interesting historical pieces. Reach her at JillDiamondHistory@gmail.com.