Burlingame’s pink sidewalks give way to ‘tract of character’
By Priscilla Lister
The Burlingame Historic District, a 10-block pocket roughly located between North Park and South Park, offers an easy stroll through a neighborhood rich in early-century Craftsman and Spanish Revival bungalows.
While Burlingame’s official boundaries are Redwood Street to the north, Juniper Street to the south, 30th Street to the west and 32nd Street to the east, most of the historic homes are located between Laurel and San Marcos Avenue to the north and Kalmia to the south, between 30th and 32nd. You can walk through this well-kept area in an hour or so.
When its two partners, Joseph McFadden and George Buxton, first opened this land development in 1912, they called it “The Tract of Character.” This high plateau just east of Balboa Park and south of Switzer Canyon then offered 360-degree views since little development existed to hamper those views.
“From the level acres of Burlingame, the eye sweeps over the wonderful panorama,” reports the development’s advertisement in the San Diego Union in 1912, according to a summer 1993 article by Donald Covington in “The Journal of San Diego History,” the San Diego Historical Society’s publication. “In the foreground lies the park, its mesas and canyons soon to be covered with exposition buildings. Beyond, the silver sheen of the bay meets the white strip of sand that separates it from the blue Pacific… to the south lies the city… to the east the Cuyamacas, their peaks covered with snow in the winter.”
During that first weekend in January 1912, 34 lots were sold, about 20 percent of the total 170 lots on 40 acres. Mule teams had graded the streets and paved them with crushed granite while the sidewalks’ concrete had been tinted a dull red. The neighborhood today is still known for its pink sidewalks.
The developers enlisted several young builders and architects at the time to design homes in a variety of styles. “In the 10 years following the opening of the tract, Burlingame became a showcase of diverse architectural fantasies,” writes Covington, a professor emeritus of design in San Diego State University’s art department.
The most notable architect of distinctive homes in Burlingame was William Henry Wheeler, who also designed the 1924 Balboa Theater downtown among other civic buildings.
Born in Australia in 1872, Wheeler emigrated in 1898 to San Francisco, studying engineering at UC Berkeley, where he was certified as an architect. After the 1906 earthquake, he moved with his wife and two sons to Arizona. His travels to Mexico during that time “significantly affected his aesthetic awareness,” writes Covington, and he embraced many elements of Mexican and Spanish-American architecture.
After his first wife died, he moved to San Diego in 1912 and began working with McFadden and Buxton. (One of Wheeler’s two sons, Richard, also known as Dick, was a prominent architect himself for many decades in San Diego.)
Wheeler’s homes in the Burlington tract include the Moorish bungalow at 3128 Laurel whose mirador tower was designed to take in the 360-degree view, a traditional Art and Crafts design at 3055 Kalmia, and another at 2447 Dulzura described by Covington as “a yeoman’s cottage style (that) is a transition in Wheeler’s work from the traditional old-English style of the Kalmia house to the more modern Swiss chalet style he used on the house at 2457 Capitan.” Wheeler also designed in 1912 the home at 3004 Laurel whose first (and brief) owner was Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth, founder of the San Diego Zoological Society in 1916.
Other architects in the early years of the Burlington tract included Erwin Norris from San Francisco who built the 10-room Craftsman house at 3170 Maple, Archibald McCorkle who designed a modified Spanish Revival combining deep eaves and twin pergolas of the Craftsman style at 3048 Laurel, and Earl Josef Brenk who designed two classic examples of California Craftsman bungalows at 2414 Dulzura and 2431 Capitan.
The home at 2525 San Marcos “was the most avant-garde house in the tract,” writes Covington. It’s an example of the Churrigueresque style, a sub-style of Spanish Revival architecture featuring elaborate, complex curves and dramatic, sculptured stucco details.
Wheeler also designed 10 houses on Kalmia, the first at 3171 Kalmia, a two-story Mission Revival house with a third-story mirador tower room.
Percival Benbough, an early mayor of San Diego and downtown retailer, bought nine of these Kalmia houses in 1913, persuading his family and friends to move there.
“The Kalmia Street houses revealed a potpourri of current stylistic influences with mixtures of Misison Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, American Colonial Revival, Prairie, Cubist, Craftsman and Italianate,” writes Covington.
You’ll find historic plaques on many of the homes in Burlingame citing their year of construction and sometimes their first owners as you ponder the beginnings of this neighborhood.
To read Donald Covington’s entire article in The Journal of San Diego History, go to www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/93summer/burlingame.htm.