By JILL DIAMOND | Uptown News
Like a fine wine, some things age well with time.
Take Powers Plumbing for example, founded by Luther Powers in 1914, a mainstay at 1705 W. Lewis St. in Mission Hills since 1923.
According to president, general manager and owner Janet O’Dea, Powers started his career in Los Angeles and moved to San Diego, likely in response to the building boom.
“His first office was on Eighth Street in Downtown San Diego and then soon after moved to Mission Hills,” she said. “In 1923, he had the building built, that we still occupy, by Master Builder Martin V. Melhorn.”
The historic building is owned by his granddaughter, she said. The business celebrated its 100th year in 2014 with a variety of events attended by city officials and locals.
And even though they have been in business since 1914 and times have changed, Powers has been able to sustain for several reasons, O’Dea noted.
“The business passed on to Luther’s son Calvin and his other brothers also worked for the business. It changed hands when Calvin retired and two businessmen owned the business for a while,” she said. “Jack Dietrick ran our shop and the other partner ran a shop called R.E. Reiling, in University Heights.
“Eventually, that partnership split up and each stayed put with Powers Plumbing surviving. After the Korean War, veteran Phil Stull started work here. One of his first jobs was to plumb Holy Cross Cemetery. He was on that job for a few years but after that was finished, became an expert with service and repair and remodel work,” she said.
In 2007, O’Dea said she needed her own toilet fixed, and was a Powers customer.
“I noticed that the plumber changed out the toilet lever; the one we had was made of porcelain and was stamped with the word ‘Press.’ I wanted to get it back and Phil told me it was on his desk,” she recalled.
“Apparently, he was going to call me about this to get it back to me. One thing led to another and I ended up working here part-time, started taking plumbing courses and learning the business from Phil and eventually purchasing the business from him.
“Phil told me that when he was just starting out, Calvin Powers would come over and shoot the breeze with him in our back room. Phil has been my connection to the original family and that has a lot of meaning for me and my husband Allen, who also works here now part-time.”
So, what makes Powers different than its competitors? They are “old house experts.”
“We live and work in a historic district in San Diego and we have a repair mindset and a quality mindset. It keeps good items working for their entire lifecycle and keeps items out of the landfill,” O’Dea added.
The Powers building itself is a historic building and it was included as a contributor to the Fort Stockton Trolley Line Historic District, she said.
“We have a plumbing museum in our front window. It shows the real brawn that plumbers had as they transformed our nation with modern plumbing systems by using hand drills for example. If you think back to 1914 when Mission Hills was being built, the plumbing systems were still very new, indoor plumbing was marvelous and we take it all for granted now. But in those early days, the old houses had a privy in the back.
“The plumbing industry, that we are a part of, has had a tremendous impact on the success of the human race and it is also very taken for granted until — the day when you have no hot water when you are ready for your shower,” she continued. “It reminds me to be grateful every day for the advantages for our sanitary systems.”
Powers Plumbing remains a place where people can still get what they need and a smile, too.
“Our neighbors are nice, our shop is friendly, we are always busy and people drop in to see us, which is so nice,” O’Dea said. “We get a lot of candy, cookies, fruits, avocados and nice notes from our clients throughout the year and especially during the holidays. We feel that we are an asset to the community and feel appreciated for it.”
— Jill Diamond is a local freelance reporter with a penchant for history.