Soho Home Tour: See rare Seventh Ave. gems

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Communities, Homes & Garden, Lifestyle | 1 Comment




By Priscilla Lister

SDUN Columnist

A single block of Seventh Avenue on the northwestern edge of Balboa Park is home to 10 private homes designed by four of San Diego’s most prominent historic architects. On March 21, the Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) will offer a rare opportunity to tour six of these homes, fine examples of the Arts and Crafts style of early 20th century architecture.

“This might be one of the best house tours SOHO has ever done,” said Alana Coons, SOHO’s events and education director. “This street is different than a lot of other historic streets in San Diego. It feels like old San Diego. Even the homeowners are very gracious people, and have that style that you imagine was present at the turn of the last century.”

The homeowners have rarely opened the houses for public tours, but are doing so to support SOHO.

“They will likely never be open again,” said Coons.

Designed and built for prominent San Diegans between 1904 and 1913, the homes are the work of Irving J. Gill, William Hebbard, Frank Mead, Richard Requa and Henry Preibisius, five of San Diego’s most acclaimed architects of yesteryear.

The Marston House Museum and Gardens, which reopened for regular tours last year when SOHO stepped in to operate it after the San Diego Historical Society had to close it due to budget woes, is the first house on the tour. This magnificent house was named one of the 25 most important Arts and Crafts buildings in the U.S. by Style 1900 magazine.

Hebbard and Gill, a prestigious early 1900s architectural firm, designed it in 1904 and built it in 1905 for George W. and Anna Gunn Marston, with Gill as primary designer.

George Marston was a prominent merchant, philanthropist and civic leader in San Diego for five decades. He was intimately and generously involved in the development of Balboa Park as well as Presidio Park (including the Serra Museum there). He also was integral to the restoration of Mission San Diego and the protection of both the Torrey Pines and Anza-Borrego state parks.

“During a drawn-out construction period due to Gill’s work on the East Coast, the architect persuaded the Marstons to eliminate the non-structural half-timbering from the exterior,” says a SOHO publication. “This change from a design rooted in the English Arts and Crafts tradition thrust the home into modernity, as did interior design innovations.”

Bruce Hammerling wrote in a 1990 edition of the Journal of San Diego History, “Only a very few of Hebbard and Gill’s finest residences are still standing in near original condition, and of these, the Marston House is by far the finest.”

This four-story, 16-room, 8,500-square-foot home provides a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of one of San Diego’s most well-known families in the early 1900s. It embodies the Craftsman ideals of simplicity, function and good design, Kammerling said. The home also contains many of Gill’s trademark devices “seen here in their seminal forms,” he said.

Among these Gill trademarks is the placement opposite the front entrance of the glass doors leading to the terrace. “Not wanting visitors to enter an area of darkness, Gill frequently placed glass doors or windows directly opposite the entrance,” Kammerling said.

Since SOHO has taken over the Marston House, it has renovated and opened an entire wing that has never been opened before.

“People can really see how the house worked,” Coons said.

The Marston House’s carriage house is also now open after being closed for 30 years. It now houses SOHO’s museum store.

Some rare redwood furniture Gill designed is on display for the first time inside the Marston House Museum. The furnishing exhibit occupies a restored bedroom that was previously closed to public view.

The furniture is on loan to SOHO from the Bailey family, whose 1907 Wheeler J. Bailey House in La Jolla was designed by Gill. Gill “designed this furniture to match the Bailey house in a style not readily available,” said Erik Hanson, a SOHO board member and Gill expert. “The wood is thick and well chosen, but Gill used house-building technology in nailing the pieces together.”

Also on view are a redwood chest of drawers Requa and Mead designed for Hopi House, a Pueblo Revival home near the Bailey House in La Jolla, and a carved bench by William Templeton Johnson that the Marstons commissioned for their garden.

The Marston House’s five acres of surrounding gardens are equally beautiful, and feature unusual specimens of oak, eucalyptus and magnolia trees, many now over 100 years old.

George Marston had hired, at his own expense, New York landscape architect Samuel Parsons Jr. to initiate the first master plan for Balboa Park in 1902. Parson’s partner, George Cooke, came in 1903. Cooke eventually would become the landscape designer of the Marstons’ family garden.

Kate Sessions, often called the “Mother of Balboa Park,” also helped the Marstons with their landscaping through the years.

Marston sold part of his original 10 acres to his sister and brother-in-law, Lilla and Frederick Burnham, another civic leader who was harbor commissioner in 1906 as well as president of San Diego’s board of education, board of health and a director at the YMCA.

Also open on the SOHO tour, the Burnham house was also designed by Hebbard and Gill in 1906 with Gill as lead designer. He created a large, boxy red brick house that broke with the English Arts and Crafts cottage style to be more modern and streamlined, like its neighboring Marston house.

Now law offices, the Frederick and Lilla Burnham House also features beautiful landscaping, originally designed as well by Samuel Parsons and Co.

“This is a great house to see, and I don’t think it’s ever been on a public tour,” Coons said. “Even though it’s offices, there are some really spectacular features – the stairwell is a real treat.”

Also on tour is one of the three cottages Hebbard and Gill designed in 1905 for Alice Lee.

Lee came to San Diego in 1902 from upstate New York. She bought the properties in 1903 and hired Hebbard and Gill to design three houses, one for $5,000 and the other two for $3,500 each. She granted the Teats Cottage to her companion, Katherine Teats, while she and Katherine lived in the main house and used the other two for rentals.

Lee was a close friend to both Mrs. Grover Cleveland and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, and President and Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Cleveland were often guests at Lee’s home.

With its horizontal, hip-roofed structures, the Lee house “represents the best of Gill’s California improvisations on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie themes,” says a SOHO publication, citing writings by architectural historian Thomas S. Hines.

“The Alice Lee House is under restoration,” Coons said. “So it’s empty – there are no furnishings. People can really see the bones of the house and understand what it takes to restore a house. It’s the only house on the block that will open again for SOHO when it’s completely restored.”

The George and Anna Barney House, built in 1911 by the Pacific Building Company, is also on the tour. Gill, Mead, Requa and John Lloyd Wright all worked for the Pacific Building Company during that time period, although there is no specific architect attributed to this house.

“Because John Lloyd Wright was chief designer for that company at the time, we think he had a lot to do with that house,” Coons said.

George and Anna Barney had a home built next door as a wedding present for their son and daughter-in-law, Lorenze and Miriam Barney, which is also on the tour.

Mead and Requa designed the geometric home for Lorenze and Miriam Barney in 1913. Lorenze Barney was a real estate developer who with his brother, Philip, established Barney and Barney Insurance Co.

Mead and Requa had both worked for Gill. Mead had also studied Pueblo Indian architecture in the Southwest and “these influences are strong in the Lorenze Barney house,” Kammerling said.

The Sarah Elston House is the sixth home on the tour. Designed by architect Henry Preibisius in 1908, it’s a Craftsman house with bracket eave supports, a cutout porch rail and classic shingle siding.

“You can understand after seeing these houses how the architects of the time all learned from each other – maybe except Preibisius,” Coons said. “Mead, Requa, Gill and Hazel Waterman, who was a draftsman on the Lee house, and Louis Gill, who was Gill’s nephew who did some later additions, all borrowed from each other.”

This SOHO Annual Historic Home Tour is March 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., beginning at the Marston House Museum Shop at 3525 Seventh Ave.

Tickets are $25 for SOHO members, $30 for non-members, and $35 the day of the tour.

Tickets are available online at at the Whaley House Museum Shop, 2476 San Diego Ave., Old Town

SOHO’s mission is to preserve, promote and support preservation of architectural, cultural and historical links and landmarks that contribute to the community identity, depth and character of our region. In addition to the Marston House Museum, SOHO also operates the Whaley House Museum, the Adobe Chapel and other historic properties.

For more information, call SOHO at 297-9327.u

One Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing i wish i could be there to see the amazing house tour. I am very familiar with the name Alice Lee as i am proud to say i own a home and business in Westport, NY and am
    proud to be part of this community.

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