By Michael Good
Mission Hills Heritage’s annual house tour preview
Mission Hills Heritage’s annual home tour could be called groundbreaking this year, with six houses on the same street — and five of those six are right next door to each other. These pretty little houses in a row were once all small, but three have expanded over the past century. (The other two on the tour started large and remain that way.)
Although we can’t reveal the houses’ addresses, we can tell you the date of “Gems of South Mission Hills”: Saturday, Sept. 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Below is a look at four of the eight houses featured in the annual tour.
Coop de grace
As reported in the San Diego Union on Monday, Feb. 25, 1918, a chicken was stolen from the henhouse behind a bungalow located at this address.
The crime was reported by the home’s owner, Herbert P. Hunt, a decorator for the Marston Co. This was not a case of a chicken flying the coop. It was a crime most fowl, reasoned Hunt: after all, a neighbor’s chicken was also missing. Hunt estimated his loss at $1.75. And the value of the publicity? Priceless.
Hunt was a bit of Renaissance man. In addition to poultry ranching, and his dabbling in drapes and carpets, Hunt was choirmaster at St. James Episcopal and a frequent subject of the social pages of the local newspapers, along with his wife and daughter.
The former Hunt family home has experienced so many changes over the years that the present owners felt free to reimagine the house. (If you’re in a similar situation, all three Craftsman houses on the tour should provide some inspiration.) The current owners have installed period-appropriate stonework and a water fountain for dogs (and, presumably, chickens, should they come home to roost).
In the public imagination, the words “Mission Hills” may conjure up an image of stately Spanish and Craftsman homes amid rolling lawns on narrow, winding, tree-lined streets. But hundreds of small, two-bedroom bungalows were constructed in Mission Hills during the first four decades of the 20th century.
When the current owners bought this house in 2000, it had foundation problems and most of the original built-ins were gone. They immediately dealt with those issues. Eight years later, they added a second story, remodeled the kitchen and expanded the porch. The house is now roughly twice its original size.
According to the water permit, the original owner was a Swedish immigrant named Jonas M. Anderson. He was a real estate broker as well as a grocery store owner. During World War II, the area under the house was converted into apartments for servicemen; there was a housing shortage at the time.
What was once old is new again, as the city is again encouraging homeowners in older neighborhoods to subdivide existing houses and add granny flats. The “five room bungalow” — meaning two bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen — is endangered again.
Contractor Gunnar Johnson built this English Tudor-style cottage for sisters Julia and Mary Picket in 1929. Johnson built three other cottages on the lot, which the sisters rented out for income, a not-uncommon strategy for single women of means in San Diego circa 1920. Johnson, a Swedish immigrant, was a prolific and talented builder who constructed large commercial projects as well as single-family homes. Undaunted by the Great Depression, which brought lending and home building to a near halt, Johnson built a large apartment complex in Bankers Hill, an elementary school in Sherman Heights (designed by the Quayle Brothers) and a Spanish mini-mansion at the corner of Country Club Drive and Romero in La Jolla, designed by Requa and Jackson.
The house was for rent in 1931 — for $65 a month, furnished. The advertisement read: “Mission Hills, delightful 5-room house. Norman, English type; twin beds, double bed, davenport bed; everything choice: completely furn.”
It’s still delightful today — but the rent may have gone up.
Playing the ponies
According to the news of the day, Harry Weiss was a lot of things: “Wealthy coal mine operator,” gentleman farmer, and the owner of what was once described (in a real estate advertisement) as “one of the finest homes in the county: large park-like grounds, magnificent Bay View.”
But mostly Harry Weiss was a polo player. For the Weisses,
polo was a family affair: There were five brothers, sons and cousins, including Harry’s son Reggie, who was considered the best player on the West Coast.
When the Weiss family descended on Coronado’s Tent City for the biannual polo season, the staff sprang into action, setting up two cottages and six tents.
In 1925, Weiss took out permits to build a Mediterranean-style house in the Marine View section of Mission Hills, on a hillside overlooking the harbor. In an advertisement in the May 28, 1925 issue of the San Diego Union, a local hardware store stated: “Another Hazard-Gould Hardware Job Complete from nails to modern Corbin Finish Hardware. Mission Hills Residences: Harry Weiss.”
Unfortunately, Weiss didn’t have much time to enjoy it. He committed suicide on May 23, 1927.
“Since a fall from a polo pony at Riverside, 10 years ago, Weiss has had fits of ill health and despondency,” the article said. “He is thought to have taken his life while in the throes of such a fit this morning, the coroner said.”
But that didn’t end the Weiss legacy in Mission Hills. Carrie Weiss moved to 1515 Puterbaugh, near where her daughter Catherine lived with her husband Richard Jessop, manager of the famous jewelry store Downtown. Her son Reggie (now called Harry) had married Marguerite Getz, daughter of Tommy Getz, who was the entertainment director for Tent City in Coronado and the manager of Ramona’s Marriage Place in Old Town. Reggie, who lived with Catherine on Presidio Drive, eventually traded the Sport of Kings for the myth of early California, and became the manager of Ramona’s Marriage Place, which we now know as Casa de Estudillo,
They like to say California started in Old Town. But the old house tour started at the Casa de Estudillo.
—Contact Michael Good at firstname.lastname@example.org.