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It began in the idealistic 1960s, when the boards of directors of many historical institutions were trying to make their museums more “relevant” by taking the museums “to the people” and connecting with residents in inner-city areas. The Villa, by the late 1960s, was in need of restoration and located in a part of the city that was not yet admired for its amazing vintage architecture. An idea was born.

The Villa’s “Angels”

Longtime San Diego leadership volunteer Kay Porter, museum professional and historic preservationist Nick Fintzelberg, and several of their friends, all devoted members of the San Diego Historical Society, saw the opportunity to both serve the cause of the Historical Society and save a San Diego landmark. Kay, Nick, and friends purchased the Villa to safeguard it, while working out the arrangement for the City of San Diego to own the museum and the Historical Society to restore and operate it. Hard work by the Historical Society between 1969 and 1972 led to the Villa opening as a museum. The City agreed to provide minor funding for annual operating costs and pay for major items, while the Historical Society provided for the interpretation, museum operation, and daily maintenance of the historic site.

The FOVM and Villa Programs

From the opening in 1972, the devoted Historical Society members who helped with the creation of the Villa as a museum continued their support, and the FOVM became an official auxiliary group of the Historical Society in 1976. The FOVM raised money for the Historical Society’s operation of the Villa, served as docents, donated Victorian furniture for the interpretation, provided funds for piano restoration, tuning, and upkeep, and created the children’s school programs to expose kids to art, music, and literature. The Villa had a full-time curator, with numerous shows and events each year. It was the place for hundreds of weddings, vow renewals, commitment ceremonies, and celebrations over the years. Of particular fun was the annual Valentine Tea fundraiser inside the Villa, which allowed those who loved the Victorian era to see historic dresses and finery and enjoy High Tea a la 1887.

Modern Times and Modern Changes

As time went on and the San Diego Historical Society expanded into the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park, the focus of the Historical Society was no longer on interpreting San Diego’s past in context within a historic site. As funding opportunities got scarce, the Villa’s hours of operation were reduced to only the weekends. And as the Historical Society underwent its own restructuring, in 2006, at the suggestion of the then executive director, the FOVM incorporated as its own 501-c-3 nonprofit public benefit corporation in order to better directly serve the Villa Montezuma. As of June 30, 2009, the Historical Society gave up stewardship of the Villa and returned the museum to the care of the City of San Diego. In December 2009 the antique furnishings inside the Villa (many donated by the FOVM over the years) were deaccessioned and sold at auction in Los Angeles (the FOVM purchased back some important pieces). As of 2010 the San Diego Historical Society has a new name for its new direction:  the San Diego History Center.

We wish our friends at the San Diego History Center much success as they move forward with their new goals.

Successful Efforts in 2009

Excellent news, following an intense four-year effort by the FOVM: In November 2009 the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency voted to provide $1,050,000 for the restoration of the Villa’s foundation and chimney stabilization ($550,000 from Centre City Development Corporation [CCDC] and $500,000 from the City). Our most sincere thanks to all the FOVM members, friends, and donors; to all the downtown community groups and museums who showed their support of the FOVM; and to the dedicated staffers at the following City departments: Mayor Jerry Sanders; City Council District 8 (Council President Ben Hueso); City Engineering; Park and Recreation; Real Estate Assets; and the Board and staff of CCDC. Special thanks to the late Sheila Hardin of CCDC, who was the first supporter to believe in the possibilities. In October 2010 CCDC named the Downtown Information Center located in Horton Plaza in honor of our good friend Sheila. (The Downtown Information Center goes away in 2012 with the end of CCDC - see below.)

Redevelopment Ends in California in 2012

The State of California ended redevelopment agencies, and with it went the long-safeguarded $550,000 contribution to be provided by CCDC. Although CCDC’s responsibilities were transferred to another nonprofit, Civic San Diego, the funding for the Villa could not be preserved. This is a setback, but the FOVM vowed to continue its efforts.

CDBG Money in 2013

Excellent news: the City of San Diego, with the help of the FOVM, secured a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $882,000 to fix the foundation, roof, and chimneys. This work must be completed by December 2014, according to the terms of the grant. Phase 2 restoration work started on the Villa in March 2014.

Restoration Using CDBG Funds completed late December 2014; Reopening Scheduled for June 2015

See the home page for details about the quarterly free museum openings. The reopening celebration was June 27, 2015.

Reopen for regular weekend tours by the Friends of the Villa Montezuma started September 25, 2021

Finally, the FOVM was given the okay by the City to operate the museum. After dealing with the pandemic, we are glad and grateful to have reopened to the public for tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Group tours and school groups welcome. Please reserve your tour time by texting us at 619-233-8833.

Phase 3 Restoration Funding from Sen. Ben Hueso

State Senator Ben Hueso, who has a long history with the Villa Montezuma, was the angel who secured $5,000,000 for the next phase of restoration at the museum from the State of California in the sate budget for Fiscal Year 2023. The funding will go to the City as owner, not to the FOVM. We will work closely with the City to make sure all restoration needs are addressed. Words cannot express what an amazing accomplishment this is from Sen. Hueso!

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About the Friends of the Villa Montezuma

FOVM Facts


Kay, Nick, and other friends of the Villa from the San Diego Historical Society purchase the Villa Montezuma.


City of San Diego takes ownership; the San Diego Historical Society begins restoration.


Restoration complete. Villa Montezuma Museum opens to the public in November.


FOVM officially becomes an auxiliary group of the Historical Society.


A new foundation is poured for 2/3 of the building. The remaining foundation is 1887 brick.


FOVM works with the Historical Society on all aspects of museum operations, donates  antique furniture, and funds numerous programs for both adults and children.


The FOVM begins extensive efforts to find funds to fix the 1887 brick foundation, the roof, and the unreinforced masonry chimneys.

February 2006

The Old Town Trolley “Ghost & Gravestones” tour ends; the Villa is closed by the Historical Society’s Executive Director due to this loss of steady revenue.

April 2006

The FOVM incorporates as its own 501-c-3 nonprofit public benefit corporation.


The City completes a total structural evaluation of the Villa’s needs.

November 2009

Thanks to the intense efforts of the FOVM, the City of San Diego’s Redevelopment Agency votes to allocate $1,050,000 for the Villa’s restoration.


Platt/Whitelaw becomes architect of record for the current restoration.


Redevelopment ends; $550,000 from CCDC is absorbed by the State of California.


Phase 1 restoration (fixing the collapsed sewer line) is completed.

Phase 2 restoration (foundation, roof, chimneys) will be paid for with a CDBG grant of $882,000.


Phase 2 restoration begins in March and is substantially completed by December 2014.

May 2015

The punch list work on the restoration is complete.

June 2015

The museum reopened on June 27, 2015. Quarterly free tours will take place for 5 years. The FOVM seeks to have the museum open all the time, not just quarterly.

September 2021

The museum reopened for regular weekend tours on September 25, 2021. The FOVM is delighted to operate the museum.

June 30, 2022

Senator Ben Hueso secured $5,000,000 in State funding for the museum in  FY23, and the budget was signed by Gov. Newsom on June 30, 2022.

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