1. The High Brothers convince world famous Jesse Shepard to relocate to San Diego, with the appeal of designing a “Palace of the Arts” on land in Sherman’s Addition of downtown San Diego. Jesse agrees.

  2. Jesse hires Comstock & Trotsche to design the Villa Montezuma and Cheney & Leonard to build it for about $19,000, with another $7,000 for the stained glass windows. The Villa is given to Jesse.

  3. Villa is completed late June/early July 1887. Jesse moves in.

  4. Fall 1888: Jesse mortgages the Villa and goes to Paris to publish his first book.

  5. August 1889: Jesse returns to San Diego, prepares to sell the Villa and return to Europe.

  6. December 1889: Jesse sells the Villa to David D. Dare (banker and con artist) for $29,000.  He gives half the proceeds back to the High Brothers, even though he didn’t have to give any funds. The boom in San Diego goes bust.

  7. 1890:  Dare sells the Villa to H.P. Palmerston of Spokane, Washington, for $30,000.

  8. 1893: Palmerston cannot make mortgage payments. The Villa is sold at auction to Hiram Duryea of New York for $18,000 (the mortgage plus court costs).

  9. 1894-1900:  Villard Washington Whitney, a citrus rancher from the Sweetwater Valley, leases the Villa as his “city” house.

  10. 1900: Duryea sells the Villa to Dr. George Calmus for $10,000.

  11. 1906: Dr. Calmus has financial trouble and skips out on his wife and two mortages on the Villa. The Villa is sold at auction to George Sinclair for $10,960.

  12. 1906-1909: the Villa is rented to Mr. and Mrs. George W. Montgomery and Mr. Guy C. White. Mrs. Montgomery gives seances.

  13. 1909-1949:  The Villa is sold to Frank and Georgia Lynch. Frank is the president of the Benson Lumber Company. They both pass in 1942.

  14. 1942: the Villa is sold to James and Flora Craig and converted into a rooming house for World War II defense workers. Other Victorian houses are moved into Jesse Shepard’s garden for additional defense worker quarters.

  15. 1948: The Craigs divide the lot and sell “Shepard’s Garden” separate from the Villa. After GIs return from WWII, the middle class begins to leave Sherman Heights for the new suburbs. The Villa is bought by Edward Campbell who believes that Jesse buried treasure in the basement. No treasure is found. The Villa is quickly sold to I. Hanson and W.C. McPhail.

  16. 1950: Hanson and McPhail sell to Carl and Amelia Yaeger (he a retired engineer, and she a real estate agent and former silent film actress). Mr. Yaeger dies in 1958.

  17. 1968:  Mrs. Yaeger sells the Villa for $12,000, but relatives contest the sale since Mrs. Yaeger had no representation. The Superior Court voids the sale.  Kay Porter, Nick Fintzelberg, and friends (all members of the San Diego Historical Society) purchase the Villa in order to turn it into a museum. Great parties ensue!

  18. 1970:  the Villa is designated as a City of San Diego Historical Site.

  19. 1971: The City of San Diego takes over ownership of the Villa and the San Diego Historical Society restores and operates it as a museum. The Villa is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  20. 1972: the Villa restoration is complete. The museum opens to the public in November 1972.

  21. 1974: The first Designer Showcase is held as a fundraiser for the Villa restoration. (The Showcase would run until 2006.)

  22. 1976:  the Friends of the Villa Montezuma (FOVM) officially become an auxiliary group of the San Diego Historical Society. The Villa gets a new foundation around 2/3 of the house.

  23. 1978: first attempt at historic paint colors: the Villa goes from white to a deep burgundy color.

  24. 1979: original wallpaper patterns are replicated and installed.

  25. 1986:  On March 18 a fire caused by a sparking space heater burns from the second floor office through the ceiling of the Music Room. Restoration begins.

  26. 1987:  On June 28 the Villa reopens for its 100th Anniversary party.

  27. 1999: Paint color analysis and evaluation starts to provide a more original exterior colorway for the Villa.

  28. 2001:  the architectural firm of Milford Wayne Donaldson is hired to come up with a determination for original colors. The Villa is repainted.

  29. 2002: the Villa’s western wall foundation, made of the original 1887 brick, begins to fail. The San Diego Historical Society secures a State grant for $50,000 to hire an architect do the construction drawings for a new foundation.

  30. 2004: The kitchen is no longer on tour, and the ceiling is braced for vertical load.

  31. 2006: the San Diego Trolley Ghosts & Gravestones tour ends in February 2006. A former San Diego Historical Society executive director closes the museum. The FOVM incorporates as its own 501-c-3 nonprofit public benefit organization and no longer operates under the Historical Society.

  32. 2007: the scope of work on the State grant is changed to waterproof the leaking tower, since the Villa will need more analysis than the initial scope provided for.

  33. 2008: the FOVM gets the City to do a structural evaluation of the Villa to scope out all the potential needs. In December the State freezes all grant payments. The work on the tower is stopped.

  34. 2009: In November, after years of collaborative work by the FOVM, in a horrible economic downturn, the City and the Centre City Development Agency (CCDC) agreed to provide funding to restore the foundation and stabilize the unreinforced masonry chimneys. The City Redevelopment Agency votes to approve $1,050,000 for the Villa’s restoration.

  35. 2010: the tower work resumes and is completed by January. City Engineering hires Platt/Whitelaw to study the needs of the Villa and come up with a comprehensive restoration plan that the City can put out for bid. Restoration work will follow after a thorough analysis of the Villa’s needs.

  36. August 2010:  the FOVM was happy to give the Villa interior a gentle cleaning to remove dust from contractor work to date.

  37. October 2010:  technical studies of the Villa are almost complete.  Next steps include the creation of the construction drawings.  The City will release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a future operator of the Villa when the City knows that the restoration will be complete and the Villa is ready to reopen to the public.  The FOVM looks forward to being that operator.

  38. 2011: A collapsed sewer line under the museum (Phase 1 restoration) means more work before restoration can begin. An archaeological dig needs to take place before the new sewer line can go in.

  39. May 2012: the archaeological dig is completed. The remains of a circular brick structure, always thought to be an early planter, turn our to be a fountain installed when the current backyard was actually the side yard before the property behind the museum (now know as Shepard’s Garden) was sold in the early years of World War II.

  40. March 2014: The City of San Diego hires Torres Construction to begin Phase 2 restoration (fixing the foundation, roof, and stabilizing the chimneys. A CDBG grant of $882,000 will fund this work.

  41. December 2014: Substantial completion of the restoration work is done.

  42. May 2015: completion of punch work items by Torres Construction is achieved, and Phase 2 work is complete. The FOVM and City are working on finding funding for Phase 3 work, which will include the exterior repainting of the museum.

  43. June 27, 2015: “Soft” reopening of the Villa Montezuma Museum to the public, with free tours to be scheduled each quarter for the next five years (due to the use of CDBG fund to restore the museum). The FOVM hopes to convince the City to all the FOVM to open it regularly and not just once per quarter now that the building is safe and stable.

Next, Jesse Shepard


The Villa Montezuma - history of a house

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Jesse on

Old Houses

“Old houses and palaces charm,

not by their cost,

not even by the people who lived in them,

but by that rare and inscrutable combination of mystery, beauty,

and illusion.”

Francis Grierson,

“The Invincible Alliance,” 1913 

Journal of San Diego History, Vol. 59, No.3

Thank you to Dr. Molly McClain and Dr. Iris Engstrand for asking us to contribute to the Journal of San Diego History with an article about the Villa Montezuma Museum at 125 years old.  We were pleased to record our long history of support and friendship with the San Diego Historical Society (now San Diego History Center) and we’re grateful to all the FOVM members who contributed to this article. More good things are to come for the Villa Montezuma Museum!  Old photos? Tell us!