Carrie Gertrude Gilbert (1871-1947)

gertrudegilbertCarrie Gertrude Gilbert was the eldest daughter of an early San Diego lumber executive and lived most of her life in the family home on Fir Street, now moved to Old Town’s Heritage Park and known as the “Sherman-Gilbert House.”

A voice and piano student, she was a charter member of the Amphion Club in 1893, when it was limited to 25 members who met in homes to study composer’s lives.

In 1899, the Amphions began importing concert artists. By 1901, the club was presenting concerts for a much larger membership in the downtown Isis Theatre. Gilbert, back from three years of study in Europe, first became president of the Amphion Club in 1908, rotated out of the presidency in 1909-11, then returned as a fixture until the 1940s.

Such artists as Percy Grainger, Harold Bauer, Yehudi Menuhin, Mme. Modjeska, Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and Maestros Paderewski and Kreisler were honored guests in Gilbert’s home. Anna Pavlova danced in the music room, Artur Rubinstein practiced the piano there, and Marian Anderson spent the night when she was denied lodging at the El Cortez Hotel during World War II.

Gertrude Gilbert served as music chairwoman of the 1915-16 Panama California Exposition. In 1917, after the Exposition closed, the Navy took over Balboa Park. Gilbert worked with the Y.M.C.A. to furnish music for the Sunday morning services held in the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

When Balboa Park was vacated by the military after WWI, the condition of many of the Exposition buildings was such that the city made plans to demolish them. These “temporary” buildings were built without foundations and made of materials meant to last only two years. George Marston spearheaded successful public appeals for funds to restore the buildings. City inspectors again condemned several buildings as unsafe in 1933. Restoration was too costly and it was decided again to tear them down. But the inspectors had not reckoned with the citizens, and especially one determined civic activist and gifted woman.

Gertrude Gilbert and others convinced business leaders to take a second look. At a public meeting, Miss Gilbert likened the plan to raze the buildings to letting a loved one die because it wasn’t convenient to raise money to pay the surgeon. She called on David Millan of the Chamber of Commerce to help her save the buildings. Mostly to humor Miss Gilbert, the city reluctantly called on architect Richard Requa to make another investigation. Requa called in Walter Trepte, an experienced contractor, and the result was that for one-fourth of the city estimate, the buildings could be made safe and attractive in appearance. The committee was still reluctant to accept this report, but George Marston spoke in his gentle, forceful manner and won an affirmative vote.

After a month of benefits and feverish fund-raising, buildings had been saved from wrecker once again. Citizens raised $77,000, supplemented by $300,000 from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a U.S. government agency, created in 1932 to facilitate economic activity by lending money in the depression. A restoration committee was appointed with W.L. Van Schaick as Chairman, serving with Gertrude Gilbert, Fred L. Annable, John Morley and city officials.

Within a year, it was decided that San Diego would host a second exposition in Balboa Park, the California Pacific Exposition of 1935-36. More money was raised for alterations on older buildings along El Prado, most notably the House of Hospitality, redesigned by Requa.

After the second exposition, the buildings along the Prado again began their decline. Forty years later, Bea Evenson would take up Gilbert’s preservation banner through the Committee of One Hundred and save the remaining “temporary” Exposition buildings through permanent reconstruction.

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