By Orion Zink
The Exchange Hotel, or “Tebbett’s Place” in the early 1850’s, were one and the same to Old Town San Diego residents. And while the life story of the proprietor of the Exchange is fairly well recorded, little is known about the building in which he conducted a more or less lucrative business. To date, no photograph, drawing or complete description of this hotel has been found.
The earliest mention of this famous hostelry appears in the first issue of the San Diego Herald, May 29, 1851, where it is advertised as a “Hotel and Billiard Saloon,” and the proprietors were G. P. Tebbetts & Co. or to be more explicit, George Parrish Tebbetts and his partner Philip Hooff.
All of the business section of Old Town San Diego at that time fronted on the plaza; and seldom would the Herald bother to mention where a particular store, hotel or saloon was located. Occasionally however, Ames, the publisher, would include “On the Plaza” or perhaps “On the south side of the Plaza.” When the south side was mentioned, he was referring to the side where the Machado house is located.
Lt. George H. Derby, the Army engineer who first diverted the San Diego River into False Bay, mentions in his Phoenixiana, the Exchange as the place where he first stopped when he arrived here in 1853. In his description of the San Diego that greeted him, he stated:
“A small Plaza forms the center of the town, one side of which is occupied by a little adobe used as a court room, the ‘Colorado House,’ a wooden structure, whereof the second story is occupied by the Herald, as a vast sign bearing that legend informed us, and the Exchange, a hostelry at which we stopped. This establishment is kept by Hoof, familiarly known as Johnny, but whom I at once christened “Cloven”, and Tibbetts who is also called “Two bitts.”
A hint at the type of building he was stopping in, is provided as Derby went on to describe his first meal in the place. He wrote: “After partaking of supper, which was served up in the rear of the billiard room, at fresco, from a clothless table, upon an earthen floor.”
The mention of the earthen floor would seem to suggest that it may have been adobe, but again, the meal may have been served out of doors.
To John Judson Ames, editor of the San Diego Herald, we are indebted for occasional mention of the Exchange, as important local events took place. The first of these, other than advertisements, appeared in the Herald, June 19, 1851. It read:
“All Master Masons in good standing with their respective Lodges, are requested to assemble at the Exchange on the 20th. instant to make arrangements for celebrating the anniversary of our patron saint, John the Baptist.”
At this meeting a petition to form a masonic lodge in San Diego was drawn up, and submitted to the Grand Lodge of California. The petition was granted August 1, 1851 and William C. Ferrell was named Master, John Judson Ames, Senior Warden and John Cook, Junior Warden. The name, San Diego Lodge, was bestowed at the time, and two years later it became known as San Diego Lodge No. 35, the oldest lodge in southern California.
Additional mention of the Exchange is made in the Herald on June 28, 1852, wherein Ames described a St. John’s Day celebration. He wrote:
“The procession after marching through the principal streets, halted under the gallery of the Exchange and the Colorado house, to listen to the oration by J. Judson Ames, R.A. & K.T. which occupied about a half hour. Of its merits it isn’t of course, proper to speak.”
The Colorado House mentioned, was a two story structure, and the roof of the front porch with its protective railing, provided a gallery from which spectators watched bullfights, parades and other events. The reference to the “gallery” of the Exchange would seem to indicate that it was similarly adorned, and it leaves the impression that the Exchange was a two-story building.
Unfortunately, San Diego Lodge No. 35’s records contain no description of the Exchange and make no mention of its location. This omission had its repercussions one hundred years later, when to celebrate the centennial of the Lodge’s founding, plans were made to place a marker on the site of this first meeting place. Upon the writer, the Lodge’s Historian, fell the task of locating that important spot.
In the search that was launched, public records were scanned, the San Diego Historical Society’s files were examined and interviews arranged with Old Town’s oldest residents. William Crosthwaite, son of Philip Crosthwaite, could not help; neither could Albert Smith who at that time was San Diego’s oldest resident. Even Miss Corinne Whaley shook her head.
Months went by and I was about to abandon the search. Then one day while thumbing through the files of the San Diego Herald at the San Diego City Library, an article in the issue of November 3, 1855 caught my attention. It read:
“On the Plaza and its vicinity are several operations just completed or in progress, one of the most important of which is the raising and enlargement of the Exchange estate by Messers Franklin, who intend to devote it to their large and increasing business. The lower story is to be of brick, fronted by a handsome veranda which will be carried up three stories, the height of the building.”
This item provided the first definite clue as to the whereabouts of the long sought Exchange Hotel. The Franklin building was Old Town’s first, and for many years only three story building, and was at one time owned by Joseph Mannasse, a member of San Diego Lodge. It was here that many of the Lodge’s early day banquets were held.
The Franklin House, together with the Colorado House and the little old brick court house, were destroyed by a fire in 1872 that consumed several buildings on the south side of the Old Town Plaza. A lengthy article covering this fire appeared in The San Diego Union, April 21, 1872. Luckily one building, the Machado house, an adobe, survived the fire. And with that as a starting point it was comparatively easy to locate the site of the Franklin House which had been built where once stood the Exchange.
Preliminary findings were referred to James Forward of the Union Title Insurance Co. for confirmation; George W. Elder his Chief Engineer, in searching the records, uncovered the following property transfer dated July 19, 1855: (Book E–Page 328)
Mumford & Phebe Eldred Jr. (Grantor)
Lewis Abram Franklin (Grantee)
“Conveys situate in the Town of San Diego. Having a front on the Plaza or public square of 35 feet more or less, and in depth 50 varas (measure) and known upon the plaza of said town, as part of Lot 2 in Block 30, upon which the building known as the ‘Exchange’ has been erected.”
With this definite location, Mr. Elder brought the successive transfers up to date (1951) which revealed then, that J. H. Cardwell and Nora Cardwell were the owners of the property at 2731 San Diego Ave. At that time Maurice Roy’s photograph gallery occupied the one story building, now occupying the site.
The owner’s permission was obtained to place a bronze plaque. This was done in an appropriate ceremony June 16, 1951 in connection with San Diego Lodge No. 35’s week long Centennial Celebration.
A large gathering witnessed the colorful plaque dedication ceremonies at Old Town. Invited guests included City and County officials, San Diego Historical Society representatives, Grand Lodge officers and San Diego County Masons, their families and friends. The program included a parade to the plaza lead by the Shrine Band. The principal speaker was Lloyd E. Wilson, P.G.M. of Grand Lodge. Others participating were, Rev. John B. Osborn, P.M., Maurice B. Ross, P.M., George W. Elder, P.M., R. M. Culbertson, W.M., Claude H. Morrison, P.G.M., Orion M. Zink, Lodge Historian, Judge L. N. Turrentine, P.M., 0. W. Campbell, City Manager and Nathan A. Tebbetts.
Nathan A. Tebbetts was the son of George Parrish Tebbetts, proprietor of the Exchange Hotel. Mr. Tebbetts, a newspaper man, who had come all the way from San Francisco, regaled the audience with stories related by his father, and with excerpts taken from his father’s diary. This day to day record was religiously kept by Mr. Tebbett’s father, during the many years he lived in San Diego.
Following the addresses the marker was unveiled by Albert Crosthwaite, grandson of Philip Crosthwaite.
Thanks to the efforts of John Davidson, in October 1951, the Historic Landmarks, of the Travel & Recreation Department of the State of California, registered the Exchange Hotel site as Landmark No. 491.