The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1970, Volume 16, Number 3
Linda Freischlag, Editor

By William Porter

The grandeur of the Villa Montezuma is emphasized by the unique and varied handling of the details, many of which were the fashion of the time [1887]. The building seems to be in its original form (except for plumbing alterations) and structurally sound though the [exterior] finish is suffering some deterioration.

THE SITE The Shepard HouseThe present site measures 100 feet on Twentieth Street and 94 ½ feet on K Street. The site slopes down to the west along K Street about five and one half feet.

The structure has an overall length of approximately 76 feet including the northeast octagonal tower and the westerly chimney which projects 1 foot, 4 inches. The overall width of 56 feet, 8 inches includes the 8 inch corbeled bay window on the upper stairway landing at the north and the added 10 feet of Terrace-Porch at the south, beyond the main tower.

The Twentieth Street set-back is about 18 feet, 6 inches from the sidewalk. The K Street set-back is about 14 feet, 1 inch from the sidewalk.

The building rests upon spread concrete footings, including the fireplace chimneys. The walls from the basement floor up to the main floor are of solid brick faced with cement marked off as large masonry blocks. However, the west end and part of the south side are above grade and the walls, like the upper levels, are constructed of normal wood frame.
BASEMENT In the Basement, the floor is of cement finished concrete and extends under the entire house. It is in three stepped planes. The two most easterly slope several inches down toward the west. The westerly panel is occupied by the kitchen service facilities and is level.
EXTERIOR WALLS The exterior walls display many of the fancy patterns in shingles popular in the 1880’s, diamond, round, square, etc. A remarkable feature is the placing of these pattern shingles on curved surfaces with very small radii. Half tim­ber with intermediate plaster panels (textured with embedded pebbles) occurs in several places. A wood plaque in bas­relief (round) is set in a shingled area on the east wall. Diag­onal and horizontal tongue and groove siding is frequently used on the exterior (also on interior), as exposed panels. Other features of the exterior are cove wood cornice, cor­beled wood bay, spindle type columns at windows, stock wood moldings and panels.
CHIMNEYS There are five fireplaces, their flues carried by two brick chimneys. Each chimney is surmounted by two tall terra­cotta chimney pots. There is another chimney on the ex­terior, at the west end, that is constructed of masonry blocks to the main floor level and brick above the roof height.
ROOF The roof has a number of variations. One of these re­sults when the characteristically wide gables are modified by the use of central narrower projecting bays of a tall propor­tion, thus giving the gables unusual prominence. The roof now is covered with asphalt shingles on the moderate slope of forty-five degrees.

Cupolas and towers are frequent and are usually round in plan though the main tower is square in plan with a re­verse curve dome suggesting Saracenic influence. A round bay window with conical roof is located at the northeast corner.

Metal finials and ornamental ridge cresting are used on nearly all roof prominences.

DOORS The original entrance door to the Entrance Stair Hall is about four feet wide, a Dutch door with a glazed upper panel and a simple wood molding surrounding it. The newer door, that enters directly to the music room, is about three feet wide, fully glazed and surrounded with a curved pediment, carried on pilasters. Other exterior doors at the west (service end) are about two feet, eight inches to three feet wide with one or two glazed upper panels and wood lower panels. Doors to the Terrace Porch are glazed.
STAIRWAYS The Main EntryThe main stairway from the Entrance Stair Hall to the Upper floor (owner’s sanctum) consists of a wood stair of generous proportions with twelve risers straight away to the first winder where the stair turns a right angle continuing to a total of eighteen risers. The first riser returns about a rather massive square newel post. The banister is of wood carved in an unusual and interesting vertical-diagonal pat­tern. All of this is carried on a free hung stringer that is ornamented with lincrusta walton. Other features are the wood paneling above the inner stringer, a wood handrail each side, the heavy cornice mold with egg and dart mold surrounding opening to the Upper floor. The floor thickness is covered with a frieze of lincrusta walton.

A third stair continues from the Upper floor (owner’s sanctum) to the observation tower. It is built of Spanish Cedar in three straight runs. The first run is open string and rises along the south wall of the room to a free standing Corinthiann column. The second run proceeds along the west wall of the tower. The third run proceeds along the south wall of the tower to the Observatory.

INTERIOR WALLS The principal rooms have wainscote of walnut, together with six inch (nominal) base, plinths and trim molding. Co­ordinated Redwood upper paneling on the walls and ceilings (all carrying a dark hard finish) contrasted with the silver gray lincrusta walton background of the ceiling patterns gives a very luxurious effect. The Music Room has an ad­dition-recessed central panel in the ceiling and coved frieze which add to the impressiveness. There are five fireplaces with tile surrounds and flush tile hearths.
FLOORS The Main Floor is of four inch flooring (probably select vertical grain Douglas Fir). At present it has a gymnasium finish on it. In the small tower alcove from the Music Room, the floor is colored pattern ceramic tile. Also, in the middle of the Entrance Stair Hall there is a panel of colored pattern ceramic tile about four feet by eight feet. The Upper floors of wood have similar characteristics.
WINDOWS The windows in this house are perhaps its most remark­able aspect, as viewed from either the exterior or the interior. They are in great variety and include round, rectangular, oval head, round head, straight and curved in plan. They are vented both as double hung and as casement but most of them, are fixed sash.

Pictorial colored glass windows are used throughout the principal rooms and elsewhere. The most striking window is the three panel window in the Music Room, consisting of a central oval head with round head either side. A magnifi­cent three panel curved colored glass window in the Draw­ing Room is protected on the outside by corresponding panels of curved clear glass.

MISCELLANEOUS The hardware is of superior quality and unique design. The entrance door, for example, has very tall, patterned dull brass hinges and very long vertical bolts for locking the double part of the Dutch Door.

The original lighting was gas. In the center of Music Room hung an elaborate oriental candelabra containing on the outer circle six pale blue wax candles and, within, a heavily jeweled metalic shade with a single wax candle.

REFERENCES 1. City and County of San Diego Biographical Sketches, Leberthon and Taylor, Publishers 1888
2. San Diego Union, June 16, 1957 – May 28, 1961
3. Mrs. Amelia Yaeger, Widow of the late Carl F. Yaeger

William Porter is a long-time resident of San Diego. Retired from a successful career as architect, Mr. Porter is now actively working with the Historical Site Board of San Diego. These notes and the accompanying photographs Were taken while on a field trip to the Shepard House in 1964.


The photographs were taken by H. G. Hanekamp.