“Preservation Through Documentation” is the intent of the Historic American Building Survey. An arm of the National Park Service (Department of the Interior), the HABS is concerned with the creation of permanent cultural records of buildings having architectural, social, and historical significance in America’s past.
Since 1933, the HABS has gathered data to create an architectural archive in the national capital. Through the years more than 13,000 buildings have been documented through photographs, measured drawings and written data concerning the history and architectural fabric. The result is the creation of one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. Despite the impressive size of the collection, one has only to think of the number of structures within a single city to realize that a very small percentage of America’s architectural heritage is permanently noted for future reference. With the destruction of countless buildings, the HABS collection becomes more valuable each year. The collection is used extensively by historians, architects and students; its materials are available to the public at nominal charges through the Library of Congress which serves as the repository for the records. The Library of Congress, along with the National American Institute of Architects, is a cooperator with the National Park Service, which administers the program.
During the summer of 1971, the Historic American Buildings Survey and its parallel organization, the Historic American Engineering Record, cosponsored a total of 14 projects from Nantucket to San Diego and Jacksonville, Oregon, to Southeastern Florida. The scope of the projects varied but the goal was the same?to preserve through documentation records of significant pieces of American architecture and engineering.
The San Diego project had its beginnings in the spring of 1969, when a task force of the San Diego Historical Site Board began contacts with Mr. James C. Massey, Chief of the HABS in Washington, D.C. Initial concerns were centered primarily around the historic Sherman-Gilbert House (1882), its pending demolition, and the efforts of the Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) to preserve the building. During the summer of 1969, when Mr. Massey was reviewing the HABS project in Los Angeles, he visited San Diego to meet with members of the Historical Site Board, SOHO, and the San Diego History Center. At that time he was tremendously impressed with the range of architectural expression found in the city, from the Spanish beginnings through the Victorian period, the early modern work of Irving Gill, and the Spanish Revival. The Historical Site Board was encouraged to begin an inventory of buildings in San Diego. It seemed inevitable then that HABS should support local efforts through a future summer program. Previously there had been some recording of the architecture of the Spanish period, as interest in that period was high at the time. Attention in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s would shift to the later periods. Mr. Massey noted that San .Diego possessed many fine and significant Victorian examples and that the work carried out by Irving Gill provided the essential background for his later works in Los Angeles, some of which had been recorded in 1968 and 1969.
In 1970, it became known that the National Trust for Historic Preservation would conduct its 25th annual meeting in San Diego the following year. Such an event is significant to historic preservation in the West, for it would be only the second meeting ever held on the west coast and it emphasized the fact that the Trust was eager to broaden its influence and work by focusing on the Southwest. Mr. Massey, realizing the importance of the Trust meeting and recognizing this opportunity to draw national attention to San Diego’s architecture began negotiations for a summer project the following year. The casual, but serious, correspondence which passed between San Diego and Washington became more strongly directed toward the summer project. The inventory work carried out by the Historical Site Board in the two year period was most impressive and served as the starting point for consideration of buildings. Necessary forces in the city had proven that San Diego
was interested in historic preservation and was capable of sponsoring an organized field project.
As HABS projects are always conducted on a shared-fund basis, a cooperating agency had to handle San Diego’s side of the operation. The San Diego History Center, as an official city organization, accepted the responsibility for fulfilling San Diego’s share of financing. (A summer project of the size anticipated for San Diego cost approximately $12-14,000.)
On June 7, 1971, the Project Supervisor arrived to begin outlining the summer’s activities. The student members of the team arrived the following week to begin the actual field work of measuring and drawing. (Field teams are generally composed of a faculty member in architecture and 3 to 4 students of architecture.) The team personnel included Miss Jashina A. Tarr, who had just received a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning and History at the University of California at Berkeley and who will be studying at the Rome Center, Italy, in 1972, Mr. Ronald J. Lake, a June recipient of a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and Mr. Phillip P. Wisley, a senior at Ball State University. Both Messrs. Lake and Wisley had worked with HABS in Indianapolis in 1970. The Project Supervisor, Robert C. Giebner, an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Arizona, Tucson, began his associations with the HABS as a student in 1962, and was most recently project supervisor for the Los Angeles projects in 1968-1969.
The San Diego project was charged with the creation of a balanced series of records on Victorian and Early Modern architecture. Thus the earlier recordings from the Spanish period would be supplemented with examples of more recent, yet equally important historical periods. By far the most important building to be recorded was the famous Hotel del Coronado, designed by the Reid Brothers in 1887-1888.
While a total HABS recording includes drawings, photographs, and written documentation, the field team is responsible for completing measured drawings of selected buildings. Due to the complexity and nature of this type of work, only a small portion of the summer project can be recorded in this manner. Despite the time and energy
involved, the resulting work reveals its true value, for only in drawing form can a building be dissected to show plan and section. After careful and thorough measuring and recording of the premises with field notes, a set of drawings including plans, elevations, sections, and important details is made. Accuracy is paramount because in some cases the drawings may serve as a basis for later restoration work. Such may be the case with the drawings completed for the Villa Montezuma. While examination of the minutest details in design and construction are made, the drawings give more attention to illustrative rather than constructional qualities.
The San Diego buildings recorded with measured drawings include, besides the Villa Montezuma, the La Jolla Women’s Club, the Hotel del Coronado, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, the George W. Marston House (limited recordings), and the facade of the Bank of Commerce Building (Ratner Electric).
The National Park Service through the San Diego History Center contracted with Mr. Marvin Rand, a nationally renowned architectural photographer from Los Angeles, to take a total of 80 photographs of 16 buildings. In some cases the photographs are used to supplement the measured drawings by revealing the building and its interiors in perspective. In others, the photographs become the major visual record. In all cases the work must be of exceptional quality and clarity. A photographer contracted for this job must have the ability to use his camera to interpret and reinforce the conceptual statements made by the designers. Mr. Rand has proven himself capable of doing so in his work for the HABS in past years.
Research is a vital aspect in creating any record. The cooperation of the Historical Site Board Research Committee was invaluable in this regard. Under the direction of Mrs. Richard Sundberg, the Research Committee delved into the histories of all the buildings recorded. The architectural research was supplemented with field observations by the project team. This written data accompanies the measured drawings and photographs for the Library of Congress.
The work accomplished in 1971 may appear impressive (16 structures were documented for the HABS collection which more
than double the number already listed for the San Diego vicinity), but San Diego possesses many buildings which have yet to be documented and inventoried. The summer project was initiated locally, and it in turn boosted the working powers of the community. More work has been done this summer to uncover information about San Diego’s rich architectural heritage than at any time in the past. It is hoped that the efforts of the summer will not be short termed. San Diego should plan to add to the HABS collection through community efforts and perhaps by cosponsoring a future summer project.
Reference is continuously made to the “field team.” Such a term is misleading, for when an HABS project is established in any city, it cannot operate as an isolated body. It depends entirely upon the community it is to serve. In the case of this project, the “team” included many people from several organizations who contributed time and money to assure the project’s success.
Many persons contributed to the project through contributions of services; it is impossible to mention all by name. In addition to members of the organizations mentioned throughout this paper, a special note of appreciation goes to Mr. John Henderson, AIA, Mr. Robert Ferris, AIA, Mrs. David Porter, and Mrs. Richard Sundberg, who served as advisors to the program, and to Mr. James Moss, Director of the San Diego History Center.
Acknowledgment of financial contributions is especially important as this project could never have moved beyond the planning stages without these contributors:
The County of San Diego
The City of San Diego
The Hotel del Coronado, Mr. M. Larry Lawrence
Save Our Heritage Organization
Mr. and Mrs. Allan Klauber
Mr. and Mrs. Edwin T. Coman
Mr. and Mrs. T. Donald Perkins
Mr. Nicholas Fintzelberg
And finally, the success of the project owes a great indebtedness to the owners of the following properties who revealed an awareness and appreciation for their historic properties by allowing them to be recorded
for the national archives:
Villa Montezuma, San Diego (Comstock and
Trotsche, 1887) (CAL-432)*
La Jolla Women’s Club, La Jolla (Irving Gill,
Hotel del Coronado (Reid Brothers, 1887-88)
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, National City
George W. Marston House, San Diego (Heb
bard and Gill, 1904) (CAL-1960)
Bank of Commerce Building (Ratner Electric)
(Clements & Stannard, 1888) (CAL-1961) Melville Klauber House (Irving Gill, 1907)
California Tower, Balboa Park, San Diego
(Bertram Goodhue, 1915) (CAL-1963)
Long-Waterman House, San Diego (D. P.
Benson, 1887-88) (CAL-1964)
Santa Fe Station, San Diego (Bakewell and
Brown, 1915) (CAL-1965)
Spreckels Building, San Diego (Albright, 1912)
Sherman-Gilbert House, San Diego (1882)
Bishop’s School for Girls, La Jolla (Irving Gill,
Kimball Block Row Houses, National City
Pueblo Ribera Courts, La Jolla (R. M. Schind
ler, 1923) (CAL-1943)
Botanical Building, Balboa Park, San Diego
(Bertram Goodhue, 1915) (CAL-1970)
*(CAL-432) is the HABS number for this particular building. All others are similarly noted. The number is used for reference to HABS collection in the Library of Congress.
Robert C. Giebner, is an associate professor of architecture, University of Arizona, Tucson, and a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He has a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Miami University of Ohio and a Master’s degree in Architectural History from the University of Illinois, Urbana. He was project supervisor for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in San Diego during the summer of 1971, and has been associated with HABS since 1962.