The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Fall 1975, Volume 21, Number 4
James E. Moss, Editor
Thomas L. Scharf, Assistant Editor
Unearthing rich sources of cultural data in a single discovery is a prize rarely enjoyed by historians who usually are prepared to patiently extract minute bits of information from multitudinous sources which is only the beginning of the arduous task of weaving them into the fabric of our culture. The architectural firm of Delawie, Macy & Henderson, A.I.A. recently discovered and purchased such a prize: nearly twenty years of issues of the California Architect And Building News, 1879-1899, in which the building and architectural development of the west coast, including data previously unknown, is fascinatingly and thoroughly documented. The journals are the west coast’s only building publication of the era.
While researching an article on Comstock and Trotsche, San Diego architects of the 1880s, John D. Henderson, of Delawie, Macy & Henderson, and Wayne Fabert, Photoarchivist with the Serra Museum, learned that the Royal Institute of British Architects of London had the only nearly-complete set of copies of the magazine published during that period. It is thought that the west coast records of the journals were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. After a trans-oceanic correspondence with the Royal Institute, Delawie, Macy and Henderson purchased microfilm copies and donated them to the San Diego Historical Society Library at the Serra Museum.
Henderson’s first perusal of the journals indeed fulfilled his research needs regarding Comstock and Trotsche, and led him to believe that the journals would illuminate many aspects of the west coast’s architectural and building development and its influence on San Diego, particularly since the journals span San Diego’s building boom during the late 1800s. The journals are weighty with absorbing details of the architectural evolution, and spicy with social and cultural sidetrips that reveal the life and thought of the late nineteenth century.
The microfilm is available to the public at the Serra Museum, Presidio Park, San Diego. With this gift, Delawie, Macy and Henderson have enhanced the stature of San Diego as an area important for its architectural achievement, and as a city alert to the value of historical preservation.
“… never in the history of California has there been such an entire and decided prostration in the building business as exists at the present time. During the past two years, a great depression and dullness has prevailed, with intervals of moderate activity for a short space of time. ”
“Gold and silver are practically as valueless to the masses as cobblestones when . . . held away from circulation …. It is not because men possess great wealth that the less fortunate cry out against them, but because they become money tyrants over the comforts and necessities of the many, becoming human icebergs, as it were, upon the ocean of life
‘As a subject that affects the mechanical, manufacturing, and laboring interests in this country, this Journal considers the question of the foreigners among us as legitimate subject of review. The interests of all mechanical, manufacturing, and producing classes are a stake in this issue. ‘Foreign’ competition is the great ax which lies at the base of the tree of white labor, ready to fell to earth the noble growth of centuries. ”
California Architecture And Building News, February and April, 1880.
The first issue of the California Architecture And Building News was published in February, 1879, by George W. Wolfe and his son, James, both San Francisco architects. In addition to a regularly published roster of practicing architects, a business directory, published with the journals, concerned itself with the building trades, i.e., Asphaltum Works, Electrical Bells, Blacksmith’s Tools, Woodcarvers, etc.
In the second issue in April, 1879, architects on the Pacific coast were requested to aid the Editor by submitting complete lists of projected buildings; in the October issue readers were advised that the publication would appear monthly beginning in January, 1880.
From the very beginning, there was considerable emphasis on the “professionalism” of the practice of architecture. It is possible to trace the development of standards culminating in the formation of a State Board of Architecture, established by an act of the Legislature in January, 1895. As early as January, 1881, architects met to discuss the formation of a “Society of Architects.” The February issue of that year deals with the standards as set forth by the Royal Institute of Architects in London, and an application is made to the American Institute of Architects in New York for a chapter in San Francisco.
In May, 1882, the first Chapter of the A.I.A. west of the Rocky Mountains was chartered with a constitution and by-laws. In the interim, James Wolfe became a full partner in the publication of the journal. The conflicts of running both an architectural practice and a trade journal resulted in George Wolfe’s retirement from the publication in September, 1885. The following June, an offer was made to sell the publication which limped along for the next two years under various editors and business managers, and in December, 1888, an offering of stock was made for the purpose of securing both the publication and the publishing plant. Most of the stock issue was subscribed to by architects residing in San Francisco.
Efforts continued to formalize the practice of architecture and set certain legal safeguards. In the September, 1894, issue it was reported that “Architects as a class are the worst protected people in the community.
Their genius and ability is considered fair game by the majority of the people with whom they come in contact. This is not always the result of total depravity, but simply a want of thought and a forgetfulness of the Golden Rule.” In January, 1895, the journal reported: “There is no valid reason why the public should not be protected from the unscrupulous practicioner in the noble art of architecture in the same manner as … doctors and lawyers.”
The concept of the publication was to act as an informant not only on architectural matters, but also to deal with the concerns of the day. A problem touched on in over 200 of the issues was that of sanitation, specifically the effort to control sewer gases. “Doctor, how shall one know when he is poisoned by sewer gas” is a question frequently asked. Dr. Hun in the “Medical News” section says that he had carefully studied 29 cases and thinks it is probable that “a certain condition may result from sewer gas poison.” The appalling description that follows makes it understandable why at one time it was considered foolhardy to incorporate a kitchen into the main building. The article continues: “Finally, in cases of sewer gas poisoning, there is one group of symptoms which is always prominent and these symptoms are loss of appetite, drowsiness, extreme prostration, and a dull unpleasant feeling in the head.”
No small wonder. The gas is hydrogen sulfide, considered about ten times more lethal than cyanide, according to Henry Scovem, Senior Chemist of the San Diego Department of Sanitation. This problem would persist well into the 1900s before one could find the “S”-shaped pipe under their kitchen sink. Water held in the bend of this pipe prevented the gas from rising through the sink drain.
In September, 1892, the journal reported that “the daily papers have given detailed accounts of the Cholera in other countries and already the shadow of the plague has become well defined in the states bordering on the Atlantic and may possibly reach this coast.” There is also an extensive article touching on every aspect of sanitation, and again in May, 1893, under the heading of “Sanitary Science,” the position is taken that “toilets and latrines in public buildings should be kept separately housed.”
THE BUILDING TRADES
Another subject to which the journal addressed itself over the years was the building trades. The men in these trades, “mechanics” as they were called, were often at a disadvantage vis-a-vis owners and builders. Years would pass before there were any formal affiliations of these various trades into groups of masons, carpenters, plumbers, etc. In the meantime the day laborers or contract workers were often at the mercy of the owner or builder regarding prompt and sure payment. Many of their conflicts are listed under “Legal Decisions,” an integral part of the journal; so much so that it would appear that architects and builders spent equal time on the job and in the courts of law. The fossil words “Mechanics’ Liens” survive today, when suit is filed for nonpayment for work or material. The journal advised in one of its very early publications that the way to avoid mechanics’ liens was to deal only with reputable contractors.
Another area which held the journal’s interest on a continuing basis was the quality of construction material. The whole development of standardization of building materials was noted. Standard sizes for dressed lumber, finished brick, and strength of concrete evolved. The use of gas and electricity in construction was discussed and reviewed many times over, and in April, 1890, the journal declared “there is serious consideration that wallpaper can be made in such a way that the passage of currents of low electromotive force will heat up moderately to the touch and diffuse throughout the room an agreeable temperature.”
Market reports on glass imported from England, Belgium, and France, hardware manufactured on the east coast, and lumber were all reflected in the journal. Also, occasional mention is made of the California exports of wheat, barley, gold and silver, and in later years of the citrus and wine industries.
In August, 1880, an article on the “Spreading and Extending of Railroads” stated: “There is a general interest of the people in this city that they [railroads] present … opportunities for both good and evil.” The Los Angeles Herald takes the following view: `With the Southern Pacific Railroad within 18 months of completion, giving our orchardists and vineyardists access to the Mississippi Valley in four—and if fast trains are put on, in three days—demand for our fruits and grapes should be practically unlimited, when it is borne in mind that oranges grown here will hang on the tree all through the year and can be marketed at seasons when they will encounter no competition whatever; they cannot fail to be eagerly sought after.”‘
The journal reported in June, 1889, that “the foundation was laid this week on 16th and N Streets for a warehouse, 50 x 90, two stories, built by Captain Sherman to be used in connection with the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railroad Freight Depot. It will probably be covered with corrugated iron and will probably be finished in about two months.” Two years earlier, in August, 1887, “in San Diego, work on the railroad depot on the foot of D Street is being pushed rapidly. A portion of the frame is already in place. The building is to be 40 x 100.”
THE “FOREIGN” INVASION
While it is common knowledge that many Chinese were allowed to immigrate for the purpose of helping construct railroads, the problems that followed their influx are not as fully documented. The gold spike driven by Leland Stanford in May, 1869, joined the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads in Utah, and it drove most of the Chinese back to California. Almost from the first issue of the journal, this was considered a volatile problem.
“If the Chinese were intellectually inferior to the Caucasions, the danger would be less, but they are not. In commerce especially, they are the keenest, wisest, and the most forehanded people in the world. Besides, they live cheaper and can afford to undersell us.”
“Resolved: America is the home of the free and the land of the brave. We are the smartest people in the world. Our national doors are open wide, but all immigrants must come under bond that they will not try to compete with us.”
In National City, the Sweetwater Dam was in the process of construction with many Chinese as laborers. In March, 1887, the Chinese camp was destroyed by white workers, as agitation continued against the “yellow peril.” In 1888, however, the journal reports that a building permit was issued in San Diego to “How Quin Har, for a corrugated iron building on Lot H, Block 11, of Horton’s Addition.”
The Sweetwater Dam was originally envisioned by Frank Kimball, who with his brothers, Warren and Levi, bought the old “Rancho de la Nacion,” some 26,600 acres, in 1868. By 1880, he formed a syndicate with eastern railroading people which became the San Diego Land and Town Company. The dam, largest structure of its type in the United States, was completed in April, 1888. According to the issue of February, 1888, “the building occupied by the San Diego Land and Town Company will be removed next week and the erection of a new three-story block commenced. The new structure will be 50 x 100 and will be built of stone similar to the material used in the building of the Sweetwater Dam.” The April issue mentions the location as being Lot 1, Block 144, of Horton’s Addition. The March issue reported “the plans have been completed in the office of R. E. Ball [architect] for the San Diego Land and Town Company’s building at National City.” (This may refer to the building at 23rd and Cleveland).
The journal listed buildings in planning and in progress under the heading “Building Intelligence,” concentrating mostly in the San Francisco Bay area. Communities covered included Alameda, Berkeley, Oakland, Menlo Park, Petaluma, Saucelito [sic.] and occasionally ventured south to San Jose, Stockton, and Fresno. Mention was made in July, 1880, of a cottage to be built for a Mr. Coffin in Riverside (“near Los Angeles”), the cost to be $2,500. T. J. Welsh was the architect. A year later, there was coverage on the communities of Benicia, Suisun,’ Cloverdale, and Woodland, all absorbed later into larger northern California towns.
The first mention of San Diego was in September, 1883: “One story brick building; Owner: Bank of Southern California; Architect: McDougall and Son; Contractor: W. H. Perry; Cost: $7,000.” This was on the northwest corner of 5th and E, and two years later, the name was changed to the “First National Bank.”
In February, 1884, the members of the A.I.A. listed in the journal included C. C. McDougall as an officer of the chapter, and B. McDougall as a member in good standing. This firm was commissioned to do several buildings in San Diego. June, 1889: “About two months ago, the excavation made for a building over a year ago, on the corner of 4th and E Street, began to look as though something was being done to erecting a structure on it. The plans were made and the work was soon commenced. The building is now up to the second story, as far as it will be built at present. Messrs. Pauly and Gasson are the owners and expect to expend $65,000 in the construction. McDougall and Sons are the Architects.” This father and son team enjoyed many commissions up and down the coast and the Fine Arts Building, constructed for the San Francisco Mid-Winter Fair of 1894, drew critical acclaim.
In August, 1885, an article read: “A copy of the San Diego Union of July 17, containing a nearly two-column statement of building improvements in that city was duly received, but accidentally mislayed, and being favorably disposed towards that most southern metropolis of the State, through the courtesy of Mr. J. A. Kooken, a second copy was obtained, from which we gather the fact that the number of buildings erected in the recent past, now under way, and positively to be built, together with a few alterations and repair jobs, number about 85, with the total expenditures of nearly $289,000, including in the number some very nice residences in costs ranging from $2,500 to $15,000.”
In February, 1887, the first mention was made of “the new hotel to be erected on Coronado Beach. According to the papers here, active work is steadily in progress.” In April, a “$15,000 brick building is under advisement for the use of the Grand Army Post, G.A.R.” Coverage also included extensive information on Coronado Beach and major building projects in San Diego, including “the Methodist Church at 4th and D Streets, to be a three-story brick building at a cost of $60,000; the Horton Agricultural Hall and Opera House, construction to be $300,000. In all, about $2,000,000 of buildings have been contracted for.”
In September, an article on the building boom on the west coast mentioned San Diego. In November, Reid Bros., architects for the Del Coronado Hotel, also undertook a commission for the San Diego Presbyterian Church, to cost $25,000. The December issue contained a full page of inwork and contemplated structures, reprinted from the San Diego Union.
In January, 1888, nearly a whole page was devoted to the extensive building in San Diego. “E. Guenther von Schwartzenberg, Architect, is drawing plans for a three-story business : block on 5th and B. He has also contracted to do the plans for an 84-room boarding house on 11th and H. Comstock and Trotsche will be the architects for the Unitarian Church to be erected on the corner of H and India Streets, the Assembly Hall to be 45 x 70 in size.”
By this time San Diego had a Board of City Trustees authorized to grant building permits. “E. B. Newkirk and J. M. Apfeld are the Architects and Builders of a four-story frame lodging house and business building now being erected on the corner of D and Columbia Streets. Report that the car sheds and stables being erected for the San Diego Street Company, are very extensive. They are located on the northwest corner of Arctic and D Streets. The sheds for stabling horses will be 500 feet long and 8 feet wide. In the center there will be a two-story frame building, 30 x 220 in size.”
Under notes and comments in the April, 1890, issue it was reported that “in San Diego, there are 39 miles of graded streets, 22 miles of street railways, (horsedrawn) 58 miles of motor railways, extending to the suburbs in every direction, 47 miles of sewer system and a complete system of water works,” and, “it is now proposed to build a seawall for the waterfront.”
Other architects mentioned as securing contracts in San Diego are Schoider & Weary, Stannard and Clements, Beech Joseph Falkenhan, R. C. Ball, Boardwell-Kooken & Company, Armitage & Wilson,
Mr. George S. Spohr, and J. B. Randell. “The $50,000 residence for H. L. Story opposite the Del Coronado [hotel] is designed by James W. Reed [Reid]. The house, stable and carriage house are to be of stone.” In April, 1889, the journal carried a “Notice of Removal of Offices. Reid Bros., formerly of San Diego and architects for the Del Coronado Hotel, are now located at 213 Sansum Street, the McCreary Building, San Francisco.”
Considerable attention was given to the Del Coronado in the February, 1888, publication. “In building the Coronado Hotel at San Diego, which is perhaps the largest and most gorgeous in its appointments of any hotel in the world, 400 carpenters have been at work for two years. They now have there direct from Chicago and New York three hundred hotel waiters and every room in the house is already engaged from the opening date, which is on the 1st proximo. The Atchison and Topeka Company are the principal owners of this hotel, and they have sold lots enough in the vicinity to pay for the building and furniture.” The September, 1889, issue carried a line drawing of the Hotel, which differs considerably from the present day conception.
SHYLOCKS and SHORTAGES
In March, 1888, the Editor took issue with the kind of pressure generated by land sales agents. “Land Sharks—a set of men claiming to be real estate agents. They are like a lot of vultures watching for their prey. They do not give a stranger time to rest, eat, or sleep until he is given a description of all the cheap property they have for sale,”
The late 1880s building boom created critical shortages of building materials and the March, 1888, issue reported on the continued scarcity of lime in San Diego. “During this week, work was suspended on three large lodging houses and two business buildings because no lime could be procured to finish the plastering….” There was also a continuing shortage of lumber and an article in the April issue deplored the waste of lumber by maintaining unnecessary fences. “Whereas the Supreme Courts of some states have decided that a barbed wire fence is illegal, therefore resolved that every state should amend their existing fence laws so that no land owner is compelled to maintain any fence whatsoever.”
In addition to the materials shortages, the brick industry was taken to task for the poor quality of its products. “Many of the bricks crumble when they are dumped on the streets,” at places of construction. The desired quality was perhaps best described by one of the numerous articles bordering on trivia. “The oldest bit of slang which can be traced to a historical origin is said to be, `He is a brick.”‘ The journal proceeded to trace the comment, in great detail, to Plutarch’s Life Of Lycurgos.
With the building boom came the embellishments, and the journal covered many areas of the decorative arts with articles on stained glass, or “art glass.” In 1888 mention was made of the “Mechanic’s Fair, where one of the most attractive displays is the exhibition of stained glass. John Mallon, designer at the Pacific Glass-Cutting Works (19 Fremont Street, San Francisco) displays a Memorial Window designed for the Presbyterian Church of San Diego, an especially handsome production.” And from the February, 1885, issue, “Getting Upstairs. `If there is anything I like to see in a house,’ said Mrs. Domobus, `it is a handsome pair of stairs. We don’t expect ours to be gorgeous or magnificent, but I want everybody who comes into the house to throw up both hands in admiration and exclaim, “How lovely,” when they see the stairs.’
`You wish the stairs to be in the front hall, then, don’t you?’
`Of course. What else is the front hall for?”‘
The journal displayed a continuing interest in the paints being produced on the west coast, and there were decorating hints, including how to hang wallpaper. There were reports that plate glass manufacturing had begun in this country with centers in Indiana, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis; that Gladding, McBean & Company were turning out roof tiles, paving blocks and pipes, and beautiful tiles and terracotta work for both interior and exterior decoration. There was considerable discussion on the feasibility of using gas and possibly electricity to heat houses. A strong position was taken that solar heat will be developed in such a way as to solve all of our energy needs into the distant future.
The journal commented that bentwood furniture was in vogue, and that woods and wood veneers could be used artistically, especially carriage-work (gingerbread). A story on the quarrying of onyx on the Pacific coast defined the various kinds and their location, where they have been used, and the dollar expenditures on their use in building.
In March, 1897, there was a comprehensive list of rock and granite quarries, indicated by county. The article discussed the amount of equipment in use by numbering the quantity of horses and men. Under San Diego County: “The Wateman quarry, opened 1894. 2 horse power derricks; 5 men are employed. It is at Foster’s, the present terminus of the Cuyamaca and Eastern Railroad. For the purpose of quarrying massive rocks of stone for the jetty near Pt. Loma at the entrance to the San Diego harbor. The contract having been completed, the quarry is now idle and machinery removed. W. S. Wateman of San Diego, Owner.”
Plastering, otherwise known as “slapdashing” was described as a cheap and durable finish. The technique was brought down from Canada where it was called “rough casting” and was considered especially useful in keeping out “cold winds during our longer winters.” The recipe follows:
“For 100 yards of rough casting in the manner described, the following quantities will be required: 1800 laths; 12 bushels of lime; 1-1/2 barrels of the best cow hair; 1-3/4 yards of sand; 3/4 yard of prepared gravel and 16 pounds of hot cut lath nails, 1-1/4″ long. The gravel should be sifted through a 1/2″ screen mesh, and should be washed before being mixed with the lime putty.”
Recipes were liberally printed in the journal, from the early blueprinting methods, to treatment of lumber before “it is placed in the ground,” to gesso work, the medium used to decorate interior walls with elaborately designed, raised motifs. Techniques were throughly discussed on everything from calcarious hydraulic cements to fret-work.
It may be said that the Mrs. Domobus of the “How lovely” stairs may have influenced the prevailing attitude toward women, as evidenced in the first issues of the journal. As early as January, 1880, the subject of women is introduced under an article entitled, “Mother.” The journal was favorably inclined toward them. In the February issue, reasons were given for the ladies to read the journal.
“First, nothing offensive will ever appear in these columns to offend the most sensitive and refined natures.”
Considerable space in the May issue was given to the fact that it is the housewives and servant girls who are most affected by the sewer gases. In September the journal supplied many helpful hints on housekeeping, such as “Keeping Clean of Housebugs.”
The journal viewed the Women’s Suffrage movement in a somewhat whimsical light and in December, 1890, in a column headed “Business Mosaics,” a catch-all column of business and social mores viewed through the eyes of the industry, the following was printed: “To the Advocates—Women’s Rights. We would suggest that a good way to improve a woman’s lot is to build a house on it.” Several years later, in San Diego, Mrs. D. P. Hoyle may have acted upon this advice when it was reported in August, 1898, that she had been granted a permit to “erect a three-story brick building for hotel purposes on 4th and Diego Streets. The estimated cost is $50,000.”
A more sympathetic mention of women was made in the June, 1890 issue. “Miss Minerva Parker, we believe, is the only woman in America actually practicing the profession of architecture. She offices at 14 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. She proposes for the present to confine herself to domestic architecture and has already satisfactorily designed and erected a number of residences and dwellings. Although she encountered many difficulties in obtaining the necessary training and experience required to establish herself in business, she has found her sex to be no obstacle in her advancement and has received words of encouragement both from the profession and the public. A preliminary sketch for a cottage designed by Miss Parker appears in the May number of the JOURNAL OF BUILDING.” (possibly a Pennsylvania publication).
The condition of the workingman came in for some paternalistic observations. In November, 1880, the subject of heavy smoking by workmen in Germany was considered, followed by an article on laziness in workmen in the January, 1881, issue. Labor movements in San Francisco, which set a pattern for most of California during the boom years of the mid and late 1800s, were reported in October, 1882, and again in May, 1884. In 1885, the January issue exhorts the mechanic to “Live the Good Life,” generally recommending abstinence from the activity they enjoyed most—drinking. This was followed by an article in April, 1886, entitled, “The Working Classes As Drinkers.”
The formation of various trades into professional groups resulted in one called the Builder’s Association, general contractors as they are known today. The October, 1888, issue carried a list of about 50 contractors, two of which are listed for the San Diego area—Mr. J. G. Day and Mr. S. T. Greene. In June, 1889, “W. Fitzpatrick was named the contractor on the Backesto Block at 4th and H. [San Diego]. It will be two stories and basement, built entirely of brick, cost to be about $25,000.”
Also in San Diego, J. P. McCormick, a contractor, was making progress on two new school buildings. “On the one—on 24th and K Streets, about 50 men are employed and it is all enclosed. The roof is partly on and the plumbers at work in the basement. The one at 6th and B Streets is only up to the second story, but the work is being pushed and both will be completed in time for the September term. They are both nearly the same plan. Comstock and Trotsche are the architects.”
In October, 1892, a lengthy article with accompanying drawings discussed Urban Science, “the laying out of streets in relation to the sanitariness and to their adaptability for rapid and unobstructed transit and leisurely and safe pedestrianism.”
Some issues later, in December, 1892, suggestions are made for solving another problem which is still with us. “Stabling for the ‘Nickle Plated Steed.’ This proper and safe storage of the bicycle during working hours is a very important feature that is being neglected in the planning of office buildings, stores, restaurants, etc. The neglect is sorely felt by those workmen who employ the bicycle for business and other purposes. Aside from its intrinsic value, the remarkable and ingenious improvements which have been made on the cycle within recent years have been a means of pushing it into a more general use in the business community.
“Is it not obvious, even to persons unfamiliar with exercise, that cycling is a most beneficial and useful means of locomotion? It strengthens the organs of the abdomen, hardens the muscles, and by promoting respiration, strengthens the lungs and suffuses the face with a healthful glow.
“In other words, it is one of the most healthful exercises. Is not then the use of the cycle of sufficient importance to be remembered and is it not worthy of the greatest encouragement?”
The California Architecture And Building News presents a fascinating overview of the period 1879-1899, in addition to containing numerous references to the building activity in San Diego. As an index to the concerns of the day, the social structure of various California communities, and specific references to activities in San Diego, this publication is a remarkable historical resource.
John D. Henderson, A.I.A., received his B.A. degree in Architecture from the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1956. He is a past President of the San Diego Chapter, American Institute of Architects, and currently serves as president of the San Diego History Center. Henderson is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Historic American Buildings Survey, Department of the Interior, a member of both the County of San Diego’s Cultural Heritage Committee and the City of San Diego’s Historical Site Board, and has recently been appointed to the Board of Advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation representing California.
Rae Tauber is a researcher with the firm of Laura Watcher Public Relations, San Diego, with an extensive background in architectural history.