The Journal of San Diego History
Spring-Summer 1987, Volume 33, Numbers 2 & 3
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

by Lucinda Eddy

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1887 Villa Montezuma completed in June for $19,000.
1888 Shepard leaves for Europe in the fall to arrange for publication of his first book.
1889 After nearly a year abroad, Shepard returns to San Diego and decides to sell the Villa so he can pursue a literary career in Europe.
1889 In November, D.D. Dare, a prominent banker — and con artist — agrees to purchase the Villa for $29,000.
1890 D.D. Dare sells the property to H.P. Palmerston, an investor from Spokane, Washington, for $30,000.
1893 Swindled by the conniving Dare, Palmerston faces financial ruin and is unable to make his mortgage payments. The California Mortgage Loan & Trust Company forceloses on the Villa’s mortgage and the house is sold at auction for $18,000 — the price of the defaulted mortgage plus court costs — to Mr. Hiram Duryea of New York.
1894-1900 Duryea leases the Villa to Willard Washington Whitney, a Sweetwater Valley citrus rancher, who moved to town with his wife and lived in the Villa off and on during the 1890s. Whitney travelled abroad extensively studying horticulture and imported exotic plants for his ranch called “The Highland”.
1900-1906 Duryea sells the house to Dr. George Calmus for $10,000. Financial misfortune plagues Calmus, and in 1906, he disappears, leaving a wife and two unpaid mortgages on the property. His wife gave piano lessons in the Villa.
1906 Once again the subject of a court case, the Villa is sold at public auction to Mr. George Sinclair, for $10,960 — the amount of the mortgage plus court costs. Sinclair had loaned Calmus the money for the two mortgage and in default of payment, he forceclosed on the property.
1906-1909 The Villa becomes an investment property and is rented to Mr. and Mrs. George W. Montgomery and Mr. Guy C. White. Montgomery and White were in real estate, while Mrs. Montgomery was a medium who gave seances at the Villa.
1909-1942 The house is sold to Frank Lynch, president of the successful Benson Lumber Company, and his wife, Georgia. They live happily in the Villa for 33 years. Both Frank and George die in 1942.
1942 Upon Georgia Lynch’s death the Villa is sold to James and Flora Craig. Converted into small apartments, the once elegant Villa Montezuma becomes a rooming house for workers during the second World War. Several older homes are moved into Villa property to provide additional rental income, destroying the spacious gardens and a portion of the decorative iron fence. Other changes within the house make the transition from single-family residence to multi-family dwelling complete.
1948 The war years take their toll on the old house. The Craigs leave and the former garden lots with the add-on buildings are sold separately from the Villa. Hemmed in by apartments, the Villa loses much of its dramatic view. Inappropriate alterations and general neglect reduce the former “palace of the arts” to a mere oddity — a huge and abandoned relic of the past.
1948-1950 The Villa is purchased by Edward Campbell — who searches (unsuccessfully) for buried treasure in the basement. Campbell sells the house within four months for $16,000 to two investors, I. Hanson and W.C. McPhail. The Villa sits empty.
1950 Mr. Carl Yeager, a retired engineer, and Mrs. Yaeger, a former silent film actress, purchase the Villa.
1958-1968 Mr. Yaeger dies, leaving his aging wife to care for a sadly deteriorated home.
1968 Mrs. Yaeger sells the Villa to John and Juanita Finn for $12,000; however, the sale is contested by one of Mrs. Yaeger’s relatives.
1970 The Superior Court voids the sale and a fair market value of $26,000 is set. Members of San Diego History Center purchase the Villa and caretakers are appointed to live in the house.
1970 San Diego Historic Site Board designates the Villa as a city historical site.
1971 San Diego History Center turns the Villa over to the city of San Diego with the stipulation that it be operated by San Diego Historical Society and opened to the public as a museum.
1971 The Villa is recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1971-1972 Restoration of the Villa takes place and the doors open to the public in November, 1972.
1974 The first Designer Showcase, jointly sponsored by the San Diego Historical Society and the American Society of Interior Designers, is held to raise money to restore the Villa’s second floor gallery.
1976 The Villa receives a partial new foundation to arrest sagging floors.
1979 The original wallpaper patterns for the upstairs gallery are faithfully reproduced and installed.
1986 On March 18, an accidental fire seriously damages the Villa’s second floor and portions of the main floor. The museum closes to the public. Restoration begins in late June.
1987 June 28, the Villa celebrates its grand reopening following the 1986 fire and 100th anniversary of its construction. The historic house is rededicated to the people of San Diego.


LUCINDA EDDY has been Curator of the Villa Montezuma since May of 1985. It is primarily due to her efforts (following the disasterous fire of March 1986) in coordinating the many carpenters, painters, landscapers, volunteers and workers of all sorts that the house was restored in time for its centennial anniversary in 1987. Ms. Eddy received her M.A. degree in history from the University of San Diego where she completed a thesis on the early San Diego woman architect Lilian Rice.