by Bruce Kamerling
|Irving John Gill
|William Sterling Hebbard
When George and Anna Marston decided to build a new home for their growing family, they chose the most prominent architectural firm in San Diego to produce the plans. Architects William Sterling Hebbard and Irving John Gill formed a partnership in 1896.1 In the years that followed, they designed some of the finest buildings, both residential and non-residential, constructed in San Diego. Both were highly respected and influential men in their field and did much to advance the profession of architecture in the West.
One of the few architects to remain in San Diego during the economic panic of the early 1890s, Will Hebbard brought to the partnership sound academic training. Hebbard was born on April 16, 1863, in Milford, Michigan, where his family owned a woolen mill. Spending his youth in Michigan, Hebbard later attended the School of Architecture at Cornell University. Before being graduated in 1887, he studied architectural history and the many facets of building design and construction.2
After leaving Cornell, Hebbard became a draftsman for the prominent firm of Burnham & Root in Chicago, a city that was experiencing tremendous architectural creativity and innovation. The infamous Chicago fire of 1871 had cleared the slate and created the need for stricter building codes. These restrictions opened the door for the development of advanced construction methods and a new design vocabulary. Burnham & Root were in the forefront of this trend and their innovations must have left a mark on young Hebbard.
Moving west in 1888, Hebbard briefly worked as a draftsman for Curlett, Eisen and Cuthbertson in Los Angeles. Later that year, he received the commission to design a powerhouse for San Diego’s new cable railroad system.3 He relocated to San Diego, establishing himself as an independent architect. While Hebbard worked on the powerhouse plans, one of the owners of the Cable Railway Company, David D. Dare, commissioned him to design a large brownstone residence on upper Fifth Avenue, near Juniper Street.4 Completed in 1890, this impressive structure, with Syrian arches, Medieval crenellations and tower rooms, drew heavily on the work of Henry H. Richardson.
About this time, Hebbard apparently became an associate of James, Merritt and W. E. Reid. Among the most important architects in San Diego at the period, the Reid Brothers had been brought from Evansville, Indiana, to design Hotel del Coronado in 1886. About 1890, the Reid Brothers established offices in San Francisco and Hebbard became successor to their San Diego business, moving into their offices in the First National Bank Building.5
Hebbard inherited a number of unfinished Reid Brothers projects, including the Keating Block and the Fisher Opera House, both of which had two lower stories of Richardsonian stone work topped by three floors of pressed brick.6 Hebbard probably had a greater hand in designing another Reid project, the Episcopal Church in Coronado. Reminiscent of an English country church, the rough-hewn granite block walls and high-pitched roof complimented magnificent stained glass windows designed by Bruce Porter of San Francisco.7
Hebbard married Jessie Miller of San Diego on September 9, 1893. With a growing family to support, he kept busy on a number of important projects. Among numerous residences, a Neo-Georgian style summer home for Col. Jessie Root Grant (1894), son of General U. S. Grant, still stands at Sixth and Quince Streets. In 1896, he designed a Congregational Church in the English style which had a foundation of stone with pressed brick above and stained glass set in Gothic frames. Certainly Hebbard and Gill would have known of each other’s work, and by December of 1896, they had established a partnership with offices in the Grant Block. They remained at that location for the duration of their partnership.
What Hebbard brought to the partnership in the way of academic training, Gill matched with instinct and practicality. Gill was born the son of a farmer in Tully, New York, on April 26, 1870, but several members of Gill’s large family were involved in the building trades.8 At nineteen, he started studying architecture in the office of Ellis G. Hall of Syracuse, New York. In 1890, he traveled to Chicago where he worked with Joseph L. Silsbee, who helped introduce the Shingle Style to the Midwest. The following year, Gill moved to the office of Adler & Sullivan, which also employed Frank Lloyd Wright.9 Louis Sullivan called for the abandonment of European revival styles in favor of the development of an American style of architecture.
Chicago architecture had rapidly developed since Hebbard’s departure in 1888. The bold monumentality of the first section of Burnham & Root’s sixteen story Monadnock Building (1889), demonstrated that there could be handsome strength in simple lines. Louis Sullivan’s cubic Getty Tomb (1890) provided a conceptual prototype for Gill’s later “cubistic” constructions. While in Chicago, Gill worked on plans for some of the buildings for the Columbian Exposition.10 Details from two of the fair buildings, Sullivan’s Transportation Building and Atwood’s Fine Arts Palace, later showed up in several of Hebbard & Gill’s designs.
After two years of exhaustive work on the Chicago exposition, Gill’s deteriorating health forced him to relocate to San Diego before the fair opened on May 1, 1893. San Diego had a reputation for its health-giving climate, and Gill quickly recovered from his illness. Before long, he set up an office in the Pierce-Morse Block, one of the more impressive edifices constructed during San Diego’s boom of the late 1880s. An article about the building’s tenants in the August, 1893, issue of The Golden Era proved to be prophetic: “Mr. Gill intends nothing short of revolutionizing the country architecture of this fair ‘Italy’ of ours.11
Gill’s first building in San Diego, a residence for Daniel Schuyler still standing at the southwest corner of 25th and E streets, gives little hint of his future innovations.12 Gill designed a more unusual residence for John Kendall in El Cajon with its rambling East Indian bungalow style.13 In 1894, Gill entered a brief partnership with Joseph Falkenhan, a prominent architect of Queen Anne Style homes. They kept busy with an impressive number of projects including the Gerichten-Choate-Peterson Block, still standing at 832 Fifth Avenue. Falkenhan & Gill established their office in this building, which featured the largest plate glass windows in San Diego.14
After Falkenhan left San Diego, Gill worked on his own for two years. During this period, he designed several impressive buildings for some important clients. In 1895, his handsome residence for David K. Horton in National City featured a large and beautifully arranged reception room and a skylight in the kitchen.15 The G. George Garrettson house (1896), a Shingle Style structure with a gambrel roof, included the startling feature of a fireplace under the staircase in the entry hall. Gill hated to waste space.16 Perhaps his most unusual early project, the Granger Music Hall (1896), allowed Gill to demonstrate his abilities with acoustics and indirect lighting.17 Without academic training, Gill had developed into a remarkably talented architect, and a worthy partner for Will Hebbard.
The first major project to confront the new architectural firm in 1897 was the design of a large bathhouse for Graham Babcock, son of Hotel del Coronado builder Elisha Babcock.l8 Heated sea water created during the cooling of exhaust steam from the giant Corliss engine which ran the dynamo powering the streetcar system provided the incentive for building a bathhouse. Rather than return the heated water to the bay, Babcock decided to construct a salt water plunge next door to the power plant. Later named “Los Bafios,” the structure had a rather fanciful Hispano-Moresque facade with towers and cupolas and more than a few traces of Louis Sullivan.
A second major project resulted from a design competition for a $100,000 building to house the State Normal School. The Hebbard & Gill plans, drawn by Gill, were selected over seven other architectural firms from San Diego, Los Angeles, and Texas.19 Constructed in three phases over a period of several years (1898 – 1904), the State Normal School became one of the largest and most impressive structures in the area and brought a great deal of attention to the architects. Styled after the Fine Arts Palace from the Columbian Exposition, which Gill had been familiar with in Chicago, the Normal School’s smaller scale achieved a more purely classical feeling.20
The English Cottage style became prevalent in Hebbard & Gill’s residential work beginning with the Anson P. Stephens house constructed in Coronado (1898).21 A broadly sweeping roofline with half-timbered gables covered the attic and second floor. Diamond pane windows added another cottage touch.
More oriental in feeling, the Coronado home designed for Gen. Mendell C. Churchill and his niece Mary C. Pratt (1898), had a boxey rectangular shape with massive granite block foundation and entry.22 Square shingle sheathing emphasized the building’s horizontal linearity, broken only by projecting windows and a slightly bowed out balcony over the entry. A multi-hipped roof with low pitch and broad eaves enhanced the oriental flavor. The architects positioned the house so that every room received daylight for part of each day. From Japan, the owners shipped cherry wood for the interior as well as many of the furnishings.
As the stature of their firm grew, Hebbard & Gill designed numerous residences, churches and business blocks. Purchasing some property in Hillcrest, Gill began to build small cottages to test his new ideas about construction and design. Gill also attended many social functions at Hotel del Coronado where he met wealthy easterners wintering in San Diego. Several of these contacts resulted in important commissions in Maine and Rhode Island. Between 1902 and 1905, Gill made several trips to the East where he supervised construction of projects for Sarah Birkhead, Ellen Mason, Louis McCagg, and John Olmsted, among others.23 One of his most unusual and innovative buildings, a flower shop for Frederick H. Moses (1904), featured an unframed butted plate glass window over ten feet wide.24
Hebbard helped stabilize the ruins of the San Diego Mission for the Landmarks Club in 1900, and in 1901 Governor Gage appointed him to the original State Architectural Board.25 While Gill worked in the East, Hebbard kept busy with other large projects such as a residence for Bartlett Richards in Coronado (1901-02), the El Cajon Presbyterian Church (1902), and the Fifth Ward School (1902).
Several of Hebbard & Gill’s large residences in 1904, such as those for Julius Wangenheim, Bertha Mitchell, and George Marston, were still in the English Cottage Style, but in 1905 their work made a dramatic change. It seems likely that on one or more of his trips east, Gill stopped in Chicago where he would have been exposed to the newly emerging Prairie Style with its emphasis on a low profile and straight lines. Returning to San Diego, Gill made some minor changes to modernize the design of the Marston house, but these changes were minimal since construction had already started. The firm’s next projects, however, particularly those on Seventh Avenue, all show strong Prairie influences, and may be the first Prairie Style buildings in Southern California.26
By 1907, Hebbard & Gill’s partnership had nearly run its course. Frank Mead joined the firm in 1906, fresh from his studies of vernacular architecture in North Africa, and perhaps his stories intrigued Gill who remembered Sullivan’s advice: “look toward the silent walls of Africa.”27 The end of the partnership may have been hastened by a scandal involving the Dr. H. Nevill Goff residence. In April of 1907, Sewer Inspector Joseph S. Brachman accused Gill of instructing a workman to break into the public sewer line in order to drain off standing water under the house, thereby causing debris and sand to clog the line. Denying the charges, Gill accepted full responsibility for any damage done by his workman. An extensive and accusatory article in the San Diego Union, must have been very damaging to the firm’s reputation.28 By May 3, Gill began identifying himself as a partner of Frank Mead, although the dissolution of the Hebbard & Gill partnership was not officially announced until June 16.29
After his partnership with Gill ended, Hebbard maintained an independent practice in San Diego until World War I. He continued to use a wide variety of stylistic elements in his work including English Cottage, Tudor, Craftsman, Mission, and Classical. Gill’s new direction toward simplicity had an undeniable influence on some of Hebbard’s later work, such as the Charles Fox house (1908), long mistakenly attributed to Gill. Hebbard, however, never seemed to agree with Gill’s belief that ornament had no function or importance. The Unitarian Church in the Spanish Renaissance style (1910), the Neo-Classical Union Title Insurance and Trust Company (1910), and the romantic English Baker-Fitch residence in Coronado (1915), demonstrate that Hebbard was an undeniable master in these styles.
Highly respected by his peers, Hebbard played an active role in many professional organizations including the California State Board of Architecture, the Board of Architectural Examiners, and the San Diego Architectural Association which he served as first president. During the First World War he acted as a design consultant for military shipbuilding. After military service, Hebbard moved to Los Angeles where he continued to practice architecture. He died in Coronado on August 24, 1930, while visiting his daughter.30
Although the Gill & Mead partnership only lasted a few short months in 1907, it produced three remarkable houses and signaled the turning point in Gill’s career. The smooth stucco walls and clean-punched openings of the Melville Klauber house paved the way for Gill’s later stripped down style. A spectacularly sited beach house for Wheeler Bailey in La Jolla featured a two story living room and furniture designed by the architects. The largely unsung Russell Allen house in Bonita can rightly be called a major landmark of 20th century American architecture. A flat-roofed box with punched-in porches and windows, and cylinder columns without capital or base, it became Gill’s first essay in totally stripped-down architecture. Austrian architect Adolf Loos is usually credited with designing the first intentionally anti-ornament house, but Loos’ Steiner house in Vienna post dates Gill & Mead’s Allen house by three years.31
By December of 1907, Gill’s partnership with Mead came to an end.32 Mead’s studies of vernacular North African architecture, however, had a lasting effect on Gill’s later work. Gill combined this influence with ideas he received from the indigenous adobe architecture of Southern California and formulated a simple, original style based on the straight line, the arch, and the cube. He later wrote, “if we, the architects of the West, wish to do great and lasting work we must dare to be simple, must have the courage to fling aside every device that distracts the eye from structural beauty, must break through convention and get down to fundamental truths.”33
On his own, Gill received several major commissions including the original Biological Station of Scripps Institution of Oceanography (1908-09), the Children’s Home Association (1908-09), and The Bishop’s School in La Jolla (1910). In 1911, he was named Associate Architect for the Panama California Exposition and is believed to have designed the Administration Building in Balboa Park.34 Gill left the exposition project in 1912 to design a series of structures for the model industrial town of Torrance. These included workers’ housing, hotels, office and commercial buildings, manufacturing plants, a school, and a railroad station.35
Gill decided to keep an office in Los Angeles as well as one in San Diego, managed by his nephew Louis Gill who later became his partner (1914-19). These years saw Gill produce several of his masterpieces including the La Jolla Woman’s Club (1912-14), the Walter Dodge house (1914-16), and the Ellen Scripps house (1915-16). In an extensive article for the May 1916, issue of The Craftsman, Gill expressed his thoughts about architecture: “Any deviation from simplicity results in a loss of dignity.” Unfortunately, he was already reaching the end of his popularity. After World War I, a newly affluent society had no time for Gill’s austere simplicity. San Diego’s exposition had introduced the more elaborate Spanish Colonial styles of architecture which, along with the more modern Art Deco style, became the trademarks of Southern California architecture in the 1920s.
Gill continued to find what jobs he could, primarily in the Los Angeles area. In the late 1920s, he returned to San Diego County and worked on three important commissions, the Christian Science Church in Coronado (1928), the Oceanside Civic Center (1929-34), and the Rancho Barona Indian Resettlement in Lakeside (1932). He died in Carlsbad on October 7, 1936, with several projects on his drawing board.
Gill continues to fascinate for a number of reasons. A humanist, he designed housing for low income families, migrant workers, and even the unemployed, providing each with dignity and livable spaces. He also contributed drawings for an African Methodist-Episcopal Church and was one of the first to hire a female draftsperson in his office. His experiments in construction, such as super-thin walls, slab doors and woodwork flush with the plaster, were first employed in houses he built on his own property and then lived in himself to test their feasibility. His pioneering use of concrete and tilt-slab construction demonstrates his desire for maximum function and efficiency. He believed it was better to build a simple building well, and then leave the ornamentation to nature whose tree shadows, flowers, and trailing vines would soften the edges and create colors and patterns.
In 1934, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Jr., one of America’s most respected architectural historians wrote: “Except for Irving Gill in California, who created out of a radical simplification of Spanish Colonial design a modern treatment of poured concrete construction for houses, (Frank Lloyd) Wright has been the only modern architect of consequence of the first quarter of the century in America.36
The author would like to acknowledge with appreciation the following people who have greatly assisted him in gathering data on Irving Gill over the past decade: Susan Carrico, Helen Ferris, Kathy Flanigan, David Gebhard, Esther McCoy, Betty Quayle, Pat Schaelchlin, and Karna Webster.
Hebbard & Gill’s Los Banos bathhouse (1897) on D Street (Broadway) in downtown San Diego, borrowed some of its details such as the entrance archway and terrace pavilions from Louis Sullivan’s Transportation Building for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
One of Gill’s most daring early projects, the Moses Flower Shop in Bar Harbor, Maine (1904), featured the astonishing use of an enormous plate glass window with unframed beveled seams (photo courtesy Bar Harbor Historical Society).
Started during the Hebbard & Gill partnership, Hebbard completed the hotel for Mrs. Dora Lanier after the partnership ended. The site at Third and Ash Streets had formerly been occupied by the old Marston home.
Gill made plans for a large Civic Center with central garden for the City of Oceanside beginning in 1929. Due to financial problems during the Depression years, only two of the buildings were ever constructed.
Gill designed these comfortable barracks for the migrant workers of the Riverside Portland Cement Company in Crestmore (1913). Drawing by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. Unfortunately, many of the comforts were eliminated when the company actually constructed the facility.
1. Southwest Builder & Contractor, 16 December 1896, 1.
2. For a complete biographical study of Hebbard see Kathleen Flanigan, “William Sterling Hebbard: Consumate San Diego Architect” Journal of San Diego History, 33 (Winter 1987), and her University of San Diego masters thesis of the same title. Much of the information on Hebbard in this article comes from these sources. Hebbard’s death certificate (San Diego County Recorder) lists his birthdate as April 15, 1893.
3. San Diego Union, 23 February 1913, 6:2-4. The article mentions a store building for Mrs. Clara M. Crowell to be built on the site of the former powerhouse and states that this was Hebbard’s first job in San Diego and the reason he came to the city.
4. The Golden Era, November/ December 1890, 551; also San Diego Union 12 June 1890, 8:1; 11 July 1890, 8:1; 28 August 1890, 8:1.
5. San Diego Union 1 January 1892, 12:1. This article mentions that in “March last” Hebbard had succeeded to the business of Reid Bros.
7. Ibid., 5 November 1894, 5:4. James Reid prepared the original drawings for this building in 1890, but construction did not begin until 1894.
8. Letter from Rev. John Gill, Irving Gill’s grandnephew, to Jan Irene dated Nov. 15, 1976 (copy in author’s files). Gill’s death certificate (San Diego County Recorder) lists his birthdate as April 27, 1870. For additional information on Gill see Helen M. Ferris, “Irving John Gill: San Diego Architect, 1870-1936, The Formation of an American Style of Architecture” Journal of San Diego History, 17 (Fall, 1971); Bruce Kamerling, “Irving Gill: The Artist as Architect” Journal of San Diego History, 25 (Spring, 1979); Esther McCoy, Five California Architects (New York 1975).
9. Gill’s work with Hall, Silsbee and Adler & Sullivan is recorded in the Press Reference Library, Western Edition, International News Service (New York, 1913), pg. 571.
10. The Architect and Engineer, November 1936, 65.
11. The Golden Era, August 1893, 24.
12. San Diego Union, 21 April 1893, 5:1.
13. Ibid., 6 August 1893, 5:3.
14. Ibid., 3 September 1894, 2:1.
15. Southwest Builder and Contractor, 21 August 1895, 1.
16. San Diego Union, 12 July 1896, 5:4. The Charles Douglas house (1905) also had a fireplace under the stairs.
17. San Diego Union, 21 August 1896, 5:2.
18. The initial announcement of this project listed Zimmer & Reamer as the architects. Hebbard & Gill are first mentioned in the San Diego Union, 9 May 1897, 2:1-2.
19. San Diego Union, 21 January 1898, 5:3.
20. The Architect and Engineer, November 1936, 65.
21. The original plans are on file with the Irving Gill material in the Architectural Records Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This house was greatly enlarged by Frank Mead and Richard Requa in 1917, and again by Louis Gill in 1922. Little remains visible of the original Hebbard & Gill structure.
22. San Diego Union, 14 September 1898, 3:1. This building was moved to the corner of Fourth and Orange in Coronado, and is now considerably remodeled.
23. Gill’s trips to the East Coast are mentioned in San Diego Union, 10 May 1902, 8:2 (Mason house); 17 March 1903, 8:1 (McCagg house); also Mary Gilman Marston, George White Marston: A Family Chronicle 2 (Los Angeles, 1956) 222, mentions that work on the Marston house was slow because Gill was on the East Coast for “several months.”
24. Bar Harbor Record, 4 May 1904, 5:2.
25. For Hebbard’s work on the mission see Marston, Family Chronicle 2:70. For Hebbard’s position on the State Architectural Board see San Diego Union, 20 June 1901, 5:4.
26. The most important change to the Marston House was removal of the half-timbering intended for the second floor. For additional information on Gill’s Prairie Style work see the article “Self-Guided Walking Tour of Seventh Avenue” in this issue.
27. Esther McCoy verbally repeated this quote of Sullivan’s which she had heard from Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright.
28. San Diego Union, 26 April 1907, 5:1-2.
29. Gill & Mead are first listed as partners on the earliest drawings for the Melville Klauber house dated May 3, 1907, and recorded as Operation #1 of their firm. See the Architectural Records Collection, University of California, Santa Barbara. Dissolution of the Hebbard & Gill partnership is recorded in the San Diego Union, 16 June 1907,5:3. Hebbard & Gill divided up their unfinished projects, Gill completing the I. Isaac Irwin house (San Diego Union, 24 December 1908, 5:2), and Hebbard completing the Lanier Hotel (San Diego Union, 1 January 1908, 36:7). It seems likely that Hebbard & Gill also divided up the file drawings for their previous work according to which partner had a greater involvement with each project. The Gill Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara includes plans for only a portion of the buildings now known to have been designed by Hebbard & Gill. Hebbard’s office files, which have never been located, may have contained some of the missing drawings, and others probably did not survive.
30. Hebbard was listed in the San Diego City Directory as President of the San Diego Architectural Association from 1910 to 1913, Gill was listed as Secretary during those same years. The Architect and Engineer, October 1930, 111.
31. There has been much debate as to whether Gill may have been influenced by Loos, an architect of the Austrian Secessionist Movement. This seems unlikely. Loos’s essay Ornament and Crime (Vienna, 1908), was published a year after the Allen house, and well after other Gill experiments in minimalist design. Several early articles refer to Gill as a “secessionist” including Walter Willard, “Moving the Factory Back to the Land,” Sunset, March 1913, 299-304; and “Architect in Secession,” Technical World Magazine, April 1914, 231-232. It is also interesting to note that Gill’s obituary in The Architect and Engineer, (November 1936) states, “At the time of his death authorities from Vienna were in this country collecting material with the idea of publishing a monograph of his work.”
32. The last mention of Gill & Mead together is in the San Diego Union, 22 November 1907, 9:3, making alterations to the Children’s Home. On plans for alterations to the Virginia Scripps house dated 24 December 1907, Gill is listed alone.
33. Irving Gill, “The Home of the Future: The New Architecture of the West: Small Homes for a Great Country,” The Craftsman, May 1916, 141-42.
34. Gill’s involvement with the exposition has not received proper study. He is listed as Associate architect on the plans for the Administration Building. The last drawing that carries Gill’s name is dated 15 January 1912. The drawings for the Cabrillo Bridge are dated June through October 1912, and show that Gill’s name had been obliterated. By January of 1913, a new architects’ stamp had been made eliminating Gill’s name completely. These drawings are deposited in the California Room of the San Diego Public Library.
35. Willard, “Moving the Factory Back to the Land.”
36. Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Jr., “Wright and the International Style” in Art in America in Modern Times, eds. Holger Cahill and Alfred H. Barr, Jr_ (New York, 1934), 71.