THE GEORGE WHITE & ANNA GUNN MARSTON HOUSE

April 1, 1990

The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Summer 1990, Volume 36, Numbers 2 & 3

 

logoMarston

Introduction | Chronology | Arts & Crafts | The Marstons | Hebbard & Gill
Marston House
| Walking Tour | Marston Garden

The George White & Anna Gunn Marston House
3525 Seventh Avenue
William Hebbard & Irving Gill, architects
San Diego Historical Site #40
National Register of Historical Places
by Bruce Kamerling

Photographs from this article

By the turn of the century, George and Anna Marston and their five children had outgrown the two story Victorian style home they had built at Third and Ash Streets in 1885.1 In anticipation of building a new home, George Marston purchased ten acres of land on the east side of Seventh Street from Thomas T. Crittenden in April of 1903.2 Considering its present verdure Marston’s bleak description of the property demonstrates the foresight which marked all his works: “Neither Upas nor Seventh Street was graded and the grounds about the house were in a very rough condition. There were heaps of rubbish and ashes which had been dumped down the hill slope.”3

In 1904, Marston hired Hebbard & Gill to draw up plans for a new house in the English Cottage Style. First mention of the house appeared in a notice in the San Diego Union in June, which stated, “The plans for George W. Marston’s new home are complete but the contract will not be let before August.”4 A few days later, the same paper published an illustration of Gill’s presentation drawing for the house along with the following description:

“Work will be commenced early in August on a handsome new residence for George W. Marston, which is to be erected on his lately acquired property near Seventh and Upas street at the northwest corner of the city park. It will be of the low, rambling order, and in general style will be old English.

The house will be situated on the hill at the head of Park canyon, and will face to the south, overlooking the park. The front entrance will be towards Seventh street, but the broad elevation will be to the south. The first story will be of red brick. And the principal feature will be the broad, open terrace on the south, and the porches or loggia extending out from the house at either corner. The second story will overhang the first by eighteen inches, and will be of plaster and exposed timbers.

There will be sixteen rooms in the house, and in general they will conform to the old English idea of architecture, including large fire places, low ceilings and window and hearth seats.

The location is peculiarly sightly, embracing as it does a broad view of the park to the southeast and the mountains to the east. The grounds which include fourteen acres between Seventh and Tenth, and Upas and Brookes streets will be improved to conform in general to the park improvements to the south. The canyons to the east and north will be set to trees and shrubbery. There will be broad driveways from the entrance extending through the grounds. Much attention will be given to the laying out of the grounds, and a large sum expended in carrying out those details. It is needless to say that when completed Mr. Marston will have one of the most Beautiful homes and grounds in Southern California.”5

Although these accounts give the impression that plans for the house were complete by June, the earliest date on the surviving working drawings is September 21, 1904.6 Several draftsmen who later became independent architects worked on the Marston drawings, among them Harry Vaughn, Albert Walker and Emmor Brook Weaver. Vaughn worked as a draftsman for various architects in San Diego and later in Los Angeles before becoming a certified architect in 1922. Walker also moved to Los Angeles where he entered into a partnership with John Terrell Vawter and designed many residences, commercial structures and churches. Weaver remained in San Diego and produced a number of Craftsman style homes with finely detailed redwood interiors. It is noteworthy that in an office with so many fine draftsmen, Gill chose to draw all of the Marston house interiors himself.

On January 1, 1905, the San Diego Union mentioned that an $18,000 building permit had been issued “a few days ago” for the Marston house.7George Marston noted that construction started late in 1904 and continued in the winter, spring and summer of 1905. Edward Pefley was the builder.

According to Mary Marston, the reason it took so long to build was that Gill, who superintended the construction, was in the East for several months.8 Gill had designed a number of large homes for clients in Maine and Rhode Island, and traveled there to supervise construction. It seems likely that on one or more of his trips, Gill stopped in Chicago to visit old friends and former associates. Chicago at this time helped give birth to the new Prairie Style of architecture, which placed an emphasis on the horizontal line as expressed by the prairies of the Midwest. Gill returned to San Diego and made some changes in the Marston house plans. These changes could only be minimal since construction of the house had already commenced.

The most significant change made to the house design was elimination of the Tudor style half-timbering proposed for the second story. Removing this detail greatly reduced the English character of the design and gave the house a more modern look. Other noticeable changes included constructing the second story balconies on the east and west ends of the house in wood with wide vertical boards and narrow openings rather than of brick openwork like the upstairs terrace on the north. The use of wood gave the rails a simple but handsome appearance.

The Marstons moved into their new home the first week in October of 1905, although the house was not yet totally finished.9 Besides George and Anna Marston and their five children, Mrs. Marston’s mother and her nurse also occupied the house. The New Year’s Day issue of the San Diego Union illustrated the completed house and stated that the final cost had been $20,000.10

As an interesting sidelight into the San Diego real estate market at this time, Marston sold his former home and property at Third and Ash Streets to Mrs. Dora Lanier for $20,000 in January of 1907.11 Marston had originally purchased the Seventh Street property for $10,000 in 1903, and in March of 1906 sold one third of this property to his brother-in-law, Frederick Burnham, for that same amount.12 In other words, the entire Marston house project cost him nothing.13

Today the Marston house remains as one of the few large Hebbard & Gill residences in near original condition. It contains approximately 8,500 finished square feet on four floors. The brick foundation encloses a finished basement with laundry and furnace rooms. The original tank for the oil furnace is still in place. The first floor is brick over frame construction and contains the main living spaces of the house. The second floor is stuccoed hollow tile over frame and includes six bedrooms, four baths, and a sitting room. The attic floor has shingled dormers and consists of two small bedrooms for the maid and cook on the west end, a bathroom, a large central room, and a smaller room at the east end. An unfinished attic space above the north wing still retains a large drip pan, part of the original solar water heating system.14

Because of the placement of the house near the center of the site, the architects were able to design a structure without an obvious “front.” The entrance is at the west end under the porte-cochere, but the broadest elevation faces south. Upon entering the house, one notices a design element which became a signature Gill device. At the opposite end of the house from the entrance are glass doors leading out to the terrace. Not wanting visitors to enter into an area of darkness, Gill frequently placed glass doors or windows directly opposite the entrance.

Immediately to the right of the entry hall is the music room. The wainscot in each of the main floor rooms is slightly different. In the music room, the wainscot and pocket door panels have a broad and shallow bevel which creates a subtle faceted effect in the changing light. Another interesting feature of this room is the built-in music cabinet in the west wall. A brick projection on the front porch allows room for this cabinet and creates a small architectural deviation on the exterior.

Apr90pic136-008z  Adjacent to the music room is the living room, the largest on the main floor. Here the wainscot is a little lower than the music room and is made up of two wide horizontal boards locked in place by flush wooden “butterfly” keys. These keys prevented the development of unsightly cracks in the center of the panels as the wood aged. Originally the two south facing windows were only as large as the center section. These were enlarged within a few years of the house’s completion to let in more light. Gill modeled the fireplace after one at Wellesley College where the Marston daughters went to school. Set in the overmantle is a plaster cast of a relief by Donatello from a church in Prato near Florence, Italy.15 In the northeast corner of this room Gill placed a built-in magazine cabinet. Originally, there was a glass front cabinet above this, as well as another smaller one in the northwest corner of the room. These will be restored at some future date. The screen doors onto the terrace were designed by Emmor B. Weaver.
Apr90pic136-005z  The narrow entry hall expands into the stair hall with its built-in seat, and then narrows again before entering the dining room. These narrow areas allowed for the built-in cabinets in the living room. Gill’s use of a simple straight-stick railing and heavy square columns creates a handsome space indirectly lit by a wide band of windows on the second floor.

Next to the built-in seat, wooden cabinet doors conceal metal file cabinets. The plans show that originally this space had been reserved for a telephone station with a seat and shelf.

Unlike the rest of the house which features redwood, all of the woodwork in the dining room is quarter-sawn oak.16 Among the interesting features of this room are the built-in buffet, brick fireplace with wrought iron hood, and four sets of glass doors leading out to the terrace. The large plate glass window between the south facing doors is not original. William Templeton Johnson, an architect who had worked for the Marstons on several previous projects, designed this alteration in 1941.17 At that same time, all of the woodwork in this room received a coat of black paint in the then popular Chinese Modern style. The textured wall covering is called anaglypta, a type of embossed blank wallpaper which could be painted or glazed in a variety of effects.

Behind the dining room are the large “butler’s” pantry (the Marstons never had a butler), kitchen and screened food cooler. The butler’s pantry still contains the servant’s call box and speaking tube to the upstairs hall. The back hall includes three large closets and a small lavatory. In an attempt to keep bathrooms and closets cleaner, Gill raised the floors of these rooms four inches to prevent dust and dirt from traveling under doors. This step-up device became another Gill trademark. Beyond this hall is a small sewing room.
Apr90pic136-007z  A comfortable library is situated in the northwest corner of the house, across the entry hall from the music room. It features built-in bookshelves on all four walls and a brick fireplace on the east. Gill beveled the front edge of each of the bookshelves to give them a thinner appearance. The wallcoverings in this room are original. A coarse jute or burlap fabric was glued directly to the wall and then painted and glazed in place creating a rich effect.
Apr90pic136-006z  On the upstairs landing hang a pair of portraits of George and Anna Marston. The work of California artist Winifred Rieber (1872-1963), they may have been painted around the time of the Marstons’ fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1928. A generous hallway gives access to most of the rooms on the second floor. Two small curtained windows provide light and ventilation for closet spaces. Mary Marston designed the two electric wall sconces in this area.

The northwest bedroom has doors leading to the balcony over the portecochere and onto the north terrace. At some point, a portion of this terrace was roofed and screened to form a sleeping porch. Originally, this bedroom had been planned for Elizabeth, but she decided she preferred the east room in the attic. Her room then became a guest room. The southwest bedroom belonged to Mary.

The center room upstairs was the sitting room, and the only room with a fireplace on the second floor. Mrs. Marston’s mother occupied this room with her nurse, but died a year after they moved into the new home.18 Beyond this room, the master bath still contains the original sitz bath in one corner. A textured glass window in the door allows light to filter into the narrow passageway.

The master bedroom is the largest room on the second floor, with access out to a small balcony to the east. Adjacent to this room on the north is the bedroom planned for Arthur, the only son. He lived in the house four years before building his own home up the street in 1909.

The doorway connecting the master bedroom and Arthur’s room is not original. This may have been added to provide easier access to the only bathroom in the house furnished with a shower.

Continuing up the north wing were rooms for Harriet, and Helen, the youngest daughter. Also located here is one of the two remaining unchanged bathrooms still retaining its original magnesite encased bathtub and cooed floor tiles, evidence of Gill’s concerns about health and cleanliness. The north hallway provides access to the attic, downstairs back hall, and north terrace, and is also the site of the chute which carried soiled laundry to the basement.

The Marston house with its extensive grounds and outbuildings provides a rare glimpse into the lifestyle of one of San Diego’s most prominent families at a period of substantial change in domestic life. An example of the Arts & Crafts Movement’s reactions against cluttered Victorian architecture and lives, the house embodies the Craftsman ideals of simplicity, function and good design. Although Gill is perhaps best known for his later strippeddown architectural style, the Marston house contains many of his trademark devices seen here in their seminal forms. Only a very few of Hebbard & Gill’s finest residences are still standing in near original condition, and of these, the Marston house is by far the finest.
Apr90pic130-001z  After their marriage, George and Anna Marston rented several cottages before building this Victorian style home at Third & Ash streets in 1885.
Apr90pic130-002z  English-style half-timbering had been planned for the second story of the Marston house, as shown in this architect’s rendering in the San Diego Union on 12 June 1904.
Apr90pic132-001z  Taken soon after completion in 1905, this photograph shows the barrenness of the property before landscaping.
Apr90pic133-001z  By 1915, landscaping had produced a dramatic change to the grounds. Notice also that the south facing living room windows were enlarged.

 

Apr90pic134-001z  Brick stairs had been added from the terrace to the lawn by the time of this photograph, taken in 1927.

Apr90pic135-001z  Photograph of the living room taken in 1975.
Apr90pic138-001z  To date, no early photographs of the interior have been located. This 1975 view of the living room shows a single Craftsman style chair at the far left.
Apr90pic139-001z  A 1975 photograph of the library shows a Gustav Stickley desk and chair next to the window.
Apr90pic140-001z  Downstairs floor plan.
Apr90pic141-001z  Upstairs floor plan.
Apr90pic142-001z  Site plan of the Marston grounds.


NOTES

1. Anna Lee Marston, Records of a California Family (San Diego, 1928), 278.

2. From the Chain of Title filed with the city of San Diego Historical Site Report #40 (1970).

3. Quoted in Mary Gilman Marston, George White Marston: A Family Chronicle, 2 (Los Angeles, 1956), 222.

4. San Diego Union, 1 June 1904, 10:2.

5. Ibid., 12 June 1904, 7:2-6,

6. The original plans for the house are in the Architectural Records Collection at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A set of original blueprints is in the Architectural Collection of the San Diego Historical Society.

7. San Diego Union, 1 January 1905, 17:2.

8. Marston, Family Chronicle, 2:222.

9. Ibid.

10. San Diego Union, 1 January 1906, 17:1.

11. Ibid., 4 January 1907 16:3.

12. Oscar W. Cotton, The Good Old Days (New York, 1962), 209.

13. San Diego Union, 14 February 1907, 14:1-4. Mrs. Lanier hired Hebbard & Gill to design a hotel for the old Marston house site, having sold the house itself to Mrs. Jennie Clugston who had it moved to a lot at Second and B Streets. In her book Records of a California Family, Anna Lee Marston states that they purchased the Shakespeare tiles from the fireplace when their old house was “recently” (1928) torn down.

14. Solar heating had already been in use for several years in San Diego. In 1900, architect William Quayle designed a large home for Senator Leroy Wright, still standing on B Street between 24th & 25th, which had solar heating. See San Diego Union, 13 May 1900, 6:4-5.

15. A 1911 retail catalogue from the Boston firm of Caproni Casts (SDHC curatorial collection) shows that this same relief panel could be purchased for $10. The Russell Allen house in Bonita, designed by Irving Gill and Frank Mead in 1907, also used decorative plaster casts in the mantle design.

16. Quarter-sawn oak is produced by cutting a log into four wedge-shaped “quarters” and then diagonally slicing these into boards. This method results in a beautiful “tiger” grain effect.

17. Three sheets in pencil on tracing paper dated July 7, 1941, are on file with the Marston House collection, SDHC Research Archives. Anna Lee Marston died on October 7, 1940, and on October 18, George Marston deeded the house and property to his daughter Mary Marston (Deed 54770, copy in City of San Diego Historical Site Report #40, 1970). Mary Marston apparently redecorated much of the interior of the house the following year (removing wallpaper in the Library, the author found a pencil notation on the wall “papered by Ben McPherson August 7, 1941,” and this paper matched the paper in the upstairs hall).

18. Marston, California Family, 279.