In the building boom year of 1911-12, the few architects of competency in San Diego were engaged in designing major commercial projects and large-scale residences. With their attention temporarily distracted, a design vacuum in the new suburbs was filled by building companies and independent contractors. One of these independent contractors, a builder of Craftsman style houses, is the subject of this essay.
David Owen Dryden, builder and craftsman of more than fifty bungalows in the new suburbs north of Balboa Park, helped to create neighborhoods of middle-class, Craftsman style structures in San Diego between 1911 and 1919. Most of those structures are extant making their neighborhoods significant examples of suburban communities in the era of the first World War. As such they typify the American Arts and Crafts movement.
Although the Craftsman style in domestic architecture and interiors was often delineated by famous architects, it was disseminated through the hands-on work of the largely undocumented carpenter/builder who creatively interpreted the style in many variations at several socio-economic levels. Architectural features pertaining to structure, ornamentation, and functional planning, commonly found in houses of the Craftsman style, are all to be seen in the collective body of David Dryden’s houses in San Diego.
The Craftsman house expresses the close relationship between the earth and the shelter by the use of natural materials as well as through the use of a low-pitched roof with deep overhang. The frame is exposed as much as possible with the heavy wooden beams and smaller rafters in full view, extending beyond the eave, while the body of the house is sheathed in redwood shingles or stream-washed boulders.
The emphasis upon structural form relates to the Arts and Crafts ideal of honesty and straightforward use of materials in revealed structure. This “honesty” occasionally becomes extroverted and self-conscious resulting in details that are more expressive than functional. That effect exists in the pagoda-like treatment of the wooden trusses on the Dryden house at 3553 28th Street where additional oriental upturned roof structure and heavily bracketed veranda columns add much to the exotic picturesque qualities of the house but little to the integrity of its construction.
The picturesque effect is always present in the houses of Dryden’s mature phase. He had a knack for choosing sites that would best display his structures, corner lots for instance or lots facing the dead end of a short street. Like the ancient Greeks, Dryden was aware that the most dynamic visual effect of structures was created by angular views where two sides of a building are seen in a contrapuntal relationship. Asymmetrical balance is also a constant feature in the plans and exteriors of his houses as is fine proportion of parts and surface details.
Dryden created a dynamic effect in his houses by massing related but contrasted elements. Plans might be simple squares or rectangles but the resulting structure was often a complex mixing of protruding oriel windows or fireplace inglenooks. Solids were contrasted with the transparencies of verandas, pergolas, and porte-cocheres. All of these enrichments were further enhanced by clusters of broad-angled rooflines with vented gables facing opposing directions. A single building often took on the visual character of a cluster of small cottages.
The interiors of most of the Dryden houses had extensive wood paneling and architectural molding. Many of these were in gumwood, an excellent extant example being the lower floor of the house at 3553 28th Street. On the other hand, some interiors were finished in fine quarter-cut oak. A well preserved example of this type exists in the house at 3446 28th Street. Typical of other Dryden houses, these two had built-in buffets with leaded glass china cabinets in the dining room and a continuous plate rail on all other walls. In most of the Dryden structures, casement windows predominated. These were mounted in series for a continuous effect of line giving great quantities of natural light to all interior rooms. Major rooms were joined by wide-set, double sliding doors with multiple panes of glass, further enhancing the flow of natural light and interior space between these rooms.
David Dryden’s architectural style reveals a foundation in the rustic naturalness of vernacular, Pacific coast architecture with its sensitive use of materials and revealed structure. Apparent in his San Diego houses is the reflection of Dryden’s youthful experience with the natural environment and the early building industry of the Pacific coast.1 There is no evidence that David had academic training in the building arts; however, his older brother was a craftsman/builder and his uncle operated a sawmill a few miles from David’s childhood home in Oregon. It is likely that he learned his craft as an apprentice with one or both of these close relatives.
In the mid-1890’s, David, along with his oldest sister and brother-in-law, Myra and Len Wilson, moved from Oregon to the San Gabriel Valley of Los Angeles County. David and Len are listed on the 1898 rolls of the Monrovia Rifles, the home guard which organized immediately after the outbreak of war between the United States and Spain. 2 In Los Angeles, David worked at odd jobs, including that of a tram conductor on the Boyle Heights line, before becoming a carpenter in the thriving home building industry in the community of Monrovia.
There, David met Isabel Rockwood, the eldest sibling of the locally well-known William Judson Rockwood family of artists and craftsmen. 3 David and Isabel were married on May 10, 1902.
After their marriage, the two worked together on his building projects. Isabel often planned colors and surface details as well as the practical interior arrangements of David’s houses “in order to make them liveable” as one descendent put it. The Drydens used the houses as live-in models and when they were sold, the couple moved on from one “model” to the next. Isabel later told a family member that one year they had moved eight times. 4
Although 1907 was a year of financial panic for the nation as a whole, for Monrovia and Southern California it was another boom year. In that year, the Drydens purchased three lots for construction sites. David was also busily engaged in work on other properties, as was often reported in the local newspaper. 5
By 1911, building activity in Monrovia was slowing to a disappointing pace. In contrast to the locally slack building industry, San Diego construction for the Panama-California International Exposition, as reported by the Monrovia newspaper, had created “the greatest building boom ever seen in a city of its size . . .” 6 On December 16, 1911, it was reported that David Dryden had sold his home and would locate in San Diego. 7
During the first decade of the century, Dryden’s career expanded beyond that of a carpenter as his style matured from its early dependency upon redundant, standard and conventional ideas to a more confident development of individual solutions rendered in the contemporary Craftsman style of the San Gabriel Valley.
On the 23rd of December, 1911, Isabel Dryden was deeded a building lot in block #1 of O’Neall Terrace by the San Diego Title Insurance Guaranty Trust Company. 8 On the 20th of March, 1912, Dryden’s first bungalow at 3120 Granada Street was sold to Leroy W. Anthony president of the San Diego Supply Company (engineering). In all, the number of known houses built by Dryden in 1912, his first full year in San Diego, is eight. Six of those houses are extant. All of them were one-story shingled bungalows. The house at 3039 Palm Street and its near twin at 3049 Palm Street were built on commission in March and April of 1912 for Casper Kundert in Gurwell Heights. 9 The two were full-blown Craftsman style bungalows suggesting that Dryden had mastered the iconography of that style prior to his arrival in San Diego.
The major project of the first quarter of 1913 was the house at 3548 Granada Street which Dryden built for himself. 10 The house was a classic example of Dryden’s one-story, shingle-sided Craftsman bungalow. The low sloping roof projected out over a faceted, oriel window on the Capps Street side. The cost of the house was estimated at $2500. The Granada Street house became a new home for his family and a model of his work for prospective clients and lenders. The Drydens lived in the house for approximately fifteen months while David was building bungalows in the local West End tract.
On the 29th of July, 1913, Dryden was granted his first of six building permits for houses in the Valle Vista addition. 11 The last of the six was completed in July, 1914. Deed transfers indicate that Dryden built two of these houses on speculation for George M. Hawley’s Guarantee Mortgage Company. Land ownership records also indicate that the other four were built on speculation for the Southwestern Investment Company, the firm in which Hawley shared a partnership with D. C. Collier.
The largest and most luxurious of the Valle Vista houses appears to have been Dryden’s first two-story structure in San Diego. The house was a shingle-sided, Craftsman style villa on the eastern edge of the terrace overlooking a wide canyon to the rear of the lot at 4780 East Panorama Drive. It was completed on the 11th of July. On the 3rd of August, the house was purchased by Helen Crenshaw (widow), a Vice President of the San Diego Title Guaranty Company, one of Dryden’s early lenders. 12
The second half of 1914 saw the pace of Dryden’s building and the scale of his projects steadily increasing. During that period, the focus of his attention shifted from the canyon terraces of Valle Vista to the Loma Portal community of the Manassee & Schiller addition. During the autumn and winter 1914-15, he built four houses in that community. 13 These houses, larger and more luxurious than Dryden’s earlier houses, included two that were built in variations on the Craftsman style of his Valle Vista houses, and two experiments in form.
One of those experiments, the house at 3036 Goldsmith, was an innovation in Dryden’s designs–an austere version of the Mission Revival style currently seen locally in the work of Irving Gill, Richard Requa, and others. The house was one of Dryden’s infrequent trials at flat roof design supported on lath and plaster walls with severe Roman arched veranda. It was completed on the 30th of October 1914, and sold on the 2nd of December to Ella R. Hotchkiss for $6,250. 14
In the summer of 1915, David built a seven-room, story-and- half beach house for George Hawley. 15 It is a matter of conjecture how David won the attention of one of San Diego’s most important land developers and civic leaders. Beyond the obvious connections through Hawley’s various mortgage and land development firms as cited above, it should also be noted that Hawley lived on Panorama Drive in the house built for him by Irving Gill in 1907. That house was within sight of several houses which Dryden built on Panorama Drive in 1913-14.
The 1915 shingled house was built for Hawley on the corner of Ocean Front Walk and Ventura Place in Mission Beach. The site was in the heart of the center which, by 1925, included the Giant Dipper and the Plunge. The Mission Beach Ballroom was built in 1926 directly across Ventura Place from the Hawley house. By 1950, the house had been absorbed by cafes and tourist shops.
Dryden’s first 28th Street house was built on property owned by George H. and Anna Carr at 3553 on the corner of Capps Street. 16 George Carr was the Secretary of the Independent Sash and Door Company, a manufacturer and supplier of fine doors, sashes, mill work, and art glass. Dryden must have been one of the company’s regular customers for among his surviving possessions is a fine leather wallet with his name and that of the company stamped in gold leaf on the inside cover. Since most of his houses from the period contain similar oak and beveled glass doors as well as leaded and art glass interior cabinetry, it is probable that the source for them was George Carr’s company.
The house was completed on June 22, 1915 and sold to Mr. Carr for $6,550. 17 The Carr house is Dryden’s most extroverted attempt at an oriental mode. It is a style which one sees more often in Pasadena houses of the period than in those of San Diego. The extruded elements offer an unusual, dramatic profile to the corner site of the structure.
What followed Dryden’s completion of the Carr house in the summer of 1915 was his most intense period of construction chiefly in the Park Villas and West End additions. The greatest concentration of that construction occurred along Oregon Avenue (Pershing) and Idaho Street (28th) north of Balboa Park. In December of 1915, Dryden completed a bungalow for his own family at 3536 28th Street. 18 With that as a center, he was able to supervise the heady activity of his construction which whirled about him in the following three years. At the end of that period, he could look out of the windows of his 28th Street house and in all directions see the results of his labor. During that three years he completed more than thirty houses in the vicinity of North Park, as well as numerous ones in South Park and Mission Hills.
December, 1915 also marks the beginning of the business relationship between Dryden and John N. Haskell, Sr., one which contributed to the significant changes in Dryden’s fortunes by the end of the decade. From 1916 to 1919, John Haskell, a principal in the real estate investment firm of Mead-Haskell, became almost exclusively the financial supporter for Dryden’s building projects.
By the time Dryden had completed his first house on 28th Street, he must have recognized the attractive development potential offered by the high ridge of land overlooking Balboa Park. That ridge (presently Pershing Avenue and 28th Street) in 1915, before development of the residential areas to the west, looked down across the Florida Canyon terrace to the grand community of buildings housing the Panama-California Exposition and the recently landscaped park surrounding the theme buildings and avenues. The Exposition drew attention to the highly desirable suburban building sites north of Balboa Park.
In 1916, David Dryden had seven major houses under construction in Park Villas and three in Mission Hills. The first of these, begun on the 7th of January, was a two-story house at 3446 28th Street in the classic redwood board and shingle tradition of the Craftsman style. 19 Dryden’s schedule of building allowed, on the average, six weeks for construction from framing and sheathing the skeleton to finishing the interior. In this case, the construction time between building permit and notice of completion was two months. The delay occurred as a result of Hatfield’s flood. 20 One week after the building permit was issued for the house at 3446 28th Street, continuous rains and high winds began to buffet San Diego. During the subsequent two weeks of catastrophic deluges, dam failure, and floods, very little building took place.
When the house was finally completed in early March, it was quickly purchased by a retired Chicago manufacturer and proprietor of a paint and varnish company, John Carman Thurston, who ironically had recently moved to San Diego for its more benign climate. 21 He moved into the house in the spring of the year with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law.
The 100′ by 120′ plot of ground gave John Thurston space to develop a small arcadian estate which included citrus and fruit orchards, a rose garden, and treillage of climbing flowering vines. The house with its shady brick enclosed veranda and sunny, latticed pergola framing a view of young citrus trees, apricot orchard, bougainvillea, and pampas grass must have seemed the ideal suburban villa to the aging Chicago industrialist and his family.
Dryden’s clientele steadily increased during 1916-17. His work flourished along 28th Street and Oregon Avenue where he became strongly represented as a builder of Craftsman style houses and bungalows for the affluent new middle class professionals and retired industrialists eager to live in a genteel, semi-rural villa surrounded by orchards, gardens, and lawns a short tram ride away from the mercantile and commercial establishments of the urban center.
With the entrance of the United States into World War One in 1917, real estate and building businesses took a nosedive. Recovery would not begin until early 1919. Shortages of manpower, government control of materials, and economic inflation made house construction a difficult venture. In that period, Dryden found it hard to gain enough commissions to ensure payments against the many high interest loans to which he was committed. One of Dryden’s most significant projects of the war year of 1918 was the house which he built for May L. Wise, widow of William Wise, Jr, a former officer of the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce. Mrs. Wise commissioned David Dryden to design and build a house for her on a lot at 4315 Avalon Drive in Mission Hills. The house, constructed of lath and plaster and hollow tile, was an unusual design for Dryden, echoing an austere Mission Revival style. The Wise house was a watershed in the work of David Dryden. It was his first successful venture into the Mediterranean styles upon which much of his future work would focus. It was also his last great two-story house and his final building project prior to a three-year hiatus in his career.
The structure was begun in April, 1918 under a permit which called for a $9000 frame and tile residence with garage. 22 The plan of the house illustrates David’s mature approach to orienting interior arrangements to the particular advantages offered by the site. In this case, the lot falls steeply away from the street in a northeasterly direction. As the view of Mission Valley is toward the rear of the lot, Dryden planned the house in an unconventional manner with the living room and dining room at the rear in order to exploit the best advantages of the site.
May Wise filed the notice of completion on the house on the 23rd of August, 1918. 23 On the 21st of September, a mechanics lien on the house was filed by Russ Lumber and Mill Company due to Dryden’s non-payment of bills. 24 On the sixth of December, 1918, Russ Lumber complained that no response had been given to the lien and asked for foreclosure on the property. The complaint was the first of several court suits in 1918-19 which involved Dryden and John Haskell with creditors and workmen whose bills went unpaid after the summer of 1918. 25 The claim by Russ Lumber asked that the property be sold and that the Drydens receive nothing of the proceeds.
As David’s financial and legal problems began to mount, he sold his home on 28th Street and, in November, the Dryden family moved to Long Beach. Isabel and the children continued to live in Long Beach while David returned to southern Oregon to attempt to recover financially, physically, and spiritually from the disasters that had slowly and relentlessly overtaken him in the previous two years.
The question of why David’s productive and successful professional life came to such a painful, catastrophic breach in the winter of 1918-19 can probably in part be explained by his naive and imprudent business practices coupled with his obsessive quest for quality in his craft. The business methods which Dryden followed for the years between 1911 and 1918 worked well in the beginning. His method was to purchase the lot, mortgage it for enough to pay building expenses, sell the property upon completion and use part of the profit to purchase one or more additional lots for the next construction. That method allowed him a maximum of control over design and construction details. Dryden’s meticulous attention to construction details and his control of quality in the finished product are traits which his relatives still most clearly recall. The memories his grandchildren have of David suggest a person of kind and gentle nature, and his personal letters to Isabel indicate a man of tender demeanor. However, family stories about him reveal a mercurial personality, one which drove him to occasional excesses including throwing money away, literally, over the cliffs into the ocean below. In record keeping, he was known to be careless as he preferred to pay for labor and materials out of his pocket with little formal accounting of costs and profits. 26
If lack of prudence was one factor in Dryden’s personal and professional catastrophe of 1918-19, other likely causes were to be found in his business association with the Mead-Haskell firm. After December 1915, John Haskell’s liberal financing of Dryden’s projects contributed to a deepening debt and repayment cycle. The questionable character of the mortgage financing was due to a lack of ethical business practices on the part of Haskell. That lack of ethics grew into illegal activities in years to come and led to John Haskell’s felony conviction and sentencing to imprisonment in San Quentin. 27 Inflated mortgage appraisals by Haskell of Dryden’s properties allowed excessive borrowing which often necessitated his extending repayment of the loans, at elevated interest rates, years beyond the date they were due. The combination of Haskell’s unethical professional practices and Dryden’s lack of prudent business management led to an eventual breakdown in his professional and personal affairs.
During 1916 and 1917, in a desperate attempt to pay current bills, Dryden began to take out second mortgages at high interest rates. By 1918, in an effort to delay final bills on materials and labor, Dryden succumbed to the expedient practice of failing to file required completion notices. The result was a series of liens and litigations in the winter of 1918-19 and financial ruin for the Drydens.
In the autumn of 1919, David moved north along the central Oregon coast to the Umpqua River where he worked with some success as a carpenter building houses and barns for $5.50 a day. By the winter of 1920-21, with new resolve and somewhat financially recovered, David and Isabel returned to San Diego where, in March, 1921, they began anew to acquire land for construction.
David’s style changed after his return to San Diego in the 1920’s. The Craftsman style of the first two decades of the century lost its appeal in the post-war years. With the continuous thread of cultural traditions broken by war, urbanization and industrialization, popular tastes turned more to the superficial security of historical eclecticism in architectural design.
Dryden’s architectural form gradually shifted from the frame bungalow to the more modish stucco and tile “hacienda.” The style, initiated by the seductive charms of the Spanish Revival lath and plaster palaces of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and reinforced by Hollywood films, spread across the new suburbs of the 1920’s not only in San Diego but throughout California.
In the summer of 1925, the Drydens moved to the San Francisco Bay area where David continued his lucrative work as a builder of romantic, Latinized bungalows in the new suburbs of San Leandro, Richmond, and Oakland. That phase of his successful career was cut short by the economic disasters of the early 1930’s.
In the summer of 1946, while visiting relatives in the coastal communities of the California-Oregon border, David Dryden suffered a cardiac seizure. Hospitalized in Crescent City, Dryden died on June 4th, 1946. He was buried in a cemetery on the wind-swept estuary of Smith River, appropriately surrounded by the rugged beauty of the coastal environment which had nurtured his early aesthetic awareness.
It is a tribute to the quality of his craft that most of David Dryden’s houses from his early career in San Diego are extant. Many of them, having survived modernization and change, still grace the old suburban neighborhoods north of Balboa Park echoing the polite and serene lifestyle of a distant era.
DOCUMENTED HOUSES OF DAVID OWEN DRYDEN:
San Diego, California
1912: 3120 Granada Street
1912: 3039 Palm Street
1912: 3136 Granada Street
1912: *3419 30th Street
1912: 3427 Kansas (29th) Street
1912: 3532 Ray Street
1912: *4505 Del Mar
1912: 3524 30th Street
1912: 3049 Palm Street
1913: 3548 Granada Street
1913: *3031 Landis Street
1913: *3648 Ray Street
1913: 2203 Cliff Street
1913: 3820 Center Street
1913: 4720 Panorama Street
1913: 3511 Utah
1913: 3634 Utah
1914: 2230 Adams Avenue
1914: 2242 Adams Avenue
1914: 4724 Panorama Street
1914: 4780 Panorama Street
1914: *4525 Kansas Street
1914: 3586 30th Street
1914: 3044 Goldsmith
1914: 3036 Goldsmith
1914: 3136 Goldsmith
1914: 3221 Homer
1915: 3553 28th Street
1915: 3571 28th Street
1915: *Ventura Place & Ocean Walk
1915: 3546 28th Street
1915: 3536 28th Street
1915: 1801 Sheridan Street
1915: *2042 Albatross Street
1916: 3446 28th Street
1916: 3516 28th Street
1916: 3505 28th Street
1916: 3614 28th Street
1916: 3712 28th Street
1916: 3676 28th Street
1916: 1212 Arbor Drive
1916: 3554 28th Street
1916: Merivale Ave. & Bonnie Brae
1917: 3412 28th Street
1917: 3503 Pershing Avenue
1917: 3575 Pershing Avenue
1917: 2710 Landis – remodel
1917: 3706 28th Street
1917: 3559 Pershing Avenue
1917: 3543 Pershing Avenue
1917: 3640 28th Street – (remodel)
1917: 4244 Jackdaw Street
1917: 1612 Grove Street
1918: 3527 Pershing Avenue
1918: 3367 Granada Street
1918: 4315 Avalon Drive
1918: *1632-35 Ninth Avenue
1918: 3511 Pershing Avenue
1918: 3728 Pershing Avenue
1918: 3388 Granada Street
* Non-extant or significantly altered structure.
(Professor Donald Covington, SDSU)
1. David Owen Dryden was born July 1, 1877 on his uncle’s ranch in the redwoods outside Guerneville, California. By the time he was a year old, his father had moved the family to the south coast of Oregon where David lived for the first eighteen years of his life. On the Winchuck and Chetco rivers, he came to maturity working in the family’s many establishments including a dairy farm, fish cannery, river ferry and workman’s hotel and boarding house.
2. Charles F. Davis, The Monrovia Blue Book: A Historical and Biographical Record of Monrovia and Duarte (Monrovia, 1943), 48-49.
3. William Judson Rockwood (building contractor) and his family were natives of Maine. Arriving in Monrovia in 1887-88, they were among the pioneer families of that community. Isabel McCorison Rockwood was born on the 29th of January, 1882.
4. Telephone interview, Mrs. Ella Hanson of Ojai, California, a niece of Isabel Rockwood Dryden, who indicated that David worked from his own plans and that Isabel sometimes designed the gardens for the houses as well as the interior design of them.
5. Monrovia News, 26 January 1907.
6. Ibid., 12 January 1907.
7. Monrovia Daily News, 16 December 1911.
8. Deed Book, No. 542, p. 243, Office of the Recorder, County of San Diego.
9. San Diego Daily Transcript, 29 February 1912, building permit no. 741.
10. Deed Book, No. 601, p. 62, Office of the Recorder, County of San Diego.
11. Ibid., No. 623, p. 96; No. 633, p. 40; No. 631, p. 380; No. 643, p. 274; No. 653, p. 100, 175.
12. Ibid., No. 660, p. 212.
13. Ibid., No. 662, p. 343; No. 669, p. 273; No. 670, p. 114.
14. Ibid., No. 647, pp. 340-341.
15. San Diego Daily Transcript, 30 July 1915, building permit no. 7026.
16. Ibid., 28 April 1915, building permit no. 6645.
17. Deed Book, No. 593, p. 370.
18. Miscellaneous Records Book, No. 39, p. 478, Office of the Recorder, County of San Diego.
19. San Diego Daily Transcript, 7 January 1916, building permit no. 7769.
20. For a description of the flood of January, 1916, see Thomas W. Patterson: “Hatfield the Rainmaker,” Journal of San Diego History 16 (Winter, 1970).
21. Deed Book, No. 695, p. 253.
22. San Diego Daily Transcript, 22 March 1918, building permit no. 308.
23. Miscellaneous Records Book, No. 52, p. 126.
24. Mechanics Lien, No. 15-55, 20 September 1918, Superior Court, County of San Diego.
25. W. C. Merritt Company v. David Dryden, Superior Court case No. 30150, 29 November 1918, County of San Diego; Russ Mill and Lumber Company v. John N. Haskell and David O. Dryden, Superior Court case No. 30616, 15 December 1919; Russ Mill and Lumber Company v. Mead-Haskell and David Dryden, Superior Court case No. 30617, 16 September 1919.
26. Interview with Elaine Dryden Cook, grand-daughter of David Dryden, Klamath Falls, Oregon, 18 July 1989.
27. San Diego Union, 15 July, 1939; 29 September 1939.
Donald Covington, a Professor of Design in the Art Department of San Diego State University, teaches courses in the history of architecture and design. He holds an M.A. degree in Art from the University of California, Los Angeles. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he has studied at the Attingham School, Shropshire, and the Study Centre of Fine and Decorative Arts, London. A member of the Editorial Board of the journal of Interior Design, he currently conducts research in the history of architecture, and the decorative arts.