The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Spring 1992, Volume 38, Number 2
Richard W. Crawford, Editor
by Helen McCormick Hobbs-Halmay
Unusual architectural styles throughout San Diego County are like exclamation points that add excitement to our everyday lives. We value the Villa Montezuma, the Silver Tower Restaurant, or the Ford Building because of the variety they offer. When one of these exotic structures catches our eye, it may cause us to wonder why someone would want to build it. With some types of exotic structures we can only guess at the motivation behind the decision to construct them. However, in the case of Egyptian Revival, much evidence exists of the historical, social, commercial, and sometimes personal motivation in their design.
Two Egyptian fads have reached America — one in the 1800s and another in the 1920s. The Rosetta Stone, which ultimately unlocked the secret of hieroglyphics, was discovered in Egypt in 1799 by an officer in Napoleon’s army. From this discovery came a surge of public interest in all things Egyptian. In the United States, this event was followed by the construction of Egyptian-style buildings, especially on the east coast and in the mid-west. These were primarily large, publicly-financed structures (such as prisons or hospitals) rather than commercial or residential buildings.1
In San Diego, interest in Egyptian design led to the 1905 construction by the Theosophical Society of an Egyptian-style gate at the entrance to their headquarters on Point Loma. Katherine Tingley’s School for the Revival of the Lost Mysteries of Antiquity, later known as the Râja Yoga Academy, was conducted in the main buildings at Point Loma. Some of these buildings had interiors featuring Egyptian design motifs.
The 1915 Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park included two pseudo-Egyptian buildings. Along the Isthmus amusement area, Cawston’s Ostrich Farm constructed a strangely banded pyramid with a columned entry decorated in the Egyptian style, flanked by a sphinx on either side. Also in this area, an artist named DeVallet exhibited his “master painting” Cleopatra, in an Egyptian-styled structure, fronted by two large obelisks edged with electric lights.2
In most people’s minds, ancient Egypt was associated with tombs and eternity. It was therefore only natural that Egyptian design would frequently be used in cemeteries. Both Mount Hope Cemetery and Greenwood Memorial Park have numerous monuments in the shape of an obelisk, a typical Egyptian form. Among these are the graves of some of San Diego’s most prominent families, including Alonzo E. Horton, George W. Marston, Edward W. Scripps and Joseph W. Sefton. The relationship between Egyptian design and the Masonic Order may also have influenced the design of those who had been Masons in life and after their death wanted to remind future generations of that valued membership.
One of the finest Egyptian buildings in San Diego is the Mitchell family private mausoleum at Greenwood. This granite structure features papyrus cluster columns and a winged sun disk at the entrance. Through the bronze doors, decorated with a lotus motif, one can see a stained glass window showing an Egyptian scene with palms and pyramids.3
The second Egyptian craze was sparked by the uncovering of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. The “Boy King” caught the imagination of the American public, and San Diegans were no exception. They devoured every crumb of information as the tomb was painstakingly explored by British Egyptologist Howard Carter and his colleagues. The fact that Carter was being assisted by archaeologists and photographers from an American museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, added to a sense of national pride and personal involvement with the discovery.4
The media were eager to fill this desire for information. Motion picture news-reels, magazines and both national and local newspapers all featured the fascinating developments. “Carter Uncovers Coffin Containing Body of Tut,” “King Tut’s Coffin Revealed to Be of Solid Gold” read two front page headlines of the San Diego Union during 1925.5 Each detail was described in articles, year after year. Two years after the discovery, in 1924, the New York Times Pictorial Magazine carried the first color photos shown in the United States of items from Tut’s tomb. Well into 1928, a story in the New York Times discussed items found in the fourth (and last) chamber.6
During these years, motion picture news-reels, national and local newspapers and magazines all featured the fascinating discoveries in the tomb. The public’s taste for the exotic also was met by additional Egyptian stories and entertainment of a more general nature. In local newspapers such articles as “Ceremony on the Nile River” and “Restoring the Time-Worn Sphinx” ran on the photo pages.7 In 1925, a performance of “The Last Pharaoh,” a play about Cleopatra, drew large audiences to the Harmonial Institute at the corner of University and Central.8 Movie viewers likewise were bombarded by stories with exotic themes and locations. One such movie was Hollywood’s “The Ten Commandments” by Cecil B. DeMille. This black and white film has since become a classic of its period.
A lesser-known movie with an Egyptian theme, and a much smaller budget, was made locally at the Grossmont Studios, in La Mesa. According to a story in the La Mesa Scout newspaper on May 2, 1924, the Sawyer and Lubin Studios rented the local studio’s facilities, plus an additional five acre parcel from the Fletcher family, to create an educational film about Ancient Egypt. S & L Studios had five sets built, including a house of the Old Empire, a grainery, a garden with pond and a corner of the pyramid of Cheops (the “corner” was 100 feet tall by 300 feet wide). The sets cost $10,000 to construct, according to the article. Local, La Mesa residents (400 adults and 50 children) were hired as extras. The ten-reel movie was supposed to have been released in September of 1925, but nothing more was said about it in the press and no one seems to know if it was ever completed or distributed to theaters.
In addition to the King Tut excitement, several other factors encouraged this type of construction. One such influence was the acceleration of social change in general. Not only in the United States, but also throughout most of the world, architects and designers were searching for different ways to express the rapid growth of a new lifestyle after World War I. Modern architects of the 1920s tried to create new projects which broke with the immediate past. Both architects and designers frequently reached into foreign and ancient cultures for inspiration. Some of these designs included Oriental, African, Aztec and American Indian. However, with the discovery of Tut’s tomb, ancient Egyptian motifs began to rival all other popular designs. When the Egyptian craze swept the country, the clean lines and strongly geometric qualities of its architecture were very attractive. These popular, new designs were applied to everything from jewelry to apartment houses.9
The Egyptian craze especially flourished in Southern California. Fantastic architectural designs were accepted more readily there because of the specific influence of movie-making in Southern California, a lack of “old money” blue-blood families, a general 1920s atmosphere of “anything goes” and an upsurge in the construction of “period revival” homes and buildings. The most prevalent styles of this historical eclecticism in California included Neo-Classical, American Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, Italian Renaissance and Mission Revival styles. Tudor “castles” were built next door to Spanish “haciendas” and Louis XIV “palaces.” If you could afford it, you could create your fantasy life in any type of home you desired, yet still be socially correct.
In addition to the lure of fantasy, San Diego could also claim some logic in the use of Egyptian Revival buildings. Sunny days and snow-free winters actually made this style a sensible choice for San Diego. Egypt’s hot, dry climate had allowed her temples, stores and homes to be built with flat roofs and open, courtyard gardens. “Snowfall and cold winters demand steep roofs and tall chimneys… (but these) mean little where it never snows, and where the dazzling brilliance of out-of-doors makes one content to restrain the vision or confine it to the shadowy coolness of the patio….” wrote American architect Edwin Avery Park in 1927.10 San Diego was just such a “dazzling” place. In 1926, the Chamber of Commerce was boasting “(Our city) has an average of only nine days each year without sunshine.”11 Therefore, Egyptian Revival’s flat roofs and open courtyards full of exotic flowers and palm trees were more practical and natural for this area than almost any other area of America.
In addition to the flat roofs and courtyards, several other design elements are common to Egyptian Revival buildings. One feature is flat walls of incised stucco made to look like sandstone blocks. These walls often angle out at the bottom and taper up to the roof-line (called “battered” walls). The walls usually curve out at the top (called a “cavetto” or “gorge and roll cornice”). Often, centered just below this cornice, is seen a bas relief of an ancient Egyptian religious design: a sun disk in the center, with flanking cobra heads and vulture wings outspread on both sides, symbolizing protection.
Most Egyptian Revival buildings have columns, either pilasters attached to a wall or free-standing pillars. Since early Egyptian columns were made of papyrus stalks, these copies often resemble bundles of papyrus stalks which are banded just below the flaring top. The columns and walls also may have exotic designs or hieroglyphics (mostly copied from tomb paintings). Such pre-made architectural elements were available in concrete, for purchase from catalogs or from local companies, such as the Meserve-Cast Stone Co. of North San Diego (Old Town). They supplied the “period Egyptian ornamental stone” for the Bush Egyptian Theater.12
Ancient Egyptians built virtually without wood, as it was not readily available. The sandstone blocks used by the ancients were copied in stucco by American builders. Fortunately, stucco had become a popular material in Southern California. This growing demand for stucco may be seen in the rising use of cement. By 1925, California was using more Portland cement than any other state in the United States, according to a story in the San Diego Union.13
That same year, the number of building permits issued by the city was nearly six times as great as five years earlier. “Today, among cities of its own size, [San Diego] is the fastest growing city in America,” boasted the Chamber of Commerce. “During 1926 [it] was second among all cities in the United States in homes built per thousand population.”14 Although a large number of homes were being built, most of them were modest in size by today’s standards. Especially following World War I, firms which specialized in building, furnishing and decorating were forced to cater to a less affluent public than before the war. The words “deferred payments” began to appear in small print in advertisements.15
An increasing use of these “deferred payments” made buying everything from vacuum cleaners to property more attractive. Land speculators were hawking their wares north of the city, especially along Park Boulevard and University Avenue. During this same period, the project of clearing and cataloging King Tut’s tomb was continuing to be front-page news. It took ten years to completely clear the tomb, from 1922 to 1932. This prolonged media attention influenced designers, artists, architects, and merchants. Business people could see the advertising advantage of constructing a building which would gain immediate attention from both the media and the public. Some San Diego businessmen, realizing the drawing-power and longevity of this style, gave the public what it wanted, in the form of Egyptian Revival buildings. Soon these exotic structures were going up in the newer sections of town. Today, the largest concentration of remaining Egyptian Revival buildings in San Diego is to be found in these areas, north and east of Balboa Park.
In the thick of the land boom was Grant A. Bush, owner of the Bush Theater on C Street. With much publicity, he opened his exotic, new Bush Egyptian Movie Theater on June 30, 1926, at 3812 Park Boulevard, just south of University Avenue.16 The same year, he was advertising lots for sale in his G.A. Bush Addition, along University Avenue.17 The Egyptian Theater was one of San Diego’s original luxury movie houses. Patrons entered past huge columns in an open courtyard lobby. Today, the movie house still stands, but the columns are gone and the enclosed lobby is Mondrian-modern. This extraordinary building was remodeled in 1954 in a three-month, $100,000 modernizing project, and renamed the Capri Theater.18 Renovated into an art movie house in 1988, and named the Park Theater, it gives away the secret of its former identity only if you look up to the high, stucco wall behind the lobby. There, in isolated splendor, is the familiar curving cornice and huge, circular sun disk, still spreading its protective wings over today’s patrons.
Fortunately, two other building complexes on the boulevard retained more of their Egyptian character. These apartment buildings (3772 and 3783 Park Boulevard) are best seen on foot. Most of their interesting details are in courtyards and gardens. Only one block south of the theater is the Egyptian Court Apartments, built in 1926 by contractor Paul Carle. Two small shops and two apartment entrances face the street. A center gate and sidewalk lead to an arched entry and into an inner garden of flowers, lawn, pool and palm trees.
The building is classic Egyptian Revival Art Deco, with the courtyard pond and garden designed and installed by Milton P. Sessions, nephew of the legendary San Diego horticulturist Kate Sessions, known as the “Mother of Balboa Park.” One year after it was built, Milton Sessions opened the north branch of his nursery on property only a few doors north of the Egyptian Court Apartments, at 3786 Park Boulevard. Before becoming a nursery, the property was the Egyptian Miniature Golf Course. Today, the site has an Art Deco Moderne building holding the Deaf Services offices.
The Egyptian Court Apartments were decorated with exotic Egyptian symbols in bas-relief until 1988.19 These decorations included a frieze of flowers across the entry-way. These flowers were a design of marguerite daisies copied from the Malkata Palace of Amenophis III (1342 BC), the palace in which King Tut is believed to have been born. Flanking the entryway were huge, concrete entry columns, constructed to resemble a bundle of papyrus stalks bound together and flared out at the top. On these columns were hieroglyphic pictures depicting the goddess Hathor welcoming a Pharaoh into the after-life. Another popular symbol (found above the entrance and on walls, just below the rolled cornice) was the sun disk Ra, with a rampant cobra on either side and the wings of the vulture spreading out on both sides. A final touch was each attic vent covered by a wrought iron grill shaped in a lotus-blossom design.20
Margaret and Wilson A. (Bill) Pickney bought the Egyptian Court in 1940, three years after moving to San Diego from Seattle.21 Five years later, they started construction next door on an exotic restaurant, The Garden of Allah, which opened in June of 1946. The building was Egyptian-styled, in keeping with the neighborhood. Following a major fire in 1954, this unconventional restaurant was modernized into the International Style. Bill Pickney liked the new, Mondrian modern facade on the Capri Theater up the street, so he hired architect Richard George Wheeler to remodel his restaurant in the same style. Pickney named his new restaurant “The Flame” to commemorate the fire that had gutted the previous building, thereby making it possible to build a new one.22
South of The Flame, and next door to the Egyptian Court apartments, was the Tinker and Robbins Gas Station, on the corner of Park Boulevard and Robinson. This gas station and auto garage was built in 1926 by Thomas M. Earnhart. George H. Tinker and Sanis E. Robbins ran the business from 1926 to 1958. The garage stalls were built in Egyptian Revival style, with attached columns on either side of the central, garage bay doors. A curved, Egyptian-style parapet rests above each of these two doors. The building has a flat roof with a curved cornice along the south and east-facing facades. Today, as Thao’s Auto Repair, the basic design of the building remains, hidden behind horizontal bands of red, white and blue paint.
Across the street from the Egyptian Court, contractor George L. Stowe built the Pharaoh’s Court Apartments (3783 -89 Park Boulevard) in 1928. The owner was Albert E. Roberts, owner of the A. E. Roberts Co., a real estate and insurance company. By 1929, the ownership went to John D. and Elizabeth Roberts (John was possibly a relative of A. E. Roberts). They lived in one of the apartments until 1931, when the property was purchased by Charles J. Booher, a car salesman, and his wife Nancy, a school teacher, who lived there until 1938. The apartments were called the Pharaoh Court Apartments until 1939, when they became the Park Court Apartments. The named was changed again, in 1966, to the Park Egyptian Apartments and current ownership is by the Hom family. In addition to the apartments upstairs, there was a meat market at street level and cottages stepping up the hillside behind the street.23
Today, the meat market has been replaced by two other shops. Access to the apartments is outside, up a flight of steps to the south of the stores, through a wrought iron gate (added in 1988), between pilaster columns supporting a stucco lintel and Pharaohs’ heads guarding the entrance. In the large apartment building, above the stores, colorful tiles are imbedded in the risers of concrete steps which lead into the apartment complex. Each studio apartment in the building has a small access door at floor level, off the central hallway. The doors led directly into the kitchens for the delivery of milk or groceries, so each resident could have these deliveries made without being bothered by the delivery boy.24 Past this large building are three cottages, with Pharaoh heads atop pilasters of grey, stucco “blocks” and the symbols of protection over the front doors. Across the sidewalk from the cottages is a small garden with trees, flowers, wild birds, and a pond, which has a concrete statue of an Egyptian girl lying down, holding out a bowl from which water flowed in years past. The whole effect is to create an oasis of cool quiet off a busy, commercial street.
The influence of Egyptian Revival in this block became so powerful that even buildings which were not of the Egyptian Revival style adopted exotic names to fit their neighborhood. Next door to the Pharaoh’s Court, Collins’ Grocery was transferred to V. A. Finch in 1929 and re-named the Egyptian Public Market. The Nile Apartments (3791 Park Boulevard) were built by George Blake. He had been operating the California Nursery on this lot before he had the Blake Apartments built on the site in 1928. In 1930, the building was acquired by John T. and Mary Gemmell, who changed the name to the Gemmell Apartments. The Gemmell Apartments were re-named the Nile Apartments in 1932, although the architecture of the building is Italian Renaissance Revival, not Egyptian. However, the “Egyptian-style” lettering on the neon sign, and the “stepped design” of the front doors, both show strong Egyptian/Art Deco influences which were added in 1932.
Continuing north along the sidewalk, to the south-east corner of Park Boulevard and University Avenue, one comes to the Phillips building, built in 1926 for the Phillips’ family. Its primary Egyptian design consisted of evenly-spaced pilasters, attached to the walls from the sidewalk up the entire height, to the top of the two-story building. Over the years, this Egyptian Revival building was the home of the Pacific Pharmacy, Ray Smith Pharmacy and the Park Boulevard Pharmacy. It also housed offices on the second story. Today, it contains a pool hall and various small shops on the street level and offices of the Phillips family business upstairs. It was remodeled in the 1950s and all of the Egyptian designs were removed.
Influence of the Streetcar System
The San Diego Street Car Company was organized in 1886.25 By 1925, it had grown to include over one hundred miles of lines serving the entire metropolitan area.26 Residential development to the north and north-east of the city paralleled the growth of streetcar lines into those areas. Those who lived and worked in this exotic neighborhood in the 1920s and ’30s were served by the line which ran north from downtown San Diego parallel to Park Boulevard until Robinson Street, where it then continued in the center of Park Boulevard north to Adams Avenue (where the trolley barn was located). Another streetcar line branched-off of Park Boulevard at University Avenue and ran west, into Hillcrest and east to Euclid, along the center of University Avenue. “By 1927 the city had annexed East San Diego and new residential developments such as North Park and Kensington had sprung into being.”27
This line, which turned east from Park Boulevard onto University Avenue, went under the Georgia Street Bridge, which was built in 1914 by the City of San Diego. Because of this impressive cut (dug through the ridge which paralleled the east side of Park Boulevard), University Avenue was able to continue out to East San Diego, thereby opening-up a whole new area to development. After a second set of tracks was run along University, heavier streetcars were purchased to run on those lines, necessitating additional electrical substations, built in 1923, which used the Egyptian Revival style.28 The first substation was in an alley on the west side of 30th Street, just north of University Avenue. It was one of three such substations known to have been built by the trolley company. The second substation on this line was at the corner of Euclid and University Avenue, the end of the trolley line to the east. This substation was later remodeled into a gas station, with an apartment upstairs. Another Egyptian Revival substation, in Ocean Beach, exists today only in a photograph in the San Diego History Center Archives in Balboa Park, but the similarity of architectural design is striking.
As the trolley opened up the North Park area to growth, the Silvergate Lodge of the Masonic Order resolved to build a new Masonic Temple in this booming area. In 1931, ground was broken at 3795 Utah Street, just one block south of University. The three-story building was constructed primarily of poured, reinforced concrete and was completed in 1933. The outside of the Temple is not Egyptian Revival, however there are many Egyptian designs inside the building. According to members, the outside of the structure was built to resemble “Soloman’s Temple.” Since there are no historical pictures of Soloman’s Temple, the San Diego architects Charles & Edward Quayle used their imagination and designed the building in an exotic, Art Deco design.29
Traditionally, the Masons have used Egyptian designs in their rituals and buildings. The architects probably drew on this heritage in designing the interior of the building. Inside the Temple are examples of Egyptian Revival design on light fixtures, curtain rods and ceiling stencils. In addition to these occasional designs in the smaller rooms, the large Lodge Room on the third floor is completely Egyptian Revival. It is an impressive, windowless room designed to look like an Egyptian throne room. Exotic designs include stencils of the scarab beetle on light fixtures around the walls; stenciled wooden beams across the ceiling; Egyptian columns flanking a raised, stage area at each end of the room; and three wooden “throne” chairs on each of these stages, each chair having Egyptian designs carved on its back. Huge, circular light fixtures hang from the ceiling on long pillars which terminate at the ceiling in a lotus/ papyrus design, like the tops of columns.30
Just as the trolley opened up North Park to growth, it did the same for the new City of East San Diego (City Heights/Terra Alta). The streetcar lines ran over three miles along University Avenue, until they reached Euclid Avenue in East San Diego, the end-of-the-line. There, the conductor would walk through the trolley, moving the backs of the seats from one side of the seat to the other, so the seats faced the opposite way, for the return trip; or the entire car would be turned around, depending on which type of trolley car was being used. Along the streetcar line, real estate offices in small buildings sprang up like mushrooms after a rain. By 1927, East San Diego was annexed by the larger City of San Diego and was no longer its own municipality. As the changing times brought growth, they also brought variations in transportation.
In 1922, motor buses began serving the city, in competition with the streetcar lines. Together with the automobile, they were becoming an increasingly important means of transportation.31 Only two years after it had been built, the Egyptian revival electrical substation at the corner of Euclid and University was no longer needed by the trolley company. Electric wires with better conductivity had been invented, making most substations unnecessary. The station was sold by the trolley company and remodeled into the Egyptian Garage in 1925 by David H. Ryan, a paving contractor and painter, to meet the needs of those who preferred to drive their own autos out to East San Diego.32
The Egyptian Garage has large, flat, attached pilasters topped with Pharaoh heads. Leaded-glass designs of lotus blossoms grace the second story windows on the north side of the building. Paul and Francis A. Harvey operated the Egyptian Garage there from 1926 until 1932. “Big City Liquor” has occupied the north section of this building since 1957. The large, southern portion of the building, along Euclid, was added in 1927. Mr. Ryan ran his paving contracting business in this part for a brief period. Along this building is a row of pilasters topped with Pharaoh heads, matching the ones on the corner building. There is also a semi-obelisk rising up above the top of the roof line, with a bas relief of the Egyptian god Thoth, the ibis-headed moon god.
In the foregoing descriptions of Egyptian Revival buildings, this essay has examined some of the historical, social, and commercial motivations for the construction of these unique buildings. In addition to these justifications, there were personal motivations, especially for creating residential buildings. Of course, these four influences interacted, but in the case of O. L. Steel, personal desire seemed to play a larger part. In 1923, Steel chose to build an Egyptian Revival home in the north coastal community of Encinitas. This area of San Diego County seemed to attract “free spirits” and unusual buildings… among which were the golden-domed buildings of the Self-Realization Fellowship, the concrete “castle” perched on an ocean cliff and the hillside houses made of two “beached” boats.
Encinitas must have appeared to be the perfect place for Steel to build his Egyptian Revival home. A land developer and builder, Steel had his unique house built on a hill-top lot within a tract he hoped to develop with avocado groves and Egyptian-style homes. Located at the corner of Melba and Cornish, the house has immaculate gardens leading to carefully painted columns, planters and bas-relief designs on the walls by the front porch.33
When O. L. Steel had this house built, in 1923, it was primarily to be his own home, according to Ethel Hicks of Encinitas. She worked on the Encinitas Coast Dispatch newspaper with her husband, Archie Hicks, Sr., and knew Steel as a friend of the family. He told her that he had also intended his house to be a model of the type of homes he hoped to have built in his housing tract. Apparently, he found his home to be too large (even at one story) to use as a model of the average family home. So, he then built a smaller model-home of Egyptian Revival style, in the 1200 block of San Dieguito Drive, down the hill from his house. This second home is a good example of residential Egyptian. A central porch is balanced by windows, doors and matching designs on either side. The living room and dining room have curved ceilings and an Egyptian bas-relief over the fireplace.
Unfortunately, this second house did no better in convincing potential clients than the first home. Steel was attempting to sell his dream of an Egyptian style colony to average, moderate-income families, but he was unable to talk any prospective buyers into such an exotic idea. Therefore, Steel was forced to build conventionally-designed homes. The stock market crash in 1929 put an end to his dreams. He sold out in 1932, disappointed by the failure of Egyptian Revival as a successful housing style. But, was economic gain his only motivation in creating his exotic home? Apparently human ego was involved, too. He enjoyed the attention his house received, recalls Mrs. Hicks. “He would never say who had designed his two homes, or if he had used an architect. He seemed to like people to think that he had designed them himself, but he never came right out and said he had. I asked him one day why he had built such an unusual house. He answered, ‘I’ve always wanted a house like that, so I built one…'”34
Two other Egyptian style residences in the county are within the City of San Diego. At the north end of Felton in Normal Heights, at 3348 Copley Avenue, is a small Egyptian revival house which has been remodeled. It was built sometime around 1925 and was owned by Alvin and Mary Anderson from 1926 for a number of years thereafter. The home has a typical cavetto rolled cornice around the top of the house, porch and garage. The front door frame is shaped like a cartouche. Another residence, at 5954 Brooklyn Avenue in Encanto, is between Iona Drive and 60th Street. It was built in 1926 by Alva T. McCarty, a rancher in Encanto who lived nearby on 60th Street and developed several properties in this area. It has a cavetto cornice which is identical in design to that on the Egyptian Court Apartments. The home also has stepped porch openings and sloping battered walls on the porch and garage.35
Egyptian revival never became widespread as a residential design in San Diego. For the average home buyer it seems that reading about King Tut or going to an Egyptian movie house could be exciting, but to actually invest their hard-earned money in an Egyptian-style house was more than they were willing to do. Even in commercial construction the popularity of the Egyptian style began to wane with the introduction of streamlined modern design in the 1930s. One of the last great Egyptian revival structures planned for San Diego was to have been part of the California-Pacific International Exposition of 1935-36. Juan Larringa, art director for the fair, designed a large Egyptian “ruin” as one of several Villages of the World which were planned for the fair. Of these, only the Spanish Village was ever completed.36 Perhaps it was decided to build Aztec and Mayan revival buildings instead because they seemed more appropriate to San Diego, with its proximity to Mexico. But whatever the reason, San Diegans never had the opportunity to experience that last “great hurrah” to the exotic, exciting Egyptian Revival style.
1. Marcus Whiffen, American Architecture Since 1780 (Boston: M.I.T. Press, 1969), 47-48.
2. Bruce Kamerling, Curator of Collections, San Diego History Center, personal research from historical photographs.
3. The Mitchell private mausoleum appears to have been financed by Bertha B. Mitchell, widow of prominent Michigan lumberman Austin W. Mitchell, at the time of the death of her son DeWitt C. Mitchell in 1918.
4. Howard Carter, The Discovery of Tutankhamun’s Tomb, ed. Polly Cone (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976), 6.
5. San Diego Union, 6 November 1925, 13 November 1925; both headlines on front page.
6. Carter, Tutankhamun’s Tomb, 76.
7. San Diego Union, 1 November 1925, 20; 5 June 1926, magazine section, cover.
8. San Diego Union, 7 November 1925, advertisement for play, 2; 8 November 1925, review of play and photo of female lead, 9.
9. Martin Battersby, The Decorative Twenties (New York: Walker & Co., 1969), 140.
10. Edwin Avery Park, New Backgrounds For a New Age (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1927), 12. This book is an excellent source of information on the widespread search for a new architectural style in the 1920s. Park discusses both the historical and social forces leading up to “modern” design.
11. San Diego City and County Directory (San Diego: Frye & Smith, 1926), introductory statement from public relations department of San Diego Chamber of Commerce.
12. San Diego Union, 30 June 1926, advertisement of the grand opening of the Bush Egyptian Theater.
13. San Diego Union, 6 June 1926, “Stucco Houses Greatly Increase Use of Cement,” 9.
14. City Directory, 1927, 7.
15. Battersby, Decorative Twenties, 7.
16. City Directory, 1926, several general listings, both by address and by name.
17. San Diego Union, 6 June 1926, advertisement for Bush Addition, 6; 30 June 1926, full-page ad for opening of Bush Theater, 2.
18. Ibid., 1 July 1953, 3. Architect for the remodeling was Lloyd Ruocco.
19. On 5 November 1988, the building’s owners, Mark Brutten and Charles Miller, had most of the symbolic designs jack-hammered off this exotic structure. The current owners have restored the building to a great degree.
20. A new, wrought iron fence around the front of the units, built by the new owner, repeats this lotus design. This building received an AIA Orchid award for preservation in 1991.
21. Margaret and Wilson A. Pickney, San Diego, CA, interview by author, February 1978.
23. City Directory, 1929, several general listings, both by address and by name. The market was the Rex Keeland Meat Market.
24. Harold Bulger, manager of the Park Egyptian Apartments, interview by author, January 1978.
25. County Clerk (San Diego), Articles of Incorporation, No. 167, Research Archives, San Diego History Center.
26. City Directory, 1926, introductory statement by Chamber of Commerce.
27. LeRoy E. Harris, “The Other Side of the Freeway,” (Ph.D diss., Carnegie-Mellon University, 1974), 17.
28. San Diego Electric Railway Association, archival information.???
29. Karna Webster, “The Quayle Brothers, Architects,” (M.A. thesis, University of San Diego, 1984).
30. The building received an award as an Outstanding Art Deco Building in the state, awarded by the Art Deco Society of California at the temple’s 100th Anniversary Dinner in 1989.
31. City Directory, 1926, introductory statement by Chamber of Commerce.
32. Ibid., general listings, both by address and name. Remodeler and owner of the garage was David H. Ryan; proprietors of the garage from 1926 to 1932 were Francis A. Hervey (wife Dorothy) and Paul M. Hervey (wife Ethel).
33. Harrison and Myrna Smith bought the house from Steel in 1932 and added an upper story in 1938. Named “Ocean View,” the house remains impressive today. Harrison F. Smith, telephone interview by author, February 1978.
34. Mrs. Archie Hicks, Sr., telephone interview by author, February 1978.
35. Personal research by Corey Jon Braun, Associate Planner, City of San Diego and Bruce Kamerling, San Diego History Center.
36. Bruce Kamerling, San Diego History Center, personal research from historical photos.
Any other specific dates or addresses not otherwise footnoted are taken from the San Diego City Directories, 1920 through 1933.
Special Thanks to:
Bruce Kamerling, Curator of Collections, San Diego History Center; and the Society Research Archives, Balboa Park.
City of San Diego Planning Department, especially Corey Jon Braun, Associate Planner and Project Planner/Surveyor for the San Diego Egyptian Revival Historic District, 1989.
Helen McCormick Hobbs-Halmay is an architectural historian who specializes in the preservation of Art Deco architecture. She is a graduate of Grossmont College where she studied journalism and art. In 1987 she founded the Art Deco Society of San Diego, which, in 1989, led a crusade to protect several Egyptian Revival buildings with the creation of a city historical district. Ms. Halmay is the recipient of the 1991 Award of Honor given by the Congress of History of San Diego County.