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HISTORY OF SOHO - THE FIRST TWENTY YEARS

Twenty Years of Preservation Efforts in San Diego - 1969
By Kathleen Flanigan

BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Chairman Robert Miles Parker
Co-Chairman Sue Macnofsky
Co-Chairman Bernie Sosna
Homer Delawie
Nicholas Fintzelberg
Denise Gonzales
Bruce Hay
Sally Johns
Carol Lindemulder
Peggy Shipley
Adrian Sosna

The early Save Our Heritage group, which contained approximately thirty-five members, filed its articles of incorporation and wrote its constitution in April 1969. The articles stated, "The specific and primary purpose for which this corporation is formed is the preservation and maintenance, display, lease and/or operation of various types and examples of architectural styles for the education and benefit of the public. The general purpose for which this corporation is formed is to purchase, own, move, improve, maintain, repair, display, lease and/or operate, as museums or otherwise, various homes, stores, buildings, and other structures exemplifying different types of architectural styles found in the San Diego area for the education and benefit of the public."

The SOHO constitution was more specific. It stated that the object of the group was the "preservation of the Sherman-Gilbert house and to promote through education, the cause of preservation of Victorian and other historical structures of architectural significance." Originally, the organization was governed by a Board of Directors consisting of eleven members and led by a chairman. Through the years, the Board has expanded to fifteen members, each serving two-year terms, with a president presiding over the Board.

The Sherman-Gilbert house became a symbol in the San Diego "redevelopment versus historic preservation" battle and forced attention on the public need to save historic and cultural resources. Built in 1887, the three-story redwood Victorian structure with its unique widow's walk was owned first by builder, John Sherman, then in 1897, by prominent San Diegans, Mr. And Mrs. A.H. Gilbert. The home remained in the Gilbert family until 1965, when the last of the spinster Gilbert daughters, Bess, died. The house fell into disrepair and would have suffered demolition had Miles Parker and his vociferous followers not come to its rescue.

The Sherman-Gilbert house property was slated for a downtown parking lot to accommodate visitors to and patients at the new Centre City Hospital. In January, owner Louis Pauletto, an Escondido developer, agreed to sell the structure to SOHO for $500, allow the group permission to clean up the building, and gave the organization two months to remove the edifice. City Councilman Allen Hitch and architect Homer Delawie lent professional, political and moral support to the project.

The group's ideas were noble, but it required money to buy the house as well as to move it. SOHO needed a site for its envisioned "Victorian Preserve" and the aid of city and county officials. Nothing came easily, but the members had great fun with their projects. The house clean-up committee even encountered problems. The San Diego Union on January 17, 1969, reported that an interloper took "the cleanup idea too literally." The person, without invitation, "removed three chandeliers and made off with Tiffany glass and a half dozen antique door knobs." However, all items reappeared the next day on a neighbor's doorstep. The SOHO group removed trash and scoured the place on January 18 in eight hours and stationed two young women and a sheep dog to guard the treasure.

Robert Miles Parker then called a meeting outside the house, which was in accordance with an agreement with the landlord. Attorney Bill McKenzie lent legal support to the group and offered a contract he had drawn up as an option on the Gilbert house for the owner's signature. Member Courtney Gonzales provided the $50.00 fee for a 60-day option on the property. With the house secured, the activists now needed to look for a site to move the structure to, either temporarily or permanently. Curious San Diegans surveyed the members this afternoon, including a reporter from KFMB, a San Diego Magazine writer, two inquisitive but complimentary policemen, and a man who bought a chair for $5.00-the first contribution to the SOHO treasury. It was then suggested that all members chip in $5.00 for the honorable cause.

The next day, another meeting was held at Miles Parker's home on Front Street, where the serious business of fund-raising was discussed. The individuals, consumed with Victorianism, set their sights on projects which would focus on the history of the era in conjunction with the history of the house. Ideas included a Gala Party, a Victorian Tea, an Art Mart, and a fashion show/brunch.

A later meeting in January, concentrated on the receipt of mail and money as the organization had no permanent headquarters, and at this point no status as a bona-fide, non-profit, historical organization. It was suggested that all donations filter through the San Diego Historical Society, which would give contributors more confidence "in the event SOHO would be unable to save the Gilbert house," and the funds could then be utilized by the historical society. Through member gifts, the group was able to purchase the Sherman-Gilbert house in January.

The Victorian "High Tea" held on February 16, at the Sherman-Gilbert house, made the local newspaper society pages. Costumed hosts included: Messrs. and Mmes. Mifflin Ward, Bruce Hay, Thomas Shepley, and Walter F. Fillius, who greeted guests. Mrs. Alfred H. Gilbert, Jr. and Mrs. James Vierhus, relatives of the Gilbert family owners, attended the social event. Immediately following the tea, members of the Horseless Carriage Club, with automobiles nearly as old as the house, led a parade of San Diegans on a tour of other Victorian structures in the Sherman-Gilbert neighborhood. This event was followed in rapid succession by other notable fundraisers.

On Saturday, March 1, an Art Mart, featuring the work of three La Jolla artists, and a boutique, invaded the Sherman-Gilbert property. A percentage of the proceeds went to the fund to move and restore the old Victorian house. Mrs. M. Wily Kirkpatrick staged her "Victorian Gals" at the Gilbert house on March 8. The event featured music for dancing provided by the San Diego County Bar Association. The cost was $5.00 per individual and $7.50 per couple.

Mrs. Mifflin Ward continued the flurry of social engagements with her benefit brunch and fashion show, done up in "grand style" in the U. S. Grant Hotel Palm Room. Held on Sunday, March 23, the gala featured a fashion show of gowns from the Civil War period to the 1930's, all donated by Mrs. Allen B. Griffin of Brawley. Robert Miles Parker was the master of ceremonies and architect Homer Delawie was the guest speaker. The event attracted many of San Diego's social and political elite, thus eliciting further attention to the budding historic preservation movement. Socially, the Sunday brunch was a smashing success. Financially, the event cost $2882.74 to stage and proceeds amounted to $3018.41, thus adding only $135.67 to the SOHO coffers. But the crowning glory was that after all the glitter and fun, many of San Diego's established elite, such as the Scripps and Klauber families, contributed donations to SOHO's preservation cause which amounted to almost $2,000.

March 17, St. Patrick's Day, was the deadline set for the removal of the Sherman-Gilbert house. As of that date, SOHO had collected $2,000 but had not acquired a site upon which to relocate the house. Fortunately, SOHO received a one-month reprieve from Pauletto. As things turned out, the property owner actually gave the organization several reprieves that lasted two and one half years, which allowed the organization time to raise funds and procure the preserve upon which to move the structure.

SOHO, thus far, had won the attention and cooperation of the San Diego Historical Society and Historical Site Board. In fact, it was Sam Hamill, an architect and chairman of the city's Historical Site Board and Mrs. David Porter, a site board representative, who organized a task force to look into a "Victorian Preserve" which "would accommodate commercial and public-oriented buildings." Attention was focused on a location in the Old Town area of San Diego. Early support for the planned preserve came from the mayor, city manager, city council members, the County Board of Supervisors, the A.I.A., the Victorian Society of America, and the Office of the President of the United States.

James Massey of the Historic American Buildings Survey visited San Diego periodically and met with SOHO leaders in August. He toured and talked with preservationists. Massey urged SOHO to become involved in building surveys and encouraged the application for federal funds, which were available for preservation groups such as this through the Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as other branches of government. He visited the Sherman-Gilbert residence and called it "an extraordinarily good house." That same month, the Victorian structure was designated historic site #8 by the Historical Site Board. Based on information compiled in a report to the Site Board by Mary Ward, the building was the first to be declared and not proclaimed historic in the City.

A delightful SOHO tradition, born in 1969, featured the award of an unusual lamp to the member whose efforts had gone "far and beyond" the call of SOHO duty. The "SOHO Lady" honor originated with members, Courtney and Denise Gonzales, who rescued the exhausted-looking Oriental lady with the faded fringe shade from a trash can and first put it into the home of Peggy and Tom Shepley. At that time, it was required that the recipient display this prize in a prominent location in the home for a full year because "SOHO members are apt to check on you!" The selection of the winner is based upon the decision of the current owner, and is always a surprise. For example, the Shepleys presented the lovely piece to Robert Miles Parker in 1970, and he in turn gave the honor to Nicholas Fintzelberg in 1971, and the list goes on through 1989, when out-going president, Robin Webster, received the award. In 1979, SOHO member, Rae Berry, donated a plaque to the organization which included the "SOHO Lady" history as well as a list of all recipients, complete with blank spaces for those yet to be announced.

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ABOUT SOHO

HISTORY OF SOHO
- THE FIRST 20 YEARS

Preface | Beginnings | 1969

1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974

1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979

1980 | 1981 | 1982 | 1983 | 1984

1985 | 1986 | 1987 | 1988 | 1989

- THE SECOND 20 YEARS

Four Decades of Historic Preservation
in San Diego County

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2476 San Diego Avenue · San Diego CA 92110 · Phone (619) 297-9327
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