The Historic Derby-Pendleton House
By Dean Glass
Derby-Pendleton House, 1932
Derby-Pendleton House being moved in 1962
Derby-Pendleton in present location, 1966
In 1850, one of the founders of New San Diego William Heath Davis arrived from San Francisco aboard the brig Cybele with a cargo of ten or twelve prefabricated houses which had been shipped "round the horn" from Portland, Maine. One of these, the two-story Derby-Pendleton House, is said to have been erected in Davis's New Town and then moved to 3877 Harney Street in Old Town, where it would stand for the next 111 years. Don Juan Bandini, a prominent early San Diegan, purchased the structure in 1851 as a gift for his daughter Dolores and her hotel-owner husband, Capt. Charles Johnson.
Lt. George Horatio Derby, an engineer in the United States Topographical Corps who surveyed the San Diego River, and his wife Mary Angeline Coons Derby rented the house from Bandini in 1853-1854 during the construction of the Derby Dike. Derby is perhaps best remembered as one of the foremost humorists of the nineteenth century, whose "typically American" style inspired Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and other later authors. Squibob and John Phoenix were two of his pseudonyms and in 1855 he published his best-known work, Phoenixiana. According to author Henry Schwartz, Mary Angeline Derby had this to say about her "honeymoon house": "I have a pretty, little two-story frame house, furnished with much taste. I am proud of my establishment, because it was fitted up by my dear husband. I have three beautiful birds, two canaries and a China bird, four pots of flowers. Our dearest George is below, puffing away at his pipe as usual."
Around 1855, George Allen Pendleton, a merchant who had arrived in San Diego in 1851, purchased the house from Bandini. Pendleton served as county clerk and recorder for twenty years and used the house as his office and for storage of county records. Many of the real estate transactions covering the subdividing and sale of downtown San Diego were recorded there. Pendleton lived in the house until his death in 1871.
In 1880, Pendleton's widow sold the house to Mrs. Esther Kerren for $150. Businessman, philanthropist, and owner of what was reputed to be the largest collection of detective fiction in the United States, E. T. Guymon, Jr. purchased the house and began an extensive restoration in 1937 and then sold the house to Timothy Fogg in 1945. In 1962, the house, which stood in the way of the planned U.S. 101 Freeway (now Interstate 5), was acquired by the California State Division of Highways and slated for demolition.
The Junior League of San Diego and the Historical Shrine Foundation asked the county Board of Supervisors for permission to move the house to 4015 Harney Street, onto the lot directly behind the Whaley House Museum at 2482 San Diego Avenue, about three blocks from its original location. The supervisors agreed to support the project, provided that they gain title of the house, and budgeted $6,640 for moving costs, with additional costs being assumed as a contribution by house-moving firm John Hansen Co.
The house was moved in two sections on October 17, 1962. For the adobe part of the house, workers had to dig beneath the adobe walls from the inside and install steel beams and a layer of cement to provide an interior framework necessary to support the 55-ton structure during the move. The 50-ton, two-story wood frame portion was held together with struts, bolts and cables for its ride down the street. The movers were forced to take a circuitous route in order to avoid overhead power lines.
Unfortunately, the move did not go as smoothly as planned. The house did not fit on the cement footings placed for it at the new location. The house was also higher off the ground than in its original spot, so a new foundation and porch steps needed to be constructed. In all, the Board of Supervisors was required to spend an additional $4,483 to complete the project.
On November 3, 1962, more than 100 people attended a ceremony in honor of Lt. George H. Derby in the Whaley House yard. The San Diego chapters of the Sons of the American Revolution and Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a commemorative plaque that was placed on the side of the Derby-Pendleton house. Another plaque was placed, albeit less ceremoniously, right below it on November 8, 1975. The plaque in commemoration of the Derby Dike was originally placed at the corner of Kurtz and Hancock Street on April 24, 1966 and was moved to the Derby-Pendleton House nine years later.
In recent years, the house has been operated as a museum and as several shops, including a bridal shop and the Vest Pocket antique store. Since 2002, it has housed the offices of Save Our Heritage Organisation.
In his book Ghosts of the Golden West, famed paranormal investigator Hans Holzer recounts a 1964 séance at the Whaley House in which psychic Sybil Leek channeled the spirit of Thomas Whaley. It seems that Mr. Whaley, dead for three quarters of a century at the time, was angry that the house had been moved onto his property. For the living, however, the Derby-Pendleton House provides a classic and very welcome backdrop to the Whaley House Museum Complex.
Scott, Ed, SAN DIEGO COUNTY SOLDIER-PIONEERS 1846-1866, San Diego: The County of San Diego, 1976.
Palmer, Barbara, THE WOODEN HOUSES OF EARLY SAN DIEGO, Unpublished manuscript, 2005.
Reynolds, Richard Derby, ed., SQUIBOB: AN EARLY CALIFORNIA HUMORIST, San Francisco: Squibob Press, 1990.
Schwartz, Henry, TALES OF OLD TOWN, San Diego: San Miguel Press, 1980.
Mystery Writers of America: A Historical Survey, http://www.mysterywriters.org
Pendleton House to Get Out of Way, THE SAN DIEGO EVENING TRIBUNE, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1962.
Historical Plaques dedicated by Squibob Chapter of ECV, http://members.cox.net/squibob/.
Holzer, Hans, GHOSTS OF THE GOLDEN WEST, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1968.
THE SAN DIEGO UNION articles:
- After 111 Years Old House To Get New Location
- S.D. Plans Tribute To Pioneer Derby
- County Backs Bid For Historic House
- 1851 House Opened For Public Viewing
- In Path Of Freeway: Pendleton House Purchase Sought
- $4,483 More For Old Town Project Urged
- Old Town Rite Memorializes S.D. Pioneer
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