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Remembering the Overbaugh Mansion

By Rurik Kallis

In March of 1954, I was cruising downtown San Diego with my friend Dick Pennick in my 1941 Oldsmobile sedan. I noticed a Victorian house near 6th and Date Street was being lifted off of its foundations. At this time I was an eleventh grader at Helix High School and already interested in historic preservation. I wondered what was to be the fate of this second empire mansard roof house. I pulled up alongside and commenced a conversation with the owner Mr. Robert Failing. He was in the process of having the house moved to a lot in Mission Valley. He said the house was built in 1887 by Mrs. Ida Kemmer. It had been moved to its present location in 1906 to allow for the extension of Sixth Avenue; this would be its second move.

Mr. Failing offered me a job over the spring break. The job was to help him salvage materials from an 1887 mansion. Wages of a dollar an hour sounded good to me, so a week later I found myself carefully removing beautiful varnished redwood doors and moldings, brass hardware and window sash with colored panes of glass around the edges. This house turned out to be the Overbaugh Mansion which was to give way to a new office building. The parts that we removed matched those in the Kemmer House. Not having a truck, Mr. Failing stuffed doors, windows, etc., into his Citroen convertible with the top down. My 1941 Olds, with a rented trailer did much of the hauling. On lunch hour and after work, I was allowed to explore the attic and crawl spaces under the house.

For a teenager interested in history, this was quite a treasure hunt. While searching through the attic with a flashlight, I came across a bottle of Ayer's Hair Vigor. The label had a Victorian lady on it. A dusty cigar box caught my eye. Upon opening the box, I found two old photos, one view of a parlor and ornate mantle and the other of a dining room. Rushing downstairs I was excited to think maybe the pictures were of the Overbaugh House. Sure enough they were. As I arrived in the parlor, there it was: the same ornate fireplace pictured in the photo. These photos were my introduction to the photo collection at the Union Title Insurance Co. and my longtime friendship with its curator Larry Booth.

Under the corner tower in the basement was a large humpback trunk. I bought the trunk form the wrecking crew for the sum of two dollars. With the deck lid of the Oldsmobile propped up, my treasure was secured in the trunk space of my car with a rope. Upon arriving home I opened the trunk and found it to be full of old maps of San Diego city and county from 1869 to 1890. Also in the trunk were the architectural plans for the Kline Block in what is now the Gaslamp Quarter. The maps and papers I found were very interesting and important to me but some of my high school friends thought I was crazy to save these things.

While on the job site I took some time to snap the shutter of my old Kodak camera and capture an image of the Overbaugh Mansion in its last days.

Editor's note: This article was submitted in response to last issue's Lost San Diego.

2006 - Volume 37, Issue 2

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