When we saw a photo of the Villa Montezuma, we knew we had to see this home--if only from the outside.
"The Villa Montezuma is without a doubt the most interesting and imagina-tively designed Victorian house still standing in San Diego. Built in 1887, the Villa Montezuma is the unique artistic creation of Jesse Shepard. Viewed in a larger context, however, the Villa Montezuma is a romantic and colorful symbol of the great Southern California 'Boom' of the 1880s and stands as a tangible link to this tumultuous and optimistic period. (The information contained here is from an article by Clare Crane, The Journal of San Diego History, 1987.)
Spiritualist, musician and author, Shepard was a colorful member of The Golden Era circle, a group of poets, artists, and musicians headed by Harr Wagner, editor of a San Francisco literary magazine, The Golden Era, whom the city fathers persuaded to come to San Diego and bring some
"culture" to the boomtown.
"One form that this introduction took was late nineteenth century architectural style known as Queen Anne. Characteristic of Queen Anne style was an asymmetrical floor plan, and the exuberant, eclectic ornamenta-tion of exterior surfaces, a distinct contrast with earlier styles which stressed symmetry and simplicity. Additionally, Queen Anne frequently utilized corner towers, steep roofs, gables, turrets, porches, bay windows, tall chimneys, and
often windows of leaded or stained glass. Gable ends could be filled with Tudor half-timbering or Eastlake geometric designs;
windows and doors were often surrounded by Greek or Roman columns and pediments;
and exterior walls were typically covered with a variety of shingle patterns, painted in rich, dark colors with contrasting trim.
"Queen Anne was not just for the wealthy; it could be built in all sizes and in varied materials. The ease with which this style lent itself to decorative display, however, endeared it most to the socially conscious, rising American middle class; for the degree of ornamenta-tion best indicated the size of the home-owner's pocket-book and gave tangible evidence as to that person's financial standing in the community."
Because the Villa Montezuma was closed without notice in February of 2006 and remains closed today, we were only able to view the home's exterior. We were able, however, to read about the home's interior in Crane's article.
She described all the rooms in the home, including: "A narrow staircase leads up from the second floor to the tower room which has an unobstructed view in all directions, sweeping around San Diego to Point Loma, San Diego Bay, and south to Mexico. This was Shepard's 'sanctum sanctorum,' furnished with a desk and a revolving chair so that he could enjoy the view from any side while he wrote."
But even without a tour of the interior, we thought we had had an exceptional visit to this magnificent home.
Shortly after the turn of the century, Queen Anne had fallen completely out of fashion. One writer, Gellett Burgess, wrote the final epitaph for Queen Anne with the following description:
"[Queen Anne] should have a conical corner tower; it should be built of at least three incongruous materials ...; it should have its window openings absolutely haphazard; it should represent part of every known and unknown order of architecture; it should be so plastered with ornament as to conceal the theory of its construction; it should be a restless, uncer-tain, frightful collection of details, giving the effect of a nightmare about to explode!"
A somewhat harsh farewell to Queen Anne I would say.