This past weekend I was invited by the Friends of the Villa Montezuma to be part of the "soft" opening to the public for tours by the City of San Diego during restorations of the historic house in San Diego, in the Sherman Heights area, just above downtown San Diego. A couple members of the San Diego Costume Guild came dressed in clothing of its time period and were posted in different parts of the house during the tours. Much of the furniture had to be sold but the beautiful carved woods, decorations, and stained glass windows really stood out without that distraction.
The last time I’d been in the house was about 10 years ago just before it closed for major restorations. Those are done mainly by public donations. So it’s been slow going, with lots of politics involved. To keep up its funding, it was required to be open one day for free public tours quarterly.
I’ve been coming to the museum since 1979 when I first began photographing it during a photography class in college. I was delighted to find out they still had the photo I’d taken of the house cat, Psyche, and had been in a display case in the house. I probably have my own copy stashed somewhere in a box in my garage, and may have to pull it out again. The house was a totally different color then but since I was taking them in black and white, I may not be able to remember what color it was. I remember liking the color then better than the current one though.
Our group of ladies (Judy & Linda w/ parasols, me by the door) stood out on the front staircase for photos. Above our heads on the roof of the house you can see the famous gargoyle, or dragon, lightening rod. It was the focus of lots of my earlier photos. Then we found our posts inside and prepared for the tours to start.
Chanel and I trying to stay cool. (photo by the UT)
The day before, and prior to tours, I took photos of the inside of the house. It was just as beautiful as I remembered it.
I was stationed in the Drawing Room just off the Music Room. I was surrounded by stained glass windows above a bow-shaped window that used to look out on the ocean before it was dredged up by the City and became land for houses and businesses.
This was my view of the two rooms. The fireplace, believe it or not, was made from a kit purchased from a catalog.
The ceilings, even though they looked like pressed tin, is actually Lincrusta Walton, a flax product that had been pressed into a design and then painted over. This was my pretty little needlepoint chair that I got to sit in or stand up by.
As the tours came through guided by a docent, we were asked to greet the visitors and describe how we were dressed. So in my room I came up with, “I’m Val from the San Diego Costume Guild. I’m dressed in an 1885 bustle gown that I made that ladies would have been wearing when this house was built (in 1887). (I also described my dress and underpinnings in detail when asked & demonstrated how I sit with a bustle) I came to visit Jesse Shepherd’s house and felt like I walked into a jewelry box and these (raising my hands to the stain glass) were my jewels.”
This lady, Frances Hodge, also joined us as a room decoration. Everything she was wearing was antique. I found out she puts on antique fashion shows from her own collection of clothing. I’m looking forward to hearing from her when she holds another one. She may be holding one at the Villa around Valentine's Day next year.
Next door to the Drawing Room by me was Jesse Shepherd’s bedroom which he had on the main floor. It was the only room that had any furniture, a Klauber bedroom set was purchased by the FOVM at an auction. They were beautifully carved wood that I ran my hands over quite a few times.
These are more photos I took inside the house. The staircase in the front entry is quite impressive.
The stained glass windows are hard to photograph because of the light coming in but they are still wonderful to see. These are the jewels of the house showing the music and art themes.
The scheduled tours of the house were completely filled up and I was told it was very successful.
This is the article online that the San Diego Union Tribune did on it, along with their photos.
I found this photo online that shows the sign that used to be out front of the Villa. I really wished it had been replaced but I don’t even know if it exists anymore. The next public opening is supposed to be in September this year, so maybe it might show up? Follow FOVM for further info