One of San Diego’s most distinguished residents was Ulysses Simpson Grant, Jr., nicknamed “Buck” and second son of the famous eighteenth President of the United States. Mr. Grant was born in Bethel, Ohio, on July 22, 1852, at a time when his illustrious father was a lieutenant in the Fourth regiment, U.S. Army. Mr. Grant attended Emerson Institute, prepared for college at Exeter and took his A. B. from Harvard University in 1874 and his LL.B. from Columbia two years later. He was admitted to the bar in New York in 1876 and was for a time Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York, Southern District. He married Josephine Chaffee in 1880. His wife was the daughter of Senator Chaffee of Colorado. Forced by ill health to seek a milder climate, Mr. Grant and his family selected San Diego and came here in 1893.
Soon after their arrival, the Grants moved into a three-story mansion previously owned by Samuel G. Havermale at Eighth and Ash Streets on Prospect Hill. The house was sold to Grant’s wife on November 17, 1893 by Ralph Granger with Grant, Jr. listed as the attorney. According to the agreement of purchase, the deed was filed in the County Recorder’s Office three days later, consideration being $25,000 in gold. 1893 was the year of a national depression and the year that saw many bank failures. Accordingly, money was not easy to get for real estate and the purchase price of the Grant mansion was only a fourth of what Havermale had paid for the house and most of the furniture, which came with it. The house had been built in 1887-1888 by Ora Hubbell, a well-known capitalist and local banker. The architects were the Reid brothers, James W. and Merritt, who had not only built the most beautiful of the tourists’ hotels in Southern California, The Hotel Del Coronado, but had also designed the George J. Keating Mansion. The Keating’s had arrived in San Diego seven years before the Grants, also attracted by the “salubrious climate.” Keating came to be healed, and he and Fanny, his second wife of four years, settled in the new Florence Heights near the City Park.
In addition, the site of the Grant home with its commanding view of the harbor, was one of the most valuable in the city. Built in Queen Anne style, the mansion was far more elaborate than might have been expected in the late 1880s, containing some twenty-five rooms. A spiral staircase, stained glass windows, and fireplaces of Tennessee marble and Mexican onyx adorned the living rooms. On the exterior, the first floor was pressed brick with brown stone trimmings and the upper floors were shingled. Elegant tile floors decorated the verandas and porches. Currently the El Cortez Hotel sits where this home was once located.
Grant continued to speculate in real estate. He also became a leading citizen, who pushed for the creation of a city park, that would become Balboa Park. Grant was a delegate-at-large for California at the Republican National Conventions in 1896 and 1900. He was also an elector for California in the 1904 and 1908 presidential elections
About San Diego – Grant Hill Park
The development of Grant Hill Park Historic District has been a long, slow process. Originally called Mount Gilead, the area was subdivided in 1887 by Mrs. W.E. Daugherty. The sparse development in the area indicates that this was a predominantly rural area of small houses and orchards. There was little construction in the area until 1906 when Ulysses S. Grant Jr. purchased a major portion of the subdivision, including the top of the hill, and resubdivided it, renaming it U.S. Grant’s Hill.
Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. (1852-1928) had long held the dream of erecting the finest hotel in San Diego and naming it the U.S. Grant Hotel as a memorial to his father, the former General and U.S. President (1869-1876). Just as his dream was about to come true, it appeared to be dashed when the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 brought construction of the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown to an abrupt halt. Because there was no lumber available, all construction in San Diego had stopped. While the hotel would finally be completed 4 years later, it may have looked to Ulysses Grant Jr. that his dream would never become a reality. This may explain why Grant Jr. purchased Mount Gilead, a prominent hill commanding a spectacular view, and changed the name to U.S. Grant’s Hill. He may have wanted San Diego to at least have a natural prominent site as a memorial to his father.
In order to take advantage of the view of the bay, the ocean and the hills of Mexico, Grant Jr. had “J” Street, which in earlier Mount Gilead subdivision would have cut over the top of the hill, graded in a curvilinear fashion to the South around the summit. The summit itself was never built upon and for many years served as a natural “reserve” where members of the community could retreat and enjoy the view. In 1940, the neighborhood conducted a campaign, under the leadership of Violet Black and the Golden Hill Improvement Association, to develop the summit area as a city park. With strong support of the community, including a contribution from George W. Marston, the City purchased the land for under $3,000 and developed Grant Hill Park.
In 1912, Michael F. Hall, a close friend of Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., and a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Grant Corporation, purchased the entire North side of “K” Street between 26th and 27th Streets. He built 15 bungalows along this block in this same year to sell as spec houses. Mr. Hall was a prominent realtor and businessman in San Diego who developed Mission Hills, Bird Rock and other San Diego subdivisions. When he built these houses, Mr. Hall was quoted in the paper as saying he had many more plans for the Grant Hill area.
The development of the area around Grant Hill Park was a very slow and sporadic process. Individual lots were purchased and built upon over a span of eight decades and, thus, cover a diverse range of architectural styles. To this day, this community presents a low density, low-key rural development character.
Also, in the early 1900’s, a number of homes were built by a family named Berger. This family worked as Stone Masons and owned their own firm called Berger Brothers. Their profession may be responsible for the many cobblestone retaining walls in the area, a unique and consistent design feature of the Grant Hill neighborhood. The Bergers were also a part of a larger German colony that lived in the greater Golden Hill and Sherman Heights areas.
Because of the nonrestrictive nature of the neighborhood, many ethnic groups have settled in the Grant Hill area over the years. Kikuye Kawamoto, a prominent Japanese restaurateur built a fine Spanish Colonial Revival home there in 1936. Mr. Kawamoto was the owner of the Frisco Café on Fifth Avenue in The Gaslamp area. The Kawamoto family and all the Japanese –Americans living in this neighborhood were forced to leave in 1942 when they were sent to military detention centers for the duration of World War II. The Kawamotos, unlike most others, were able to return to their home after the war and were still living in this house in 1967 when the architectural survey was made.
In 1990 the City established The Grant Hill Historic District and as recently as 2007 set forth detailed developmental guidelines. No alterations or modifications may be made to historic structures without obtaining a permit from the Planning Director and undergoing an intensive review by the City’s Historical Site Review Board.
The Painted Lady Bio
Although the tax records show 1909, our Victorian 2 story house located at 405 27th Street was built on lots 15 and 16, Block 50 of the Olmstead and Lowe’s subdivision possibly as early as 1894. It currently sits right across the street from Grant Hill Park and is the oldest and only 2 story Victorian on the hill. Geo Bell purchased the lots in 1891 and made an improvement by 1894 valued at $1475. This improvement indicates the building of a home, though no building records could be located. Although not certain, it appears that SEG Dougherty (Sallie Elizabeth Geller) may have lived at this property between 1893-1900 so our home might be technically “The Bell-Dougherty House 1894.” Sallie Dougherty was involved in the subdividing of the Olmstead and Lowe’s subdivision in 1887. On August 20, 1900, Geo Bell sold the property to Homer G. Taber, who only a month later sold it to Mrs. Tina Pope.
Mrs. Tina (also spelled Christina or Tena) Pope owned and lived at 405 27th Street for about a decade. In 1910, Tina Pope filed a sewer permit with City of San Diego, indicating that until this time the property was on septic and likely had an outhouse. Mrs. Pope was a widow when she purchased this house and lived there with her son, Walter Lester Pope. During her tenure at 405 27th Street, Mrs. Pope worked as a fruit packer. According to US Census documents and San Diego City Directories, Mrs. Pope opened up her home to lodgers. In 1913, Mrs. Tina Pope and her son, Lester (Walter), were listed as proprietors of the Hotel Webster at 912 8th Street. By 1917, Tena and Walter were both living in Oceanside where Mrs. Pope was the proprietor of a hotel there.
By 1913, 405 27th Street had new owners: Sidney and Jennie Stead. In 1913, Sidney was working as a salesman for De Varona & McDonald, a real estate company. In 1914, his occupation was Bailiff at the Superior Court. By 1917, he was working as a gas purifier at San Diego Gas and Electric Company. The Stead’s lived at 405 27th Street until 1956.
We purchased The Painted Lady in Spring 2011 and during the course of the Summer completed the total ground up restoration. To see the complete renovation story, see before and after pics, and videos visit https://tomtarrant.com/tag/painted-lady/.
Save our Heritage Organisation
San Diego History Center
Special Thanks to:
Steve “Barney” Barnett
Jim The Realtor
Ken Kramer’s About San Diego
Jodie Brown, Senior Planner Historical Resources Board San Diego
The painters I hired for The Lady turned out to be a little in over their heads. Throughout the week I found myself initially letting some poor prep slide, then finally by the end of the week I was actually showing them how I wanted things done and had my hourly helper doing their work. Since we had agreed on a contract price and not hourly, I told them it just wasn’t working out and I wanted to break up. The straw that broke the camels back is when I had my guy re-sand a whole wall because they didn’t prep it good enough and then before we could even put some primer on it, they sprayed color right over the raw wood. I feel much better now after letting them go, me and my guy will probably just finish it off ourselves. The paint job is real important on this house and as you know its all in the prep, but even though I had not planned nor budgeted for the caliber of work we’ve done in the past, it still needed to be better than what I was getting. This is the first sub contractor who hasn’t worked out so I’ve been really lucky getting back here to San Diego and having to build a new team and at least the error is on something I can fix. I am super excited with my colors, the first one we put up after primer is the dark green on the big eaves. Victorian color schemes are known for dark eaves and trim and lighter body colors. The pictures are large format again so make sure and click on them if you want to zoom in: )
The second color we sprayed was on the gable shingles. This accent color will also be carried down to a few other spots later. Notice the ornamental rosette discs I found online to replace what must have been there originally. When we pulled the siding off last month I noticed these circle marks and figured out what had been there years ago. These little details are going to pop after all the colors are up. I’ve got one more period detail big surprise with the front porch handrail, the house is looking really good now but only half way to the impact I’ve got planned!
The drywall crew is doing a great job and should be finished in a few more days. The hand troweled smooth texture is coming out perfect so that’s my good news for the week. Here are a few pics before the texturing went on, the huge tray ceilings are really dramatic. I also went with the new style “mini-bullnose” for the corners, its smaller than your typical rounded corner but very sharp and clean and usually reserved for high end custom homes. My plan is to keep pushing on the exterior so we can get all the colors up before coming back inside to do window trim, interior paint and flooring. We had a good home sale a few blocks over, its another historic 2 story rehab, 500 square feet smaller and only a 2 bedroom went pending after only 5 days on the market for $425k. We’ll have to see what it closes for but I’m sure they didn’t take too much less with that short market time.
After having 6-7 drywall contractors bid the Painted Lady I finally pulled the trigger. With the lack of new housing starts in this town a lot of the high volume big specialty crews are not around anymore. Of course there are drywall “companies” here but they all charge more than I want to pay. Any handyman can hang your drywall so it can be tricky to get a good price yet also get a good job, its one of the most important things to get right in order to have a nice finished product. We always say you can only get 2 out of 3; fast, good and cheap. It might get done fast and be cheap but it wont be good. It might be good and cheap but it wont be fast. Lastly, it might get done fast and good but it certainly wont be cheap!
In searching for drywall sub contractors I relied on referrals primarily. In our business we always break costs down to price per square foot on anything in order to budget for things. In Texas everyone used a labor price per sheet which was around 11.00. Here in San Diego all the contractors are using price per square foot and quoting .45 to .65 cents for labor which includes hanging, tape an float and texture. Out of all the rehabbers and other investors I spoke to nobody knew how much they were paying but just agreeing on one price. Things they take into consideration are the ceiling height and any other details that might slow them down. Our house has 11 foot ceilings with trays downstairs and coves upstairs so it adds a lot of time to the job. While a lot of bids came in at .59 cents I ended up getting it finally from a highly recommended guy for .40 cents. Another thing that’s driving my price up is because I am going with a smooth finish texture to replicate the old plaster found in these homes originally. A quick light orange peel spray job would have been way cheaper but I couldn’t do that to this house. At 10,000 s.f. of drywall I’m paying $4k for labor. I’m pretty happy, the hanging crew is done now after 2.5 days with 5 guys and we have the inspection on Monday for screw spacing then Tuesday we can start taping.
On the outside of the house I stayed busy with recreating some more of the missing details that make this house so cool while the painters started prepping. The biggest thing was that the sunburst under the front gable was broken so we had to scale a 32 foot ladder and take it down to copy it. I made a sweet new one and got it back up there in place, its weird to think that the last person who touched this was over 100 years ago and nobody will touch what we did for probably another hundred years. I’m putting in a little extra effort to make sure the front of this house and all its historical little ornaments are intact. We installed the TM Cobb Victorian front door with stained glass window and rebuilt the original transom as well. I also hand made some cool brackets for under the front porch. Since the original ones were missing I used the mini gable facia for inspiration and came up with a heart-Celtic-clover design, they came out cool and are now in place. Its neat when the sun hits the front of this house all these details create shadows on the siding. I also made some fake scalloped shingles for the top of the mini gable that were missing. I cut them out of 1/4 plywood and even put grooves in them to make them look real, another small detail that will pay off. We are getting color on the outside this week, stay tuned to see some Lady paint.
We finally passed all rough-in inspections and have now hung all the insulation. It took 2 tries with my hvac sub contractor, he forgot to strap down the furnace and didn’t run hard pipe gas line through the unit so we had to call for a second inspection after having him come fix the two issues. These are small details which he should have caught but nonetheless we got all the signatures now on our inspection card and the City inspector is starting to warm up to me a bit now that he sees we know what we are doing. Right after passing I scheduled the insulation to be hung the next day and its called in for an inspection for tomorrow. I insulated the exterior walls and complete sub floor. This is over and above what my permit called for but having all the walls opens provides such an obvious opportunity to save energy and provide someone with a product we can be proud of. I’m sure the new homeowner will unknowingly be thanking me every month when they pay their electric bill. With all the walls open I also ran Cat-6 and cable wires to all the bedrooms. We are in a heat wave right now in San Diego, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the guy under the house all day itching and scratching trying to hang this stuff. I jumped outside and started trimming out the exterior also, I re-framed the front porch and used 1×3 tongue and groove for the decking that’s historically correct. It’s a little more than I could have spent on another material but its details like this that will pay off in the end and especially since its on the front of the house which is always the most important to focus on.
I also got some of my windows installed and I’m telling you they are so neat. TM Cobb makes a mighty fine wooden double hung window for historic homes. I’m totally happy and cant wait for the missing 2 to arrive with the Victorian front door so I can install them too.
Here’s the bank of 4 windows on the study or optional 5th bedroom. This room is going to be killer with all the light that’s coming in. There was a lot of missing trim on the corners of the house that was probably removed when the metal siding went on. This stuff is easy to replace so we’ve been working our way around the house getting everything back to how it should be.
For the rear master suite room addition I purchased 10″ cedar beveled channel siding from La Mesa Lumber at $2.50/foot. This is the first time I’ve used it and boy is it nice. It comes pre-primed and its very straight, unlike the T117 siding I’ve frequently used on the Craftsman bungalows. We wrapped the room addition with Tyvek first of course and are now putting the 773 siding up. It’s great to use all the correct materials, in this case its costing me about $1400.00 for this siding but its going to be worth it. The historical review board here in San Diego wouldn’t even have let me use Hardi Siding if I wanted to. My colors were also approved this week so once the exterior trim and siding is all complete I’m going to have 2 crews in simultaneously painting the exterior of the house and hanging the drywall on the inside. Once the drywall is hung we have to get a nailing inspection where they verify spacing on the screws before we tape and float over it. Stay tuned, we’re going to see some dramatic changes soon. Also, Get on over to Biggerpockets.com and check out the video interview I did with Josh. I break down our business model and explain what kind of projects we look for.
This is the craziest roof I’ve ever done and it didn’t help that my roofer only saw it necessary to bring one helper. The pitch is a very steep 12′ on 10′ so it makes walking on it humanly impossible. Not to mention that there were 3 layers including the original wood cedar shake shingle that needed to be removed before we could even install the new roof decking made this an all consuming job. It was slow going all week due to the steep pitch, they even had to hand carry the individual shingles up the 32′ ladder as we couldn’t load the bundles anywhere on the roof. It’s always good to pick your roof color to go with what exterior paint colors you’ve got planned, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen rehabbers make this crucial mistake, like a brown roof with a green house. I usually use the Owens Corning 30-Year Estate Grey but this time I went with something new its the Lifetime GAF shingle in the color called Slate. It’s mostly grey but with a hint of blueish green to make it look like slate on an old house. I think its going to tie in nicely with my paint color scheme. The roof on this house is real important to get right because its so visible. I took this opportunity to remake the historic scalloped decorative facia board also on the mini front gable and it came out sweet.
I also picked up my new wood historic style double-hung sashed windows by TM Cobb this week. These windows are so cool I wish I could replace all of them but the budget just doesn’t permit it. I’m putting in 8 new ones that are either unsavable or someone had already replaced with aluminum and refurbishing the rest of the original windows per the historic board guidelines. I cant put them in until I pass framing inspection. The electrician finished up this week so I’m now finally ready to call for rough-in inspections on framing, electrical, plumbing and hvac all at once. I think I’ve got 7 killer historic colors nailed down for the exterior, they are from the Sherman Williams Victorian House color collection. If the Historic Board approves it, I’ll be using a lighter green body, dark green trim, burnt orange accent on the sunburst, plum windows, medium orange for some accents, and light blue for the porch ceiling. There will also be a grey wood front porch to keep it period correct. These are some heavy colors but I think the Lady will hold them well as long as I use the accents sparingly and in the right places.