A Walk on The Hill

| May 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

I always find that the classes and lectures I attend at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UCSD teach me something I did not know before. Recently I attended a lecture about Bankers Hill given by Dan Soderberg, a San Diego native who has a wealth of knowledge about America’s Finest City. Since I live on the “hill” I wanted to learn more about the history. First I learned that the area‘s boundaries are considered to be Date to Upas going south to north and Balboa Park on Sixth to Hwy 5 and Little Italy going east to west. The name Bankers Hill was attached to this area when it was first developed in the 1890s. It was a place that appealed to affluent residents who liked the hillside setting and the views it afforded.

Although the canyons were barren then, the residents relied on the sumptuous gardens they planted, many of them laid out by Kate Sessions, the visionary who is responsible for Balboa Park’s trees and plants which she gathered from all over the world. As Bankers Hill became the place to live it attracted designs by some of the most respected and talented architects of the time. Beautiful large homes were designed in many styles, notably Victorian, Craftsman, Revival and Emerging Modern. Architects played into the beauty of the area by designing homes that were equally striking.

One of the most famous was Irving Gill, an architect whose work is on a par with Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, I learned that the very building I live in is on the site of Gill’s own home, which sadly, was demolished long ago. Even though this is sad for San Diego, it is selfishly not so sad for me. I get the benefit of facing Balboa Park and claiming it as my front yard. However, this was not always the desirable direction to face. Back then the park was more of a huge lot dotted with scrub. Many of the homes were built facing south to take in the city from a once unobstructed view to downtown.

A whimsical addition to Banker Hill’s charm is the alphabetical listing of tree inspired street names. This is great when figuring how far something is, I just count the streets by naming the trees and it works every time. I know it‘s seven blocks to one of my favorite restaurants. I just count from L to M to N to O to P to Q to R…easy!

Take a stroll to find the walking bridges in the area. The Quince Street Bridge goes over Maple Canyon linking those residents to 4th street. This was important, as the streetcar in those days ran directly down 4th which gave easy access to downtown where many residents worked. Another interesting walking bridge is the Spruce Street Bridge at Spruce and Brant, designed in 1912 by Edwin Capps who also served as San Diego’s mayor. Capps’ bridge, which is 70 feet above the canyon, helped open up Bankers Hill to development.

A walking tour of Bankers Hill is a great way to see the homes and hear about the famous men who designed them. One of the homes designed by Gill is the Marston House on Upas, a little way into Balboa Park. The Marston House is now a historical landmark open to the public. To see the neighborhood on foot, The San Diego History Center has created a very inclusive tour you can go on alone. The tour route and accompanying descriptions are on their site at www.sandiegohistory.org.
San Diego has many different neighborhoods, each unique in its own way. From the Gaslamp to Oceanside, from the Pacific Ocean to the desert, our city has much history to savor. Begin in Bankers Hill to get a sense of history and perspective and to see what has changed as the city moved from then to now.

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Category: Life Style, Local News

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