Inspiration Heights Historic District Progresses

| December 4, 2021 | 0 Comments

By Barry Hager

Last year Mission Hills Heritage began an ambitious project to nominate Inspiration Heights—one of the earliest subdivisions in Mission Hills—as an historic district for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Historic district status will highlight the history of Inspiration Heights and its importance to Mission Hills and San Diego, and help protect the irreplaceable architectural gems that line the streets of Inspiration Heights.

Mission Hills Heritage (MHH) has hired the consulting firm of Architectural Resources Group (ARG) to prepare the nomination package and guide its processing through the California Office of Historic Preservation, the agency which handles nominations to the National Register.  MHH board member and Inspiration Heights resident Kirk Burgamy, along with a committee of MHH volunteers, is overseeing the process.  ARG has prepared a draft of the nomination report and completed field survey work, and the package should be ready for submittal this spring.

The nomination will highlight important details about the history of Inspiration Heights and its significance to our community and the City as a whole.  For example, when Harry L Miller, re-subdivided the land in 1909, renaming it Inspiration Heights, key elements of a planning document known as the Nolan Plan were incorporated into the tract.  John Nolan, a landscape architect and planning consultant from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who advocated for incorporating nature and open space into city planning, was hired by a City of San Diego-sanctioned committee to prepare a master plan to guide development in the City. 

The so-called Nolan Plan was published in 1908 but never officially adopted by the City. However, new residential subdivisions in Mission Hills, including Inspiration Heights, were the first to directly apply key elements of the plan. The Inspiration Heights tract included a system of curvilinear streets and irregularly-shaped lots that conformed to the adjacent topography of hills and canyons, rather than imposing a rigid system of gridded blocks as with earlier subdivisions. This arrangement made more efficient use of the land and leveraged its unique natural attributes. The tract also incorporated a hierarchy of street widths to improve circulation within the subdivision.  Parkways were planted with queen palms to dress streets without obscuring views and harmonize with San Diego’s temperate climate.

The nomination will also reference a promotional brochure for Inspiration Heights that was illustrated by an eighteen-year-old local artist named Virginia Goodrich, whose sketches and watercolors depicted a romanticized interpretation of Inspiration Heights that accompanied narrative descriptions of the tract and its attributes.

Acceptance to the National Register of Historic Places will represent a significant honor for Inspiration Heights and all of Mission Hills.  Designation at the national level will also ease the path for designation at the local San Diego level.  Once designated at the national level, the City of San Diego’s historic guidelines will automatically qualify the district for local designation.  No additional analysis or reports will be required to designate the district locally.  Once designated locally, owners of contributing properties will be able to apply for Mills Act contracts to receive property tax benefits.

This project involves significant expense.  Please help us pay for the cost of the consultant and other expenses by making a donation to Mission Hills Heritage.  Donations can be made at our website,  With your help, we look forward to making the Inspiration Heights Historic District a reality.

Newly built homes in the 1909 Inspiration Heights subdivision. Photo is courtesy of the San Diego History Center.

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