U.S. Grant, Jr.: A Builder of San Diego

By EVELYN I. BANNING
Author of books and articles on early California history

Images from the article

 

HE WAS PROBABLY ONE OF THE MOST prominent but the least remembered of San Diego men of the late nineteenth century. His quiet manner, his easy acceptance of the differences of opinion, and his continuing ties with New York and the East, all gave him an air of aloofness. His many friends liked him but few really understood him.

Ulysses Simpson Grant, Jr., the son of the eighteenth President of the United States, did much to promote San Diego the world over. Along with Alonzo E. Horton, the founder of New Town, he became one of the outstanding businessmen in Southern California.

Born in Bethel, Ohio, July 22, 1852, Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., nicknamed Buck by his family, was the second son of Julia Dent and Captain Ulysses Simpson Grant. When his father became President in 1869, Ulysses, Jr. attended Emerson Institute in Washington for two years and then was sent to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire to prepare for Harvard. After his graduation from Harvard University in 1874, he chose to enter the legal profession and two years later graduated from the Law School of Columbia University in New York City. Admitted to the New York bar, he entered the law firm of Elkins as a junior member.

Unlike his father, Ulysses, Jr. never completely yielded to the lure of politics, but he did serve for eighteen months at his mother's urging as private secretary to his father in the White House.1 The following year he accepted the post of assistant United States attorney for the Southern district of New York during Stewart L. Woodford's administration as governor.2

At the age of twenty-eight on November 1, 1880, Ulysses, Jr. married Fannie Josephine Chaffee, the only child of Senator Jerome B. Chaffee of Colorado, a wealthy businessman, who had made a fortune in the Leadville mining boom. They were married in the home he had purchased at 26 58th Street, New York City. They had three children: Miriam, born September 26, 1881; Chaffee, born in the "Berkshire," September 28, 1883; and Julia, born at the "St. Cloud Hotel," April15, 1885.

Since Grant's law practice on Wall Street in New York City had been going well in the 1880s and he was financially well-off, he accepted the offer of a partnership with Ferdinand Ward. He and his father each put $100,000 in this new banking and brokerage firm and for four years helped to get veterans and millionaires to leave money for investments in Grant and Ward, Bankers and Brokers, at No. 2 Wall street.

Grant, Jr. believed it was understood that he and his father would share one-half of the profits, only to find that Ward had used the President's name to his own advantage. In 1884, this Wall Street wizard and con man absconded with all the funds, leaving Grant and his friends penniless. On May 6, the firm of Grant and Ward collapsed, with Ward receiving ten years in the state penitentiary. The failure of the firm threw the Grants into bankruptcy and humiliation.

As soon as Grant, Jr. could get back onto his feet, he moved his family to Westchester County, north of the city. There he bought the Merryweather Farm, an attractive country home in Salem Center. On August 11, 1889, he was blessed with a third daughter, whom he named Fannie after her mother.

Soon after the birth of Fannie, it became clear to Grant that his wife needed more help with the care and schooling of the older children. By this time Miriam was eight years old and Chaffee, six and ready for school. He contacted Anna Held, a German fraulein he had known through his parents and their Colorado Springs friends, the Palmers. But it was two years before Anna could be persuaded to leave Gotham, where she had been housekeeper for the Dunhams.4 Finally with the promise of her own schoolroom and a private study where she could keep her beloved dog Drummy, Anna joined the Grant family in 1891.

It may have been that Grant was encouraged to leave the East after suffering his severe financial disaster. His greater concern, however, seems to have been his wife's continuing poor health. Taking his mother's suggestion—his father had died July 23, 1885—he went to Southern California in 1892 to try out the climate of San Diego for six months. Although Grant had known little of San Diego prior to his arrival, his younger brother Jesse had. In fact, Jesse Grant and his family: his wife Elizabeth Chapman and his two children, Chapman and Nellie, had moved to San Diego, where they rented the Pilling Cottage at 1763 First Street.5

It didn't take Ulysses Grant, Jr. long to decide as well that Southern California, and especially San Diego, offered both a healthy climate for his family and a promising field for land investments. He moved West the fall of 1893.

According to an interview with his daugher Julia Dent King in 1963, the family came West in his mother's private railroad car. The family included Mrs. Grant, wife of the late President, Grant, Jr., his wife, the children, two nurses, and the governess. They arrived on October 27, and after spending a few days with Jesse and his family, they went to Riverside—all except Mrs. Julia Dent Grant, who left the day after arrival in San Diego for Santa Barbara to spend the winter with her daughter, Nellie Sartoris.7

Despite the fact that the boom of the 1880s had ended, with the population of San Diego only about 16,000, a drop from 35,000, San Diego was still six times larger than what it had been in 1880. The boom had left a city where there had once been a town.

The first transcontinental train rolled into the small frame depot of San Diego on November 17, 1885. The day before, the first train had left for the East and on November 26 the first Pullman arrived with sixty passengers, It had taken a struggle of over thirty years to have a railroad direct from the East to the West. The Santa Fe had bested its rival and got the terminus of the Pacific Coast by helping the subsidiary, the California Southern, to reach San Diego from National City.

The Horton House had opened October 10, 1870 and four years later William W. Bowers designed and opened the Florence Hotel in the block bounded by Third, Fourth, Fir, and Grape. Although eight blocks from the business center, it was a show place and provided a carriage to town every thirty minutes.

It was to this San Diego that the Grants came with hopes that a new home in sunny California would bring all of them a better life. Grant had actually told a friend that he was thoroughly in love with San Diego and confident of its future greatness. For the Grants as well as for San Diego, the move proved a beneficial one.

It was a good move for Anna Held too, although she left New York with some feeling of loss. Thinking that the Grants would be traveling West in a Pullman and staying in a hotel on arrival, Anna unhappily left Drummy. Her duties were not burdensome even after the birth of the Grant's second son, Ulysses S. Grant, IV,8 born May 23, 1893, some five months before the family left for San Diego.

On arrival in the city, Chaffee was sent to a private school in the Ojai Valley, where he could have his own pony. And in a short time the girls were placed in school. Although Anna was largely mistress of her own time, she supervised the household and since Mrs. Grant was not well, she became a companion and attendant to her. Told by a friend about a plot of land in La Jolla, Anna bought it for $165. Over the years she developed a cluster of eleven cottages that became known as the Green Dragon Colony,9 some of which still remain today on Prospect Street.

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.10 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.11 The Keatings 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.

In contrast, Jesse Grant purchased a lot, block 329, at the corner of Sixth and Quince Streets, facing City Park. Here he had a modest home built, a comfortable two-story structure in colonial style that cost between five and six thousand dollars. This would be home for his family, his wife Elizabeth Chapman and two children, Nellie and Chapman, but also for his mother whenever she wished to come. Though Mrs. Julia Grant kept her New York. home on East Sixty-sixth Street, in the years ahead she spent many winters with her sons in San Diego.

One of Grant, Jr's. joys was travel. His mother said he had a "passion for travel." As soon as his family was settled in San Diego, he left for Santa Barbara to visit his mother and sister Nellie. Sometimes he and his wife traveled by themselves as they did to the Julian Hotel in the fall of 1915. But usually they took the children with them. In November of 1894, they all spent a day at the Hotel del Coronado. The next year their travels included Catalina, and two years later in 1896 they spent the summer in their country home in Westchester, New York.12

The spring of 1897, Grant, Jr. and his family, and Jesse Grant and his wife and two children, attended the ceremony at the Grant Tomb in New York City.13 But it was three years before they went East again. This time they stayed two years, returning May 20, 1902. They were away longer than expected and glad to get back to the comfort of San Diego—all, that is, except Chaffee, now eighteen years old. He had remained in New York to learn the banking business and to discover whether he liked the life of a banker and the business world.14

 According to author Richard Goldhurst, Jesse and Grant, Jr. had moved to California and made themselves wealthy in real estate.15 However wealthy they became, they also helped build San Diego in the process. Among the early activities for its betterment was a scheme to furnish water from Warner's Ranch with a proposal of a dam and reservoir on the San Luis Rey River to San Diego. Judge George Puterbaugh, Jesse Grant, and U.S. Grant, Jr. submitted the proposal to the Joint Water Committee and the Common Council of San Diego.16

Immediately on arrival in the city, Grant, Jr. opened a law office, which he soon abandoned to enter the field of finance, mainly as a real estate operator. Like his brother Jesse, he soon became active in civic affairs and in both the social and business life of the community.

In 1894, Grant, Jr., purchased two of the finest building sites, one 100 by 100 feet on Fifth Street between C and D from the Nesmith estate for $24,000,17 the other on the southeast corner of D and Sixth Streets. In March of the following year, he gave notice to the occupants of the building on the southeast corner of D and Sixth to vacate the premises. He intended to modernize the building with brick and stone and to furnish it ornately at a cost of $30,000. His notice also indicated that he had contracted masonry work for a new basement and planned to add a third story.

In addition, Grant offered George W. Marston, President of the Young Men's Christian Association, the use of the second floor. Actually the lease and contract were signed in May for a three-year period.

While Grant continued to invest in real estate, the project that brought him the most recognition was the purchase of the old Horton House in August of 1895. For twenty-five years this hotel had been a landmark of San Diego.

As was the Havermale mansion, the old Horton House was actually purchased legally by Mrs. Fannie Grant.18 She paid the sum of $56,251.41 for the property, a low figure even at that time. In November of 1897, Mrs. Fannie Grant executed a will in favor of her husband, conveying to him the Horton House property.19

In his autobiography, Julius Wangenheim20 had stated that Grant, Jr. often talked about erecting a hotel as a memorial to his father and Wangenheim added, "Of all the crazy ideas." But it was an idea that stayed with Grant. Although he planned to tear down the old Horton House and build the finest hotel in San Diego, he would keep it open for a while and retain it under the management of W.E. Hadley. He would use the royalties from his father's Memoirs, carry out a military theme, and hang his father's portrait in the lobby. The hotel would be named the U.S. Grant as a monument to his father.

It wasn't until 1905 that Grant made a firm decision to have the old Horton House torn down. On the evening of July 12 the first bricks were moved by Alonzo E. Horton, Ephraim Morse, and William W. Bowers, all of whom had helped lay the cornerstone more than thirty years before.21

Thousands assembled in the Plaza to witness this important event, and Mr. Bowers, who had designed the hotel for Horton, gave a short speech, in which he said, "It is such men as Horton, Morse, and Grant and Wilde that build cities. Natural advantages and beauty of situation never build cities. Men build cities. . . ."23

Unfortunately the construction was held up for several years, first as a result of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that paralyzed the West coast. No lumber was available and with the panic that followed the next year all building was halted. The concrete skeleton stood as a blight on the downtown area for several years.

When construction could be continued, financial difficulties slowed the process. Wangenheim claimed that his bank advanced a loan of $100,000. How many other persons were involved in financing the building is not clear. Grant did, however, close a deal with Louis J. Wilde, who raised the money needed and became part owner.24 The hotel would finally be built at the cost of over one and a quarter million dollars.

The U.S. Grant officially opened on October 15, 1910, under the management  of James H. Holmes, formerly of Pasadena. Of the three who had moved the first bricks of the Old Horton House, only one still lived. Morse had died in 1906 and Horton, in January of 1909. The opening was further saddened for Grant by the fact that his wife was not there to usher in this important event with him. Mrs. Fannie Josephine Grant had passed away the year before on November 10, 1909, at the age of sixty-two.

Centrally located at Third and Broadway,25 the hotel contained 437 rooms, 350 of which had private baths. The building had been made fireproof with reinforced cement. White marble was used for the main staircase and blue for the Belgian base around the lobby. Grant's enthusiasm for good architecture made this building more than ordinarily attractive. The building included a roof garden, a palm court, a bivouac grill, an excellent dining-room on the first floor and a magnificent ballroom on the ninth. The structure, designed by Harrison Allbright, received world-wide recognition. Grant would surely be pleased to know that his father's portrait still hangs in the lobby and that the hotel was listed in 1979 on the National Register of Historic Sites.

In 1954 on a visit to San Diego, Grant's son, Ulysses S. Grant, IV, expressed great admiration for his father as a real estate operator. He cited the fact that in 1910 when only about 20,000 people lived in San Diego, his father built a hotel that would house over 400 residents. "How's that for faith in your city?" was his comment.26

During the time between the purchase of the old Horton House and the opening of the U.S. Grant Hotel, Grant Jr. made several investments that gave strength to the real estate market and encouraged others to build and to recognize San Diego as a city of progress and growth. In 1897 he bought the block between Third and Fourth Streets and took out a permit to build a row of one-story brick buildings behind the Horton House at a cost of $2500. These would be used for stores and offices. The following year he purchased what became known as the Grant Block on the west side of Fifth Avenue between C and Broadway. It was then occupied by Leader's Women's Store, Burbeck's Book Store, and the Citizens Savings Bank.

Months later it was learned that Grant had also bought the Central Market property, including the Hamilton Block at the northeast corner of Fifth and G Street, and the corner lot on the southeast corner of Sixth and G. He had acquired this property in the name of a W.A. Purington of New York City, his attorney in the East. He paid nearly $70,000 for both corners.

He also purchased the Florence Hotel at $60,000 in 1899 and even considered buying the Fisher Opera House. With his purchase of the southeast corner of Sixth and G Streets, it was recognized that Grant, Jr. believed that good times were ahead for San Diego. Possibly the proposed coming of the Utah Southern Railroad was the reason for these heavy purchases.

In addition to the property purchased and built in San Diego, the Grants also bought land outside the city proper, both in La Mesa and Sweetwater Valley.27 Mrs. Fannie Grant purchased the La Mesa property, one-half of Lookout Ranch, for $20,000. The ranch was one of the show places in the valley, covering some thirty-five acrea laid out in oranges and other fruit trees.

But it was at Sweetwater—now a section of Bonita—that the Grants enjoyed a second home. Their neighbor and friend, Dr. H.R. Arndt,28 had a ranch in Sweetwater and often took them for a ride to the valley whenever he went out to supervise work on his place. Impressed with the location between Sweetwater Dam and Sunnyside Station—the Otay Railroad ran along the foot of the hill—Grant bought seven acres there on January 24, 1894, next to the W.W. Whitney ranch.29

Grant, Jr. had a cottage built in Dutch Colonial style with a gambrel roof. The grounds were to be planted in various kinds of fruit trees. When the Grants stayed at the cottage, usually in the summer months, they hired a tutor for the children and conducted their own private school.

Besides his investments in real estate, Grant, Jr. participated as well in the business life of San Diego. In January of 1895 he became a member of the first group organized to plan for furnishing water to San Diego. He also was soon involved in what was known as the "great railroad enterprise," a railroad committee appointed by the Chamber of Commerce in January of 1902.

In August he was involved in the first definite move toward the development of the City Park, later to be known as Balboa Park. Julius Wangenheim had suggested the organization of a Park Improvement Committee to include Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., George W. Marston, William Clayton, and D.E. Garretson.30 To encourage others to make donations for the improvement, Grant gave the first one hundred dollars.

In 1903, Grant, Jr. was elected director of the Merchants' National Bank, and he served as chairman of the Board of Directors for the San Diego Panama Exposition of 1915. It is interesting to note that the new Santa Fe depot was built in time to open the Exposition. The Santa Fe had finally come to San Diego, but not from the East. It came down from Los Angeles along the Pacific Coast.

Socially, Grant was equally active. A member of the Elks, he also belonged to the Cuyamaca Club, still a leading organization in San Diego. His younger brother described him as a good mixer with a friendly interest in others. He was known as an inveterate reader and a genealogist, serving for many years as head of the Grant Family Association. According to Elizabeth Chapman, his brother's wife, he never spoke harshly of any one, not even of those who bitterly opposed him. He used to say, "What good would it do?"31

Despite his long residence on the Democratic Pacific Coast, he remained a staunch Republican all his life. He never dropped his membership in the Republican stronghold of the East, the Union League Club of New York.

Although he was not in truth a politician, he did attend two national conventions (1896 and 1900) as a delegate from California and appeared twice as an elector at large (1904 and 1908). He ran in 1904 for the U.S. Senate from California, but lost.

Friends proposed him for vice-president to be on the ticket with Theodore Roosevelt. Many San Diegans thought that this combination would tie together the Atlantic and Pacific. It was believed that his name was synonymous with the heroism and statesmanship of his father and identified him as a safe conservative man. It was stated that he had not demonstrated the possession of greatness,32 but it was believed that he had much of his father's ability. In July of 1903 the Regiment of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry, commanded at the beginning of the War of the Rebellion by his father, pledged support for his candidacy. But Grant, Jr. declined to speak to the issues of the day and the announcement created little interest in Washington, D.C. It was a lost cause.

Four years after his wife's death, Grant, Jr. remarried on July 12, 1913. His second wife was a young widow, active in the social life of San Diego—America Workman Will.33

Grant, Jr. and America spent six years traveling and in the early 1920s made their home in the nation's capital. On their return to San Diego in 1925, Grant, Jr. sold the mansion on Prospect Hill to Dick Robinson and Associates and saw it torn down to be replaced by the El Cortez Hotel in 1927. The Grants then took up residence in the U.S. Grant Hotel and there in their luxurious rooms entertained many nationally prominent figures.

They continued to travel, however, mainly in California. In 1929 they took a four-month auto trip with America's nephew Sidney Halbert. While on their way home, some 270 miles north of San Diego, Grant, Jr. became so ill that they made an early stop on the Ridge Route at Sandberg Lodge. During the night of September 26, U.S. Grant, Jr., one of the pioneers and early builders of San Diego, died at the age of seventy-seven.34

At the directors' meeting that same day, the Chamber of Commerce accepted the following resolution.

U.S. Grant, Jr., one of the great pioneer citizens of San Diego, a builder of the city, has left behind a number of monuments to his energy and ability.

He will always live in the memory of his friends and associates who feel his loss deeply.

The San Diego Chamber of Commerce has lost a true and loyal friend, a friend whose work in the past along civic lines was valuable and extends its sincere sympathy at this time to Mrs. Grant and the surviving relatives.

Indeed San Diego should long remember U.S. Grant, Jr., not for the fact that he was a son of the famous Civil War General and the President of the United States, but for his useful and distinguished life that was of his own making and on his merits. He made many outstanding contributions to his adopted "home town."

NOTES

1. John Y. Simon, The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1975), p. 187; note 16; p. 199.

2. "San Diego County California," (Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1913), p. 16.

3. Simon, Julia Grant, p. 327.

4. Havrah Hubbard, Das Froeliche Kind, A Personality sketch of Anna Held Heinrich of La Jolla, 1938.

5. San Diego Union, October 28, 1893 (5:2).

6. "La Jolla Journal," October 3, 1963, no 4. in "Nostalgia Lane" by Maria Breder, a collection of newspaper articles at the La Jolla Historical Society.

7. San Diego Union, October 28, 1893.

8. Grant, Jr.'s older brother, Frederick Dent Grant, had named his son, born in 1881, Ulysses S. Grant, III. Since Grant, Jr. wanted to name his second son after his father, he distinguished him from his nephew by using IV.

9. Hubbard, Das Froeliche Kind.

10. San Diego Union, January 1, 1895.

11. Patricia Schaelchlin, "The Keating Building" San Diego Home/Garden, Vol. 1 (October, 1979), p. 22.

12. San Diego Union, May 5, 1896 (8:1).

13. Ibid., May 27, 1897 (1:3).

14. Ibid., May 20, 1902 (6:4,5).

15. Richard Goldhurst, Many Are the Hearts, The Agony and the Triumph of U.S. Grant (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975), p. 252.

16. Colonel Ed Fletcher, Memoirs of Ed Fletcher (San Diego: Pioneer Printers, c. 1952), p. 52.

17. San Diego Union, October 31, 1894 (5:2).

18. Ibid., August 12, 1895 (9:3).

19. Ibid., November 21, 1897 (5:4)

20. Julius Wangenheim, "An Autobiography," California Historical Society Quarterly, (June, 1956), p. 365.

21. Elizabeth C. MacPhail, The Story of New San Diego and of the Founder Alonzo E. Horton (San Diego: San Diego History Center, 1979), p. 143.

22. Louis J. Wilde, a businessman and a banker, arrived in San Diego from Los Angeles in 1903. He organized four new banks and became president of each. He was known as the "man who made Broadway."

23. Richard F. Pourade, Gold In The Sun (San Diego: The Union Tribune Publishing Company, 1965), p. 44.

24. MacPhail, New San Diego, p. 135.

25. Formerly D Street.

26. San Diego Union, September 25, 1954 (13:1-2).

27. Biographical File: Grant, San Diego History Center Library and Manuscripts Collection.

28. A native of Germany, Dr. Arndt and his wife arrived on the Orizaba May 11, 1869. He was admitted to citizenship, August 11, 1890.

29. Willard Washington Whitney had one of the finest ranches in Sweetwater, the Highlands Ranch. An extensive traveler, he imported orange trees from Tahiti and lemon trees from Sicily.

30. The Park Improvement Committee was comprised of prosperous businessmen.

31. San Diego Union, October 25, 1936 (8:4).

32. Ibid., June 22, 1903 (4:2).

33. Ibid., October 30, 1942 (2:2).

34. Ibid., September 27, 1929 (1:6-7).

THE PHOTOGRAPH on page 12 is courtesy of Julia King Watson. The view of the Sweetwater Cottage is by Mary Farrington. All others are from the San Diego Historical Society's Title Insurance and Trust Collection.