- Journal of SD History
Bankers' Hill Walking Tour
Why Bankers Hill?
The Bankers' Hill neighborhood is named for the important professionals who have had homes there since the area was developed in the 1890s. Beautiful and surprising features make a visit to Bankers Hill especially worthwhile, beginning with the incredible hillside setting that looks south and west. (You get a sense of the view from the First Street Bridge north of Nutmeg Street.)
For many grand homes, this view has been preserved. For others, nestled on the edge of once-barren canyons, the years have brought a lush landscape unknown to the first residents of the neighborhood. They had to rely on their own gardens, laid out by experts such as Kate Sessions, to provide shade, fragrance, blossoms and fruit.
This tour of Bankers Hill offers you not only a beautiful walk, but also a look at a dozen historic sites that show the history of residential architecture in San Diego and more: a close-up of the dreams and ambitions of the powerful San Diegans who could afford to call this neighborhood home during the first quarter of the 1900s.
Where Do We Start?
Where Do We Start?
You'll find Bankers Hill up the First Street hill, heading north from downtown past Laurel Street. The neighborhood is made up of the "tree streets" heading towards Hillcrest, from Laurel through Upas, and the streets ranging westward from Balboa Park from Sixth Avenue down to Curlew Street above the Reynard Way canyon. Our tour starts at 1st and Quince at the site of our 1999 Showcase House. We cover the heart of Bankers Hill in our hour-plus walk, with clues that enable you to explore the rest of Bankers Hill on your own.
As amazing as the canyons and views is the fact that big homes have survived in a low-density setting for such a long time. True, the blocks between Balboa Park and First Avenue have many higher-density and commercial uses today, but along First and to the west, the one-house, one-lot layout has survived for about a hundred years now. Even better, the big homes come in a variety of designs: Victorian, Craftsman, Revival, and Emerging Modern. Among the latter are examples of the most creative, cutting-edge architecture of 1905-1915, including designs by the world-renowned Irving Gill.
We'll walk east on Quince from the 1999 Showcase House (shown at top of this page - a 1922 Georgian Revival) to the corner of 2nd Avenue.
On our right at 2965 Quince is a two-story Craftsman with a side entrance that faces south. Another nice example of this genre is located next door to the south. Proceeding east on Quince we dead-end at Maple Canyon - across it spans the Quince Street Bridge. Built in 1905, this trestle connected the Bankers Hill neighborhood to the streetcar that ran along Fourth Avenue. Bankers Hill became good development potential when the streetcar first began this route in 1892.
You can also enjoy walking the canyon underneath the bridge, since Maple Canyon is now a dedicated city park. Access it from Reynard Way. From 1st and Quince, go south to Laurel and turn right. At the bottom of the steepest section of Laurel is the intersection with Reynard Way. where you turn right. One block north of Laurel, turn east on Maple Street and then bear right till Maple dead-ends at the canyon entrance.
Turning away from the Quince Street Bridge, we head back to Second Ave, turn right and head north to Redwood. On the right is 202 Redwood, a Classic Revival mansion with a south-facing front and splendid Ionic columns. On the left is a tree-shrouded Craftsman, the White-Seifert House at 136 Redwood, built by the firm of Hebberd and Gill in 1898. (Historic Site #169) William Sterling Hebbard and Irving Gill were considered among San Diego's leading architects from this period. They were partners until 1907.
At 3162 Second is the Coulter House [shown at top-left, Historic Site #167], built in 1915 by Carlton Monroe Winslow, an architect brought to San Diego to work on the Panama-California Exposition of 1915. The Coulter House was an Historical Society Showcase House in 1985.
At 3241 Second, another Craftsman house shows the distinctive features of this early-century genre.
Next door, 3255 Second is the Otis House. [Historic Site #173, photo at middle-left] Designed in the Tudor Revival style by G.A. Hanssen, this 3800 square-foot home cost a whopping $5,380 to build in 1910.
At the corner of Second and Thorn, the Mertzmann-Winans Residence at 3303 Second dates from 1908. Built by the Schaniel Brothers in the California bungalow style, this house has features of both architectural and historical interest. It's Historic Site #174. The Schaniel brothers also built the Keating and Cole Blocks still standing in downtown's Gaslamp District.
Next door at 3315 Second is a wood-framed combination of Classic Revival and Craftsman dating from about the same time.