A walk along the tree-lined sidewalks of the meandering streets in Mission Hills is like going back in time. Close your eyes for a moment and you might think you hear the sound of a streetcar rattling up the hill.
Indeed, streetcars were in large part the impetus for the development of Mission Hills. Installed right after the building began for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, streetcars brought access to an area that was largely undeveloped. And with this access, some of San Diego’s most prominent citizens, as well as people in town because of the exposition, put down roots.
As a result, today Mission Hills has one of the richest architectural displays of preserved historic homes in San Diego County.
The stroll leads past street after street of Bungalow, Craftsman, Prairie, Mission Revival, Spanish Revival and Colonial Revival homes designed by San Diego’s premier architects of the time. Along the canyon rims are fine examples of architecturally significant homes built in the 1950s and 1960s.
Janna Hernholm, a Realtor with Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty, has lived in Mission Hills for more than 30 years.
“It’s a very unique neighborhood that could never be reproduced in the county,” Hernholm said. “It’s a very walkable neighborhood. I think people move to it because of a longing for a simpler way of life, one where you can live in a neighborhood and actually walk to coffee, walk to church and to school.”
Hernholm said most of the people she shows property to in Mission Hills could “live anywhere in the county,” but choose Mission Hills because they value the sense of community and the ambience of a small neighborhood in an urban setting.
Hernholm has a listing in Mission Hills for a home built in 1921 at 2121 Sunset Blvd. The home is a Spanish Colonial with 9,174 square feet, five bedrooms and seven baths. The asking price is $5.8 million.
Referred to in a document from the State of California Parks and Recreation department as the “Mitchell House,” it was designed by architect Donald Parkinson. Parkinson, in partnership with his father John Parkinson, built a number of buildings in San Diego, among them the John D. Spreckels building and the Pacific Telephone Co. building, both downtown.
The gated estate was designed originally in the Eclectic Style, incorporating a variety of design elements. Once home to Reuben H. Fleet, the property was renovated in 2010 by award-winning San Diego architect Mark Lee Christopher.
“Mark did a seamless job in the courtyard,” Hernholm said. “How he fit a three-car garage in what used to be a carport is amazing.”
Today, the house is a blend of Spanish eclectic and Colonial architecture. Design elements include a frescoed ceiling, paneled club room, enclosed courtyard and an attached apartment for visitors or staff. A wrought-iron staircase leads to a master retreat with city and bay views.
The highest-priced listing in Mission Hills is at 4230 Arista St. with 11,400 square feet, seven bedrooms and eight baths on four levels. Peggy and Eric Chodorow of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices have the property listed for $7.4 million.
Built in 1948, the home is listed with the city as the Leo R. Hoffman Historic Residence. Mark Lee Christopher also did the renovation on this home in 2001, along with Rancho Santa Fe-interior designer Barbara Lee Grigsby. The design integrity of the original home was kept in spite of the doubling of the size of the original home. Some hallmarks of this elegantly fitted residence include an elevator, elaborate ceiling moldings, hardwood flooring, custom cabinetry, one-of-a-kind hand-forged metal chandeliers, multiple fireplaces, and expansive windows with westerly views from the bay to Coronado, Point Loma and SeaWorld.
Much of San Diego’s history is to be found along the charming avenues of Mission Hills. The first landowner was Capt. Henry James Johnston, who sailed a wooden side-wheel steamship between San Francisco and San Diego Bay in the mid-1880s. In 1869, he bought some 65 acres of dusty, chaparral covered land overlooking Point Loma and the bay for $16.25. Eventually, his daughter inherited the land for $1 and in 1887, she built the first home on the highest peak, the Villa Orizaba, named after her father’s ship the S.S. Orizaba. The home still exists today and has some of the original fittings and furnishings from the ship.
In the early 1900s, George W. Marston, a dry-goods merchant, and Kate O. Sessions, a horticulturist who landscaped Balboa Park, bought land and further developed the area. The Mission Hills Nursery that Sessions opened in 1910 is still in operation today. Marston plotted the area purposefully away from the standard grid system for streets, giving way to curious twists and turns among the avenues and the short, dead-end streets leading to the canyon-rim homes.
I highly recommend the walking tour put on by the Mission Hills Heritage preservation group. Through the efforts of this determined group, the history and grandeur of Mission Hills is still with us today.
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