By Sandee Wilhoit | Gaslamp Landmarks
In late 1869, Alonzo Horton sold lots J and K between H Street (now Market Street) to Jacob Kihner and Samuel Barkley. They, in turn, sold the north half of lot K to Mr. Charles Westphal, who promptly set about improving the property.
On July 20, 1871, the San Diego Union newspaper stated that Mr. Westphal was erecting a one-story frame structure with a large double oven. When completed, the oven would be used for baking bread, pies and fancy cakes for Star Bakery, the first bakery in the region.
Westphal then sold his property to Leopold Winter, an immigrant, who had learned the bakery business in his native Baden, Germany. Winter acquired the remainder of the lot and opened his business at 554 Fourth Ave. on April 29, 1873.
He formed a partnership with his brother, Joseph, and named the business “L. Winter and Bros. Bakery.” The business grew rapidly, as the Winter family, consisting of five brothers, soon acquired all of lots J and K.
Market conditions necessitated the construction of a new building in 1884, described by the San Diego Union as a two-story, 75-foot-tall building, 25 feet wide, featuring a salesroom in the front and the ovens in the back.
An elevator would be used to transport the baked goods to the second floor, where they would be packed. All of the machinery, including the elevator, were steam powered.
The business had now been renamed the San Diego Steam Cracker Factory, and could turn out 40 boxes of crackers per day. As San Diego was fast becoming an important port, and as crackers were the mainstay of diets aboard ships, business improved so much that in 1885, Winter was able to purchase a cake machine from Buffalo, New York.
Unfortunately, the illnesses and deaths of several of his children forced Leopold to turn the business over to his brother, Joseph.
Two other brothers, Carl and Frank, also left the Fourth Street bakery to open bakeries of their own, which proved equally as successful.
In 1896, Joseph ran into financial troubles and was forced to sell the property to Sam F. Smith, with all buildings and fixtures, equipment and machinery, for only $2,250. The property was then again purchased in 1899 by J. Millender, who leased it to several bakers in succession.
In 1911, as the Old Cracker Factory building was becoming quite worn with age and use, Millender contracted with A. L. Morgan to replace it with a new, two-story red brick structure. The new building housed various bakeries and the upstairs was listed in the City Directory as furnished rooms or hotels, including the Hotel Hanana and the Empire Hotel.
There was a notable Japanese presence for many years in the upstairs area, and the Japanese were described as model tenants. Longtime Davis-Horton House volunteer Jon Obayashi recently recounted his memories of the building. His father Al leased a portion of the downstairs area upon the family’s return from the Posten internment camp.
In the area that is now the La Puerta restaurant, the senior Obayashi ran a Japanese/Chinese restaurant named Miyako Sukiyaki. One could purchase a Sukiyaki Dinner consisting of tempura or sashimi, beef sukiyaki, rice, a Japanese pickle, tea and a fortune cookie for $3.25. The tempura dinner with all the trimmings was only $2.25!
The real property remained in the Millender family until 1946, but the bakery was purchased in 1920 by Alois Kuhnel and Francis A. Smith, who operated the business as the Royal Pie Bakery.
During the first half of the 20th century, the surrounding area deteriorated and became known as a “red light” district. By 1933, the upstairs hotel, now known as the Anchor, was not a respectable domicile. Upon discovering the state of affairs above the bakery, Martha Kuhnel, the mother of Alois, shut that den of “rampant immorality” down.
In 1946, the Kuhnels were able to purchase the real property, and continued to operate as the Royal Pie Bakery until 1998, when Alex Kuhnel, the last family member, passed away.
For the first time since 1871, there was no longer a bakery operating in the building.
After the bakery closed, several restaurants moved in. The building now houses Dublin Square Irish Pub and Grill, which features excellent food, friendly service, and of course, an impressive selection of Irish beers, including Kilkenny.
For those of you who aren’t beer aficionados, Kilkenny was previously unavailable in the U.S. They also sport an impressive 18th-century fireplace appropriated from an ancient church in Ireland.
For more information, take one of our historic walking tours, which leave the Davis-Horton House Museum on Thursday at 1 p.m. or Saturday at 11 a.m.
—Sandee Wilhoit is the historian for the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She can be reached at email@example.com.