By Jake Romero | Gaslamp Landmarks
On March 27, 1871, Alonzo E. Horton, the successful founder of Downtown San Diego, deeded a lot to Miss Henrietta Hadson Nesmith for $1,900 in U.S. gold coin. It was an unusually high amount for a lot, at that time.
Henrietta married then Lt. Adolphus Washington Greeley, a veteran of the Civil War, in June of 1878 in San Diego, and shortly afterward moved to Washington, D.C., where Lt. Greeley was in signal service. She would eventually return to San Diego sometime before 1884.
In March of 1873, Henrietta deeded that lot to her father, Thomas Nesmith of the state of Texas. Nesmith came to San Diego in 1870, succeeding Alonzo Horton as president of the Bank of San Diego, the first bank in San Diego.
In 1887, Mr. Nesmith began plans for two brick structures on the lot: one on Fifth Avenue between E and F streets, and a second structure on Fifth Avenue between C and D streets, however the second building was never constructed.
Instead, Mr. Nesmith continued with his plan to build the 100-by-100-foot Nesmith Block, later renamed the Nesmith-Greeley Building, in honor of Henrietta and her husband, Brig. Gen. Greeley, who by that time had advanced in his military career.
The firm of Comstock and Trotsche was retained as the architects for the building. N.A. Comstock and Carl Trotsche probably came to San Diego in 1886. They designed a great number of buildings in San Diego, including the iconic Villa Montezuma House (Jesse Shepherd residence), the Coronado Boat Club House, the Coronado School and The Grand Hotel.
They were known for their Victorian and “gingerbread” style of architecture. The Nesmith-Greeley building however, deviated from their typical style with its Romanesque architecture featuring a facade constructed of brick with stone, patterned brick and cylindrical columns capped with coated sheet metal finials.
In November of 1888, the year of his building’s completion, Nesmith died in Washington while visiting Henrietta and General Greeley. He had been ill through the preceding year.
In his will, Nesmith set aside $5,000 for the building of a Lyceum 150 years later. He speculated that the interest would compound and that the $5,000 would grow to $15 million. Unfortunately, the would-be philanthropist’s plan never took hold as at the time of his death, he had a $50,000 mortgage on a Downtown office building and the total worth of his estate was $3.64.
Today the Nesmith Greeley Building stands on Fifth Avenue directly adjacent to another popular structure in the Quarter, the Louis Bank of Commerce. A popular barbeque eatery occupies the first floor.
If you would like more information on the history and wonderful buildings of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation invites you to visit the Gaslamp Museum and the Davis-Horton House located at 410 Island Ave., or visit our website, gaslampfoundation.org.
—Jake Romero is the director of operations of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, located in the historic Davis-Horton House at 410 Island Ave., Downtown. For more information visit gaslampfoundation.org.