By Sandee Wilhoit | Gaslamp Landmarks
On June 15, 1850, all portions of the city of San Diego Pueblo Lot 1156, were sold to Thomas Sweeney, Thomas Matsell, Daniel P. Clark and Joseph T. Sweet.
They were respectively, a one-armed U.S. Army officer, a gentleman who would immediately become the County Recorder, a soldier who served in the Mexican-American War, and a relative of the other purchasers.
It must be also noted that Mr. Clark already owned a saloon and tobacco shop in Old Town in the Casa de Juan Rodriguez building.
This enterprise, which was called the Racine and Laramie Tobacco Shop, was later destroyed by a fire in 1872. These gentlemen did not develop their property, and part of it, Lot L, was eventually sold to Alonzo E. Horton. The other portions of the original lot were then sold to others, and several immediate and meaningless transfers were recorded during the single year of 1869.
On Christmas Day, 1868, Alonzo Horton sold Lot L to Judge Jared W. Tyson for $200. However, Judge Tyson did not develop his newly acquired property, and the Sanborn fire maps of the time had nothing listed on Lot L until development of a structure was begun in 1887. By this time, the property, as reported in the San Diego Daily Bee, had been acquired by Frank Jennings, an attorney, and George Crippen, a physician, who would begin construction on “a building which would add much to the appearance of that part of the city.”
The Grand Pacific Hotel building, one of the loveliest in the Gaslamp, still does.
The planned structure would be 50 feet by 100 feet, three stories in height, and brick veneered, with galvanized iron cornices, iron columns, plate glass fronts and balconies around the second and third stories. The projected cost was around $18,000 and the architects of record were Clemments and Stannard.
John B. Stannard was a very prominent architect who would go on to design many buildings in the then “modern” architectural style. Stannard also designed the dome of the Theosophical Institute of Point Loma, the largest glass dome ever constructed up to that point. His style was described in the newspaper as “symmetry arranged structures, the cream-colored bricks set in red mortar adding to the attractiveness of his style.”
The Coronado Brick Company supplied 25,948 bricks for the Grand Pacific, and the lumber was supplied by the San Diego Lumber Company. It is the only Victorian hotel of its era still standing on its original location. It operated as a fine lodging place on the upper levels with the street level housing several small shops.
Mr. Stannard lived until 1942, when he was struck by an automobile in Saratoga Springs, New York, and perished. His lovely buildings, however, live on providing an outstanding legacy.
The Grand Pacific has had a number of managers throughout the years, among them Mrs. Virginia Bruscho. She became proprietor in 1897, but she and her husband, Marco, had apparently lived at the hotel since 1893. Prior to Mrs. Bruscho, the managers were Alda M. Ferris and his wife, an accomplished vocal instructor. They left to open a prominent drugstore, Ferris and Ferris, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and H Street (now Market Street). During their tenure, several tenants of the building were physicians and surgeons.
In 1901, the building underwent a major change when it became the home of the Helping Hand Mission. This organization was an offshoot of the Helping Hands Home Mission and the Helping Hand Home Restaurant, located on Eighth Avenue and K Street. Several shops also leased part of the building, but these were of a transient nature.
The Helping Hands Home Mission was started by a “Miss Johnson, a missionary who had worked in China.” Her desire was to have an open door to aid the poor. Many felt that although it did do a lot to help the poor, women were underserved.
Mrs. Agnes E. Dodson, wife of a prominent businessman, became superintendent of the Helping Hands in 1895. She was a person of influence herself, and as superintendent instructed the county physician to bring in all sick or injured seeking relief. All families in desperate circumstances were also invited to come to the mission.
Mrs. Dodson had a good business head. She set up a Sunday school and a wood yard to defray expenses. She also sold articles sewn by residents and held children’s concerts. Much of what was needed was additionally donated. A separate children’s department was set up where a reliable matron was hired to watch the children, so that the mothers could seek employment. Only the matron, Mrs. Elizabeth J. Montague, and a cook, were paid employees.
All these improvements and increasing needs for space are what necessitated the move to the Grand Pacific. The Helping Hands Mission remained at the building until December of 1907, when it was sold to John Johnson, Jr., who returned it to its original purpose. The children’s area of the Helping Hands remained, however, eventually becoming the Children’s Memorial Hospital of San Diego, one of the truly outstanding children’s hospitals in the world. They remained until 1920.
The building remained the Grand Pacific Hotel until 1920, when it became the Hotel Salem for one year. It then became, once again, the Grand Pacific Hotel for three years, and then the Pacific Hotel for two years. The building continued to house workers and professional people.
From 1927 until 1930, this imposing structure was known as the St. John’s Hotel. In 1935, the building acquired yet another owner — David and Mary Estella Rose — who retained control of the property until May of 1960.
As the entire Gaslamp Quarter began its renovation and rebirth in the mid-1970s, the Grand Pacific became a contributing building to the new Gaslamp Quarter Historic District, on the National Registry of Historic Places. The Grand Pacific was one of the first buildings in the Gaslamp to be renovated.
In 1975, Shirley J. Bernard and her daughter gained control of the property and began renovating the rooms, one by one. They lived in the hotel as they continued the renovation process, they receiving an Orchid in the annual Orchids and Onions architectural contest. Mrs. Bernard sold the property in 1980.
Enter Dan Pearson, a local investor and developer, and most of all, a leader in historical preservation. Pearson purchased the property in 1980 and continued to market the upstairs floors as living quarters and the downstairs as an antiques emporium. Mr. Pearson, who was also responsible for the restoration of the Horton Grand Hotel, even lived at the Grand Pacific for several months. He sold the property in 1995.
After passing through several hands, the building was purchased in February of 2016 by HP Investors, who have been operating the upper floors as Grand Pacific Executive Suites. The street level floor is anchored by San Diego Trading Company.
A long and convoluted road from hotel to hospital and back again to hotel, the Grand Pacific stands today as one of the loveliest structures in the Gaslamp and an engaging reminder of the original boomtown days of San Diego.
—Sandee Wilhoit is the historian for the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.