Meet the preservationists

Posted: January 1st, 2016 | Columnists, Featured, Preservation Matters | 1 Comment

By Ann Jarmusch | Preservation Matters

Save Our Heritage Organisation began in 1969, when an artist named Robert Miles Parker posted a sign in front of an elaborate Victorian home.

“Save this house,” it said, simply, but emphatically, kicking off SOHO’s preservation efforts that are approaching the half-century mark.

From that living room gathering 47 years ago, the nonprofit SOHO has grown to be the region’s largest and most effective preservation organization, with thousands of members and subscribers, scores of volunteers and a professional staff of more than 30.


SOHO has saved the 1910 Horton Plaza Fountain — an innovative electrified design by Irving J. Gill — three times, so its image became the organization’s logo. “It symbolizes our perseverance and our commitment to future generations,” said Alana Coons, SOHO’s director of education and communications. (Drawing by SOHO founder Robert Miles Parker from Reflections Newsletter, 1975)

And since that initial, heroic rescue of the Sherman Gilbert House, SOHO has been at the forefront of preservation battles both large and small. Sometimes the conflicts make headlines, as was the case in the fight to keep a massive freeway-type overpass and parking structure out of the historic heart of Balboa Park. More often, SOHO works behind the scenes to prevent demolition, neglect or damaging alterations to sites and structures.

Advocating for specific architectural and cultural resources is at the core of everything SOHO does, but that’s by no means all. SOHO also operates and manages five historic museums and a number of other historic buildings, more than any other group in San Diego County, including:

  • The arts and crafts-era Marston House Museum & Gardens. Designed by Hebbard & Gill, the home stands as a monument to San Diego’s progressive movement.
  • The Whaley House Museum. The city’s first two-story brick building often lauded as the most haunted historic home in America.
  • The Adobe Chapel in Old Town. SOHO hosts events and performances here.
  • Santa Ysabel General Store. An 1884 icon of the backcountry purchased by SOHO and returned to its original use, along with the adjacent Feed Store, adapted for Antiques and Such.
  • Warner-Carrillo Ranch House. An epic stop for emigrants traveling the southern trail to California.

SOHO continues to grow in creative and meaningful ways. With exhibitions, such as a recent 100-year survey of paintings of Balboa Park, the county’s premier historic home and garden tours, and neighborhood architecture tours, SOHO raises awareness about preservation among residents and tourists alike.

“The benefits and impacts of preserving our built and cultural environment are far reaching,” said Bruce Coons, SOHO’s executive director. “Historic preservation brings with it tax dollars, high-paying jobs for local skilled labor, and neighborhood and Downtown revitalization. In neighborhoods where houses have been restored, it is proven that property values go up.”

Think of your favorite San Diego icons and more than likely, they’re still intact and thriving because of SOHO. The Hotel del Coronado; the Santa Fe Depot; nine blocks of Downtown’s Warehouse District, including three buildings incorporated into Petco Park; the Headquarters (formerly the Old Police Station); and the Gaslamp Quarter are just a few of the landmarks we would not be enjoying today had it not been for SOHO’s negotiations, dedication and love of San Diego.

The Marston House Museum & Gardens in Balboa Park is one of five museums SOHO operates. It is located at 3525 Seventh Ave. and open Friday-Monday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Call 619-297-9327.

—Ann Jarmusch represents SOHO. She can be reached at 619-200-3340 or by email at For more information about SOHO, visit

One Comments

  1. […] Meet the preservationists SOHO has saved the 1910 Horton Plaza Fountain — an innovative electrified design by Irving J. Gill — three times, so its image became the organization's logo. “It symbolizes our perseverance and our … With exhibitions, such as a recent 100-year … Read more on San Diego Downtown News […]

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