SANDEE WILHOIT | Gaslamp Historical Association
Windsor Hotel (1887)
843 Fourth Avenue
Architectural Style – Italianate Revival
Architect – Unknown
Ever since San Diego came on the map in 1850, it has been a mecca for tourists looking to enjoy the balmy weather and improve their health.
Our first hotelier, Capt. Samuel Sumner Dunnells, proprietor of the New San Diego Hotel (1851), sensed the need for additional housing saying that his hotel, “does not begin to provide accommodations needed.” Consequently, in 1868, he purchased many lots from Alonzo Horton with the intention of building more hotels.
Although he purchased the property where the Windsor sits, Capt. Dunnells did not build the hotel. He immediately sold the lot to his brother-in-law. The property passed through several owners before it was sold to Andrew Van Horn for $525. Four months after his marriage to Mary E. Clark, Van Horn deeded half of his property to her “in consideration of conjugal love and affection.” He sold the other half of the property to H.E. Fellowes for $1500. Because of the increased property values in San Diego, Van Horn was the first owner to make a significant profit on the property.
On his wife’s property, he built a three-story, flat roofed, brick-veneered structure. A metal cornice graced the front and two staircases led to the second and third floors. The upstairs housed 30 small but comfortable rooms, named the Windsor, and advertised in Golden Era magazine as “European plan sample rooms for commercial travelers.” The city directory referred to the Windsor as furnished rooms, lodgings, apartments, hotels, and occasional offices.
Between 1910-1914, Mrs. Addie Davis, followed in rapid succession by Mrs. Hilda Hazelquist and Mrs. Nellie Long, ran half of the hotel as the North Windsor, and Oscar Gutharg operated the other half as the South Windsor. In reality, it was all one building, but the north half had a shady reputation. In 1915, the hotel was briefly renamed the Hotel Rice, before reverting to its original name, by which it is still known today.
The street level has always been a series of varied businesses, including originally Patten Tent and Awning Company, Nichols and Heilbron Pipefitters, the F.W. Woolworth Company and an extension of the San Diego Hardware Company. They were followed by saloons, restaurants, clothiers, and even a nightclub with go-go dancers in the 1960s. Mr. Heilbron of the Pipefitters later became known as “Mr. Water,” as he was instrumental in bringing Colorado River water to San Diego.
Throughout the years, the building has not been significantly altered and still operates as a hotel. On the south brick facade, the words, “Windsor Hotel” can still be seen, as they have been repainted from the original outlines. The street level houses Bandar, a popular Persian restaurant since 1996.
The Astor Hotel
Astor Hotel (1888)
421 E St.
Architectural Style – Modern
Architects – Anson Delane and Anton Reif
Joseph Faivre moved to San Diego in 1870. Originally from New Orleans, he first moved to Leavenworth, Kansas where he established a successful freight business. Once in San Diego, he made several real estate investments, and then sold most of his holdings at the height of the 1880s building boom. One site which he retained is the site of the present-day Astor Hotel. In 1887, Faivre had two buildings constructed by architects Delane and Reif. The first building was a three-story brick building with a shingle roof and a small wire glass light well with a ventilator pipe, which serviced all floors. The second building, the Astor, was of reinforced concrete and brick with a shingle roof. Along the front edge of the roof was a 35-foot parapet., and the interior was supported by steel trusses. The front door opened onto a wide staircase leading to the second level.
One of the early tenants of this building was the Metropolitan Hotel, which was renamed The New Port, and ultimately, the Astor Hotel. The Metropolitan was a 40-room, European style lodging house. A jeweler, Hyman Novitch, occupied the street level storefront. The principle tenants of the corner storefronts were the San Diego Cycle and Arms Company and a small theater called, “The Palace.”
The Astor now sports a historic neon sign in front likely added in the late 1930s, when the building underwent an Art Deco-style renovation. The structure still serves as a hotel. The infamous Star Bar, a longtime San Diego watering hole, operates on the street level.
Oh — and yes — Capt. Dunnells originally owned this parcel of land also.
The Paris Hotel
Paris Hotel (1910)
759 Fourth Avenue
Architectural Style – Modern
Builder & Contractor – Edward L. Rambo
Mr. William L. Minear, a local real estate agent, purchased the property on Fourth Avenue from Alonzo Horton in 1869. He formed a partnership with Mr. J. H. Pittman, and they built several small, one-story buildings on the property. The buildings housed a wagon maker, a blacksmith and a “veterinarian surgeon.” By 1887, several additional buildings had been added, and by 1889, a large, two-story brick building, which was listed as a lodging house named “The Albany,” had been added. A Mr. A. Drury was the proprietor. A shoemaker, barber, cigar store and the “Peerless Saloon” were also housed there.
On May 13, 1910, the San Diego Union reported that Mr. William L. Minear was issued a building permit to construct “a two-story brick, store and office building,” at Fourth and F streets at an approximate cost of $22,000. This building was to be built on the site of The Albany.
Mr. Minear hired Edward Rambo, a leading contractor and “building constructor” to build this project. He is additionally credited with the design as well as the construction of Mr. Minear’s building. Rambo had arrived in San Diego from Iowa in 1869, and as he became known in the building community, he went on to serve as the president of the San Diego Builders Exchange.
The structure, when completed, was a 100 x 100, two-story brick building with wire glass lightwells and an attractive facade featuring large arched window frames, corbelling below the roofline and double-sashed windows with cornices.
The Albany moved in and became the Capitol Hotel, then the Washington Hotel, and ultimately, well into the 20th century, the Paris Hotel.
Another prominent tenant on the street level in 1910 was the Muelheisen Tent and Awning Company, which produced the awnings for numerous early San Diego buildings. Adolf Muelheisen arrived in San Diego in 1900, and in addition to being an enterprising businessman with his brother Grover, went on to become Chairman of the Republican County Central Committee and Commissioner of the California State Building during the Panama-California Exposition of 1935.
The Paris Hotel is still in operation on Fourth Avenue as a hotel and residential lodging.
What do all of these buildings have in common? They are all still hotels, but now they provide low-cost homes for San Diegans on fixed incomes. They may be forgotten, and not the original tourist attractions they once were, but they are still providing people a much-needed commodity in our town — affordable housing.
Sandee Wilhoit is the historian and lead tour guide for the Gaslamp Historical Foundation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.