Jake Romero | Gaslamp Landmarks
The Watts-Robinson building, an architectural landmark of the Gaslamp Quarter, is at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and E Street and was designed by Leonard T. Bristow and John B. Lyman, Jr., Architects.
This structure was one of the first Chicago commercial-style buildings to be erected in Downtown San Diego.
“Commercial style” reflects advances in construction technology that permitted the creation of the first skyscrapers on the urban landscape. This style is also known as the “Chicago Style,” after the city where steel-framed, relatively unadorned, utilitarian, tall commercial buildings first appeared in the 1890s.
The exterior of this building — finished in cut limestone and granite below and cement plaster above — featured advanced systems of the period, such as steam heat, mail chutes, vacuum cleaning and two high-speed elevators, claimed to be the fastest in the city. Additionally, it is the first building in Downtown San Diego to have a sub-basement, which extends 35 feet below street level.
The first 10 floors of the Watts Building, its original name, were designed with doctors and dentists in mind. The installation of hot and cold water, a compressed air system, special waste outlets and gas and electrical outlets, facilitated these two trades, along with lawyers and businessmen.
In fact, historical photos show the windows of the building populated with advertisements for the doctors and dentists within. The 11th floor was divided into two penthouse suites. Interior corridors featured wainscoting in marble and tiled floors. Reinforced concrete stairways featured marble tread, risers and more wainscoting.
Later, from 1913 to 1927, the ground floor of the building was the home of the San Diego Savings Bank, which in 1927 became the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank. Jewelry businesses dominated the building during the 1940s and 1950s, establishing the building as San Diego’s “Jeweler Exchange.”
In 1952, the building was sold to a group of attorneys that included Mr. Robinson, lending his name to the building.
Today, the building houses the Gaslamp Plaza Suites and The Melting Pot restaurant.
—Jake Romero is the operations and marketing manager of the Gaslamp Historical Foundation, located at 410 Island Ave., Downtown, in the historic William Heath Davis House. For more information visit gaslampquarter.org.