Santa Fe Depot, San Diego, 1969

1969 was a different time, and San Diego was a different city. Often called laid back or sleepy – even as City officials touted it as “City In Motion.”

It is very likely plans were on the drawing board as early as 1969 to get rid of the Santa Fe Depot. By 1972 a full pitch battle was on to save the depot from demolition.

It was Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) that stepped in to save the Depot from demolition. It was a call to action the preservation group had to put out, not once, but twice.

The depot opened in 1915, approximately coinciding with the biggest of events in San Diego History, the opening of the 1915  Panama-California Exposition 

As with the domed towers at the Panama-California Exposition, the Santa Fe Depot tower domes have a Spanish style zig-zag pattern of yellow blue tiles.

The Mission Style architecture was designed by the firm Bakewell and Brown, out of San Francisco. They built San Francisco City Hall the same year.


The 55 foot wood beam ceiling shelters travelers entering and exiting the depot.

The YMCA building in the distance remains. MTS buses look different. And the Art Deco bowling alley across the street is long gone.

Originally the front arch was entered through a forecourt lined with arches. As so often the case, the demand for parking ruled the day in 1954 when the forecourt structure was demolished.

There had been interest in rebuilding this structure in recent years. But the current alignment and configuration of today’s railroad tracks has been deemed incompatible with such a project. So the old forecourt will remain only a memory or echo from the past.

Old Oak Benches Remain On Duty To This Day


Gone are that style of passenger car as well as the structure beyond it.

An antique luggage cart that no longer sees service.

Private Train Cars were once parked outside, along-side the depot.

They Cyrus K Holliday was once owned by the Sefton Family and their San Diego Trust and Savings Bank. In the following decades San Diego Trust and Savings went away and the Seftons relinquished the train car as well, as it resides somewhere else on tracks far away.

The train yard itself is much different and busier today. There’s the Trolley line, The Coaster line, and Amtrak.

A view towards the south. Police headquarters (now a museum, shopping and restaurant venue) in the distance. The power building is one the left. The Swift Company building, long gone.

And best shot for last. San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot is one of the largest and best loved train depots in California. A jewel that celebrated its 100th Birthday in 2015, and still as beautiful as ever.

The Amy Strong House

In 1909, Amy Strong, a famous San Diego dress designer, hired master builders Emmor Brooke Weaver and John Vawter to build her dream ranch house. They lived and worked on site from tents where they drew renderings and blueprints. 

The home was completed by 1921. The Strong home is just off the road to Ramona at the base of Mount Woodson (Potato Chip Rock). It embodies the vision of this artistic woman, the talents of her architects, and the philosophy of the Craftsman Movement.

Roof tiles are supported on a concrete roof sustained by rock buttresses. The tiles are purportedly from the San Gabriel Mission. Inside and out the home has a truly organic and hand made feel to it.

It’s a split level home with exposed eaves – troughs hewn from unfinished eucalyptus trunks supported by gargoyle figures. 

Eclectic motifs throughout were taken from Persian, Arabic and Oriental rug designs chosen for the home. Interior use of wood included lightly polished redwood planks recycled from vats for many of the doors and mantels, beams, and balustrades of twisted eucalyptus.

Other building materials of the main house included oak, rocks, flagstone, adobe, bricks and tiles, plaster, concrete and stucco.

No chalk lines were used in the construction. There are no perfect corners and neither the roof nor floors are level. 

Eucalyptus was cut from stands that dotted the property. Rocks were individually hand-picked by Mrs. Strong for their shapes and colors from the slopes of Mt. Woodson.

Mrs. Strong, her niece and their cook, did much of the painting and design-work themselves, inspired by Persian, Arabic and Oriental rug designs.

Light fixture and stencil detail

The Zodiac Room. The ideals of this masterpiece emphasized harmony between the individual and the environment, intense involvement of the artists with their materials, and the blending of the primitive with the sophisticated.

The 27-room Emmor Brooke Weaver and John Vawter adobe and stone structure was completed after five years and $50,000 of 1921 currency.

Light Fixture Detail

Upper Level Passage Way

Light and Stencil Detail

“The Castle” is a multi-level, twenty-seven room 12,000 square foot home with eight foot thick walls, a Great Hall with a sixteen foot ceiling, a swing porch, pantry, four fireplaces, a dutch oven, dumb waiter, complete intercom system.

Mrs. Strong left natural, oak, and pine exposed; other woods were painted or polished. Some of the original floors and stairs were flagstone and a few of the floors were oak planks.

Main Entrance Detail

The goal was integrate and unify the rock and tree studded surroundings with both the exterior and interior of the home.

The finished exterior, the stone work, windmill, bricks and tiles, and arches reflect French, Dutch, Spanish, and Medieval styles. Roof tiles are supported on a concrete roof sustained by rock buttresses. Aztec, Greek, Roman, North American, and Oriental crafts, decorate the house inside and out.

The windmill is gasoline-engine-assisted. It pumped water from the springs to redwood storage tanks and the room under the windmill was used to cool meats and vegetables.

The site today in Romona is used for conferences, weddings and other functions spurred by the nearby golf course.




Santa Fe Depot San Diego 1969

May is Historic Preservation Month. A good opportunity to reflect upon San Diego’s beautiful and historic train station. In the years following 1969 the Santa Fe Depot faced demolition not once but twice. Save Our Heritage Organisation had to save it two times from the wrecking ball. Saving our history is a never ending job. Invariably someone will come along again with a plan to demolish it. Therefore we always need to be vigilant.

The 1924 Samuel and Harriet Freeman House By Frank…

I was barely 16 in March of 1972 when I met Harriet Freeman. She was gracious about not only letting me see her home inside and out but to photograph it as well. This collection includes shots from a later visit in September 1972 as well.
The Freeman House was the last of four Frank Lloyd Wright concrete block houses built in 1924
March 1972
The street view of many Frank Lloyd Wright homes is often the most understated and minimalist part of the home.
September 1972 – Pepper Tree de-branched. Samuel and Harriet Freeman had long ago divorced. But the love for house lived beyond their marital bond. They continued to living in the house after divorcing.
Upper level room.
Photo from March 1972. Rudolph Schindler designed the furniture and other interior fixtures. Mrs. Freeman expressed a fondness for Schindler she didn’t necessarily feel toward Wright himself. While intellectually she admired Wright, it was Schindler she felt in-tune with. She credited him for making the residence “feel like home.”
March 1972
Harriet told me Greta Garbo stayed at this house when the German actress first came to the U.S.
View of Highland Avenue and Hollywood
The horizontal sweep of mullions supporting planes of glass that meet in a clear mitred corner – the corner window. A character defining feature in Wright’s catalogue, appearing here for the first time without the aid of stiles to support the horizontal mullions between the panes of glass. That distinction alone qualifies this house as being among the most important historic sites in California. Having said that, sadly, the home under purview of USC is crumbling to dust and is in shockingly dire condition.
The “front door” to a Wright house is frequently discrete.
March 1972

For sure, there is a ton of questions I should have asked. But at age 16, I hadn’t honed my interviewing skills whatsoever. Nor did I take notes as I’m sure Mrs. Freeman shared with me a lot more information than I remember now. Harriet Freeman lived into her 90’s, passing away in 1986.

Aztec Bowl San Diego

Aztec Bowl is long gone. But the neon sign was incorporated into the residential buildings that took over the site. Also wood from the bowling alley lanes were used for flooring in the residential units. Aztec Bowl was on 30th Street, West Side, just south of Meade Avenue.

The Campus Drive In

The neon masterpiece stood at El Cajon Boulevard at College Ave in San Diego – Razed 1983. The Majorette Portion of the neon was preserved and is presented today by Save our Heritage Organisation at College Grove shopping center.

Historic Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Park

  1956 Kodachrome Slide  Courtesy Erik Hanson

That relatively small sign on a wooden post reads “Scripps Cove Park.” Documents show that in 1887 it was designated as La Jolla Park.  It was also known as La Jolla Shoreline Park. Those names changed on October 18, 1927 – the 91st of birthday of La Jolla and San Diego regional philanthropist  Ellen Browning Scripps – when San Diego Park Commissions dedicated the park to her and renamed it the Ellen Browning Scripps Park. It was, in a manner of speaking a ceremonial renaming. An official change came in 1961 when it was designated in the charter as Ellen Browning Scripps Memorial Park.

Besides being one of the most actively used parks, especially for one so relatively small, it is one of our great cultural landscapes with it’s nature growth of tress and shrubs. The “soldier row” of Mexican palms, the twisted and turning Australian tea trees, and the single-trunk dragon trees.

With a look to the future new plantings of the Mexican fan palms are spaced between their elders as the life expectancy of those historic trees draws nearer. A gift that will keep giving for generations to come.

Special thanks to Historian and Researcher Vonn Marie May for her discussion with me about one of her passions. Historic landscapes. I’ve included her article from La Jolla Historical Society TimeKeeper newsletter below.