Many of you have been inquiring as to the current status of the Villa Montezuma. The house, designed by the renowned architecture firm Comstock & Trotsche in 1887 for its original owner, the world-famous concert pianist and spiritualist Jesse Francis Shepard, is still closed to the public and sits in a state of disrepair and threatened by vacancy.
On March 13, 2006 the SOHO Board of Directors voted unanimously to pursue the stewardship and operation of the Villa Montezuma house museum when the San Diego Historical Society (SDHS) asked SOHO to consider taking over operations. SDHS Board of Directors chose at that time to give their auxiliary "Friends of the Villa" group one last chance to make the house into a successful house museum with SOHO supporting that decision as it was promised a renewed vigor and dedication would be given to the site, however, that decision proved to be unproductive, and the Historical Society chose to give up their lease and return the property to the city's hands.
A similar situation occurred with the Marston House when SDHS gave it back to the city; the Friends of the Marston House elected to join SOHO and have continued to support the house in an even greater capacity than ever before, flourishing with the new arrangement.
In the ensuing four years, as the house remained shuttered, closed to the public, and deteriorating at an alarming rate, SOHO has been concerned with the welfare and future of this city treasure, one of San Diego's most important 19th century structures, placing it on our most endangered list in past years.
SOHO and the City of San Diego share the belief that this is one of San Diego's most important architectural treasures, and SOHO feels strongly that our assuming operations will allow the Villa Montezuma to reach its full potential as a cultural and educational resource.
We are asking that you sign this petition and also to write the Mayor, City Council, and Historical Resources Board to express your support for SOHO to operate the Villa Montezuma as a house museum.
The city has publicly stated that they are unsure of what actions they will take to preserve and protect the Villa, but they have promised $500,000 to match a CCDC grant to restore the house. One of their choices will likely be to seek a qualified operator.
We have provided these points below for you to use if desired to personalize your letter to the mayor and council.
SOHO has the experience, expertise and the will to make the Villa a premier house museum for the region.
SOHO's track record in the house museum business is an outstanding one having made the Thomas Whaley House, which SOHO operates for the County of San Diego, the most successful house museum in the county in just five years, and having reopened the City-owned Marston House quite successfully with our goals for the first year having been met in just six months, we are ahead of schedule and attendance at the museum is climbing consistently.
SOHO is uniquely qualified to operate the Villa and oversee its restoration and maintenance. SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons is an acknowledged authority on Victorian architecture and is familiar with the structure having consulted over the years on the Villa with its restoration efforts.
The expertise that exists between SOHO's board, its staff, professional partners and SOHO members is extensive making the organization the best choice for the house and making it prepared to handle any and all issues that could arise with the restoration, maintenance and continued care of the Villa.
SOHO currently operates two historic sites for the City of San Diego, the Adobe Chapel in Old Town and the Marston House Museum & Gardens, and maintains a positive and excellent working relationship with the real estate assets division of the City, which oversees the stewardship of those sites.
SOHO's philosophy in operating historic sites is that they have the unique ability of being able to inspire and to tell the stories of the people who lived and worked in them, and through professional interpretation they can continue to stir the imagination and inspire people in a myriad of ways, a key strategy to the renaissance of this important landmark home.