2001 - Volume 32, Issue 3
The Whaley House
As most of you have probably heard, the county settled with the Historic Shrine Foundation. The agreement is that the three buildings on the property, the Verna House, and the two false front store buildings, become the properties of The County of San Diego, these structures were moved originally by the HSF to the property. And in exchange the majority of the contents of the Whaley House itself and the pharmacy and the Derby Pendleton house were given to HSF. The County retained items that were verified by HSF documents or could otherwise be determined to be Whaley or related Whaley items.
On August 14th at 8am, a large moving van arrived. It took eight professional movers and 3 trips back and forth to storage units, and an additional trip the next morning to clear out the 40 plus years of collections.
SOHO volunteers stood ready with buckets, mops, vacuums, tools, paint, brushes, and all manner of cleaning supplies. They began at 8am and the very last of them left at midnight, exhausted from the hard work and high emotions of the day.
As items were being taken away, SOHO was replacing them as best we could. Bruce Coons, determined that the house would not shut down for a single day of public access, had been preparing for months, in the event of this outcome.
He had secured loans of furnishings and coordinated the move, so that as one room was emptied, our crews went right to work. The walls and floors appeared as if they had not been cleaned in decades, and HSF members present confirmed that many large pieces hadn't been moved since the 1960's. Mold and dirt combined for so many years presented quite a picture and the scrubbing of the walls was a feat indeed.
The interior had last been painted sometime in the 1980's. Walls had been painted around the furnishings, so that when an item was moved, the dirty beige 60's color and the Navajo white 80's combination were a sight. Doors and windows that had been painted shut were opened, many of the partitions, light boxes and electrical fittings were removed.
SOHO's movers arrived at noon with a 10' high by 14' long back shelving 1870's store piece and other items on loan to the house from Racine and Laramie in Old Town, courtesy of owner Geoffrey Mogilner. Bruce Coons and Geoffrey go back many years to when Geoffrey was reconstructing his wonderful building. These items greatly help to form the bones for the Whaley and Crosthwaite general store. A mercantile is what Thomas Whaley originally built the house for in 1856. After a stint in Old Town on the Plaza, he came back to the house, where in 1869, he and partner Phillip Crosthwaite opened shop. This area had been displayed as a dining room, whereas the original dining room had been displayed as the kitchen. The kitchen was originally a lean-to at the back of the house, which SOHO intends to build and interpret at a later time, when funds allow. For now the house has no kitchen because it has been returned to its original use as a dining room.
Our movers brought a beautiful 1870's walnut Renaissance Revival bed and marble topped dresser, on loan from Beth Montes for the master bedroom, and an 1860's cottage style six-piece bedroom set, which Bruce had located, was able to be purchased with grant money from Ron Robert's office. The set is rare with its original faux grained finish intact, it makes up one of the children's bedrooms.
The second floor front rooms are being reintroduced to the public as the first professional commercial theater in San Diego. The theater, although short lived, is an important part of San Diego's cultural history and SOHO intends to use it for period performances. A sub-committee has been formed with Welton Jones and Ron Ray at the helm to oversee productions. Erik Hanson is building the stage and furnishings are being produced. Sue Martin donated a 1870's reed organ to be used for performances. We still need an upright piano for the theater.
This will be a great space for seminars and workshops, and a storytime of classics for children is also planned.
The parlor and study of the Whaley house is furnished mostly with Whaley family items, portraits of Thomas and Anna, Anna's parlor organ, their sofa, Thomas's desk and a few books, and Lillian's alligator satchel. A few items, to be sure, but interspersed with appropriate furnishings of the day it presents a beautiful room and one that actually looks like a parlor. No, we don't have three pianos, a melodeon, 6 music boxes and various stringed instruments, as was previously displayed, none of which the Whaleys were known to play, but we do have Anna's organ, and two pairs of wooden 'bones', an acoustic handheld item, that belonged to Frank Whaley. As Anna was fond of playing guitar, a period guitar is displayed on loan from David Swarens, These items had been dispersed throughout the house, but now present a cognitive and more appropriate appearance.
The courthouse furniture was owned outright by the county and it remains, but the bookcases and other items were removed. We are in need of law books from the 1860's and 70's, and all items purchased or donated will remain a permanent part of the Whaley House collection. The removal of items donated to the house will never take place again. We have created documents for each acquisition that will assure this. SOHO will act as caretakers of this site, and we see our stewardship of the house as many things, one of which is to accurately display the property in its historic period, both as an example and as a duty to the community. We also see our presence here as an opportunity to show how well preservation coupled with business works. It also serves our mission of education as an example of what it takes to restore a historic home.
So at the end of the first day, a lovely, although partially furnished, home, general store, courtroom and theater space was ready to show to the public the very next morning. So far the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
For the first time in over seven months, our visitors have lots of questions about the history of the home and the restoration process, in addition to the folklore of the hauntings. This has been so gratifying for all of us, as we had been struggling not to allow the haunted history eclipse the importance of the history of the house and family. As this is beginning to happen, our docents have been relieved and are boning up on their history as more and more visitors are inquiring about it.
Yes, we now have a historic house museum to show, not just a neat house with lots and lots of stuff in it.
The gardens are also being reclaimed, and a delightful young couple Ron and Emily Vigney, with prior critically acclaimed experience, are currently in negotiation with us to open the much asked for coffee shop and café in one of the old storefronts. The SOHO office space is on the second floor of the Verna House, the 1870's Mansard Victorian to the south of the Whaley House, and the downstairs will beopening next month as The SOHO Museum Shop. The back adobe section of the Derby Pendleton house will be used as the docent and staff lounge and reference library, as well as the executive director's office.
The exterior has been repainted in historic colors and looks great. Bruce is completing forensics on the wall, wood moldings and floor treatments for the house, and, as funds allow, the house will be brought back to its mid 19th century glory.
More wonderful donations and loans have been received from SOHO friends Christopher Pro, Everett Mehner, Linda Espino, Bonnie Poppe, Harry Parashis, Bruce and Alana Coons. Come by and see the changes and encourage others to as well. Remember your SOHO membership entitles you to free admission.
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