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SOHO Celebrates

10-Year Anniversary at the Whaley House
By Dean Glass & Alana Coons

November 21, 2010 marks the tenth anniversary of SOHO's assuming operations of the Whaley House Museum for the County of San Diego. Although the past ten years seem to have flown by, we are very proud of what we have accomplished in our first decade at the Whaley House.

A long legal battle between the previous operators and the County of San Diego was settled with the furnishings and antiques in the museum going to the previous operators. Items having belonged to the Whaleys or Whaley House-related would remain. After the 40 plus years of collections were removed SOHO took possession of the near-empty museum in a state of deteriorated condition after many years of neglect.

Determined that the museum would not be closed for a single day of public access, SOHO replaced items as quickly as the movers cleared rooms. SOHO volunteers stood ready with buckets, mops, vacuums, tools, paint, brushes, and all manner of cleaning supplies. As rooms were readied, period appropriate items were moved in that had been collected through loan, donation or purchase by our curatorial staff.

Upon opening our doors the first time we were met with protestors, friends of the last operators to whom it didn't matter that we had merely won the bid and were not a party to their tribulations with the county. However, we won the day as visitors who had been wanting to visit the house for years, and who had never been able to access it before due to limited and sporadic hours of operation, flocked to our doors, walking past the protestors and welcoming us warmly and thanking us for opening the house to the public to which it belonged.

Whaley House

In 2010, the Whaley House looks more like it did in the 19th century than at any time in the 20th. Using historic photographs, a new front porch was recently replicated from Thomas Whaley's original 1857 design, and new copper rain gutters were added, also in their historic design. Long-term plans include returning the front facade to its historic appearance, with five sets of French windows on the second floor and five double store doors on the first. Photo by Sandé Lollis.

Whaley Christmas treeA public relations campaign was launched, along with the long-term restoration plan, and an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant was procured, which provided a general needs assessment for the house.

Mildew, dirt, moisture, and leaks in the roof all contributed to the house's need for attention and repair. Doors and windows that had been painted shut were opened, and many of the partitions, light boxes and electrical fittings that were put in place in the 1960s were removed. Access to the public being a primary goal, one of the first areas to be addressed was the removal of the maze of English formal garden style hedges that enclosed every brick walkway. Besides not being a landscape congruent with the Old Town frontier homestead, it was impossible for those in wheelchairs to maneuver.

The house's original floor plan and use of rooms had been altered over the years, so the first year was spent returning it to its most significant period for interpretation, 1857-1885. One first floor room displayed as a dining room was returned to its historic use as the 1869 Whaley & Crosthwaite General Store; the former kitchen display was restored to the original dining room.

Whaley House

Top right A nineteenth century-style tabletop tree and other period decorations make the Whaley House a cheery place during the Christmas holidays. Above The wood-burning antique stove made in 1864 is in its original working condition, making this a functional 1860's kitchen. A replica oilcloth with checked design covers the floor. All accessories are antique or reproduction such as the wash tubs and washboard, which were custom made. Other furnishings to be added as funds allow will include a dry sink, more kitchen tools, and a cot for the servant. Photos by Sandé Lollis

One major feature of the restoration was to transform the second floor front room, which had been displayed as a bedroom/sitting room suite, back to its use as San Diego's first commercial theater. A raked stage, painted backdrop, antique pump organ, and chairs for the audience completed the theater's return after 133 years, with its first production being a new musical adaptation of O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi in December 2001.

Period decorative treatments such as wallpapers, carpets, drapes, lighting, and faux-grained oak woodwork were introduced to give the house its nineteenth century look and feel.

In 2007 the original kitchen, a board-and-batten lean-to structure on the back porch, was reconstructed, which also included removing inappropriate alterations thereby restoring the back of the house to its earliest period after more than a century.

We are very proud of what we have accomplished in our first decade at the Whaley House.

In 2008, we were finally able to replace the 1950s front porch with the reconstruction of the original 1850s porch, an important transformation that was watched by the entire Old Town community who cheered us along the way.

The property involved not only the Whaley House, but also four other historic buildings. The sad little 1870s Verna House was in dire shape and underwent a historic building report along with a complete restoration. It serves as the museum shop and admissions center. The two rare examples of false front buildings, while still awaiting ground floor foundations to be put back from their 1960s raised platform installation, are leased to a café that has gained a reputation for some of San Diego's best Creole food; thousands of visitors each year can sit in the patio dining area and enjoy the Whaley House gardens at leisure. The Derby Pendleton House, which is one of the most important historic structures in the state serves as offices for SOHO, and has undergone much needed restoration as well, making it a pleasure for staff to work in and call our home.

The Youth Docent Program was created to introduce youth to the concepts of historic preservation through the history of the Whaley House. This has been one of our greatest successes with dozens of young people having gone through the program and going forward with museum, history and historic preservation fields of study as their chosen career paths.

We are also proud of our record of public access. Opening the museum to the public six days a week, with extended nighttime hours three days a week and being open seven days during the summer season has enabled over 120,000 visitors a year to learn about the family, the historic structures, SOHO, the 150-year-old folklore of the spirits within the Whaley House and, most importantly, the role that historic sites play in the quality and character of a community as not only an economic driver but as a character-defining feature of the tapestry of our lives.

As this was going to press, we received a phone call from Frederick Reynolds Gerlach, Thomas and Anna Whaley's great-great grandson who had been cleaning out his mother's house when he re-discovered several journals and correspondence written by C. Lillian Whaley, the last Whaley to live in the house, as well as several pieces of original furniture, which he and his family have generously decided to donate to the museum. The furnishings will require restoration, but ultimately will be on display. The written materials will be scanned, catalogued, transcribed, and made available to the public as soon as possible. What a wonderful anniversary gift to have received.

So many inroads were made and so much has occurred in the last ten years, that only a few highlights are recounted here. We hope you save the date and celebrate with us this milestone of stewardship for SOHO and attend our anniversary event on November 21, 2010.

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(Left) A workman preps the parlor walls for wallpaper. The finished design is a reproduction pattern of the 1860s, historically appropriate for the room. (Middle) Prior to restoration, the walls, doors, and all the wood trim work were painted white. (Right) Same view, after restoration. The woodwork has been returned to its original finish, which is a faux grain, a painted finish that simulates the grain of a particular wood. Through forensic analysis we found that the Whaleys had chosen an oak grain, which was quite typical for the day. Photos by Sandé Lollis

(Left) Thomas Whaley boasted of having Brussels carpets in this house; the parlor carpet is a reproduction of a pattern first produced in 1854. (Right) The period of significance being interpreted in the home is 1856 thru 1885. The parlor carpet is loomed in long strips that were sewn together onsite just as it would have been done originally. The public was able to watch workmen utilizing methods of the 19th century as part of our education programming. Photos by Sandé Lollis

(Left) In 2007 a non-historic flight of stairs originally constructed around 1959 was removed, and the recreation of the historically accurate back porch and lean-to kitchen began. Photos by Dean Glass (Right) The lean-to board and batten kitchen, originally demolished in the late nineteenth century, was designed from Thomas Whaley's original hand-drawn plans, written descriptions, historic photos and physical evidence found in, on, and around the Whaley House. It was reconstructed along with the back porch in 2007, with period materials and using period techniques. Photo by Sandé Lollis

(Left) The Verna House, a c.1870 Second Empire/Mansard that is now the museum shop for the complex, is named for its last residents San Diego restaurateur Cesare Verna and his wife Maddalena, and was moved from West Ash Street downtown in 1965 to save it from demolition. In 2004, with funds provided by the County of San Diego Department of Parks & Recreation and Supervisor Ron Roberts' office, the building received a complete restoration. A new foundation had to be constructed, as the house had been sitting on piers since being moved to the site. Original windows and doors were rebuilt not replaced, along with the addition of ADA accessibility in a manner sensitive to the historic building. Painted in its original color scheme, the house also features its historically accurate decoratively shingled and painted roof, along with the metal ridge cresting, which was replicated from a piece of the original. (Right) Brian Albright now director of San Diego County Department of Parks & Recreation, SOHO Executive Director Bruce Coons, former SOHO President Beth Montes, and County Supervisor Ron Roberts at the Verna House reopening ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photos by Sandé Lollis

(Left) Two 1870s false-front store buildings, moved to this property in 1964, now house a restaurant. The Verna House beyond them, now completely restored, houses the Whaley House Museum Shop & Visitor Center. Anna Whaley planted the California Pepper Trees visible in this photo over 100 years ago. (Right) Humberto Villegas and Mark Bihm, proprietors of the New Orleans Creole Café have operated their restaurant out of these historic store buildings since 2004. Photos by Sandé Lollis

(Left) The Whaley House celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007, and in August the 150 anniversary completion of the first transcontinental mail route was also cause for celebration in Old Town San Diego. A 19th century style parade was part of the festivities. (Right) Even during extensive restoration such as the construction of the new front porch in 2008, the Whaley House remains open for business. When necessary, visitors begin their tour entering through the back door; SOHO board members and staff don't mind when they are occasionally pressed into gardening duty. Photos by Sandé Lollis.

Whaley House staff and volunteer docents greet each visitor and give them a brief background of the house and its occupants and how San Diegans lived in the Victorian era. As they relate the stories of the Whaleys and early San Diego, the visitors get an insight into how the fabric of our communities have been shaped by these pioneer families. Photo by Dean Glass (Left) Longtime SOHO member and volunteer Vykki Mende Gray entertains museum guests with period music on an antique guitar. (Right: left to right) Events & Education Director Alana Coons; Treasurer Jessica McGee; Board member Peter Janopaul; and SOHO staffer Heather Sullivan. Photo by Sandé Lollis

(Left: left to right) Docents Angela Schöpke, Dan Wilson, and Julia Leach. (Right) SOHO Museum Staff Coordinator Victor Santana leads the Whaley House docents in nineteenth century dances during San Diego's birthday festivities. Throughout the nation the anniversary date of a city's founding is cause for celebration. For our contemporary San Diego, however, it has been a very different story. The celebrations, processions, and proclamations by city leaders were abandoned after the 200th birthday celebration in 1969. Revived by SOHO in 2008, the tradition is once again an annual event. Each July 16th we celebrate with a small but heartfelt celebration in the Whaley House gardens, free to all, with music, dancing, cake and refreshments. Our plan is to involve more of the community each year and that by our 250th birthday in 2019, the whole city will take part in this show of city pride. Photos by Sandé Lollis.

(Left) SOHO's Director of Interpretive Programming and past President David Swarens entertains guests waiting in line on a busy Halloween night. Halloween night typically brings between 700-800 visitors to the "haunted" Whaley house. (Right) Whaley House head docent William Doyle poses as Thomas Whaley in Mr. Whaley's study. Photos by Dean Glass

We see our stewardship of the Whaley 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. Reflections, 2001.

Volume 41 - 2010


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From the Editor

The Cosmopolitan Hotel: A Resurrection of the Past

Most Endangered List of Historic Resources

Lead Paint: What's at Stake?

The California Theatre Under Siege

10-Year Anniversary at the Whaley House

Marston House - First Year Retrospective

People In Preservation Winners

An Evening Well Spent at PIP

Preservation Community


Book Review

Strength in Numbers

Donations 2010

Lost San Diego


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