January 2017 eNewsletter: Historical Corner: New Beginnings at Villa Montemar


The Sisters of St. Joseph and New Beginnings at Villa Montemar

By Dr. Melinda Blade, Director of Mission Integration and Historian

2nd in a series about OLP’s History. Read the first article here.

The expansion of San Diego at the beginning of the early 20th century prompted the Sisters to seek new property. The Sisters, under the leadership of Sister St. Catherine Beavers, who had returned in 1923 as the Superior, began a search for property appropriately located for another move. Property in the Mission Hills area near Sunset was their first choice, but in September 1924, property at Copley Street and Oregon Street overlooking Mission Valley became available through the Southern Trust Company.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet began legal proceedings to acquire the property at Copley and Oregon that was referred to as Collier’s Point. Collier’s Point was named for Colonel David Charles Collier (1871-1934), whose role in San Diego history is impressive. He played an important role in San Diego’s 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition when he became the first Director General from 1909 to 1912 and later served as President from 1912 to 1914. Those positions earned him the nickname “Father of the Panama-California Exposition.” Colonel Collier (the title was an honorific) was also a former director of the San Diego Museum.

On March 9, 1916, Collier sold property 438-190-02 (Parcels 42-50) to the Western Insurance Company and on March 20, 1916, the property was purchased by Winfield S. and Ross E. Van Druff (father and son). The Van Druffs were both geologists, who had originally come from Pennsylvania via Globe, Arizona, where they were involved in copper mining.

The Van Druffs proceeded to build an estate on Lots 42 & 43, which covered 30 acres of ground costing about $200,000. The Van Druff Estate was to have two large houses, one for Winfield Van Druff called “Casa de Padre,” or “Father’s House,” and one for Ross Van Druff called “Casa de Hijo,” or “Son’s House.” The homes were to have “elaborate and unusual accessories,” and the entire residence was “Destined to be One of San Diego’s Most Attractive Show Places,” according to an article from the San Diego Union.

The San Diego Union article details this magnificent structure:
“One of the houses will contain 25 rooms and the other 30 rooms, exclusive of baths, and the entire improvements will represent an expenditure of about $200,000. A large garage is conveniently situated near the house and adjoining one end of it is a tower which will be surmounted with a dome containing a powerful telescope. Both the dome and the telescope have been ordered in the East.”

The article continues:
“The lower floors of the astronomical observatory will be utilized for workshops and laboratory, in which R.E. Van Druff will pursue geological and other scientific research. At some distance from the houses is located a casino, opposite which is a bathing pavilion and swimming pool, the pavilion being equipped with dressing rooms, and the pool is graduated from wading to high diving depth. The general plan of the buildings and ground is of the Italian Renaissance, or small villa type of architecture. The houses stand on high ground and command a practically unobstructed view of the bay and ocean, Old Town, Linda Vista mesa, Mission Valley, and in the distance, the Cuyamaca Mountains.”

The ground and buildings of the Van Druff Estate were laid out and designed by famed architect Frank Phillips Allen, Jr. (1881-1943) who also was the Construction Superintendent. Allen, born on September 28, 1881 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, achieved recognition as an architect in such locales as Chicago, San Diego, Seattle and Portland. In 1909, Allen was given the distinction of being named as the Architect and Director of Works for the Alaska-Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle.

Success in this capacity led Allen to become Director of Works for the Panama-California Exposition (1915) in San Diego. Additionally, Allen served as the engineer on the construction of the Cabrillo (Balboa) Bridge along with constructing several structures in Balboa Park, most notably the Botanical Gardens Building.

The Superintendent of Planting at the Van Druff residence was Guy L. Fleming, the “Father of Torrey Pines, Anza Desert, Cuyamaca and Palomar state parks.” Born in Aryo, Nebraska, Fleming came to San Diego in 1909. In 1921, he began administering Torrey Pines Park for the preservation of the famous plants there. Largely through the efforts of the Torrey Pines Association (which Fleming founded), the area became a state park in 1957.

The estate was completed on August 27, 1917, which means our beloved Carondelet, St. Catherine’s and St. Cecelia’s buildings will be turning 100 years old this year.

Read the third installment here.