Four times a year, people are allowed inside the amazing Villa Montezuma. That’s part of the agreement between the City of San Diego Park and Recreation Department and the Friends of the Villa Montezuma, who are working hard to restore this historic gem in San Diego’s Sherman Heights neighborhood. I went on one of those half hour tours yesterday. Wow!
A couple years ago I walked past this eye-popping 1887 Queen Anne Victorian mansion, built by famed musican and spiritualist Jesse Shepard. I then posted a blog with a few outside photos. Well, guess what? All I can present today are more outside photos! Because photography isn’t allowed inside the Villa Montezuma at this time. But I can provide a little info about the tour, and try to convince you to go on one yourself.
Stepping into the Villa Montezuma is like stepping into a tiny royal palace. I’m not exaggerating. When I was young, I was fortunate to visit many of the most elegant palaces and chateaus of Europe, and the interior of Jesse Shepard’s home, which includes a splendid reception room, performance hall and drawing room, easily matches those esteemed places when it comes to lavish, luxurious decoration. Jesse Shepard (who later wrote under the pen name of Francis Grierson) was a pianist and composer who performed for many of Europe’s royalty, including the Czar of Russia and the Prince of Wales in England. So he was no stranger to a kingly lifestyle!
Should you enjoy an inside tour of the elaborate Villa Montezuma, which is built entirely of redwood, you’ll see fantastic art glass created by John Mallon of San Francisco. (Mallon also created the stained glass windows for San Diego’s 1889 courthouse, each window representing the Great Seals of the 42 states. You can see those windows today in downtown’s Hall of Justice.)
Jesse Shepard loved art, music and literature, and the stained glass windows in his mansion pay homage to his favorite artists. In the splendid room where he performed concerts for guests, windows feature the faces of Beethoven and Mozart, Raphael and Rubens; you’ll also see an expansive window devoted to Sappho, the classic Greek lyric poet, and four windows representing the four seasons. In the drawing room you can see more stained glass featuring Shakespeare, Goethe and Corneille.
The effect of these windows is truly astonishing. Their magical light shines on warm, ornate woodwork and wood floors, an embossed silvery ceiling, satin curtains, a variety of beautiful fireplaces, and artful touches that include influences from Innsbruck and Japonism. Stepping into the Villa Montezuma almost seems like falling into a dream of long ago.
Restoration of the Villa Montezuma is ongoing. The foundation was recently strengthened, along with the roof and chimneys. Still to go is the repainting of the exterior, fence restoration and landscaping the grounds. Once all is complete, it is hoped the mansion will be open full time as a permanent museum!
Meanwhile, go on a tour if you’re in San Diego. The guide was knowledgeable and entertaining. You’ll see much of the house, even some less elevated parts like the kitchen and washing room. You’ll learn all about Jesse Shepard, including strange mysteries concerning his life and the absolutely magnificent way he died!
Visit the official Villa Montezuma website!