Take a tour inside the amazing Villa Montezuma!

Through this door is where the tour of the Villa Montezuma begins. Once inside, visitors turn left into a reception room, then proceed into magnificent performance and drawing rooms.
Through this door is where the tour of the Villa Montezuma begins. Once inside, visitors turn left into a reception room, then proceed into truly magnificent performance and drawing rooms.

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!

Tours are offered of the Villa Montezuma four times every year. The upper floor isn't open to the public yet.
Folks gather for a free half hour tour.  The public can venture inside the Villa Montezuma four times every year. (The upper floor isn’t open to the public yet.)
The Friends of the Villa Montezuma is a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and maintaining the amazing Villa Montezuma mansion in San Diego.
The Friends of the Villa Montezuma is a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and maintaining the amazing Villa Montezuma mansion in San Diego.
Photo of southeast corner of the Villa Montezuma Museum. The 1887 Queen Anne Victorian mansion contains numerous beautiful stained glass windows.
Photo of southeast corner of the Villa Montezuma Museum. The 1887 Queen Anne Victorian mansion contains numerous beautiful stained glass windows.
Looking upward at the elaborate tower. I was allowed to closely approach this outside part of the Villa Montezuma on a tour day.
Looking upward at the elaborate tower. I was allowed to closely approach this outside part of the Villa Montezuma on a tour day.
A balcony just outside Jesse Shepard's bedroom, which is adjacent to the elegant drawing room!
A balcony just outside Jesse Shepard’s bedroom, which is adjacent to the elegant drawing room!
Unusual curved bay window of the drawing room features stained glass images of Shakespeare, Goethe and Corneille.
Unusual curved bay window of the drawing room features stained glass images of Shakespeare, Goethe and Corneille.  One must be inside to appreciate the grand effect.
A light-filled chapel-like nook in one corner of Jesse Shepard's performance room features stained glass depicting the four seasons.
A light-filled chapel-like nook in one corner of Jesse Shepard’s performance room features stained glass depicting the four seasons.

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Alive in memory: one Dia de los Muertos altar.

A traditional Dia de los Muertos altar in Sherman Heights summons ancestors and close loved ones who have passed from this world.
A traditional Dia de los Muertos altar in Sherman Heights summons ancestors and loved ones who have passed from this world.

I went for a long walk this morning. My feet carried me through Sherman Heights, a neighborhood directly east of downtown San Diego. I was hoping to see some of the community Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) altars. These outdoor altars, distributed about a few residential streets, were the focus of yesterday’s popular Sherman Heights Muertos Festival, which I missed.

Heading down 24th Street, I spotted one elaborate altar near the sidewalk and was struck by the rich, heartfelt symbolism.

Loved ones who’ve “passed to the other side” are remembered with reverence on Dia de los Muertos, and their spirits are enticed back among the living. Traditional items featured in the altars can include sugar skulls, samples of the deceased person’s favorite food, pan de muertos (bread with a small human figurine baked inside), seeds, flowers, portraits of the dead, candles, alcohol (to toast the arrival of spirits), and papel picado (decorative perforated paper which represents the fragile nature of life).

I don’t know whose spirits are being summoned by this particular altar. I can tell that precious memories are being kept alive among the living, and that those memories contain whole lifetimes of love.

Powerful symbols of life, love, hope and renewal on display in this colorful outdoor altar.
Powerful symbols of life, love, hope and renewal on display in this colorful outdoor altar.
In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a joyous celebration of the dead. It is an important day in culturally rich San Diego.
In Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is a joyous celebration of the dead. It is a beloved time in culturally rich San Diego.
A beautiful outdoor Dia de los Muertos altar in Sherman Heights. An ordinary family cherishes extraordinary memories.
A beautiful outdoor Dia de los Muertos altar in Sherman Heights. An ordinary family cherishes extraordinary memories.

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Bold, colorful street art in Sherman Heights.

Sun shines on dynamic mural at Golden Hill Market and Liquor in Sherman Heights.
Sun shines on dynamic mural at Golden Hill Market and Liquor in Sherman Heights.

Here are two boldly painted murals in Sherman Heights, a neighborhood just east of downtown San Diego. I photographed the first mural at 21st Street and Market Street several few days ago. I took my first picture of the second mural last May as I watched the local All-American Soap Box Derby on hilly 25th Street. Since then, the painted boards seem to have been removed from the market wall, and shifted a bit to the left behind a tree. You can see shadows in the two more recent photos.

According to my research, both of these distinctive works of street art were created under the direction of local artist Mario Torero. His passionate artwork, often depicting political themes and civil rights activists, can also be seen at Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park, and elsewhere around San Diego.

Sherman Heights residents painted this wall in 1980, with help from local artist Mario Torero.
Young residents of Sherman Heights painted this wall in 1980, with help from local artist Mario Torero.
Aztec imagery is a colorful part of the artwork.
Aztec imagery is a colorful part of the artwork.
The 35 year old mural remains vivid, having been restored several times due to graffiti.
The 35 year old mural is vivid, having been restored several times due to graffiti.
Words above people read Barrio Sherman Mural Unidos.
Words above people read Barrio Sherman Mural Unidos.
Lively images cover pipes, meter box and a door.
Lively images cover pipes, meter box and a door.
Latino-themed mural shows respect for education.
Latino-themed mural shows respect for education.
K St. Market on 25th Street with mural designed by local artist Mario Torero.
K St. Market on 25th Street with mural designed by local artist Mario Torero.
Face enveloped by color shows confident character.
Face enveloped by color shows confident character.
The Barrio is a Garden was painted on wood in 2010 in Sherman Heights.
The Barrio is a Garden was painted on wood in 2010 in Sherman Heights.
Brightly painted street bench on 25th Avenue in Sherman Heights.
Brightly painted street bench on 25th Avenue in Sherman Heights.

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Villa Montezuma house in Sherman Heights.

Villa Montezuma is a Queen Anne Victorian mansion.
The historical Villa Montezuma is a Queen Anne Victorian mansion.

Here is a cool sight that I walked past yesterday! Check out the absolutely fantastic Villa Montezuma mansion!  You can find it nestled in Sherman Heights, an old, semi-decayed neighborhood just east of downtown San Diego.

Also called the Jesse Shepard house, this architectural marvel was built in 1887. It’s considered by some to be the finest example of Queen Anne architecture on the West Coast, plus it’s rumored to be haunted by two ghosts! In the more recent past it was a museum, but eventually fell into disrepair. It’s currently being renovated. Hopefully it should reopen next year!

Jesse Shepard, born in London in 1848, was a famous, flamboyant European musician. While performing for Alexander II of Russia, Jesse was introduced to the Czar’s medium who taught him how to conduct seances. Shepard became obsessed with spiritualism, and after moving to San Diego at the suggestion of a local spiritualist society, built the Villa Montezuma to his own exact specifications.

Included in the amazing house are highly ornate towers and stained glass windows. It’s interior is just as imaginative, and is said to contain secret passages. Several gargoyles can be spotted should you walk down the sidewalk. Just the sort of place to hold seances! And Shepard held many! He claimed to have spoken with the spirits of Mozart, Beethoven and Shakespeare, just to name a few.

Today it’s rumored that the Villa Montezuma is haunted by a man who hung himself in the observatory tower. And by Jesse Shepard himself! Unexplained piano music is said to be heard coming from the historical mansion late at night!

Fantastic house in Sherman Heights is supposedly haunted.
Fantastic house in Sherman Heights is supposedly haunted.
Musician and writer Jesse Shepherd worked in the high tower.
Musician and writer Jesse Shepard worked in the high tower.
A closer look at detail on house side.
A closer look at detail on Villa Montezuma’s east side.
Gargoyle head on a famous historical mansion.
Gargoyle head on a famous San Diego mansion.
Another gargoyle perches on the roof!
Another gargoyle is perched on the roof!

Here are two sunnier photos I took on a later date…

An excellent example of Queen Anne style architecture in Southern California.
An excellent example of Queen Anne style architecture in Southern California.
Photo of Jesse Shepard's Villa Montezuma in San Diego's Sherman Heights neighborhood.
Photo of Jesse Shepard’s Villa Montezuma in San Diego’s Sherman Heights neighborhood.

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San Diego’s All-American Soap Box Derby!

Boy gets encouragement before racing in Soap Box Derby.
Boy gets encouragement before racing in Soap Box Derby.

San Diego’s annual Local Race put on by the All-American Soap Box Derby was held today! The action could be found on 25th Street in Sherman Heights, a neighborhood just east of downtown!

Local kids, 7 to 18 years old, build their own gravity cars, then race them down a straight, sloped residential street. There are three classes of competition: Stock Division, Super Stock Division, and Masters Division. Each class features a unique type of race car.

The kids were having a blast!

Kids learn workmanship building gravity cars.
Kids learn workmanship building gravity cars.
The very simple interior of a gravity car.
The very simple interior of a gravity car.
Two competitors get some last minute advice.
Two competitors get some last minute advice.
Ready to race!
Ready to race!
Man pushes Ice cream cart up 25th Street hill.
Man pushes Ice cream cart up 25th Street hill.
Here they come! Racers speed past spectators!
Here they come! Racers speed past spectators!
Announcer at finish line watches the action!
Announcer at finish line watches the action!
One race is over and a car is retrieved.
One race is over and a car is retrieved.
Gravity cars are towed back up to the start line!
Gravity cars are towed back up to the start line!

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