Real Estate

A Grand San Diego Victorian Looks Dapper After 134 Years

A rare Victorian-era home―its gas-lit heyday marked by white-glove soirees―has come to market in San Diego’s Bankers Hill district.

The 1889 Queen Anne-style home, with its dome-topped tower, wraparound gingerbread porch, carriage house and impeccably maintained interior is priced at $6.485 million.

“This is one of San Diego’s best,” says Bruce Coons, an architecture historian and Executive Director of San Diego-based Save Our Heritage Organisation. “It’s one of the top 10 Victorian-era homes in the city.”

While numerous other San Diego Victorians have been disfigured, the four-bedroom Long-Waterman home, named for its first two owners, has been graced by preservation-oriented buyers. That includes eight consecutive decades of family ownership, from 1897 to 1977.

Built for John and Kate Long, the 6,180-square-foot home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Set on a prominent corner that’s a 7-minute walk from Balboa Park, the stately three-story home is drenched in decorative excess. Attic eyebrow dormers flank gables faced with ornamented bargeboard, their peaks inset with a fan design. Elegant finials rise from the crests. The tower’s dome is roofed with a diamond-shaped terne plate.

The wraparound front porch is a mélange of fretting and turned spindles, their blocky shapes inset with rosettes. Spandrels are cut with a sunburst design. That assortment is fronted by sawn balusters lined with a circular cutout pattern.

Three chimneys servicing four fireplaces rise from the structure that’s anchored with a massive magnolia tree in the front yard, planted in 1906. In the home’s backyard, there’s a camphor tree reported to be among California’s largest.

The home’s pattern on pattern redwood cladding (there are four motifs) has recently been painted greige and accented with white trim, keeping with tradition.

Perhaps most telling―and it’s a tiny detail easily overlooked in a structure chock-full of them―is the home’s original weathervane rising from the dome’s finial. An ornamented heart is set at the base of the vane––a symbol of the loving care that’s been lavished on the structure and its sumptuous interior for 134 years.

“We’ve always had a deep emotional connection to the property,” says Allegra Ernst, who, with her husband John Ernst, purchased the home in 1993 and, given their retirement, are selling. Adds John Ernst: “We’ve done our best never to take it for granted―it’s such a masterpiece.”

Entering through the home’s richly carved redwood door into the foyer, a handsome staircase lies straight ahead, a showpiece of Anglo-Japanese design, an aesthetic popularized in the United Kingdom during the Victorian era.

Turned spindles are oriented at horizontal and vertical angles below the banister. They’re located just above cutout Japanese fans with handles that edge each step. Embellished wainscoting, found throughout the home, adorns the base of the massive redwood structure.

The foyer’s diamond pattern floor is done in three colors of slate. The room’s fireplace and high-mirrored mantel are set with fluted columns topped by scrolled capitals. The mantel’s base is carved with an egg-and-dart design.

The home’s four fireplaces, carved from various kinds of wood, have original glazed tiles and cast iron gates. The tiles were most likely created by the American Encaustic Tiling Company, founded in 1875, according to Coons.

The Ernsts brightened the home upon purchase by swapping out dark foil wallpaper for off-white wall coverings with a diamond pattern. They further banished somber Victorian sensibilities by installing a new ivory carpet swirled with a floral motif, which remains in excellent condition. A new composite shingle roof―a major investment costing $75,000―was installed over the original cedar shingles about a decade ago, among other improvements.

Most of the home’s 7-foot tall windows are original and are predominately double-hung sashes. Others are leaded or stained glass adorned with scroll, flute and floral designs. Heart redwood is used extensively throughout the structure, for doors, paneling, molding, trim and for other uses.

Past the foyer, the home’s genteel parlor (really a great room) is anchored by two mahogany pillars and an ornate transom. The fireplace has a brass screen inset with beveled glass squares that lend it a refined polish. Ash removal doors are decorated with hummingbirds and flowers.

Beyond the parlor is a sunroom and, to the right, a dining room set with an 1890s oak tambour table, purchased by a previous owner from the Milton S. Hershey Mansion in Pennsylvania. That and other furniture are available for purchase in negotiation with the sales price.

The eclectic home’s second floor has a guest and a full bathroom, and there’s a guest bathroom on the first floor.

The Ernsts purchased some of the home’s chandeliers in antique shops, adding to the existing collection, some of which were sourced from Austria.

The Long-Waterman house was designed by Irishman Domenick P. Benson, who immigrated to the United States around age 20. He created a convent and several other public buildings in the area, along with numerous Victorian-style homes. “Benson’s buildings were noted for their elaborate interior woodwork furnishings,” according to a historical record.

The home’s last resident after 80 years of unbroken family ownership was Florence Hart Gilbert, who died in 1975. She was the daughter of the third owner, Fred Root Hart, who bought the property in 1897.

John Parker, who owned San Diego’s KYKY Radio, bought the home in 1977, paying about $400,000. He launched a four-year renovation project that concluded in 1981. It included a new foundation for the home and another one under the carriage house, which lacked one. The home’s paint was stripped to the original wood and its wallpaper was removed. All the interior woodwork was stripped and restained. The kitchen was modernized, chimney stacks were repaired, mechanical systems were updated and new landscaping was installed―that’s the shortlist.

Nine years before the Ernsts bought the home, they began leasing the property’s 1,530-square-foot carriage house for their financial services company, which they sold last year. As with Parker, they moved their business into the home, which is zoned for residential and commercial use.

The property is under a Mills Act contract, which gives preservation-minded owners a tax break. The Ernsts went a step further, obtaining a historic building facade easement―an agreement struck with the City of San Diego that grants the city interest and rights to the facade, but not ownership, to protect its appearance.

There are about 50 Victorian homes in Bankers Hill, according to Coons. Allegra Ernst cites some nearby, repurposed legal offices that have been desecrated with alterations and additions.

“They look awful,” she says. “The highest and best use of this property is served by its current state––as a work of art.”

The listing for the Long-Waterman House, 2408 First Avenue, San Diego, is held by Christine Baker and Cornelia Siem of Willis Allen Real Estate.

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