February 4, 2017
We visited the Marston House in February, using our Macy’s Museum Month discount pass. Entrance to the house itself is only with a guided tour, and tours run each half hour. We had just missed one tour by about 5 minutes so spent some time walking around the exterior, examining the house from the outside and enjoying the gardens. It was pleasant strolling, though not the season for roses. We also admired the walled laundry area, for hanging out the wash, and peeked into the cellar. Later, the docent told us it is a half cellar rather than a full one, because the house is built into a slope. The cellar housed the utilities and was used by the help.
When our turn to take the next tour came, we were the only ones on it. The docent was very well informed and very enthusiastic. He told us all about the Marston family members who had lived in the house, the architect, the furnishings, the original construction and various modifications of the house, and the recent history of preservation efforts. He also gave us a context for the architectural details, comparing the Marston House to the Gamble House in Pasadena. (We saw the outside of the Gamble House once, back in 2014, and would like to go back sometime and tour the interior; the Marston House experience has piqued our interest.)
The downstairs has beautiful woodwork. The redwood from the forests of northern California give the rooms a warm feel. The docent pointed out a nice detail—butterfly key joints between some of the boards lining the walls. The music room has hidden racks in the walls. Mr. Marston’s study has lovely built-in bookshelves, and he forbade the installation of a call button there to help maintain the contemplative atmosphere; most other rooms in the house are connected to the indicator in the butler’s pantry. Bob thought that the use of pocket doors gave the downstairs a very clean look and nice sense of flow from room to room.
The house is tastefully furnished with period pieces, though little that was owned by the Marstons remains. The Marston family used the house until the 1980s, when it was given to the City of San Diego. At that time, the furnishings were reclaimed by family members. Since then, the museum has worked to find replacements that fit the setting, even getting a period bathtub.
The tour provides access to the first and second floors of the house. The first floor was designed for entertaining and the dining room opens onto a sizeable patio. One famous visitor was Theodore Roosevelt, who came to dinner when the former president attended the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. The attic area was also finished and used as sleeping quarters by the family, but it is not currently open to visitors. A neat detail throughout the house is the raised thresholds and floor levels in the baths and closets. The docent kept reminding us to watch our step. He speculated that the architectural quirk was meant to make it easier to sweep the primary floor levels cleanly and to easily sweep out those smaller spaces, into the adjacent hallways or larger rooms, although no one knows for sure.
The house was completed in 1905. George W. Marston was a self-made man who came to San Diego and made his money in the retail industry, owning a successful local department store. The house was begun with a Tudor style in mind, but once Marston hired Irving Gill to finish the project, Gill altered it as much as possible to fit his vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The exterior retains some Tudor characteristics while hinting at the Prairie School. Inside, there are many typical Gill elements including coved floor to wall transitions in the public rooms, casement windows with transoms, and enclosed bathtubs.
Tickets for the tours are sold in the gift shop located in the adjacent carriage house/garage. The house is open Fridays through Mondays, except Christmas Day, from 10 to 5. Tours leave every half hour, last tour at 4 p.m. Regular admission costs $15 for adults, with discounts for seniors, active duty military, students, and children under 12. (The Macy’s discount gave us 50% off.) Being a mansion of a certain age, the museum is not readily accessible to those in wheelchairs.
While there are no dining facilities adjacent to the house, the area has many cafes, restaurants, and pubs. After our visit and a walk in the park, we enjoyed excellent craft beer at The Brew Project on Fifth Avenue, itself located in a 1902 Craftsman House. We enjoyed the brew pub and plan to go back and try it for lunch or dinner.