815-821 5th Avenue
Architect: Stewart Brothers
Contractor: H. A. Perry
Architectural Style: Italianate Revival
“No rest for the weary” might well describe the Hubbell building, as since even before its completion in 1886, it has housed a great number and a great variety of businesses. It has now been remodeled to house yet another enterprise in its prime location in the heart of the Gaslamp.
The property was originally owned by Dr. Jacob Allen, San Diego’s first physician, who, of course, acquired it from Alonzo Horton in 1869. By 1872, it was sold to George P. Marston and Charles Hubbell, and by 1876, Hubbell owned the entire property. George P. Marston was the father of George W. Marston, founder of the Marston clothing stores and a prominent civic leader and philanthropist.
Charles Hubbell and his family moved from New York to San Diego in 1871. Like many San Diego residents, he sought the warm and temperate climate on the advice of his physician, as Mr. Hubbell suffered from tuberculosis. He became the cashier for the Bank of San Diego, and went on to become an officer of the Consolidated Bank of San Diego, as well as a Board member of the California Southern Railroad and a real estate investor. He retired from active business in 1880, and then devoted his time to his passion – horticulture. He owned a great deal of property in San Diego’s back country, as well as National Ranch, where he had many vineyards and fruit orchards.
Construction of the Hubbell building was begun in 1886 with H. A. Perry as the contractor. Mr. Perry had previously been the contractor for the Backesto Building. The three-story red brick structure , 42 feet in height, had three storefronts on the street level and rooms on the upper levels. The three entrances on the street level are recessed and there is an additional arched doorway leading to the upstairs on the south corner. The second story facade has six, tall, segmental, wooden-framed windows with slightly hooded arches. They are decorated with center keystones with Masonic- themed raised insignias depicting a sickle and star. The third level features four segmental, fully arched windows with the same decorative insignias. These windows alternate between a pair of windows set in a single frame and single windows set in individual frames. All windows are double-hung sash style.The flat roof has eaves and supportive lentils with a decorative belt course underneath. There is an additional vertical masonry decoration running centrally through the second and third levels. In the third floor interior there is a light well (skylight) towards the northeastern side.
Construction of the edifice had to be stopped for a short period of time in August of 1886, so the Grand Army of the Republic could use the building as their headquarters for the planning of “Grand Army Day.”
The building was finally completed in late 1886, and in 1887, the first tenant, the Great Eastern, wholesale and retail dry goods, moved in. They remained on the first and second floors from 1887 to 1890. In 1892-93, the Arcade, a ladies’ fancy goods shop, and the White House, a dry goods emporium, moved into the building. They were followed by the City of Paris, a clothing store, and in 1895, by George W. Marston, gentlemen’s furnishings. In 1896-1898, the San Diego News and Curio Company and the International Clothing Store joined the milieu. The upper stories housed the Grand Army of the Republic Hall from 1904 to 1926.
Meanwhile the downstairs was changing venues. In 1904 – 1910, the Southern Electrical Company became a tenant. The proprietor, Carl Heilbron, was the first President of the Rotary Club, a Director of the 1915 Exposition and a President of the Chamber of Commerce. In 1911, Southern Electric was replaced by Campbell’s Drapery Shop.
Throughout the ensuing years, the Hubbell housed a movie house, the Alhambra, several clothing stores, a couple of shoe stores, a curio shop and a shoe repair shop, run for many years by Gottlieb Frinke and Max Heimberg, who ultimately opened the Universal Boot Shop (939 5th Avenue). Additional tenants were a meat market, a millinery, two restaurants and a private club. The upstairs became a series of hotels including the Hotel Ross, the Grand Army Rooms, the Miller Hotel and the Jugo Slavenski Klub.
As the downtown area declined, so did the clientele of the Hubbell Building. By the 1970s, this once prestigious address was the home of the Clark Hotel, the Little Boy Peep Show and Adult Books, Fun Hay Chinese Food and Albert’s Music City.
After the Gaslamp underwent restoration in the 1980s and the area became a tourist destination, the fortune of the once- elegant Hubbell Building also improved. The most notable tenant to the building in the new era was De’Medici Ristorante Italiano, touted as the only restaurant in the Gaslamp that served authentic Sicilian Italian dishes passed down for six generations. It remained a favorite of both locals and tourists alike for over 25 years. The space has now undergone renovation, and will make its debut as Nicolosi’s Fifth Avenue, another longterm Sicilian staple in the greater San Diego area. It originally opened in Mission Hills in 1952. Taking advantage of the rustic exposed brick walls, the space will feature an urban design with a 30 -foot bar and a private dining room. The tradition continues!
Sandee is the Historian and Lead Tour Guide for the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].