400 block of Fifth Avenue
Architectural Style: Victorian Commercial
As one strolls throughout the Gaslamp, the plethora of restored Victorian era buildings is a sight for sore eyes. While they have maintained their beauty and appeal, these buildings also serve a purpose as each one did at the time of its inception. Most have been repurposed to adapt to the times, while others continue to provide the same service as they did when they were first built. Most of these are restored hotels. One, not so fancy but infinitely useful, is the Island Hotel. San Diego has always had a need for low cost housing.
Joseph Nash, who purchased Lots A & B from Alonzo Horton on June 26, 1869, was very active in both city and county affairs. He played a large role in several railroad enterprises, was a member of the committee to organize a San Diego Bank, one of the incorporators of the San Diego Bulletin, and opened the first general store in San Diego on the southwest corner of State and G Street. His intention, when purchasing the lots, was to build a two story brick building. His new building was completed by September 15, 1875. Nash then leased the structure to William Jarres, Marco Bruchi and John Stanovich. The first floor was a food and produce store, while the second floor was designed to serve as lodging, and was called the French Hotel.
The food and produce store was occupied by Rufus K. Porter, both senior and junior. They used the store as an outlet for the produce from their farm in Spring Valley. Rufus Porter Sr. went on to found the Scientific American Magazine, where he extolled the virtues of his many “inventions.” Two of his more notable inventions were a steam powered farm wagon and an attempt at a flying machine (three years before the Wright brothers!).
In 1883, Bruchi and Stanovich built a two-story hotel at the corner of 5th and I (now Island), which they named the Hotel Europe. In 1885, the partners built another two-story building to be a lodging annex to the Hotel Hotel Europe. By 1905, the building was listed in the City Directory as simply “ furnished rooms,” and the Hotel Europe had moved.
In early September of 1905, Nash finally sold the property to Ulysses S. Grant, Jr., who immediately sold it to A. C. Riordon of El Paso, Texas. Mr. Riordon owned quartz mines and was a lawyer and real estate investor. He held the title until 1912, when he sold it to Amelia Carlisle. She then leased it to Ah Quin, the unofficial Mayor of Chinatown, for 49 years. Mr. Quin and his eldest son, Tom, built a substantial building of brick supported by steel reinforced concrete pillars on the corner property.
The property was then the home of the Quin import/export business, the hotel and a cafe and cigar store.
The oldest of the structures, the hotel, was originally a two-story brick building with a slate on tin roof, and an 18’ thick fire wall. The windows on both floors had shutters and a wooden frame platform was located in the rear. As it is 138 years old, it is a prime example and survivor of the pre-land boom era. Throughout the years, it has been called the Nash House, the Hotel d’Europe, the Franklin House, the Ohio Hotel, the Sunset Hotel and now, the Island Hotel. Although the name has undergone numerous changes, the hotel remains a place of affordable housing for San Diegans.
Sandee is the Historian/Lead Tour Guide for the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected].