Alvarado House & Johnson House
Many of the shops at the Old Town are in replicas of old buildings. The Alvarado House in the centre of the picture specialises in gourmet food while the Johnson House on the right sells millinery. The Johnson House is based on a pre-fabricated house, originally built in 1870.
Altamirano House is a restoration of a building believed to be constructed in 1850 on land owned by Don Miguel de Pedrorena, one of the authors of the Constitution of California. Although the house belonged to his son-in-law Jose A. Altamirano, the Altamirano family never lived in it. The building was used by the San Diego Union when it published its first newspaper on October 10, 1868. The Union remained there until 1870, when its office was moved to downtown San Diego. Altamirano House now houses the San Diego Union Museum.
Old Town San Diego is not a conventional open air museum. It is part State Historic Park and part commercial attraction complete with 9 hotels, 32 restaurants, a dozen art galleries and over 100 shops. The State Historic Park recreates San Diego from Mexican era in 1821 through the early in the American era up to the 1872 fire.
San Diego became California’s first Spanish settlement in 1769 when El Presidio Reál de San Diego and Mission San Diego de Alcalá were established. They were built on Presidio Hill and soon a cluster of adobe houses sprang up around the hill. The mission was moved to its current location in 1774 and the Presidio was abandoned in 1835. Today nothing remains of the original fort and mission but the site is called Presidio Park. When construction of the New Town (now the Gaslamp Quarter) commenced in 1867, the area around the site of the Presidio went into decline and in 1872 fire destroyed most of the buildings. Some survived and and others have been reconstructed to create Old Town San Diego.
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La Casa de Estudillo
La Casa de Estudillo was constructed between 1827 and 1829 by Captain Jose Maria de Estudillo, commander of El Presidio Reál de San Diego. Although La Casa de Estudillo survived the decline of the Old Town and the 1872 fire, by the turn of the century it had fallen into disrepair. In 1906 it was puchased by sugar magnate and investor John D. Spreckels and he set about the task of restoring it.
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Whaley House Museum
Just outside the pedestrianised area of the old town is a house that that also served as a general store, courtroom and theatre. It was the first two storey brick building in San Diego, designed in the Greek Revival style by its owner Thomas Whaley and built in 1857. Like many Victorian entrepreneurs, Whaley kept his business interests close to home. The Whaley & Crosthwaite General Store was located in the single storey part of the building which was not then connected through to the house. Part of the single storey building also served as the county courthouse in 1869. In 1868 an upstairs bedroom was converted into a theatre where the Tanner Troupe performed in front of 150 guests. The floor of the converted bedroom must have been unusually strong to take such a load! In 1885 daughter Voilet committed suicide by shooting herself in the chest with her father’s gun. A devastated Thomas Whaley built a new family home in downtown San Diego and the house in the Old Town was abandoned. Thomas Whaley died in 1890. In 1909, his eldest son Francis restored the building and opened it as a tourist attraction. The rest of the family moved back in 1912 and the house was occupied by Whaleys until youngest daughter Corinne died in 1953. The derelict house was rescued in 1960 and turned into a house museum. Rumours that the house is haunted go back to the 19th century, so in addition to regular tours, the Whaley House Museum offers Ghost Hunting tours. Click Tab 2 to see the Courtroom or Tab 3 for the theatre.