Victorian Splendor: Exploring the Sherman-Gilbert House

Located in Old Town San Diego’s Heritage County Park, the Sherman-Gilbert House stands as a testament to a bygone era. Constructed in 1887 by the skilled hands of John Sherman, cousin of the famed General William Tecumseh Sherman, this remarkable house boasts unique architectural features, including the iconic “widow’s walk” and a captivating circular window. The house’s historical significance extends beyond its original owner, as it became the cherished residence of sisters Bess and Gertrude Gilbert, who hosted illustrious receptions featuring world-renowned artists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Arthur Rubinstein. Today, the Sherman-Gilbert House continues to be a treasured San Diego City Historical Site, designated on August 7, 1969, and serves as a testament to the city’s architectural heritage and cultural legacy.

The Legacy of John Sherman – A Master Builder:

John Sherman, revered as a Master Builder by the City of San Diego, commenced the construction of the Sherman-Gilbert House in 1887. Combining his expertise with the prevailing Stick Eastlake architectural style, he crafted an exquisite home that showcased intricate details and a blend of Victorian and Eastlake influences. The house initially stood at 139 Fir Street in San Diego, a testament to the growing urban landscape of the late 19th century.

The Widow’s Walk and Circular Window – Architectural Highlights:

Among the distinguishing features of the Sherman-Gilbert House are the enchanting “widow’s walk” and the captivating circular window. The widow’s walk, also known as a rooftop observatory, was a common element in coastal homes during the 19th century. Often associated with maritime lore, these elevated platforms provided a vantage point for women to watch for their sailor husbands’ return from sea. The circular window, on the other hand, added an element of charm to the façade, becoming an iconic symbol of the house.

The Gilbert Sisters – Patrons of Art and Music:

In 1897, the house found a new owner in the form of Auguste E. Gilbert, a widow whose passion for art and music would shape the house’s future. The Gilbert sisters, Bess and Gertrude, were prominent figures in San Diego’s cultural scene, renowned for hosting splendid receptions that attracted internationally famous entertainers. From 1892 to 1965, the Sherman-Gilbert House became a vibrant hub for artistic expression, with legendary artists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Arthur Rubinstein gracing its halls and captivating audiences with their extraordinary talents.

Preservation Efforts – The Move to Heritage Park:

In the mid-20th century, the Sherman-Gilbert House faced an uncertain fate as its original location was slated for development into a downtown parking lot for the new Centre City Hospital. However, in January 1969, a pivotal turn of events occurred when a developer offered to sell the structure to Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO) for a nominal sum of $500. Recognizing its historical significance, SOHO took on the responsibility of preserving this architectural gem.

In a remarkable feat of engineering and dedication, the Sherman-Gilbert House was moved to its current location in Heritage County Park in the spring of 1971. This relocation not only saved the house from impending destruction but also ensured its enduring presence as a treasured piece of San Diego’s heritage.

The Sherman-Gilbert House stands today as a living testament to the vision and craftsmanship of John Sherman, the cultural contributions of the Gilbert sisters, and the preservation efforts of the Save Our Heritage Organisation. With its captivating architectural features and rich history of hosting world-renowned artists, the house has etched its mark in San Diego’s cultural heritage. Visitors to Heritage County Park can step back in time as they explore this beautifully restored Victorian-era gem, celebrating the legacy of those who once called it home and experiencing a glimpse of the artistic fervor that once filled its halls.

Hours – Daily, sunrise to sunset

Phone – (858) 565-3600

Address – 2454 Heritage Park Row, San Diego, CA 92110