Within Old Town San Diego State Historic Park (San Diego Historical Landmark #14) are many historic buildings and rebuilds. We’ll explore nine of them since they also have been designated San Diego Historical Landmarks.
The ninth historical landmark within Old Town is the Exchange Hotel Site. Also known as “Tebbett’s Place” in the early 1850’s, its location was not known until 1951. The life story of the proprietor, George Parrish Tebbets, is well known but the building where he conducted his business is pretty much unknown since there are no photographs, drawings, or complete descriptions of the hotel.
Several sources indicate that the Exchange Hotel was located at 2729 San Diego Avenue. Other sources say 2731 San Diego Avenue. Here is a picture of 2731 and 2733 San Diego Avenue:
Both buildings are rebuilds as they were destroyed in the great Old Town Fire of 1872. A lot is known about the two-story building, the Colorado House. The one-story building is the first San Diego courthouse. Based on my own research, I’m pretty sure that the first San Diego courthouse was not at that location but I couldn’t find where it actually had been built.
So we’re still looking for the Exchange Hotel….
In 1851, the Masons scheduled a meeting at the Exchange Hotel to draw up a petition to form a masonic lodge in San Diego. The petition was granted on August 1, 1851, and the lodge became San Diego Lodge No. 35. The date is noteworthy because in 1951, in celebration of the centennial of Southern California’s oldest Masonic Lodge, people went looking for the Exchange Hotel site in order to place a marker there.
No luck with the records of San Diego Lodge No. 35 as they contain no description of the Exchange Hotel and no mention of its location.
A June 28, 1852, article in the San Diego Herald was uncovered which seems to indicate that the Exchange Hotel was at least a two-story structure next to the Colorado House, itself known to be a two-story structure:
“The procession after marching through the principal streets, halted under the gallery of the Exchange and the Colorado house, to listen to the oration by J. Judson Ames, R.A. & K.T. which occupied about a half hour. Of its merits it isn’t of course, proper to speak.”
A November 3, 1855, San Diego Herald article reveals a little more:
“On the Plaza and its vicinity are several operations just completed or in progress, one of the most important of which is the raising and enlargement of the Exchange estate by Messers Franklin, who intend to devote it to their large and increasing business. The lower story is to be of brick, fronted by a handsome veranda which will be carried up three stories, the height of the building.”
The first three-story building, and for many years the only three-story building, in San Diego was the Franklin House. At one time it was owned by Joseph Mannasse, a member of the San Diego Lodge. Many of the Lodge’s early banquets and special events were held in the Franklin House.
Further research in 1951 indicates that the Franklin House was built where the Exchange Hotel once stood. I’m wondering if the Franklin House actually was the Exchange Hotel after “the raising and enlargement of the Exchange estate.”
Also in 1951, James Forward and George Elder of Union Title Insurance Company found a property transfer dated July 19, 1855:
“Conveys situate in the Town of San Diego. Having a front on the Plaza or public square of 35 feet more or less, and in depth 50 varas (measure) and known upon the plaza of said town, as part of Lot 2 in Block 30, upon which the building known as the ‘Exchange’ has been erected.”
That pretty much defined the location as 2731 San Diego Avenue.
Permission of the owners was obtained to place a bronze plaque at the site and, although that apparently was done on June 16, 1951, I could not find a plaque at the site when I was there this morning. Next time I am there I will search with a more critical eye.
The foundation of the Franklin House was uncovered in 1981 during renovation of Old Town. Sadly, though, once it was uncovered and documented, they poured sand on it and recovered it with concrete walkways and asphalt streets. I guess no one would want to look at a crumbled foundation of a destroyed house when they can reconstruct other buildings on top of it so people can buy trinkets, souvenirs, food, and, of course, margaritas!
For the introductory blog post to San Diego’s historical landmarks, click on San Diego’s Historical Landmarks.
For previous posts in the San Diego Historical Landmarks series, go here.
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