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The Whaley House - San Diego, CA

Dear Diary,
Nestled within the modern city of San Diego lies 29 acres of historic significance.

It is a state-protected park commemorating the early days of this city, and includes many a building that contributes to the city's narrative.

One of those chapters is written by the world famous Whaley House.


The house began in 1856 with the construction of a granary, and the 2-story section was added in 1857.

 (These photographs of the home were taken in the 1800s and currently hang in the Whaley House.)


(The Whaley House as it stands now in San Diego.)

It was the first 2-story house built in San Diego. What makes it unique, beyond its Greek Revival style, is the fact that the bricks were made in Thomas Whaley's own brickyard. Today, the museum focuses its exhibits within the structure to 1868-1871, when it served multiple purposes as the Whaley's primary residence, commercial theater, county courthouse and general store.

Upon entering, I was treated to this ...


The walls are faux painted in a similar and popular treatment of the time, and intended to resemble marble in the ashlar block pattern. It was extremely popular and found in many historic homes from the period. 

Tours at the Whaley House are self-guided, and since I went on a Friday, I was relatively alone. I was also free to take photos. With only a sheet of paper to guide me, I embarked on one of my most interesting journeys through time travel ever.

I began with the courtroom.


Then I moved into the general store.


Whaley was a businessman and originally designed the building as a store. His partner was Philip Crosthwaite, once San Diego's deputy sheriff and executioner of the notorious "Yankee" Jim Robinson.

I should pause to add that Robinson was convicted and hanged for grand larceny on the spot of this house, which Whaley proceeded with the planning for despite this connection. If I were intent to raise a family, I would have passed. But a haunted tourist draw in one of the oldest cities in the country?


The dining room certainly achieved that for me.


The kitchen at the Whaley House is considered fully functional, as the 1860s wood-burning stove still works.


It was time to head upstairs.


I was struck by how narrow it felt; much smaller than the staircase at my house, but also much more intricately detailed.

At the top of the stairs, I found myself in an old theater.




From October 1868 to January 1969, this room was leased to Mr. Thomas Tanner and his group of actors billed as the Tanner Troupe. 150 people attended the first performance!


As was common then, the backdrop and wings are painted in a scenic design and the stage is raked to allow the audience a full view of the actors performing.

On the left, as I exited the theater, is Thomas and Anna's Master bedroom. I had to stand in a plexiglass capsule to view the room, as it was set up almost as precisely as it would have been.



I deeply admired the quality of the woodwork in the bedrooms.


Across the hall is the children's bedroom.


In the corner, is the Whaley's family crib. It was used by four generations! Another item that caught my eye was the small tea set on the corner dresser. The 1860s weren't concerned with small objects and how easily they could be swallowed by children.


I then squeezed my way down the hall.


I am naturally tall and lean, and it felt as though I could just fit between the rail and the wall of this tight hallway. Through the door on the right, another bedroom - this one sleeping up to four children.


My own children would not accept such sleeping arrangements.


The washbowl and pitcher were used for daily bathing. A full bath would have been had off of the kitchen using hot water from the stove and a large tin bathtub to wash in.


I went back down stairs and encountered the guest "chamber."


General Thomas Sedgewick stayed here during his campaign to attract a transcontinental railroad to locate its Pacific cost terminus in San Diego.


My guest ROOM is going to need to improve its game in terms of craftsmanship and amenity. Perhaps a good start is to call it a "chamber."


Through the connecting doorway is Thomas Whaley's study.


And I thought my resume was varied - Whaley was at times a merchant, city clerk, notary public, realtor and real estate investor, and railroad sectary. I could picture him completing his paperwork and correspondence from this desk. In fact, store ledgers from his first days in San Diego are displayed in his bookcase.

And completing my tour, I found myself in full view of the parlor.


Considered the showplace of the Victorian home, this one is furnished with original items belonging to the Whaley's. Instead of a television, the family's social life centered around music. The pump organ still works.


It wasn't until after the fact that I learned the house was incredibly haunted.

Instead, I felt delight. To have the freedom to wander such a celebrated home of the past, and take pictures, is rare. To then encounter such an attention to detail, and care to be period-correct, transported me to a time that exists only in my imagination.

If you go:
Admission: Adults $8, Children & Seniors $6
2476 San Diego Ave., San Diego, CA 92110

Hours:
Sun-Tues: 10-5
Wed: Closed
Thurs, Fri: 10-4:30, 6-9:30
Sat: 10-9:30

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