Mission Hills Heritage


2009 Walking Tour

What Mission Hills neighborhood features a hidden grand Victorian mansion built in the late 1880s? What was the original name of Sunset Boulevard? Who were the movers and shakers who built the big estates in the Inspiration Heights neighborhood starting 100 year ago? The walking tour of Inspiration Heights revealed the answers to these questions and much more. This year's Mission Hills Heritage walking tour celebrated the 100th anniversary of the historic Inspiration Heights subdivision.

The subdivision, which includes a portion of Sunset Boulevard and several streets to the south, was marketed as an exclusive residential enclave starting in 1909. Many influential and wealthy people built in Inspiration Heights as a part of a building boom hitting San Diego. Streetcar lines and automobiles made Mission Hills a new area on the outer edge of the city that was still a short ride to downtown. The building of the Panama-California Exposition was also launched in 1909, and the excitement that came with the fair influenced San Diegans to dream big. The results of those big dreams remain for all to see in Inspiration Heights as many wonderful private homes were built in a variety of architectural styles over the next few decades.

The subdivision's land was purchased in 1869 by Henry James Johnston, captain of the steamship Orizaba, which ferried passengers and cargo between San Francisco and San Diego. Initially named Johnston Heights, the subdivision was recorded by his daughter Sarah Johnston Miller in 1886 following the captain's death. She built a Victorian home known as Villa Orizaba which incorporated portions of the steamship Orizaba. She died around 1908 leaving the land to her son Harry Miller. He re-subdivided the land and filed a new map in 1909, renaming the area Inspiration Heights. Harry remodeled Villa Orizaba and moved the house from Johnston Street, now Sunset Blvd., to face Orizaba Street.

The tour provided insight into the first families who lived here a century ago as well as the unique architectural elements in many of the residences. A sneak peak at the unique interior features in one of the majestic mansions was included.

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