Mission Hills Heritage to Nominate the Arnold and Choate’s Addition – North Florence Heights Historic District
By: Barry Hager
Mission Hills Heritage is pleased to announce that it will bring forward another nomination for a
National Register historic district in Mission Hills. Following on the successful listing of Inspiration
Heights on the National Register of Historic Places in 2021, the focus of this effort will be portions of two
subdivision maps in the northeast area of Mission Hills: Arnold & Choate’s Addition and North Florence
Heights. Filled with homes and buildings in vintage architectural styles from the early Twentieth
Century, the creation of this district will offer the prestige of a National Register historic district
designation and help protect the character of the area. It will also pave the way for Mills Act
qualification for contributing properties once the district is designated locally. The district will be named
the “Arnold and Choate’s Addition – North Florence Heights Historic District.”
The subdivision maps that formed the basis for development of this area are part of the earliest history
of Mission Hills. Attorney and developer Cyrus Arnold and merchant Daniel Choate purchased and
subdivided the Arnold & Choate’s subdivision in 1872. The original map encompassed a large area from
Dove Street on the east to Randolph on the West, and from University Avenue on the south to Barr on
the north. Eighteen years later, in 1890, land speculator Marcus Schiller filed the subdivision map for
North Florence Heights just west of Arnold & Choate’s Addition, covering the area between Randolph
and Stephens Streets, north of the old cemetery that is present-day Pioneer Park.
Very little development occurred for the first couple of decades after the maps were filed. By the early
1900s, horticulturalist Kate Sessions had purchased large portions of both subdivisions and set up
growing grounds and a nursery at the corner of West Lewis and Stephens Street. Kate Sessions
successfully lobbied John Spreckels, owner of San Diego Electric Railway, to extend Streetcar Line #3 into
Mission Hills. By 1908, the streetcar line ran to the corner of West Lewis and Stephens, linking the area
to Hillcrest and downtown.
Housing development took off in the area after the arrival of the streetcar. Homes were built in various
styles of the era, with concentrations of Queen Anne and Victorian vernacular style homes, Craftsman
style bungalows, followed by Prairie influenced residences and homes designed in various Revival styles.
Smaller bungalows served as workforce housing, with larger homes on certain streets. Several notable
builders and architects designed and built in the area, including Nathan Rigdon, Morris Irvin, and Martin
Melhorn. Rigdon built two mixed-use buildings on West Lewis, just south of Sessions’ nursery, with first
story retail and apartments above. The area was largely built out by about 1940 and still serves as the
thriving core of North Mission Hills.
Acceptance to the National Register of Historic Places will represent a significant honor for this
neighborhood and all of Mission Hills. Designation at the national level will also ease the path for
designation at the local San Diego level. Once designated locally, owners of contributing properties will
be able to apply for Mills Act contracts to receive property tax benefits.
MHH has again tapped the skills of consulting firm Architectural Resources Group to prepare the
nomination and guide the project through the California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP), which
processes nominations to the National Register. We plan to have the nomination submitted to OHP by
mid-2023 and to have a hearing and decision before the end of the year.
With over 375 homes and buildings to assess, this project involves significant expense. Please help us
pay for the cost of the consultant and other expenses by donating to Mission Hills Heritage. Donations
can be made at our website, www.MissionHillsHeritage.org. With your help, we look forward to making
this new historic district a reality!
Thanks for coordinating this effort for this important part of Mission Hills character and heritage.