The La Mesa Historical Society’s 2018 Home Tour will showcase seven architectural gems in the Mt. Nebo and Eastridge neighborhoods. This year’s tour features two outstanding midcentury modern adobe homes along with a 1915 Craftsman and several other midcentury contemporary and modern gems.
Last year’s tour of La Mesa Highlands and Boulder Heights was a popular success and La Mesa Historical Society (LMHS) looks to continue its growing reputation as one of the most popular and satisfying “free-style” home tours in the county.
By featuring the classic “exclusive” neighborhoods of Mt. Nebo and Eastridge, LMHS provides another unique opportunity for residents and visitors alike to enjoy La Mesa’s unique historical architecture.
From La Mesa’s suburban origins in 1906, the steep, rocky hills that bound the downtown village’s western boundary have been the location for some of the city’s best examples of beautiful, creative and exclusive homes and architecture. From the 1907 Lookout Park and 1927 Windsor Hills subdivisions to the 1956 Eastridge Estates “custom tract,” the unprecedented view lots carved from these rocky pinnacles and ridges provided solid pedestals for eclectic, elite and cutting-edge residential home building.
In 1907, pioneer La Mesa developers the Park-Grable Company subdivided the north and eastern slopes of the northern peak of Mt. Nebo under the name Lookout Park. Sherman Grable reportedly named it for the place to which Moses could see “the promised land.” In the 1910s, Lookout Park’s hillside lots were choice locations for a La Mesa home. Several prominent early La Mesa citizens built large view homes in the tract.
The Mt. Nebo community’s status as a place for prominent residents was reflected in the establishment of the Easter Sunrise service tradition at its own Prospect Park. By the early 1920s, Lookout Park had several dozen homes constructed.
During the Southern California 1920s real estate boom, many developers sought to establish high-end suburban home tracts. The San Diego firm of Love and Touhey subsequently extended Lookout Park’s streets up the hill to encompass the higher southern summit — which they dubbed Pt. Airy.
Windsor Hills included concrete sidewalks and curbs, “acorn-style” street lamps, and extended the pedestrian staircases up to Pt. Airy. Several contractors and residents built some of the then-popular revival-style homes onto this new “exclusive tract.”
Love and Touhey’s project featured an elaborate marketing campaign full of fanciful images of storybook-style homes that promised an idyllic suburban lifestyle in Windsor Hills. They even included a testimonial advertisement from baseball hero Babe Ruth who was in town on a “barnstorming” exhibition tour in 1927. (This led to claims Ruth had bought a home lot in Windsor Hills — this proved not to be true).
Unfortunately, Windsor Hills was one of some 30 developments in San Diego County alone that would fall victim to not only the bust of the 1920s real estate boom that timed poorly with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, but also to California’s ill-fated Mattoon Act.
This infamous improvement bond act, with pyramiding assessments, placed the tract into foreclosure to the state of California throughout the 1930s. Until San Diego County voters passed a bond act in the late 1930s to buy out the foreclosed lots, no new development could occur. The city of La Mesa was not able to clear Windsor Hills for new development until 1941. Subsequently, only a few homes were built before World War II, with many homes constructed in the various contemporary and modern styles of the postwar era.
La Mesa, like most of San Diego County, experienced exponential growth in the post-WWII period. While most La Mesa developments were aimed at the larger middle-class market, a group of developer/investors eyed a different suburban fate for the rocky ridge property extending west from Mt. Nebo and Windsor Hills.
In 1956, this group of San Francisco- and Los Angeles-based investors, called the Eastridge Company, obtained approvals for a new exclusive suburban tract under the name Eastridge Estates. Eastridge was unique in that the Eastridge Company planned to only develop the land and install improvements. The company would only sell lots to individual families and builders and not construct homes. In this way, they looked to create a luxury, custom-built tract. In order to assure high-quality, high-value property they touted “architectural control” reviews and required houses be priced between $25,000 and $50,000 — well above the $15,000 average tract home price of the day.
In December 1956, work was underway for what would be the initial yearlong project to grade lots and install streets, sidewalks, sewers and utilities at Eastridge. The company’s initial marketing noted that Eastridge was “planned as the inland Beverly Hills of San Diego” with the “most spectacular view lots in Southern California,” with the plan to create a “new prestige community” in the “view-tiful hills of La Mesa,” close to new schools, shopping and freeways.
A year later, custom homes were being built and by October 1958, the first three units had been prepared for some 200 home sites. Some 45 homes had reportedly been completed or were under construction — then representing 11 distinct homebuilders.
The diverse custom nature of Eastridge houses became apparent in these early homes. Several were widely noted for their unique design, style and construction materials. These characteristics reflect some of the cutting-edge trends of midcentury suburban residential design. Although many were high-end custom examples of the more typical California ranch house type with popular Colonial or Americana styling that dominated 1950s residential architecture, Eastridge had many unique examples of cutting-edge modern- and contemporary-style elements.
In addition to these popular midcentury styles, many unique building materials were used and promoted. Steel-frame, adobe block and all-aluminum homes were touted as the latest in residential home design. Eastridge homes receiving attention include unique split-level, colonial/early-Americana-style ranch, Oriental, tropical Hawaiian moderns, ultra-contemporary, and modern along with models featuring high-end elements such as sunken living rooms, mass stone fireplaces and modern all-electric appliances.
By the early 1970s, most of the Eastridge development had been filled in, resulting in La Mesa’s most unique example of a high-end, custom, midcentury suburban residential development tract aimed for the professional homebuying market.
The Mt. Nebo/Eastridge neighborhoods reflect a mix of architectural styles and landscaping that provides a distinctly exclusive community that lies just above and beyond La Mesa Village.
LMHS has arranged for tour guests to experience seven wonderful examples of period authenticity, tasteful updates and expansions, and creative landscaping.
Tour homes feature design, materials and craftsmanship of noted local architects and designer/builders including James Bernard, Lawrence Weir, Homer Morehouse, Ed Heacock and Tomas Orendain.
Several of the tour homes are pristine and authentically preserved, while several have been updated and expanded in ways compatible with their original designs. All the homes feature the amazing views that have drawn homebuilders and homeowners to these steep, rocky peaks and ridges.
This year’s tour promises another classic showcase for La Mesa. Each home stands as a testament to the timeless nature and unique lifestyles representing some of La Mesa’s most enduring early and midcentury exclusive suburban enclaves.
More detailed information, graphics on the tour and the home histories, History Roundtable program and access to homeowners is available from LMHS. Contact Jim Newland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-244-7931.