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  • Villa Montezuma Museum
    The Villa Montezuma on K Street in San Diego, California is presently closed to the public, waiting for the funds to renovate this magnificent Queen Anne Victorian mansion that was constructed in 1887, for Jesse Shepard, an enigma of his time, caught somewhere between reality and what some might say or imagine as purgatory. The house, villa or mansion, or whatever you might call it, is one of the most intriguing, indescribable houses in the city. It is one of those houses constructed during the 1880s boom period, much like we had in the early 21st century, just before our bubble burst, so did theirs. Before the railroad came to the city of San Diego, in 1885, the small city was not much more than a dust bowl of a small frontier town, and it was at the end of a long journey over the mountains, although by that time, more people were traveling to the state by ship. After the railroads came to the city, the population exploded from 5000 to more than 40,000, knowing that the rails would bring in more people, businesses and affluence. And adding to all that, the views of the San Diego bay and ocean shoreline helped the real estate prices jump as much as the population did. Wanting to bring culture and civility to the new growing city, many would finance the construction of schools, colleges, opera houses. The city even persuaded Harr Wagner, the editor of the San Francisco literary magazine, The Golden Era, and his entourage of artisans that included painters, musicians and poets to come to the city. One of these eccentrics was the spiritualist, musician, singer and author, Jesse Shepard, who the magnificent villa was constructed for. The villa was constructed on a sloping hillside, and is two stories high with a basement that held a kitchen and storage rooms. There was a tower room on the south side, surmounted by an Arabesque dome, and this would become Jesse's study. The main entrance is on the north side, and the interior is spectacular with dark polished redwood and walnut walls, stylish Lincrusta ceilings, and many art glass windows. The fireplaces are tile faced, and the entire house was designed using the ideas of Jesse, who had been in Europe and Russia prior to coming here and certainly did influence the architecture. Comstock and Trotsche were the architects that had designed many of the affluent homes of the city and the glass windows full of artistic scenes were created by John Mallon of San Francisco, while the furniture, fabrics and decorative arts of the furnishings were picked and arrayed by Jesse. Left of the entry hallway, a reception room awaits, lighted by a splendid art glass window that shows flowers and grapes. It was named the Pink Room by Jesse, since the upper portions of the wallpaper had pink fleur-de-lis designs, and the furniture and drapes had a definite pink tone; as did the very candles that were used for light. The flooring in here, as is throughout the house is polished fir, but when Jesse lived here, they were covered with Turkish or Persian rugs, containing colors that complemented the furniture and drapes. Next to the reception room is the music room, which takes up the entire east part of the house. The northeast side of the room held a small conservatory that was rounded and tiled, which would be the perfect place for growing exotic plants. The art glass windows depict the four seasons and the east wall is a monumentous art glass window that showcases the Greek poetess, Sappho, with two cupids. On separate panels, filling both sides are scenes from John Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. The north end has two high circular windows that hold portraits of Mozart and Beethoven in art glass and likewise on the south wall, there are portraits of Raphael and Rubens. Below these are two full length portrait windows that are allegorical representations of the Occident and Orient. The face used for the figure in the Orient is believed to be the portrait of Jesse himself, who had usually associated himself with the mysticism of the east rather than the materialism we are involved with. The ceiling in the Music room is silver-grey Lincrusta with an elegant redwood strip inlaid.  There is so much more to tell about the unfathomable house, like the drawing room that has a corner fireplace and glorious 18 foot bay window that had life size art glass portraits of Shakespeare, Goethe and Corneille, the outstanding poets of Germany, France and England, on the upper sashes. The faces are painted with enamel, on a single piece of glass, and the encompassing decorations are elaborate colors of leaded glass, entwined with many beveled jewel pieces. Or the Red Room, which was Jesse's own bedroom, located on the south side of the house and upstairs. The walls are covered with Lincrusta Walton, white with gold fleur-de-lis; with the bedcover and pillow shams red with art needlework, as were the candles red.  Jesse Shepard, also known under the pen name of Francis Grierson passed away on May 30, 1927, leaving more than a haunted house, but a tale that should be a movie since it has all the drama, mystery and riches that artists of this period could have. His full name was Benjamin Henry Jesse Francis Shepard and he was born in Birkenhead, England in 1848. He heard the last debate between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, and once called Lincoln a "mystic". He went to Europe and studied under Madame Helena Blavatsky, called the mother of theosophy, and many other students and teachers of the occult. He played the piano, gave concert séances and sometimes would have the sprits of the great composers enter him and play the piano like no one else could. In the 1880s, he met the High brothers, who were the men that built this incredible house for Jesse. It is a story that must be read, and one you will be surprised and intrigued yourself by this enigmatic man, who died at the piano, with his fingers still laid on the ivory keys of the last note of one of his best performances ever, and he even had to borrow shoes for the event. 

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  • USS Midway MuseumUSS Midway Museum San Diego, California
    The USS Midway (CVB/CVA/CV-41) was one of the mightiest aircraft carriers of the US Navy, the lead ship of her class, and the first carrier that would be commissioned after WWII. She became active in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm, and now is a museum ship docked at the San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum in San Diego, California. It is the only carrier from the WWII period that wasn't an Essex-class ship. It was constructed in Newport News, Virginia, as the Newport News Shipbuilding Co. and her unique hull design was based on the Montana class battleships, had they become a class. But the hull design gave her such outstanding maneuverability that she outclassed all other carriers of her age. She was launched in 1945, with Captain Joseph F. Bolger as her commander. After her initial shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, she entered the US Atlantic Fleet, with Norfolk, Virginia as her home port. In 1947, she headed to the Med and the 6th Fleet and in 1952 went to the North Sea to run with the NATO forces. In 1954, she left Norfolk for a world cruise and headed to the 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific. She was sent to the west coast and began to make Alameda, California her home port and again joined the 7th Fleet in the South China Sea in the Laotian Crisis of 1961. In 1965, she would head to Vietnam, after having been retrofitted and adding heavier planes, and then in 1966 headed to San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard for a huge modernization that would end up being both controversial and expensive. The Midway went back to Vietnam in 1971, relieving the Hancock. She had an illustrious career and in the 1990s was involved in the Desert Storm conflict until 1992 when she left for San Diego where she would be decommissioned in April 1992. She arrived as a museum in 2004, and welcomed 879,281 visitors in her first year of tours.

January 11, 2011