Just a few miles east of the hustle and bustle of downtown San Diego is the historic Sherman Heights neighborhood. Developed in 1867 by Matthew Sherman, this area has plenty of quaint, beautiful Victorian homes and architecture but none as grand and stately as the Villa Montezuma. Built for musician, writer, and Spiritualist, Jesse Shepard in 1887, it was coined the “Palace of the Arts,” a place made for art, music, and literature.
The 1880s were one of San Diego’s most vibrant and exciting periods. A land and real estate boom attracted droves of different settlers and opportunists, as well as many artists, poets, and musicians to this new and developing, modern town by the bay. The Spiritualist movement – the belief that the dead could communicate with the living from the beyond- was gaining much popularity and many prominent followers during this period. Spirit photography, crystal gazing, spirit boards (aka ouija boards), tarot readings, and séances were very fashionable.
Jesse Shepard was a believer in Spiritualism and claimed that he communed with the spirits of the World’s greatest composers through his music. He officially stated to the San Diego Union that Spiritualism and seances were never held at the Villa, but it was rumored that his musical performances at the Villa contained many Spiritualist elements, and that some of San Diego’s most prominent citizens regularly attended.
I recently took a tour of this beautiful mansion and was utterly mesmerized by the intricate attention to detail, the artistic layout, and design of the interior. The stained glass windows in the north east tower were my favorite as they depicted the four seasons so beautifully. Photos of the interior are explicitly NOT allowed otherwise I would flood you with photos of the amazing details of every nook and crany. I eagerly await the day that the Villa Montezuma can again open it’s doors regularly to the public.
The big question everyone always asks is, “Is it haunted?” The Friends of the Villa Montezuma, the organization in charge of maintaining the Villa, say it is “enchanted” and I think that describes it perfectly. I don’t feel like there are any tormented ghosts residing in the Villa, but I do believe that shining through the stained glass windows and glittering chandeliers is a lingering imprint of Jesse and his short but “enchanted” time here in San Diego.
The Friends of the Villa Montezuma offer quarterly tours of the interior and you won’t want to miss it! For more info on dates and how to sign up, check out their site here.