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Downtown's Oldest Building Needs Financial Help

Inside the parlor room of the Gaslamp Museum at The Davis-Horton House in the Gaslamp Historical District on May 4, 2021.
Guillermo Sevilla
Inside the parlor room of the Gaslamp Museum at The Davis-Horton House in the Gaslamp Historical District on May 4, 2021.
Even the oldest standing structure in Downtown San Diego is not immune to the pandemic’s devastations. KPBS Reporter Melissa Mae explains the trouble facing the historic heart of the Gaslamp District.

Even the oldest standing structure in downtown San Diego is not immune to the pandemic’s devastations. In March 2020, the doors to the Davis-Horton House, home to the Gaslamp Museum, closed due to pandemic restrictions. It's reopening Friday, but the long closure meant revenue from tours and lectures disappeared, and their biggest fundraiser of the year, the ShamROCK block party, was canceled twice.

Now in financial distress, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation has started a GoFundMe campaign as part of their "Save the Gaslamp Museum" fundraiser to keep the historical building open. Their goal is to raise $150,000.

Rhiannon Luna is the Executive Director of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation. She told KPBS, “we’ve had a really rough year, like a lot of people, and so we’re raising funds and raising awareness that the museum is in financial difficulties and we may go away at the end of June unless we are able to raise some extra funds.”

VID: Downtown's Oldest Building Needs Financial Help

Built in 1850, the Davis-Horton House is named after William Heath Davis, its first resident, as well as Alonzo Horton, known as the Father of San Diego. It marked the beginning of what is now the Gaslamp District.

Sandee Wilhoit, the Foundation's lead tour guide and historian, describes the house as the centerpiece of the historic district "because without us, we wouldn’t have a historic district.”

Along with the history of the House itself, the Gaslamp Museum covers the history of 16 ½ blocks of the Gaslamp Historical District.

Wilhoit said the Davis-Horton House originally served the military.

“It was home for officers, Army of the Pacific. San Diego was originally just a blip where they stopped to refuel, but they did have the Army presence here and they lived in this house."

She said it then became the first county hospital, started by a German immigrant, Anna Scheper. Wilhoit said Scheper charged a dollar a day per patient.

Eventually, the house was donated to the city to become a museum. After four years of renovations, the Davis-Horton House opened to the public.

“You can come inside and take a look and see the history of San Diego kind of play out within these rooms. [It] is really special and there’s not anything else like it in San Diego," Luna said.

“Get up in close and personal with the artifacts," Wilhoit added. “Don’t touch them, but you can get right up there and look at them.”

If the museum did close, Luna said, “the building itself would go back to the city. The collections would have to be dispersed to other institutions and to their original donors which would be very sad to lose this collection. Especially, some of it is historic to the house itself and for that to leave, you’d never get this museum back again.”

The Museum's staff and volunteers say the closure would also mean uncertainty for the house's "permanent residents;" that is, ghosts that long term museum member and volunteer Charlotte Perry said she knows are there. “I would hate to lose those ghosts too," she said. "They’d have to move someplace else and where would they go?”

Wilhoit also mentioned the house's spirits.

“They don’t mind if you listen, photograph. They don’t care," she said. "They think it’s nice to have company and they would be very lonesome too.

For now, the museum is open Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., for self guided tours.