Every morning we harness our companion Tea-Bird and walk through the neighborhoods of Mission Hills. It is an area that was laid out in the beginning of the 20th century exemplifying the Southern California lifestyle much in the same way as towns such as Pasadena. The railroad connected San Diego to the rest of the country in the 1880’s sparking a boom in tourism and seekers of fortune. Concurrent with the Belle Epoque in Paris, San Diego had its own renaissance before the sobering effect of The Great War. The founders of Mission Hills included names like Marston, Johnson, Nolen and, of course, Kate Sessions, who had landscaped Balboa Park. Kate Sessions’ original nursery, still in operation since 1911, is just down the street from us and is nestled among an eclectic mixture of Arts and Crafts Bungalows, Spanish Revival homes, swaying eucalyptus, towering palms and rushes of bamboo. Many homes contain architecture elements from the 1915 Pan American Exposition which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and started the Spanish Revival movement of home building on a national level. The building boom in Mission Hills coincided with the construction of the Exposition which began in 1911. San Diego was a city of 39,000 and the smallest ever to hold a world’s fair style event.
The streets of Mission Hills follow the original slopes of the terrain as the founders believed in the Arts and Crafts notion that living spaces should harmonize and work with the earth, not define it. This now historic neighborhood retains much of the original charm, which, in addition to the beautiful architecture, is greatly enhanced by wonderful natural landscaping most of the homeowners take pride in. As we walk down the sidewalks, each yard has fragrant flower, fruit trees, cacti and tender perennials. Common are creeping rosemary and bushy lavender which add savory fragrances as we brush by.
Beauty is not just the view, but how people live as well. Mission Hills is always full of dog walkers, runners, bike riders, kids and strolling couples, making it a friendly and social environment, greatly enhancing the storybook feel to the neighborhood. Here in San Diego, the sunshine and bright, often cloudless blue sky, are backdrops to the movie-set perfection of the neighborhood. I often marvel at the foresight of the small group of visionaries who designed Mission Hills. While the future is difficult to predict, they created a neighborhood that stands out from the crowd of poorly thought out developments and accomplishes much of their original goal. Every walk we take is different and stimulating, very good for creative thinking.
The Mission Hills Garden Walk is an annual event which offers the opportunity to see beyond the beauty of curb appeal and catch a glimpse of our neighbors’ lifestyles. We also enjoy meeting people who put their hands in the earth and use it as a canvas for organic expressions. Every home on the tour is unique, but one thing in common are outdoor living spaces, often as an extension of a kitchen, or an entertainment area of its own. Similar to the Mediterranean, the residents of Mission Hills frequently create spaces for casual gatherings centered about food. Alfresco dining and the chatter of company intermingling with fluid songs of mockingbirds are frequently part of the soundscape in Mission Hills. The star house on the tour, designed in the 1920s by William Templeton Johnson, even had a loggia-style bar that opened onto a patio overlooking fountains, a patio and a panoramic vista looking past an infinity pool added by subsequent owners. Houses like this help honor the ritual of food in a social setting. Like drinking from crystal making the beverage taste better, dwellings like this help us to savor both food and company. For the rest of us who cannot afford to live this way, the restaurant industry has thrived on the same principle.