An evening at Villa Montezuma

A carnivorous smile among the city’s upper crust

Villa Montezuma
  • Villa Montezuma

Between 1887 and 1889, Jesse Shepard gave musicales at his Villa Montezuma. He had an international reputation as a singer/pianist. Others called him a charlatan. To bring instant culture to the pioneer town, San Diegans built Shepard a gaudy Victorian mansion at 20th and K Streets. Here he performed and, some said, conducted musical séances. What follows is an imagined evening at the villa — Tuesday, February 14, 1888 — based on eyewitness accounts.

The tour

Horse-drawn carriages and buggies arrive at 1925 K Street around 8:00 p.m. The villa stands on a hillside. Backlit by city lights below, the whimsically unsymmetrical building sports two towers with conical domes, two chimneys, and a cross-gable roof. Sculpted serpents twist around metal finials. The waterspout’s a dragon’s head. As if startled by their arrival, or determined to ward off demons, a winged, reptilian gargoyle spews invisible flames at the guests, all dressed for a night at the opera.

They are familiar with the Villa’s free-lance, Queen Anne style. Even bigger mansions have sprung up from here to Florence Heights. The mammoth structures proclaim bulging bank accounts in carpenter’s gothic.

Someone said that in Classical architecture, the whole is greater than the parts. In the Queen Anne, the parts are greater than the whole. And each part competes for attention.

People who have seen it say the villa isn’t just another Victorian extravagance. In fact, when they describe it, and Shepard’s mystical concerts, adjectives blur their words.

The carriages park on both sides of 20th. The dirt street runs north-south and was graded last summer. After taking in the view — the city like a floor of stars — guests search for the main entrance.

It’s not where they thought. Instead of a grand portico and wide steps rippling down to the street, the door’s around the corner to the right. You must walk past the three-story, northeast tower, erect as a soldier at attention, and up concrete steps. Compared to the ornate edifice, the humble porch looks like a servant’s entrance, or an afterthought.

We knock on the Dutch door. Maybe four feet wide, it has a glazed upper panel and dull brass hinges. The sky-blue ceiling’s a letdown. Every porch in town has that color.

The door swings open silently; waves of bright warmth flare out to greet us. Two men and a woman stand in the soft glow of a five-foot-tall brass lamp with a jeweled shade. A man, mid-20s, says he’s Lawrence Tonner. He presents the man next to him, also wearing black pants, elegantly cut waistcoat, and a white shirt with a U-shaped front. The sides of his winged collar curl like breaking waves over his black cravat.

Jesse Shepard

Jesse Shepard

“Mr. Jesse Shepard,” the young man announces as if for royalty. Shepard looks like Tonner in 15 years. Both are tall, well over six feet, with large physiques, black hair, waxed mustaches, but no beard, and melancholy, inward-looking eyes.

“You are most welcome,” Shepard says in a Bostonian accent. He has a courtly grace, open but reserved. When he gently shakes your hand, his fingers engulf yours. So, it’s true: they say that stretched out together, one of his hands can touch piano keys an octave and a half apart. The only other known pianist with such a reach was Franz Liszt, who died 11 years ago. People used to check if he had an “eleventh” finger.

Shepard introduces the woman on his right: Kate Field, the guest of honor. She’s the 50-year-old renowned writer/lecturer and champion of women’s causes — and, some say, the lover of British novelist Anthony Trollope.

She’s touring California for the first time, to “become acquainted,” she says. When she arrived here February 7, the San Diego Bee asked her impressions thus far. She said she didn’t like hearing boastful Californians belittle the East Coast. “Don’t grow conceited and think because you are a wonderful child that your parents can teach you nothing,” she told the reporter. “California will be more sympathetic when she allows the rest of the world to possess a few attractions. It is a miserable bird that fouls its own nest.”

Field’s outfit also raises eyebrows: white brocaded satin, pale blue trim, a flowing train, and a low neckline. Her dark hair swirls into a bun. She nods, smiles; her eyes are wide awake.

“Mr. Shepard will perform at 10:00 p.m.,” says Tonner. “Feel free to roam about.”

Shepard adds politely, “We’re so glad you’ve come.”

It’s only after the greeting that we notice the bold staircase rising from our right and climbing overhead, the bannister carved in diagonal rectangles. In fact, everywhere we turn looks sculpted, from the dark walnut wainscoting, to the redwood upper paneling, to the deep brown, interlocking patterns on the ceiling: circles and diamonds within connected squares.

Come to think of it, the round entryway window has a tiny circle within a square. Isn’t that an alchemical symbol for the Philosopher’s Stone?

The bas relief ceiling design rises from a bed of silver-gray Lincrusta-Walton, pressed canvas covered with linseed oil. In the flickering gas- and candlelight, the finish shimmers like moonlight on San Diego Bay.

Hallway doors cast pools of color on the ornate Smyrna rug. From the reception room to our left, pale pink spills through gold and light blue portieres. The drapes and fabrics, even the clusters of candles, are pink.

Straight ahead: the drawing room beckons like an open treasure chest. One of the guests, Thomas L. Fitch, the noted orator, joins us and opines: “the effects of universal culture are everywhere; it becomes apparent that nothing is copied here.”

Also known as Colonel Tom, the former Nevada congressman is a lawyer and one of San Diego’s most avid boosters. A rotund man around age 50, strands of white hair combed over a bald spot, Fitch defended Brigham Young against criminal litigation in 1871, and the Earps and Doc Holiday after the O.K. Corral ten years later. Now he edits the Bee and pens rabid advertising copy for Howard & Lyons, the real estate company. (Of his unabashed boosterism, folks say, “No boom really starts until Fitch shows up.”)

“San Diego has a population of 150,000 people,” he wrote late last year, “only they are not all here yet.” Given the city’s economic havoc of the past six weeks, Fitch’s famed, “silver tongue of the Pacific” has a perceptible tarnish.

Muffled voices from other rooms: bursts of “ooh” and “ah,” and “come see this,” but never footsteps. The guests walk on Persian rugs thick as double horseshoes, soft as clouds.

The large drawing room’s a floral Eden: orange blossoms on a mahogany cabinet inlaid with flowers of mother of pearl and ivory; Louis Phillipe roses in two yellow Satsuma vases; tea roses in another; a tall spray of calla lilies next to the tiled fireplace. Above the mantel: a round mirror inside a square of molded walnut. That symbol again. Circles within squares flow through the villa like a musical motif.

“Come look at the bay window,” says Fitch, now our self-appointed docent. On the south-facing wall, curving windows span 18 feet. The upper sashes have art glass portraits of literary greats: Shakespeare, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, and Pierre Corneille. Each looks as if about to speak.

“John Mallon of San Francisco created them,” says Fitch. “He painted enamel on small fragments and framed the figures with bevel-edged jewel pieces.”

As Fitch continues, first impressions of the villa mute his words. The place feels timeless. Or, as in a museum, of time suspended; centuries come together. You walk not only among objects of beauty but within one: the entire villa feels like a work of art.

Another impression: the Douglas fir floors and waxed woodwork gleam; stained-glass windows shine like speckled rainbows — yet nary a speck of dust in myriad nooks and crannies. Everything’s immaculate.

The most dominant impression is security, as if the villa were a sanctuary from the panic down the hill. Until last January, San Diego enjoyed a real estate boom so reckless many likened it to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Tens of thousands of speculators bought land, traded lots, mapped out towns. They promised fresh water, churches, schools, the skies. Last year the San Diego Building and Loan Association loaned money at 34 percent interest.

The bubble burst New Year’s Day. Pounding hammers ceased. Thousands left, and are leaving still. Lumber warps in rain-soaked piles. Many who remain are destitute. Tonight’s guests are among San Diego’s civic leaders. Creased foreheads show the strain, the eyes, uncertainty. Their world may be coming apart.

The villa feels outside of time. But there’s also the nagging sense of no time at all. There’s too much to take in. Details, so plentiful, so exact, are far greater than the whole. So, what to choose? Where to start? Combine this urgency with the shifting floral fragrances from room to room, an infinity of fascinating objects, light pulsing off colored glass and glossy wood — and the effect is dizzying.

Fitch ushers us through sliding doors to the red room.

“Mr. Shepard’s bedroom,” he proclaims, his right hand sweeping in a half-circle, as if conjuring up the scene. The walls, gold fleur de lis on Lincrusta-Walton, have a dull gray hue. Everything else — quilt and shams with art needlework, the large Ouschek Turkish rug — is a shade of red, from ruddy to reddish-brown, but subtly so, since other colors, blues especially, enhance the dominant hue. Unlike the drawing room, the bedroom is spare. The vases, bronze statuettes, and jeweled candelabra feel subdued. “Notice,” says Fitch, “that unlike most Victorian homes where the master bedroom is upstairs, the red room’s on the first floor.” As he leads us through the dressing room we find a reason why.

The Gold Room stands at the southwestern corner of the villa. Shelves of books in stately rows: this is the library. While some guests rush to the French art glass window — “don’t the grapes and berries look edible?” asks one — those of a literary bent peruse leather-bound, gilt-lettered tomes on art, literature, and music, many of them gift copies signed by their authors.

Clara Foltz rushes in. She is California’s first woman lawyer and former publisher of the San Diego Bee — her staff called her the “queen bee” — wears heliotrope satin, embroidered with rich laces, and a corsage of pink ostrich plumes. In one of her first editorials last October, she praised the newly arrived San Diegans of “noble intelligence”: Shepard “in music and philosophy; Fitch in oratory; Madge Morris in poetry.” The Bee honors those “to whom honor is due,” she said, “and hopes that goldbags may also do so ere they lie dead in the grave with real estate on the brain.”

The Bee advocates women’s suffrage. Foltz has been giving a guided tour to her daughter Trella, judges Moses Luce, George Puterbaugh, W.E. Robinson, and their wives. Smart woman, Foltz: hobnobbing with the crowned heads of the legal system. She’s been here less than a year and almost got run out of town. The town’s other three newspapers and a consortium called the International Company ganged up against her over a land-grant dispute in Ensenada. She eventually had to sell the newspaper.

“Tom,” she grabs Fitch by the arm, “you must show them the gallery before the concert starts!”

She used stairs next door. But we can’t. They’re the “down” stairs; the “ups” are back at the entryway. We scurry past the Blue Room to our left — Mr. Tonner’s all-blue sleeping quarters — and through the dining room with no time to appreciate the silver and bronze walls, sprawling tapestry rug, elegant candelabra, or shelves sparkling with silver service and porcelain plates from China and Japan.

We’re back at the entryway. The massive, carved newel at the base points upward, as if assuring us we’re on the right track. As we ascend, no riser creaks.

The second floor’s a revelation. Along with 10 windows offering views from east to west and 12 vases exploding with floral arrangements, it’s an art gallery: at least a hundred paintings, prints, statues, and busts. Plus, letters to Shepard from artists and European rulers framed on the walls. One is from his pen pal Walt Whitman. Among the sculpted figures: Beethoven in a special niche, Wagner nearby, George Eliot, Mrs. Siddons the great tragedian, and Rossini. Guests marvel at original etchings of Pascal, Rousseau, Racine, Madame de Sevingne. That steel engraving over the organ is of Giacomo Meyerbeer, one of Shepard’s favorite composers.

“Mr. Shepard’s sanctum,” Fitch tells us, with his now familiar, and unnecessary, note of awe. “Mrs. Foltz says it’s ‘doubtful there’s another room on the continent that can compare.’ You could spend a lifetime in this room, but,” he waves at a Spanish cedar staircase to the third floor, “Do take time to see the tower. That’s where Mr. Shepard does his writing.”

As if surrounded, the dazed guests don’t budge, uncertain where to begin. A good time to climb the narrow stairs. They make a tight spiral up to an observatory, and – Oh, mercy me!

Everything else in the villa points inward. The four-story, onion-domed, Arabesque tower enjoys an unobstructed view in all directions: mountains, mesas, Mexico, the city, Coronado, Point Loma, the Pacific. Shepard’s writing desk faces southwest, but a high-backed, black-leather, revolving chair lets him change vistas at will.

A little bell tinkles downstairs. The concert, already?

Mr. Shepard performs

The bell signals 10:00 p.m. — time for one of Jesse Shepard’s legendary “musicales” at the Villa Montezuma. In a way, the concert just began. More felt than heard, the bell vibrates inside the walls.

Some call the concerts “musical séances.” But people don’t hold hands or rap on a table and commune with departed relatives. Instead, the “musical medium” plays the piano and sings. According to the San Diego Union, Shepard once played the organ at the great cathedral in Baden, Germany, and “sang at the same time, something never before attempted by a singer.”

Shepard sings in different voices and languages. And, they say, he conjures the spirits of the great masters. Mozart, Chopin, or Franz Liszt guide his immensely long fingers and perform their works through him — even scores composed after they died.

Shepard’s enormous hands strike chords most pianists cannot (his feet are large too, size 13). He had only two years of formal training, he says. He can’t read music and never practices. Instead, he plays “intuitively.” The music just comes to him — or through him. He can’t repeat it or even remember it after.

He never performs in daylight, and large groups make him “nervous to the point of exhaustion.” He prefers 10 to 12 “sympathetic” listeners in near darkness. He senses the “waves” in the room and interprets “what is in the air.”

If Mr. Shepard prefers small groups, tonight is an exception. Besides guest of honor Kate Field, at least 25 of the city’s upper crust are here. “Invitations were the town’s biggest social prize,” publisher Foltz whispers to Field as guests assemble in the entry hall. In a slightly louder voice, Foltz adds, “Here you have gathered a large portion of the beauty and wealth of the city.”

And all dressed as ornately as the villa: Colonel Fitch and Bryant Howard in elegant black with diamond cufflinks and lapel pins; Mrs. Fitch, black silk with diamond ornaments, wears a corsage bouquet of bonacline roses; Isabella Stewart, wine-colored silk with steel passamentaire; daughter Belle’s seal brown velvet dress sports an old gold polonaise; and pearls stud Mrs. J.C. Sprigg’s pink satin gown.

Today is St. Valentine’s Day, but several husbands are absent. The brand new Hotel del Coronado is having another “unofficial” opening tonight (they had one February 1 and plan another, April 19). Maybe the men dine at the hotel while the wives prefer to feast on culture.

In either case, all have earned a diversion. They buried Louis Rose this afternoon at the Jewish cemetery in Old Town. The entrepreneur spent the last 38 of his 80 years helping to build San Diego.

Today saw more signs that the great real estate boom has ended. Less than a year ago, Fitch proclaimed that San Diego could become the biggest city west of the Mississippi. Now, wagons, stuffed with family possessions, flee in droves. Construction has ceased. Banks teeter. Only the gambling halls and nickel-beer saloons along the waterfront thrive.

The day after the Hotel del Coronado opened, wrote T.S. Van Dyke, “In the gilded saloons, the generals, colonels, mayors, judges, doctors and professors whom boom money had evolved from very common clay went from French champagne to California Riesling without tarrying at the half way house of Sauterne.”

The guests file into the reception room through thick, gold and pale blue portieres. Everything inside — everything — is a shade of pink: drapes, furniture fabrics, wallpaper, wax candles. Precise arrangements of camellias, hellebores, and winter Daphne range in hue from pale champagne pink to bold magenta. The combination makes for a heady, almost overpowering fragrance.

No one would say this out loud, but the room also feels like a womb: the rosy warmth, an embracing sense of security.

Or the passageway to another dimension, since the entrance to the music room — a glazed, pediment-like gable and pilaster columns — is the façade of a Greek temple. Petticoats rustle and silks squeak as guests edge single file through narrow maroon portieres and into radiant light.

The music room takes up the east side of Villa Montezuma. Dozens of multicolored candles, clustered like choirs of light, cast dancing sheens on art glass windows. Everything’s so bright that a first, sweeping glance can be dizzying. Even the large candelabra — eight blue wax candles in an outer circle and a white one in the center — seems to spin like a blue halo or a little solar system.

As the eyes adjust, that furry white sprawl beneath the candelabra — a giant polar bear hide! Long sharp teeth jut in a carnivorous snarl. Amid all the art and beauty, amid all the blended tints and tones at the villa, this brusque menace feels disturbingly out of place!

Guests sit in a semi-circle around the white monster and face the south wall. The candles create light and heat. As more people take their seats, the air thickens, the rising temperature threatens discomfort.

Starting at the north wall, servants with long, metallic candle snuffers extinguish each flame. The process, like nightfall, offers a fleeting chance to explore. The rainbow-colored art glass looks like the stained-glass windows of a cathedral. But Shepard’s subjects are pagan. On the long east wall, the Greek poetess Sappho plucks a horseshoe-shaped lyre, flanked by glass panels of L’Allegra and Il Penserosa. These are female versions of John Milton’s companion poems, “L’Allegro” and “Il Penseroso,” about the virtues of the active and the contemplative life. Allegra, hale and alert, holds an apple; Penserosa, dressed like a Franciscan friar, reads a book.

Darkness creeps toward Shepard’s square grand Knabe piano. It’s a gift from William Knabe, whose “noble instruments of sterling merit” are the piano of choice for Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and Camile Saint-Saens. Knabe’s instruments also graced the homes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Francis Scott Key, and Brigham Young…and the White House.

Two vases and a single lamp stand atop the rectangular rosewood cabinet. As the company grows quiet, it’s clear that the music room has excellent acoustics. Even silence feels more silent.

It’s also clear that Shepard had the room designed for darkness. There are no paintings and, unlike the other walls of the villa, where the wainscoting goes halfway up, the Music Room features finished redwood from floor to ceiling.

The servants complete their task. As they exit through curtains to the drawing room, they leave the guests in the fetid, inky darkness of a pharaoh’s tomb. Feet shuffle on Persian rugs; nervous coughs assure each other that they are not alone.

On the piano, the lamp gradually awakens. Shepard stands behind it, his back to the audience. He doesn’t move, as if waiting for unseen invitees to enter his small globe of illumination.

He turns and sits. His watery eyes gaze at the north wall, where art glass portraits of white-wigged Mozart and stormy Beethoven waver like ghosts in the cool, dim light.

Shepard remains immobile, as if under a spell. His eyes don’t blink. He doesn’t seem to breathe.

Then fingers flash in the solitary light. A single note jumps from the piano like a gunshot. As it lingers in the air, Shepard mutters “A fantasia.”

Progressions of chords, haunting, primitive, almost monotonous, build an airy, whimsical impromptu. Dazzling chromatic runs, lighter than snowfall, zigzag off the walls.

Shepard never looks at the keys and has no sheet music. He stares straight out, head cocked slightly to the side, as if listening.

The fantasia concludes. Shepard pauses, not long enough for people to fidget or give full vent to their astonishment.

“An andante,” he says in a distant voice. The piano rolls into a stern and somber mood piece. Clouds of chords improvise a “penseroso” — in contrast to the fantasia’s “allegro”? Shepard rocks back and forth, as if nudging reluctant notes forward.

Sounds resonate from the fireplace and its elongated mantel and from within the walls.

The piece concludes. Shepard pauses, waits. Instead of announcing the next number, he begins a soprano solo. The words are unclear. They say he only knows English and French. The lyrics sound vaguely Russian — some foreign spirit speaking through him?

Shepard told a reporter that he “intuits” the music with no preparation. He doesn’t hear himself singing or understand the languages. “I cannot account for it any more that I can explain how my effects altogether are produced. The thing is as great a mystery to me as to others.”

Someone whispers “angelic” as the voice hits a high C with pristine clarity, and the brief solo fades away.

The piano whirls into Persian music so intricate Shepard must have four hands. On top of the roving bustle, he sings like a zither. Then he closes his mouth, but the zither persists. Is he a ventriloquist? Can he project that wispy, metallic cross between a banjo and a harp around the room?

The music concludes. Shepard assumes a look of solemn anticipation. His eyes search the ceiling, back and forth. They come to rest. He exhales slowly. He announces: “The Grand March of the Egyptians.”

Aha! His masterpiece, though he never plays it the same way twice. The piano starts as a violin — then splits into two, far apart, their brittle harmonies in slow march time. Trumpets blare to our left and right. Drums pound the angry cadences of distant armies marching as to war.

A harsh trumpet peals the order to “charge!” Ferocious flurries of inhumanly quick notes bombard the room. The invasion of dissonance is so immediate you hear missiles and spears and clanks of swords on shields, and last-breath shrieks of pain.

The roars retreat. Another charge! — tambourines and trumpets and swellings of rage so intense the noises vanish, replaced by mind’s eye images of unthinkable savagery — and the growing terror that the walls are closing in.

From deep within the havoc, the suggestion of — what? — a harp, strumming ripples and ripples of notes from far away? As they approach they disperse the clamor, which dissipates and surrenders to the calming flow of a river — the Nile?

Shepard stops, but has he concluded? His long fingers remain arched over the keys, perfectly still. Time passes, at least a minute, in unbroken silence.

Then Shepard begins his famous “double solo.” He sings in two voices, a soprano and a bass, at the same time. Both are bewilderingly clear: the soprano like a kite soaring aloft, the grounded bass giving the long kite string free play.

The voices blend at last into one and vanish. Shepard doesn’t move. Somehow, the lamp goes out. Total darkness and, except for occasional gasps of wonderment, silence.

The lamp comes back on. Shepard stands next to the piano. As he makes a slow, graceful bow, roars of approval, amplified by the acoustics, break the spell.

Kate Field rises and speaks for all. “Thank you, thank you, Mr. Shepard, for the deepest and most heartfelt emotions and the privilege of this never to be forgotten evening.”

Shepard nods, bows again. “Please,” he says in a thin voice, “join me in the dining room for refreshments and,” a wink of personal relief, “libation.”

Guests, some in tears, rush to grasp his hands.

On the way to the dining room, reviews issue forth: “tones for both voices pure and clear...,” “hard to realize that the whole ‘Egyptian March’ was given on a piano...,” “not used to such vastness in the musical art...,” “it seemed the audience had no power to get away.”

One whispers, “They say his spiritual controls come from ancient Egypt; one sings the soprano, another, called ‘The Egyptian,’ the bass, another, the piano.”

Overhearing the comment, Clara Foltz tactfully disagrees, “Mr. Shepard has the ability to arrest the fleeting beauty of the mystic world.”

Newspaper reviews are unanimous:

Daily San Diegan: “Never in San Diego, perhaps never in the whole course of Jesse Shepard’s musical career, was such vocal music attempted. Every note was clear as a silver bell, sweet and powerful, full of fire.”

San Diego Union: “At the conclusion of the music, Mr. Shepard was congratulated by several who had heard him before, as having fairly outdone himself.”

Thomas Fitch in the San Diego Bee: at the “exceedingly brilliant reception… all enjoyed the evening, which was extended some distance into the night.”


  • T.S. Van Dyke: “There is something very peculiar, something so very striking, about even the exterior of the building that the passerby cannot but stop and admire its extreme, unostentatious eccentricity.”

  • The Weekly San Diegan (June 21, 1888): the guest “will find ‘a perpetual feast of nectared sweets where no crude surface reigns’; where sweet and gracious thoughts come to smooth down the sharp corners worn by life’s rasping contact.”

  • Jesse Shepard: “Nothing better can be wished than to greet [you] some day at the Villa Montezuma, when ad oculos evidence shall sanction that ‘tis truth what I say.’”

  • Nandor Fodor: “He did not mention his psychic gift except to sympathetic audiences. Those who accepted his spirit inspiration ran the gauntlet of disfavor.”

  • Vine Hill: “He was an artist — not a great one, but an artist never the less. He played brilliantly. How accurately I wouldn’t know. But mother, who understood music, said he played well.”

  • Matt Marble: “Genius or not, [Shepard’s] intuitive drive, techniques of illusion and love of mystery, and the idiosyncratic expression of his mystical perspective were unprecedented and ahead of their time, anticipating numerous influences and advances that would be realized in 20th century music and art following his death.”


  • Babcock, Barbara, Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (Stanford, 2001).

  • Bjorkman, Edwin, “The Music of Francis Grierson,” Harper’s Weekly LVIII (February, 1914).

  • Coons, Bruce, “Villa Montezuma Provides Lessons in Color,” Save Our Heritage Organisation Magazine (March, 2001, vol. 32, issue 1); interview.

  • Crane, Clare, “Jesse Shepard and the Villa Montezuma,” Journal of San Diego History (Summer, 1970), vol. 16, no 3.; “Villa Montezuma as a Product of its Time,” Journal of San Diego History (Spring/Summer, 1987), vol. 33, nos. 2 and 3.

  • Davis, Erik, The Visionary State: A Journey Through California’s Spiritual Landscapes (San Francisco, 2006).

  • Fodor, Nandor, “Who Was the Real Francis Grierson?” Between Two Worlds (New York, 1964); “Story of Jesse Francis Grierson Shepard,” Chapter 17, From Medium to Genius (London, 1934); These Mysterious People (New York, 1934).

  • Gaddis, Vincent, “Mystery of the Musical Medium,” Borderlands Journal, vol. 50.

  • Hill, Vine, “Recollections of Jesse Shepard,” Ms. San Diego History Center.

  • Maass, John, The Gingerbread Age: A View of Victorian America (New York, 1967); “Jesse Shepard: The Musical Medium,” Fate Magazine (June, 1972).

  • Marble, Matt, “The Illusioned Ear: Disembodied Sound & The Musical Seances of Francis Grierson,”

  • Moody, Eric N., Western Carpetbagger: the Extraordinary Memoirs of “Senator” Thomas Fitch (Reno, 1978).

  • Pomada, Elizabeth, and Michael Larsen, America’s Painted Ladies: The Ultimate Celebration of Our Victorians (New York, 1992).

  • Richey, Elinor, “Sanctum for a Strange Genius: Villa Montezuma,” Remains To Be Seen: Historic California Houses Open to the Public (Berkeley, 1950).

  • Shiraishi, Sean K.T., “Jesse Shepard & the Villa Montezuma: The San Diego Years in Print,” (San Diego, HITM Press, 2014).

  • Simonson, Harold P., “Francis Grierson in San Diego: An Episode in Charlatanry,” American Quarterly, vol. 12, no 2 (Summer, 1960); Francis Grierson, (New York, 1965).

  • Van Dyke, T.S. The City and County of San Diego (San Diego, 1888); “Villa Montezuma,” Historic American Buildings Survey, National Park Service, NABS No. CAL-432.

  • Articles in San Diego Union, The Weekly San Diegan, The Daily San Diegan, San Diego Bee, San Diego Sun, and others.

Part 2: An evening at Villa Montezuma; Coda

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Wonderful article. Shepard was (is) a fascinating figure. I've gone by his ornate home many times and wondered about it. I've also read somewhere about his singular literary and musical careers. The article does a fantastic job of recreating the historical scene and bringing a Shepard concert and the whole tableau of that far-away epoch to life.

I would urge all who are interested in the restoration efforts on the mansion should go to the website: and read about the Friends of the Villa Montezuma and our efforts with the City on the restoration and preservation of this magnificent structurelink text

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