The epitome of California canyon living

Architect also designed San Diego Zoo structures and enclosures

Gill’s first “Canyon House” design - so much more than what you see from the street.
  • Gill’s first “Canyon House” design - so much more than what you see from the street.
  • Realtor.com

“Hidden behind beautiful hedges,” this 1924 Bankers Hill estate at 3372 Front Street “is truly unique in downtown San Diego and the epitome of California canyon living.” So promise the listing materials.

The patio and outdoor fireplace on the upper terrace.

The patio and outdoor fireplace on the upper terrace.


The residence, which houses six bedrooms and five baths spread across 4800 square feet of living space, was designed by Louis Gill, the often-overlooked partner in his uncle Irving’s Gill and Gill architectural firm that heavily influenced San Diego design in the first half of the twentieth century. Louis had a hand in designing the La Jolla Women’s Club and a personal residence for Ellen Scripps before dissolving the partnership with Irving. He also served as the chief architect of the San Diego Zoo, designing the original buildings and animal enclosures and remaining on the Zoo’s executive staff for 20 years, eventually opening the world’s largest birdhouse in 1937.

The Front Street residence is touted as Gill’s first “Canyon House” design; a 2015 renovation is said to have “maintained every historic detail while integrating open concept floorplans and rebuilding the unique canyon living spaces” that are reported to have been “originally imagined and designed by Kate Sessions,” the woman widely credited as being “the Mother of Balboa Park.”

The home sits just six blocks west of the park, within “walking distance to restaurants and cafes.” A remote-controlled gated entrance provides off-street parking for three cars while “ensuring privacy and security.”

Inside the home, the “professionally designed kitchen” features a farmhouse sink and new stainless appliances, while a center island combines a prep station with second sink, a breakfast bar, and integrated table seating, offering a casual alternative to the formal dining room. A “family den” features a second kitchen and bar, while a “large office with porch” includes “both hidden and secret entrances.”

The three-level home has dual master suites, one with a “massive master suite walk-in closet.” Every floor boasts “superb well-designed closet space,” and the home retains its original three-story circular oak staircase in addition to a newly-added elevator to access the levels. The home’s “wonderful fenestration” promises “different canyon views from every window on all three floors.”

In addition to two gas fireplaces inside the residence, there are two more in the yard, not counting a pair of additional gas fire pits. One is found in the lanai of the hedged-in front yard that offers “special places for breakfast at dawn or drinks at dusk.”

Meanwhile, “multiple stone staircases cascade down the canyon to five finished and beautifully planted terraces” while “a complete canyon kitchen and huge stone fireplace provide a private gathering space on the upper terrace.”

The property’s fully-irrigated orchard includes 15 types of citrus trees, fed by a rainwater collection cistern, and there’s “a large tool room hidden beneath one of the stone staircases.”

Public records indicate the home’s current owners are John Custer, a retired Army general, and wife Audrey, who bought the property in 2003 for $200,000 — well before the current renovation was undertaken.

The property on Front Street hit the market for the first time in 15 years in early October — the asking price of $2,250,000 remains unchanged to date.

3372 Front Street | San Diego 92103

Bedrooms: 6 | Baths: 5 | Current Owners: John and Audrey Custer | List Price: $2,250,000

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Just how does one perform a renovation that results in open floor plans (not something that would have been done in the 1920's) with “maintain[ing] every historic detail?" Maybe some details are more historic than others? It sounds like a marvelous place, and the fact that it sold for the price of a tract home in Mira Mesa back in 2003 is most surprising. We can only assume that fifteen years ago it was a fixer-upper of a fixer-upper.

Oh, that mention of Kate Sessions sounds like some unnecessary name-dropping to me.

The addition "newly-added elevator" was an excellent improvement, with the multiple levels of this house. Who would want to climb those stairs every day?

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