Legendary Collingwood Estate

In 1974 San Diego Union columnist Frank Rhoades wrote about a businesswoman who had bought a four-story, 14-room Pacific Beach house on a huge lot at 1650 Collingwood Drive in Congress Heights. Rhoades wrote that the famed house had been built early in the century by a state senator named Collingwood and was known as the Senator Collingwood Estate. The new owner, Patrice Dorough, had spent $30,000 restoring it to the mansion it was when built in 1914. An ad in the Union a few years later (‘View View View’) offered the ‘prestigious Collingwood estate’ for lease, a 4 BR, 2 ½ ba home w/turn-of-the century charm. Rhoades soon reported that the historic 17-room house, built in 1910, the main structure on the Collingwood estate and perhaps the first house in Pacific Beach, had been leased.

Patrice Dorough did live at 1650 Collingwood in the 1970s and perhaps she did have her residence restored to what it had been in 1914, but what it had been then was not the estate of a mythical state senator, much less the first house in Pacific Beach, but instead the home built for a young Pacific Beach real estate salesman named Charles Norris. In August 1913 the San Diego Union listed a building permit for a nine-room frame residence at Wilbur near Jewell in Pacific Beach, valued at $6500. A month later the Union followed up with a story that included a ‘perspective design’ of the residence and provided what amounted to a guided tour:

The house is entered through a porch having a cement floor and steps leading thereto. The reception hall is of white enamel trim, with birch doors and window sash stained with a mahogany finish, the stairs are of the old colonial type, having a spiral newel post composed of a spindle balustrade carried around a central post and on up the stairs. The spindrels, risers and strings are to be painted white, while the hand rail and treads will be of birch with a mahogany finish. The dining room, which is large and has light from two sides with French doors leading onto a side porch, is finished the same as the hall. The living room is finished in a natural white cedar. In this room is a large tile mantel of unique design, and bookcases. The kitchen and pantry are in white enamel and have all the built-in features.

On the second floor there are four bedrooms, a sewing room and two baths with tile floor and base. This floor is to be finished entirely in white enamel.

In the basement there is a large furnace room, storage room and a cistern with pump to furnish the house with rain water. A solar heater on the roof will supply hot water. The entire exterior is to be plastered over metal lath.

The structure was designed and is being erected by the Pacific Building Company.

The Evening Tribune reported in November 1913 that the beautiful new home of Charles Norris, under construction on the hills, was nearing completion; ‘It is the first residence being built on the new tract just opened, owned by A. H. Frost. The grounds are being improved and a number of sites are being located for other new homes. Mr. Norris and family expect to be settled in their new home for the Christmas holidays.’

Like most property in Pacific Beach at the time, the site had belonged to the San Diego Beach Company, the former Folsom Bros. Co. renamed in 1911 when the Folsom brothers retired and A. H. Frost became president. In 1913 the company had transferred about four blocks north of Beryl Street and between Ingraham and Kendall streets to Frost, and in early 1914 Frost incorporated these blocks into a new subdivision to be called the Congress Heights Addition. The map of Congress Heights replaced Wilbur Street with Collingwood Drive and added Malden Street, Monmouth Drive and Colina Street (the original map included a short section of Jewell Street which was extended when Colina Street was renamed Jewell in 1926). The recently completed house, the only residence in the new subdivision, stood on lots 119 and 120, at the corner of Collingwood and Colina in the center of Congress Heights. The assessed value of the improvement in the city’s tax books was $750 (compared to an average assessment of $150-$250 for other houses in Pacific Beach).

In April 1915 Pacific Beach was the subject of the San Diego Union’s series of ‘Little Journeys to the Suburbs’ which reported that PB was one of the most desirable of the local communities, a locality of homes composed largely of people who had retired from active business. Several of the county’s show places were within its environs, notably the homes of F. T. Scripps, James H. Haskins and Charles C. Norris (the Scripps home, also assessed at $750, once stood where the Catamaran is now and the Haskins home, assessed at $450, is still standing on Diamond Street across from the middle school).

Charles Norris was not one of those Pacific Beach residents who had retired from active business. When he moved in to his new home around the Christmas holidays in 1913 he was not yet thirty years old and was an active real estate salesman. In the 1900 census he had been living on Julian Street in the Ocean View area of San Diego with his mother Sarah and his older sister Alice. Charles, age 15, was ‘at school’ at that time and a ‘student’ in the 1903 city directory, by which time the family had moved to 1534 Fifth Street. In April 1903 the family apparently visited La Jolla; a list of arrivals at the Seaside Inn included Mrs. S. R. Norris, Alice G. Norris and Chas. Norris (A. H. Frost was also on the list and they may have first met there). By 1904, when the family lived at 1644 Tenth Street, near the corner of Tenth and Date, Charles was a clerk at E. J. Swayne, a local real estate office. Charles Norris was listed as a salesman at E. J. Swayne in the 1905 city directory.

The Norris family made news in September 1906 when their home at Tenth and Date streets was burglarized while the family were out calling on some friends on Golden Hill. According to the Evening Tribune, when Mrs. Norris and son Charles Norris of the E. J. Swayne real estate company returned home about 9:20 o’clock they were surprised to find the doors open and to hear someone moving about the house, but the thief had seen their approach and darted out the rear door when they entered. Within the house everything was turned upside down, drawers being opened on the floor and the whole house in general disorder. The Tribune noted that the thieves were experts of the highest order; they took only the solid silver, discarding the plate, and only the best of Mrs. Norris’ and her daughter’s jewelry. Charles Norris, immediately after phoning to police headquarters, set out after the thieves, tracking them from footprints under the window. The plunder taken consisted of many valuable pieces of silver and jewelry many of which were heirlooms of the family, the total value being about $500. The police were watching all trains and had notified the jewelry stores and pawnshops.

About a week later the thief was caught by police officers at the San Diego Savings Bank when he attempted to change a pocketful of small change. The Tribune explained that at one of his recent heists he had gotten away with the contents of a child’s savings bank containing about $20, mostly in small silver and nickels. The police surmised that the thief would attempt to change this ‘chicken feed’ into money of larger denomination, and had requested all banks, saloons, cigar stores and business houses to be on the watch and report anything suspicious. After prolonged ‘sweating’ following his arrest, H. F. Hammond broke down and confessed to robbing five residences and was jailed in lieu of $2,000 bond. He had been living at the Willard Hotel and on searching the room the stolen jewelry was found hidden between the sides of the upper drawer of his bureau and its outside casing. From Mrs. Norris’ residence he had taken two watches, one of which was a lady’s silver watch; two solid gold necklaces, one diamond ring worth over $75, two gold rings, one pair of diamond ear rings, two gold chain watch fobs, one costly razor, one silver neck chain and one diamond pin.

In 1907 the Norris family moved to Pacific Beach where they lived in a home owned by A. H. Frost at the northwest corner of Olney Street and Garnet Avenue. Charles Norris still worked for E. J. Swayne but was also involved in real estate transactions on his own account, including a lot with a nine-room house on Fifth Street between Maple and Nutmeg ‘amidst the best in the Florence Heights residence section’ which he bought for $6000 as an investment in 1908. In 1909 Norris sold a lot on Tenth between I and J streets to D. C. Reed for $5000. C. C. Norris also owned unimproved property in Pacific Beach, including several lots on Diamond Street across Ingraham from the Haskins home. Mrs. Norris was active in social circles in Pacific Beach; she was one of the ‘handsomely gowned’ ladies who assisted Mrs. Haskins in receiving at the annual reception for the Pacific Beach Reading Club in December 1908 and was also among the guests present at the club rooms of the Pacific Beach Country Club on the occasion of the 12th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Pease in 1909 (Mr. Pease was secretary of the San Diego Beach Company). The 1910 census found the family still living on Garnet Avenue, Charles reporting his occupation as real estate salesman and Sarah as ‘own income’.

In the years after 1910 Charles Norris apparently left E. J. Swayne and worked independently out of an office in the Granger building on Fifth Street downtown while continuing to live with his mother and sister in Pacific Beach. After moving into the house in Congress Heights in 1914 his listing in the San Diego city directory no longer referred to a downtown office, simply listing his occupation as ‘real estate’ and his residence (and his mother’s and sister’s) as ‘nr Lamont North Pacific Beach’.

The 1916 city directory listing for Charles Norris, real estate, added that he worked at 4437 Lamont Street, the address of A. H. Frost’s San Diego Beach Company office, formerly the office of Folsom Bros. Co. and before that the Pacific Beach Hotel (the building had been moved to the corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets from the beach area by Sterling Honeycutt in 1897). Although he lived at the home on Collingwood Drive until 1918 that property (and all other property in Congress Heights) was also actually owned by A. H. Frost.

In July 1918 Charles Norris married Miss Ethel Thomas in Toledo, Ohio, and after an extended wedding trip the couple returned to Pacific Beach in August. Miss Thomas had lived on Collingwood Avenue in Toledo and there is speculation that she had a hand in naming the street in Congress Heights (even though the street was named years before her marriage and relocation to Pacific Beach). The couple did not remain on Collingwood for long, however; they were not listed in the 1919 San Diego city directory and the 1920 census showed Charles and Ethel Norris living in Monroe, Michigan, near Toledo, where he was a salesman for Delco Light. They did return to California after a few years, first to Riverside and, fifteen years later, Pasadena, and finally to Orange County.

A. H. Frost sold lots 119 and 120 of Congress Heights to William Young in November 1918 and in April 1919 it was sold again, to Carolyne Percy. In 1932 Mrs. Percy sold the property to Charles Benton, a paint manufacturer and roofing contractor. When the Bentons moved in it was still the only address on Collingwood Drive but with the population explosion in Pacific Beach during and after the second world war the Bentons had 14 neighbors on Collingwood by 1954. In 1960 the home was owned by retired rear admiral John Andrew and made news when a 21-month-old baby who had wandered away from a nearby birthday party fell into the pool. The baby was pulled out within minutes and resuscitated by a neighbor using mouth-to-mouth respiration.

The Norris home had originally occupied two lots and was surrounded on three sides by streets; Collingwood Drive, Malden Street and Colina (later Jewell) Street. In 1961 Admiral Andrew sold the eastern-most 50 feet of lot 120, facing Jewell Street, and the new owners built a home there, at 4960 Jewell, completing the buildout of homes on the block. What was once the first residence in a new tract, and a notable show place, is now one of the row of elegant homes lining Collingwood Drive, but the one with a legacy (and a legend).

Pacific Beach Historical Society Photo