At the turn of the twentieth
century, a renewed interest in the arts created an intellectual and
artistic groundswell that resulted in the formation of loose-knit
organizations devoted to aesthetic pursuits in various pockets of Europe
and America. Artists banded together to enhance their lives and provide a mutually
supportive work environment. Centers of activity sprang up in
and, on a much smaller scale, in Grossmont, California, a place that appeared to have little in common with its cosmopolitan
and sophisticated predecessors.
High School, built in 1922
Garden:" The Grossmont Art Colony
by Kathleen Crawford
Grossmont: six hundred
arid, rocky acres, bounded today by Interstate Highway 8, Fuerte Drive,
Helix Drive. Pine Street
Bancroft Street, overlooks the pleasant
and the gentle hills of
La Mesa, twelve miles east of downtown San Diego. The small
Grossmont nestled beside its larger sister summit, Mount
Helix, had long been used as an observation point by the citizens of San Diego. The first permanent settlement of the area took place during the
Granted the land in
1845, Dona Maria Antonia Estudillo, first in a long succession of owners
and a member of one of the oldest families in San Diego
, built a modest home at the base of the foothills. Another pioneer
resident, Enoch Birdseye, followed her example and constructed his house
at the foot of the knoll. The early death of Mr. Birdseye after one year
ended his Grossmont residency.
Ed Fletcher with Grossmont in the background, c. 1908. He first filed a
subdivision map in 1910 naming the area Grossmont Park.
development of the land commenced with the purchase of six hundred acres
by Harvey C. Parke of the Parke-Davis Medical Company in Detroit,
Michigan Named the Villa Caro Ranch, it soon became a show-place with its acres
of lush citrus trees, fragrant with the aroma of scented blossoms. A
spacious wooden Victorian home, various barns and corrals, a lily pond,
and masses of deep green camellia bushes graced the property. Cork oak,
mulberry, and wild persimmon trees blanketed the grounds in direct
contrast to the chaparral covered slopes above.
William Gross, seated in the car at the far right, on a visit to
Grossmont with Fred Jackson in 1909.
the future of this small plot of land. While on a brief visit to
in 1901, Edward Fletcher, a transplanted Easterner newly settled in San Diego
with his young family, struck up an acquaintance with another visitor to
the park, William B. Gross. A ride in a six horse tallyho, a horse drawn
buggy, cemented their friendship. They made plans to continue this bond
and this led in time to the formation of the "Grossmont Art
William Gross, a theatrical agent and sometime actor, brought his
talents to San Diego
in response to a request from Fletcher to visit the family home. Gross,
a man of medium height and stocky build, with hypnotic eyes and a red
beard trimmed to a Mephistophelean point, emphasized his resemblance to
King Edward VII of England. While in San Diego, the bachelor impresarios mentioned his desire for profitable
investments and a peaceful retirement home to Fletcher.
Ed Fletcher, six feet
tall, with a classic profile and high broad forehead capped by dark wavy
hair, and patriarch of a large, handsome family, began his lucrative
real estate career with the purchase of the Villa Caro Ranch in
partnership with William Gross in 1902. Charmed by the rustic beauty of
the ranch, the men made an offer of $11,500 in cash. The deal included
forty acres of citrus trees and $85,000 worth of furniture. Included in
this remarkable bargain were the Victorian home and all the outbuildings
on the property. Two hundred acres of "useless" land thrown in
for good measure laid the cornerstone for the artistic colony.
from the San Diego
Historical Society's Title Insurance and Trust Collection.
of the Grossmont High School Christmas Pageant
High School today.
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