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The Creole Cafe - Old Town San Diego

Started by PPI Brian, September 17, 2013, 12:26:01 PM

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PPI Brian

The Creole Cafe/San Diego Drug Store Museum
Old Town San Diego



Please note: This is not a photograph that I took, but I will try to render one in a similar fashion using my new HDR program.  :)

I've been doing some research on these buildings lately and wanted to share some of my findings with our PPI Forum Family. I can see this turning into a full blown research project in the future, because nobody has compiled information regarding these buildings in a coherent manner -- and if they have, it's not readily available to the public. Because the restoration work was funded in part by the County of San Diego there should be some documents in the San Diego County Archives, and possibly a vote by County Supervisors which should be reflected in their minutes. The San Diego Historical Society may also have information related to the restoration work because June Reading wrote extensively regarding her work on the Whaley House archives and property.

I have not been able to determine any information about the origin of the building which currently serves as the kitchen for the Creole Cafe. In the late 1970's through the late 1980's the building was a coffee shop called "The Spice of Life". It was a great place to grab a cup of coffee on a cold winter day while exploring the Whaley House grounds. June Reading told me that both buildings were moved to the property and restored sometime after the Whaley House was restored and opened to the public in 1960 and the San Diego Bicentennial of 1969. The buildings were pre-fabs that were shipped around Cape Horn to the west coast in the late 1850's to mid 1860's. They were basically "kit" houses that were ordered from a catalog and assembled on site. This type of false front pre-fab building was very common in 19th Century Old Town.

The building which now serves as the dining room for the Creole Cafe was dedicated as the San Diego Drug Store Museum. From 1969 through the late 1990's it housed displays assembled by June Reading and the Southern California Pharmaceutical Association. When June Reading passed away in 1998, the Historical Shrine Foundation was disbanded, and responsibility of the buildings was transferred to SOHO. The Creole Cafe opened for business in 2004.

The following is a description of the museum during that time:

Witfeld Old Town Drug Store
The Whaley House
2482 San Diego Avenue
San Diego, CA 92110
(619) 298-2482

Owned and operated by the Historical Shrine Foundation of San Diego County. June Reading, Director.
Spring/Summer: Tuesday - Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Fall/Winter: Wednesday - Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Admission - free

The Witfeld Old Town Drug Store Museum was inaugurated in 1969 under the direction of Mrs. James Reading in cooperation with the San Diego County and Southern California Pharmaceutical Associations. The restoration is named after the pharmaceutical-chemist Gustavus Witfeld, who was born near Cologne, Germany, on January 27, 1825. He became the city pharmacist of San Diego in 1868 and died there on September 15, 1894.

The original building was restored on the Whaley House grounds and displays original furnishings; pharmaceutical implements; glass and ceramic containers; pill, suppository, and tablet machines; soap cutter; and percolators of the 1850s to the 1880s.

A physician's clinic with period equipment and tools is also attached to the pharmacy. Adjacent to the museum is a botanical garden with herbal spices reminiscent of a bygone era.

Source: A Guide to Pharmacy Museums and Historical Collections in the United States and Canada
by George Griffenhagen, Ernst W. Stieb, Beth D. Fisher (American Institute of the History of Pharmacy, 1999)
http://pharmacy.wisc.edu/sites/default/files/content/american-institute-history-pharmacy/historical-sources-pharmacy-faq/museumguide.pdf


I found a brief biography of Gustavus Witfeld. It is worth noting that his last name was misspelled in this biography:

San Diego County Biographies
GUSTAVUS WITFIELD


This file is part of the California Genealogy & History Archives
Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cagha/index.htm

Gustavus Witfield, the pioneer druggist of San Diego, was born near Cologne, Prussia, January 27, 1825; was carefully educated and studied chemistry at the University of Bonn. He emigrated to America in 1848, first visiting Paris and Havre, and landing at New York in April of that year. He then went to New Orleans, where he was employed in a drug store for one year. In 1849, he started for California, induced by the gold excitement of that year, going by the Isthmus of Panama, and arriving at Monterey, by a sailing vessel from Panama in March, 1850. With great enthusiasm started for the mines, visiting Mariposa County, Calaveras County, Tuolomne County, and going as far north as the Fraser river, always led on by enthusiastic reports, but never realizing the great bonanzas which were ever reported to be awaiting the enterprising miners.

After ten years of prospecting, he returned to San Francisco, to resume the profession which he had learned in his youth. He entered a large wholesale drug house, remaining until 1862, when he went to Panama and opened a large commission house in drugs and chemicals, for several English houses, trading very extensively in indigo. In 1866, he made a business trip to London, and in 1867 severed his connection to Panama and returned to San Francisco. He then journeyed south, stopping at Los Angeles two months and then going to Old Town, where he located and started in business. In 1869, he came to New Town, and as the present city was established he bought a lot on Fifth street between E and F. He then built and established the first drug store in San Diego. In 1878, he removed his entire stock of drugs to Tucson, Arizona, moving by three wagons across the desert. He stopped there six years, doing a good business. In 1884, he sold out his entire business and returned to Germany to see his family and friends. After an absence of six months he returned to San Diego, but has never resumed active business except in the care of his several interests.

Dr. Witfield is a member of the San Diego Lodge of Masons, No. 35; also lodge of Perfection, Scottish rite thirty-second degree at Tucson, and of the society of San Diego pioneers.

Source: An Illustrated History of Southern California: Embracing the Counties of San Diego, San Bernardino, Los Angeles and Orange, and the Peninsula of Lower California, from the Earliest Period of Occupancy to the Present Time.... - Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1890. pp 112-113  


An interesting fact turned up while conducting this research. A few days before his death, Gustavus Witfeld willed his entire estate in trust to the Free and Accepted Masonic Lodge #35. Witfeld's heirs filed suit against the Masonic Lodge and the case was decided in San Diego Superior Court in May 1899 (5 years after his death). Witfeld's heirs prevailed in the law suit.
Source: Reports of Cases Determined in the Supreme Court of California - pages 418 through 422.

http://books.google.com/books?id=VnoWAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA419&lpg=PA419&dq=Gustavus+Witfeld+San+Diego+obituary&source=bl&ots=dR93dWk6qY&sig=YxZTV9tWEBS7A8OyUq-UEu-sVZU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6543UsvkF-r3iwLfm4GwDw&ved=0CD4Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Gustavus%20Witfeld%20San%20Diego%20obituary&f=false

Gustavus Witfeld is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. His marker was installed by Masonic Lodge #35. His marker reads as follows: Gustavus Witfeld. Birth: Jan. 27, 1825 Death: Sep. 15, 1894, California, USA. Naturalized June 5, 1854 in Tuolumne, CA. Plot: Masonic, Section C. San Diego's First Druggist.

Source: http://www.findagrave.com/

I have been unable to determine the exact location of the building prior to relocation and restoration on the Whaley House grounds. A map of Old Town San Diego was compiled by a member of the Historical Society, with the assistance of Old Town residents, including Lillian Whaley. She recalled Witfeld's Drug Store being located on the Plaza across from the Cosmopolitan Hotel. The annotated map can be seen by following the link below. The annoted map describes the location of the building as follows:

58. GUSTAVUS WITFELD'S DRUG STORE
One story adobe. Early day drug store, established in 1868. Ad in San Diego Union, October 31, 1868 announced:
"San Diego Drug Store - On North side of Plaza Old Town, San Diego. G. Wittfield, Druggist and chemist. Keeps on hand a well assorted stock of fresh drugs, chemicals and patent medicines, carefully compounded."
The building he occupied was next door to Llucia's "French Bakery." Witfeld is the correct way to spell the druggist's name.

When he moved from Old Town, Llucia bought out his stock of drugs and moved them to his store. The drug store was never occupied again and crumbled away.
Gustavus Witfeld was a pioneer druggist of both San Diego and Tucson, Arizona. On June 15, 1946, Druggists and Masons of San Diego placed a marker on his grave at Mt. Hope cemetery. (Llucia - Zink)

Source: SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Winter 1969, Volume 15, Number 1
Part I - Places in Old Town
By Orion M. Zink
Rita Larkin, Editor
http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/69winter/part1.htm


Could Lillian Whaley's recollection of the fate of this building be incorrect?

An early photograph of the Plaza shows the Cosmo and a building which looks identical to Witfeld's Drug Store:


Source: http://www.sandiegohistory.org/journal/79spring/images/p96b.jpg

When I first began exploring Old Town in 1980 the corner where the Drug Store once stood was a vacant lot. in 1989 a replica of the original building was built, and it was designated as the Johnson House. It is worth noting that the replica building is an exact duplicate of the pre-fab buildings that now stand on the Whaley House grounds:



Here's some background on the replica of the Johnson House:

Johnson House
Location: 2706 San Diego Avenue
Old Town State Historic Park
Old Town San Diego, CA (map)
Phone:(619) 220-5422
More info: Website

George Alonzo Johnson, a wealthy Colorado River steamboat operator, bought this vacant lot on the plaza from his mother-in-law, Tomasa Pico de Alvarado, in 1869.

Captain Johnson, who lived with his wife Estefana at Rancho Los Penasquitos, built a modest, wood-frame office building on the lot. The building was rented out as a grocery store and later bookkeeping business. Typical of many American buildings, it had a false front and full-length wooden porch.

In 1880, the Johnsons lost their rancho to creditors and within several years moved to this building on the plaza, where the captain died in 1903. Reconstructed in 1989 by California State Parks, the building operates as a park concession.

Source: San Diego Coast Life web site http://www.sandiegocoastlife.com/attractions/historic-johnson-house.html


Many questions about these buildings remain unanswered. Was the Witfeld Drug Store and the Johnson House pre-fab the same building? Was the historical description of the building as a "one story adobe" incorrect? Was the date of purchase and construction of the Johnson House documented incorrectly? Was this building moved from its original location on the Plaza to the Whaley House grounds, restored and opened as the Drug Store Museum or was the Witfeld Drug Store another pre-fab moved from New Town to save it from urban renewal? If so, where did the other building come from? Is there in fact paranormal activity associated with the dining room of the Creole Cafe, and if so, is associated with the Witfeld Drug Store, the other businesses that operated out of this building, or perhaps the Johnson family? These unanswered questions deserve further research and discussion.  
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan

PPI Theresa

I LOVE the Creole. Ever since the first time I was there. There is *something* about that little building that draws me to it. And the food is freaking amazing but that's a side note =P.
I liked U2 before U2 was cool

PPI Cheryl

I second that...plus Dave and I met there, so forever a special place for me :-)

PPI Brian

It certainly is a very interesting place, and it's so much better for the reasons you both stated.  ;D
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan

PPI Theresa

Is it Thursday? I'm STARVING their food.... 
I liked U2 before U2 was cool

PPI Brian

Quote from: PPI Theresa on September 17, 2013, 08:32:40 PM
Is it Thursday? I'm STARVING their food.... 

yep it is. And its the anniversary of the hanging of Yankee Jim and a full moon too. 
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan

PPI Debra

I love all the research you are doing, Brian.   :)

Cheryl, I think it's fabulous that you met Dave there.  :)

"If you're after gettin' the honey, don't go killin' all the bees." -Joe Strummer

PPI Brian

Just wanted to give you an update about the informal investigation last night. We actually ran into a woman named Casey who worked at the Whaley House as a guide in the early 1980's when I was interviewing June Reading and doing volunteer work for the San Diego Historical Shrine Foundation. I vaguely remember her, and she vaguely remembered me, but we talked extensively about June and her experiences in the house. Casey was working in the kitchen of the Creole Cafe and told me she used to work in the building when it was the Spice of Life coffee shop. It was really a trip talking to her.

The investigation was a lot of fun. There was a lot of positive energy in the group last night and it really made the evening more enjoyable. We experienced a couple of background radiation fluctuations before the vigil began, but nothing during the actual vigil itself. This was interesting because one of the sensitives said she felt a paranormal presence while we were eating but once the lights went out the presence retreated. Dave led an unusual EVP session focusing on the mirror at the back of the dining room, and I'm curious to see if anything turns up in my audio or video.

I took a couple of HDR images of Old Town and the Whaley House that I will share on the forums. I'm thinking about writing a brief article about the investigation and the research on the buildings for the PPI Blog.  :)
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."--Carl Sagan

PPI Debra

Quote from: PPI Brian on September 20, 2013, 01:47:36 PM
Just wanted to give you an update about the informal investigation last night. We actually ran into a woman named Casey who worked at the Whaley House as a guide in the early 1980's when I was interviewing June Reading and doing volunteer work for the San Diego Historical Shrine Foundation. I vaguely remember her, and she vaguely remembered me, but we talked extensively about June and her experiences in the house. Casey was working in the kitchen of the Creole Cafe and told me she used to work in the building when it was the Spice of Life coffee shop. It was really a trip talking to her.

The investigation was a lot of fun. There was a lot of positive energy in the group last night and it really made the evening more enjoyable. We experienced a couple of background radiation fluctuations before the vigil began, but nothing during the actual vigil itself. This was interesting because one of the sensitives said she felt a paranormal presence while we were eating but once the lights went out the presence retreated. Dave led an unusual EVP session focusing on the mirror at the back of the dining room, and I'm curious to see if anything turns up in my audio or video.

I took a couple of HDR images of Old Town and the Whaley House that I will share on the forums. I'm thinking about writing a brief article about the investigation and the research on the buildings for the PPI Blog.  :)

It sounds like it was fun.  :)
I wonder,also, if Dave caught anything.
"If you're after gettin' the honey, don't go killin' all the bees." -Joe Strummer

Shellshock

This was interesting, Brian. Thanks for sharing! 
This is my fave cafe to visit when my friend and I stay in SD.
I'll be checking back to see if you have a the article up ! :)
~ Shell
 
XoXo