The plaque for this San Diego historic landmark states that the house was built in 1896, but in fact it was built and occupied by David L. Kretsinger and his wife Susan in 1890. They came to the South Bay in 1889 from Winfield, Kansas, where David was a successful newspaper publisher and Susan owned a millinery store.
They were following Capt. John H. Folks, a fellow Kansas newspaperman and Civil War veteran, who came to the South Bay in 1884 and bought hundreds of acres on the high ground south of the Otay River. This land became valuable after 1887 when the National City & Otay Railroad came through and built Palm Station at the crossing of Highway 101 and the road west around the bay to Coronado, later called Palm Avenue. At this station, one branch of the NC&O curved east to Tijuana and another branch curved west to Oneonta. Nestor Young’s farm was just south of this station and later became the town of Nestor.
In 1888 Capt. Folks established a school south of Nestor that he called Highland District School that today is the site of Southwest Middle School. In 1889 Capt. Folks sold 10 acres to the Kretsingers in what was being called the Highland District, rising 100 feet above the Otay valley.
It was here that David and Susan planted lemon trees and built their Queen Anne styled home, notable for its central tower with a widow’s walk, full-width front porch, gabled dormers and hipped roof with intersecting gables. David became one of the leaders of the district, superintendant of orchard fumigation, and president of the Grand Army Of The Republic’s Heintzelman Post. Soon after Capt. Folks was elected sheriff of the district, Kretsinger was appointed deputy sheriff.
As he had done in Kansas, Kretsinger was a prohibitionist and led an effort to close saloons. He also joined with several other residents of the district to develop an irrigation system. This effort began when Weldon G. Evans was the railroad superintendent at Palm Station and built his home on the edge of the south rim of the Otay River Valley, overlooking the bottom land where Elisha Babcock discovered a well in 1886 to provide water for his Hotel del Coronado.
Evans worked as Babcock’s agent, buying land in the South Bay for a pipeline to Coronado that was built in 1888. Babcock extended his pipeline along what is now Palm Avenue and built a reservoir on the highest elevation above the road. By 1893, the reservoir was pumping a tower of water into the air, a process to aerate and purify the water before it was sent through pipes to Coronado.
The Kretsinger house was 800 feet west of this reservoir, down a steep grade that became known as “Suicide Hill” until Palm Avenue was graded and widened in 1977. Folks and Kretsinger formed an irrigation company that piped water from the reservoir to local farms. In 1964 this open reservoir was replaced by the large circular tank that still today provides water to the region.
About the Author: Steve Schoenherr is Professor Emeritus of SDSU and Co-Founder of the South Bay Historical Society. His is author and co-author of several books, including Bonita and Chula Vista Centennial.