It was “the house of 100 niceties” when built in 1932 by Albert Gallatin Wheeler for his Bonita Hills subdivision. The Italian Mediterranean style home was perched on a scenic knoll at 4000 Palm Drive with a scenic view of the valley from its full-length loggia.
Albert Wheeler’s Italian Villa In Bonita
It was the most modern home in Bonita, with electric heat, built-in vacuum cleaners, six bathrooms, telephone and intercom. The construction methods were top quality, with 4×4 beams located every four inches in the walls. The staircase was built of solid oak beams with oak treads and a wrought-iron balustrade.
Wheeler wanted the home to be a showcase for “an exclusive gentlemen’s estate district” that would rival Pasadena and Santa Barbara. Wheeler appeared to be successful when the first buyer was John D. Spreckels III, grandson of the John D. Spreckels who had owned the Hotel del Coronado.
Sold to John D. Spreckels
Spreckels III had married Roxana Brown of National City when they both turned 21 in 1932. It was perhaps his love of horses that attracted Spreckels to the Sweetwater Valley, a rural area said to have more horses per capita than any community in southern California. He built an 8-stall stable near the house for his string of racing horses. Under the house he added steel bars that came from the Spreckels Theatre, and he enlarged the garage for his expensive automobiles.
However, Spreckels III was no “gentleman” and soon brought trouble to the valley. He was a playboy who gambled heavily in Tijuana, one time losing thousands of dollars in a single night of play at roulette. He was often seen drunk in public with other women.
The Playboy Gets A Divorce
In October 1934 Roxana sued for divorce, claiming mental cruelty and asking for a share of his $1,000,000 trust fund. Roxana described her husband as a “wild and extravagant spender” who had lost $50,000 on horse racing, gave out $50 tips, and would wager $100 on each spin at the roulette table.
The divorce trial dragged on for two years and sordid details filled the newspapers. Roxana described his violent temper, and how he broke into her locked bedroom and called her “vile, vulgar and offensive names, and threatened to shoot or maim her” with a loaded pistol.
When Roxana gave birth to a daughter in 1935, she claimed Spreckels abandoned her and the baby, going to Texas and “there gambled away large amounts of money upon horse races.” Spreckels responded in court documents that Roxana wasted money, that she “insisted on having her front teeth fixed up because a producer told her she would look better in pictures if she did so.” He also testified his wife’s desire to shine in society but “I never mixed with the social set. She had our meals served in five or six courses. I wasn’t used to it. I was used to just piling it all on one plate and getting it hot.”
Roxana won her divorce suit in 1936 and Spreckels was ordered to pay $600 per month in support. The house was seized to pay for lawyer costs.
New Quiet Owners
It was later owned by the president of Rohr, by the president of the Calite Company, and by golfer Billy Casper. In the 1980s it was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Walter Shaw who have carefully preserved its unique beauty.