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Nestled into Balboa Park’s northwest corner, the 3500 block of Seventh Avenue is one of San Diego’s best-kept secrets. This lush tract looked very different – vacant, dusty and studded with chaparral – in 1886, when it became Thomas T. Crittenden’s Addition.

In 1903, George White Marston, a successful merchant and visionary civic leader, bought ten acres on the east side of Crittenden’s Addition for his extended family’s estates. Today, five of those acres belong to the George Marston House & Gardens.

Within two decades, this subdivision was transformed into a fine collection of thoughtfully landscaped Arts & Crafts houses created for the Marstons and other prominent San Diegans who were eager to live indoors and out and to blend their hidden street into the evolving City Park. Being leading citizens of the day, they helped produce major civic projects, including the two international expositions.

The block represents an important slice of San Diego’s architectural history, with the strong imprint of architect Irving J. Gill. We can see Gill’s buildings change from variations on the English Arts & Crafts style in brick to the horizontal Prairie Style with wide, sheltering eaves to geometric Early Modernism devoid of surface ornament. Gill designed two residences alone (one, the Thomas and Margaret Hamilton House, was demolished for a residential tower) and six others in partnership with another influential architect, William S. Hebbard.

Nationally acclaimed planners and landscape architects such as John Nolen, Samuel Parsons, Jr., and Thomas D. Church worked on this block, usually hired by George Marston. Also heavily involved was Marston’s friend, horticulturist Kate Sessions, who is considered the “Mother of Balboa Park.” Original plantings, many still extant, came primarily from Ernest Benard, a prominent nurseryman, whose business was located in Mission Valley, though the California pepper trees that originally lined the street (as seen in the cover photo) were later changed to jacarandas. Together they banished the dust and weeds to create an enduring pocket of Eden on Seventh Avenue.

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