History of the Gaslamp Quarter Walking Tour

Opening a window to San Diego’s past, the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation showcases the history of the William Heath Davis House built in 1850, as well as walking tours of the historic Gaslamp Quarter. The Walking Tour takes place every Saturday at 11:00 AM starting at the William Heath Davis House at 410 Island Avenue.

The tour includes architecturally significant structures of the period from Old City Hall (1874) to the Romanesque style Keating Building (1890) to the Baroque Revival Louis Bank of Commerce (1888), along with fascinating stories of the people and characters that shaped the destiny of San Diego,

From William Heath Davis, who first attempted the building of “New Town,” to Alonzo Horton who came here in 1867 and finished the job, the cultural heritage of San Diego speaks through the buildings of a by-gone era that stand as testimony to its richness.

The tour takes under two hours and includes the William Heath Davis House Museum.

The Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation (GQHF) provides San Diego residents and visitors with informative museum exhibits, programs and tours offered through the William Heath Davis House, the oldest standing residence in the Gaslamp Quarter. GQHF also hosts popular annual events including the Children’s Fall Back Festival and shamRock.

Rallied by business owner and former City Councilman Tom Hom, an assortment of San Diego citizens banded together in the mid -1970s to work toward a common goal – that of cleaning up the urban blight that had decimated the downtown area, and to refurbish the many beautiful buildings that remained from the Victorian era.

The love of history and architecture drove their vision, producing a vibrant neighborhood designed to draw both residents and visitors to its 16 ½ block area. After being christened “The Gaslamp Quarter,” the district was placed on the National Historic Register in 1980. Subsequently, The Gaslamp Quarter Foundation formed in 1981 as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charitable corporation.  In 1996, its name was changed to the “Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation” in order to reflect its role in historical preservation.

These preservation efforts culminated in acquiring and restoring the William Heath Davis House, now the home of the Foundation and recently re-named the Gaslamp Museum.

Once a notorious “red light” district teeming with sailors, bars and brothels, the Stingaree occupied the area from the waterfront between 6th and 1st Avenues up to Market Street. Sailors joked that it was far easier to get “stung” in this bawdy part of town than it was in the bay with all its stingrays.

Indeed, when “New Town” got its first start by William Heath Davis, it was quite the Wild West town one reads about in story – and history – books.  It remained a neighborhood of ill repute all the way up to the 1970’s when Tom Hom rounded up enough concerned business owners to initiate a remarkable change.

The creation of today’s Gaslamp Quarter arose from the decision to create a Victorian theme for the 16 ½ block area stretching from the bay to Broadway and nestled between 4th and 6th Avenues. Brick sidewalks were laid out and faux gas lamps erected in order to enhance the historical feel of the neighborhood.

Although the area that is presently the Gaslamp Quarter boasts a lively array of modern shops and restaurants that draw visitors and locals alike, one can still appreciate the nineteenth-century architecture and beautifully renovated historic buildings.

The Gaslamp Quarter is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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