Back To Articles
A colorful Queen Anne Victorian is transformed into a cozy boutique hotel
“People are always amazed at the vivid original color palettes of Victorian homes,” says Gordon Hattersley III, owner and restorer of the newly opened Britt Scripps Inn at Fourth Avenue and Maple Street in the Bankers Hill neighborhood of San Diego. “When we tried to recall the old colors, the historic photos weren’t much help, because they were taken in black-and-white.”
To find the true hues, Hattersley brought in a historical consultant and investigated old layers of paint himself. “Neighbors were a bit surprised at how colorful our ancestors were after we brought back those original paint tones,” he says.
The latest owner of the Queen Anne-era mansion, who has developed hospitality projects in Colorado and Hawaii, has spent enough time in San Diego to remember the Britt Scripps house in several of its previous incarnations, as a doctors’ office, teahouse, antique shop, boarding house, bed-and-breakfast and law office. Hattersley purchased the home in 2001 and invested several million dollars and 24 months to restore what he calls his dream come true.
“I always believed it would make a great old hotel,” he says. Plans fell into place when a friend in San Diego called Hattersley to tell him the property was on the market.
Hattersley’s intention was always to transform the nine-bedroom house into a boutique hotel rather than a traditional bed-and-breakfast. “Today’s travelers like the quaintness of older hotels,” he says, “but they want modern bathrooms and better sound insulation.”
The remodeled Britt Scripps Inn is a mix of modern technology and old charm. It has been retrofitted with private baths in each of the nine vintage-decorated bedrooms; the bathrooms even have heated towel racks. Artfully hidden in each room is the 21 st century—in the form of high-speed, wireless Internet access, flat-screen televisions and multiline telephones with all the bells and whistles.
Richard Gatling, of Gatling Design in Solana Beach, was in charge of the interior décor. Guestrooms carry names like The Library, Renaissance, Governor and Gothic. Each has a 12-foot ceiling and is designed in a different Victorian motif and furnished with a mix of period antiques. Bathrooms have claw-foot tubs and pedestal sinks.
“The furnishings are authentic to the period but are still used every day,” says Gatling. “This isn’t meant to be a museum.”
Very little of the original house was salvageable. What is original remains impressive: intricate wood-beaded fretwork and a hand-carved white oak staircase that curves around an impossible three-panel, two-story stained-glass window that—when installed in 1887—was the talk of San Diego. The glass panels depict morning, noon and night as experienced by aviary wildlife, including doves, swallows, an owl and a stork; there’s even a toothy bat hanging in the moonlight.
It’s a visual treat when the glass murals project the waning sunlight onto the interior walls of the inn, creating jewel-like kaleidoscope of red and blue. If you want music with that image, a rare 85-key Steinway Art Case piano, circa 1883, adds a nice touch in the vestibule area.
Hattersley led a painstaking renovation, and it shows. The hotel has been very well researched. There are vintage wallpaper reproductions from Bradbury & Bradbury, and the staircase chandelier, while not original, was brought to San Diego from Colorado by the owner. Thanks to Hattersley, this old Victorian hose—sporting a $6 million renovation—now sparkles as it did in the days when it was one of San Diego’s more expensive and lavish residences.
Judge Eugene W. Britt, a successful water-rights attorney, built the home in 1887 for $3,000. When the Britt family relocated to Los Angeles around the turn of the century, newspaper mogul E.W. Scripps and his family purchased the property and kept it for 40 years. The house was officially designated Historic Site 52 by the city of San Diego in 1971.
Also of historic note is the giant camphor tree that shades the carriage house, which is now a hotel room. The three is said to have been planed in 1965, making it the first camphor planted in North America.
For reservation information for the hotel, call 888-881-1991, or see brittscripps.com.