AKA: Nesmith-Greely Building, Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - commercial buildings - stores

Designers: Comstock and Trötsche, Architects (firm); Nelson Alanson Comstock (architect); Carl Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Trötsche (architect)

Dates: constructed 1887-1888

4 stories

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825 5th Avenue
Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, CA 92101

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Texas-transplant Thomas Nesmith took over from San Diego founding father Alonzo Horton as President of the Bank of San Diego in 1870. He built this load-bearing brick, commercial block in San Diego's downtown area of the time, now known as the "Gaslamp Quarter" in 1888. the building originally was named for Nesmith alone, but was later hyphenated the Nesmith-Greely Block to honor his daughter and son-and-law, A.W. Greely.

Building History

Banker Thomas Nesmith erected this four-story, 50-foot by 100-foot, brick building in the Romanesque Revival Style in 1887-1888. Nesmith received the property from his daughter, Henrietta Hadson Nesmith Greely, who bought it for $1,900 from banker Alonzo Horton on 03/27/1871. About two years later, when she moved East to accompany her husband, a military man named Adolphus Washington Greely, she transferred the deed for this property to her father. Thomas Nesmith served as the President of the Bank of San Diego, and by the mid-1880s, had begun to plan two buildings for the city's central business district, one on this site and another for a lot on 5th Avenue between C and D Streets that was never realized.

For many years, the journal, San Diego Illustrated, had its offices in the Nesmith-Greely Building. (See Mary Beth Betts, "Nesmith-Greely Building Photographs Written Historical and Descriptive Data," Historic American Buildings Survey, 1979, HABS CAL,37-SANDI,13-, p. 1.)

Building Notes

The signs of the building exterior spelled Greely's last name without the "ey" ending that was more familiar.

The Historic American Building Survey described the Nesmith-Greely Building in the early 1970s: "The Nesmith-Greely Building, designed by N.A. Comstock and Carl Trotsche, was built in 1888, at a cost of $32,000. Its robust 4-story Romanesque-like facade contrasts sharply with the ornate Bank of Commerce Building (CAL-1961) adjacent to it. The asymmetrical 3-bay facade is constructed of brick with stone, patterned brick, and sheet metal embellishment. Within, a skylighted shaft allowed light to penetrate to the second level as the building had exterior exposure on the front and rear surfaces only." (See "Nesmith-Greely Building," Historic American Buildings Survey, 1971, Sheet one of HABS CAL,37-SANDI,13-)

The building's facade had a three-bay composition, its first-floor storefronts framed by substantial, cast-iron members. The bays were not equivalent, the southernmost being the narrowest and slightly taller than the middle and northern ones. The southernmost bay contained the main entrance and the primary stairway to the second floor. Rusticated quoins and a fanlight highlighed the locations of the main doorway, and above the entry's keystone sprung a series of bay windows lighting the upper three floor stairway landings. Four long tourelles demarcated the boundaries of each bay. All windows and doors not trimmed in cast iron were edged by cut-stone trim. The two northern bays had triplets of trabeated windows on floors two and four, with floor three's triplets topped by graceful segmental arches. Single columns with abstract ball capitals separated the windows of floors two and three, while pairs of engaged columns separated lights on the fourth floor. Corbeled brick stood just below the parapet, whose horizontanl line was punctuated at intervals by the conic, foliate tops of the tourelles.

Various areas of the facade displayed different diaper patterns in terra cotta, above the quoins above the main entry, between the bay windows of the second and third floors, and above the segmental arches between the third and fourth floors, among other spots. The building combined an up-to-date essay in the Romanesque Revival with an eclectic array of ornamental touches retrieved from Gothic, Classical and Victorian sources.

The building had load-bearing brick walls supporting wooden joists.

The Historic American Buildings Survey discussed the building's circulation system: "The main stairway, situated against the southern wall, only provides access to the second floor. Access between the second, third and fourth floors is provided by a stairway situated near the center of the north wall. An elevator, located against the southern wall just east of the main entry stairway, connects all levels, Access to the roof is via a stairway at the rear of the fourth floor." (See Mary Beth Betts, "Nesmith-Greely Building Photographs Written Historical and Descriptive Data," Historic American Buildings Survey, 1979, HABS CAL,37-SANDI,13-, p. 4.)


The building underwent a renovation in 1971. By this time, the original ground floor interior had been altered to meet the needs of contemporary commercial needs.

PCAD id: 21985