The Spook House

About five years ago Mr. Blackwood and I sublet a little studio in a San Diego neighborhood so we could prep for Comic Con that year. I was delighted by our little section of the neighborhood which had row after row of lovely examples of Victorian-esque architecture. However, none were more compelling than the curious house on the corner.

It was another year before we learned the story behind what locals call "The Spook House."

Built in 1887 for Jesse Shepard, who described himself as "...a world famous, mystic, seer, inspirational musician, and authority on prophecies, visions and cosmic consciousness." Shepard supposedly had no musical training and could not read music. Yet, he was considered a master of improvisation and could reportedly , " any opera selected by the audience without music."

After traveling to Russia in the 1870's and becoming interested in spiritualism, he claimed to have been a silent co-founder of the Theosophical Society with Madame Blavatsky. It was then that he began his initial instructions in holding seances.

When Shepard took up residence in the house, named Villa Montezuma, he held fantastical seance performances in the house, summoning great composers like Chopin and Mozart and commanded them to play through him. He would then amaze the audience further by playing pieces and having other invisible, ghostly musicians play along, or to sing with a voice that sounded like an entire choir. Of course, the house has built into it all the tricks a performance medium of the era could want, complete with secret rooms and panels for the "ghostly" musicians to hide in.
These are rumors that San Diego's high society shunned Shepard, causing him to relocate to Europe and focus on his literary carer under the name Francis Grierson. He returned to San Diego in 1889 and arranged to play a final performance in The Villa Montezuma.Appropriately, Shepard's long-time companion and confidante, Lawrence Tonner, described this occasion.
It was Sunday evening... We had a number of people invited for a musical recital at our home — about thirty. A collection was to be taken up. Mr. Grierson had played a number of his marvelous instantaneous compositions on the piano and had given the company a talk on his experiences and impressions of France and Italy.

He turned to the instrument and announced that the next and last piece of the evening would be an Oriental improvisation, Egyptian in character.

The piece was long, and when it seemed to be finished he sat perfectly still as if resting after the ordeal of this tremendous composition. He often did that, but it lasted too long and I went up to him — he was gone!

His head was only slightly bent forward, as usual in playing, and his hands rested on the keys of the last chord he had touched.

There had not been the slightest warning. He had seemed in usual health...and he had been smiling and laughing with the company even a few moments before he passed away.

Jesse Shepard was dead at 79.

People now say a curse is laid upon the house and it's owners. It is no wonder after delving into the Villa Montezuma's history following the death of Shepard and beginning with his sale of the house to what would be the next owner, David Dare. Soon after purchasing the house, he was forced to flee town. His business partner apparently had committed suicide before he left town and Dare was accused of looting the firm. Dare sells the house for $30,000 to H. P. Palmerston who was unable to make the payments on it, and the house was foreclosed upon in 1893 and auctioned off for $18,000. The house then goes to Dr. George Calmus for the sum of $10,000. He goes bankrupt, and leaves town, deserting his wife and leaving her with two unpaid mortgages on the house.

Later, Villa Montezuma is taken full advantage of again by a Mrs. George Montgomery, who holds seances in the house. Then, incredibly, in the late 1940's a treasure seeker purchases the house, convinced there is buried treasure to be found within it's walls.

The last resident of the house is a married couple. He, an engineer and she, a retired silent film actress. The husband dies and the house falls into disrepair. His wife, so distraught by his death, begins standing on the street outside the house asking passers by where her husband is. She is even rumored to have occasionally carried a gun, threatening people in her attempts to find out where her husband is.

Of course, other odd tales are attached to the house. An unexplained fire burned the second floor in the mid 1980's. Passerby report hearing orchestral music at night, the ghost of a man who hung himself in a tower can be seen from outside, much to the wonderment of past gardeners nothing will grow on a certain portion of land near a corner of the house, and a six toed cat named Psyche has lived on the grounds for far longer than any regular cat's life span.

The house still stands, but sadly, the public is not allowed inside...for now. At the end of last year a good deal of money was allotted for renovations on the Villa Montezuma. Hopefully, the doors of this unusual house will reopen in the next few years.


  1. Absolutely facinating story!!! Thanks for sharing.


  2. How fascinating! I'll have to drive by next time I'm down there. It would be wonderful to be able to go inside.. I have a recurring dream about a house with secret rooms but have never, to my knowledge, visited one.

  3. The Villa Montezuma is currently closed for restoration (February 2010). The Friends of the Villa Montezuma, Inc.(FOVM) were able to get over one million dollars allocated for the Villa restoration. (The city of San Diego owns the Villa, and it is on the National Register of Historic Places.) You can take a walking tour of Jesse Shepard's neighborhood (the Sherman Heights Historic District of downtown San Diego) on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of most months at 1:00 p.m. (reservations are required, call 619-255-9367). A $10 donation to the FOVM is the suggested rate per person for the 2-hour walking tour. Join the FOVM for $25 and help get the Villa totally restored. See more at

  4. Spooky - Heartfelt thanks. Your opinion means a great deal to me as I think your blog is fabulous.