San Diego’s First Female Architect

Hazel Wood Waterman (1865-1948) may never have received a license to hang on the wall, but she gets credit for several neighborhood landmarks including the Wednesday Club (Ivy Lane at Sixth). Hazel Wood met Waldo Sprague Waterman (1860-1903) at Berkeley while he was earning a degree in mining. His father Robert was the owner of the Stonewall Mine and wanted W.S. to run it. (Papa moved on to be California governor.)

87-watreman_wednesday_clubIn 1889, the newlyweds moved to Rancho Cuyamaca, started a family and Hazel acclimated to the remote camp life by painting. The governor died in 1891, and when the gold mine closed two years later, the Waterman family moved to San Diego. After dealing with financial challenges, in 1900 they moved into a granite cottage on the southwest corner of Albatross and Hawthorn designed by Irving Gill.

Gill was impressed with Hazel’s ability to grasp architectural ideas, and suggested a career. When her husband died three years later, she took classes via a correspondence school and honed her skills at home while working for Gill on projects including three houses on Seventh Street (now Avenue) for Alice Lee and Katherine Teats. The single mother earned quite a reputation as a creative designer while supporting her three children. (Waldo, was the youngest.)

Her second major assignment was for John Spreckels who wanted to restore the historic Casa de Estudillo, which had been picked apart after being incorrectly identified as a site in Helen Hunt Jackson’s best-selling novel Ramona. Waterman took on the “pathetic ruin” with gusto as she passionately researched, then rebuilt, the adobe structure which became the state’s first historic tourist attraction.

Hazel also influenced her peers. The newly graduated architect Lilian Rice (whose legacy is the upscale Spanish village of Rancho Santa Fe) worked as a part-time draftswoman for Waterman and gained useful knowledge and experience about Southern California’s history, landscape and topography. Walk by the Wednesday Club to enjoy Hazel’s attention to detail and a vision that lives on today.

First published in HillQuest, an Urban Guide to 92103 & Beyond, volume 5

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