San Diego’s oldest civic meeting place.

Constructed by Col. Manuel Ferrer,  in 1870 at the corner of Arctic and Fifth streets downtown (now Kettner Boulevard and F Street) then moved in the early 1900s to 12th Avenue and K Street.

Bob Sinclair bought the place in 1999 and once renovated he had it moved to the corner of 13th and J streets in 2001. Sinclair spent more than $1 million fixing up the place and moving it while shutting down the San Diego Trolley and have overhead power wires removed.

Click on images for full view. Images by Jorge Moreno

From San Diego Union Tribune:

Col. Manuel Ferrer might have trouble finding Rosario Hall, San Diego’s oldest civic meeting place, if he went looking for it today.

Ferrer constructed the building in 1870 at the corner of Arctic and Fifth streets downtown. Those streets have been renamed Kettner Boulevard and F Street.

The building was moved – no one is sure why – in the early 1900s to 12th Avenue and K Street. That intersection no longer exists. The streets were realigned when Petco Park was built, and Rosario Hall had to make way for the new diagonal leg of Park Boulevard.

Owner Bob Sinclair bought the place in 1999 and has spent nearly six years renovating it. He had it moved to the corner of 13th and J streets in 2001. The long-vacant building recently reopened as the Mission SoMa restaurant.

Sinclair had to navigate the city bureaucracy and a historic preservation legal settlement involving 11 buildings around the planned ballpark. He had to have the San Diego Trolley shut down and overhead power wires removed while the building was being moved. And then he had to find a tenant.

“It got ugly for a while,” Sinclair said. “We were close to saying, ‘Forget it; find someone else to deal with this thing.’ “

But there was something appealing about the unassuming, two-story structure, and Sinclair couldn’t walk away.

“It fit my profile,” said Sinclair, who owns several older commercial and residential properties in the East Village. “I love fixing up old buildings and renting them out.”

Rosario Hall has a long and storied history. Ferrer was a colonel in the Mexican Army who fought in the Mexican-American War and later settled in San Diego. He owned the Occidental Exchange and Billiard Hall on Arctic Street that burned down in 1869. He then built a new structure on the same site and named it after his wife, Rosario, from the prominent Estudillo family of Old Town.

With a saloon on the first floor and dance hall above, Rosario Hall opened July 4, 1870, with a huge celebration. Ferrer flew the U.S. and Mexican flags and held court from the front balcony for hundreds of revelers. He also put a huge oil painting of himself, decked out in his officer’s uniform, over the bar.

“It was really a fine saloon,” said Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Organisation. “During archaeological digs, the finest china, crockery and silverware were found on the original site.”

The second floor later became a social center, and it hosted the first Catholic Masses in San Diego. It was built at a time when there were few public meeting places in San Diego. As such, it helped form a sense of community, Coons said.

President Benjamin Harrison visited Rosario Hall in the late 1800s, Coons said.

Other uses of the building over time have included hotels, tenements and restaurants.

It was almost torn down to make way for the ballpark. A study by Marie Burke Lia, a historic preservation consultant to the redevelopment agency, found the building to be “neither historically nor architecturally significant.”

But several preservationists rose to the building’s defense in March 1999, persuading the city’s Historical Site Board to place it on the local register of historic places.

“This is a priceless part of our heritage in San Diego, and it has to be saved,” Geoff Mogilner said at the time. He was active in Old Town preservation issues.

Sinclair leases the building to the operators of the locally well-known Mission restaurant chain, with eateries in North Park, Mission Beach and now, East Village. The name of the newest restaurant, Mission SoMa, refers to “South of Market.”

The building will help East Village develop as a neighborhood by providing a much-needed eating place, said Leslie Wade, a spokeswoman for the East Village Association.

“South of Market, east of Park Boulevard, you could starve to death,” Wade said. “It was a great civic gesture on Bob’s part to save that place.”

Sinclair, who calls Rosario Hall “a neat old building,” spent more than $1 million – about double his original budget – fixing up the place and moving it.

“It was worth it,” Sinclair said. “You can’t make money off everything you do. If I live long enough, maybe I’ll be able to say it was a good investment.”

19th-century hall in East Village changes with time


March 22, 2005