Alonzo Horton (affectionately known as the father of New San Diego): purchased, from the City Trustees shortly after his arrival in 1867 a parcel of land for $265.
The parcel consisted of 960 acres and contained virtually all of what is now downtown San Diego, from the waterfront, where he built a wharf at the foot of 5 th Avenue, to the, North end of Balboa Park.
In the 1870's the commercial and civic activities of New San Diego moved from Old Town and were centered on 5th Avenue and Market St. During the building boom of 1886-1888, the development gradually moved north, making the most popular location at the corners of 5 th and F Street.
In December 1886, George J. Keating acquired a site on the west side of Fifth Avenue north of the corner at F. In January 1888 he purchased the remaining half parcel on the corner from the estate of Charles Gerichten, a building contractor, for $40,000.
During the building boom of 1886 it was rated higher than any other parcel of real estate in the city, the sum of $45,000 having been offered and refused for this 25-foot corner. By April, Charles Chase, the druggist occupying the corner building had already been notified that the two-story wooden structure would have to be removed to make way for the Keating Building.
Other tenants forced to move were W.A.M. Dunber, a veterinary surgeon (his ad-read: "Poor Horses made Fat by operating on their Teeth"), George Paris, a printer, Turner Winslow, a photographer and the Escondido and San Diego Stage Line.
Keating had just moved to San Diego for health reasons. He suffered from rheumatic fever. He had previously lived in Kansas City, where he had made his fortune as a partner in one of the world's largest firms dealing in farm implements.
He was 46 years old and married to his second wife for only 4 years. They quickly became a part of the social scene and entertained lavishly in their home, The Dells, referred to as "one of the most lovely places on the coast." However before construction on his building could begin, Keating died of heart failure.
In June 1888, his widow, Fannie, was appointed executor of his estate and announced her determination to carry out his wishes and build a magnificent structure in her husband's memory. She confirmed his contract with the Reid Brothers, who had just completed the Hotel del Coronado, to be the architects.
Fannie Keating sold the property in 1908 to the McNeece Brothers who had made their stake in, Colorado gold mining. They changed the name to the MeNeece Building. The name was changed again to the Sommer Building when the Sommer family purchased it in 1943.
Melton Wallack, son-in-law of Esther Sommer, first coined the name Gaslamp and was instrumental in getting rehabilitation of the Gaslamp District underway. Just so you know, downtown San Diego never had gas lamps; it went directly from oil to electric lamps and the tacky tourist name somehow just stuck even though it was historically incorrect. The original name was restored along with the total reconstruction of the building in 1980.
A number of interesting tenants occupied the building during its long history. From 1894 until 1913, San Diego Trust and Savings bank (organized in 1889 and then known as San Diego Savings Bank) occupied the corner ground floor. The original vault structure is still in place. Other tenants on the ground floor in 1892 were M.W. Jenks Jewelers, noted particularly for their souvenir spoons, and Stephens & Son, who specialized in fine art goods, books and stationery.
In 1898, A.E. Higgens leased space on the F Street side as a customhouse broker after serving as a Special Deputy Collector of Customs. Louis Mendelson superseded him in 1905, who in addition to being a custom broker and forwarder, was the San Diego agent for the Mexican Land and Colonization Company and the Lower California Development Company.
The latter, headquartered in London, had obtained licenses to colonize at San Quintin. Their plans were to develop the area and trade with San Diego. Unfortunately, in 1898 their charter expired. Over the years, numerous real estate agents, barbers and commercial printers occupied this ground space.
In April of 1898, the San Diego Public Library, founded in 1883, moved from 7th and F (over the post office) to the fifth floor of the Keating Bui1 ding "where the rooms were large and more convenient and there was an elevator." The library continued in residence until 1903 when it relocated to its own building.
In 1910, the Wright and Seitz Saloon was established on the F Street side. It became the Palace Bar in 1911 and expanded to the Palace Quick Lunch in 1916. In May 1935, the premises were leased as the Wonder Bar, the name was changed later to the. Hi Life Cafe. In the 1970's, it becomes Dirty McGinty's bar. After the building's restoration in 1980, it was leased as what is now Patrick's II.
In 1914, Paul Valentine set up a small kiosk as the San Diego Key Shop on F STREET. In 1927 his stepson, Armand Viora, joined him in the business. In 1950, the kiosk was moved into the main lobby. On restoration, a special kiosk was built for Mr. Viora's key shop, making his lease the longest term by an individual tenant in downtown San Diego.
For forty years the Peniel Mission occupied the basement.
This non-denominational organization, founded in Los Angeles in 1895, is first mentioned in San Diego at Fifth and F in the June 8, 1897 issue of the San Diego Union. Announcements of meetings daily at 7:30 p.m. and on the Sabbath at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. were posted at the basement entrance and are visible in early photographs.
During World War II after a survey of downtown buildings by the city's safety engineer, the Keating Building's basement was designated as an official air raid shelter with a capacity of 650 persons. In 1947, Sidney Smith, owner of Globe Jewelers on Broadway between Front and First leased the basement for the purpose of operating a Navy locker club - it was called the Globe Locker Club.
Leasehold improvement's included the installation of showers, sanitary facilities, lockers for 475 persons and a steam press with associated boilers.
When the fleet left for Korean "police action," the locker club closed for lack of business. The next tenant was Stateside Lockers who had been operating at 6th and F. They leased the store above for cleaning and clothing sales keeping only the lockers in the basement. Thereafter, it was used only for storage except for its brief use as a nightclub in 1982. It is now being restored for assembly use once more.
Croce's occupies the ground floor of the Keating building on F Street and continues to contribute to the cultural awareness of San Diego.
Read more about San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter and the Keating Building