Surrounded by a mystical air and a history of spiritualism and alleged curses, the Villa Montezuma is one of the most peculiar properties in San Diego, if not in all of California. It also joins the list of the many haunted places in San Diego.
The story of the Villa Montezuma, which is also commonly referred to as the Jesse Shepard House, begins with the original owner of the house and the brains behind its creation, Jesse Shepard. Before moving to the United States, Jesse Shepard was a renowned musician in Europe. He often played for the rich and famous and was able to make a decent living pursuing his passion.
When he moved to Chicago, he continued with his interest in music as well as his interest in Spiritualism. After meeting fellow spiritualists, he decided to move to San Diego where he hired William and John High to build the house of his dreams, which cost $19,000 at the time.
Upon the house’s completion, it was an impressive home. In addition to each room having a unique theme, it contained gargoyles, towers, and stained-glass windows throughout.
The expansive music room was connected to a conservatory and Shepard claimed the observatory tower as his personal study. The first floor featured the master and guest bedrooms while a personal museum, complete with gifts from European nobility, highlighted the second floor. Rumor has it that secret passageways were also hidden behind the fireplaces.
Jesse Shepard regularly hosted seances in the house and believed that he was able to connect with some of the greatest musicians who had ever lived, as well as other historical figures. He claimed to speak to the spirits of Mozart, Beethoven, William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, and Chopin on a regular basis.
After just a few months in his newly-built home, Shepard decided to pursue his interest in writing and move on to bigger and better things. He left San Diego hoping to sell his literature, but failed in the end. Interestingly, nearly every inhabitant of the house thereafter also ended in financial ruin. Could a curse surround the Villa Montezuma?
The Jesse Shepard Home switched owners multiple times, with many being too broke to pay the mortgage. From 1906-1909, the house was inhabited by Mr. and Mrs. Montgomery. Mrs. Montgomery was a medium who, much like Shepard, frequently performed seances in the house—only adding to the paranormal atmosphere. Throughout the years, the property was also used as a boarding house, an apartment building, and more.
In addition to the potential curse that surrounds the home, visitors have reported a number of other strange occurrences. A stained glass window features Peter Paul Rubens, whose beard has supposedly grayed throughout the years. It’s impossible for plants to grow in one corner of the home and a mystical looking cat, aptly named Psyche, lived on the property for many years, surviving the 1986 fire and attracting attention due to its unnaturally long life.
Two ghosts have also made their presence known on the property. The first is Jesse Shepard, who apparently decided that he should spend more time in his $19,000 home. Continuing his humanly passion, he can be heard playing piano at odd hours of the night.
The second ghost is an unnamed man who reportedly hung himself in the observatory tower after his wife passed away. Some say that he was the butler of Jesse Shepard. Occasionally, his body can still be seen hanging in the tower and others have reported seeing his face peering out the windows at night.
The Villa Montezuma, now often referred to as the Villa Montezuma Museum, is currently under the ownership of the San Diego Historical Society. Because of its declining condition, it’s been closed to tours and the public since 2006.
Regardless of the deterioration and emptiness that appears to surround the house now, it was once vibrant and filled with life. Hundreds of memories were created here and many people crossed paths with the home during their lifetime. Perhaps, some of them never left.