Villa Montezuma – San Diego, California - Atlas Obscura

Villa Montezuma

A magnificent, reportedly haunted mansion built for a composer by Spiritualists. 


In the Sherman Heights neighborhood of San Diego stands a red, Queen Anne–style mansion known as Villa Montezuma. It was built in 1887 for renowned composer Jesse Shepard (also known as Francis Grierson), who was heavily involved with Spiritualism. He was convinced to relocate there by the brothers William and John High, wealthy ranchers and members of the Spiritualist group to which Shepard belonged. They were also the ones who built the mansion, which was named after the ship that had brought Shepard from Britain to America.

Two years later, however, Shepard sold the house and moved to Paris. It then went through a number of owners, many of whom ended up in financial ruin. Believe it or not, Shepard also lost much of his money and popularity years after he left San Diego, and eventually died an unusual death. In 1927, he was playing the piano at his friends’ house when he died suddenly of unknown causes, immediately after he struck the very last chord.

In 1970 the San Diego History Center purchased the mansion, which had been in disrepair for quite some time by then. A volunteer organization known as the Friends of Villa Montezuma took charge of its maintenance, and the mansion was opened to the public as a museum in 1972. The Villa soon became a popular venue for weddings, but closed in 2006 due to safety concerns. It has undergone a series of renovations since then, and since 2015 free interior tours have been held quarterly. 

The Villa Montezuma is well known as an allegedly haunted mansion, often referred to as the “Spook House” by locals. At least a couple of its former owners are known to have performed séances here, and strange occurrences have been reported. For example, some claim that in one corner of the house plants refuse to grow, and gardeners are baffled by it. The mansion is also known to contain some architectural mysteries, such as a secret passageway. 

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