In January of 1887, a description was published for a Silsbee-designed home in San Diego, California. It was to be built for banker and real estate magnate, O. S. Hubbell ("O. S." is almost always how he is referred to) and was to be the largest and most extravagant residence to be built in the city at that time.
The home was never constructed to Joseph Silsbee's plans. Instead, Hubbell's mansion was re-designed and built to plans of James and Merritt Reid. The mansion, known locally as the U. S. Grant Jr. or Havermale Mansion, was demolished in the 1920's to make way for the El Cortez Hotel. The change in architects, from J. L. Silsbee to the Reid Brothers is a hint at a much larger puzzle about Silsbee in San Diego that still remains unsolved.
A year after notices about the Hubbell Residence appear in newspapers, additional notices appear that Silsbee is suing the Coronado Beach Company, developers of the landmark Coronado Hotel, for payment for his design work on the hotel. Given the amount he was suing for, he was trying to recover the entire design fee. The main partners in this development were Hampton Story and Elisha Babcock. O. S. Hubbell was the treasurer of the company. Incidentally, Hampton and Story were also officers for the First National Bank; a bank where Hubbell was director and vice-president.
The story of how Coronado was built and the work of the architects, James and Merritt Reid, has become legendary. The two brothers from Evansville, Indiana supposedly slaved over drawings and would hand them off to contractors who were literally building the hotel around them. The notion that Silsbee, a well respected designer famous for his shingle-style structures, was involved in the designs of the largest standing shingle-style hotel is a fascinating story. It is also interesting to look at the remarkable hotel building with this in mind. An early plat of the Coronado development shows a site for a hotel and a small outline for a hotel structure but it does not resemble the structure that was built. There are no records of what Silsbee's design looked like so any conclusions about his authorship requires a lot of conjecture. Furthermore, the outcome of the court case was never published so any official opinion about his involvement is also unknown.
This is one of the many examples of works where J. L. Silsbee was hired for a design in a place far from where he lived. Some of these projects were built and though they were either re-designed or superintended by local architects, they still resemble Silsbee's work. Others, like the Hubbell residence, appear to have been completely re-designed with few references to the original plan. Silsbee was obviously proud of this design as it was published twice in different architectural journals, in 1890 and 1894.