This residential district is located on hills overlooking Old Town and the San Diego Bay, just north of the city’s downtown. Formerly hilly chaparral, the area was purchased by S.T. Johnston of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company in 1869. Johnston deeded the 65 acres to his daughter, Sarah Cox Miller, who named the area Johnston Heights. An economic downturn in the 1890s delayed development, with the real estate company Gordon, Goodwin, and Co., along with George Marston, purchasing land for subdivision in 1908. Connected to downtown San Diego via electric streetcar in 1910 by John Spreckels, Mission Hills quickly attracted wealthy residents who filled the neighborhood with homes designed by some of city’s most noted architects and master builders, such as William Hebbard, William Templeton Johnson, and Morris B. Irvin. Horticulturist Kate Sessions purchased land in the area, opening the Mission Hills Nursery in 1910. Later, often along the canyon’s rims, homes by Modernist architects such as Lloyd Ruocco, were constructed in the 1950s.
Although extensive regrading occurred in neighborhoods with rectangular grids to the east and south, the district’s streets follow the natural terrain of the canyons. The district comprises two adjacent residential pockets, together containing 174 homes that represent one of the city’s most intact concentrations of early-twentieth-century styles, from Craftsman and Prairie to Spanish Colonial Revival. The narrow side streets are lined with mature shade trees, while the wider Sunset Boulevard is bordered by a variety of palm trees. A separate historic district, the Fort Stockton Line District, which encompasses the area around the former streetcar line, is located to the north.