The Van Druff Family and Their Estate
By Dr. Melinda Blade, Director of Mission Integration and Historian
3rd in a series about OLP’s history. Read the previous installment here.
The Van Druff family began construction at Villa Montemar in May 1916, following their purchase of the property on March 20. The preliminary construction was completed in 1917. Photos on record at OLP indicate that the estate consisted of three buildings: two residences, an observatory and a pool (with an 85-foot plunge) with gardens. The photos also indicate that the estate construction had not been completed when the Sisters purchased the property in 1924.
Little is known about the Van Druff family (also listed as VanDruff and Vandruff). The two men, Winfield Scott (1852-1922), and Ross Elliot, were geologists from Pennsylvania. Winfield Scott Van Druff was born in Greene, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1852, to John Van Druff and Rachel Mapel (sic) Van Druff. Winfield married Matilda Fox and had two children. The older son was Ross Elliot (1878-1966) and the second son was Ottley Earl (1880-1968). Both Winfield and Ross are described by Ross’ daughter, Olive, as being “artistically talented.” Ross is further described by Olive as being a mining engineer, geologist and rancher.
Winfield and Ross eventually moved to Globe, Arizona where they were involved in copper mining before coming to San Diego. They had conducted research two years prior to moving to San Diego for the best topographical areas of San Diego. They were determined to build on one of the highest levels in the city so they had an unobstructed view of the ocean, valley, mesas and mountains.
The Van Druffs also wanted to conduct research from the observatory they wished to erect. They expected to undertake research in astronomy, geology, physics and chemistry. The observatory was to house a telescope that would weigh about six tons and be similar to the telescope at the Chabot Observatory in Oakland, California.
The estate was built according to the Van Druffs specifications and mirrors the Italian Renaissance style. Ironically, historical records at OLP indicate that the Van Druffs never lived in the home, and because of the effects of World War I, the estate was never completely constructed.
Discrepancies exist, however, as other historical sources indicate in interviews with Ross and Mayme Van Druff’s daughter, Olive Freda, that she remembered living on the estate. The estate homes included balconies on both houses (which had 25 and 30 rooms in them), inter-communication phone systems and oil-burning boilers in each basement that were lit by a switchboard in each house.
Olive, born in 1908 in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio, was the only child of Ross and Mayme. She traveled throughout the American Southwest with her parents and described herself as “largely self-taught.” She was married three times: first to Charles F. Anderson, an engraver, in approximately 1937, then to psychologist William Zielonka in 1944 (both ended in divorce), and finally to well-known Western artist Harold Dow Bugbee (1900-1963) in 1961.
Olive also was a well-known artist. President Lyndon Johnson, Texas Senator John Tower, and Texas Governors John Connelly and Dolph Briscoe are known to have admired her works and been among her patrons. One of her paintings, an oil on Masonite, found at the Olive VanDruff Bugbee Estate, is entitled “Sundown and Oil Derricks (1976)”. It is a tribute to her father, Ross, whom she referred to as an “early deep-driller.” Olive died on January 4, 2003, following complications from a car accident. She was 94 years old. Her estate was valued at $1 million at the time of her death.
Winfield and Ross experienced legal issues shortly after the estate was completed. Those legal issues complicated their financial situation and they eventually declared bankruptcy. Seemingly, both stayed in San Diego immediately following the sale of their estate, and purchased homes in San Diego. Winfield died in 1922 in Greene, Pennsylvania, and Ross moved to Los Angeles.
The estate was purchased several times before coming into the possession of the Sisters. Their acquisition of the property was not without challenges nor quickly accomplished. The acrimonious remarks and adamant opposition of an anonymous San Diegan caused a brief delay in the Sisters’ assuming ownership of the property.
To be continued…