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P.O. Box 15967
San Diego, CA 92175
Phone / Fax (619) 269-3924


Jeanne and Antoine Frey / Rear Admiral Francis Benson House

Historic Landmark No. 627
Jeanne and Antoine Frey / Rear Admiral Francis Benson House

Unknown, Architect
The Dennstedt Company, Builder


Morley Field / Balboa Park Community

Historical Landmark No. 627 - Designated October 2003

Pioneer French Family and WWII War Hero

This historic Spanish Eclectic style house was built in 1930 by The Dennstedt Company and commissioned by Antoine and Jeanne Marie Frey. The house overlooks beautiful Balboa Park / Morley Field and is important because of its Spanish Eclectic architecture, association with a master builder, The Dennstedt Company, association with the Frey’s, who were a pioneer family in early San Diego, and association with Rear Admiral Francis Wyse Benson, a WW II war hero.

Frey Block Building in the San Diego downtown National Register Gaslamp District
Pioneer French Family and WWII War Hero

The Frey family came from France, and consisted originally of three brothers, Joseph, Leon, and Antoine, who were entrepreneurs in the 1878-1917 Stingaree, produce, Asian and Market Street business areas of New Town, San Diego, now designated as the Gaslamp Historical District. The three brothers operated an express and freight business, invested in land in San Quintin, Baja California in the 1880s and in National City, and in 1911 built the Frey Block on the corner of Market (H Street) and Fourth Streets where they operated a second-hand wholesale/retail and later investment business. The Frey Block Building, and by extension the Freys who built, owned, and lived in the building, are significant because they are a designated part of the Gaslamp Historic District, which is a National Register Site.

Antoine Frey’s wife, Jeanne Marie Frey, operated The Jeanne and The Frey hotel and boardinghouses in the district and Frey Block building. Ship manifests through Ellis Island show that the family traveled extensively and maintained close ties with relatives across the continent. In the 1930s, Jeanne Marie Frey acquired the Carmelita tourmaline mine and mill north of Warner Springs (in the back country mountains of San Diego County).

In 1937, Antone Frey sold the house to WW II war hero Rear Admiral Francis Wyse Benson and his wife, Dorothy, who wanted to be close to Benson’s United States Navy assignment. He came from an already distinguished Navy family, as his father was Admiral William Shepherd Benson. The elder Admiral served as the Navy Representative on Allied war planning councils and Navy adviser to the United States delegation at the Versailles Peace Treaty Conference. The Navy assigned Commander Francis Wyse Benson to prepare for outfitting the U.S.S. President Hayes (AP-39, later APA-20) which ultimately gave distinguished service in seven major invasion campaigns during WW II. When it arrived from Newport News in July of 1941, Commander Benson had to convert the civilian passenger ship to serve as a troop transport for invasion operations in the South Pacific.

Eight days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Commander Benson commissioned the President Hayes and sailed to the Pacific to evacuate non-essential personnel from Hawaii to the west coast and participate in amphibious landing exercises. Commander Benson carried United States Marines into combat in August 1942 on Tulagi in one of the first amphibious invasions. After landing troops and supplies in the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Navy reclassified the President Hayes as an attack transport in February 1943 and painted her with the new hull number, APA-20. For outstanding service under fire, the Navy promoted Commander Benson to the rank of captain. He landed troops at Rendova in July 1943, Bougainville in November 1943, Emirau in March 1944, invasion of Guam in July 1944, and Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944.

During the 1942 Rendova invasion, gunners on the President Hayes participated in shooting down seven Japanese airplanes that strafed the decks and dropped bombs on the invasion ships. Just after unloading her troops in Manus in 1944, Captain Benson witnessed the explosion of ammunition ship Mount Hood and dispatched fire and rescue parties to the damaged ships. During the fall and winter of 1945, Captain Benson skippered the President Hayes in carrying out “Operation Magic Carpet” to bring home 2,800 of war veterans from the battlefields of the Pacific. Captain Benson commanded his last invasion transport in the Okinawa campaign in 1945, and after the war ended, supported the occupation of Japan.

Permission to use this material is granted provided it is attributed as follows:

Copyright © 2010 Ronald V. May and Dale Ballou May, Legacy 106, Inc., www.legacy106.com

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