Robert Miles Parker
Artist Robert Miles Parker has been a leading architectural author and preservationist for more than three decades. Born in Virginia, Miles grew up in San Diego in the ‘40s and ‘50s, when it was still known as a sleepy border town. Spending the ‘60s as a teacher and art therapist, he moved into a large Victorian on Front Street (today the Mumford-Parker House) that soon became a hangout for creative types. Miles began to pen and ink old houses — drawings that would make him famous.
In 1969, Miles passed the crumbling Gilbert House. Sad that this beautiful structure was not likely to survive, he posted a sign “Save Me” and a phone number. In response to the many calls — everyone from society ladies to hippies, Miles founded Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), one of America’s oldest preservationist groups.
As SOHO’s first president, Miles worked to save poorly maintained buildings from SD’s history, such as Villa Montezuma, the Sante Fe Station, and many in the Gaslamp Quarter including the Horton Hotel, where a suite is named in his honor. In the early 1970s, a few historic structures were moved to Old Town’s Heritage Park. The Gilbert House was the first to relocate.
A few years later Miles began to travel. Supported by his collectors, he drove a mini-van wherever the highways took him and stopped to draw whatever caught his eye. These artistic works, many published in his weekly San Diego Union column, gained him national attention, including two interviews on “The Today Show” with Barbara Walters. They became his first book, Images of American Architecture.
When Los Angeles hosted the Olympics in 1984, Miles brought together his many drawings from that area in new book L.A. A few years later he relocated to New York to continue drawing and be closer to his 22-year partner, who was a professor at Princeton. Miles began a series there, which have appeared in many publications, including San Diego Magazine, Sacramento Magazine and the New York Times. He also completed a book dedicated to celebrating the architecture of Broadway.
Miles returned to San Diego to join in SOHO’s 40th anniversary celebration in 2009. Three years later he became a casualty of the AIDS epidemic, but his vivid spirit is remembered fondly by many San Diegans who appreciate his (and all SOHO members) activism to save their city’s history.
The following tribute to Robert Miles Parker appeared in the final HillQuest Urban Guide in 2012.
Remembering Miles, SOHO’s founder
Robert Miles Parker (1939-2012) was a colorful, charismatic and outspoken man. A renowned artist, his drawings have been published in magazines, newspapers and collected in books. His work garnered him national attention, including two appearances on the Today Show.
In a 2009 interview for SOHO’s 40th anniversary, Miles recalled the roots of Save Our Heritage Organisation with Ann Jarmusch and Dan Soderberg (see HQ9). It all began with his posting a hand-drawn sign to save the Sherman-Gilbert House (HQ9) after he heard of the plans to demolish it. The response was “about 50 people showed up at my house on a rainy afternoon in 1969.” He told the gathering, “I don’t know what to do,” but after Carol Lindemulder joined forces with the bohemian artist, their lives were forever different. And so was San Diego.
Miles credited his caring for the neighborhood and city to his Southern upbringing. “I grew up believing that we have an obligation to take care of our place. We have to make it better.” He spoke about his love for San Diego, and an interpretation of history that shaped his views as an historic preservationist. “San Diego is a holy place. Madame Blavatsky (through Madame Tingley’s Theosophical Society) was here. The Rosicrucians were here. The Indians considered this holy land. The first settlers, I think appreciated that. I think the monied families, like the Klaubers, appreciated that, and built wonderful things…But then the next generation didn’t care and began to tear them down. And I don’t think anyone has cared since.”
“In the old days it was the ‘geranium growers’ vs. the developers. I came here in the 1940s as a little boy when the ‘geranium growers’ were in power, and it was such a neat place. It was just so comfy. It is interesting the city went from being a holy place to a place of destruction. So it is our battle to pull it back…It became more than saving the Sherman-Gilbert House, it became about saving the city.”