About the Teahouse: Hannah Lee’s is a beautiful, authentic teahouse that will customize your experience based off your requests! Beyond the teahouse, they also have a gift shop with more than 100 custom-made Victorian clothing items, almost all of which were created by Lady Margaret Puhn and Lady Janice Martinelli.
There are tiered menu options which may include assorted sandwiches, seasonal fresh fruit, freshly baked pastries, lemon curd, scones or soup. All meal options come with a pot of delicious tea, either hot or cold (or both!).
Tours are offered after your tea of the historic Kimball House Museum next door which is furnished with original pieces from the Kimball family. You will also receive access to the archive room which is brimming with historic books and items connected to the city’s upbringing.
History: Hannah Lee’s Teahouse sits inside the Blossom-Steele House, which is part of the historic Heritage Square in National City. This beautiful Victorian home once stood at 904 East 8th st. but was donated to the City of National City in 1977 and moved to Heritage Square. Elizur Steel & his brother John B. Steel were the architects & together they built twelve other Victorian homes in the area.
Lady Martinelli purchased the home in the 80’s. Cleaning up the home and the neighborhood was not an easy task. She says that buying this home cost her her marriage, largely because part of the bargain deal of purchasing it was that she could not view the interior until the purchase was made.
Once the purchase was finalized, that is when the ghastly horrors were revealed. Urine-filled bottles lined the walls with a stench of death and decay emanating from inside. It was a complete train-wreck. Although her husband was beside himself on the purchase, Lady Martinelli instead chose to focus on the all the beauty the home had retained. She saw potential in re-creating it to the magnificent piece of craftsmanship that it once was.
About Lady Janice Martinelli: Janice, the owner of Hannah Lee’s Teahouse is quite the force! She has greatly contributed to the preservation of historic homes in National City which began shortly after she moved to Brick Row. Upon moving to National City, Martinelli began her new passion of restoring historic homes with a special spot for classic Victorians.
She was also behind the Mills Act, which provided tax breaks for people who bought and maintained historic homes. She also had a hand in establishing the city’s first-time home-buyers program. Martinelli realized too often that the city was not protecting old homes and they were being torn down or remodeled, losing their historic value.
She is currently the President of the National City Historical Society & had a hand in creating a policy which requires the city to notify the historical society before pulling a permit on buildings older than 50 years.
Personal Experience: What an honor to have gotten to meet Lady Janice Martinelli. Talk about beauty and brains! It was Janice’s dream to own a Victorian home and she made that dream a reality. I am well acquainted with the Victorian homes in Old Town and Golden Hill, but am floored that I had never viewed these beauties in National City!
The decor of the Blossom-Steele House was to the nines and brimming with delicate details. It was truly remarkable to see how much attention was put into our entire experience. Our fruit was shaped into swans, for instance. I am pretty sure I had 8 cups of tea by the way. The hot tea was such a complex and unique flavor I had never experienced before. It tasted kind of like a deep chai but with musky notes. The iced tea was a peach flavor and delicious!
The scones and lemon curd were probably my favorite part of the meal. I would keep coming back just for those alone! During the entire meal we learned all about the history of Brick Row and the Victorian homes while dawning fancy hats which were provided during our lunch. I can’t believe how much rich history is on one block alone!
The lovely owner, Lady Janice Martinelli:
Chicken Caesar salad:
We were so lucky to share a table with California politician and former television journalist, Marti Emerald:
These desserts were DELICIOUS! Hats off to the chef! My favorites were the lavender cookie, eclair and lemon bar. So gooey!