The real estate promoters who formed the Pacific Beach Company in 1887 knew that their prospective community would require a railroad line to downtown San Diego. They formed the San Diego and Pacific Beach Railroad and built a line which extended the existing San Diego and Old Town Railroad north and then west around False (Mission) Bay to the beach. Trains were running by April 1888 and in July the two lines merged to become the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railroad.
The railway line ran through Pacific Beach on what are now Balboa and Grand Avenues and terminated near the foot of Grand, where it turned south into the ‘depot grounds’. The SD, OT & PB RR built a large engine house (a ’round house’ except that it wasn’t round) at the end of the line in the depot grounds, about where today’s Mission Boulevard and Oliver Avenue would intersect. Between this final bend in the line and the beach the Pacific Beach Company built a hotel and a dance pavilion, the hotel just south of Grand and east of Mission and the pavilion west of Mission between Thomas and Reed Avenues.
The railroad not only provided transportation for Pacific Beach residents but it also employed a sizable proportion of these residents; six of the 37 residences listed for Pacific Beach in Montieth’s Directory of San Diego and Vicinity for 1889-90 were railroad employees. The railroad employees lived in Pacific Beach because the daily service began and ended there; the first train in the morning left Pacific Beach for San Diego at 6 A.M. and the last train left San Diego for Pacific Beach at 6:25 P.M.
Three of these railroad employees purchased lots in Block 262, adjacent to the depot grounds on the north side of Reed Avenue west of what is now Bayard Street. Lots 22 and 23, nearest to Bayard, were acquired by Thomas F. Fitzgerald in 1891 and a house assessed at $200 had been built there by 1893. He sold the property in 1900 but continued to work for the railroad. In 1908 he was the fireman on a locomotive that derailed and overturned near Winder Street in San Diego. The engineer was killed by the escaping steam, ‘literally cooked alive’ according to the papers, and Fitzgerald was ‘hurled head foremost into a clump of cactus’ and also severely burned. He was taken to a sanitarium and treated but died ten days later. This was the only fatal accident in the railroad’s history.
Frank H. Woodworth lived next door, on lots 24 and 25, although he also owned property across the alley fronting on Thomas Avenue. His home on Reed was assessed at $150 in 1893. Woodworth was described as the ‘popular’ conductor of the Pacific Beach railroad, and when he planned an eastern trip with his family in 1901 the Evening Tribune noted that he had been ‘navigating’ the train for thirteen years and deserved a vacation. His wife was an active member of the Pacific Beach Reading Club, the woman’s group founded by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, and often hosted meetings at their home. In 1898 the Woodworths moved their house across the alley to their lots on Thomas, which ‘greatly improved the appearance of the place’ in the words of the San Diego Union. In 1900, after the birth of their third daughter, they moved to a larger home in Pacific Beach, a former college dormitory at Lamont and Hornblend Streets.
Locomotive engineer E. C. Doyle owned lots 26 and 27, adjoining the Woodworth’s on the west, and also with a home assessed at $150. Doyle left the Pacific Beach line about 1895 and went to work for the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railway where he again established a residence at the end of that line, in Foster, north of Lakeside. The SDC&E never continued on to Cuyamaca, much less the East, but the route is now used by the San Diego Trolley line to El Cajon and Santee. Then and now the line also runs through Mt. Hope Cemetery and when Doyle’s wife Ada died in 1899 her funeral services were scheduled for ‘the arrival of the afternoon train from Foster Station’.
Homes on adjoining properties are universal in Pacific Beach today but were unusual in the 1890s and stood out on a 1891 map:
The hotel and pavilion were removed from their beachside locations in 1896, literally lifted up and pulled along Grand Avenue to new locations north of Grand and east of Lamont. In its new location at Hornblend and Morrell the pavilion served as a lemon curing and packing house, the largest in the county, during the height of the Pacific Beach lemon era. In 1907, with the lemon business in decline, it was remodeled and used as a Methodist church. It was finally torn down about 1922.
The hotel, at Lamont and Hornblend, became the offices of the Folsom Bros. Co., later the San Diego Beach Company, which owned much of Pacific Beach after acquiring O. J. Stough’s share of the unsold properties of the Pacific Beach Company in 1903. The hotel building burned down in 1931. The fire marshal believed the blaze was set, citing two other attempts to burn the structure earlier in the year. More than 35 cadets from the nearby San Diego Army and Navy Academy aided firemen fighting the blaze. The house on the north side of Hornblend, across from the hotel, the same house that the Woodworths had moved into in 1900, had also burned down a few months earlier under suspicious circumstances.
The railroad itself was scrapped in 1919, although much of the right-of-way along the coast became the route of the San Diego Electric Railway interurban line to La Jolla via Mission Beach and Pacific Beach in 1924. The electric line was discontinued in 1940 and also scrapped.
Reed Avenue west of Bayard is now lined with houses, duplexes and apartment buildings like the rest of Pacific Beach, but one of these houses, 854 Reed, Doyle’s home, is an actual survivor from those early days when railroad employees lived next to the depot grounds at the end of the line in Pacific Beach (2022 update: the Doyle house is no longer a survivor, it has been replaced by a pair of town homes).