James H. Haskins was a master machinist and inventor who was awarded his first patent, a screw-cutting tool for metal lathes, while still in his early 20s. He later worked for the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. According to the San Diego Union, he was for many years superintendent of the McCormick reaper factory there. While at McCormick he received several more patents for machines that improved the manufacture of components for the company’s harvesters. In 1902 McCormick merged with four smaller rivals to become the International Harvester Company. At about that same time Haskins, then in his early 50s, retired, and with his wife Frances, relocated to San Diego.
In June 1904 he purchased the southeast corner of Acre Lot 78 in Pacific Beach from O. J. Stough. Acre Lot 78 was between today’s Diamond, Haines, Chalcedony and Ingraham streets, and Haskins’ property extended 125 north and 250 feet west from the corner of Diamond and Ingraham. Stough owned the balance of Acre Lot 78 as well as the adjacent Acre Lot 79 ½, between Diamond, Gresham, Chalcedony and Haines, and in 1905 Stough and Haskins recorded a subdivision map which divided these acre lots back into the four residential blocks originally platted in the 1887 map of Pacific Beach. Haskins’ property became lots 21 – 30 of Block 146 according to Map 948, Subdivision of Acre Lots 78 and 79 ½ at Pacific Beach. Map 948 also restored Missouri Street and the alleys that had appeared on the original 1887 map.
In September 1905 the Evening Tribune reported that a building permit had been issued to J. H. Haskins for a residence at Pacific Beach to cost $5000. In November, the Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. Jas. H. Haskins had spent part of the week superintending the erection of their new home, and a week later announced that the magnificent home at Diamond and Broadway was fast nearing completion (actually, Broadway had been renamed Izard Street in 1900; it became Broadway once again in 1907 and was finally renamed Ingraham in 1913). Workmen were putting the finishing touches on the garage in the rear. The residence was a credit not only to Pacific Beach but to all San Diego and was constructed partly of the concrete blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co. and the rest entirely of redwood.
Once in their new home the Haskins quickly established a reputation for hospitality that was often featured in the local papers. In March 1906 the San Diego Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. Haskins of Diamond Street had entertained a small company with whist and fireside tales. Bright lights streaming from the many windows assured the guests, long before reaching the home, the cheery welcome waiting there. The games seemed hardly begun when the charming hostess led all in to a delicious luncheon. Later they were shown through the cottage – a thoroughly modern and typically American suburban home – and it was with regret that they dispersed at a late hour. On another occasion, Mr. Haskins’ birthday in January 1907, his wife gave him a surprise, ‘a party with a cake and candles and all the goodies and pleasures that go to make up such an event’. The Union reported that at first a few friends ‘happened’ in to play cards, but before long quite a merry company had assembled to enjoy their host’s surprise, and Mrs. Haskin’s hospitality.
However, the most popular gatherings were when Mrs. Haskins opened her beautiful home for her annual reception to the members of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. These events apparently began at a regular meeting of the Reading Club in January 1908 at the Haskins’ home. According to the San Diego Union, after the study session and musical numbers, including a piano solo by Mrs. Cotton, Mrs. Haskins transformed the social hour into a reception for the members and their many guests, ‘ushering in the new year with good company and a good welcome’. The color scheme was green and red, an abundance of smilax, carnations and roses supplied from her own beautiful grounds and arranged with the assistance of Mr. Haskins. ‘The dining room table was radiant with its snowy napery, red ribbons and carnations and a variety of the cakes for which the hostess is famous’. Other members (members of the Reading Club were all women) assisted in receiving and presided at the tea table, the chocolate table and the punch bowl, assisted by a coterie of young ladies. After another round of musical entertainment featuring local women and girls in songs, solos, duets and chorus, ‘the appreciative audience demanded many recalls and Mrs. O. W. Cotton continued to give rare pleasure to the departing guests to the very last’.
Mrs. Haskins hosted the Reading Club again in December 1908 and, according to the Union, members and their friends responded in the number of a hundred and over, having learned in the past that no greater treat was in store for them in the season of good cheer. The hostess was assisted in receiving by Mesdames Howard, Norris, Robinson and Pease, all handsomely gowned and showing the Christmas spirit of good will to all. Mrs. Haskins opened the musical part of the program with a classical selection on the gramophone, followed by piano solos and vocal duets by some of the guests. ‘The house is finely contrived for an assembly, and seems a silent partner in the wholesouled, far-reaching hospitality of its owners . . . The viands, in unlimited quantity, were the best in variety and toothsomeness that this notable housekeeper could produce.’
The wholesouled hospitality and toothsome viands continued to be offered for many more years. In April 1915, for example, the Evening Tribune reported that the ladies’ aid society auxiliary of the Methodist Church had been invited to the Haskins’ delightful home to be entertained with instrumental and vocal music. About 50 guests were present, and after the program a delicious luncheon was served with Mr. and Mrs. Haskins’ usual well-known hospitality. Several gentlemen with carriages and autos kindly carried the ladies to and from the entertainment. The Haskins home had a garage (which workmen had been putting the finishing touches on in 1905) and Mr. Haskins owned an automobile (in 1912 a party of San Diego friends was taken in Mr. Haskins’ automobile to his beach home) so one of the gentlemen kindly carrying the ladies in an auto may have been Mr. Haskins himself.
In 1908 James Haskins was elected by the San Diego Common Council to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of the incumbent from the first ward. The San Diego Union noted that he had been a resident of Pacific Beach for the past two years and was looked upon as one of the most prominent citizens and the one best fitted to represent that section of the city. Haskins ran for a full term as city councilman in the general election of March 1909 but was defeated. He was also one of the organizers of the Pacific Beach Country Club, which held a Washington’s Birthday dance at the Hotel Balboa for its initial meeting in 1909 (the other organizers were A. F. MacFarland, G. H. Robinson and A. R. Pease).
A 1915 Union article about Pacific Beach noted that several of the county’s showplaces were within its environs, notably the homes of Fred T. Scripps, James H. Haskins and Charles C. Norris (the Scripps home was on Mission Bay, where the Catamaran Hotel is now; the Norris home is still standing on Collingwood Drive). In 1908 the Haskins had also built another house, valued at $3600, on the portion of their property to the west of their home. They also owned property in Block 145, on the other side of Ingraham Street, and in Block 162, across Diamond Street, about where the locker rooms at the PB middle school are today. They sold the property with the house next door in 1920 and both of the unimproved properties in 1925.
Mr. Haskins died in April 1930 and Mrs. Haskins died a month later. In their will they left the ‘Home Place’, together with all furniture, fixtures and fittings, to their neighbor S. A. Le Fevre (the ‘residue’ of the estate, about $10,000, went to Haskins’ brother, Robert G. Haskins, of Pontiac, MI). Le Fevre lived a block away, at the northwest corner of Diamond and Jewell (originally the home of the Cogswell family) but at the time there were no other houses between them on Diamond Street. He apparently left the Haskins home vacant until December 1937 when it was sold to Florabel and Ralph Skinner, and it has been owned by the Skinner family ever since.
Mr. Skinner was a teacher at La Jolla High School who also became a prominent citizen in Pacific Beach, at one time serving as president of the PB Chamber of Commerce. The Skinners also became prominent in the sports world; Florabel and Ralph’s son Bob went on to become a major-league baseball player and manager and Bob’s son Joel also played baseball in the major leagues. S. A. Le Fevre received notoriety of a different sort; he had lived alone as a pauper in his Diamond Street home but when he died in 1940 he was found to have $8000 in two bank accounts, and a search of his house turned up a roll of bills worth $2000 under a pile of clothing in a closet.