Original PB Ranch House

Bowers Ranch House

In February 1892 the San Diego Union reported that Pacific Beach was to have quite an increase in the way of permanent residents:

It was learned yesterday that nine easterners had each purchased a ten-acre lot, all joining and situated just above the College of Letters. Eight teams are now at work breaking and preparing the soil for improvements that are to be made. The purchasers are in the city, and they intend planting the entire ninety acres in fruit, with the exception of sufficient space on which to build residences this spring.

The adjoining ten-acre lots were the ‘acre lots’ which had just appeared on a new map of the Pacific Beach subdivision, filed in January 1892. Although the original PB subdivision map from October 1887 had divided the entire community into uniform residential blocks, property in the outlying areas had not sold well and the new map consolidated most blocks north of what is now Diamond Street into the acre lots, intended for agricultural uses. As the Union had observed, these acre lots proved to be extremely popular and more than a dozen of them were purchased in the first months of 1892, most just to the north of the college campus, later the San Diego Army and Navy Academy and Brown Military Academy, and now the Pacific Plaza shopping center (the college itself had closed the year before, in 1891).

Detail from 1892 PB subdivision map showing acre lots north of the college campus (modern street names added)

Portion of 1892 PB subdivision map showing acre lots north of the college campus (modern street names added)

Two of the easterners, brothers-in-law and business partners from Henning, Tennessee, actually bought three adjoining acre lots which met at the corner of what are now Chalcedony and Lamont streets. R. C. Wilson and G. M. D. Bowers were Confederate veterans and proprietors of Wilson & Bowers, general merchandise, in Henning, and Wilson had married Bowers’ sister Susie in 1879.  In February 1892 Wilson and Bowers jointly purchased Acre Lots 34 and 50 and in March 1892 they added Acre Lot 33 of Pacific Beach. Lots 50 and 33 were on the east side of Lamont; lot 50 between Diamond and Chalcedony streets and lot 33 between Chalcedony and Beryl. Acre Lot 34 was between Chalcedony and Beryl but west of Lamont, extending to what is now Kendall Street. The price was $100 an acre; $1850 for lots 34 and 50 and $990 for lot 33. A year later Wilson and Bowers also bought Acre Lot 51, east of lot 50 and extending to what is now Noyes Street, for $830.

By the end of March 1892 the San Diego Union reported that 4,000 feet of water pipe was being laid over this 30-acre tract and that the property was to be put in lemons during the next few weeks. The new owners had also reserved sufficient space on which to build their residences. The Bowers built their home on Acre Lot 34 in 1892, the first ranch house to be built on a Pacific Beach lemon ranch, and moved in with their five children. The Wilsons, with two children, built in 1893 across Lamont on Acre Lot 33.

The development of lemon ranches on the acre lots combined with facilities for curing, packing and shipping lemons brought a decade of relative prosperity to Pacific Beach. The ranchers and their families became prominent in Pacific Beach society and their activities were noted in San Diego newspapers. In one example from 1893, the Union reported that Miss Eddie Sue Bowers and Miss Annie Bell Wilson wore dainty costumes of cream color to a joint birthday party for Miss Evangeline Rowe and Miss Mary Barnes, who in their soft pink gowns were ‘like two rosebuds in their fresh girlish beauty’ (the Rowe lemon ranch was just south of the Bowers, in Acre Lot 49; the Barnes ranch was Acre Lot 64, just south of the Rowes).

Pacific Beach lemon ranches could generate profits over time selling lemons for a few cents a pound, or all at once by selling the ranch itself for thousands of dollars. Wilson and Bowers chose the second option, beginning with the eastern portion of Acre Lot 51, which they sold in June 1894 for $500. Lot 33, including the Wilsons’ home, was sold in September 1895 for $5500. In October 1895 both lot 50 and the western portion of lot 51 were sold, for $3000 and $1000, and lot 34, with the Bowers’ home, was sold in November for $5500. Both families then returned to Henning, Tennessee, having realized a gain of nearly $12,000 on their Pacific Beach real estate investments.

On Acre Lot 33, the family of Ozora Stearns and, after 1899, Carrie Linck lived in the Wilson ranch house while shipping carloads of lemons from the ranch. After 1901 the property passed through a series of five absentee owners until it was sold in 1904 to the Layman family, who remained on the ranch for the next thirty years. The Stearns had named the ranch Vencedor, but the Laymans renamed it Seniomsed (Des Moines, their former home, spelled backward). In 1947 Acre Lot 33 was included in the Lamont Terrace development (the homes with the brick chimneys and shingle siding) and the former ranch house was torn down, leaving only a Moreton Bay Fig tree to mark its place. Across Lamont Street in the former Acre Lot 34, however, the Bowers’ home remains as a monument to PB’s lemon ranching past.

The Bowers had sold Acre Lot 34 to William Davis, a mining engineer, who moved in with his wife and sister in December 1895. Two children were also born to the Davises while living on their Pacific Beach ranch. Mr. Davis spent much of his time at the Arizona mines and his sister, Louise, may have actually run the ranch. She may also have been the one who gave the ranch its name; in June 1896 the Union reported that Miss Davis had shipped 84 boxes of choice lemons from Ondawa Ranch.

In May 1898 the Davises sold Acre Lot 34 to James and Sarah Jowett and by July Mr. Jowett was said to be making extensive additions to the barn and putting flumes all over the ranch. However, the Jowetts also moved on after a few years, selling Acre Lot 34 in December 1901 to Ires E. Cobb, who sold it a few months later, in May 1902, to Walter and Louisa Boycott for $5000.

Mr. Boycott was a retired publisher from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and according to the Evening Tribune he came to San Diego with his family to enjoy the salubrious climate and profit from the good times just in sight. By July 1902 the Tribune reported that the family was enjoying their new home and Mr. Boycott was fertilizing heavily and picking a fine quality of fruit from the heavy Lisbon lemon trees. A year later, in June 1903, the good times apparently came in sight for the Boycotts and they sold the ranch for $6000 to Abraham and Adelaide Manny, who changed the name of the ranch from Ondawa to Las Flores. When Miss Virginia Manny entertained a pair of her friends from Los Angeles in 1906, the Union noted that the young women were delighted with Pacific Beach, as well they might be, since the view from the floral bowers of Las Flores, over banana trees, palms and lemon orchards, to the bay and Mexican mountains, was unmatched.

Lemon ranching in Pacific Beach had begun with the development of the acre lots in 1892, particularly the Wilson and Bowers properties, and lemons had supported the community for over a decade, but by 1906 many people foresaw that PB’s future prosperity would come from residential development, not agriculture. In December 1906 an advertisement appeared in the San Diego Union for an elegant Pacific Beach residence, with city water, all modern conveniences, highly improved grounds, on ½ acre or more, only a short distance north of the depot, in ‘block 34’. The ad also offered lots in block 34, with fine fruit trees and water on each lot, prices low, terms easy, illustrated description free, A. J. Manny, owner (the ‘depot’ was the Lamont Street stop on the railroad between San Diego and La Jolla, which ran along Grand Avenue).

Although Manny apparently had intended to sell the ranch house and the other lots separately, in fact the entire acre lot was sold in January 1907 to Robert Ravenscroft. By 1907 a number of the Pacific Beach acre lots had already been re-subdivided back into city blocks, including the lots immediately west and south of lot 34, and in December 1907 Ravenscroft followed suit, recording a subdivision map that turned Acre Lot 34 back into the two blocks shown on the original 1887 map of Pacific Beach, along with their original block numbers. Like the other blocks on the original map, Block 90, south of Beryl Street, and Block 105, north of Chalcedony Street, were divided into 40 25- by 125-foot lots with a 20-foot-wide alley through the center of each block, connecting Kendall and Lamont streets. The 80-foot-wide street between the blocks, Florida Avenue on the original map, was re-dedicated to the city and became an extension of Law Street.

Blocks 90 and 105

Subdivision of Acre Lot 34 into 80 individual lots meant that the ownership and any improvements on each lot was recorded in the city lot books. The lot book data shows that from 1908 to 1911 the Ravenscrofts continued to own every lot in the subdivision and that the only improvement, the original ranch house, was valued at $425 and located on lots 17-20 of Block 105, a location at the southwest corner of Law and Lamont streets. In 1913, the lot book entry for lots 17-20 in Block 105 no longer showed improvements but instead contained the note ‘Imps on blk 90’, and the lot book entry for Block 90 showed a new improvement valued at $425 for lots 25-27. This suggests that the ranch house had been moved across Law Street and down the block to its present location at 1860 Law.

The lot books also showed that in 1911 three lots on the south side of Block 105, lots 29-31, were sold to Ferdinand Defrenn. In November 1911 a building permit was issued to F. Defrenn for a 6-room cottage on Chalcedony Street valued at $1700, the house that is still standing at 1838 Chalcedony. In the next few years the Ravenscrofts sold most of the remaining lots on the south side of Block 105 while continuing to own all of Block 90 and the lots on the north side of Block 105, but no other homes were built in the subdivision over the next 30 years.

Miss Susie Ravenscroft, a 19-year old telephone operator, was married at home in 1911. The Evening Tribune reported that the ceremony took place in the front parlor under a canopy of ferns and smilax ‘thick starred with Shasta daisies’. The back parlor decorations were of pink roses and ferns. Punch was served in the large sun-parlor. Several kodaks were produced and there were many pretty groupings on the front lawn of the spacious Ravenscroft grounds.

Robert Ravenscroft died in 1916 and in 1923 the Ravenscroft family’s holdings in blocks 90 and 105 were sold to Cameron Hutton, secretary-treasurer of a downtown sheet metal fabrication and auto body shop. In 1925 Hutton also reacquired six of the lots in the south half of Block 105 that had been sold by the Ravenscrofts.

In 1922 the city council ‘closed up’ Law Street between Kendall and Lamont streets and the alleys in blocks 90 and 105 for the ‘public interest and convenience of the city’. Although the street and alleys had been mapped and dedicated fifteen years earlier there had been no actual grading or other improvement, and no new construction requiring access, so these closings would have had little practical effect. The 1923 – 1927 lot books contained a notation that Law St. and all alleys were closed in 1922, but this notation was scratched out in the 1928 lot book, presumably indicating that the street and alleys had been reopened. When Lamont Street was paved in 1928 between Garnet Avenue and the city property that became Kate Sessions Park, the project included the curbs and sidewalks along blocks 90 and 105 which remain today.

R. W. Brown Paving

The former ranch house was vacant in 1928 but from 1929 to 1933 it was home to Roscoe Porter, a real estate operator. His son David Porter recounted in a 1995 interview for the San Diego Historical Society’s oral history program that the family moved to a ‘great big old Victorian house’ two or three blocks north of the Academy on the corner of Lamont and Law Streets where they had eight acres of fields and orchards with strawberry patches, tangerines, orange and grapefruit trees, lemons, pears and apricots.

In November 1933 ads appeared in the San Diego Union for Vista Villa Rest Home ‘for particular people; sea air, wide verandas, large rooms, food to your needs’. If you needed rest, quiet, right thinking and proper diet, you should live at Vista Villa, 1860 Law St.; ‘Broad verandas, large grounds. Exclusive’. The rural nature of the property was also still evident in a 1938 advertisement for a big work horse, kind and gentle, for sale, cheap, 1860 Law St., Pacific Beach.

1937 aerial view of Pacific Beach. Brown Military Academy, the former college campus, is in the foreground with the land once covered by lemon ranches beyond. The acre lots originally owned by Wilson and Bowers are outlined.

1937 aerial view of Pacific Beach. Brown Military Academy, the former college campus, is in the foreground with the land once covered by lemon ranches beyond. The acre lots originally owned by Wilson and Bowers are highlighted (San Diego History Center 83:14603-1).

However, major changes occurred in San Diego beginning in 1935 when Reuben Fleet moved the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from Buffalo to San Diego. Consolidated and other local aircraft manufacturing companies experienced explosive growth as demand grew for military aircraft in the years before and during World War II. Tens of thousands of aircraft workers who came to San Diego required homes and many found them in Pacific Beach, only a few miles away from the downtown factories.  In 1942 there was still only the one home on Law and one on Chalcedony but by 1947 houses lined the streets in what had been Acre Lot 34 and today it is hard to imagine that the area could ever have been a ranch, except for the original ranch house that still stands above it all.