Crown Point

E. G. Anderson’s 1927 home, one of the first in Crown Point. Screen grab from Google Streetview 2017.

The peninsula extending south from Mount Soledad into Mission Bay, dividing the northern portion of the bay into Sail Bay on the west and Fiesta Bay to the east, is generally known as Crown Point. Actually, that name properly refers to the subdivision occupying the southernmost portion of the peninsula, including both sides of Moorland Drive and the residential blocks to the south. Like other subdivisions in the Pacific Beach area, Crown Point began as a pueblo lot, No. 1802, part of the legacy of the Mexican Pueblo of San Diego which was inherited by the City of San Diego when California became a state in 1850.

Although San Diego’s Board of Trustees had the power to sell pueblo land, there was little demand and few pueblo lots were sold until 1867, when Alonzo Horton visited San Diego, visualized a great city on what was then vacant land next to San Diego Bay, and bought seven pueblo lots totaling 960 acres. In 1869, Charles B. Richards, perhaps imagining a future community on Mission Bay (then called False Bay) purchased Pueblo Lot 1802, 92 acres, as well as Pueblo Lot 1801, another 31 acres that extended north and west around Sail Bay. Richards paid $150 in gold coin of the United States, or a little more than one dollar per acre. But while Horton’s Addition soon developed into the heart of downtown San Diego, Richards’ purchase remained undeveloped for decades.

In 1887 a group of San Diego bankers and real estate operators formed the Pacific Beach Company, bought a number of pueblo lots north of what became Pacific Beach Drive and created the Pacific Beach subdivision. In 1902 and 1903 another pair of developers bought most of Pueblo Lot 1800, in the northern portion of the peninsula between Pacific Beach and Pueblo Lot 1802, and subdivided it as Fortuna Park (the eastern half) and Second Fortuna Park (the western half). Development of Pacific Beach and the Fortuna Park additions with graded streets, concrete curbs and sidewalks, and water mains encouraged residential growth in these sections. Pueblo Lot 1802, however, remained entirely undeveloped and unpopulated.

In 1912 C. B. Richards, described by the Evening Tribune as ‘aged, wealthy and eccentric’, contracted to sell all his San Diego real estate holdings, which included 370 acres in La Jolla and property downtown in addition to Pueblo Lots 1801 and 1802. His friends and family intervened, claiming that he had been defrauded and accepted far less than the property was worth, and petitioned for a competency hearing before the superior court. While on the witness stand Richards testified that he had made discoveries for the prevention of all accidents and allaying all pain, that insurance companies were after him because his discoveries would put them out of business, and that the government had sent secret service men to protect him. He also had discovered the ‘Elixir of Life’. Judge Guy immediately issued an order declaring Richards an incompetent person and appointed a nephew, J. H. Richards, as guardian. The property transfers were canceled.

In 1913 J. H. Richards, the duly appointed, qualified and acting guardian of Charles B. Richards, an incompetent person, did sell Pueblo Lot 1802 to A. T. Sullenberger and Lawrence Sullenberger for $65,000. The San Diego Union reported that the Denver lumbermen had purchased the peninsula extending into Mission Bay and intended to transform the tract into a high class, exclusive residential section. While the subdivision plans were not far advanced, the owners were said to be planning to pave the streets in addition to installing all other modern improvements. However, the Sullenbergers’ plans never did advance and in November 1916 they sold Pueblo Lot 1802 to M. L. Ward, then a state senator.

Charles Richards had died in 1915 and in October 1916 his heirs incorporated the Richards Heirs Company to carry on with his real estate business. In one of its first transactions, the company reacquired Pueblo Lot 1802 from Ward in December 1916. Pueblo Lot 1802 remained under the ownership of the Richards Heirs Company until April 1923, when it was sold once again, to S. L. Tripp. The San Diego Union reported that Tripp, a bank president from Illinois who had spent the last few winters in San Diego and expected to make it his home, intended to subdivide the tract and place it on the market in the next few weeks.

Tripp’s subdivision of Pueblo Lot 1802 did occur, but not in the next few weeks. In December 1925 the Union announced that the city council would visit a proposed new subdivision known as Crown Point, which extends into Mission Bay from Pacific Beach. The question to be determined was whether the bay front all around the point must be left open to the public. Crown Point was one of the prettiest spots around Mission Bay and some of the officials wanted the bay front left to the people.

The map of Crown Point, a subdivision of Pueblo Lot No. 1802, excepting therefrom that portion lying below the mean high tide line of Mission Bay, was accepted by the council in March 1926. The issue of reserving the waterfront for the people was satisfied with a 60-foot public boulevard at the edge of the bluffs surrounding the point: Crown Point Drive on the east and The Riviera (now Riviera Drive) on the west. The other streets in the Crown Point subdivision were not laid out in the typical rectangular grid but instead conformed to the shape of the peninsula, converging on Ingraham Street, the southern extension of one of the main streets of Pacific Beach. The Crown Point streets were narrow, 50 feet wide compared to the 90-foot streets of Pacific Beach and 75-foot streets of the Fortuna Park additions, and there were no alleys. The size of the lots varied, but most were about 60 feet wide and 90 feet deep. Building restrictions were also announced; houses on all lots south of La Cima Drive, and all waterfront lots, would have to cost at least $5000. North of La Cima Drive, the minimum cost was $4000.

Sunday, March 7, 1926 was ‘Discovery Day’ at Crown Point, the ‘Venetian Promontory on America’s Riviera’, the day that San Diegans would get acquainted with a new and unknown residential district ‘the beauty and perfection of which simply beggar description’. Coastlands Company, the developer, wished the public to visualize the fairyland possibilities of Crown Point, when Mission Bay is transformed, as it would be, into a lagoon of sheer romance. The festivities would feature vaudeville stars and radio personalities, and the entire performance would be broadcast from one of the largest portable radio stations on the Pacific Coast. A report in the Tribune a few days later said that Discovery Day drew 7500 enthusiastic San Diegans in 1900 motorcars who purchased $150,000 worth of Crown Point home sites, believed to be an opening day sales record for San Diego real estate.

Advertisements for Crown Point emphasized that it was a ‘highly restricted’ subdivision. In addition to the $4000 or $5000 minimum cost of houses built on the lots, deed restrictions included setbacks from the street and lot lines and a prohibition on pepper and eucalyptus trees, or cypress other than dwarf or shrub cypress. Buildings could only be one story, excepting that a solarium could be above the first story. The lot was to be used for residence purposes only, and only one house or duplex could be put on the lot. No animals other than dogs or cats were allowed, and no poultry other than for domestic use, and then only if confined in a building having four walls and a roof. Finally, the premises could not be conveyed or transferred to any person not of the White or Caucasian race, or even occupied by such a person as a tenant unless in the capacity of a servant.

Despite its beauty and perfection, and an opening day sales record, real estate activity in Crown Point was disappointing at first. Only 39 of the 470 lots were sold and only six houses built in the Crown Point subdivision in its first two years. One of those houses, a stucco cottage and garage valued at $5500, was built for E. G. Anderson in the summer of 1927. Anderson had been president of the American Bronze Corporation in Pennsylvania and invented the four-tube door chime before moving to San Diego. In 1926 he joined John Austin and Frank Rood to form the Austin-Rood Company, which took over final completion of improvements and sale of lots in Crown Point from the Coastlands Company. Like most early Crown Point residences, the Anderson home at the corner of La Cima and Jewell streets was in the Spanish style. Another associate of the Austin-Rood Company, R. E. Struve, also built a Spanish-style home on Crown Point Drive in 1927.

The 1927 Struve home on Crown Point Drive today.

One early Crown Point residence that was definitely not in the Spanish style was built for Paul and Iva Valle in 1929. In 1930 Mrs. Valle opened a tea room in their home called Gray Gables Inn that became popular for luncheon and bridge parties and was particularly in demand for sorority initiations. In 1935 the Valles moved the tea room downtown to be closer to the San Diego Exposition in Balboa Park, and in the 1940s and 50s expanded to become one of San Diego’s most successful restaurant operations. The home on Promontory Street where it all began is still standing, marked with a San Diego historical landmark plaque.

Gray Gables Inn today.

Crown Point’s position at the tip of a peninsula extending into Mission Bay made it relatively remote from central Pacific Beach and, with the bay on three sides, even more remote from downtown San Diego. E. G. Anderson originated a proposal in 1927 that would correct this situation by building a causeway across Mission Bay connecting Crown Point to the downtown area. The causeway would be funded by bonds issued under the Acquisition and Improvement Act of 1925, also known as the Mattoon Act. Although it faced widespread opposition because of its cost and potential impact on Mission Bay, the causeway project was approved in 1929 and completed in 1931.

Although Anderson and other real estate promoters emphasized the benefits of improved access to and from San Diego, the causeway project initially had a negative effect on Crown Point property. Under the Mattoon Act, bonds funding an improvement project were to be paid for by assessments on property in districts benefitting from the project. Crown Point was included in the causeway district, and the assessments added to property taxes to repay the nearly $750,000 construction bond both raised the cost of ownership and reduced the value of property, making some owners unable or unwilling to pay. The Mattoon Act also required that any shortfall in collections for the bond payments was to be ‘pyramided’ or added to the next year’s assessment, which led to further delinquencies and a ‘death spiral’ of ever increasing assessments and delinquencies.

By 1935 the causeway district was over 50% delinquent, including over 300 of the 470 lots in Crown Point (more than 200 of them still owned by Tripp). Faced with a financial crisis, the county engineered a bailout for property owners in the causeway assessment district, issuing new bonds to be repaid by more reasonable district assessments, general property taxes and gasoline taxes, and using the proceeds to buy up and retire the existing causeway bonds at a 50% discount. Final approval of the settlement was voted in June 1937 and on July 4 a ‘bond-fire’ at Pacific Beach celebrated ‘Independence Day’ from Mattoon Act ‘bond-age’.

1937 Cape Cod home in Crown Point today.

A San Diego Union article from July 11, 1937, reported that the week had witnessed the predicted start of home building on a big scale throughout the entire North Shore district, particularly Crown Point. The activity was anticipated following official o. k. of the district by title insurance companies, as the result of the lifting of the Mattoon bonds. Construction had started on a picturesque, two-bedroom building of the Monterey-Cape Cod classic design, financed by the San Diego Savings & Loan Association, which announced that it was completing arrangements for many buildings in Crown Point. According to E. G. Anderson, who had become the prime developer for Crown Point as well as the North Shore Highlands and Congress Heights subdivisions in Pacific Beach, the section had been approved for insured loans by the Federal Housing Administration and nine more builders would be in action within a few days. The Dennstedt Company started a ‘Blue Ribbon’ home, Stallard & Oates an ‘S & O All-American’ home and B. M. Torgerson a ‘Miracle Home’, all in the 3500 block of Yosemite Street. By October 1937, Anderson reported that 42 homesites had been sold and 18 new homes were either being built or planned. The Union published drawings of the new homes, many of which are still recognizable today.

A Dennstedt ‘Blue Ribbon’ home today.

Even with the upswing in building activity in the late 1930s, the Crown Point subdivision was still mostly vacant in 1940, with only 57 addresses listed in the city directory. This was about to change, however. In 1935 Consolidated Aircraft Company had relocated from Buffalo to new manufacturing facilities along Pacific Highway in San Diego, just a few miles from Crown Point over the causeway. Production of B-24 Liberator bombers began in 1940 and increased as the country prepared for a war which eventually came at the end of 1941 and lasted until 1945. Tens of thousands of aircraft workers moved to San Diego, far more than could be accommodated in the existing housing supply. In 1941 the Federal Public Housing Authority stepped in to acquire land and develop temporary housing projects for defense workers in Linda Vista, Frontier (the area south of the causeway, now known as the Midway district), and in Pacific Beach (the public housing project in Pacific Beach, between Olney Street and Rose Creek, was never returned to private ownership and has become the Admiral Hartman Community for military families).

The Federal Housing Authority also made funds available to insure loans for war workers to buy commercially-built homes. These loans were limited to $5400 and were only available in defense areas, like San Diego, and in zones with adequate transportation facilities to workers’ place of business, like Crown Point. In 1943 builders Alden C. Palmer and Alex Oser formed Palmer-Bilt Homes and began buying vacant lots in Crown Point and building their signature three-bedroom homes. In October 1943 they announced that new homes on Crown Point were available to qualified war workers under FHA financing. A model home was open for public inspection. By February 1944 the Union reported that there were 169 Palmer-Bilt homes in picturesque Crown Point, only eight minutes from the Consolidated Aircraft plants. A number were still available and the builders planned to construct 50 more. Each home had a spacious living room with a real, built-in fireplace.

A row of Palmer-Bilt homes today.

By the end of the war in 1945 Crown Point had grown to include over 300 addresses, most of them Palmer-Bilt Homes. Home construction continued after the war and Crown Point, like the rest of the Pacific Beach area, was essentially built out during the 1950s. The 1950s also saw the dredging of the bay and development of Mission Bay Park into a popular recreation area, greatly increasing the desirability of Crown Point real estate. Since then many of the original homes have been remodeled to reflect their added value, but Spanish, Cape Cod and Blue Ribbon homes from the 1920s and 1930s, and rows of the Palmer-Bilt Homes of the 1940s with their distinctive square chimneys, can still be seen along the narrow streets. E. G. Anderson’s Spanish-style home is not one of them, however. After standing for 90 years it has been torn down, except for its chimney, and is destined to become the latest remodeled home in Crown Point.

What used to be E. G. Anderson’s home in Crown Point, August 2017.