A new year can be a time for retrospection, a look back at life in earlier days, especially some significant number of years ago, like a century. A century ago, in 1918, the community of Pacific Beach was thirty years old. The Pacific Beach Company’s opening sale of lots had occurred in December 1887 and since then nearly 500 people had become residents (two years later, in 1920, the federal census counted 464 residents in 138 residences in Pacific Beach). Many residences were clustered around the intersection of Lamont and Hornblend streets, the first district in Pacific Beach to have been improved with concrete curbs and sidewalks in an effort to encourage residential development. This district also contained the community’s school, its two churches, stores, post office, Woman’s Clubhouse and a stop on the railway to downtown San Diego. The most important institution in Pacific Beach at the time, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, was a block away, on Garnet Avenue. Other residents lived on the slopes above this central district in what had been lemon ranch houses, and some lived along the ocean front near the foot of Grand and Garnet avenues where there was also a railway stop. Much of the rest of Pacific Beach, Crown Point and the Mt. Soledad foothills were entirely vacant.
A look back at life in this Pacific Beach of a century ago was provided in the New Year’s Day 1918 edition of the San Diego Union. A story headlined ‘Pacific Beach Delightful Resort Near San Diego – Residents Enjoy Unusual Advantages and Diversions’ included photos and sections devoted to Recreation, Ideal Homesite, Social Features, Industries, and Schools-Churches.
At the top of the page was a photo of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy – ‘a select school for manly boys’. The manly boys, the battalion of cadets, were standing at attention in their dress uniforms in front of the academy buildings, formerly the San Diego College of Letters and later the Hotel Balboa. Capt. Thomas A. Davis had leased the Hotel Balboa building and founded the academy in 1910 with thirteen cadets, and the 70 or 80 cadets who posed for this photo seven years later were evidence of its early success. Below the photo of the academy were photos of other buildings in Pacific Beach; the residences of George Hollister, C. C. Norris, J. J. Richert and J. W. Simmons, the Pacific Beach Reading Club House, the Bay View Apartments (‘where accommodations may be had by visitors’) and a cottage at Ocean Front (‘showing sample of cottage for rent’).
An introduction by Mrs. Laura J. Defrenn, the corresponding secretary of the Reading Club, described Pacific Beach as a pleasing expanse of sunlit hills, shady dells and rolling plains with the murmuring ocean spreading away in seeming infinity of space on the west while on the south and east the vista of mesa, city, shipdecked harbor, majestic mountains and rugged Point Loma presented a picture too beautiful for brush or pen to paint. Homeseekers would be pleased, she said, as the hills on the north and the land gently sloping away south to Mission Bay afforded all kinds of locations in beautiful Pacific Beach. The climate was the most ideal in the world and being a suburb within a few minutes’ ride of San Diego, the city of opportunity, Pacific Beach people had all the benefits of city life, as evidenced by the number of business and professional men who had their homes at Pacific Beach and conducted their business in the city. With a rich alluvial soil, gardens flourished the year round and all kinds of fruits abound so that an energetic man could get a living from the soil, if other ways failed. There were many fine homes and comfortable locations could be obtained for a reasonable price. The streets were bordered with palms and pepper trees and there were many fine fruit orchards. After the rainy season in the winter months the hills and every available spot were ablaze with wild flowers and all vegetation sprung into marvelous growth.
Mrs. Defrenn also noted that another valuable asset of Pacific Beach was its proximity to Camp Kearny, no other place being as near, and people wishing to be near their loved ones in the camp could obtain homes in the ‘village’. Camp Kearny, a huge army base intended for training troops from six southwestern states, had been hastily constructed in 1917 after the United States entry into World War I. The camp was located in the Kearny Mesa area, then called Linda Vista Mesa, and parts of it are now incorporated in the Miramar air station. Soldiers began arriving at the camp in August 1917 but the paved road to the camp from San Diego that became Linda Vista Road was not completed until June 1918, so in January 1918 Mrs. Defrenn may have been correct in claiming no other place was as near the camp as Pacific Beach. She was also apparently correct in thinking people might wish to be near their loved ones. An article in the Union in June 1917 had said that hundreds of Arizona people would become residents of San Diego as soon as Camp Kearny opened. Practically every member of the First Arizona Infantry, a national guard unit that would be training at Linda Vista, was preparing to send family members to San Diego where the majority of them would remain for the entire period of training, and many even after the men had been sent to France.
J. D. Pritchard was a newsman at the Evening Tribune and he was the author of the section on Recreation for the New Year’s Day Pacific Beach story. Stating that a home, like a business, must be protected against the monotony of its daily duties (‘all work and no play, etc.’ applies with equal pertinence to the home and business, he wrote) it was therefore essential in determining an ideal home location to know that the opportunity for ‘play’, recreation or amusement, was conveniently arranged and provided for.
In this respect, Pacific Beach was equipped with the natural facilities to provide most any form of recreation or amusement that the heart might desire, being surrounded by Mission Bay, the ocean, Mt. Soledad and Rose Canyon. According to Mr. Pritchard Pacific Beach perhaps had no rival in the matter of providing free, public bathing accommodations. The citizens of ‘the beach’ had built a substantial pier on the bay front which extended out into the channel of deep water and had two sets of dressing rooms, one for ladies and one for men (the ‘Plunge’ at the foot of Kendall Street). This provided a lively scene daily as scores of enthusiastic bathers indulged in their aquatic frolic (Mr. Pritchard’s interest in bathing extended to bathing attire, and in June 1918 he was a judge at a ‘bathing suit fashion show’ in which the committee wandered around on the beach and tagged those they found worthy of special attention; a photographer then took photos of the girls which the judges used to determine winners based on the shapeliness and personal beauty of the contestant and the ‘economical arrangement’ of the costume).
According to Mr. Pritchard, boating was another favorite form of recreation at Pacific Beach. While the little rowboat would be all-satisfying to some, there were also those who preferred the greater speed and lesser labor of the motor boat, and there are still those of greater courage or love for adventure whose particular idea of pleasure would be driving a launch out through the channel and tasting the briney life on the high seas (courage and love of adventure would have mattered; before the channel between Mission Bay and the ocean was flanked by stone jetties and finally dredged in 1955 this channel was a rough passage that caused numerous accidents, some of them fatal).
Naturally enough, where boating and bathing had been so conveniently and abundantly provided for by nature, fish would likewise abound in quantity and variety (Mr. Pritchard was also a fisherman, and reportedly landed a 34-pound halibut at Point Loma in June 1918). The truant schoolboy would not be alone upon the pier or along the shore, in fact his mother or father would also likely be found there. The borders of Pacific Beach also provided a great resort for the nimrods of the community. Ducks and sea fowls of various varieties haunted the water boundaries while quail, doves and rabbits were found on the brush-covered slopes and hills to the north and canyon tributaries to the east.
Mr. and Mrs. James W. Simmons lived in a house at the corner of Garnet and Bayard featured in one of the photos accompanying the New Year’s article. Mr. Simmons had been a school superintendent and member of the Michigan state board of education and they had chosen Pacific Beach as a retirement home a few years earlier, which presumably qualified him to comment on what made Pacific Beach the Ideal Homesite (Mr. Simmons was also the enumerator for the 1920 census in Pacific Beach). His thesis was that Pacific Beach had the environment that would satisfy nearly every individual. It was within the corporate limits of San Diego and an average of twenty-five minutes from the center of business by auto or car (meaning train; the railroad between downtown and La Jolla passed through Pacific Beach on Grand Avenue and what became Mission Boulevard, although it was discontinued later in 1918). It had an excellent water system, as well as the service of the gas and electric plants, and an excellent school which was part of the city department (the two-room schoolhouse was replaced a few years later, in 1923, by a new elementary school at Emerald and Ingraham streets, later expanded and now the Pacific Beach Middle School). More advanced pupils could attend the Russ High School (now San Diego High School, the only high school in San Diego at the time; Pacific Beach residents began attending La Jolla High School when it opened in 1922 and since 1953 have attended Mission Bay High School on Grand Avenue). There was also an up-to-date naval and military academy where young men from several states received an academic training that prepared them for the state university, West Point and Annapolis.
There were churches, a post office, clubs and a business center with good supply stores in Pacific Beach (these, and the school and military academy, were all within a block or two of Lamont and Hornblend). Both morning and evening papers were left at your door by carrier, and postal and grocery deliveries were made daily. Pacific Beach was on the state boulevard along the coast northward so residents were far from an isolated people (the coast highway, the main route from San Diego to the north, ran through Pacific Beach on Garnet Avenue, Cass and Turquoise streets and would be paved later in 1918). But these essentials did not constitute the larger part of what made Pacific Beach the ideal place for locating a home. According to Mr. Simmons, the topography was ideal; it lay south of the foothills and extended to the ocean on the west and to Mission Bay on the south. The eastern section was somewhat rolling while the western portion was generally level. The land-locked Mission Bay was an excellent place for boating and sailing, and afforded the best fishing grounds to be found in this region. Ducks by the thousands during the seasons of their migration found ample feeding grounds in the bay.
Mr. Simmons added that the charm of the ocean would always be of interest to most people and the ocean front was an ideal place for recreation, rest and pleasure. The long sandy beach was a favorite resort for picnic parties and the ideal place for children to romp and play. The beach was absolutely safe; there was no undertow and no ‘suddenly deepening places’, so that the most timid could go out into the line of breakers. There was no better beach for surf bathing to be found on the western coast. At extreme low tide the beach was about 600 feet in width and composed of sand so clean that the daintiest dress would not be soiled by contact. Those portions where the water had receded were so hard and compact that driving (i.e. a horse and buggy) and ‘automobiling’ were a perfect delight.
Many found sport in surf fishing, especially in the season of the corvina; others never tired of clam digging at low tide. During the open season of the abalone, large numbers were found clinging to the rocks at the north end of the beach. For those who took pleasure in growing things, PB was again the ideal place. The soil was easily worked and one could easily get the evidence of what could be grown by visiting the various places where flowers, fruits and vegetables had been assisted by man’s knowledge and encouragement. As for the view, the outlook from Pacific Beach was both great and pleasing; the broad expanse of ocean, the more quiet waters of the bay, the slopes of Point Loma and beyond the point the Coronado Islands.
For her part, Mrs. Simmons contributed a section on Social Features. The social life of Pacific Beach revolved around its two churches and its clubs. An active and progressive woman’s society was associated with each church, and all strangers were especially made welcome, but the enterprise and public spirit of the women was particularly shown in their excellent club and up-to-date clubhouse. The Pacific Beach Reading Club had been organized twenty-two years earlier and while it was still small, with fifty members, it had always been among the foremost in club affairs of the county (Mrs. Simmons was vice-president and later became president of the club). In the present national crisis (the United States entered World War I in April 1917) it was showing its patriotism by opening the clubhouse to the Red Cross for a work room. Two sewing machines had been purchased for its use and had already done much work in making hospital garments and other needed supplies.
The civic issues of Pacific Beach were looked after by the Improvement Club. This club by its committees kept in touch with all business affairs of a public nature, called public meetings of all the citizens when it is deemed advisable and in general promoted the public interests of the community. Take it all together, Pacific Beach was ‘wide-awake and homey’. There was a spirit of fraternity and neighborliness that is rare and that makes life worth living. The moral and spiritual atmosphere was high and those who lived there agreed that for a home with real neighbors and friends, where one can really live, it is second to none.
Pacific Beach resident J. J. Richert was the author of the section on Industries, and he began by asserting that Pacific Beach, although a small place, was not without industry. There were two grocery stores in Pacific Beach and one in Mission Bay Park addition which did a flourishing business on account of the army and navy academy and the summer resorts along the beach (the two grocery stores in PB were on opposite sides of Grand Avenue at Lamont Street, two blocks from the academy, Ravenscroft’s on the southwest corner and Pratt’s on the northwest; the Mission Bay Park addition is the former race track property east of Rose Creek and Ponder’s grocery was on what is now Garnet Avenue near Mission Bay Drive, opposite the Nite Owl bar). Groceries were not all that the beach could boast, however; there was also a large dairy, which provided not only the home customers but also quantities of milk and cream for San Diego, eight miles distant (Chapman’s dairy, and hog ranch, was on Reed Avenue, between Ingraham and Jewell streets and Pacific Beach Drive).
One of the most beautiful spots of the little town was Miss Sessions poinsettia garden on the top of the hills that form a background for Pacific Beach. They were always in demand and the leading florists of San Diego looked to her for their Christmas supply. There were also Japanese gardens of violets and carnations near the beach. There were several profitable chicken ranches but almost every housewife had her pen of chickens, and freshly laid eggs for breakfast was the result. Leaving Pacific Beach proper and going north a short distance, there were brickyards which furnished San Diego with building material. The bricks and tile turned out there were considered the best in the market. In the same vicinity were several large cattle ranches that extend into the back country and raise hay, grain, corn and vegetables (the brickyards and the cattle ranches, one of them owned by Richert, were in Rose Canyon).
The New Year’s 1918 article about Pacific Beach concluded with a section on Schools and Churches by C. W. Wood (although it is probable that the author was actually Charles M. Wood, an attorney who lived in a former lemon ranch house on Missouri near Lamont Street; the only C. W. Wood in the 1918 city directory was a streetcar conductor who lived on Meade Avenue in University Heights). According to Mr. Wood, Pacific Beach was well supplied with schools and churches. Of the two churches the Presbyterian was by far the older, being the first on the field and with much the largest membership. It had a flourishing Sunday school, two young peoples’ societies of Christian Endeavor, and a Ladies’ Aid and Mission Society (the Presbyterian Church now at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Jewell Street was built in 1941, replacing the original church building on the site). The Methodist Episcopal Church was the younger of the two organizations and though much smaller in point of numbers was nevertheless a ‘wideawake and efficient organization’. It also supported a Sunday school and Ladies’ Aid Society (the Methodist church met in a building that had begun as a dance pavilion on the beach near Grand Avenue, was moved to the corner of Hornblend and Morrell streets in 1897 where it became a lemon packing facility, and was renovated and dedicated as a church in 1907; it was sold and torn down in 1922).
On the subject of schools, Mr. Wood wrote that the public school In Pacific Beach would rank favorably with those of all of San Diego’s flourishing suburbs but by far the liveliest institution of the community, and at the same time Pacific Beach’s most substantial asset, was the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, a high-grade military school which was founded November 23, 1910 by Captain Thomas A. Davis, late of the Sixth United States Volunteer Infantry. From an enrollment of thirteen cadets at the beginning there had been an aggregate attendance, during the seven years of its history, of over 500 students from over 20 states and four foreign countries. Each year a representative of the war department inspected the battalion of cadets and the last report was certainly complimentary, the military zeal and appearance of the cadets being rated as ‘excellent’. Pacific Beach was certainly proud of her military academy.
Many things have changed in Pacific Beach since New Year’s Day 1918. The Hollister house, later owned by Dr. Oscar Kendall, once overlooked Mission Bay at the end of Fortuna Drive where the Crown Point Villa Condos are now and J. W. Simmons’ home has become a parking lot and sunglasses store at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Bayard Street, but a century later the Norris home on Collingwood Drive near Jewell Street and the Richert home at the corner of Diamond and Olney are still standing.
The Bay View Apartment building is still on Shasta Street near La Playa Avenue and although the Reading Club changed its name to the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club in 1929 it still occupies the same clubhouse, also known as Hornblend Hall, on Hornblend between Jewell and Kendall streets. The rental cottage at Ocean Front, however, was demolished just last year and is now the parking lot for a building under construction at the corner of Hornblend and Mission Boulevard. The most important institution in Pacific Beach in 1918, the Army and Navy Academy, is long gone. Enrollment continued to increase in the 1920s and by 1930 several large reinforced-concrete barracks had been built to supplement the original college buildings, but in 1958 the academy moved, the buildings were all demolished and the property was redeveloped as the Pacific Plaza shopping center and Plaza condominium community.
As Mrs. Defrenn had predicted in 1918, homeseekers have been pleased with Pacific Beach and there are now about 50,000 more of them, in 25,000 more homes, which along with paved streets, parking lots and sidewalks have mostly covered over the rich alluvial soil and the spots once ablaze with wild flowers (although some today might question her contention that fine homes and comfortable locations can be obtained for a reasonable price). Miss Sessions’ poinsettia garden no longer exists either, but in its place is Kate Sessions Memorial Park, still one of the most beautiful spots in the little town. The gardens (and truck farms) planted by Japanese residents in 1918 disappeared when those ‘enemy aliens’ (and their U. S. born children) were sent to relocation camps in 1942.
However, the ‘natural facilities’ that provide recreation or amusement still surround Pacific Beach a century later, and although no-one is ‘automobiling’ on the beach today, and the abalone have long since been pried off the rocks, most would agree that there is still no better place on the coast for ‘surf bathing’. Mission Bay has been transformed by dredging and filling and is now an aquatic park famous for boating and other recreational opportunities, although duck hunting is no longer one of them. A century later, the residents of the delightful resort near San Diego still enjoy unusual advantages and diversions.