In September 1888 the San Diego Union published an article about a new industry, an important manufacturing establishment to be located at Pacific Beach. According to the Union, an asbestos manufactory would soon be in operation near the driving park. Asbestos was found in large quantities near Elsinore and constituted the base material for manufacturing boiler covering, fire-proof cement and roof-paint. The San Diego Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Company would put in an establishment capable of crushing 8,000 pounds of that mineral per day. A number of men were at work upon the necessary buildings and the enterprise would be pushed forward with all rapidity possible. A spur would be extended from the San Diego and Pacific Beach railroad to the buildings to facilitate shipments. George W. Hazzard of San Diego was one of the prime movers of the new industry and John D. Hoff, of Elsinore, was manager.
The driving park was the race track that was once located north of Mission Bay and east of Rose Creek, and the railroad once circled around the race track over what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet Avenue. The site of the proposed asbestos manufactory was on the north side of the railroad and west of Rose Creek, where Soledad Mountain Road now intersects with Garnet. John D. Hoff had located asbestos mines in Terra Cotta City, near Elsinore, and in 1888 San Diego’s transcontinental rail connection via Colton ran within a few miles of these mines, enabling shipment by rail to the mill on the Pacific Beach railroad. George W. Hazzard was a prominent San Diego businessman and two-time president of the chamber of commerce, with a particular interest in ventures involving mining and minerals. The Pacific Beach Company had donated the property to Hazzard and Hoff, granting Fractional Blocks 173 and 174 of Pacific Beach and a parcel extending 400 feet east of these blocks, in Pueblo Lot 1788, ‘upon the express condition and for no other consideration’ than that Hoff and Hazzard should ‘construct a corrugated Iron Building to be located on the lands herein described and to provide the necessary machinery to carry on the manufacture of Asbestos Goods and Wares’. Said building and machinery were to cost not less than $4000, construction was to commence within 30 days and to be completed and in full operation within 3 months, and the grantees were to maintain and operate such manufactory for a period of 3 years.
Within a month the Union reported that the boiler, engine and pumps for the asbestos works had been tested and all worked satisfactory. The Union also carried advertisements for the asbestos goods offered by the San Diego Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Company, with works at Pacific Beach and mines near Terra Cotta City. The goods included indestructible fire proof roof paint, boiler covering and fire proof cement. Apparently the company did meet its deadline for being in operation within three months and by March 1889 were offering testimonials by ‘well-known persons and manufacturing establishments’ that had their asbestos goods in use. Among the persons and establishments listed were the San Diego College of Letters and the First Presbyterian Church in Pacific Beach, and Harr Wagner, Thos. Cogswell, J. W. Fairfield and Captain Woods, residents of Pacific Beach. The timetable for the Pacific Beach railway listed a stop at Asbestos Works, along with stops at the Driving Park, the College and the Pacific Beach depot near the foot of Grand Avenue.
In October 1889 the asbestos company, now incorporated as the John D. Hoff Asbestos Company, ran another series of ads in the Union, this time featuring asbestos roof paint. One ad claimed that Roofs! Old Rusty Roofs, Leaky Roofs, and even New Roofs could be made to last many years by using Hoff’s Asbestos Fire-Proof Roof Paints – bright red and brown. Another ad asked readers to Look at your Roofs! See if they are Rusty or Decaying. If they were the ad suggested using Hoff’s Asbestos Fire-Proof Roof Paint, which would stop leaks as the fibre of the Asbestos fills all holes and stops the rust microbe and makes a covering that protects it from the acids in the air.
A January 1890 article on the ‘extraordinary developments of one of San Diego’s principal enterprises’ in the San Diego Union singled out the John D. Hoff Asbestos Company as being among the manufacturing industries of San Diego which is specially entitled to the notice of the public. According to the Union, it was little more than a year since the plant was put in, at which point the company’s efforts had been very problematical, but the operations of the institution had become so well established and so widely appreciated that it had come to be regarded as one of the most valuable permanent industries of this section. The company had secured a contract for covering the boilers at Governor Waterman’s gold mine at Stonewall with asbestos (the Stonewall Mine, located under what is now Cuyamaca Lake, was the largest gold mine in San Diego County). There would be 1,800 square feet of surface to cover; the factory was running day and night and the force at the mines had been correspondingly increased.
Production of asbestos paint and other commercial products had also become well established. In May 1890 the Union reported that another large shipment of asbestos goods had been sent down from Pacific Beach and forwarded by steamer to San Francisco. An order had been received from Denver for two tons of asbestos roofing and asbestos paint. The company had applied for patents for its paints and was the only manufacturer who had succeeded in amalgamating asbestos, white lead, zinc and linseed oil. To keep pace with the increase in its business the asbestos company began upgrading its operations in Pacific Beach. In June 1890 the Union wrote that a paint machine had arrived at the asbestos works and was ‘a corker’. The large combination paint mill weighed three thousand pounds and was a combination of three machines of large capacity, producing the paint ground, colored and canned, ready for market; ‘it mixes the paint thoroughly and evenly and grinds finer than can be done by any other process’. It also required more power, and in July 1890 the asbestos works in Pacific Beach replaced its original engine with two new ones to power a crusher and a grinder to work up the asbestos to be mixed into paint. This expansion seems to have run into problems, however, and the Hoff Asbestos Company later sued George W. Beermaker et al for damages resulting from the sale of an alleged dangerous and worthless boiler which is said to have caused delay in the works for a number of weeks over the summer.
The San Diego Union was not the only publication following the story of the asbestos works in Pacific Beach. The Golden Era was an illustrated monthly magazine ‘devoted to the artistic and industrial progress of the West’ which had relocated from San Francisco to San Diego in 1887. An article in the November/December 1890 issue about manufacturing in the San Diego Bay region noted that from Pacific Beach on the northwest, and around the bay to National City, a cordon of plants was growing up within easy reach of railroad and wharf. The John D. Hoff Asbestos Company’s steam manufacturing works at Pacific Beach was one of those plants whose ‘mechanical sinews are waking the echoes, painting their silhouettes of smoke on the sky, and spreading their silvery clouds of steam on the golden abyss of the busy day’. It had been newly fitted with 30-horse engine power and must soon double its room and capacity. The article speculated that the business of utilizing asbestos could be developed and extended indefinitely. The Golden Era also published full-page ads for the asbestos company and its general agents, Story & Isham Commercial Company, illustrated by John C. Hill, the company’s advertising artist.
The Golden Era’s editor was Harr Wagner, who had also been a founder of the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach where he was professor of English. Wagner and his wife Madge Morris, also a writer at the Golden Era, had moved to Pacific Beach and built a home when the college opened in 1888. A special issue of the Golden Era in December 1890 was entirely devoted to a novel by Madge Morris entitled ‘A Titled Plebeian’, and included a testimonial that noted that the author wrote the narrative at her Villa Home, Pacific Beach – made attractive and beautiful – both interior and exterior – by Hoff’s Glossy Asbestos Paints and that the views through her open casement windows reflect on the shores of the Bay – a net-work of buildings – alive with busy men Amalgamating, Packing and Shipping, Hoff’s Asbestos Paints and Lubricants (the Wagners’ home is still standing at the corner of Diamond and Noyes streets, presumably still including a layer of Hoff’s Glossy Asbestos Paint, and still with a view of the bay).
However, that view of buildings alive with busy men producing Hoff’s asbestos paints did not last much longer. The glowing reports about the asbestos industry and the memorable ads for Hoff’s asbestos products disappeared from the Union and the Golden Era after 1890. Perhaps the company did not fully recover from the difficulties and delays surrounding the equipment upgrade to the works in the summer of 1890. San Diego’s ‘great boom’ had peaked in 1888 and the city’s population, potential customers for asbestos paint and other products, had steadily declined since then. Customers for boiler and steampipe coatings, like the Stonewall mine and San Diego’s cable railway, were also failing. In February 1891 the railroad between San Diego and Elsinore washed out and was never rebuilt, cutting off the direct rail link between the mines and processing plant in Pacific Beach. The Story & Isham Commercial Company had been the asbestos company’s general agents, promoting, marketing and distributing the asbestos products, but that support ended when Story & Isham failed in early 1891.
In December 1891 the San Diego Union reported that the Pacific Asbestos Company, described as successor to the John D. Hoff Asbestos Company, had filed articles of incorporation. Although the works would remain in Pacific Beach and John D. Hoff was named as one of the directors, the new company’s main office would be located in Los Angeles with a branch office in San Diego. In July 1892 Hoff sold his half-interest in the Pacific Beach real estate to A. B. Cairnes, then serving as San Diego’s first fire chief, while reserving the ‘right to use the one-half acre of ground now occupied by the Asbestos Works’. George Hazzard deeded his half-interest in the property to Cairnes unconditionally in August. The timetable of the Pacific Beach railroad still listed a stop at Asbestos Works on July 1, 1892, but Asbestos Works was missing from the July 24 timetable.
Although Hoff had reserved the right to use the asbestos works, that right was apparently not exercised, at least not for long. The 1893-94 city directory listed a Hoff John D. Asbestos Co factory in Pacific Beach, but that entry was gone in the 1894-95 directory. City lot books, which list property assessments for tax purposes at the beginning of each year, showed that John D. Hoff owned 4.6 acres in the southwest corner of Pueblo Lot 1788 with improvements worth $2000 in 1892; in 1893 Pacific Asbestos Co. owned ‘1/2 A. in SW Co’ with improvements worth $1500 (and Cairnes owned 4 acres with no improvements). In 1894 Cairnes owned all of the southwest corner with improvements worth $150. $1500 or $2000 was a very large assessment, consistent with a building and machinery that cost ‘not less than $4000’ while $150 was less than the assessment for a typical house at the time, perhaps representing the value of an empty corrugated iron building. These facts suggest that the asbestos works in Pacific Beach had not only been shut down and abandoned by the end of 1893 but had been dismantled and removed, leaving the empty building behind. That building was apparently suitable to be used as a residence; the Union’s notes from Pacific Beach in July 1894 included the fact that the Murrays had moved back into their own cottage on the hill and the asbestos place was without a tenant.
A. B. Cairnes retired from the fire department on his 65th birthday in 1905 and in 1906 began building a home in Block 173, at the northwest corner of the parcel he had purchased from Hoff and Hazzard. When the surrounding area was included in the Bayview Terrace federal housing project for defense workers and cleared in 1941, this house was spared and became the Bayview Terrace community building. The community building burned down in 1957, but some traces of its walls and gateposts can still be seen at the corner of Soledad Mountain Road and Felspar Street. No traces of the asbestos works remain, however, and its location is not known precisely. According to the 1893 lot book it was in the southwest corner of the half-mile square Pueblo Lot 1788. A July 1892 deed described the land on which the asbestos works was located as the ‘E ½ of Block 174 being a subdivision of Pueblo Lot 1788’. Since Pueblo Lot 1788 was never actually subdivided into blocks and Block 174 was actually in the Pacific Beach subdivision, in Pueblo Lot 1789, this was probably meant to describe where the eastern portion of Block 174 would have been if it was a full-sized block of 20 lots and did extend into Pueblo Lot 1788. The dividing line between these two pueblo lots is now the western side of Soledad Mountain Road, so the asbestos works would have been located in or just to the east of Soledad Mountain Road, and just north of Garnet Avenue.