The Richerts in Pacific Beach

The home built in 1914 for Joseph and Margaret Richert and their eight children at the corner of Diamond and Olney streets in Pacific Beach.

In April 1896 Margaret B. Richert purchased lots 13 to 28 in Block 140 of Pacific Beach, the eastern portion of the block surrounded by what are now Diamond, Noyes, Missouri and Olney streets. The Richerts, Margaret and Joseph J., both then 30 years old, moved into a small home on Diamond with their baby daughters Helen and Ruth. A few months later the San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach Notes column reported that the Richerts’ cottage was being enlarged by building an addition of two rooms. Pacific Beach was a lemon-growing center at the time and like most of his neighbors Mr. Richert identified himself in the 1900 census as a lemon rancher. Dr. Martha Dunn Corey, the first physician in Pacific Beach, lived on the western section of the block and resided in the house still standing at the corner of Diamond and Noyes streets. Dr. Corey’s husband George was also a lemon rancher and it is likely that the rest of the block was covered with lemon trees.

The Richerts were active participants in Pacific Beach community affairs. They became members of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church 1894 and Mr. Richert was elected a ruling elder in 1914. Mrs. Richert joined the Pacific Beach Reading Club, now the Pacific Beach Women’s Club. Before its clubhouse was built in 1911 the Reading Club met in members’ homes, and meetings were often held at the Richerts’. Their family also grew with the addition of another daughter, Martha, in 1898 and their first son, Ralph, in 1899. The Pacific Beach Notes column noted in October 1899 that J. J. Richert had built another addition to his cottage.

Although J. J. Richert was counted as a Pacific Beach lemon rancher in the 1900 census, he was also interested in dairy ranching and began to accumulate grazing land in the Rose Canyon area, a few miles north and east of his home in Pacific Beach. This area was part of the pueblo lands of San Diego, a legacy of San Diego’s time as a Mexican pueblo that had been subdivided into pueblo lots of about 160 acres. In June 1897 Richert purchased 40 acre parcels in pueblo lots 1299 and 1300 from George Selwyn and by 1902 had added another 40 acres in each of these lots, leaving him with the east half of lot 1299 and the west half of lot 1300 (La Jolla Village Square is now located within this parcel).

Much of the other property in this area was owned by George Gilbert, also a dairyman, who was married to Mr. Richert’s sister. One of Gilbert’s properties was pueblo lot 1291, where Rose Canyon changes direction from mostly north-south to east-west and where Gilbert had built a ranch house. The Pacific Beach Notes column in the Union frequently noted visits between Mrs. Richert and her sister-in-law Mrs. Gilbert; in October 1898 Mrs. Gilbert was the guest of Mrs. Richert for a few days and in March 1899 Mrs. Richert and her daughters were spending the week with Mrs. Gilbert. Although Mrs. Gilbert died in 1900 the family visits continued; in 1902 Mrs. Richert and family spent part of the week at the Gilbert Ranch and in 1903 the news was that Mrs. Richert had returned home after spending the summer at the Gilbert ranch in Rose Canyon.

In April 1903 J. J. Richert was elected to the San Diego city council as one of two delegates from the First Ward (the First Ward included all of San Diego north of the San Diego River but in those days the only significant population centers north of the river were Pacific Beach and La Jolla). He was appointed to the water and the health and morals committees but he resigned from the council in November 1903 giving as his reason prolonged illness in his family which prevented him from attending to his duties. He was replaced by F. T. Scripps, another prominent Pacific Beach resident.

In the early years of the twentieth century the Richerts family grew some more with the addition of another son, Roy in 1902, and daughter Elizabeth (Bessie) in 1904, followed by two more sons, Joseph J. Jr. in 1906 and Thomas in 1909. The Richerts also continued to spend much of their time at the Gilbert ranch in Rose Canyon. In 1905 Richert and Gilbert joined forces; Gilbert became co-owner of Richert’s holdings in the pueblo lands and Richert became co-owner of the west half of pueblo lot 1301, one of Gilbert’s holdings. A year later Richert became co-owner of three more of Gilbert’s holdings, pueblo lots 1295, 1292 and 1291, the site of the ranch house. In 1908 Gilbert and Richert became co-owners of pueblo lot 1267 and by 1910 three more pueblo lots, 1302, 1303 and 1308, were jointly owned by Gilbert and Richert.

Richert and Gilbert used their land for grazing cattle, but Rose Canyon was also an important transportation corridor between San Diego and the north. The Santa Fe railroad had long held a right-of-way through their ranch and portions of the city’s wagon road to Sorrento Valley also had a right-of-way over their property. As automobiles and trucks became more numerous in the early years of the twentieth century, the city began improving the roads through Rose Canyon. In 1908 Richert transferred a strip of land 40 feet wide through pueblo lot 1299 to the city for road purposes, the first stage of the project that eventually became the Pacific Highway in 1933 and is now Gilman Drive. A year later they granted the U. S. Long Distance Tel. & Tel. Co. a right of way over the same pueblo lot.

In 1909 W. G. Kerckhoff and H. W. Kellar, promoters of Del Mar, proposed a railroad between San Diego and Del Mar which would have followed a route similar to today’s Interstate 5, passing through a 2000-foot tunnel between Rose Canyon and Sorrento Valley. Part of their route passed over land owned by Richert and Gilbert and in 1909 they granted the Kerckhoff-Kellar railway a 175- to 200-foot right of way through their property. The deeds included a clause that the land would revert to them if the railroad was not completed within three years and at least one train each way a day was being operated, and although some grading was done along Morena Boulevard the railroad was never built and the right-of-way was forfeited.

Although the Richerts spent much of their time at what the papers had started calling the Gilbert-Richert ranch in Rose Canyon, they were residents of Pacific Beach and the children attended the Pacific Beach school, where Helen and Ruth Richert were two of the four students graduating with the January class in 1911. Pacific Beach students could continue their education by taking the train to San Diego High School where Martha Richert was among the victors of an inter-class swimming meet in 1916. Boys could choose to attend the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, opened in 1910 in the former college and hotel building a few blocks from the Richerts’ home in Pacific Beach, and cadet corporal Ralph Richert won the prize for individual drill in a military field day there in 1916. At the academy’s graduation exercises in 1918 Ralph was one of sixteen ‘soldierly young men’ who received diplomas.

The Richerts’ eighth child was born in 1909 and although their home on Diamond Street had been enlarged over the years it was evidently too small for the family and in 1914 they built a much larger house at the corner of Diamond and Olney streets. The new J. J. Richert residence was one of the showplaces of the community and its photo was featured along with the Norris home, the Hollister (Kendall) home and the Army and Navy Academy in a story headlined ‘Pacific Beach Delightful Resort Near San Diego’ in the Union on New Year’s day 1918.

George Gilbert died in 1911 and J. J. Richert assumed sole ownership of their holdings in Rose Canyon. In 1912 he acquired another pueblo lot, 1278 (where University City High School is now located). However, the dairy business was suffering from rising costs for everything from feed to milk bottles and caps, and in July 1917 Richert was one of the United Dairymen of San Diego County who signed their names to an advertisement in the San Diego Union requesting unanimous support on the part of the consumer to an increase in the retail price of milk (to 7¢ a pint or 13¢ a quart). Richert also looked for other commodities that could be produced on his ranch lands. In 1918 he became a director of the Encinitas Bean Growers Association, which pledged that 40,000 acres of land in the county would be planted to lima beans. The Union reported that an educational food production tour under the auspices of the county farm bureau stopped at the ranch of Joe Richert of Rose Canyon, a grower of bush lima beans, where from 20 to 30 sacks per acre were harvested. The rancher told of his seed selection, method of planting and cultivation.

In 1920 Richert increased his holdings in Rose Canyon by purchasing a portion of pueblo lot 1277 and additional acres in pueblo lot 1267. A number of other pueblo lots near Richert’s holdings were still city property and the city had passed an ordinance in 1908 freezing sales of pueblo lots until 1930. Richert petitioned the city council to lease these lots instead, and in 1922 he was granted leases to pueblo lots 1272, 1273, 1279, 1304 and 1306. By 1924 Richert owned all or part of 15 pueblo lots, amounting to over 1700 acres in the Rose Canyon area, and leased the 5 city-owned pueblo lots with more than 750 additional acres adjacent to his land.

View of the former Gilbert-Richert ranch from Mount Soledad about 1953. The ranch buildings can be seen among the trees in the canyon. This area is now covered by a freeway and housing tracts.

After the United States entered World War I in 1917 the army built a huge training base in what was then called the Linda Vista mesa, a few miles east of the Richert ranch (the Miramar air station now occupies a portion of this area). Thousands of soldiers passed through Camp Kearny and some of them apparently found opportunities to fraternize with their neighbors. In December 1919 the Richerts’ eldest daughter Helen was married to Andrew Pittman, formerly a lieutenant of the U. S. Army artillery corps who had been stationed at Camp Kearny. In 1921 their daughter Martha married Evan Carey, also a former artillery officer at Camp Kearny. The weddings took place in the Richerts’ home and were officiated by the minister of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, where the Richerts were long-time members.

Ruth Richert was married in 1923, not to a former soldier but to former neighbor Fred Corey, the son of Martha Dunn Corey. The Richerts’ eldest son Ralph was married in 1924 to a woman he had met when both were students at the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). Another Richert son, Roy, attended San Diego High School where he starred as a tackle on the football team. He was described as a silent, savage fighter who hit the line hard and crashed through opponents. He also attended the Oregon college and starred on the Aggie football team where he was named captain in his senior year. He was married on New Year’s Eve 1927 in the St. Francis chapel at Balboa Park. Roy Richert turned down a chance to become the football coach at San Diego High and instead became a coach in Oakland. Elizabeth (Bessie) Richert married James Bowers, a dentist, in 1928, and moved to Monrovia. In 1935 the Richerts’ youngest son Thomas, a star athlete and medical student, married Loretta Turnbull, world’s champion woman speedboat pilot, in St. James-by-the-Sea Church in La Jolla. The Union reported that after a short reception the couple boarded the Turnbull yacht for a brief honeymoon in local waters before motoring to Montreal where he would complete his medical studies.

Joseph J. Richert died in January 1936. His obituary in the Union noted that he had come to San Diego in 1887, spent most of his life here as a rancher, and owned extensive property in Rose Canyon. Margaret Richert died in 1951 at her home on the corner of Diamond and Olney streets. The home is still standing today, recently restored to its former glory.

In 1940 Mrs. Richert had sold the ranch property in Rose Canyon to George Sawday and Oliver Sexson, ‘cattle barons’ who already ran large herds around Ramona, Julian and Warner Springs (and at the nearby Los Penasquitos ranch). However, the pueblo lands around Rose Canyon were also in the path of San Diego’s urban growth and cattle ranching was not to be part of the plan. In 1956 San Diego voters approved a proposition authorizing the sale of pueblo land on Torrey Pines mesa to the University of California for a San Diego campus, and in 1960 the university regents voted to acquire the land and begin development of UCSD. The city also developed a master plan for a University City to surround the new campus and provide housing and commercial services for the tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff expected to be attracted to the university. This new city would extend east and south of the campus as far as San Clemente Canyon, most of it on land once owned or leased by the Richerts. Development began in the 1960s with the University City housing tract and is still underway, most recently with construction of a new San Diego trolley line through Rose Canyon to the university.

Approximate location of pueblo lots in the La Jolla Village and University City area today. Lots once owned by Richert are outlined in red; lots outlined in green were leased from the city (Google Maps satellite view)