Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach

In 1887 a group of wealthy San Diego businessmen formed the Pacific Beach Company, which acquired several square miles north of Mission Bay, drew up a subdivision map and began selling lots in the tract they christened Pacific Beach. The map showed Pacific Beach extending from the ocean nearly to Rose Creek and divided into rectangular blocks separated by north-south streets and east-west avenues. The map also showed a railway line then under development by the same group of businessmen which circled around a race track on the other side of Rose Creek, slicing through several of these blocks and passing through the center of the community to a depot near the beach. On the map the railway’s right of way was called Grand Avenue. The founders named the avenues south of Grand after themselves and north of Grand they were mostly named for states. The streets were numbered, from First Street near the beach to Seventeenth Street near the creek, except for Broadway, between Eighth and Ninth streets. Since the company had granted the railway a 40-foot right of way along its centerline Grand Avenue was made wider than most other avenues and streets in Pacific Beach, 125 feet instead of the standard 80 feet. The railway and Grand Avenue departed from the rectangular street pattern east of Eleventh (now Lamont) Street to bypass the race track. Today the railway is gone and what was originally called Grand Avenue east of Lamont has become Balboa Avenue. Grand now continues straight from Lamont to beyond Rose Creek over what was then called Ivy Avenue.

The Pacific Beach Company intended for the community to develop around a college opened in 1888 on a campus two blocks north of Grand at College (now Garnet) Avenue and Eleventh Street, and the railroad located a station on its right of way just west of Eleventh that became known as the College Station. C. E. Frost opened a store nearby carrying stationery, notions, and a supply of food items. The railroad also built a siding on the east side of Eleventh where the Pacific Beach Lumber Company set up a lumber yard to supply home builders in Pacific Beach (where the 7-Eleven market is now). Fannie Gleason purchased the lot next door and built one of these early homes, one that is still standing and is now Mamma Mia’s restaurant. Further west on Grand, a grocery store, which also served as the community post office, was opened at the southeast corner of Eighth (now Haines) Street. These businesses were advertised in The College Rambler, the student newspaper in 1889. In 1893 San Diego’s board of aldermen also ordered a water trough to be installed at Eleventh Street and Grand Avenue.

The railroad had its terminus at the foot of Grand Avenue, which is also where the Pacific Beach Company had built a hotel and dance pavilion. The track (and Grand Avenue) actually curved south at Second (now Bayard) Street to what was called the Depot Grounds, which included the railroad’s engine shed. The hotel was located in Lot A, between this curve and the avenue that continued straight from Second to the beach, then called Elm Avenue. In 1893 the railroad extended the line to La Jolla, turning north at Second to a right of way along First Street (later Allison Street and now Mission Boulevard). Elm Avenue later disappeared from maps and Grand Avenue was shown continuing straight to the beach.

In 1896 the Pacific Beach Company sold the hotel and dance pavilion at the beach and also half of the block east of Eleventh and north of the lumber yard and Gleason’s home to Sterling Honeycutt. As part of the deal, Honeycutt was required to move the hotel and pavilion from the beach to this new location. The buildings were moved in early 1897 and the hotel was put down on the west side of the block, at Eleventh Street and California Avenue (now Hornblend Street) and the pavilion on the east side, at California and Twelfth (Morrell) Street. At the same time the College Station depot was enlarged and ‘beautified’ and the San Diego Union reported that the changes had ‘greatly improved the appearance of this place’. Since Grand Avenue, and the railroad, sliced diagonally through the south half of the block, the pavilion building ended up next to the railroad siding and Honeycutt converted it to a lemon curing, packing and shipping plant (in 1907 it was converted again, into a Methodist church).

Also in 1896, Frost sold his grocery store and post office at the College Station and W. F. Ludington became the grocer and postmaster. The store was enlarged and in 1901 it was taken over by E. Y. Barnes, a former student at the college, who also became the postmaster. In 1904 W. P. Parmenter and his sons-in-law the McCrary brothers built another store on the southwest corner of Grand and Lamont. This store was a substantial two-story building made of cement blocks. When Barnes left Pacific Beach in 1905 the McCrary store became the post office, with Parmenter as postmaster, and Clarence Pratt took over the store on the north side from Barnes. When Robert Ravenscroft acquired the McCrary store in 1913 the post office moved back across Grand to Pratt’s store and Pratt became postmaster. These stores remained at the corner of Grand and Lamont until the mid 1920s, when the post office moved and Ravenscroft built a new grocery, both of them on Garnet Avenue. The cement block store on the south side of Grand later became the Full Gospel Tabernacle before being replaced by a gas station in the 1950s.

Pacific Beach was not the only subdivision in San Diego to have a Grand Avenue, or numbered streets, or avenues named for states. In 1899 the city had adopted a policy to require street names throughout the city to be unique, and in 1900 a city ordinance changed the names of most of the streets and avenues in Pacific Beach. The numbered streets were all renamed after statesmen, from Allison to Randall, and the state-themed streets north of Grand were renamed for gemstones. College Avenue was also renamed for a gemstone; Garnet Street (now Avenue). Grand Avenue and the avenues south of Grand retained their original names (and the Grand Avenue in La Jolla became Girard Street). Broadway, the main north-south street, was renamed Izard Street but this name was apparently unpopular and it later became Ingraham Street.

In the early years of the twentieth century the Folsom brothers, Murtrie and Wilbur, purchased most of the Pacific Beach subdivision, nearly 100 blocks and over 650 acres, and began an ambitious program of development and improvement in an effort to stimulate sales of residential lots. Much of their development effort involved street improvements, particularly in the College Station area, then the heart of the community. In 1907 the city council granted a petition by property owners fronting on Grand Avenue between Lamont and Ingraham streets to grade that section of Grand at their own expense. The list of property owners included the Folsoms, Pratt, Parmenter and the McCrarys, and also C. L. Boesch, who in 1906 built the home that is still standing at the northeast corner of Grand and Jewell Street. Streets were graded by gangs of men and teams of horses cutting and filling to bring the surface of a street to the grade or elevation established by the city engineer. In the days before automobiles few streets were paved, but in 1908 the council also ordered curbs and sidewalks on Grand Avenue between Lamont and Ingraham. Some of these sidewalks can still be seen.

The Pacific Beach race track had been built on the east side of Rose Creek in 1887 and the railway from San Diego had looped around it before angling southwest toward the College Station at Lamont Street. However, the race track had been unsuccessful and had repeatedly been washed out by flooding of Rose Creek. In 1906 it was sold to a group of investors who subdivided the property as Mission Bay Park, which extended Pacific Beach avenues, including Grand and Ivy, into the new subdivision. With the race track no longer an obstacle, the railway company shortened the route to Pacific Beach with a cutoff through the former race track on Ivy Avenue, continuing west to Lamont. Service over the new line began in 1907.

Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway train on Ivy Avenue right of way, now Grand Avenue, about where Mission Bay High School is now, in 1914 (San Diego History Center photo, #91:18564-1666)

In 1910 the city council ordered Grand to be graded from Pendleton Street to the Ocean Front and contractors Clouse and Goodbody completed the work in September of that year at a cost of $9552. At its highest point around Broadway (Ingraham) the grade was lowered substantially; the Evening Tribune reported that property owners were building retaining walls in front of their properties on Grand Avenue since the grading had made a six-foot cut in front of their properties. Some of these retaining walls, made of cobblestones, are still standing on the south side of Grand between Ingraham and Haines streets, with the yards and homes behind them standing on the natural surface of the land, several feet above the street.

By 1912 automobiles were becoming more common and the city engineer was asked to recommend the most feasible route to connect San Diego with the state highway to be constructed north from Del Mar. His report concluded that a coastal route, via Pacific Beach, La Jolla and the Torrey Pines grade, was preferable to a route through Rose Canyon. The coast road was relatively level, except for the Torrey Pines grade itself, and would be easier to grade and maintain. It was also considered an advantage that the coast road passed through a populous district and would thus accommodate local as well as through traffic. The Rose Canyon route was built as a wagon road ‘before the automobile was dreamed of’ and although it was about four miles shorter it was a ‘side-hill’ road carved into the slopes of Mount Soledad with many sharp turns. The engineer argued that since 90 per cent of travel was then by automobile, a straight alignment, allowing higher speeds, was preferable to a shorter distance.

In 1914 the council authorized the city engineer to submit plans and specifications for paving Grand Avenue and Cass and Turquoise streets in Pacific Beach as part of this route.  However, a delegation of Pacific Beach property owners appeared before the council with a request to change the routing of the proposed coast highway from Grand to Garnet Avenue. Their main objection was that Grand Avenue was divided by the tracks of the La Jolla railroad and was undesirable for automobile traffic. Nevertheless, in November 1914 the city council passed a resolution of intention to pave ‘with an asphaltic oil wearing surface, laid upon a concrete base’ the roadway of Grand Avenue, except for the 40-foot strip of land in the center of Grand under the control of the railroad, by then called the Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railway. This work was to be funded by assessments on property owners in the district deemed to benefit by the improvement of Grand Avenue, which was essentially all of Pacific Beach and Fortuna Park.

A. R. Pease, secretary of the San Diego Beach Company, successor to the Folsom brothers as owner of much of this property, sent a postcard to Pacific Beach property owners noting that an expense of over $60,000 would be chargeable against a district in which their property was located. His company and other large owners of property desired to protest against doing the work during those ‘times of financial stringency’. ‘Will you join with us in the protest? If so, sign and return annexed return card at once’. More than 900 property owners signed the protest and in February 1915 the council met and sustained the protests. The resolution to pave Grand Avenue was repealed. The city eventually agreed that since the coast highway was of value to the entire city half of the cost of the paving would be paid from the general fund. The council also agreed to alter the route, and the coast highway, via Garnet and Cass streets, was finally paved in April 1919.

Also in 1919, after years of declining service, the Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railway was abandoned and the tracks taken up and shipped to Japan as scrap. The right of way, 40 feet in width, 20 feet on each side of the tracks, was quitclaimed and restored to the city in June 1923. In 1924 the San Diego Electric Railway Company opened a fast streetcar line that entered Pacific Beach via Mission Beach and continued over the route of the original railway on Allison Street toward La Jolla.

The coast highway and fast streetcar line improved access to Pacific Beach and attracted the attention of a new set of real estate promoters, who planned to transform the beach area by building a ‘pleasure pier’ at the end of Garnet Avenue and developing a new business center around the intersection of Garnet and Cass. In 1925 work was begun on Crystal Pier and Dunaway Pharmacy was opened to anchor the new business district. The promoters also pressed the city for street improvements in the area and in April 1927 a contract was awarded to E. Paul Ford to pave the streets and alleys extending from the beach to Cass Street between Emerald Street and Thomas Avenue, including Grand Avenue. Wider than the other streets, the pavement on Grand west of Cass was divided by an unpaved island in the center. Diamond Street was paved between Cass and Pendleton streets in 1926 and streets were paved in mid-1920s real estate developments in other areas of Pacific Beach, like North Shore Highlands, Braemar and Pacific Pines, but Grand Avenue east of Cass Street remained unpaved for decades.

For fifty years, from 1887 to 1937, Grand Avenue had followed the route of the original Pacific Beach railroad, straight between the beach and Lamont Street then angling northward toward Garnet Avenue and curving around the race track east of Rose Creek. On the map the continuation of the roadway east of Lamont had been called Ivy Avenue. In 1907, after the race track was abandoned, the railroad was realigned to run across the former track over Ivy Avenue to Lamont. In 1937 the map was changed and the section of Grand Avenue east of Lamont was renamed Balboa Avenue. Ivy Avenue was renamed Grand Avenue.

The newly renamed section of Grand Avenue east of Lamont Street had been graded in 1907, and between Noyes and Olney streets the grade was lowered over 10 feet leaving adjoining lots far above the street. However, there were no residences or other improvements along the former Ivy Avenue and no bridge over Rose Creek, so this section of Grand was unused and was not even shown on gas station road maps. In 1941, during World War II, the federal public housing authority expropriated most the land east of Olney Street in Pacific Beach, including both sides of Grand Avenue, for a temporary housing project for defense workers. The Bayview Terrace project eventually included over 1000 ‘demountable’ homes and a new street system, including two blocks of Grand Avenue east of Olney. However, this section of Grand did not extend across Rose Creek to join Pacific Highway.

When Pacific Beach was founded in 1887 Mission Bay was a shallow estuary at the mouth of the San Diego River, much of it covered in mud flats. Dredging projects had begun as early as the 1920s to deepen the bay and utilize the material removed from the bottom to build up and shape the shoreline and create islands. By the late 1940s the west side of the bay had been dredged it to a depth of 8 feet, with points and bays created along the western shore and an island created in the middle. In 1948 work began on the eastern side of the bay, and the dredging spoil was deposited on shore in the vicinity of Rose Creek, creating De Anza Point and Cove and building up nearly 200 acres of land extending from the bay to Grand Avenue. Mission Bay High School and the baseball fields, tennis courts and golf course bordering Grand were built on this fill.

The high school opened September 1953 but even before it opened Pacific Beach civic organizations had approached the city council about paving Grand Avenue and extending it to Pacific Highway, citing the ‘already bad situation’ and the ‘condition which will develop’ with the opening of the new school. In June 1954 the council responded by passing a resolution to pave Grand between Cass and Ingraham with three inches of asphalt concrete over a six inch cement base. The contract was awarded to Griffith Company in September 1954. This was followed by a resolution to pave Grand between Ingraham and the high school In May 1955. This project also specified a two inch asphalt concrete surface to be laid in a raised island between curbs in the center. That contract was also awarded to Griffith in September 1955. From the high school to Pacific Highway, including a bridge over Rose Creek, a joint venture involving R. E. Hazard and Company and W. F. Maxwell Company was awarded a contract in February 1955. By the end of 1956 Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach was paved from end to end.

Grand Avenue and Lamont Street, once the site of the College Station and PB’s stores, post office, lumber company and water trough