Category Archives: People

Loring Hill and the Ashers

Loring Street Hill

Loring Street Hill

Loring Street in Pacific Beach is known for the steep hill which angles up sharply from the coastal plain to the Mount Soledad foothills in the length of a single city block. The panoramic view from the top of Loring Street Hill is one of the reasons that the area is now crowded with expensive new residences, but one home in particular stands out from the rest, and has for nearly ninety years now. Located on the north side of Loring at the very top of the hill, and distinguished by the long flight of steps leading up from the street, this home has been known to generations of PB residents as the ‘Loring Hill House’.

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The Loring Hill House was built in 1926 by Josephus Marion (J. M.) Asher, Jr., a local real estate operator. Asher was born in 1878 in San Diego, one of the first children of American settlers (his older sister Josephine believed she was the first settler child). His parents had been friends with Alonzo Horton in San Francisco and followed him to San Diego in 1869 where the senior J. M. Asher established San Diego’s first nursery and florist shop, later acquired by Kate Sessions to launch her noted horticultural career. J. M. Asher Jr.’s career was also noted, not only for his real estate ventures in Pacific Beach, Bay Park and Mission Beach, but also for pursuits as varied as singing and marksmanship.

In 1905 J. M. Asher, Jr., married Mabel Olive Littlefield in the first wedding to be held at the Hotel Balboa in Pacific Beach, the newly remodeled buildings of the former San Diego College of Letters, built in 1888 but closed in 1891. Both the bride and groom were musically inclined; Mr. Asher was renowned as one of the best bass soloists on the coast and Mrs. Asher was an accomplished pianist (especially ragtime; her composition Cinder-Ella Rag was published in 1910).

The couple had apparently moved to San Francisco where they and her brother Warren Littlefield ‘passed through the horror’ of the great earthquake of April 18, 1906, losing all their possessions and spending several nights in the open air after narrowly escaping death from falling buildings. They retreated to Pacific Beach, where her parents had a home, ‘overjoyed to reach a place where such calamities are unknown’ and planning to remain some time to recuperate from the ‘terrible nervous shock’.

The two brothers-in-law formed the real estate firm of Asher & Littlefield, specializing in Pacific Beach, where they acquired large holdings of property in the first decade of the twentieth century (their trademark was a clover leaf, their slogan ‘you will find the bargains at the sign of the 4-leaf clover’). When Warren Littlefield returned to his native Maine in 1910 Asher continued the business on his own, branching out to Bay Park and subdividing Asher’s Clover Leaf Terrace subdivision in 1913 (where Asher and Littlefield Streets join Morena Boulevard). Also in 1913, Asher acquired the northwest corner of Kendall Street and Reed Avenue in Pacific Beach and built the home with the cobblestone porch that still stands today.

The Ashers' house at Kendall and Reed

The Ashers’ house at Kendall and Reed

In 1914 a syndicate of investors purchased the sandy peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay and subdivided it as Mission Beach. A bridge was built across the opening of Mission Bay and a rail line laid from a connection with the Point Loma Railroad in Ocean Beach across the bridge and as far north as Redondo Court in the new Mission Beach subdivision. The Mission Beach Syndicate planned a beach resort at the far end of the line and to develop this new resort the syndicate turned to Asher, granting him a large slice of North Mission Beach, all of the property between Santa Clara Place and San Jose Place plus the property east of Mission Boulevard between San Jose Place and Tangier Court, all then empty sand dunes. The terms of Asher’s contract required him to set up a tent city, grade and surface the streets, install wooden curbs and sidewalks and construct a bath house, swimming pool and pier, all by October 1, 1916. Asher set up the Mission Beach Tent City Company and went about achieving all of these objectives. For his efforts he has come to be known as the ‘Father of Mission Beach’. He also built a home on Bayside Walk and in 1918 the Ashers moved from Kendall and Reed to their new home at Mission Beach.

The Father of Mission Beach did not entirely turn his back on Pacific Beach, however, and in the 1920s he acquired a portion of Acre Lot 11 adjoining the Pacific Beach reservoir site and Kate Sessions’ Soledad Terrace subdivision (where Kate Sessions was having her own house built at about the same time) and began building the Loring Hill House. A building permit was issued to J. M. Asher in February 1926 for a garage in Acre Lot 11 valued at $1000 (at about the same time a permit for a garage on Hornblend was valued at $150). In June, a permit followed for a stucco residence in Acre Lot 11 valued at $15,000 (while a permit for a board house on Noyes Street was valued at $800).

Construction was completed before the end of the year; a December Mission Beach Notes column reported that Mr. and Mrs. Asher had moved to their new home ‘on the hills adjoining Mission Beach’ and a promotional piece for the North Shore Highlands development included a photo of the Asher residence ‘which commands a typical North Shore Highlands panoramic view of ocean, bays, Point Loma, the city and mountains of old Mexico’ (there was also a photo of the ‘new’ Dunaway building in PB’s ‘business center’). In succeeding years society columns frequently reported luncheons and bridge parties at the Ashers’ residence.

In addition to his business career and his musical achievements J. M. Asher, Jr. was a noted sportsman; he had been a championship swimmer and in 1907 he reportedly caught 30 fish in the surf at Pacific Beach. However, the sport in which he achieved his greatest success was target shooting. In 1923, as a member of the San Diego Rifle and Revolver Club, he competed against a team from the U. S. Marine Corps for the ‘Asher Trophy’, which he had donated to promote greater interest in rifle shooting (this time the marines won). By 1925 he was the ‘high gun’ on the California civilian rifle team that won the national trophy at the National Matches at Camp Perry, the ‘world series’ of shooting sports. He was described as ‘among the nation’s crack shots’ and ‘one of the greatest rifle shots in the world’. He generally won his matches, often with perfect scores, at ranges of 600 or even 1000 yards, and often in competition with active-duty military marksmen. One of the factors contributing to Asher’s success may have been the rifle range that was built into the Loring Hill House; a later real estate listing noted that in addition to being one of the highest spots in Pacific Beach with a million-dollar view, the house included a ‘shooting gallery’ (in addition to riding stables and butler and maids quarters).

However, the Ashers’ residence in their new home above Loring Hill was a limited one, presumably due at least in part to the Great Depression of the 1930s and its effect on the San Diego real estate market. By 1932 they had moved back to their Bayside Walk home and the Loring Hill House sat vacant. In Mission Beach J. M. Asher Jr. took over a gas station on Mission Boulevard which he leased to his son, J. M. Asher II. He also apparently worked there himself; where City Directories had once listed him as ‘Capitalist’, by 1939 he was a ‘station attendant’ at Asher’s Service Station. In 1942, at a time of wartime rationing, Josephus M. Asher was the operator of a service station on Mission Boulevard fined $25 for selling gasoline illegally, in cans that were greater than one gallon and not painted red and labeled ‘gasoline’ in letters at least one inch high.

J. M. Asher, Jr. died in 1954. A brief notice in the San Diego Union described him as a member of a pioneer San Diego family and a developer of Mission Beach. J. M. Asher II enlisted in the Navy during World War II and was lost in 1943 aboard the submarine USS Corvina. When Mission Bay was dredged and reborn as Mission Bay Park in the 1950s one of the coves created by Santa Clara Point, near his parents’ home, was named Asher Cove in his honor (but renamed in the 1960s over the protests of his mother). Mabel Asher sold their Bayside Walk property in 1965 to a group who intended to build the 9-story ‘Asher Towers’, but with public sentiment running against high-rise developments in the beach areas they settled for the three-story condominium which is there now. When Mabel Asher died at 89 in 1969 she was living in a duplex on Diamond Street near Cass and still playing the piano, although failing eyesight prevented her from reading music.

After the Ashers’ departure in the early 1930s the Loring Hill House remained vacant for a few years but since then has been home to a succession of residents including, in 1938, San Diego’s primary Hupmobile dealer. More recently even more imposing homes have been built on neighboring properties, including further subdivisions of the Ashers’ original lot in Acre Lot 11. While these homes may share the view, they can’t claim the heritage of the house which has looked over Pacific Beach (and Mission Beach) from the top of Loring Hill since the 1920s.

Loring Hill House

Celebrity PB Pioneer

 

Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight - Rose Hartwick Thorpe, 1883

Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight – Rose Hartwick Thorpe, 1883

Rose Hartwick Thorpe was famous long before she moved to Pacific Beach. In 1867 Rose Hartwick was a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Litchfield, Michigan who from an early age had shown an aptitude for writing poetry. One night, inspired by the story ‘Love and Loyalty’ in Peterson’s Magazine, she had written the narrative poem ‘Bessie and the Curfew’. In the poem, set in England during the English civil war of 1600s, Bessie risked everything by climbing the slimy ladder to the church tower and clinging to the tongue of the bell as it swung to and fro over the city far below to prevent it from sounding curfew, the time set for the execution of her lover Basil Underwood on suspicion of spying for the royalist Cavaliers:

She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
‘At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die.’
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. “Curfew must not ring tonight!’.

When Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader, road into town, Bessie knelt at his feet and told her story, showing him her bruised and torn hands, and touched his heart with sudden pity, saving Basil’s life:

“Go! your lover lives,” said Cromwell. “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”.

Rose Hartwick’s poetry had appeared in local newspapers before but when this poem, renamed ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’, was printed in 1870 it became a sensation and was reprinted by newspapers all over the country and even in published collections. It became one of the most popular poems of the nineteenth century, familiar to almost everyone.

In 1871 Rose Hartwick married Edward Carson (E. C.) Thorpe, a carriage maker, and they soon had a daughter, Lulo. In the early 1880s the Thorpes moved from Michigan to San Antonio, Texas, where they hoped the warmer climate would improve Mr. Thorpe’s health.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, a transcontinental rail line had arrived in 1885 and the city experienced a huge influx of settlers known as the ‘great boom’. The boom also attracted visionaries who saw the potential for San Diego to become a great city and hoped to participate in shaping its future. Harr Wagner was publisher of the Golden Era, a literary journal based in San Francisco. In 1887 Wagner moved the paper to San Diego, where he began a campaign for civic improvements which included the establishment of an institution of higher learning. He founded a college and arranged with the Pacific Beach Company to integrate it into the community they were planning to develop.

Wagner also reached out to Mrs. Thorpe, an occasional contributor to the Golden Era: ‘He wrote me that they wanted me here, that they were starting the college of letters at Pacific Beach’. So the Thorpes moved to San Diego; in September San Diego Union reported that ‘E. C. Thorpe and Rose Hartwick Thorpe, the author of the “Curfew Must Not Ring”, arrived yesterday and will relocate in this city’. Mr. Thorpe joined Wagner as a director and shareholder of the Golden Era Company and Mrs. Thorpe edited a children’s section called ‘Our Homes’ and contributed poetry to the publication.

The Pacific Beach Company began selling lots in December 1887 with the college as one of the subdivision’s primary attractions. A four-block parcel in the center of the community was set aside and in January 1888 the cornerstone of the San Diego College of Letters was laid. When the college opened in September Mrs. Thorpe recalled that both she and her daughter Lulo attended classes. Both also appeared at other college activities; a reception for the college president in October featured a new poem, ‘Margaret’, by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, author of ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’, read by that gifted lady. At the college’s first commencement the following summer, Miss Lulo Thorpe, daughter of Rose Hartwick Thorpe, the gifted authoress of ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’, read an able and interesting history of the school year.

E. C. Thorpe joined the real estate boom by becoming a dealer in ‘portable houses’, small wooden structures held together by pins rather than nails or screws. Apparently the Thorpes lived in one themselves; reliving the ‘old days’ for PB’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in 1937 Mrs. Thorpe recalled that ‘We moved our portable cottage to Pacific Beach, and we thus became the very first settlers there’.

However, the great boom came to an end in early 1888. E. C. Thorpe later wrote that the depression that followed in the wake of the boom necessitated the closing of the college in 1890 and many moved away so that by the following year only three or four families remained in the college settlement. One of those that remained was the Barnes family, whose sons Edward and Theodore had also been students at the college. The Thorpes and the Barnes were soon to discover a new source of prosperity in Pacific Beach, lemon cultivation. They also became neighbors, their lemon ranches on opposite sides of Lamont Street, between Diamond and Emerald, the Barnes to the west and the Thorpes to the east. In 1895 Edward Barnes and Lulo Thorpe were married and the couple moved to their own lemon ranch next to his father’s, on Jewell Street.

Rose Hartwick Thorpe was a world-renowned celebrity and always in demand at cultural and artistic events but her husband also became popular as a performer, adopting the character of ‘Hans’ and performing recitations in the broken English of a Dutchman. A favorite was ‘Dot Bacific Peach Flea’ (‘Vot schumps und viggles und bites . . . Und keepen me avake effry nights’). The Thorpes frequently combined their talents for public recitations. In 1890 the ‘popular gifted litterateurs Edward Carson Thorpe and Rose Hartwick Thorpe charmed the hearts of their hearers from first to last. ‘Hans’, as usual, convulsed his audience with laughter. The famed authoress of ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’ won her audience, as she always does, by rendering her own compositions’.

Rose Hartwick Thorpe also did her part to improve the cultural environment of the community. In 1895 the ladies of Pacific Beach met at her home and formed a reading club, with Mrs. Thorpe as president. For years the club met at members homes (the members were all women) but in 1911 they built their own clubhouse, now the Pacific Beach Womans Club, at 1721 Hornblend Street.

Lemon ranching dominated Pacific Beach for more than a decade after the college collapsed but when residential growth resumed in the late 1890s E. C. Thorpe also became a building contractor. Much of his business was in La Jolla and in 1901 the Thorpes moved into a cottage he had built there, selling the orchard and home in Pacific Beach to their daughter and son-in-law. In 1906 both families moved downtown, the Thorpes to 3rd Avenue in Hillcrest and then to locations in Mission Hills overlooking San Diego Bay and the Barnes to 4th Avenue, across Upas Street from his parents, who had also sold their Pacific Beach ranch and moved to the city. After E. C. Thorpe died in 1916 Mrs. Thorpe moved back to Hillcrest and later joined the Barnes colony at 4th and Upas. Rose Hartwick Thorpe died in 1939 at the age of 89.

After the Thorpes and the Barnes left Pacific Beach their former home at Lamont and Emerald became the parsonage for the Methodist Church and later the home of ‘Mother’ Davis, whose son, Capt. Thomas A. Davis, was the founder and long-time president of San Diego Army and Navy Academy. In 1957 the old house burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze witnessed by many in Pacific Beach (myself included).

Few people today have heard of Rose Hartwick Thorpe or ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’ but one of her poems may actually have changed the map of San Diego. The shallow lagoon south of Pacific Beach had originally been called False Bay to distinguish it from San Diego Bay, the ‘true’ natural harbor further to the south. Mrs. Thorpe is said to have suggested that ‘Mission Bay’ would be a more fitting name and her poem ‘Mission Bay’ (‘now blue, now gray’) in the August 1888 Golden Era initiated the campaign to rename it. Although the bay was known by both names for years her choice became increasingly popular and False Bay was officially renamed Mission Bay in 1915.

RHT - Autograph