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Spanish Flu in San Diego

Like the rest of the world, San Diego is suffering from the coronavirus pandemic which arrived in North America in early 2020. Once infected with the highly contagious virus, some people may have mild or even no symptoms while others experience severe respiratory distress which may develop into pneumonia and, particularly for the elderly and those with existing health issues, death. As yet there is no vaccine or cure and the only defense against its continued spread is ‘social distancing’. In San Diego and elsewhere this has taken the form of increasingly restrictive orders to prevent gatherings and require people to remain separated by at least six feet. Schools were closed, sports events were cancelled, restaurants and other gathering places were shut down. Only businesses deemed essential remain open, with employees required to wear face masks. People are supposed to stay home, and to wear a mask if they do leave home for essential activities. As of mid-April 2020, social distancing seems to be slowing the rate of infections but at the cost of massive disruption to the economy and to people’s lives. The current coronavirus pandemic and the official response to it is not entirely unprecedented, however. In 1918 the Spanish influenza epidemic entered the United States from Europe and eventually spread to San Diego, where thousands of people were infected and hundreds died. Then, as now, there was no cure for the disease and health authorities resorted to social distancing measures to control it.

The Evening Tribune first reported in mid-September 1918 that extensive epidemics of influenza had occurred at several army camps on the east coast and might be expected to appear in other camps soon. A few days later, an editorial in the San Diego Union noted that Spanish influenza had assumed epidemic proportions of virulent character in Europe and along the eastern coast of the United States, where it was prevalent in military training camps, but had not appeared anywhere in the west except for eleven cases from an army camp in the state of Washington. The Union quoted from a letter sent to a San Diego woman by her brother, a doctor in Berne, Switzerland, where there were 10,000 sick out of a population of 100,000. According to the doctor, the first precaution was to avoid infection by forbidding all assemblies, including theatres, concerts, churches and street crowds. Everyone should converse with their neighbor at a distance (the doctor added that kissing was almost unknown, indulged only by recklessly frivolous persons). The Union added that San Diego’s board of health had received ample warning and were taking every precaution in local camps and communities.

In the fall of 1918 the world was at war, with an alliance led by the British empire and France fighting imperial Germany on the western front in France and Belgium. The United States had entered the war on the side of Britain and France in 1917 and large numbers of troops were trained in camps around the country, including in and around San Diego, before being sent overseas, where they played a major role in bringing World War I to an end on November 11. In San Diego, the navy had taken over Balboa Park for one of these training camps, and since influenza seemed to spread through the movement of recruits through camps the first local precaution against influenza was to place the naval training camp in Balboa Park under a strict quarantine. The quarantine imposed on September 25 would be kept in place until all danger of an epidemic had passed. No civilians would be permitted to enter the grounds and sentries were posted at all the park gates. Although a number of suspected cases had been placed in isolation wards, officers initially declared that no actual cases had been discovered among the 5000 men in camp.

The San Diego area was also the site of a huge new army base; Camp Kearny had been set up in the summer of 1917 as a National Guard training center at a then-remote site that has since become Camp Elliott and the Miramar air station. By September 1918 over 30,000 troops were stationed at the camp, at a time when the civilian population of San Diego was about 75,000. In late September the Union reported that the strictest sort of a watch was being maintained at that camp for anything looking like the Spanish influenza, but that nothing which could be identified as such had appeared. No camp quarantine had been established and the medical authorities were loath to resort to one. On October 9, however, a quarantine was established as a precautionary measure, directing no officer, enlisted man or civilian to leave the camp. The camp still had no cases of Spanish influenza of its own but two cases were brought there by soldiers arriving from an eastern camp where it had been prevalent. They were placed in quarantine and others had had no communications with them.

A partial embargo was also imposed on Fort Rosecrans, the coast artillery base on Point Loma. Officers and men were forbidden to go to Los Angeles or attend theatres or other public gatherings in San Diego. The embargo would be extended to a real quarantine if the ‘menace’ approached any further from the north. Meanwhile, the funeral for the first San Diegan to die of Spanish influenza was held on October 1. Dr. Gordon Courtenay had been commissioned a lieutenant in the navy and had been assigned as chief surgeon on a warship, but the night before his ship was to sail he was suddenly taken ill. He had contracted the disease from ‘bluejackets’ he had been treating in Boston and died in Brooklyn on September 20.

The city board of health issued a bulletin on October 2 stating that the present pandemic seemed to exhibit an unusual virulence and that the gravity of the situation on the eastern seaboard had prompted the board to adopt all measures at their command for its control on this coast. Accordingly, under section 2979 of the political code, influenza was made reportable and all physicians must report cases to the health department immediately. Although no influenza cases had yet been noted in the San Diego newspapers, the board of health moved on October 12 to forbid all public gatherings in San Diego by closing theatres, moving picture shows, schools, dance halls, churches and bath houses. The school board, theatre managers and ministers were said to be in support of the plan and no violations of the order were expected. It was believed that by preventing large bodies of people from congregating indoors all danger of the spread of influenza would soon be eliminated. The order did not affect saloons; the health office stated that ‘men do not congregate in saloons in large numbers’ and the order was to ‘discourage or prevent large gatherings, such as was held last night in the interest of the anti-single tax measure’. A request to hold outdoor church services in Balboa Park was also turned down and the state convention of the Elks in San Diego was cancelled.

By October 14 the health board restrictions were extended to prohibit public funerals; hereafter all burials would be private. High school football games were cancelled for two weeks. Fort Rosecrans and the navy flying school on North Island were put under quarantine. By then 63 cases of influenza, but only one death, had been reported to health authorities, who were optimistic that they would clean up the scourge and schools could reopen the next week. The optimism seemed misplaced, however. The next day’s report was that there had been three deaths and a total of 103 cases, which the Tribune noted were mostly of Mexicans or ‘people of small means’ who were apparently ignorant of the symptoms and made no effort to secure proper treatment. The health department also ordered reading rooms of the public library system to close. Libraries would remain open for books to be issued and returned but all windows in the library buildings would be open and every book returned from a household where a case of influenza had existed would be thoroughly fumigated before putting it back in circulation. The restrictions in place on crowding had one interesting side effect; the Tribune noted that October 16 was the greatest opening day for duck hunting in many years as the influenza quarantine bans about everything other than the healthful field sports.

On October 16 the Tribune reported that only 22 cases had been reported against 26 the day before and that the authorities now believed that the tide had turned and that within a very short time the malady would pass to such an extent that the quarantine could be lifted. However, further precautions were being taken including closing the public market where farmers sold their wares and requiring masks on employees of large stores. The next day, as the influenza situation did not improve, more drastic regulations were imposed. Every server to the public, including clerks, waiters and waitresses, barbers, and bartenders, must wear the gauze face mask. Spectators would be excluded from trials. 56 new cases and 2 deaths were reported, including 4 cases from the navy training camp at Balboa Park. With 212 cases and 10 deaths so far, new regulations were laid down by the board; gatherings of a purely social nature, such as bridge parties, were ‘absolutely taboo’.

As the number of influenza cases grew, existing medical facilities were overwhelmed, and on October 19 it was reported that the Fremont school in Old Town was being made into a temporary receiving hospital. Desks were being removed and the rooms were being overhauled under the direction of the Red Cross. The new hospital would be for receiving and treating influenza patients and would have a capacity of 80 beds. It would be operated under the direction of E. Chartres-Martin, city health officer, assisted by a corps of volunteer physicians and surgeons. When the Fremont hospital opened on October 21 the Tribune reported that it would be designated an isolation hospital and that all influenza cases were to be isolated and treated there with a view to preventing further spread. Meanwhile, the health board reported that the number of new cases had been ‘almost stationary’ over the last several days, with daily totals in the 40s, which suggested that the outbreak would soon be curbed. Still, the board would take steps to strictly enforce precautions to prevent further spread of the malady, particularly the wearing of face masks would be insisted on and enforced, in spite of criticism.

The face mask order took effect on October 26, 1918, and required every individual in any office or place of business where he or she came into contact with the public to wear a gauze face mask. However, with 55 new cases and four deaths, the progress of the disease showed no signs of let-up and the health board urged citizens to continue to take every precaution to combat the disease. One of the new cases was the city health officer, Dr. Chartres-Martin, although his attack was considered mild and he was considerably improved by October 28. When the health department made public figures on October 30 showing 61 new cases of Spanish influenza, the increase was laid almost entirely to growing laxity in the use of the gauze masks. The department warned that unless every preventive measure was carried out, including wearing masks, no effort could be made to lift the quarantine at the different army camps. At Camp Kearny, 36 new cases of influenza were counted, as well as 21 cases of pneumonia and four deaths. There were 750 cases in the base hospital and the total number of influenza cases in camp since the epidemic began was 3242. There had been a total of 50 deaths.

The influenza epidemic continued its spread both at Camp Kearny and in San Diego in the first week of November. In camp on November 9 50 new influenza cases were taken to the base hospital and there were six deaths, making a total of 3404 cases and 64 deaths. In San Diego on November 12 there were 57 new cases and one death. However, Dr. Chartres-Martin did not consider the sudden rise in the number of cases to indicate that the influenza had returned to the epidemic state; ‘On the contrary, that stage has passed and we have now to deal with cases of mild form which will soon be cleared up’.  The quarantine which had closed theatres, churches and schools was set to be lifted on November 18 and Dr. Chartres-Martin maintained that the situation did not warrant its extension. Public schools would remain closed, however, since state law apparently prohibited opening any public schools unless all were opened and the Fremont school was still being used as a hospital from which the 40 or more patients could not be moved. Health authorities had begun fitting and furnishing the office and bottling building of the recently closed Mission Brewery as an isolation hospital for 100 influenza patients and when the building was ready patients at the Fremont school would be moved and schools could be reopened.

Although regulations intended to prevent crowding were still in effect on November 11, news of the armistice ending World War I brought out the largest crowds ever seen in San Diego to that time. According to the San Diego Union, men, women and children, hundreds of them in scant attire, rushed from their homes breathlessly to read the tidings that victory had rewarded the Allied arms. Celebrations continued through the long, exquisite day and far into the night as humanity poured into the streets in innumerable streams, lighted by faces radiant with happiness long deferred. Thousands of homes gave forth their precious occupants, who gravitated to the business section. Aged and stooped men and women and dignified professional men strode the sidewalks shoulder to shoulder with men who wore marks of hard toil. In the afternoon the crowds lined the curbs to cheer units of army, navy and marines marching down Broadway in a hastily organized parade. An official parade was scheduled for November 15 and the Evening Tribune noted the although the flu had prevented other big mass meetings it would not affect this celebratory parade and carnival. However, an accompanying sports carnival was postponed until the Thanksgiving holiday ‘when the flu bans shall be lifted’.

The ‘flu bans’ were lifted on November 18 and by November 23 the local papers were reporting that San Diego was facing the worst week since the outbreak of the disease in early October, with 61 new cases and 4 deaths reported in each of the previous two days and 91 new cases and three deaths the day before that. The authorities did not offer an explanation for the increases but the Union noted that in some circles it was believed due to the termination of the quarantine and in others to several days of rainy weather the previous week. With 70 more new cases and three deaths the next day the authorities suggested that the increases may have been partly explained by the fact that doctors had only recently been making complete reports. Perhaps it would have seemed unpatriotic to suggest that the victory parades could have contributed to the surge of new cases after November 11.

That the epidemic had taken a ‘somewhat alarming course’ was borne out by figures made public November 26, which showed 73 new cases and three deaths the day before, a Monday, and a total of 115 over the preceding weekend. In the six days between November 19 and 25 there were 27 deaths while total deaths from October 31 to November 18 had only been 24. The disease was also spreading geographically, having left the bayfront and the ‘Mexican quarter’, and was breaking out in the ‘better residential sections’. The cases were also of a more serious form than those previously encountered. The idea was advanced that the situation might justify drastic corrective measures; a revival of the quarantine had been hinted at unofficially. Dr. Chartres-Martin said he would urgently request all churches which used the sacramental cup to dispense with it in their services for the present. Meanwhile the health department had practically vacated the Fremont school in favor of the new emergency isolation ward at the old Mission Brewery.

With influenza conditions having taken such a serious turn, plans to reopen the public schools were abandoned. By November 30, with conditions continuing to deteriorate, the health board announced that the quarantine, lifted less than two weeks earlier, would be put into effect again, affecting theatres, churches and other places where crowds gather. When theatre owners announced that they would refuse to comply, and questioned the health board’s authority to enforce the order, the city council met and passed a city ordinance to establish a quarantine, although it didn’t go into effect until December 6 and was limited to four days. Meanwhile, at Camp Kearny, the influenza situation appeared to have stabilized at about 50 new cases a day despite the general liberty granted during the week of Thanksgiving when thousands of soldiers, practically the entire command, mingled with the populace at Los Angeles and San Diego. The new cases were said to be mild and no changes were contemplated in quarantine regulations.

The reintroduction of the quarantine in San Diego on December 6 went smoothly; even the Theatrical Managers Association had a change of heart and voted to lend the health department every assistance in stamping out the epidemic, even offering the services of one man from each theatre each day to assist the board. Most stores were closed and the business district was almost deserted. The San Diego Union reported that there were many minor violations but no arrests, although the police announced that they would not be so lenient in the future. That future soon arrived, with the Tribune reporting on December 9 that the one place in San Diego that had drawn crowds despite the influenza epidemic was police court. The judge entertained representatives from practically every walk of life – ‘Chinese, merchants, white men and women, negroes, the rich, the poor, druggists, trash collectors, chauffeurs, clerks, all sorts’ –  and sent them away $5 poorer in most cases and ‘with an abiding desire to live up in the future to every single influenza law’. The judge handled about 100 of the 300 arrests and the ‘court coin box’ was enriched by about $500. According to the Tribune the outstanding feature of the campaign against those who refused to wear masks was that those individuals were fast disappearing. Mask wearing had become ‘almost general’ among those who entered stores or did business with the public.

When the strict quarantine measures introduced on December 6 expired after December 9 the council adopted a new ordinance effective for another nine days making the wearing of the gauze mask obligatory in all places but the home. The mask should be made from at least four ply surgical gauze, or six ply cheese cloth, or preferably, from at least three ply butter cloth. A person was permitted to remove the mask when eating or if it would render the wearer physically unable to perform his occupation, or while receiving the sacrament. By December 11 the Union reported that San Diegans had faced the ordeal of the gauze mask and grinned and bore it. Whither one looked he saw masks which concealed all vestige of visage but smiling, twinkling eyes. Men, women and little children, even the newsboys running through the streets ‘wore ‘em’. Even the councilmen at city hall were at their desks, masked. On December 12 the news was of an abrupt drop of 64 in the new cases, to 115 yesterday from 179 the day before, the lowest total in 10 days. Authorities were unwilling to say if the sudden drop was due to the enforced wearing of gauze masks or was a product of the recent four-day ban on all business, but it was expected that churches would remain closed.

Over the next few days the number of new cases was substantially lower, in the 20s, and health authorities ventured to say that the epidemic in San Diego was on its last legs. Only two deaths were reported. The emergency hospitals were not so crowded. The authorities were not prepared to say whether the universal wearing of masks was responsible; bright sunshine weather might also have been a factor. At Camp Kearny the influenza conditions also showed continued improvement, with only 11 new cases and one death reported on December 12. The Sunshine and Kearny theatres at the camp would be permitted to reopen, the only exception to the regular order being that patrons must wear gauze masks. By December 16 the Tribune reported that authorities were of the opinion that the decrease in cases and fatalities which began with the adoption of the universal gauze mask ordinance had continued. Only 13 cases had been reported the day before, including two admitted to the old Mission Brewery. Each day showed a wonderful improvement of the situation and led health officials to believe that the epidemic may be entirely stamped out. The continuation of the most rigid precautions, however, was urged. On December 18 only 29 new cases were reported, which the Union claimed was the smallest for any one week day since the outbreak of the epidemic in San Diego. The number of cases was a decrease of 150 compared with December 10, when the universal wearing of the face masks was made compulsory, there being 173 cases that day. Although the face mask ordinance was due to expire on December 18 the council extended if for another week, to December 24.

In the final weeks of 1918 influenza cases in San Diego continued to decline. New cases on December 19 numbered 21, the lowest figure in weeks. Better still, 10 of the cases were in houses where the disease already existed, evidence that it was not spreading except where there had been direct exposure. The wearing of masks since that method of precaution was adopted was given full credit. On December 20 only 9 cases were reported in San Diego. In Camp Kearny, only four cases were reported, and one death. The last previous date on which this low number was reached was October 10. The total since September 25, when the scourge began, was 4654 cases and 145 deaths at the camp.

By December 27 the news was even better. In San Diego only one new case of influenza was reported, making six cases since Christmas eve. For the last five days only 25 cases had been reported, equaling the total number of cases for one day on December 17, when the decline began, and by December 30 the health board was anticipating an early end of the epidemic. On January 1, 1919, the Union claimed that influenza nearly made an exit for the New Year, with only eight new cases and no deaths reported on New Year’s Eve. Schools would reopen on January 6. On January 2 Camp Kearny reported that after a ‘flare-up’ on December 31 new cases fell from 13 that day to five, and one death, the first in nine days.

Influenza did not make an exit for the new year; new cases of influenza, and deaths, continued to be reported in the first weeks of 1919. On January 7, 12 new cases were reported, nearly all young persons, under 40 years old. There had been 12 deaths in the year so far, an average of 2 a day. Readers in San Diego were also informed of notable cases outside of their city. Walter Johnson, pitcher for the Washington Senators (and future Baseball Hall of Famer), had been seriously ill for two weeks with the influenza but was recovering rapidly at his farm in Kansas. Mary Pickford, noted film star, was suffering from Spanish influenza but was also considerably improved, although still confined to her bed at home with two nurses in attendance. The Evening Tribune also claimed that although there had been 20 new cases and three deaths over the last few days, San Diego was favored in mildness of the epidemic compared to Los Angeles, where there were 600 to 700 new cases reported daily. Every effort was being made to prevent importations of flu cases from that city. By January 12, with 24 new cases, four fewer that the previous day, and two deaths, the Union reported that with further improvements being shown in the influenza situation the board of health had made no further effort to adopt another face mask ordinance nor did it order the schools closed.

The influenza epidemic in and around San Diego affected local affairs beyond theatres, churches and schools. San Diego’s highly anticipated direct rail connection to the east, the San Diego & Arizona Railway, had been under construction since 1907 and by the end of 1918 the work had reached its final and most challenging phase, blasting tunnels out of solid rock in Carrizo Gorge in eastern San Diego County. However, work camps in the gorge proved to be ideal incubators for influenza and 215 cases and 28 deaths had been reported among the crew of about 350 men, seriously impacting construction work. By the middle of January 1919, however, the railroad was able to report that influenza had been eradicated in the gorge and labor conditions had become more settled. Excellent progress was reported on tunnel work and everything seemed favorable for completion of the line (a ceremonial golden spike was driven in Carrizo Gorge to complete the line in November 1919). In sports, the San Diego High School football team advanced to the league championship game because six players on the Pomona team, which had earlier beaten the ‘Hilltoppers’, were ‘out of the game’ with influenza and Pomona was forced to forfeit its final game against Fullerton (Fullerton went on to beat San Diego in the championship game).

By the end of January 1919 the Union was reporting that influenza was at a low ebb, only about five new cases a day, better than at any time since the disease first broke out in this city. Each day saw fewer cases and the authorities predicted that the disease would entirely disappear soon. No deaths had been reported in a week. While conditions were slightly improved in Los Angeles they were still bad, around 100 a day. At Camp Kearny, the number of new cases was also the lowest since the epidemic began; only about one a day. It had also been weeks since any deaths were reported at the camp.

The influenza situation continued to improve in February. On February 6 the Union reported that the hospitals were nearly empty and there were few ‘quarantines’; homes where influenza had been reported and the residents were forbidden to leave. On the 9th, Camp Kearny reported that there had been two days which ‘scored zeroes in the three columns in the base hospital report devoted to influenza, pneumonia and death from either of these’, and two consecutive days on which not a single new case of influenza was reported. In fact Camp Kearny had reported only seven new influenza cases, one pneumonia case and one death during the first half of the month. By the middle of the month influenza was also regarded as a ‘dead issue’ by San Diego health authorities; only one case being reported over the last several days. At the end of February there was a report of five new cases, the first in several days, but they appeared in only two families (the report in the Tribune included the families’ names and addresses).

Reporting on the influenza epidemic all but disappeared from local papers after February 1919. While there were still a few new cases they were described as mild and even fewer deaths were reported. By April the only news was the accounting of costs for the recent Spanish influenza epidemic; more than $20,000, due the American Red Cross for operation of the Fremont and Mission Brewery emergency hospitals, most of which was provided by the United States government for caring for sailors at the isolation hospitals.

Spanish influenza had probably arrived in San Diego by October 1918 and by the middle of that month its spread had prompted quarantines of Camp Kearny and other military camps in the area and the closing of schools, churches, theatres and other activities where people gathered in San Diego. Employees of businesses that served the public were required to wear face masks. Churches and theatres, but not schools, were reopened in mid-November when the levels of new cases had seemed to level off, but in early December a renewed rise in cases prompted a four-day total business shutdown followed by a three-week period when all residents were required to wear masks outside the home. Possibly as a result, the number of new cases began to subside around Christmas and schools were reopened in early January 1919. By mid-March the disease had essentially disappeared. It is estimated that nearly 5000 people were infected with the virus in San Diego and 366 deaths were blamed on it.

A few relics of the epidemic still exist in San Diego. Fremont Elementary school, on Congress Street in Old Town, reopened in 1919 and remained active until 2001, although most of the original school was torn down and rebuilt in 1948. It is now a school district training center, although like most other schools and offices it has presumably been closed again during the 2020 pandemic. The Mission Brewery, which had opened in 1913 but closed earlier in 1918, reopened as a plant for producing agar from kelp in the early 1920s and operated intermittently until 1987. Now the Mission Brewery Plaza, it is still standing at West Washington and Hancock streets in Middletown and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Implausible Railroad

Last month the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum staged a reenactment of what was considered the greatest event in the history of San Diego when it took place a century ago. On November 15, 1919, in a remote desert canyon, J. D. Spreckels, founder and president of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad, drove the golden spike that symbolized completion of a new rail line linking San Diego with the Imperial Valley and points east. Speakers impersonating the dignitaries who spoke at the original ceremony emphasized the difficulties involved in building the line, which had already become known as the ‘impossible railroad’, and praised Spreckels for his determination in leading the effort that finally overcame the many challenges – for doing the impossible.

Work on the SD & A had begun in 1907 but a number of difficulties, principally the challenging terrain along the planned route, had stretched construction out for over twelve years. The most challenging section of the route was in Carrizo Gorge, north of Jacumba, where for 11 miles the SD & A right-of-way was blasted out of a sheer canyon wall, requiring 17 tunnels totaling 2 ½ miles in length and 14 wood trestle bridges. In November 1919 construction crews laying track from both ends of Carrizo Gorge finally came together and Spreckels and a trainload of the city’s leading citizens congregated there to celebrate his triumph by driving in the last spike. However, the 2019 reenactment of this historic occasion did not occur at Carrizo Gorge, which has been closed to passenger rail service for nearly 70 years, but instead at a railway museum in Campo where railroad enthusiasts can still ride in vintage coaches with SD & A lettering over the few miles of the route that are still open. The audience was well aware that the reenactors’ tributes to Spreckels for doing the impossible were ironic, and that the railroad turned out to be impossible after all.

Passenger service over the new railroad line was inaugurated on December 1, 1919, but after only six weeks, in January 1920, the San Diego Union (which was also owned by Spreckels) reported that a rock slide, not large enough to do any ‘real damage’ but just large enough to prevent temporarily the passage of trains, occurred on the SD & A in Carrizo Gorge. The landslide was just west of Tunnel No. 13 and the railway stated that this particular point had been questionable for some time and dynamiting had been considered, so the slide actually relieved the company of this trouble. The Evening Tribune (also owned by Spreckels) added that although nature had ‘saved the powder’ the line was still blocked and passengers on the westbound train No. 3 and eastbound train No. 4, which had arrived at opposite ends of the slide, had to be ‘transported’ around the slide to the other train, which then reversed course and took them on to their destinations. Despite this inconvenience, the railway company emphasized that the track through Carrizo Gorge was becoming more settled each day and was in a very satisfactory condition, and there should be no trouble from this time on. This optimistic assessment was reinforced a month later, in February 1920, when the Union reported that rainfall in the mountain regions was heavy enough in Carrizo Gorge to put the new roadbed to the test that had been awaited by railroad officers. The many precipitous water courses that the rails passed over flowed strongly during the storm but since the many tunnels, cuts and trestles successfully withstood the forces of the first big storm no future trouble of any kind was looked for.

Future trouble occurred anyway, and it was of the kind that did cause real damage. The Union reported in May 1920 that a slide on the side of a mountain over tunnel No. 7 in Carrizo Gorge would probably put the San Diego & Arizona railway out of commission temporarily; although the tunnel was open and trains could be operated through it that was not considered advisable until the part that had given way was removed, which would require several days. Arrangements had been made to transfer passengers between Campo and El Centro by automobile. According to the railway this was the only tunnel through the gorge that had given trouble of any consequence. Two days later, however, the report was that a rift in the rock formation had caused a shift of a huge mass of rock and earth bearing down on the west end of tunnel No. 7. A section of the mountainside 590 feet long, 200 feet high and 200 feet wide at the west portal of the tunnel was unstable and was sliding downhill, crushing 128 feet of the tunnel and 480 feet of track leading to the tunnel. Blasting would be required to break down practically the entire side of the mountain. This would close down the line for a period of five weeks and cost the company approximately $250,000 but, on the plus side, would make impossible any recurrence of the trouble and make the tunnel absolutely safe for all time. A big steam shovel with a force of about 100 men was already at work on the west end of slide. Another shovel with its crew, based a few miles west of the slide, had started a roundabout trip of about 430 miles via Colton and El Centro in order to reach the east end of the slide.

Blasting off the side of the mountain required miners to sink three shafts 25 to 35 feet deep near the top of the slide and oil-drilling rigs to drill six holes 50 to 60 feet deep near the roadbed.  These were filled with 50 to 60 tons of black powder and dynamite and in early June J. D. Spreckels himself made the trip to Carrizo Gorge by special train to throw the switch setting off the blast. According to the Evening Tribune, there followed a heavy roar with a concussion that rocked the ground. Vast clouds of dust were sent skyward and thousands of tons of rocks and boulders went hurtling and bounding into the canyon below. Good results were obtained, although not entirely up to expectations, and no accidents of any kind were recorded. A film crew was on hand when the big blast occurred and a few weeks later citizens of San Diego were able to watch it on the big screen; the ad in the Union read ‘Blown Up! A Whole Mountain to Make Carriso Gorge Safe on the S. D. & A. Railroad. See the Big Blast at the Cabrillo. Now — This Week.

However, debris from the Big Blast and a subsequent shot still had to be cleared away and the tunnel rebuilt and two months later the railroad reported that progress had been much slower than expected. Four steam shovels were working two full shifts and the obstruction had been cleared up to approximately 100 feet from the tunnel portal. The railroad predicted that the line should be handling traffic by the end of August and denied a statement in the Los Angeles Examiner that the blasts had been a complete fiasco since the many tons of earth and rock thrown clear of the roadbed had reduced the material to be handled by the steam shovels. The end of August came and went and in October the railroad announced that although the slide had been cleared and the roadbed widened it would still be necessary to drive 166 feet of new tunnel to connect with the present tunnel, possibly by mid-November.  When the line did reopen on Thanksgiving Day after being closed for seven months an editorial in the Union declared that every possibility of future delay by reason of similar obstruction had been permanently removed and henceforward San Diego would serve as the Pacific terminal of a direct transcontinental railway.

Actually, other possibilities for delays still existed and in August 1921, less than a year later, the line was closed for several days after heavy and sudden rain hit the western side of Imperial Valley. The terrific downpour had caused 20 washouts along a stretch of about nine miles there leaving a much weakened roadbed in its path. After another storm in December 1921 good progress was reported on repairs to the SD & A roadbed at washed-out points between Tijuana and Carrizo Gorge, although several more days would be required to open the line to through traffic. Through service was restored early in January 1922 but trains were required to travel slowly over three of the washouts so the train making a connection with the Golden State at Yuma would have to leave San Diego an hour earlier than regularly scheduled (at Yuma a sleeper car from the SD & A train was switched to the Southern Pacific’s Los Angeles to Chicago Golden State Limited so that a passenger could go all the way from San Diego to Chicago in the same car). Closures of several days also occurred in December 1926 at the edge of Imperial Valley, February 1927 between San Diego and Tijuana, and September 1929, when 11 miles of track in Carrizo Gorge and 18 miles in the desert approach to the gorge had to be repaired after a cloudburst.

1932 turned out to be an even worse year for the SD & A. In January a fire was discovered in Tunnel No. 3, located south of the Mexican border between Tecate and Campo. Heavy smoke and heat from the flames prevented fire crews from entering and the railroad announced that all traffic would be diverted through Los Angeles until the fire burned itself out, possibly after several days. When the fire had burned out and the tunnel cooled crews began removing debris and installing new timbers, around 1,500,000 board feet of redwood, which had arrived by ship from Northern California. One shipment of nearly 1,000,000 feet from Fort Bragg, including huge squared balks of redwood, four-by-sixes and planking, was unloaded at Pier 1 in San Diego and taken to the tunnel on 50 flat cars. Tunnel No. 3 had originally been 1296 feet long but a section near the east end had collapsed as a result of the fire, ‘daylighting’ that section and dividing the tunnel into two sections, to be named Tunnels No. 3 and 3 ½. Crews finished retimbering the tunnels at the beginning of March 1932 and service was resumed after six weeks and an estimated cost of $100,000, not counting loss of revenue.

In late March 1932, three weeks after the line was reopened at Tunnel No. 3, a slide apparently due to heavy mountain rains blocked the line of the SD & A at the east portal of Tunnel No. 15 in Carrizo Gorge and traffic was again rerouted through Los Angeles. Although the initial report was that the trouble was temporary and service would soon be resumed, the mountain continued to slide and it became apparent that Tunnel No. 15 could not be repaired and the tracks would have to be realigned around it. The realignment would include a new, shorter Tunnel No. 15 and a curved trestle bridge 633 feet long and 185 feet above the canyon floor. The trestle was also built of redwood and is said by some to be the largest curved wood trestle in the world. It is certainly spectacular and has since become a symbol of the SD & A line.

Construction work on the Tunnel No. 15 realignment was completed and the line reopened in early July. However, in October 1932 the railroad experienced another tunnel fire, this time in Tunnel No. 7 in Carrizo Gorge, the same tunnel that had caused problems in 1920. Again there was no possibility of fighting the fire and instead both entrances to the tunnel were sealed in an effort to snuff it out, and traffic was rerouted through Los Angeles. Once the fire had burned out and the tunnel cooled enough for inspection, railroad officials determined that it too was beyond repair and would have to be abandoned. The roadbed was realigned in a series of sharp curves 2200 feet long that bypassed the abandoned tunnel and the line reopened in January 1933 after having been closed for more than half of 1932.

J. D. Spreckels had founded and initially owned the SD & A but had required financial support from the Southern Pacific railroad for its construction. In 1916 the Southern Pacific recovered a portion of this outlay by taking a half-interest in the SD & A. Spreckels died in 1926 and in 1932 his estate’s remaining half-interest was also acquired by the Southern Pacific. While wholly owned by the Southern Pacific, the railroad was operated as a separate unit and renamed the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway, or SD & AE. The sale was finalized in February 1933 and the SD & AE operated relatively successfully for a number of years thereafter, particularly during the war years of the early 1940s when there was a heavy flow of materiel and military personnel to the port and military bases around San Diego. However, more people were driving cars and more and better highways were being built, including US Route 80 which duplicated the route of the SD & AE between San Diego, the Imperial Valley and the east. Commercial aviation was also improving and attracting growing numbers of passengers. In the years after the end of the war in 1945 traffic on the SD & AE declined and in 1952 passenger service was abandoned.

Freight service continued, although not without incident, especially in Carrizo Gorge, where the rough road and sharp curves made the line prone to derailments. One particularly memorable derailment occurred in May 1965 and closed the line for several days. According to the San Diego Union, one car loaded with wine from New York state was destroyed to prevent looting and two truck trailers with 72,000 cans of beer slid from a flat car 600 feet into Carrizo Gorge (in the following months 24 persons were apprehended in quest of free beer).

In September 1976 tropical storm Kathleen drenched San Diego’s east county and the Union reported that a torrent of water ripped through Carrizo Gorge to destroy portions of three bridges supporting the SD & AE railway. Two trains had been turned back and it would be at least two weeks before rail service was restored. In fact service was not restored until December 1982, over six years later. In the meantime the Southern Pacific sold the railway to San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit Development Board which wanted the SD & AE’s suburban rights of way for the light rail system that became the San Diego Trolley. One of the conditions of sale was that the Southern Pacific had to restore the line to service, but just a week after service was restored another storm dropped 2 inches of rain on the desert approach to Carrizo Gorge near Ocotillo and blocked the route again with tons of rocks and landslides. Six months after that damage was cleared a brush fire in June 1983 burned two trestles and threatened a tunnel in Carrizo Gorge. Although the tunnel did not sustain serious damage, the trestles were destroyed. Fires in tunnels No. 16 in 1986 and No. 8 in 1988 further damaged the line in Carrizo Gorge and Tunnel No. 3 in Mexico caught fire again in 1999. This damage was eventually patched up (Tunnel No. 3 was ‘daylighted’) and the line was open for occasional freight service between 2004 and 2008, but it is now inactive except for the short excursions around Campo. The ‘impossible railroad’ still has its boosters, however, and J. D. Spreckels would have been proud to hear one of the speakers at the centennial celebration declare that the line would be open again next year.

San Diego’s Wheelmen

A recent front-page article in the San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted San Diego’s difficulties in accommodating a new form of personal transportation. In February 2018 hundreds of electric scooters appeared on downtown streets. A rider could activate a scooter using a smart-phone app, ride it to work or a restaurant, and leave it on the street where it could be activated by another rider. The city initially welcomed this ‘micro-mobility’ option as a way to get people out of their cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but as the numbers grew so did what the U-T called a ‘wild west’ scooter environment, primarily speeding and riding on sidewalks, annoying and endangering pedestrians. The city eventually responded by passing regulations that included a requirement that scooters have a ‘no sidewalk’ warning sticker and the smart-phone apps have a warning about the city prohibition against riding on sidewalks. The scooters were also supposed to include ‘geofencing’ technology that automatically limits speeds in certain areas. The U-T reported that since the regulations were put into effect in July nearly 500 tickets have been written for scooter violations, most for riding on sidewalks.

This sudden surge of two-wheeled vehicles on city streets, and sidewalks, recalls an earlier era when the streets and sidewalks were invaded by ‘wheelmen’, riders of ‘wheels’, or bicycles. Advertisements for bicycles had appeared in the San Diego Union as early as 1884 and in 1891 an item in the Union’s Local Intelligence column noted that about twenty wheelmen were out on a tour last evening, gliding swiftly and silently along the streets. By 1893 there were three businesses listed under Bicycles in the San Diego city directory and enough bicycles were on the streets that the Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance regulating their use. Ordinance 227 made it unlawful to ride a bicycle on any public sidewalks or to ride after dark without a lantern or light attached to the front of the bicycle. Also in 1893, a Wheelmen’s Club was started in San Diego with plans for at least 70 wheelmen to decorate their wheels and participate in a lantern parade on the evening of Memorial Day.

The growing number of bicycles on the streets also prompted other policy changes by city officials. In the 1890s the streets were unpaved and were also traveled by horse-drawn conveyances and pedestrians. During the dry season the horse-drawn traffic stirred up dust which the city attempted to control by sprinkling the streets with water from the bay. While wet streets were of little concern to horses and buggies or wagons they were not ideal for bicycles and in 1895 the street superintendent ordered the street sprinklers to leave dry the centers of D Street (now Broadway) from Fourth Street to the bay as well as Fourth Street from A to Ivy and Fifth Street from A to the bay for the accommodation of wheelmen.

However, bicycles could also be ridden faster than pedestrians or other vehicles on the streets in the 1890s, and were perceived by some to be dangerous. A column in the Union in 1895 noted that an ordinance being proposed for San Francisco would limit the speed of wheelmen to six miles an hour at intersections and from riding ‘immoderately, carelessly or negligently’, and with a strict prohibition of ‘scorching’. The Union suggested that some features of this ordinance, particularly the prohibition on scorching, might be adopted with advantage in San Diego and that a rule requiring wheelmen to slow down to six miles an hour at crossings would also meet general approval. However, no speed limits on bicycles were adopted in San Diego. Instead the existing bicycle ordinance was amended in 1896 by dropping the requirement for a light or lantern after dark while retaining the prohibition against riding on sidewalks.

Scorching continued to be a subject of concern, however, and in an 1897 article about the ‘Scorching Nuisance’ the Union insisted that it was high time San Diego had an ordinance against scorching, especially as it was practiced in the crowded business streets. The evil had become an actual menace to pedestrians; within the past day or two several so-called ‘accidents’ had occurred through the recklessness of wheelmen, who had no more right to traverse the streets at high rates of speed than had teamsters or occupants of any kind of vehicles drawn by horses. In some respects, the scorching wheelman was actually more dangerous than a runaway team or rapidly driven wagon, which gave warning by the noise they made, while the bicycle rider commonly gave no sign of his approach.

There is a class of wheelmen who seem to take pride in riding at high rate of speed through crowded streets, trusting to their skill to avoid breaking their own bones or imperiling the lives of pedestrians. If the foolish wheelmen themselves were the only sufferers, the general public would not care much. But it is the unfortunate pedestrian that usually gets the bruises. This evil has reached such proportions that it is time severe measures were taken to put an end to it.

The Union article added that wheelmen as a rule were not given to scorching on the streets but were outspoken in condemnation of this foolhardy practice and it would confer a favor on the entire community if they would exert their influence toward passage of a proper ordinance on the subject and seeing that it was properly enforced.

Although the city never passed a proper ordinance on the subject of scorching, bicycle riding continued to be governed by the 1896 ordinance prohibiting riding on sidewalks and the police occasionally conducted operations to enforce this ordinance. In 1902 the Union complained that the police were again arresting wheelmen for riding on sidewalks, this time in what were then the ‘suburbs’ (Logan Avenue) where there were scarcely any pedestrians (the Union contended that the officers went to the suburbs to pick up a few ‘innocents’ in order to scare the real offenders). In September 1903 the Union reported that the latest victim of the activity of the police looking to the suppression of the habit of riding bicycles on sidewalks was a newspaper carrier who had been under the impression that carriers were specially privileged. Unfortunately, he had been delivering in the same neighborhood where another wheelman had collided with and knocked over an old lady while riding on the sidewalk, prompting a show of force by the police.

The Wheelmen’s Club had become an important advocacy group for the rights of bicyclists and in November 1899 it held a meeting ‘to take a united stand to remedy the rank injustice to the riders of wheels who had been victimized by police officers enforcing the ordinance prohibiting bicycle riding on sidewalks’. The wheelmen did not object to the ordinance itself but, according to the Union, they had just cause for complaint against the condition of the streets which in places made it necessary to infringe on the sidewalks. If the streets were in proper condition there would be less necessity for wheelmen to take to the sidewalks for their own safety. The Union added that there were hundreds of wheelmen and they were entitled to some consideration; they were thoroughly in earnest in this matter and threatened to carry it into politics if they could get no relief. A letter to the editor a few weeks later claimed that there were about 2,000 bicycles in San Diego and most were used for business and not pleasure or exercise; ‘You see about 2 bicycles for every buggy or wagon’. This writer’s complaint was that the sidewalk ordinance applied to the whole city, most of which didn’t even have sidewalks or improved streets and very little traffic. He suggested creation of a district downtown where it would make sense to restrict riding on sidewalks and to eliminate the restrictions in other remote places, like Sorrento Valley.

While the papers tended to be sympathetic to wheelmen’s use of the sidewalks, at least when the streets were muddy, scorching was still universally condemned. A 1903 column in the Union claimed that while accidents – collisions between wheelmen and vehicles or pedestrians – were not an everyday occurrence they were still sufficiently frequent to make plain the need of an ordinance to minimize the danger. Youngsters could be seen flying through the more crowded streets just missing collision with a vehicle and the next moment giving some citizen on foot a narrow escape. There was no municipal regulation to prevent the most harebrained, reckless boys from riding through the streets at a pace that makes life and limb precarious to pedestrians. The bicycle menace should be done away with. San Diego had outgrown the times where bicycle riders could scorch through the streets. The city should have a proper bicycle ordinance forbidding high rates of speed.

The city never did pass a proper speed limit ordinance for bicycles but the sidewalk prohibition remained on the books, and was enforced, for years. In 1907 two men appeared in police court and stated that they would plead that while technically guilty they had a ‘moral right’ to ride on the walk of Sixteenth Street for the reason that the street was torn up for paving purposes. In January 1910, after the police arrested two men for riding on the sidewalks, the Evening Tribune explained that the Superintendent of Police was determined to put a stop to men, boys and young women riding bicycles on sidewalks when the streets were not muddy. The Tribune explained that there was no objection to wheelmen using the sidewalks in inclement weather, provided that they shared equally with pedestrians, but there was no excuse when the unpaved streets were not muddy, as was the condition on this occasion.

Scorching and riding on the sidewalk weren’t the only sources of accidents attributed to bicycles. The Union reported in 1903 that a horse and light buggy were standing in front of a store when it was frightened by a bicycle which had been insecurely stood up in a rack near the curb and had fallen over. Fortunately, the only occupant of the buggy, a lady, got the horse under control within a block, showing much skill and coolness. According to the Union, the same cause was responsible for another runaway on Fourth Street a little earlier, and the construction of some of the racks about town with bars placed too wide apart made it practically impossible to securely stand up a wheel in them.

No-one knows how today’s ‘wild west’ scooter situation will turn out but ‘scorching’ and the ‘bicycle menace’ in San Diego’s actual wild west days faded away after D. C. Collier purchased San Diego’s first automobile in February 1900 and ‘wheelmen’ increasingly became ‘automobilists’. Back in 1893, when the ‘wheel’ had appeared be the future of personal transportation, San Diego’s wheelmen had organized a Wheelmen’s Club to celebrate and promote their mutual interest. In the new century, with the automobile age on the horizon, it had become more of a social club, one of the fastest growing in the city. In 1903 members of the Wheelmen’s Club acknowledged the changing circumstances and voted to change their name to the Cabrillo Club.



Pacific Building Co. in PB

Pacific Building Company built this home at 1132 Diamond Street for its president O. W. Cotton in 1907 (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

In early 1903 O. M. Schmidt and A. J. Dula filed subdivision maps for the Fortuna Park and Second Fortuna Park additions south of what became Pacific Beach Drive and commissioned Dula’s brothers-in-law Murtrie and Wilbur Folsom as sales agent for the new tract. The Folsom Brothers’ ads in the Evening Tribune described Fortuna Park as a beautiful home spot, destined to be one of San Diego’s best suburbs, and where a $25 lot was likely to quadruple in value in a few months. They then embarked on a marketing expedition to the Arizona Territory where they expected to find eager buyers for summer homes surrounded by the cool waters of Mission Bay. There they sold dozens of lots to buyers in places like Morenci, Prescott, Douglas, and Bisbee, which is where they sold lots 39 and 40 in block 2 of Second Fortuna Park to O. W. Cotton for $40.

Oscar W. Cotton had been born in San Francisco in 1882 and was working at his first job in Bisbee, making $70 a month. He was apparently so impressed with the Folsom brothers’ sales pitch that he not only purchased lots for himself but also became their agent, selling Fortuna Park lots to other residents of the Arizona back country. In July 1903 Cotton came to San Diego to see for himself the properties he had bought, and had represented to others, and decided to stay and join the Folsom Brothers firm. In November 1903 Folsom Brothers significantly expanded their interests, acquiring O. J. Stough’s holdings of almost the entire territory of Pacific Beach. An ad in the San Diego Union a month later announced that the company would make improvements, including the erection of many sightly residences, that would make it the most attractive suburb of San Diego and insure its rapid development.

Work on the sightly residences was soon underway; the Tribune reported in December 1903 that the new concrete dwelling on Broadway near Sunset Avenue now being erected by Folsom Brothers was fast nearing completion and foundations had been laid by the same firm for the erection of four other structures, work upon which would be commenced within a few days (Broadway is now Ingraham Street and Sunset is Fortuna Avenue). In January 1904 the Tribune reported that Mark Folsom, their father, had laid the foundations for a handsome dwelling at the corner of Broadway and Thomas Avenue. The building would be constructed of concrete cement, elaborately finished on the exterior and surrounded by spacious lawns.

Home built for Mark Folsom in 1904 at the corner of Ingraham and Thomas, since demolished (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

In February, the handsome office building of Folsom Brothers which was being erected at the corner of Broadway and Grand Avenue was fast nearing completion and would be ready for occupancy within a few weeks. This building was also of concrete cement and very attractive in its architectural design. Although the main part of the office would be devoted wholly to the business of selling building sites in Pacific Beach, there would also be a department to be used as the headquarters of the architect who would superintend the building operations of the firm.

The business of selling building sites in Pacific Beach was a good one for Folsom Brothers in 1904; the Evening Tribune reported that on occasion no less than five teams might be seen conveying prospective buyers through the suburb and along the famous ocean strand. Anticipating further growth in its real estate business the company filed articles of incorporation in August 1904. Murtrie Folsom became president and Wilbur Folsom vice-president of the new Folsom Bros. Co. and O. W. Cotton was named secretary and treasurer. The construction side of the business was also promising and in September the Pacific Beach Construction Company was incorporated with the Folsom brothers and Cotton as directors. A Folsom Bros. Co. ad in the Union explained that the construction company was organized primarily for the upbuilding of Pacific Beach property. It would manufacture and deal in all kinds of building materials, including the most modern and practical style of cement blocks, and would build houses of this and other materials. It was listed in the 1905 San Diego City Directory as Folsom Bros. Co. Building Department, alabastine stone and building material, at the same address as Folsom Bros. Co. Real Estate.

The next few years were busy ones for the Folsom Bros. Co. building department. The San Diego Union reported in October 1904 that developments of the past week in building improvements in Pacific Beach had surpassed those of any like period since Folsom Bros. Co. started their immense and comprehensive plans of development. The foundations and framework of no less than ten structures in various stages of completion could be found within a radius of only two blocks from the Pacific Beach Hotel. Some were store buildings and some residences and nearly all either in whole or in part being constructed of the patent cement-concrete building blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co.

The Pacific Beach Hotel was at the center of the community at the time, the corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets, where the Patio restaurant is now (the hotel building later became the Folsom Bros. Co. sales office). The new store buildings included the ‘handsome two-story edifice’ of McCrary and Parmenter at the southwest corner of Grand Avenue and Lamont Street, a block south of the hotel, which ‘threw open its doors’ in January 1905 and which was constructed ‘in whole’ of concrete blocks. (this store, ‘the largest in the suburb’ in its day, became Ravenscroft’s grocery in 1913 and was later the Full Gospel Temple before being demolished in the 1950s). The residences in various stages of completion in 1904 included a number on Hornblend Street within two blocks of the hotel, some of which are still standing, including the home built for H. J. Breese at the northeast corner of Hornblend and Morrell (later the passion fruit ranch of Dr. H. K. W. Kumm) and the homes built for Anna Boulet and Ansel Lane (now the Baldwin Academy) on the north side of Hornblend between Jewell and Kendall streets. Outside of the central two-block radius, the Union reported that the magnificent home of James Haskins on Diamond Avenue, fast nearing completion in December 1905, was constructed partly of the concrete blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co.

In 1906 O. W. Cotton was the author of a piece in the San Diego Union that promoted Folsom Bros. Co. as an establishment that had grown from three employees to having a payroll that included from fifty to sixty names. Their alabastine stone plant, a factory for the manufacture of artificial stone (concrete building blocks), had grown from a little experimental block yard in Pacific Beach employing four people to a third of a block downtown employing thirty people that furnished building materials for nearly every structure built in San Diego. And this was just the beginning of what they planned to accomplish.

In a memoir published in 1962 Cotton later explained that the experimental yard had actually been the engine house of the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla railroad near the foot of Grand Avenue, where Folsom Bros. had attempted to make concrete blocks from beach sand. It turned out that beach sand is too fine-grained to bind into blocks and the plant was moved away from the free source of this raw material to the downtown site where the blocks were made of coarser river sand. Even with better quality products, however, the venture was not profitable and the company soon got out of the concrete block business to concentrate instead on lot sales.

In December 1906 Folsom Bros. Co. announced a new ‘opening sale’ of 250 Pacific Beach lots beginning on January 1, 1907. Their ad in the Union explained that the company had just inaugurated a policy of improvement and development and homebuilding. The improvement and development would include grading permanent streets and boulevards and paving sidewalks. The homebuilding would be accomplished by the Pacific Building Company, which would be opening for business on January 1, 1907, and would build houses costing from $1,500 to $10,000 at Pacific Beach upon easy monthly payments about equaling rent (the lots themselves were another $250). Other Folsom Bros. Co. ads emphasized that the Pacific Building Company, an allied company, would build houses ‘for purchasers of lots from us’.

The Pacific Building Company had been incorporated in December 1906 with Cotton heading the list of five founding directors and stockholders and serving as president and general manager. The company would be allied with Folsom Bros. Co. and initially shared the same office at 1015 5th Street but the Folsom brothers were not included as directors or even stockholders of the new company. In early 1907 the report of building permits in the San Diego Union generally included at least one for Pacific Building Company in Pacific Beach or Fortuna Park. One week in April the building permits report in the Evening Tribune listed four permits for the company to be erected in Pacific Beach; two frame dwellings valued at $1800 each, one frame cottage, also $1800, and a cement cottage at $2800. In May the Union reported permits for two one-story frame cottages at Pacific Beach, one valued at $2600 and the other $2300, a two-story residence at $5000 and a cottage at $2300.

In June 1907, a report on developments in Pacific Beach mentioned that the Pacific Building Company was erecting a six-room house in Fortuna Park for Mr. DeHart and also a large cottage for Mr. Mott (actually Macht) on Missouri Avenue. It had just completed a large cottage for Mr. J. M. Asher, Jr., and a smaller one, and was then finishing a large house on Diamond Avenue. In July the Union listed two more houses started by the Pacific Building Company and credited the reorganization of Folsom Bros. Co. at the beginning of the year with generating so much activity that the arrival of freight cars full of lumber in the suburb was commonplace (the freight cars would have arrived at the West Coast Lumber Company siding off the La Jolla railroad line on Grand just east of Lamont, where the 7-11 is now).

Mr. DeHart’s home in Fortuna Park is no longer there but three houses built in 1907 in the 1100 block of Missouri, including the home built for Mr. Macht, are still standing . Other homes built by the Pacific Building Company also remain today in Pacific Beach. A building permit was issued in June 1907 for the one-story frame building on Reed Avenue between Lamont and Morrell streets to cost $1700 that still stands at the southwest corner of Reed and Morrell. In October 1907 the Pacific Building Company started work on the much larger house at Lamont and Beryl streets for the MacFarlands valued at $3500-$4000.

The large house that Pacific Building Company was finishing on Diamond Avenue in 1907 was intended for Cotton himself. In June the Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. O. W. Cotton had returned from a wedding journey to Yosemite, and that Mrs. Cotton, who had been Miss Violet Savage, would be remembered as one of the ‘charming members of the younger set in Los Angeles’. They were staying at the Hotel Robinson to await completion of their attractive cottage at Pacific Beach. That attractive cottage is also still there, at 1132 Diamond Street. While living in Pacific Beach Mrs. Cotton was noted for her musical talent; a former concert pianist, she entertained guests at Mrs. Haskins annual holiday reception for members of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. ‘The appreciative audience demanded many recalls and Mrs. O. W.  Cotton continued to give rare pleasure to the parting guests to the very last’.

In 1907 Pacific Building Company and Folsom Bros. Co. shared an office and O. W. Cotton was a director and officer of both companies but in February 1908 the Evening Tribune reported that Cotton had disposed of his interest in Folsom Bros. Co. to devote his entire time to managing the Pacific Building Company, where he was president and general manager. W. W. Whitson, president of the Hillcrest Company, bought out Cotton’s interest in Folsom Bros. Co. and was installed as first vice-president and treasurer (Murtrie Folsom remained as president and Wilbur Folsom was moved to second vice-president and secretary). In a 1984 interview with the San Diego Union, Cotton’s son John claimed that there had been a ‘falling out’; the Folsoms wanted to build houses out of concrete and his father thought that was pure folly. Whatever the reasons, separation from Folsom Bros. Co. allowed Pacific Building Company to expand its home construction business beyond Folsom Bros. Co.’s base in Pacific Beach.

The Cottons also moved from Pacific Beach, selling their Diamond Street home to G. H. Robinson, a Folsom Bros. Co. salesman, in 1908. According to the Union, Mr. Robinson had been married in Los Angeles and had bought for his bride the beautiful home on Diamond formerly owned by O. W. Cotton. The Cottons first moved to Hillcrest, where they bought a lot from Whitson and had another home built by Pacific Building Company valued at $4000. In 1912 they moved again; the Union reported that among the many handsome homes recently completed in South Park was a beautiful two-story residence erected by the Pacific Building Company for O. W. Cotton, president of the corporation which had erected 532 buildings to date.

Most of these homes and the hundreds more built over the ensuing years were in the fast-growing communities served by streetcar lines radiating from San Diego. One such ‘streetcar suburb’ was the company’s Tract No. 4, built in 1910 at the end of the line that once ran out Imperial Avenue (then called M Street) and at the time just outside of the city limits (which then ended at Boundary Street). Most of the homes built by Pacific Building Company in Tract No. 4, or Sierra Vista, can still be seen in the Mountain View district of San Diego. Other tracts of inexpensive homes were developed in Normal Heights and East San Diego, also then outside the city limits along the streetcar lines on Adams and University avenues (at the time homes like these could be purchased for less than $1500; in 2019 one built in 1911 on the 30th Street streetcar line in South Park was the San Diego Union-Tribune’s example of what could be bought today for San Diego’s median home price, $560,000). Pacific Building Company also continued to build larger custom residences throughout the city, including the showplace home for Charles Norris on Collingwood Drive in Pacific Beach in 1913.

O. W. Cotton had started his real estate career with Folsom Bros. Co. and then departed to concentrate entirely on construction, but in 1926 he decided to get out of the building business and back into subdivision sales and general real estate practice. Readers of the real estate pages in the local papers in June 1926 would have seen an announcement that the Pacific Building Company was marketing a magnificent tract stretching from the hilltops overlooking La Jolla right down to the water’s edge but could not hit on a name to do it justice and were offering a $100 reward for a suitable name. A week later the Pacific Building Company announced a winner; the tract would be known as Monte Costa. The next week’s Evening Tribune carried an ad for Monte Costa, but it was attributed to ‘O. W. Cotton, Successor to Pacific Building Company’, and by the end of 1926 ads for Monte Costa were by ‘O. W. Cotton Real Estate’ (the tract was actually the Bird Rock subdivision and the new name never caught on). In November 1926 Pacific Building Company underwent voluntary dissolution but as late as 1930 the San Diego city directory still had a listing for ‘Pacific Building Company O. W. Cotton Successor’ (and an entry for ‘O. W. Cotton Successor to Pacific Building Company’ at the same address).

O. W. Cotton continued to be one of San Diego’s best known real estate personalities for decades. In 1946 he was joined by his sons John and William as partners in O. W. Cotton Co., later Cotton Management Co. and Cotton Co. He died in 1975 at the age of 93. Hundreds of homes built by his Pacific Building Company are still standing in San Diego’s former streetcar suburbs and even in Pacific Beach, where the company commenced operations with three houses in 1907.

The home built for O. W. Cotton at 1132 Diamond today

San Diego’s Cable Cars

Everyone has heard of San Francisco’s cable cars. Twenty-three cable car lines were built there between 1873 and 1890 and three are still in operation today, the last cable car system in the world and a major tourist attraction for the hilly city. Fewer people know that San Diego also had a cable car line in the nineteenth century. It only ran for a couple of years and was tainted by scandal.

The completion of a transcontinental rail line in 1885 had created a ‘boom’ in the city’s population and the resulting spread in the populated area created a demand for public transportation. In 1886 the San Diego Street Car Company laid three miles of tracks on D Street (now Broadway) and Fifth Street (now Avenue) in the downtown area and began operations with horse-drawn cars. However, some of the new residents had moved to homes on the mesa north of downtown, an area then known as Florence Heights, and real estate operators were preparing to open additions even further to the north, like College Hill and University Heights. A street car line using horse power over these distances would be impractical and the use of steam engines was generally not allowed on street railways.

One alternative form of motive power that was just coming into existence at the time was electricity. The first practical electric motors capable of powering vehicles had been introduced in the early 1880s and by the mid-1880s systems were being developed to adapt electric power to street railways. In February 1887 the Electric Rapid Transit Street Car Company was formed in San Diego. The Electric Rapid Transit company intended to utilize a system patented by J. C. Henry on a line from the foot of Fourth Street to Florence Heights, continuing to University Heights along Fifth Street. In the Henry system electricity supplied by a central dynamo was delivered through wires strung above the tracks and picked up by a ‘troller’, a device that pinched the wire between grooved wheels and was towed by a cable that connected it to car’s electric motor.

The Electric Rapid Transit Fourth Street line went into operation in January 1888. According to the San Diego Union, two trains were run between H (now Market) and Upas streets in seven minutes. They were reportedly capable of performance that had seemed inconceivable at the time, climbing and even stopping and starting on an 8 or 9 percent grade. However, some passengers were concerned that the great sparks flying from under the wheels, some of which were as brilliant as an electric light, made riding the cars seem like ‘fooling with dynamite’. Dr. Gochenauer, the president of the company, reassured the passengers that the sparks were caused by burning rust and dirt and would disappear when the rails had become polished. He also reassured passengers that fine watches would not be injured by the intense magnetism radiated from the motor.

Dr. Gochenauer resigned in March, 1888, stating that the system had reached a state of perfection and was in complete running order and that he was leaving so he could introduce the Henry system of street car propulsion to other California cities. Trains were making trips every ten minutes from Steamship Wharf to Florence Heights and hourly trips from Florence Heights to University Heights. However, the street car traveling public had apparently not been entirely convinced by Dr. Gochensuer’s reassurances and the Union reported that in future a coach would be attached to each electric motor car, thereby giving an option to the many possessed by the idea that ‘to ride on an electric motor is to ruin your watch’. By the end of 1888 the company had four cars running from the foot of Fifth Street to Laurel Street and was expecting to run an additional car every half hour from Laurel to University Heights, making fifteen miles an hour.

Despite the many positive reports on the merits of the electric street cars, however, the Electric Rapid Transit company was not a commercial success. The new electric system was one of the first to be deployed anywhere and the technology was not yet entirely reliable. There were frequent breakdowns and service interruptions and in the summer of 1888 the whole system shut down for six weeks for alterations and repairs. In April 1889 new president George D. Copeland asked the city council to amend his company’s franchise to allow it to use motive power other than electricity or horses. In a conversation with the Union, Mr. Copeland revealed that his preference was for a cable railway. Operation of the electric railway had ceased by the summer of 1889 and in July the wires and poles on Fourth, Fifth and G streets were removed; apparently boys were in the habit of throwing stones at the wire on Fourth Street, making a very unpleasant noise and causing ladies to avoid that street for fear of frightening their horses.

In June 1889 another group of prominent citizens and property owners initiated a competing proposal for a cable line along Fourth Street from the waterfront to University Heights. When they learned that downtown businesses and residents of Sixth Street would subscribe substantially more money toward construction of the line than those of Fourth Street, the proposed route was altered to run from the foot of Sixth Street to C Street, then on C Street to Fourth, where it would continue north.  The San Diego Cable Railway Company was given an ‘official and legal birth’ in August 1889 when articles of incorporation were filed listing D. D. Dare as president, John C. Fisher as vice-president and J. W. Collins as secretary and treasurer. At a council meeting in September the city awarded the Cable Railway company a franchise to build and operate a cable line.

In a cable railway, cable cars connect to a continuously moving miles-long loop of cable in a conduit under the streets powered by an engine in a central power house. The connection, called a grip, extends beneath the floor of the car into a slot between the rails and enables the operator of a cable car, the gripman, to grip the moving cable to put the car in motion or release it to come to a stop. The San Diego Cable Railway was built in two sections which met in front of a power house at Fourth and Spruce streets. The lower or ‘town’ section was about two miles in length and would follow the route favored by the Sixth Street subscribers, on Fourth Street between the power house and C, then on C to Sixth, and on Sixth to K. The upper or ‘mesa’ section ran about three miles between the power house and a park to be built overlooking Mission Valley, following Fourth to University, then on what are now Normal Street and Park Boulevard to the terminus. The line was single track with occasional turnouts to allow cars going in opposite directions to pass. Turntables were built at each end of the line to turn the cars around and in front of the power house to transfer cars to and from a section of track that led inside, where they were stored when not in use. The rails were a narrow three foot six inch gauge and were laid on cast iron yokes, which formed the conduit beneath the rails for the moving cable. The two sections had separate cables, continuous loops which ran from inside the power house out to the main line on Fourth Street, where they were diverted under the lower or upper section by pulleys. There were also pulleys under turns and at the ends of the lines. Within the conduit the cable ran in both directions under the single track line; at the turnouts the cables moving in different directions split to follow one of the branches. The cable for the lower section was designed to move at eight miles per hour; the upper cable moved at ten MPH. The two cables totaled 52,000 feet in length. They were initially laid in the conduit by attaching the cable to a grip in a car and drawing the car along the line with a team of about a dozen horses.

On April 11, 1890, the Union reported that Vice President Fisher had applied the match to the fuel in the furnaces and soon the hissing of steam gave a decidedly business-like sound to the affairs at the power house at the corner of Fourth and Spruce streets. Workmen began their lunch to the melodious sound of a powerful whistle. The power house was a solid brick structure occupying 100 feet on Fourth Street, 200 feet on Spruce Street and 40 feet on Third Street. The engine room was on the Spruce Street side, where two immense Corliss steam engines powered the cable-driving apparatus, most of which, including the huge driving wheel, was manufactured at the Coronado foundry.

The cable cars were ‘things of beauty’, with both an open and closed compartment for passengers. The gripman’s platform was in the center of the open end, with a bench for passengers on each side and shorter seats in front facing the track (the open end apparently served as the smoking section). The closed portion of the car was beautifully finished in rare woods, with stained glass transoms along the top, richly curtained windows and nickel-plated metal work. Best of all, electric bells were provided by which passengers could notify the gripman to stop the car without leaving their seats. They were ‘gorgeous little palaces on wheels’, the handsomest in the world. The outside of each car was beautifully finished in rich colors with gold lettering. The cars were numbered and named: 1, Montezuma; 2, El Escondido; 3, Los Penasquitas; 4, La Jolla; 5, Alvarado; 6, Cuyamaca; 7, San Ysidora; 8, San Juan Capistrano; 9, Tia Juana; 10, El Cajon; 11, Point Loma; 12, Los Flores.

The section of the line between downtown and the power house was completed first and a grand opening was held on June 7, 1890. The cars, with No. 2, El Escondido in the lead, were run out over the turntable at the entrance to the power house and on to the line, where the grip-end was festooned with a large flag, palm fronds and flowers by members of the Ladies’ Annex of the Chamber of Commerce. At 10:00 o’clock the gripman ‘put on the grip’ and the car started down from the heights; ‘for San Diego a car of progress of weightier consequences than any which had ever gladdened her vision’. All along the line people ran to their doors and windows and gates, waving and shouting and waving flags. The foot of Sixth Street was reached in just 22 minutes. The car was turned on the turntable and on the way back it filled up rapidly for the hill climb.

A ceremony featuring the City Guard Band, city officials and other dignitaries was held in the afternoon at the power house, which had been draped in bunting for the occasion. Among the speakers was Rose Hartwick Thorpe, the world famous author of the poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight, then a resident of Pacific Beach, who read an original poem, The Maiden by the Sea, written for the day. An original song composed by Philip Morse was sung and received the ‘loudest possible marks of appreciation’:

All cheer to the men whose enterprise and zeal
Have given us this splendid cable line
With Collins, Dare and Fisher and likewise Haversale
Our city will soon all other outshine,

With the chorus:

Then let the big wheel turn that hauls the cable round
And everyone will make the trial trip
And over all the world the chorus shall sound
For San Diegans never lose their grip.

The second section of the cable line, the upper or mesa section, was completed In July 1890. It ran north from Fourth and Spruce to a park, pavilion and recreation grounds on a hill overlooking Mission Valley. Cars ran every ten minutes and the fare was five cents.

One of the reasons for building street railways was to attract commerce and residents to the areas accessed by the lines, and property along the line of the cable railway was no exception. Real estate operators offered deals on lots along Fourth Street and in the new subdivisions near the northern terminus. The cable company also developed property it owned along the line, including a new baseball field, Recreation Park, at Fourth and A streets. The Union reported in August 1890 that the San Diegos and the Schillers and Murthas would play a match game of ball in the new ball park on the line of the cable railway. The grounds were 350 by 400 feet and the boys had been practicing every day for the past three weeks so all interested in the welfare of the national game should turn out strong for the opening game on Sunday. The baseball season opened in October and the Union announced that ladies would be admitted free at Recreation Park on the cable line. The new St. Josephs hospital also opened on the cable line near Recreation Park.

The San Diego Union’s New Year’s 1891 summary of San Diego in 1890 included a section on the ‘cable road’, which had been in operation since July without any accident or repairs. The ‘first-class cable railway’ extended five miles through the center of the city to Mission Heights where a beautiful park of five acres and a spacious and handsome pavilion always attracted visitors and where every convenience is afforded to patrons of the road to spend a day enjoying the beautiful scenery. In June 1891 the cable railway company announced plans to celebrate its first anniversary with a musical entertainment and concert at the pavilion, and, in the evening, a grand ball. Late cars would be run to accommodate such as desire to attend and remain out until late in the evening.

However, behind the scenes, all was not well with the cable railway. It had been backed by the California National Bank, founded in January 1888 by D. D. Dare and J. W. Collins, who were also the principal founders and directors of the cable company. One day in November 1891 the California National Bank failed to open and despite a reassuring notice on its doors, its ‘temporary suspension’ proved to be permanent. It turned out that the bank had been little more than a front and that Collins and Dare had looted as much as $880,000 from its stockholders and depositors, a staggering sum in the 1890s, some of which had been used to fund their cable railway. Dare fled the country, reportedly for Italy, but Collins was arrested in San Diego in February 1892 and charged with embezzling $200,000 of the bank’s funds. Rather than be taken to jail, Collins, who had also suffered a personal tragedy when his entire family drowned in a yacht accident the year before, shot himself in his hotel room while the marshal waited for him outside.

In March 1892, unable to pay creditors, its financial backing cut off and its principal officers dead or in hiding, the company was ruled to be insolvent under the insolvent act of 1880. It was forbidden to transfer any property or to collect or receive any debts and the sheriff was appointed to take charge as receiver. The cars would continue to run, however, and Judge Puterbaugh authorized the sheriff to purchase coal to keep them running. The judge also granted a request for $10 to employ musicians to attract people to the pavilion on Sundays. This would be to the advantage of the creditors and the public would enjoy the very excellent programs. Other expenditures were approved to repair and maintain the road bed and keep it in good condition.

In September 1892 Judge Puterbaugh authorized the receiver to purchase new cables for the line and to raise funds to pay for them by issuing ‘receiver’s certificates’. Two new cables were ordered and one had arrived but on October 15 the receiver reported to the judge that there was no money to move the cable from the depot and put it in position and that no more receiver’s certificates could be sold. He asked the judge to sign an order to stop the operation of the railway and Judge Puterbaugh did so. Although there were occasional rumors that the slot wheels were being oiled and of a quiet bustling at the power house in anticipation of reopening the line, San Diego’s cable railway never ran again.

In September 1893 the Union reported that a controlling interest in the San Diego Cable railway company had been acquired by the Electric Storage railway company and that it had shipped three cars of the ‘electric storage pattern’ to run on the cable line. Nothing more was heard of this venture, however, and the cable company continued to be run by a court-appointed receiver. The big steel cable purchased for the cable line and stored at the Santa Fe depot was sold at auction for $1,355.

In September 1894 it was announced that preparations had been made to reopen the street railway leading to the fine pavilion at the end of the road overlooking Mission Valley, formerly a popular resort for dancing and Sunday concerts, and one of the most pleasant places of resort within reach of busy people. To bring it within reach again, a line of horse cars would operate over the rails of the cable railway from the end of the existing electric railway on upper Fifth Street. The cars would be the cable cars from the former cable railway and three horses would be attached to each car. R. H. Dalton, then the receiver of the cable railway, would be general manager of the new line. A first class lunch counter would be maintained at the pavilion.

In January 1895 Judge Puterbaugh authorized the receiver of the Cable Railway Company to sell the power house, machinery and other property and in February the assets of the cable company were sold at public auction to George B. Kerper of Cincinnati for $17,000. Kerper said he intended to resume operations as soon as possible, probably within four months. A month later, in March 1895, Kerper announced the sale of the cable line to a syndicate of eastern capitalists for $55,000, while retaining a three-fourths interest. The syndicate would expend another $25,000 to ‘electrize’ the line

The syndicate of eastern capitalists incorporated in April 1896 as the Citizens Traction Company, with a mission to take over the property, rights and franchise of the San Diego Cable Railway and transform it into an electric road. Kerper would be president and there would be no immediate change from the route of the cable railway, but new features would be introduced at the pavilion end of the line. The pavilion grounds, Mission Cliff Park, would be ‘conducted on temperance principles’ but a hotel would be erected on adjoining land where a public garden would be maintained and ‘something stronger than lemonade will be obtainable under rules of good order’. The Traction company expected to have the new line in operation by July 1 and to generate the electric power at the power house at Fourth and Spruce Streets. The company would convert the former cable cars to electric power and continue to run them over the narrow gauge rails of the former cable line.

The Citizens Traction Company did operate on the route of the former cable railway for another year or so but in early 1898 it was acquired by the San Diego Electric Railway, the former San Diego Street Car horse car system that had been purchased by the Spreckels interests in 1892 and converted to electricity. The San Diego Electric Railway already had a line on Fifth Avenue from downtown to University Avenue, so the portion of the Citizens Traction line from University to Mission Cliff Park was converted to standard gauge and a connection made to the Fifth Avenue line to extend it to the pavilion. The rest of the Citizens Traction line, the former San Diego Cable Railway, was abandoned. The power house was sold in 1902 and torn down in 1903; the Union reported that although the work had been kept quiet for fear of collecting a crowd the stack had been blown up on March 17. The tracks on Fourth, C and Sixth streets were also removed in 1903, the last visible signs of San Diego’s cable railway.

Train Wreck and Reckoning

On January 16, 1908, the 1:55 PM train with 30 passengers bound for Pacific Beach and La Jolla departed from the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway station at the foot of C Street in San Diego. According to the San Diego Union, the train was steaming through Middletown at a fair rate of speed when it left the rails and plowed along the ties for fully 300 feet before the engine turned over on its side at right angles to the track. The engineer, Thomas Robertson, was pinned in the engine’s cab by the reverse lever and scalded to death by steam escaping from the boiler. The fireman, Thomas Fitzgerald, was hurled head foremost into a clump of cactus and also badly burned by escaping steam (he died of his injuries 10 days later). Although women screamed and men made for the doors, the two coaches and mixed coach/baggage car making up the train remained upright and came to a standstill amid the hiss of the steam. Not a passenger was even so much as scratched nor was there a window in either of the three cars broken; the fright incident to the cars bumping along over the ties and a severe shaking up summed up the damage to the passengers.

The Union interviewed one passenger, Miss Zoe Overshiner, a 16-year-old girl from Pacific Beach who was on a front seat of the first car and ‘tells a graphic story of the accident’:

I was talking with [a] friend of mine about something, I’ve forgotten what it was now, when all of a sudden the engine began to act funny and our car began bumping heavily. This was due, as we afterwards found out to the fact that it had left the rails. The first shock was not so bad as might have been expected and we were not frightened until we saw the engine plunge over the bank and turn over on its side. Then the steam hid the engine and I climbed through the window of the car and jumped to the ground. I didn’t want to get hurt and the door wouldn’t open, or at least, I though it wouldn’t. I don’t remember whether I screamed. Maybe I did. It was enough to make any one scream when the engine reared up in the air and turned over on its side. It’s no joke to be in a railroad wreck.

The writer added that ‘it is probable that she is right’.

The 1908 train wreck occurred where Winder Street then crossed the railroad right-of-way, near where West Washington Street passes under I-5 today. The immediate cause was said to have been ‘spreading of the rails’; spikes holding one of the rails to the ties had come loose, the rail had shifted and the engine had fallen through and bumped along on the ties. The railroad company admitted that while much of the line had recently been improved with heavier 60-pound rails, the work of relaying the track had stopped short of the site of the accident, where the rails were of the lighter 35-pound type first used on the line and in service ever since. However, the company claimed that the track where the wreck occurred had been put in good shape two or three days before.

Like Miss Overshiner, most of the passengers who had been scared and severely shaken up in the accident were residents of Pacific Beach or La Jolla, and the two victims were also long-time local residents. Thomas Fitzgerald had worked for what was then the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railway when it was first completed to the foot of Grand Avenue in 1888, and he had built a house on Reed Avenue near the depot there. Thomas Robertson’s family had once lived in the Pacific Beach Hotel building near the depot and Mrs. Robertson was a charter member of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. When the railroad was extended to La Jolla in 1894, becoming the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla Railway, these railway employees had moved to its new base there, where the Robertsons’ home was noted for its rose garden (although the company’s name was changed again in 1906, suggesting a move even further up the coast, the tracks were never extended beyond La Jolla).

Understandably, a fatal train wreck involving a number of their fellow citizens and raising doubts about the safety of their only transportation link to the city caused concern, and sparked anger and outrage, in the affected communities. On January 27, eleven days after the accident, the Union reported that 25 or 30 people attended a hearing before the city council of a petition signed by nearly 200 citizens of Pacific Beach, La Jolla and other points along the line of the LA&SDB asking for an investigation (at the time there were only about 300 households in Pacific Beach and La Jolla combined):

We the undersigned, citizens of Old Town and patrons of the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach railway, most respectfully request that your honorable body fully investigate the conditions and methods of said railroad. That all laws and ordinances of every kind regulating said railroad be vigorously enforced, so that not only our rights as citizens be secured, our comforts and conveniences be regarded, but our lives and those of our families be made reasonably secure when forced to use said railroad. We would call your attention to the following notorious facts:

First. This road is and has been for some time in a frightfully dangerous condition, many of the ties being rotten and the spikes in such a state that they can be extracted with the fingers. Even the new parts of the road being, in the opinion of those competent to judge, badly constructed. The engines and cars are very old, small, out of date and without the safety equipment the law requires, all this making travel perilous to the last degree, so much so that the late sad accident, long predicted, might have been a frightful calamity.

Second. The convenience or wishes of the citizens are in no way considered as to train service or the time table. The trains are too few in number and are run at inconvenient hours.

Only a part of the abuses have been stated, but we pray your honorable body that steps be taken by you to secure our rights and restore our comforts and safety.

At the council meeting, which was also attended by General Manager Hornbeck and Attorney Leovy representing the railroad company, a Mr. Dyer, said to have lately located at Pacific Beach, stated that every statement made in the petition was true (there is no contemporary record of a Mr. Dyer in Pacific Beach; possibly the speaker was Mr. De Hart, who had recently moved to a home on Shasta Street). He said that with reasonably safe and proper railway service many hundreds would be added to the population of Pacific Beach but as it was, every time people boarded the trains they did so with fear and trembling. Mr. Rockwood (of The Rockwood, PB’s first apartment building, at Bayard Street and Thomas Avenue, a block from the railroad’s Ocean Front station on Grand at Bayard) described how he had found a broken rail just the day before the accident and had flagged down a train with a red bandana, possibly preventing another accident. He also explained how it was possible to pull spikes from the ties with the fingers and that dozens of the ties were rotten. A. C. Pike (presumably W. A. Pike, who owned most of the two blocks north of the railroad’s Grand Avenue right-of-way, adjacent to its Pacific Beach station at Lamont Street) stated that he had actually counted 702 rotten ties, that many spikes were not properly driven and many of the rails were rusty, being, in fact, crystalized with it. He closed his remarks with the ‘somewhat  abrupt conclusion’ that the whole road was rotten, equipment, roadbed, even the official management. A. S. Lane (whose home on Hornblend, now the Baldwin Academy, was a block from the Pacific Beach station) asked that a committee be appointed to go over the railroad, although he noted that considerable improvement work had been done since the recent accident.

General Manager Hornbeck replied to the criticisms at considerable length, beginning by complaining  that the petition had been prompted by the spirit expressed by Mr. Pike, that the official management of the railroad was ‘rotten’. He dismissed criticism of the ties, saying that the new, heavier rails were laid on the same class of ties and would have been laid on the existing ties at the scene of the accident except for construction delays. When a protester interrupted Mr. Hornbeck to ask why the railroad had been in such a hurry to burn the ties damaged by the train leaving the track, Mr. Hornbeck replied that this was a dirty, contemptuous story; he agreed that the ties had been burned but that it was 24 hours after the accident, they were worthless and they were burned to get them out of the way.  When Mr. Hornbeck alleged that unfair means had been used to secure signatures for the petition and some had signed without knowing what they were signing, one of the petitioners ‘came to his feet in a hurry’ and declared that Mr. Hornbeck’s statement was a lie. The president of the council attempted to restore order, saying that personalities must not enter into the discussion – to which the petitioner replied that Mr. Hornbeck had started it. Mr. Hornbeck did agree to the suggestion of a first-hand inspection and invited every member of the council to go over the railroad and see for themselves. After further discussion it was decided to make the trip the following week.

Eight out of the nine members of the city council accompanied by City Engineer Crowell, General Manager Hornbeck and a number of the petitioners, made the inspection trip in a special train. To make the examination thorough, the councilmen walked much of the way from the city to the ‘Scripps station beyond Pacific Beach’, presumably referring to the Ocean Front station on Grand at Bayard Street, the palm-lined drive leading to F. T. Scripps’ bayfront mansion (where the Catamaran Hotel now stands). From Pacific Beach to La Jolla, which would have followed a route along today’s Mission Boulevard, La Jolla Hermosa and Electric avenues, and Cuvier Street, the party inspected the roadbed from an open flat car. According to a report in the San Diego Union the following day, the eight council members were expected to report that the statements in the petition were much exaggerated and that the line was reasonably safe for travel, probably as much so as any of the railroads running out of the city. ‘After the representations made by the petitioners I was surprised to find things in as good shape as they are’, said one councilman.

The ninth council member, F. J. Goldkamp, dissented from the general consensus of his colleagues. He had made a personal inspection trip over the railroad before the official inspection because, he said, a petition signed by 200 people, 20 of whom had appeared before the council, was a matter that should not have been delayed for 10 or 12 days and that in the meantime the company had a chance to make improvements of the existing conditions. For example, he reported that he saw a worker being employed driving spikes into the ties. Mr. Goldkamp contended that the complaints of the people were fully borne out by the conditions as he found them, and he had personally pulled spikes out of the ties with his fingers.

The two reports resulting from the separate inspections of the LA&SDB were presented to the city council at a meeting on February 18, 1908. According to the San Diego Union, the report by City Engineer Crowell ‘practically exonerated’ the company from the charges made by citizens of Pacific Beach and La Jolla and concluded that the roadbed was perfectly safe for public travel. Mr. Crowell’s report stated that the roadbed from the downtown station to a point past Winder Street in Middletown was in fine condition, having been recently relaid with new 60-pound steel rails and the grades much improved by cutting down the hills and filling in the low points besides straightening the line and eliminating two bad curves. From the end of the new track to Old Town the track had the old light rails and there were many bad ties, although they were no worse than was found on any other railroad leading out of the city.

Through Old Town the track had been straightened out and entirely reconstructed with new ties and 60-pound rails. The bridge over the San Diego River was in good condition except for some bolts that needed to be tightened. ‘In one or two instances’ he found a tie in a condition that would allow pulling a spike out with the fingers, a condition which also applied to the parallel Santa Fe (a mainline railroad with much more traffic carrying much heavier loads).

From Old Town to Pacific Beach the roadbed had been widened and a cut-off built across the race track, eliminating a number of curves (this cut-off replaced the circuitous route around the former race track east of Rose Creek via what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa avenues to Lamont Street with the more direct route along present-day Grand Avenue to Lamont). He walked over a good portion the track from the Pacific Beach station (Lamont Street) toward the ocean front and found that portion in good condition. ‘After going over the whole length of the road, I have no hesitancy in saying that I do not consider the roadbed in a dangerous condition’.  Mr. Crowell’s report was referred to the city attorney.

Councilman Goldkamp’s report stated that the complaints of the people were fully borne out by the condition of the road at the time of presenting their petition. Owing to the lapse of ten days between presenting the petition and the inspection the railroad people were enabled to employ a large staff of extra men to repair all the worst parts of the road, to replace broken ties, to drive in loose spikes, to put in new ones and cover up all the defects sufficiently to pass the investigation of the councilmen. Mr. Goldkamp contended that this work of making the road appear safer at the time was only of a temporary nature and owing to the rottenness of the ties and the lightness of the rails these parts were liable to become unsafe again very soon. The rolling stock was old and out of date and made more unsafe by the use of old-fashioned link and pin couplings connecting the cars. He concluded that in view of the growing population of Pacific Beach and La Jolla it was time for the service to be modernized. The owners had apparently expressed a desire to ‘electrize’ the line and the council should call upon them to complete that process within six months or their franchise should be forfeited. Mr. Goldkamp’s report was simply filed.

Although the LA&SDB was never ‘electrized’, it did upgrade its rolling stock in the next few months with a pair of new gasoline-powered McKeen rail cars that had the added advantage of being able to operate over the city’s street railways and convey suburban passengers to and from businesses and theaters near the center of town without changing trains (steam trains were not allowed on downtown streets and could only go as far as the line’s terminus at the foot of C Street). The McKeen cars were painted a ‘rich Tuscan red’ and soon became known as ‘Red Devils’. And despite Mr. Goldkamp’s misgivings, the rottenness of the ties and the lightness of the rails did not contribute to any further accidents on the La Jolla line, although about 20 passengers were injured, one seriously, when a La Jolla train collided with a Santa Fe train in 1917 at a crossing near Old Town. The railroad was also involved in accidents with automobiles, including one in which a woman was killed and several other passengers seriously injured when it collided with a La Jolla train in Old Town in 1909.

Automobiles were first introduced to San Diego in 1900 and as their use increased over time, and roads to Pacific Beach and La Jolla were improved, fewer residents were ‘forced’ to use the train to reach destinations downtown. With fewer passengers to pay operating costs, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway applied to the Public Utilities Commission to discontinue service and in 1919 the line was abandoned. The rails were torn up and sold for scrap, although the section of right-of-way between Grand Avenue and Bird Rock over what are now Mission Boulevard and La Jolla Hermosa Avenue was reused between 1924 and 1940 for an electric railway line from downtown to La Jolla via Mission Beach. North coast residents forced to use that line were still not entirely secure, however. In 1937 a pair of the electric cars collided head-on in heavy fog in the Midway area, injuring 31 passengers, some seriously.

PB Asbestos Works

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.

Rose Canyon Brick

San Diego’s Rose Canyon is endowed with what has been described as an inexhaustible supply of clay, ideal for making bricks, and millions of bricks were produced there until the last brickyard closed in the mid-1960s. The canyon was named for Louis Rose, who had come to San Diego in 1850 and beginning in 1853 had acquired most of what was then called La Cañada de las Lleguas. A monument to Rose near the northern entrance to Rose Canyon, on what was once the median of the Pacific Highway and is now a lawn on the University of California campus, credits him with being a brickmaker as well as a tanner, outstanding citizen and pioneer of Rose Canyon. In fact, while Rose was a prominent citizen of early San Diego and his tannery made him a Rose Canyon pioneer, there is no evidence that he was actually involved in brickmaking.

In 1861 Rose was forced to sell his holdings in the canyon to a creditor, Lorenzo Sota, and in 1875 Sota’s daughter and heir Rosa sold the canyon to Adolf G. Gassen. By the late 1880s San Diego had developed to the point where substantial multi-story buildings were being built downtown and in October 1888 the San Diego Union reported that bricks were being ‘burned’ in the Rose Cañon kiln for the Pauly & Gassen building. By November 1888 the news was that work on the Pauly-Gassen block, Fourth and E streets, would be rushed as soon as the material could be hauled to the ground. The first load of brick had been brought in the day before from the yard of Quereau & Bowman in Rose’s Canyon and no building in the city would have a better article for foundation or walls (the brick Pauly-Gassen Building is still standing on the northeast corner of Fourth and E).

In April 1890 the Union reported that Charles H. Hill had secured a ten-year lease of eighty acres of land in Rose Canyon that was said to be well supplied with good clay for brick. He also began work on a ‘continuous brick kiln’ capable of firing 9 million bricks a year. According to the Union the kiln was the invention of Max Boehncke and was a large circular or elliptical structure divided into sixteen compartments, each large enough to hold a day’s work of the brickyard. In a continuous kiln of this type newly molded clay bricks would be loaded into one of the compartments and remain there while the compartment was advanced through the different phases of brickmaking each day by moving the fire to a new compartment and altering the flow of air between compartments. Outside air would be drawn first through cooling compartments, cooling fired bricks and warming the air before it entered the firing compartments, where it combined with fuel in combustion that raised temperatures to over 2000° F, vitrifying or ‘burning’ the bricks. The exhaust from the firing compartments would then be fed through ‘water smoking’ compartments, warming and drying the unfired bricks and preparing them for firing, before escaping through a chimney in the center of the structure which produced the draft for the entire process. At any given time five or six of the compartments would be for water smoking, three compartments would be used for firing the dried bricks and four for cooling the bricks after firing. Each day a compartment of cooled bricks would be emptied and made available for another load of newly molded bricks, perpetuating the continuous process. The kiln would be 100 feet long and 60 feet wide and was expected to be completed by the middle of the summer.

By the middle of summer, in July 1890, the Union reported that the continuous brick kiln recently built by C. H. Hill in Rose Canyon was in operation, turning out 25,000 bricks per day. The company had the contract for furnishing the brick for the new opera house and was already delivering the material. The brick delivered so far were of particularly fine quality, being evenly burned and of uniform hardness. Mr. Hill also expected to find a market shipping brick by sea; vessels leaving San Diego often took on rock or sand ballast, which they had to pay for, so if a load of bricks were taken on instead of ballast a ship might save money even without charging freight.

The Union also reported that Charley Hill’s continuous brick kiln in Rose Canyon had become a ‘curiosity’ and was visited by a large number daily. The curiosity might have been due to the kiln’s peculiar 114-foot high chimney. During construction it was found to be out of plumb; some said the mason had made a mistake and others claimed that it had settled unevenly as it rose and gained weight. The builders attempted to straighten the unfinished portion of the chimney with the result that it not only ‘leaned’ but was ‘bent’ at the top. There are reports that its lean was further increased by flooding of Rose Creek in 1916, when water stood six feet deep around the chimney, and possibly even by earthquakes on the Rose Canyon fault. In the 1930s measurements of the chimney showed that it leaned 3° 26” from vertical and the center of the top was 6.3 feet from the center of the bottom.

A Union article in December 1890 stated that the seven ‘pressed brick machines’ at Rose Canyon brickyard had been started up for the first time and Charles Hill said that they would turn out from 20,000 to 25,000 bricks a day to begin with, but when running at full capacity 100,000 could be made. An order for 75,000 bricks for the three additional stories of the George J. Keating building would be filled first (the Keating building, its upper three stories made of red brick, is still standing at Fifth Avenue and F Street downtown). In January 1891 Hill said that 100,000 bricks would be ready to leave the kiln, and that some would go north to fill orders (the California Southern Railroad built a siding at the brickyard and named it Ladrillo, Spanish for brick). As expected, some bricks were also shipped by sea; in February 1891 the Union reported that the schooner David Park was taking on 82,000 bricks from the Rose Canyon yards for Eureka. In March the schooners Bertha Dolbeer and Lottie Carson sailed for Eureka with 26,000 and 86,000 bricks, respectively, from Rose Canyon. In May it was the schooner Ruby A. Cousins taking 60,000 bricks from the Rose Canyon brickyard to Eureka. Other local projects also required bricks; in 1891 E. W. Scripps, the newspaper tycoon, contracted with Charles Hill to furnish 40,000 bricks to begin work on his planned family residence at Miramar that became the Scripps Ranch.

Like other land that the American city of San Diego had taken over from the former Mexican pueblo, Rose Canyon was divided into pueblo lots, generally a half mile square and 160 acres. A. G. Gassen’s purchase from Rosa Sota had included four pueblo lots in the lower part of Rose Canyon, lots 1788, 1787, 1778 and 1777. In August 1891 G. A. Garrettson and Jacob Gruendike incorporated the Rose Canyon Brick Company and bought Pueblo Lot 1778 from Gassen, apparently giving them control of Hill’s continuous kiln. According to the San Diego Union the Rose Canyon company seemed to be doing a big business and employed a large number of men. Two million of their bricks were used in the upper three floors of the Fisher Opera House which once stood on Fourth Street between B and C streets downtown, previously said to be Hill’s customer.

However, the brickmaking operations that the Rose Canyon Brick Company had taken over from Hill apparently extended into the adjoining Pueblo Lot 1787, which Gassen still owned, and in May 1893 Gassen sued the Rose Canyon company to recover possession of lot 1787, which his lawsuit claimed the defendants had ousted him from in August 1891. The lawsuit was decided in Gassen’s favor; he was awarded Pueblo Lot 1787 and $100 damages and the Rose Canyon company was ordered to refrain from digging up or removing clay from the premises or removing any machinery. A descendant of D. F. Garrettson noted later that when the property was surveyed the boundary went right through the brick kiln. Although the Rose Canyon Brick Company continued to exist and owned the Rose Canyon property until it was sold in 1938 for nonpayment of state and county taxes, Gassen’s lawsuit put an end to its brickmaking operations.

Brickmaking in Rose Canyon resumed in 1901 when Gassen sold 7 acres in the northwest quarter of Pueblo Lot 1787 to James R. Wade, a masonry contractor. In April 1904 Wade, his brother William and Homer G. Taber founded Union Brick Company. In August of that year Taber announced that new machinery would be installed at the company’s Rose Canyon plant giving it a capacity of 35,000 bricks per day. Two years later, in 1906, the Union reported that arrangements had been completed for the removal of the Union Brick plant from its Rose Canyon location to near the foot of 22nd Street, although Rose Canyon remained the source of the company’s clay. The owners would build a boarding house for employees who wanted to live near the new brickyard, as the company preferred they should.

In 1908 the Union Brick Company’s stock and plant was acquired by J. T. Maechtlen, J. W. Rice and General E. C. Humphrey. The Union reported that they expected to have the plant in operation shortly, employing about 25 men and turning out between 25,000 and 30,000 bricks a day. This plant was still downtown; in an ad for Union Brick Company, ‘manufacturing first class building bricks’, on New Year’s day 1909 J. J. Maechtlen was listed as president, J. W. Rice as vice president and E. C. Humphrey as secretary, office 510 Granger Block, yard foot 23rd St. The 1911 city directory indicated that the office and yards were at the foot of 23rd St. and that clay pits were located in Rose Canyon. Presumably the four brickyard laborers who were counted in Rose Canyon in the 1910 federal census, all Spanish-speaking and born in Mexico, worked in the clay pits. John W. Rice became president of Union Brick Co. in 1910 and in 1916, when contributions were being solicited for Mercy Hospital campaign fund, as ‘San Diego’s sole manufacturer of bricks’ he forwarded a note to campaign headquarters to the effect that he would make his contribution in the form of bricks to be used in construction of the hospital buildings.

By 1917 the company had moved its yard from the foot of 23rd Street back to Rose Canyon. Other construction projects in San Diego created an additional demand for bricks and the ‘sole manufacturer’ stepped up production. A story in the Evening Tribune in 1921 described how a Fordson tractor at the Union Brick Company in Rose Canyon was ‘moving a mountain at the rate of 25,000 bricks a day’; turning a mountain of clay into buildings for the naval training station, marine base and naval hospital that were then being built in San Diego by the federal government. One man on the Fordson was plowing the clay pit with a 14-inch deep tillage bottom and carrying it to a hopper, doing the work that it formerly took four men and eight horses to accomplish. In 1923 the Union Brick Company took out an ad in the San Diego Union to correct some misleading statements made in regard to the brick situation in San Diego. Apparently the Union had stated that 1800 cars of brick were shipped into San Diego the previous year. This was absolutely incorrect, according to the ad; all these bricks had been shipped from Rose Canyon, which is within the city limits. The level of activity in the Rose Canyon brickyard was also reflected in the 1930 census, which showed that a dozen Spanish-speaking Mexican natives were then employed as laborers there and living with their families in the vicinity.

When the Union Brick Company moved its brickyard from 23rd Street back to Rose Canyon, it also closed its office there and moved its business address to 3565 Third Avenue, the residence of president John W. Rice (which of course was made of brick). In 1946 John W. Rice turned the company over to his son, John W. Rice Jr., although he continued to go to work at the brickyard daily for many years. Under the younger Rice the company undertook a number of improvements to boost production to keep pace with San Diego’s growth. One improvement was substitution of the traditional sand-molded process to the more modern wire-cut method. In 1952 the Union Brick Company supplied the bricks for the new Sears, Roebuck building (500,000 bricks) and Telephone Company building (250,000) in Normal Heights. Production tripled to 12 million bricks a year by 1954.

Rose Canyon and the Union Brick Co. brickyard, 1953.

In 1955 the company announced plans for another expansion to initiate production-line techniques and year-round production. Up to that time the company’s production season had been limited to April 1 through September 15, based upon prospects for favorable weather. Untimely rains could ruin quantities of unfired bricks stacked for four to six weeks in the drying yard at the Rose Canyon plant. The new process would include a tunnel for continuous drying under controlled humidity conditions and a new continuous kiln for pre-heating, burning and cooling the brick.

While Rose Canyon had been an ideal location for brick production it was also a natural route of travel to and from San Diego. San Diego’s main rail link to the outside world ran through the canyon and a road first opened in 1894 became the Pacific Highway in the 1930s. With increasing numbers of travelers passing the brickyard along their route, its leaning chimney became one of San Diego’s most prominent landmarks. In December 1958 it was even decorated for Christmas; the Union reported that a helicopter was used to lower a likeness of Santa Claus onto the leaning chimney of the Union Brick Yard in Rose Canyon. However, traffic continued to increase and in 1960 the news was that an additional four lanes of U. S. 101 would force the Union Brick Company to move from Rose Canyon, although in recognition of its landmark status the ‘leaning tower of Rose Canyon’ would be spared.

The chimney’s reprieve turned out to be a short one, however; in January 1962 the ‘leaning smokestack’ toppled over during heavy winds accompanying a rainstorm with only the bottom third still standing. A photo in the Union showed a figure of Santa Claus, which had once stood atop the tower, lying among the ruins. A couple of days after the leaning chimney blew down, Union Brick president John W. Rice Jr. proposed that a replica, tilted at a similar angle, would be built as a monument to the original at the company’s new location in Sorrento Valley.  The company’s sales manager added that the area, without the leaning chimney, looked like a ‘woman without her earrings’ and said that construction, using bricks from the original stack, would begin as soon as approval was granted. Approval was not granted and the replica chimney was never built, but Rose Canyon’s brick heritage has been commemorated in other ways. In 1963 the masonry contractor for the new Rancho Bernardo community announced that more than 25,000 bricks had been salvaged from the ‘leaning chimney of Rose Canyon’ and would be used in fireplaces in Rancho Bernardo homes and apartments. And more than 50 years after the chimney fell and the last brick was made in Rose Canyon, when the Karl Strauss brewery and tasting room opened in Rose Canyon in 2013, one of the items on its menu was a cask-conditioned barleywine named Union Brick.


Pacific Beach Reading Club

Hornblend Hall, the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club clubhouse on Hornblend Street between Jewell and Kendall, is one of the best-known historical buildings in Pacific Beach. It was built in 1911 for what was then known as the Pacific Beach Reading Club, which traced its origins to 1895 and the world-famous poet Rose Hartwick Thorpe, then a Pacific Beach resident. In 1867, when she was 16 years old, she had written the poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight about a young girl, Bessie, who saved her lover Basil from execution by Oliver Cromwell’s troops during the English Civil War. Basil was scheduled to die when the curfew bell rang, so Bessie climbed the tower and clung to the bell as it swung, preventing it from ringing. Then she climbed down and begged Cromwell to spare Basil, and, his heart touched with pity at her anguished face and bruised and torn hands, he pardoned Basil. ‘Go! Your lover lives, cried Cromwell. Curfew shall not ring tonight’.

In 1887 Rose Hartwick Thorpe was living in Texas when Harr Wagner, editor of the literary magazine Golden Era, recruited her to come to San Diego to write for his magazine and help him promote a college he was hoping to establish in Pacific Beach. She did move to Pacific Beach, and when the San Diego College of Letters opened in 1888 her daughter Lulo was one of the first students. Edward (E. Y.) Barnes and Mary Cogswell were two other students at the college whose parents had relocated to Pacific Beach. When the college closed in 1891 the Thorpe, Barnes and Cogswell families remained in Pacific Beach and were among the first to take up lemon ranching, the business that sustained the community for the next decade. In March 1895 Mrs. Thorpe, Phoebe Barnes and Elizabeth Cogswell were among the ladies of Pacific Beach who met at Mrs. Thorpe’s and formed a reading club ‘for the purpose of studying ancient history, the leading topics of the day and of receiving mutual benefit’. Other charter members included Alice Johnson, Fannie Gleason, Rebecca Ash, Catherine Furneaux, Ella Woodworth and Prudence Robertson (Mrs. Johnson was a widow, the Ashes and Gleasons were also lemon ranchers, Rev. Mr. Furneaux was the Presbyterian minister and the husbands of Mrs. Woodworth and Robertson worked for the Pacific Beach railway). Mrs. Thorpe was elected president.

In its early years the Reading Club met at the homes of members, usually Mrs. Thorpe or Mrs. Barnes, although meetings were also held in the homes of Mrs. Robertson, Mrs. Cogswell and Mrs. Stearns, another lemon rancher. By October 1895, the San Diego Union noted that these meetings were becoming quite an important feature of the social life of Pacific Beach. Meetings generally included a study session on a historical or literary topic, often led by a member with some experience in the subject, a musical program which might include performances by young people of the community, and a social hour featuring ‘dainty’ refreshments. The meetings were not necessarily restricted to members; in March 1896 the ladies invited their husbands and friends to attend a pleasant gathering at the home of Mrs. Barnes in honor of president Rose Hartwick Thorpe. The entire program was devoted to her works; each member responded to roll call with a selection from her writings and the honoree herself delivered a recitation of her famous poem. Annual business meetings were also held to elect officers, and the club took a two-month vacation over the summer.

Lulo Thorpe and E. Y. Barnes were married in 1895 (and also became lemon ranchers), and Lulo Barnes soon became an active member of the Reading Club. At one meeting in her home in December 1898 the ladies discussed patriotism very earnestly and at the close sang heartily some very patriotic songs (the Spanish-American War had taken place during 1898). Mary Stoddard Snyder was a botanist and authority on marine algae who enjoyed collecting and mounting specimens of locally-collected sea weeds. She had joined the Reading Club when she moved to Pacific Beach in 1896. At the annual meeting of the club at Mrs. Thorpe’s in March 1898 Mrs. Thorpe earnestly requested to be relieved of the presidency and Mrs. Snyder was elected in her place. Dr. Martha Dunn Corey, who owned a lemon ranch and was also the first physician in Pacific Beach, was elected secretary (Dr. Corey also moved into the house built for Harr Wagner after he moved downtown). These officers were reelected in 1899, along with Ida Johnston, wife of the Presbyterian minister (who had replaced Rev. Furneaux), who became vice president. At Reading Club meetings these women could be counted on to present interesting information based on their own backgrounds. In February 1898 the regular meeting of the Reading Club spent the time very pleasantly upon a study of ancient Egypt. Mrs. Johnston, who had spent many months in that interesting country, contributed largely to the interest of the subject. In 1899 Mrs. Snyder delivered a paper on the trees of California (followed by a tasty lunch of tea and cake and a most pleasant social time). Dr. Corey spoke on the assimilation of foods in 1900.

Emma Jessops Scripps joined the Pacific Beach Reading Club in 1900 when she and her husband, Fred T. Scripps, brother of the newspaper tycoon E. W. Scripps and half-brother of La Jolla philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, moved into Braemar Manor, their elegant mansion on Mission Bay. A 1906 remodel of Braemar included a room built ‘especially for the pleasure’ of the different clubs she belonged to and thereafter Reading Club meetings were held regularly in Mrs. Scripps’ ‘cozy clubhouse’. Mrs. Scripps also held an annual musicale for the benefit of the club.

In 1905 Frances Haskins and her husband moved to Pacific Beach from Chicago and built the home that still stands at the corner of Diamond and Ingraham streets. Mrs. Haskins joined the reading club and was noted for her annual holiday receptions for club members and their guests, first ushering in the new year with good company and a good welcome in January 1908. When members and their friends were invited for another holiday reception in December 1908 over a hundred guests responded, having learned that ‘no greater treat was in store for them’. They were received by Mrs. Haskins, assisted by Mesdames Howard, Norris, Robinson and Pease, all handsomely gowned and showing the Christmas spirit. During the musical part of the program, Mrs. Haskins entertained the guests with many a merry tune on the gramophone.

The blocks surrounded by Grand Avenue and Lamont, Hornblend and Jewell streets had been part of a lemon ranch belonging to Sterling Honeycutt but when lemon ranching began to decline in the first years of the twentieth century Honeycutt sold these blocks to William and Hannah Pike; the block east of Kendall in 1903 and the block west of Kendall in 1904. In 1905 the Pikes sold the western quarter of the western block to Charles and Mary Boesch, who built the house still standing at the corner of Grand and Jewell in 1906. Hannah Pike and Mary Boesch both joined of the Reading Club, and Miss Ruth Boesch often performed as accompanist for the musical session at club meetings.

House built for the Boeschs in 1906 at Grand Avenue and Jewell Street.

A 1907 roster of the Pacific Beach Reading Club listed 30 members, including Mesdames Pike, Boesch, E. Y. Barnes, Haskins, Johnson, Johnston, Scripps and Snyder (Rose Hartwick Thorpe, Phoebe Barnes, Dr. Corey and others had moved away). Newer members included Helen Folsom and Lillian Dula, mother and sister of the Folsom brothers, whose Folsom Bros. Co. had purchased most of Pacific Beach in 1903. As the club grew it became more difficult to hold meetings in members’ homes and even in Mrs. Scripps’ clubhouse, and many meetings were held in the parlors of the Hotel Balboa, the former College of Letters building that had been renovated and reopened in 1904.  When that building was leased to Capt. Thomas A. Davis for his San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1910, Capt. Davis continued to offer space for reading club functions.

However, the club increasingly felt the need for a place of its own and in February 1911 a ‘fancy delsarte entertainment’ was held at the academy with proceeds to be applied to a new clubhouse fund (in the Delsarte system of dramatic expression gestures and poses represented attitudes and emotions). The San Diego Beach Co. (formerly Folsom Bros. Co.) donated a pair of lots in Fortuna Park but the club chose to build on a site donated by the Pikes and the Boeschs, who each offered a lot from their adjacent properties on Hornblend. The Hornblend location had the advantage of being centrally located in the most developed portion of Pacific Beach at the time; it was within a block or two of the community’s two churches, the school, stores, post office, railway station and the Army and Navy Academy. Hornblend Street between Lamont and Jewell had been ‘sidewalked and curbed’ in 1908, one of the first streets in the community to receive these improvements.

In March 1911 a mass meeting was held to discuss plans for a new clubhouse on the donated lots and this enthusiastic meeting resulted in a material subscription toward the fund. The building fund was enhanced by the sale of the other donated lots and a pledge by workers of five days free labor. C. M. Doty, a concrete contractor whose wife was a club member, poured the sidewalk and Mr. Pike, who was a building contractor, supervised the construction.

Doty and Mitchell poured the sidewalk in front of the clubhouse. Mrs. Doty was a club member.

Plans for the new clubhouse were fully discussed at a meeting in April 1911 and the preliminary work was said to be progressing favorably. A meeting in June at the hall of the Army and Navy Academy discussed work on the new club building and scheduled executive meetings every week during what was normally the club’s summer vacation for the purpose of pushing work on the building. After a meeting in August at the home of Mrs. Pike the club reported that progress thus far had been most satisfactory but there remained many details to be finished. The club expected to be in its elegant new quarters in the autumn.

Formal opening of the new clubhouse and a ‘housewarming’, with an interesting musical and literary program and dainty refreshments, was scheduled for October 5, 1911, and invitations were extended to other woman’s clubs. The Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railroad, as the local line to Pacific Beach and La Jolla was then known, announced that a special car would leave Fourth and C Streets at 7 o’clock, returning from Pacific Beach at 11 o’clock. The railway’s Pacific Beach station was on Grand Avenue just west of Lamont Street, about a block from the Reading Club’s new clubhouse (a trip originating at Fourth and C downtown would have been aboard a McKeen gasoline rail car – a Red Devil – since steam trains weren’t allowed on downtown streets).

The San Diego Union reported that the formal opening was a fine program and that the clubhouse had been filled with friends of the club from San Diego, La Jolla and National City, many of whom contributed substantially to the furnishing of the home. The club president, Mrs. Elizabeth Ravenscroft, spoke of the many kindnesses and the great amount of work accomplished in so short a time through the untiring efforts of Mrs. Lucy Woodward, who looked after all the details of the building.

The Reading Club held several other events for the benefit of the new clubhouse over the next few months, including a Halloween party, where witches, spooks and goblins reigned supreme and a December ‘dish shower’ to supply the new clubhouse with dishes. A large number of members were present and all came bearing packages which, upon being opened, revealed besides pretty chinaware a number of silver pieces. A concert for the clubhouse fund in April 1912 included a recitation by Rose Hartwick Thorpe herself of Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight, and also of her latest poem.

Rose Hartwick Thorpe had been the Reading Club’s first president, followed by Mary Snyder, Ida Johnston, Violet Conover and Elizabeth Ravenscroft, each of whom had served two or three years. At the annual business meeting in June 1912, Lucy Woodward was elected president, a position she held for twelve years. Coincidently or not, the Woodwards also moved to a site across the street from the clubhouse; their house was literally picked up from its previous address on Ingraham Street where Crown Point Elementary is now and put down on Hornblend Street.

The clubhouse of a reading club would seem like the natural place for a library, and in 1914 the club offered space in their building and their collection of books to the public library system. Club member Carrie Hinkle became the community’s first librarian and served for eight years. The clubhouse was also offered for other public services, including as a polling place.

The Reading Club had always been a woman’s club and was a founding member of the county Federation of Woman’s Clubs in 1898. During the 1920s it was increasingly referred to as the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club and in 1929 the members officially adopted the new name. The Pacific Beach Woman’s Club continued meeting at Hornblend Hall until 1962 when it moved to a new clubhouse on Soledad Road across from Kate Sessions Memorial Park, a building that is now the Soledad Club. The club retained ownership of Hornblend Hall, however, and in 1977 decided to return to its roots, the clubhouse built for the Pacific Beach Reading Club. Today’s Woman’s Club also recalls the heritage of its predecessor in other ways; the club color is lemon yellow, a lemon blossom is the club flower, its logo is a lemon branch and lemons form the background of its web site.

Switzer Creek Conduit

Switzer Creek below Balboa Park Golf Course, before entering conduit under the city leading to San Diego Bay.

One of the natural geographical features of the area that became the city of San Diego was a seasonal stream that rose in the mesa north and east of downtown, flowed through the eastern portion of what became Balboa Park, continued in a southerly direction and emptied in San Diego Bay near what is now the 10th Avenue Marine Terminal. The stream became known as Switzer Creek, after a family that operated a farm on its banks near the southern boundary of the park, and the canyon it carved in the mesa east of the park is called Switzer Canyon. South of the park, the stream bed ran through the area between 14th and 16th streets, and downtown streets like D Street (now Broadway) and H (Market) Street crossed it on wooden bridges.

During San Diego’s summers Switzer Creek was normally dry, but winter rainstorms could send enormous amounts of water from its upstream catchment area to the channel running through the city. In January 1886 the San Diego Union reported that a cloudburst on the mesa brought a flood of water pouring down through ‘Switzer’s Cañon’ that ‘created consternation among the denizens of the low lands along Fourteenth Street from D Street well down towards the bay’, not a gradual rise but a ‘tumultuous body, with a roar that appalled and a force that tore up the soil and sand and carried boulders and everything before it’. The worst damage occurred at H Street, where a house carried away by the flood struck the H Street bridge, tearing it loose and washing it downstream. Another storm in December 1889 also washed away a small house in the vicinity of 14th and H streets. The house floated several blocks before colliding with another house which was loosened from its foundations but was too large to float away.

After several days of rainfall In January 1895 the bridges across Switzer Creek at C, D, G, I (Island) and J streets were closed, and some swept away, while the bridge at K Street was saved by several hundred sandbags piled along the channel to hold the stream in place. The bridge at H Street ‘continued strong’ during that storm, but by 1902 it had weakened considerably. The Superintendent of Streets reported that the job of repairing the H Street bridge between 14th and 15th streets turned out to be a more serious matter than thought as many of the direct supporting beams and braces were rotted almost in two.

In May 1906 the Board of Public Works recommended replacing the wooden bridges over Switzer Creek at D, F and H streets with concrete conduits, but only the H Street project was actually approved by the city council. Ordinance No. 2487 authorized a reinforced concrete conduit on H Street between 14th and 15th, provided the cost not exceed $5,847, and provided further that the San Diego Electric Railway Co. contribute $2000 to the cost of construction (a SDER streetcar line ran on H Street from the waterfront to 16th Street, then down 16th to Logan Avenue and Logan Heights). The contract was awarded to W. C. Jacobs and work began in July 1906. According to the San Diego Union, the new H Street concrete culvert, to take the place of the damaged wooden bridge, was planned to take care of all the water that will ever come down Switzer Canyon and ultimately to form part of a conduit extending the entire length of the creek bottom. It would be 102 feet long, 18 feet wide and 10 feet high, the form being that of a perfect arch, the crown of which will be about two feet below the street. Construction of the concrete culvert was completed by November but the fill dirt laid over it to bring the street up to grade was considered too damp and in need of additional time to become properly packed. H street was finally paved over the culvert in April 1907.

In January 1907 the city held a special election to approve a bond issue to pay for public works, including water mains, reservoirs, a road to Mt. Hope and a sewer system for La Jolla. The bond issue would include $50,000 to fund seven reinforced concrete culverts to be built under C Street at 18th, D at 16th, F at 15th, G at 15th, I between 14th and 15th, J at 14th, and K at 14th, replacing the old wooden bridges over Switzer Creek which had continued to deteriorate (the south half of the D Street bridge had been fenced off and declared unsafe for travel). The election was held on March 12 and voters approved the bond issue for culvert construction (they also approved the La Jolla sewer system, intended to end pollution of the ocean there and clear the way for the biological station which became the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and ultimately UCSD).

However, before any steps had been taken toward construction of the culverts, a group of citizens who owned property in the vicinity petitioned the city to consider a more comprehensive flood control proposal for Switzer Creek; a concrete conduit running all the way from 18th and C streets to the bay. This alternative would not just replace the wooden bridges but would enable the property owners to ‘fill up the creek and use its bed for building lots’. The $50,000 already approved for the culverts could be reserved and applied to the construction of the conduit. The council considered variations of this idea for over a year before finally passing a resolution in March 1909 authorizing the city engineer to prepare plans and specifications for a reinforced concrete culvert, running in the bed of Switzer Creek from the south line of the public park to the intersection of K and 14th street. Where streets then crossed the creek on wooden bridges, C Street at 18th, D at 16th, F and G at 15th, I between 14th and 15th and J and K at 14th, the full width of the creek bed would be graded to street level (E Street was not yet graded east of 14th Street and did not have a bridge). The project would also include a dam on the south line of the park to temporarily hold flood water that might exceed the capacity of the conduit.

The council advertised for bids for construction of the conduit project in May 1909 but when the bids were opened in June the lowest bid, by C. H. Julian, was nearly $61,000, exceeding the $50,000 that the city had on hand for construction. After considering whether to reopen bids or to award the contract to the lowest bidder on condition that a portion of the work be delayed until additional funds could be secured, the mayor recommended that the difference could be found in the general fund and the council decided that the contract should be let.

The normally dry creek was mostly private property and it required some time to secure right of way from the property owners but by the end of July work on the Switzer Creek conduit had begun. The San Diego Union reported in August 1909 that a large force of men under C. H. Julian were at work on the conduit which would extend from Switzer Canyon to the water front. The first stretch of the conduit was to be from E Street north past the C Street bridge and operations were then in progress in the vicinity of 15th and D streets, where the walls of the ditch were continually caving in and workers narrowly escaped being crushed and buried. Other men were tearing out the D Street bridge; after the conduit had been laid the gap would be filled with dirt to the level of the street. Cement workers had begun making sections of the huge concrete pipe for the conduit.

A story in the Union in September 1909 described the construction of the sections of concrete pipe. Each section was three feet long and five feet inside diameter. The concrete was reinforced with steel bands and rods, and was six inches thick, making the overall diameter of the conduit six feet. The sections were removed from their molds after one day but then waited fourteen days to be laid. The concrete contractor could make thirty sections a day. Sections were laid in the ditch by a steel derrick and connected with steel bands. After sections had been laid they were cemented, making a continuous pipe. This round reinforced concrete pipe would extend about a mile from the park to around I street; from I street to the bay the conduit would become a channel, ten feet wide and five feet deep, with greater capacity.

Contractor Julian had expected to finish the conduit within 90 days, before the normal beginning of the rainy season, but the project fell behind schedule and early in November he received permission from the council for an extension of time to complete the project. Changes in alignment and gradient were also approved by the council. By late November, however, the conduit had only been completed between the park and H Street, and a heavy downpour caused considerable damage below the completed section. A dam had been constructed at the lower end to prevent bay water from running back into the trench at high tide but instead floodwaters coming down the completed conduit were backed up by the dam and filled the trench, causing portions to cave in. Julian required another contract extension in January 1910 but by April the conduit had been completed and was accepted by the city.

C. H. Julian’s contract had required filling in the creek bed to street level where bridges had previously crossed the creek, but other sections of the creek bed would also be filled in over time. In April 1910, the same month that the conduit had been accepted, a contractor asked the city council for a permit to grade 15th Street from E to G streets by private contract at the request of nearby property owners. G. E. Gabrielson estimated that it would take a long time, 12 months or more, to complete the project because of the vast amount of filling that would be required. The fill dirt would come from street paving and basement excavations. Gabrielson added that property owners between D and E streets were also arranging to have the street graded in that block, which would open up 15th Street from D Street south. It had never been graded before because there was no conduit to carry off the flood waters of Switzer Creek.

Even with a conduit, the flood waters of Switzer Creek were not always carried off rapidly enough. In April 1926 a storm dumped about 3.2 inches of rain and caused an ‘avalanche of water’ emptying from Switzer Canyon and over the large dam there. According to the San Diego Union, the huge weight of water racing from the canyon threatened the Switzer dam and all available police and fire department reserves were rushed there. Below the dam the intersections were ’huge lakes into which poured roaring rivers’. This and other similar incidents led the city to build and maintain additional storm drains under city streets to add to the drainage capacity. In 1986, for example, the city budgeted $175,000 for replacement or restoration of the Switzer Creek storm drain system to ‘improve the flow of the aging network’.

In 2000 the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that city workers replacing aging water mains had stumbled upon what appeared to be a tunnel under the 1400 block of Market Street, an inverted U-shaped concrete and steel arch about 12 feet wide and 9 feet high with a dirt floor. A drainage pipe ran beneath the dirt floor and a variety of old items including bullets and bullet-riddled cans were recovered from what was evidently still open space under the arch. A 1909 city map found in a drawer at the city operations building was said to describe the subterranean structure as an arch of the Switzer Creek conduit. In all likelihood, the ‘Market Street tunnel’ was actually the concrete culvert built to replace the H Street bridge in 1906 (H Street was renamed Market Street in 1915), and the ‘drainage pipe’ was the Switzer Creek conduit, constructed in 1909. Once Switzer Creek had been diverted into the conduit, the bridges over which other streets had crossed the creek were replaced by dirt embankments, but at H Street the conduit ran through the existing culvert under the street and no fill was necessary. The culvert would have remained open and accessible and apparently was visited by local residents, some of whom used it as a shooting gallery.

In the 100-plus years since the completion of the Switzer Creek conduit, what remained of the creek bed has been filled in and the area developed, burying the H Street culvert and every other sign of Switzer Creek in the East Village area of San Diego. The creek still flows beneath the streets, however, and is ‘daylighted’ in a few spots around Harbor Drive before it empties into San Diego Bay. No longer considered a threat to flood areas of the city, it is monitored today for the pesticides, metals and other toxic substances that it may carry from the yards and streets of its catchment area into the bay.

‘Daylight’ section of Switzer Creek near Harbor Drive, between the conduit under the East Village and San Diego Bay.