Category Archives: Things

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.

PB Bars – Some History

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported in February 2017 that the city of Encinitas has been struggling with regulation and control of alcohol-serving establishments. According to the U-T, residents there have argued that downtown Encinitas ‘is in danger of becoming the region’s next Pacific Beach, with late-night bar fights, vandalism, drunken driving and noise complaints’. Although Pacific Beach residents might object to the characterization of their community as the model for alcohol-fueled debauchery, there is no denying that ‘alcohol-serving establishments’ have become a prominent part of the landscape in recent years. So, how did Pacific Beach get on this ‘road to ruin’?

When Pacific Beach was founded in 1887 it was notably ‘dry’. The community was originally based around the San Diego College of Letters, one of whose directors was also the preacher at the nearby Presbyterian Church. The college’s promotional materials noted that in Pacific Beach there were no saloons. Deeds for all property sold by the Pacific Beach Company included a covenant that if at any time the purchaser, heirs, assigns or successors ‘use, or cause to be used, or shall allow or authorize in any manner, directly or indirectly, said premises or any part thereof to be used for the purpose of vending intoxicating liquors for drinking purposes, whether said vending shall be directly or under some evasive guise’ the title would revert to the Pacific Beach Company.

The college failed in 1891 and from 1892 to about 1905 the community became a center for lemon ranching. Many of the ranchers were Methodists who perpetuated the dry tendencies of the college community (the lemon ranchers also could rely on their own product for drinking purposes; one of the main uses of lemons was in making lemonade). When most of the property in the community was bought up in 1903 by Folsom Bros. Co., the new owners announced that the liquor selling restrictions of the old Pacific Beach Company would still be enforced.

Restrictions against liquor did not necessarily mean it wasn’t available. When national prohibition from 1920 to 1933 eliminated the open sale of alcoholic beverages anywhere in the country people could still obtain alcohol illicitly from bootleggers or moonshiners. In Pacific Beach, a federal prohibition agent raided a home at 868 Honeycutt Street in April 1923 and found two 10-gallon stills in operation. Eighteen gallons of ‘white mule’ were found in a cave under the house reached by a trap door in a bedroom. Another raid by ‘dry’ officers a few days later at Olney and Thomas streets netted a 20-gallon still, 5 gallons of finished liquor and 100 gallons of mash.

When prohibition ended in 1933 Pacific Beach was still a sparsely settled suburb. The coast highway, paved in 1919, ran through Pacific Beach on Garnet Avenue and Cass Street and the intersection of Garnet and Cass became the community’s new business center, anchored by the 1926 Dunaway Pharmacy building. Garnet Avenue also continued west from Cass to Crystal Pier, opened in 1926 to attract pleasure-seekers to an ocean-front entertainment district. Mission Boulevard had been paved in 1929 and was also the route of the electric railway line between downtown and La Jolla via Mission Beach. The 1933 San Diego city directory showed a total of 39 addresses along these paved streets in the new business/entertainment zone; 28 on Garnet Avenue in the six blocks between the ocean and Fanuel Street, and another 10 on Cass Street and one on Mission Boulevard within a couple blocks of Garnet. None of these addresses were identified in the city directory as ‘liquors’, establishments that primarily sold or served alcohol.

Pacific Beach underwent a dramatic increase in population during the war years as thousands of aircraft workers flooded San Diego to work at Consolidated Aircraft and other war industries, and many found homes in the federal housing projects or purchased ‘standard built’ homes in Pacific Beach. Growth also occurred along the streets of PB’s business district, where 62 addresses were listed on the main streets in the 1945 city directory; 42 on Garnet Avenue, and 13 on Cass and 7 on Mission Boulevard near Garnet. In 1945, two of these addresses were identified as ‘liquors’; M. S. Kraus at 1038 Garnet and Morris Feldman at 1159 Garnet.

1038 Garnet Avenue, the Ten Thirty Eight Club in the 1940s, vacant in 2017

The storefront at 1038 Garnet is vacant today but as the Ten Thirty Eight Club (1947), Kay’s Club (1953), Jay’s Club (1971) and Stinger’s Tavern (1975-2001), it was the forerunner of the bars that now line Garnet Avenue, particularly on this block. The Ten Thirty Eight Club moved a few doors down to 1060 Garnet in 1953 and went on to become the Gay ‘90s Tavern (1957), Green Door (1963), Two Jays (1972), Maynard’s (1974), Cap’n B’s Old Place (1977), Plum Crazy (1988) and, since 2014, PB Avenue. And although alcohol is no longer served at 1038 Garnet, it is readily available at a pair of larger bars located on either side; Bub’s Dive Bar & Grill, at 1030 Garnet, was opened in 1999 in a former Barbecue Pit restaurant and Cabo Cantina, 1050 Garnet, replaced El Comal restaurant in 2006.

Moonshine Beach in the former Victory Lanes building, 2017

Morris Feldman’s establishment at 1159 Garnet was part of the Pacific Beach Amusement Center at the southwest corner of Garnet and Everts, which became the Victory Lanes bowling alley in 1948. In 1971 the building, with 6000 square feet of floor space, was transformed into a concert venue and dance hall called Earth, then, with the addition of a large pipe organ, Organ Power Pizza (1975) and the Spaghetti and Pizza Pavillion (1977). It has since been the Chicago Mining Company, Steamers, Moose McGillycuddy’s, Big Bertha’s, Typhoon Saloon, Cerveza Jack’s and is now Moonshine Beach, a country bar and live music venue. Diagonally across Garnet and Everts, The Tavern at the Beach, at 1200 Garnet since 1997, had been a television salesroom in the early 1950s but then became the Green Room (1955), Flamingo (1960s), Pink Phink (1970s and 1980s), and Daily Planet (1990s). A vacant storefront at 1152 Garnet was My Brother’s Place in 1968 and, from 1973 to 2013, the Tiki House, one of the last live rock and roll venues in PB.

1152 Garnet was the Tiki House until 2013

Sections of Garnet Avenue closer to the beach also have a history of ‘alcohol-serving establishments’. The 1952 city directory listed Bert’s Place, beer, at 714 Garnet Avenue, in the short block between Crystal Pier and Mission Boulevard. The following year the Elbow Room joined Bert’s at 710 Garnet, and remained in business until the mid 1980s, when it was replaced by Mary’s Hang Up (1986), Bangers by the Pier (1988), Blind Melons (1990) and, since 2008, 710 Beach Club. Meanwhile, Bert’s Place became John’s Place (1957), Monkey Inn (1964), and Casey’s Pub (1978) and since 1994, a sportswear shop, Ananas. Maynard’s Tavern, at 701 Garnet, the corner of Garnet Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, was popular during the 1960s and 1970s, but that corner has since been redeveloped into a condominium block.

Between Mission and Cass, 832 Garnet Avenue, originally the real estate office of Earl Taylor, the promoter behind the ‘new’ Pacific Beach business district, was repurposed as CK’s Cocktail Lounge in the early 1980s. In 1985 it became the first Improv comedy club franchise. In 1995, after Improv closed, Moondoggies expanded to 832 Garnet from its original location on Everts Street just south of Garnet (which then became The Dog). The new Moondoggies on Garnet was itself taken over and reopened as the Backyard Kitchen & Tap in 2015 (and now claims to be the top Lyft and Uber destination in San Diego). One of the first buildings ever built on Garnet Avenue, a two-story residence dating from 1913, once stood next door to the Backyard, at 860 Garnet. In 1965 it was purchased by Albert Jones and converted into Aljones Mexican Restaurant, which became Diego’s Café y Cantina in 1981 and Pacific Beach Bar & Grill and Tremors dance club in 1994. PB Bar & Grill closed in 2015 for extensive remodeling, which included removing the historic building, and has yet to reopen (2018 update; it is now open as Mavericks Beach Club). Once a Woolworth’s store, the building at 945 Garnet was Mom’s Saloon in the 1970s, Mannikin in the 1980s, Emerald City in the 1990s, then, in 1998, Plan B, a disco club. It is now Johnny V, a nightclub with two dance floors. A few doors down the street, the ‘cozy hangout’ Crushed opened at 967 Garnet, a former pizza restaurant, in 2014.

Cass St. Bar & Grill

Although Garnet Avenue is generally considered the epicenter of the PB bar scene, the two other arteries of the original PB business district, Cass Street and Mission Boulevard, also have their fair share. Historically, the 1950 city directory listed a pair of ‘liquors’ on Cass a block north of Garnet; Mayers Liquors, on the west side of the street at 4612 Cass (then next door to the Roxy Theater) and Fay Shockley Liquors, across the street at 4629 Cass. 4612 Cass went on to become the Circus Room from 1952 to 1974, then the Tender Trap, Z & Me Bar & Grill and Eddies Bar & Grill, and, since 1986, the Cass St. Bar & Grill. The building at 4629 Cass housed the Kokomo Club from 1952 to the early 1980s.

4629 Cass, now a shipping center, was the Kokomo Club from the 1950s to the 1980s

On Mission Boulevard, Tony Criscola’s liquor store, still in business at 4641 Mission, was listed in the 1950 city directory. Across the street at 4614 Mission, Swede’s Inn had opened by 1952 and continued in operation as the Seaside Inn from 1953 until the 1970s, although it has since become a sandwich shop. 4302 Mission Boulevard was the Encore Room in 1955, then the Club Lido in 1957, Jose Murphy’s Irish Pub in the 1970s and 1980s and has been The Open Bar since 1994. 4656 Mission was the Quiet Village Tavern in the 1960s, then a restaurant until 2005 when it opened as Daddio’s Superior Bar & Grill. Since 2010 it has been Dirty Birds. 4633 Mission Boulevard was the Breeze Inn Tavern (1964), Towne Pump Tavern (1970) and Matador (1975-1999), and since 2000 has been Thrusters Lounge. The Duck Dive at 4650 Mission was Tug’s Tavern in 1970s and early 1980s, then Hennessey’s Bar until 2012.

Thrusters Lounge at 4633 Mission Boulevard in 2017

Not all of PB’s alcohol-serving establishments have historic roots. Craft beer did not even exist until the 1980s and Pacific Beach AleHouse, a craft brewery at 721 Grand Avenue, San Diego TapRoom, with 50 different beers on tap at 1269 Garnet and Barrel Republic, at 1261 Garnet, with craft beer at self-service taps, have all opened within the last ten years. Open-air beach bars like Pacific Beach Shore Club, at the ‘intersection of Grand and the Sand’, Lahaina Beach Club at the foot of Oliver and Baja Beach Café at the foot of Thomas go back over thirty years. But bars, cocktail lounges and other sources of intoxicating liquors have existed on the major streets of the historic Pacific Beach business center for more than 60 years.

Sidewalking Pacific Beach

The original 1887 subdivision map divided Pacific Beach into residential blocks separated by streets that were all 80 feet wide except for Broadway (now Ingraham Street), which was 100 feet, and Grand Avenue, which was 125 feet wide and included the right-of-way of the railway to downtown San Diego. The streets were set aside for public use and became city property, but were not initially developed or improved other than what was necessary to lay the railroad tracks on Grand Avenue. At the end of the nineteenth century Pacific Beach was primarily a lemon ranching area and the few residents got around on foot or horseback or in horse-drawn conveyances that didn’t require prepared roadways.

All of that began to change at the beginning of the twentieth century with the arrival of the Folsom brothers, Murtrie and Wilbur, and their brother-in-law A. J. Dula. In 1902 Dula and a partner purchased a tract of land south of what is now Pacific Beach Drive, subdivided it as Fortuna Park, and commissioned Folsom Bros. Co. to sell the lots. In 1903 Folsom Bros. also purchased most of the Pacific Beach subdivision, over 600 acres consisting of around 100 blocks and 4000 lots. To market this huge inventory of lots Folsom Bros. initiated a campaign to transform the semi-rural area into a residential community through a program of development and improvement. A full-page ad in the Sunday San Diego Union in December 1903 announced that ‘Our Actual Work of Development in Pacific Beach has Begun’ and featured a drawing showing workmen with horse-drawn equipment and steamrollers working on streets along with the explanation that ‘the activity displayed in the foregoing cut represents actual conditions which will be found there within two months’. One month later, in January 1904, the Union noted a great advance in the work of building and development by Folsom Bros., including a large force of men kept constantly employed in the work of street improvement.

Street improvement in the first years of the twentieth century began with grading; the city established the grade, or elevation, of intersections and gangs of men and teams of horses moved and smoothed dirt to make the surface of the streets align with the city grades. Street improvement was the responsibility of adjoining property owners and as owners of most of Pacific Beach Folsom Bros. Co. graded the streets at their own expense. They brought in a new road grader from San Francisco which proved itself to be ‘splendidly adapted for doing the work required with skill and rapidity’.

Although some graded streets were then sprinkled with crude oil to consolidate the surface and reduce dust and mud, paving streets with solid surfaces like concrete was still years in the future. What could be paved with concrete in the early 1900s were sidewalks, and in February 1904 Folsom Bros. also petitioned the common council to approve their design for sidewalks on the streets of Pacific Beach and Fortuna Park. Their petition proposed that for streets 80 feet wide or wider (the standard in Pacific Beach), 20 feet on each side be left as sidewalk space. For 75-foot-wide streets (the standard in Fortuna Park), 17 feet on each side should be left for sidewalk space. The Folsom Bros.’ petition was granted and an ordinance requiring the 20- or 17-foot sidewalk space was passed in March 1904. The ordinance also specified that when these sidewalks were paved the pavement would be 5’ 4” wide and located 4 feet from the property line and 10’ 8” from the curb on 80-foot streets, or 7’ 8” on 75-foot streets (leaving 40 and 41 feet, respectively, for the actual roadway).

Actual work on sidewalks in Pacific Beach did not begin immediately, however. In April 1904 Folsom Bros. Co. acquired the former San Diego College of Letters and most of the company’s development and improvement efforts were diverted to converting its buildings and grounds into a ‘first class resort’, the Hotel Balboa. Work on the streets resumed in 1906 when Folsom Bros. received city permission to grade the perimeter of the Hotel Balboa property; Garnet Avenue and Jewell, Emerald and Lamont streets. In February 1907 the council also granted a petition to grade Grand Avenue between Lamont and Izard streets, and Lamont and Kendall streets between Grand and Garnet avenues (Broadway, now Ingraham Street, was officially named Izard Street between 1900 and 1907). A Folsom Bros. ad in the Evening Tribune predicted that this street and sidewalk grading, to be followed by thorough oiling, cement sidewalking and curbing, would double and quadruple values in many sections of Pacific Beach (but that until development work was a little further along fine lots could still be had for from $150 to $350 each upon very easy payments).

Laying of cement sidewalks and curbs began at Pacific Beach on April 28, 1907, according to Folsom Bros. Co.’s ad in that evening’s Tribune. The contract for about a mile of concrete sidewalking and curbing had been awarded to Frank J. Over and that ‘from now on the work will proceed rapidly’. Pacific Beach had ‘passed the speculative stage’ and ‘with the making of this class of permanent and high-grade improvements, becomes daily a better and better place for safe and profitable investment’. An ad in May noted that street grading, cement sidewalking and curbing were going on and would continue until Pacific Beach had the finest streets and sidewalks in San Diego.

‘Many Sidewalks Now Being Laid – Large force at work improving streets at Pacific Beach’ was the headline of a San Diego Union article in August 1907. Cement sidewalks had been completed on Lamont and Kendall streets between Grand and Garnet avenues and on Grand from Lamont to Jewell Street. It was planned to continue sidewalking on Kendall from Grand to Reed Avenue and later extend it south to Mission Bay. Other streets to be sidewalked would include Jewell from Garnet to Emerald, Emerald from Jewell to Lamont, Lamont from Emerald to Garnet, Garnet from Lamont to Jewell and Hornblend from Jewell to Lamont; thus including ‘everything in the central portion of Pacific Beach north of Grand Avenue, which is really the center of the suburb, and the point to which business will naturally gravitate’. The Union article concluded that it was the plan of Folsom Bros. company and the residents of Pacific Beach to attain the highest possible standard of improvement in this center, and then work from this in all directions, as from the hub of a wheel.

A few weeks later the Union reported that development work at Pacific Beach had been steadily increasing for the past few weeks until quite an army of men were employed in the various enterprises. The cement sidewalking and curbing commenced three months ago and carried on ever since by Folsom Bros. Company at its own expense was now being continued by other owners by order of the city. Frank Over’s crews were working westward upon Grand Avenue and rapidly extending the sidewalks and curbs toward the ocean front. Sixteen thousand feet of cement sidewalk and nearly 500 feet of curbing had already been laid, and enough more was under way to make a total of 30,000 feet of sidewalk and 7000 feet of curbing (presumably the sidewalk numbers represented square feet, where 16,000 would be about 3000 linear feet, or 6 blocks). Over two miles of streets had been graded to full city grade and awaited their oiling. The Union added that three years previously a city ordinance established the sidewalk width for Pacific Beach streets at 20 feet, with a fine 10-foot parking strip between the curb and the cement walks; ‘As these streets are graded, sidewalked and curbed, and the parking strips planted to palms and lawns, their beauty appears’.

Sidewalking central Pacific Beach continued into 1908. In May the common council determined that sidewalks and curbs should be constructed on Hornblend Street from Jewell to Morrell streets, and that owners of property fronting on said street between said points who desired to construct sidewalks and curbs thereon by private contract must complete the work before September 7, 1908. Frank Over’s crews had apparently failed to complete their work on Grand Avenue so in July 1908 the common council adopted a resolution ordering the work of sidewalking and curbing Grand Avenue between Lamont Street and Broadway, including both sides of all intersections of streets between said points, excepting where already sidewalked or curbed with concrete. Apparently no acceptable bids were received and in September the council granted a petition from C. M. Doty, a Pacific Beach resident and cement contractor, to have the city clerk re-advertise for this work. This time Doty came in as the lowest responsible bidder and was awarded the contract to sidewalk and curb Grand Avenue in October 1908. Today pedestrians on Grand Avenue can still see ‘Doty & Mitchell Contractors 11/08’ stamped in the concrete sidewalks which, like the others in this former ‘center of the suburb’, are 5’ 4” wide, 10’ 8” from the street, and scored with the three-wide ‘sidewalk squares’ characteristic of the early 1900s.

Doty & Mitchell’s work on Grand Avenue turned out to be the last street improvement in the central part of Pacific Beach for many years. The new concrete sidewalks and curbs marked its transition from lemon ranch to residential blocks but did not generate the lot sales and increased property values that would justify continuing development into neighboring areas. Garnet Avenue and Cass Street, then sections of the coast highway between San Diego and the north, were paved with concrete in 1919. Diamond, Lamont, Ingraham, Allison (Mission Boulevard) and the streets in new subdivisions like North Shore Highlands and Pacific Pines followed in the 1920s, but most streets and sidewalks in Pacific Beach remained unpaved until the late 1940s and 1950s.

 

Postscript:

Sidewalks in the old central section of Pacific Beach are in the news again in 2017. Former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock and his wife Cynthia are suing the city over a fall she took on a sidewalk that allegedly ruptured her silicone breast implants. Apparently a tree root had lifted a section of the sidewalk on Morrell Street near Grand Avenue about 2 ½ inches and Mrs. Hedgecock suffered serious injuries when she tripped over the raised portion, ‘flew forward and came crashing to the ground’ in 2015. For his part, Mr. Hedgecock suffered ‘loss of support, service, love, companionship, society, affection, relations and solace’ from his wife. He had been mayor of San Diego from 1983 to 1985, when he was forced to resign over a campaign finance scandal. The sidewalk in question had been paved in the mid-1950s.

Electric Line to the Beaches

When Pacific Beach was founded in 1887 its founders also built a railroad to connect the new community with downtown San Diego. The San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railway ran between the site of the current Santa Fe station on Broadway and a depot near the foot of Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, following a route east of Mission Bay and around the race track at the northeast corner of the bay, then along today’s Garnet, Balboa and Grand Avenues to the beach. In 1894 the railroad was extended to La Jolla along what are now Mission Boulevard, La Jolla Hermosa Drive, Electric Avenue and Cuvier Street to a station on Prospect Street. The Pacific Beach and La Jolla railroads became the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railroad in 1906 (although the tracks never advanced beyond La Jolla). In 1907, after the race track in Pacific Beach had closed, the line was shortened by cutting through the former race course over what is now Grand Avenue from Mission Bay Drive to Lamont Street.

The trains to Pacific Beach and La Jolla consisted of one or more coaches and a mixed baggage car pulled by small steam locomotives, although between 1907 and 1914 some of the daily trips were made by McKeen gasoline-powered rail cars. In the days before paved roads and the automobile, these trains were the only practical way to travel to and from San Diego. However, after the turn of the twentieth century automobiles became increasingly popular and the roads were improved, giving north coast residents another travel option. In 1919, claiming that receipts from operations were insufficient to meet operating expenses and interest, the LA & SD Beach Railway received permission to discontinue service and dismantle its tracks. Although civic organizations in San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla opposed its closure, none were able to offer an alternative and the railroad was scrapped.

Efforts began almost immediately to re-establish a rail link between San Diego and its northern suburbs. In 1915 a bridge had been built across the entrance to Mission Bay and an electric railway line called the Bay Shore Railroad built from Ocean Beach over the bridge and through Mission Beach as far as Redondo Court. The Bay Shore Railroad connected with the Point Loma Railroad, an electric street railway which ran between downtown San Diego and Ocean Beach. In January 1919 a group calling itself the La Jolla Electric Line proposed laying 2100 feet of new track to extend the Mission Beach line to Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach, from where it could continue to La Jolla over the former LA & SD Beach right-of-way. These new sections would then be electrified, completing an electric railroad all the way from San Diego to La Jolla.

The La Jolla electric company’s proposal of 1919 was never implemented but the concept of an electric railroad between San Diego and La Jolla via Mission Beach was adopted a few years later by the San Diego Electric Railway Company, operator of San Diego’s extensive street railway system and part of the Spreckels commercial empire.  In March 1923, the SDER and the Mission Beach Company jointly announced what was called the greatest single development project since the preparations for the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park; a project to make Mission Beach the finest and highest class beach resort in America – an all-year resort open and operating 12 months in the year. This project would include express electric railway service to and from San Diego, much of it double tracked and largely on private right-of-way. The San Diego common council awarded the SDER a franchise to build the proposed Mission Beach line in April 1923.

The SDER planned to lay tracks on Kettner Boulevard and Hancock Street from Broadway to Witherby Street, along the right-of-way of the former LA & SD Beach line. The tracks would then cross over the Santa Fe railway and the paved Point Loma highway and continue to Ocean Beach on a new route across the mud flats and marshes that are now the Midway district. From Ocean Beach the new line would continue to Mission Beach over the Bay Shore Railroad, which the SDER planned to purchase and absorb.

The SDER plan did not initially propose extending the line beyond Mission Beach, but in May over 700 La Jolla residents signed a petition asking the common council for an extension of the route to their community. At the time the SDER was pressing the city to extend its franchise for 50 years, and it offered to build to La Jolla if the extension was granted. A 50-year franchise covering the SDER’s entire system, including the route to La Jolla, was approved by the council in September 1923.

Construction of the new electric line began in October 1923. The Evening Tribune announced that ‘dirt was flying’ on Kettner Boulevard for the biggest electric railway construction job in the history of San Diego, the double-track speed line to Mission Beach. The Tribune article noted that the project would include extension to La Jolla and construction of a great amusement center in Mission Beach. The new line would have the catenary type overhead wire for pantograph collectors that are specially designated for high speed operation. There would be no grade crossings; a long trestle would bridge the Santa Fe tracks and the Point Loma highway crossing in the Five Points area, and on the La Jolla segment the track would run under the coast highway on Turquoise Street.

Several thousand tons of steel rails began arriving from ‘famous Belgian mills near Liege’ in November, and in December 1923 the SDER began receiving 50 new streetcars specifically designed for the high speeds and flexible operations of the new route, with pantograph collectors and control systems that allowed the new cars to operate individually or in trains which could be coupled and uncoupled rapidly en route. By the end of February 1924 the tracks had reached Turquoise Street in Pacific Beach and a group of city officials, railroad men and business men made a preliminary round trip over the line. Reporters for the local papers who accompanied the dignitaries wrote that there were cheers from every side, hands and handkerchiefs were waved, and cameras clicked as the train rolled through, running as smoothly as a Pullman coach. Claus Spreckels, general manager of the SDER, announced that the line would be in full operation as far as Mission Beach on May 1 and on to La Jolla by July 1.

The new express line was opened as far as Ocean Beach (with a temporary shuttle to Mission Beach) on May 1, 1924 and through service to Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and La Jolla began on July 1. The planned viaduct over the Santa Fe tracks and the Point Loma highway had not yet been built so the new line at first used the Point Loma Railroad’s grade crossing to a point near the Marine base on Barnett Avenue. From there the route crossed open country on a private right-of-way that has since become Sports Arena Boulevard. At Midway Drive, the tracks continued on an elevated causeway through salt marshes along what is now West Point Loma Boulevard but was then the southern shore of Mission Bay. Beyond Famosa Slough the causeway continued directly to Ocean Beach Junction, about where West Point Loma Boulevard now meets Bacon Street. The causeway included bridges to allow circulation of water to the sloughs and wetlands to its south, and the remains of one of these bridges, over Famosa Slough, can still be seen. At Ocean Beach Junction the line split, one branch following the former Point Loma Railroad route into Ocean Beach and the other the Bay Shore Railroad route over the bridge to Mission Beach.

Former San Diego Electric Railway bridge over Famosa Slough (2011).

In Mission Beach, the line was built on an elevated strip down the middle of Mission Boulevard, separated from automobile traffic on either side by curbs. The route continued through Pacific Beach on Allison Street, which in 1924 was mostly vacant land; development of the ‘new’ Pacific Beach along the coast, due in part to the arrival of the fast electric line, had not yet begun (Allison Street was ‘opened’ and paved between Pacific Avenue, now PB Drive, and Turquoise Street in 1928, and in 1929 was renamed, becoming the northern extension of Mission Boulevard).  At Beryl Street the route curved westward from Allison onto what is now La Jolla Boulevard, where a large concrete culvert was built in Tourmaline Canyon and covered with dirt fill to provide a crossing for the tracks. Turquoise Street at the time was part of the coast highway, paved in 1920, which passed through Pacific Beach on Garnet Avenue and Cass Street and continued to La Jolla and beyond on La Jolla Boulevard. To prevent the disruption and danger of crossing this highway at grade, the SDER constructed a steel viaduct over Turquoise Street. The railway continued on what was then called Electric Avenue and is now La Jolla Hermosa Avenue, following the route of the LA & SD Beach Railway. At Via Del Norte in La Jolla the new line diverged from the old route (which had continued on Electric Avenue and Cuvier Street) onto a private right-of-way that is now the La Jolla Bike Path, and which required a number of cuts to improve the grade. From the end of the private right-of-way near La Jolla High School the line ran on Fay Street to its terminus on Prospect.

La Jolla Methodist Church, originally San Carlos station of San Diego Electric Railway, La Jolla Hermosa (2011).

Elaborate stations in La Jolla (at Prospect Street and Fay Avenue) and La Jolla Hermosa (at Mira Monte) were finished in 1925. The station at La Jolla Hermosa, which also doubled as a power substation and was designed as a replica of the San Carlos mission at Monterey, is still standing and for many years has been the La Jolla Methodist Church. The three-level viaduct over the Santa Fe tracks and highway to Point Loma was completed early in 1925. With this structure the Santa Fe tracks remained at their original grade, an undercrossing was excavated under the tracks for the highway and a viaduct built to take the electric line over both. The excavation for the highway put the roadway below sea level, and pumps were installed to keep it clear of seepage and runoff. The viaduct, which lifted the electric railway over the tracks of the mainline railway, was 2000 feet long and included 900 feet of embankment, 940 feet of frame trestles and 160 feet of steel girders, supported by massive concrete piers. Witherby Street still passes under the railroad tracks in this same undercrossing, and the base of the concrete piers which supported the viaduct carrying the electric railway over the railroad and Witherby Street can still be seen just to the west of the railroad bridge.

Base of piers of the former SDER viaduct over Witherby Street (2011)

The Mission Beach amusement center opened with great fanfare on May 29, 1925. The station there included a subway under the tracks and Mission Boulevard, protecting passengers from vehicle traffic. At the same time the SDER opened the second track of its double-track route through Mission Beach and, with the completion of the viaducts over the Santa Fe at Witherby Street and the coast highway at Turquoise Street, introduced a new timetable establishing the running time from San Diego to La Jolla at 36 minutes.

The new electric line actually served three routes; No. 14 to Ocean Beach, No. 15 to Mission Beach, and No. 16 to La Jolla, all of which used the same tracks between San Diego and Ocean Beach Junction. Trains which could consist of one or more cars from each of the routes left the Plaza in downtown San Diego under the control of one operator. When they reached Ocean Beach Junction the No. 14 car or cars would be uncoupled and continue on to Ocean Beach with its own operator. The other cars proceeded to Mission Beach where the No. 15 cars (if any) would be dropped off and the No. 16 continue on to La Jolla (the No. 15 route was only used for occasional holiday travel to the Mission Beach amusement park). The coupling mechanism was designed so that the cars could be detached while the train was in motion.

The new fast electric line had been designed to use catenary overhead wires and pantograph collectors instead of the trolley wire and trolley poles that were standard at the time. Catenary wires, like those currently in use on the San Diego Trolley, utilize two wires, the upper one arching between supports and the lower one suspended from the upper one and stretched tight, making it straight and level. Pantograph collectors, frameworks mounted on top of the cars that pressed up against the wire to collect electric current, were thought to be necessary for high-speed operation since trolley poles might bounce out of contact with the wire. However, the pantographs proved to be unsatisfactory; they were of light construction and sometimes collapsed, and tended to damage the overhead wires, especially at switches. They were replaced by trolley poles, which did function adequately with the catenary overhead wires and also allowed the cars to operate on other routes with standard trolley wires.

After the completion of the fast electric line, real estate promoters along its path began emphasizing its benefits to their communities. The developers of Bird Rock, for example, noted that San Diego’s fastest electric line ran through the heart of their beautiful, high, sightly property lying between the hills and the sea, putting it in the ‘path of development’. In Pacific Beach, where development had previously been centered around Lamont Street and the college campus property (then the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, now Pacific Plaza), the promoters of the ‘new’ Pacific Beach around the foot of Garnet Avenue noted that construction of the SDER’s superb fast beach carline swung the business and pleasure sections of Pacific Beach down to the ocean front where they belong, and justified a change of name to ‘San Diego Beach’. Earl Taylor, one of the developers of ‘new’ Pacific Beach, quoted a Saturday Evening Post article that said ‘Wherever electric lines lead out from the city, you find suburban property values enhanced, suburban life made comfortable, and waste land blossoming into homes. The automobile helps. The motor bus helps more. But the trolley and interurban cars are more important still’.

The SDER’s franchise allowed it to haul freight, and in 1925 the Standard Oil Company built a storage yard in the Bird Rock area to be supplied by tank cars delivered by rail. Gaps where a rail spur leading to this storage plant cut through a sidewalk on La Jolla Hermosa Avenue near Forward Street can still be seen. By 1934 the Standard Oil plant was the SDER’s only freight customer and when Standard Oil acquired a fleet of trucks for its oil deliveries SDER received permission to discontinued freight service.

Spur to Standard Oil siding off San Diego Electric Railway line in Bird Rock.

Although parts of the electric railroad were double-tracked, much of it, including the private rights-of-way in La Jolla and in the Midway area, was not, and relied on block signals to prevent collisions between trains traveling in opposite directions. On November 22, 1937, the signals in the Midway area apparently failed and cars traveling to and from Ocean Beach on the single track collided head-on. Visibility had been reduced by heavy fog and the operators failed to see the other car and apply the brakes until seconds before the crash. One car penetrated eight feet into the other and 31 passengers were injured, some seriously. A downed trolley wire added to the danger until the company turned power off on the line.

Whether or not it was the electric railway that caused waste land to blossom into homes, the population in the beach areas served by the electric line did increase throughout the 1930s. Automobile ownership also continued to grow and streets became more congested. In some areas where the streetcars and automobiles shared the road, the traffic forced the high-speed line to operate at slower speeds, impacting service. Also, the growing number of motorists led to increased complaints that the tracks were obstructing vehicle traffic, particularly in Mission Beach, where the line was elevated and isolated from the paved boulevard, leaving little room to drive. Improvement of the roads had also caused the SDER to begin using buses on some routes, including one to La Jolla. The No. 14 streetcar line to Ocean Beach was replaced by buses in 1938 and in January 1940 the SDER company received permission from the city to discontinue service of the No. 16 car line between downtown and its terminus in La Jolla. The SDER was required to remove tracks, wires and overhead structures but, in consideration of the valuable rights-of-way to be conveyed to the city and its substitution of bus service in place of the electric railway service, the SDER was not required to remove its tracks from paved streets. Tracks remained imbedded in the pavement of Fay Avenue in La Jolla into the 1960s and even now potholes can reveal rusted rails beneath the surface of Mission Boulevard.

The last No. 16 train left La Jolla on September 16, 1940; according to longtime passenger and Mission Beach resident Zelma Bays Locker, the motorman on this last run rang his bell all the way into town. In Mission Beach the tracks were removed and Mission Boulevard repaved in 1941, leaving only a 4-foot median where the double-tracked electric railway had once run. According to the San Diego Union, the ‘traffic-clogged two-lane highway’ had become a ‘broad 4-lane arterial which easily is accommodating the heavy beach-area traffic flow’.

The beach-area traffic flow has only become heavier over the ensuing 75 years, and not so easily accommodated, and an electric railway between San Diego and La Jolla is once again under development. The Mid-Coast Trolley is expected to open in 2021, extending San Diego’s modern ‘light rail’ system to the University Town Center shopping mall via the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla. Between Old Town and UCSD the new line will follow the route of the Pacific Highway, east of Mission Bay and through Rose Canyon. The station serving Pacific Beach is to be located near Garnet Avenue and Morena Boulevard, east of the I-5 freeway and not far from the old race track site, but on the opposite side of town from where the electric Beach Line ran in the 1920s and 1930s. It will be interesting to see what effect a superb new light rail line will have on the business and pleasure centers of Pacific Beach this time around.