Category Archives: Things

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.



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.

The People’s Ordinance

San Diego residents are often reminded that they have free municipal trash collection thanks to the People’s Ordinance, an amendment to the city charter approved by voters in 1919. What they may not know is that this entitlement, which has endured for nearly a century, was originally about who had the right to feed garbage to hogs.

Prior to the twentieth century disposal of household waste in San Diego was left up to the individual homeowner. Although some residents hired ‘scavengers’ to cart away their garbage, most disposed of it themselves by burning, burying, feeding it to chickens or other animals, or simply by discarding it in the street or on vacant lots. In 1898 Dr. P. C. Remondino, president of the board of health, reported that garbage collection and storage, ‘hitherto left to the volition and election of the householder’, had been ‘most defective and annoying as well as most decidedly unsanitary’. He added that he knew of many residents who were unable to properly ventilate their homes, ‘owing to the acrid and sickening emanations from decaying swill accumulating in their vicinity’. He recommended a system of municipal collection, whether done by the city or by contract under its supervision. In 1900, responding to complaints about the unsatisfactory manner of garbage disposal in the Ninth Ward, Dr. Remondino again stated that garbage would always be a matter of complaint until a system of free collection was inaugurated; ‘The poor man cannot afford the luxury of a garbage collector very often, and if he can conveniently dump it on his neighbor’s premises or on the street, he cannot be blamed. A public collection would remedy all that.’

The city health officer, Dr. T. C. Stockton, in his annual report to the board of health in 1900, also commented on the necessity of the city adopting some sanitary and more modern method for the collection and disposal of garbage, hoping that the ‘crude and offensive method in use would be superseded by one more in accordance with the requirements of modern sanitation’. In 1901 another member of the board of health, Dr. F. R. Burnham, was requested to make inquiry into the various systems in use for the collection and disposition of garbage in different cities in the east and to prepare a report on the ’most sanitary and best means of disposing of the garbage of this city’. He reported that there were three methods in common use in other cities; by private parties – each individual paying for the removal of his own garbage, by city contract, or by the city doing the work itself. The last two are paid for by general taxation and one or the other would undoubtedly be the best from a sanitary as well equable standpoint. However, it was the first system that was then employed in San Diego and the result was that less than three tons of garbage were carried away daily from a city of twenty thousand and that ‘the balance must be largely thrown into back lots or into the street’. He went on to describe the filthy and unsanitary condition of these streets and vacant lots; ‘Waste paper, tin cans, brush and weeds lining our streets and gathered together in unsightly piles on vacant lots gives our city, to say the least, a most untidy appearance’. In many of the eastern cities, he added, cast iron boxes with covers are placed on the corners of the streets neatly painted in plain letters; passers-by are requested to throw paper and all kinds of refuse into these boxes and not on the pavement.

Nothing was done to follow up on these early reports and a board of health meeting in 1903 was told that the manner of garbage collection was still often a matter of complaint. The subject had been brought to the attention of the board on other occasions and the board had suggested to the city council that garbage collection be taken away from the hands of private parties and managed by the city, but the garbage men rallied to defeat any interference. Finally, in 1908, the city passed an emergency ordinance which required it to enter into a 10-year contract with one company which would be responsible for collecting all city garbage. Anything not of commercial value to the contractor would be burned outside of the city limits. Collection was to be twice a week in outlying districts and daily in the ‘more thickly settled portions of the city’, particularly from hotels, restaurants, etc. The contractor would be responsible for providing an incinerator which the city would have the right to acquire after five years for a fair market value.

The contract for garbage collection and disposal was won by the San Diego Sanitary Reduction Company, which announced that it would make a specialty of manufacturing fertilizer and fuel from the refuse collected. The San Diego Union reported that an experiment of the secret process for deodorizing the garbage was a great success. A particularly offensive lot of garbage was mixed with the chemicals and within three minutes had become absolutely odorless. Not only that, but some of the fuel made from the garbage produced a significant improvement in the power of a steam boiler and burned like coal for 24 hours in a blacksmith’s forge.

However, San Diego Sanitary’s service was apparently unsatisfactory to a major segment of its customer base, San Diego’s hotels and restaurants. The restauranteurs had long complained about the ‘filthy manner’ in which the company had been taking care of their patrons and had responded by hiring other companies to dispose of their garbage. The courts ruled that this violated the Sanitary company’s contract and put an end to this practice, but conditions eventually became so bad that local eating house proprietors decided to take the law into their own hands. The Evening Tribune reported in 1910 that the restaurant men had banded together and purchased the assets of one of the former independent collectors put out of business by the court’s ruling, which included a hog ranch outside the city limits, with ‘wagons, horses, hogs and in fact everything owned by the man whose hogs were receiving the benefit of the collections’. They then hired their own drivers and carted away their own garbage. The Sanitary company objected and for a time attempted to have the drivers arrested, but after failing to win a restraining order it eventually abandoned its contract.

The garbage contract was assumed by San Diego Rubbish Company, which had an interest in a large hog ranch in Chollas Valley, where both San Diego and East San Diego, then a separate city, disposed of their garbage. In December 1915 the city and county health officers took steps to shut down this hog ranch, which housed as many as 5000 hogs, characterizing it as a public nuisance. The owners were arrested and a permanent injunction was asked to keep the defendants from feeding city garbage to the hogs. It was charged that the dumping of garbage there rendered an unwholesome, obnoxious stench that befouled the atmosphere for many blocks. However, before hearings in the suit began in February 1916 the epic floods of January 1916 (the Hatfield flood) had inundated and considerably damaged the hog ranch, and swept much of the offending material (and about 50 of the hogs) downstream and into the bay.

The Evening Tribune announced in April 1916 that the health department was enthusiastic about a new plan for the disposal of garbage. All garbage would be collected by an improved type of wagon and hauled to the incinerator premises. There the water would be extracted by a steam press and it would be reloaded on metal covered trucks and rushed out to the sterilizing plant at a new hog ranch, which would be located at the upper end of Tecolote Canyon. After thorough sterilization by boiling it would be fed to the hogs, which would be housed in a proper manner. Although the hog ranch would be within the city limits it was miles from any population centers and would not affect anyone owing to its remoteness. The health department would make frequent inspections to insure sanitary methods. The hog ranch in Tecolote Canyon was the new home of the San Diego Rubbish Co.’s hogs. The company announced in July 1916 that it had finished the removal of its hog ranch from Chollas Valley to a ‘more isolated part of the city, entirely off the public thoroughfare’. The company also said that it was cleaning up the incinerator and its grounds and that its garbage wagons would be newly painted and provided with new covers.

The city also began cracking down on violations of the laws regarding garbage. In October 1916 the city health officer launched a campaign against alleged ‘promiscuous’ collection of garbage. A special officer, J. J. Willow, who was also an employee of the San Diego Rubbish Co., was assigned to the city health board and began arresting drivers for hauling garbage outside of the authorized hours (11 P.M. to 5 A.M.). However, one of the garbage haulers he persisted in prosecuting was apparently a friend of a council member, and the council held a hearing to consider terminating his position. Willow instead resigned, but the ‘muddle over garbage conditions’ disclosed by his hearing led the city council to direct Police Chief Wilson to recommend a solution to the garbage problem. Chief Wilson’s recommendation was that enforcement of garbage regulations be placed in the hands of the health department, and that the garbage ordinance be amended to permit anyone owning garbage which can be used as food for animals to haul it at the time and in the manner allowed by the garbage ordinance after securing a permit to do such hauling. However, the board of health turned down Chief Wilson’s recommendations.

In March 1917 the public welfare commission took up the issue of municipal garbage collection. Stating that it was assured that they voiced the desire of a large majority of taxpayers and resident population for more sanitary, efficient and economic collection and disposal than the present contract provided, the commission recommended that the city create a municipal hog ranch under the supervision of the board of health and assign the collection and sale of garbage to the highest responsible bidder. The chairman of the health committee of the county federation of women’s clubs also petitioned the council for free municipal garbage collection. The board of health endorsed these recommendations for free garbage collection but again advised against the creation of a municipally owned hog ranch.

The United States entered World War I in April 1917 and among the patriotic calls to contribute to the war effort was the ‘doctrine of the clean plate’; conserving food by eliminating waste. In July 1917 the city of Coronado announced that its garbage business had fallen off 75 percent since the new ideas on food conservation became a recognized patriotic principle. Garbage was said to exist now only in the homes of the super-rich, the few middle-class residents having none excepting tin cans and bones which they bury in their vegetable lawns for fertilizer. In San Diego the mayor received a telegram from Herbert Hoover, then national food administrator, asking for information on the amount of garbage collected compared with the previous year, and also information on the amount of grease extracted from the garbage, which could be used for various war industries.

Despite food conservation there was still garbage to collect and the city’s contract with the San Diego Rubbish Co. for garbage collection was due to expire in October 1917. Although it was contrary to city ordinances, owners of hotels and restaurants had been allowed to haul their own garbage for some time, a result of their difficulty in making their establishments pay. Many of them had gone into the hog business and were taking their garbage to their own ranches. Some said that without this end of the restaurant business they would be forced to close.  However, commercial garbage collectors also sold the garbage they collected to hog ranches and without the business of the restaurants and hotels few would be expected to bid for a new contract. After ‘much discussion and wrangling’ over various propositions, the council decided in November 1917 to accept the offer of George A. Binney & Co. of Los Angeles to collect and dispose of all city garbage for the next three years. Binney would provide all the equipment and pay the city $400 per month while charging residents and businesses a fee and potentially profiting by raising hogs on the garbage collected. The hotels and restaurants which now disposed of their garbage to hog raisers would be prohibited from continuing that arrangement.

The hotel and restaurant owners determined to fight the new contract; according to the Evening Tribune ‘Old Man Garbage still is in the limelight. And he is going to be the subject of a lively “scrap” when the hotel and restaurant men mobilize their forces’. The fight was still going on in January 1918, when the Tribune reported that the council was in conference with attorneys representing the city, Binney & Co. and the hotel and restaurant men ‘regarding the never-ending subject of garbage disposal’. Binney asked the council to direct the police department and the health department to proceed against the hotel and restaurant men who refused to turn over their garbage to the contractors. However, when the police did arrest Joseph Vaubel, garbage hauler for the U. S. Grant Hotel, in February 1918, he was tried and found not guilty.

A month later, in March 1918, the police arrested Robert Brown, who was acting under orders of Harry Rudder, a local restaurant owner, on Binney’s complaint that Brown was collecting garbage without due authorization. Brown was released on $15 bail, which was provided by Rudder ‘in expectation of such a contingency’. The truck load of garbage which Brown was alleged to have collected from Rudder’s restaurant remained at the police station with Brown on guard and Binney, ‘ensconced in his automobile at the police station’, keeping an eye on the garbage. The police threatened to arrest Brown if he attempted to move his truck, but Rudder had also left an additional $45 at the jail to be used as bail money for Brown if he was arrested again. According to the San Diego Union, with Rudder ready to fight the case to a finish and with Brown and Binney standing guard over the truck of garbage at the police station, the situation was still deadlocked at 3 o’clock in the morning; ‘meanwhile the hungry hogs at the National City ranch clamor for food’.

With the city council ‘standing like a Rock of Gibraltar’ against the San Diego hotel and restaurant men who were fighting for the right to feed their own hogs table refuse from their establishments, ‘city hall was a scene of turmoil’. The restaurant men threatened to start injunction proceedings against the city, to increase the price of meals or to openly defy the law. In the meantime they said between 400 and 500 hogs owned by proprietors of their establishments were being allowed to starve to death and that they were prepared to go to any length to protect their rights. To illustrate the importance of the issue, one of the restaurant owners said that he had cleared $2100 in ten months from hogs fed on the table refuse from his establishment. Another declared that he had been offered $40 a month by a private individual for his garbage. All were indignant that they were required to give away their garbage and also required to pay for having it hauled away.

The city council held a closed door meeting with the mayor, the food administrator and a committee of the hotel and restaurant men’s association. Harry Rudder, who was now also chairman of the Commercial War League, claimed that young pigs were starving because the brood sows have nothing to eat except what they can forage since the city had prohibited the hauling of garbage by private parties. Alternative feed, such as bran, could no longer be fed stock because of the food administration’s order to conserve it for food. Because every bit of pork is needed in war time the lack of food for hogs and young pigs was an absolute waste. The Binney company countered that they also had hogs dependent on the garbage that they collected under their exclusive contract with the city, and refused to compromise on the issue. A ‘friendly’ court settlement proved to be impossible and in August 1918 Rudder filed suit to have the city permanently enjoined from enforcing the garbage ordinance which permitted the Binney company exclusively to take away the restaurant’s table scraps. He also asked for $1100 damages for the loss he had already sustained from his inability to feed scraps to hogs on his hog ranch. In October 1918 a superior court judge granted the injunction and also awarded Rudder $440 in damages.

Finally, in January 1919, a mayor’s advisory committee proposed to end the ‘long drawnout controversy’ between the city, the garbage contractor and restaurant men by a charter amendment establishing garbage collection by the city without cost to residents. The city council voted unanimously to submit an ordinance to voters at the regular municipal election in April. The new ordinance would allow restaurant men to haul their own garbage for hog feed. The method of collection and disposal would be supervised by the board of health.

The hotel and restaurant men of San Diego enthusiastically supported the proposed ordinance and on the day before the election made their case in a political advertisement published by the Evening Tribune. They agreed with the Binney company’s claim that the ordinance would increase taxation, but argued that every household would save the $6 to $12 a year that Binney was then charging them for garbage collection, which they then turned into another profit by feeding to their hogs. The ad claimed that the city could also dispose of the garbage at a good price, thus making the garbage collection almost self-supporting and practically eliminating any increase in taxes; ‘You have been paying for the privilege of feeding Binney & Co.’s hogs, 3000 head of hogs, for the past two years. Let our city feed 3000 head of hogs, which will more than supply pork for all the institutions kept up by the taxpayers’.

In the election, held April 8, 1919, People’s Ordinance No. 7691, ‘An ordinance to protect the health of the inhabitants of The City of San Diego, California, by providing for the collection and disposal in a sanitary manner of city refuse and other waste matter’ passed with 11,908 votes for and 2,111 against. The ordinance canceled the existing garbage contract, so the city found itself in the position of being required to collect garbage throughout the city but with no equipment to do so or any method of disposing of what was collected. The city council passed an emergency ordinance to purchase the equipment of the San Diego Rubbish Co., and the company lent the city its horses and wagons on the understanding that the purchase would go through. However, the mayor vetoed the expenditure, claiming the price was excessive; ‘If we want to go into this garbage collection business properly we should get started right and not buy up a lot of for second-hand apparatus’. The mayor added that he would lend the city the horses and wagons from his Jamul ranch until new equipment could be obtained, and if necessary, he would get out and become a garbage collector himself. Instead, the council adopted a resolution temporarily authorizing use of the city street department teams and wagons with which to collect the refuse.

The People’s Ordinance had left it up to the health department to regulate the sanitary handling of garbage. An ordinance adopted in June 1919 prescribed that people must drain all garbage of water before it is deposited in a metal receptacle, nothing but marketable garbage must be thrown into such cans or receptacles, and it was to be punishable to mix broken dishes or any kinds of glass or crockery with kitchen refuse. All garbage cans were to be thoroughly cleaned after being emptied. Garbage haulers were to be licensed and their wagons must be metal with water-tight metal covers.

Harry Rudder’s prediction that the city could make garbage collection almost self-supporting did not come true, and with the city losing about $75,000 a year on garbage collection the city council in September 1920 proposed another charter amendment that would have again prohibited the restaurant men from hauling their own garbage and instead require that it be collected by the city, to be sold to hog ranches to cover some of the budget shortfall. This proposition was voted on in an election in December 1920 and defeated by a vote of 7997 to 2951.

In 1923 the city went into the hog raising business itself when it took over the Tecolote Valley hog ranch. The lessee of the ranch had gotten behind in his payments for garbage delivered by the city and offered to turn over his lease, stock and all equipment in settlement of the debt. In addition to 500 hogs the city became owner of buildings, corrals, pumps, piping, trucks, horses and wagons.

A year later, in December 1924, the Evening Tribune announced that ‘porkers’ raised on the city farm from municipally-collected garbage were accumulating so fast that it was found necessary to dispose of a lot, netting over $5000. Other recent sales had swollen the ‘pork barrel’ from the ‘municipal piggery’ to such an extent that the city manager had decided to go ahead with constructing the Rose Canyon highway. The funds would be used to purchase a power shovel and a fleet of trucks to improve the grade through Rose Canyon and take much of the heavy truck traffic off the paved highway through La Jolla and over the Biological and Torrey Pines grades.

The People’s Ordinance has been amended over the years, for example to allow the city to place limits and charge fees for commercial and industrial trash, but the basic right to free municipal garbage collection for residents established in 1919 is still in force in San Diego. The garbage, however, is now composted or buried in a land fill; farm animals, including hogs, were banned from the city in 1959 and the city stopped selling garbage for hog feed in 1962.

College of Letters in PB

Laying the Cornerstone, San Diego College of Letters, January 28, 1888

Laying the Cornerstone, San Diego College of Letters, January 28, 1888

An announcement in the San Diego Union on Saturday, January 28, 1888, invited citizens to attend the laying of the cornerstone of the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach. Speakers at the ceremony would include the celebrated poet Joaquin Miller, the ‘Poet of the Sierras’, and a free lunch was promised. Trains would leave the downtown depot at 9 and 10 o’clock A. M. and return at 1 and 3 P.M. Fare for adults was 50 cents, children 25 cents.

The college was intended to be the centerpiece of the new community planned for the area north of Mission Bay and east of the Pacific Ocean, and was to be built on a four-block campus now occupied by the Pacific Plaza shopping center on Garnet Avenue between Jewell and Lamont streets. At the time, Pacific Beach was almost entirely undeveloped; the Pacific Beach Company had been incorporated in July 1887, a subdivision map was drawn up in October and the opening sale of lots had been held in December 1887, just a few weeks before the cornerstone ceremony was to take place (the platform built for the ceremony may have been the largest structure around at the time). The railroad from San Diego was still under construction and passengers attending the cornerstone ceremony in January 1888 would actually have traveled over the rails of the California Southern mainline railway from downtown to Morena, where they would have switched over to a portion of the Pacific Beach line which continued from there to the vicinity of the college campus (the railway from downtown San Diego to a depot near the beach at the foot of Grand Avenue was finally completed in April 1888).

According to the Union about 2500 people traveled to Pacific Beach to witness the laying of the college cornerstone, and the green grass and the sublime scene from the college campus made the occasion a most interesting one. One of the speakers described the scene as a ‘hilltop with its slopes stretching down to the placid bay and out to the roiling sea, while in the distance, but in full view, lies the busy city and the harbor filled with ships, and beyond the majestic sweep of the mountains, some green with spring-like verdure, and others white with snow’.

When Joaquin Miller stepped to the front of the platform to read the poem he had composed for the occasion he was greeted with an ovation ‘that could not but have gratified the gifted man of verse and sentiment’. The sentiments in Mr. Miller’s verses included:

We lift this lighthouse by the sea,
The west-most sea, the west-most shore,
To guide man’s ship of destiny
When Scylla and Charybdis roar;
To teach him strength, to proudly teach
God’s grandeur, by Pacific Beach.

(Scylla and Charybdis were a pair of mythological sea monsters on opposite sides of a narrow strait, menacing seafarers forced to sail between them)

There were other orations, music by the City Guard band and an address by the president of the college company which concluded with the promise that San Diego College would become ‘a scientific and literary light-house, guiding the people of the city and the world into the golden harbor of wealth, culture, character and happiness’. The cornerstone was then loaded with copies of local newspapers, copies of the poems and addresses delivered on the occasion, coins, and a copy of the Bible. It was then lowered into place with the words ‘we lay the cornerstone of San Diego College – unsectarian but not un-Christian – her faith the faith of Christendom – her hope the hope of the civilized Christian world.’

The San Diego College of Letters was the brainchild of Harr Wagner, publisher of the Golden Era magazine which Wagner had moved from San Francisco to San Diego in 1887. He believed that San Diego was destined to become a great city and that the city was the right size to support a college, ‘not a small insignificant institute, but an institution that will compare favorably with the noted colleges of America’. In August 1887 Wagner and two other alumni of his alma mater, Wittenberg College, in Springfield, Ohio, formed the San Diego College Company ‘to erect and construct buildings to be used for colleges, universities, and in connection therewith to carry on, control and maintain colleges and universities’. Wagner’s partners in the college company were C. S. Sprecher and F. P. Davidson (who was married to Sprecher’s sister Ella). C. S. (and Ella) Sprecher’s father Samuel Sprecher had served as president of Wittenberg from 1849 to 1874 and played a major role in establishing it as a successful educational institution (Wittenberg University still exists in Springfield). Hoping to repeat this success in Pacific Beach, the partners recruited the elder Sprecher to serve as president of their new college.

The college company also came to an agreement with O. S. Hubbell, one of the founders of the Pacific Beach Company, to include the college in plans for their new town site. Accordingly, the original Pacific Beach subdivision map featured a four-block college campus near the center of the community (on College, now Garnet, Avenue). The company contracted with James W. Reid, architect of the Hotel del Coronado, to design and supervise construction of the college buildings, and following the cornerstone ceremony construction proceeded through the spring and summer of 1888.

The September/October edition of the Golden Era contained the announcement that the college would begin its educational work on September 20, 1888. It would be undenominational and would admit both sexes to all the advantages of the curriculum. One of the advantages both sexes could enjoy was the opportunity for out-door drill, summer and winter, due to the evenness of the climate. The exercise would be ‘healthful and invigorating’ and the young ladies would be allowed to form their own military company.

A Bachelor of Arts degree would be conferred on students who completed the Classical course after four years of study. Applicants for the Classical course would have to be at least 14 years of age and would be examined in Latin, Greek (or its equivalent), mathematics, history, geography, English and physiology. There would also be Scientific and Literary courses leading to comparable degrees, and for which modern languages could be substituted for Greek. Latin would be optional after the sophomore year, but students were expected to able to read the classics (in their original languages) with literary pleasure, as repositories of history and literature. Students younger than 14 or not meeting the requirements for admission could enter a Preparatory course, designed to prepare them to enter the freshman class but also to provide a course of study that was complete and practical in itself. The academic year would consist of three terms of 13 weeks each with each term’s tuition set at $16.50 for Preparatory students and $22.00 for Classical, Scientific and Literary students. Resident students would also pay $97.50 for board and room rent, and an extra fee of $10.00 was added for music, $3.00 for voice culture and elocution, and $5.00 for painting.

San Diego College of Letters, 1888, with students in their military uniforms.

San Diego College of Letters, 1888. The young ladies and young men are in their separate military companies wearing their military uniforms. (San Diego History Center #9800)

The San Diego College of Letters did open on September 20, 1888 with 37 students, and enrollment increased to 104 for the second term in January 1889. The Annual Catalogue for the 1888-1889 collegiate year included a list of the students’ names and home towns which showed that 23 of the 104 students were residents of Pacific Beach, 45 were from other areas of San Diego, 12 from Coronado and 10 from other parts of San Diego County. Only 8 students were from out of state, including two from Lower California. Judging by their names (Bessie, Hattie, Emma, etc.) 46 of the students were young ladies and 57 were young men (e.g., Horace, Edgar, Cyrus).

In addition to the grant of the college campus property, the Pacific Beach Company had given the college company hundreds of residential lots throughout the community as an endowment to secure its financial future. However, San Diego’s ‘Great Boom’ which had followed the completion of a transcontinental railroad link in 1885 and the influx of thousands of potential settlers collapsed in 1888, causing a sharp decline in the population and a corresponding lack of demand for residential real estate. The college attempted to generate interest in its lots by holding auctions where choice residence and villa sites would be sold to the highest bidder. Potential buyers were also treated to lunch, which could be roasted ox, ‘carved and served to the hungry throng’, or a fish fry. Three auctions were held in February and March of 1889 which drew large crowds but apparently few bidders. Instead, to relieve its immediate debt and other obligations, the college mortgaged much of its real estate. The financial outlook deteriorated further in April 1889 when James W. Reid sued the college company for what he claimed was owed for the design and supervision of construction of the college building.

Still, when the first academic year came to an end in June 1889 the mood at the college was upbeat. The final edition of the College Rambler, the student newspaper, included an editorial ‘to you fellow students whose years work is so nearly ended, it extends congratulations if your record has been good, its sympathy, if ill. You, like it, have been making history. You as pioneer students have helped to found a College; to rear an institution of higher learning here in this bright Sunland’. The keynote speaker at the college commencement ceremony added that it did not task the imagination to predict that the time was not far distant when San Diego College of Letters would take rank among the leading institution of learning in the country.

The second academic year opened in September 1889 with a few additions to the faculty and many of the same students. A new college building was opened in January 1890, financed by and named for Oliver J. Stough, a real estate investor with interests in Pacific Beach. Stough Hall became the popular venue for students’ elocution contests and musical recitals, watched by citizens who arrived in special trains from downtown San Diego. Closing exercises for the college’s second academic year were held in Stough Hall in June 1890.

During the summer of 1890 a number of changes were made in the administration and corporate structure of the college. The San Diego Union reported that the original partners in the college company, Harr Wagner, C. S. Sprecher and F. P. Davidson, transferred their interests in the company to ‘eastern parties’. Wagner and Sprecher both resigned from the faculty to devote their full attention to the Golden Era. Davidson remained at the college in a caretaker role, representing the new ownership, which was expected to lift the burdensome debt from the young but vigorous institution.

When classes resumed for the fall term in September 1890 about 50 students were enrolled, the majority from Pacific Beach or elsewhere in San Diego. In December the San Diego Union reported that the term had closed and all but two or three students from the East had dispersed to their homes for the holidays. If the students did return for the second term in January 1891 they did not remain for long. In March 1891 the Union reported that Captain and Mrs. Woods had moved in and taken charge of the College of Letters and added that Mrs. Woods had been a teacher there for some time and the college would be in good hands. There was no explanation for why this was necessary and no further news from the college for the remainder of what would have been the academic year. Although the San Diego Union reported in August 1891 that a Prof. Vinton Busby from Indiana State University would accept the presidency of the college and had arrived in town to make final arrangements, these arrangements apparently fell through and the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach never reopened.

James W. Reid’s lawsuit over the debt he was owed for design and construction of the first college building had been decided in Reid’s favor in March 1891 and with no other assets available to satisfy the judgement the court ordered the sheriff to seize the college company’s real estate. The college campus property was subsequently auctioned at the court house door on three separate occasions over the next five years before being acquired in 1898 by Rev. William L. Johnston of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, as trustee for Pacific Beach College, an organization of residents determined to reestablish an institution of learning there. Some alterations were made to the college buildings, including a tower on Stough Hall, but no progress was made toward reestablishing the college. Instead, the campus was used for various purposes including a Y.M.C.A. summer camp. In 1901 it was described as the College Inn, with W. Johnston as secretary and manager, and local news items occasionally commented on its guests (‘Mr. and Mrs. Sewel of Los Angeles spent last week at the College Inn’). Stough Hall became the center for dances and other gatherings in Pacific Beach.

In 1903 Folsom Bros. Co., a real estate developer which had recently acquired the Fortuna Park subdivisions south of what is now Pacific Beach Drive, purchased most of the rest of Pacific Beach from O. J. Stough (the Union headline read ‘Pacific Beach Has Changed Owners’) and began a program of improvement and development to enhance the value of their investment. In April 1904 they also leased the college campus (with option to buy) from W. L. Johnston and announced plans to develop the former college buildings into a first class resort. While this development was underway they held a contest to choose a name for their new resort. The name chosen (for which the lucky winner received a $100 lot in Pacific Beach or $100 in gold) was Hotel Balboa. Folsom Bros. exercised their option to buy the property in 1905 and over the next few years alterations and repairs were said to have added greatly to its attractions. In 1907 the hotel grounds were landscaped and the surrounding streets graded, ‘sidewalked’ and lined with palms trees (some of which are still growing). However, despite the efforts of Folsom Bros. Co., the Hotel Balboa also was not a success.

In 1910 Capt. Thomas A. Davis leased the buildings and grounds and started the San Diego Army and Navy Academy with 13 students and himself as the only instructor. Unlike its previous occupants, the military academy thrived and grew over the years. Davis purchased the property in 1921 and eventually added a number of larger buildings which surrounded and dwarfed the original college buildings. During the depression of the early 1930s the academy, like the college before it, was unable to repay the costs of its building program and was acquired by John Brown Schools and renamed Brown Military Academy. In the 1950s Pacific Beach growth encroached on the academy and in 1958 it moved to a new location in Glendora.

The new owners of the college campus property proceeded with plans to convert it into a shopping center and in August 1958 the San Diego Union reported that workmen razing one of the buildings on the site had found a baking soda tin in its cornerstone containing papers dating to 1887, including San Diego newspapers and a Pacific Beach subdivision map.

Mt. Soledad and the Cross

Mt. Soledad Cross

Mt. Soledad, which rises abruptly to the east of La Jolla and descends more gradually south to Pacific Beach, is the highest point in the city of San Diego. At 822 feet above sea level and within about a mile of the Pacific Ocean it is also said to be the highest coastal elevation in California. With an unobstructed view from horizon to horizon it has long been popular as an observation point. In 1905, the San Diego Union’s annual New Year’s Day report from La Jolla noted that Old Soledad rose majestically, keeping watch over the town nestling at its feet, and that the half-hour’s stiff climb to the old signal station at the top was amply repaid by the panorama you would find yourself the center of; San Diego, Coronado and grand old Point Loma, the broad expanse of Rose Canyon, the mountains, and the illimitable expanse of ocean, Clemente and Catalina showing clear and distinct in the distance. If you were also one of those favored mortals privileged to see one of La Jolla’s gorgeous sunsets from that vantage point, you would return a ‘better and a wiser man for what it has been granted you to look upon’ (the ‘old signal station’ was apparently the survey station established on the summit in 1899 by A. T. Mossman of the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey).

In April 1908 the Union recommended the summit of Mt. Soledad as a rare natural observatory from which to get a first glimpse of the Great White Fleet, the armada of U. S. battleships that was making its first United States port call at San Diego after sailing around Cape Horn on a round-the-world voyage. The fleet’s arrival on April 13 drew the largest crowds ever seen in San Diego at the time, but La Jolla residents and visitors who did not wish to go to San Diego could view the coming of the fleet from the mountain top. Other sights were also best seen from the mountain; in April 1910 the Union reported that a comet party made its adventurous way up Mt. Soledad to gain in the clear upper air an unobstructed view of the celestial wanderer (Halley’s comet).

To make the way up Mt. Soledad a little less adventurous, in 1913 A. H. Frost, president of the San Diego Beach Company, which owned much of Pacific Beach, and Clark Bailey, a La Jolla capitalist, built a four-mile-long road from the foothills above Pacific Beach to the summit of Mt. Soledad. The Evening Tribune reported that the route started near the Pacific Beach reservoir and by an easy grade followed the contour of the hills, providing a splendid view of mountains, sea and islands. The road was improved and realigned in 1916 to connect it to the end of Lamont Street in Pacific Beach and its completion was celebrated in April of that year when 60 members of the San Diego Floral Association guided by Kate Sessions drove to the top in twelve automobiles and planted five Torrey Pines and three Mount Diablo big cone pines, grown from seed and donated by Miss Sessions. The ‘flower lovers’ declared that the view was well worth the trip to the top.

View from Mt. Soledad, 1954

View from Mt. Soledad, 1954

Mt. Soledad lies within the pueblo lands of San Diego and in June 1916 La Jolla residents petitioned the city council to set aside the south 120 acres of Pueblo Lot 1265, described as the summit of Mt. Soledad, for a public park (actually, the highest point in Pueblo Lot 1265 is 811 feet; the 822-foot summit of Mt. Soledad is about half a mile west, within Pueblo Lot 1264). The council voted unanimously to approve the petition and the south 120 acres of Pueblo Lot 1265, ‘commanding a view of the ocean, mountains and of the entire city’, became a city park in July 1916.

View from Cross today

View from Mt. Soledad today

In 1926 the chambers of commerce of La Jolla, Mission Beach and ‘San Diego Beach’ (the would-be name for a hoped-for redevelopment of Pacific Beach) formed the North Shores Civic League to promote their communities. The League noted that a neglected feature of the North Shores area was the wonderful scenic panorama that could be observed from Mt. Soledad and they recommended that the ‘fair trail’ from Pacific Beach to the summit should be developed into an auto road. According to the San Diego Union, citizens of La Jolla and Pacific Beach assembled with shovels and rakes and aided by scrapers furnished by the city performed wonders in turning the trail into a serviceable dirt road by which autos could reach the summit in high gear. The completion of this ‘new road from the south’ was the occasion for a celebration at the summit in which Dr. H. K. W. Kumm, ‘traveler, writer and lecturer’ (and Pacific Beach resident), declared that while such sights as the Grand Canyon and Victoria Falls might be more awe-inspiring, they could hardly be considered more beautiful than the view from Mt. Soledad (although the San Diego Union admitted that the day was a trifle hazy and the usual clear view of the mountains was obscured). Kate Sessions planted three more pine trees and cadets from the Army and Navy Academy in Pacific Beach were in charge of a military ceremony and flag raising.

For more than 80 years now the top of Mt. Soledad has been marked by a large cross, standing over 30 feet tall. There are reports that a redwood cross was dragged up the mountain with a good deal of labor and patience and that worshipers held Easter services beneath it in 1913, but if so it was probably not at the same location as the current cross. The San Diego Union announced in 1914 that the churches of La Jolla would hold a joint sunrise Easter service at the reservoir, presumably meaning what is now the Exchange Place reservoir in La Jolla, and in the early 1920s the churches again joined to conduct Easter sunrise services near the clubhouse of the La Jolla golf course. The redwood cross was reportedly stolen in 1922, but if this cross ever existed it was probably located at one of these sites on the lower slopes of Mt. Soledad.

View from Mt. Soledad, 1953

View from Mt. Soledad, 1953

By 1925 the Union reported that Easter sunrise services had become an annual institution in La Jolla and attracted increasingly large crowds each year. In 1929 plans were announced for the sunrise service to be held by the pastors of North Shore protestant churches at a ‘scenic point on Soledad Mountain’. According to the Tribune, the Pacific Beach chamber of commerce had cleared the ground on Mt. Soledad and would clear the road up the mountain from Pacific Beach. The PB Boy Scout troop had agreed to take a hiking trip from the head of Lamont Street to the scenic point a few days before Easter and throw any stray rocks and pebbles out of the road. Representatives from La Jolla were also expected to clear two other routes from La Jolla, opening up three avenues of traffic to help avoid congestion. A special committee was appointed to supervise the erection of a cross and platform. The ‘scenic point’ was apparently the city park on Mt. Soledad, which was to become the site of annual Easter sunrise services in the coming decades.

View from Mt. Soledad today

View from Mt. Soledad today

One thousand residents of the North Shore district attended the first Easter sunrise service at the park on Mt. Soledad in 1929 and the Evening Tribune reported that a two-mile chain of torches along the highways leading up to the mountain had been arranged in the form of a gigantic cross. An Easter sunrise service was also held on Mt. Soledad in 1930, attended by 500, but the custom then apparently lapsed until being revived in 1934 under the auspices of the Pacific Beach chamber of commerce. In March 1934, just a few days before Easter, the city built a ‘frame stucco cross’ in the city park and on Easter morning hundreds of residents gathered before the cross as Army and Navy Academy buglers heralded the beginning of the service.

Easter sunrise services at the cross on Mt. Soledad became an annual event but just before Easter in March 1952 the San Diego Union reported that the weather-scarred old cross, pitted with BB shot launched at it by mischievous youngsters and buffeted through the years by the elements, had been toppled by wind and shattered beyond reasonable repair. The Union noted that city employees had patched, stuccoed and strung framework over chicken-wire fabric to construct the 30-foot cross and that throughout its existence it had withstood all influences except one: an act of God.

Plans to replace the stucco cross began immediately and contributions were accepted at the 1952 Easter sunrise service. In May 1952 the Mt. Soledad Memorial Committee announced that plans were nearly completed for a ‘lasting cross’ atop ‘historic Mt. Soledad’. The proposal included a new cross of reinforced concrete as well as a paved assembly area large enough for several thousand persons, a parking area for 800 or more automobiles and about 2000 feet of new highway.

In 1953 the 32nd annual Easter sunrise service was held at the site of the old cross. A temporary cross was erected and an offering taken to go towards rebuilding the cross. By September the Memorial Committee had obtained sufficient funds for building and maintenance of the cross and grounds, and announced that construction would begin as soon as city approval was gained. Actual construction involved pouring twenty tons of concrete into forms laid out on the ground and allowing it to cure for 60 days. However, when a pair of cranes attempted to raise the cross into position in February 1954 its weight produced ‘certain stresses that it wouldn’t take’ and it cracked in two places just below the horizontal section of the cross. Contractors, engineers and architects studied the problem and decided they could remove and recast the cracked section and still have the cross in place before Easter. In fact, the cross was repaired and raised in time to be dedicated on Easter Sunday, 1954. The paved assembly area and parking lot for thousands of people originally proposed by the Memorial Committee was never built.

La Jolla topographic map showing Mt. Soledad, 1953

La Jolla topographic map showing Mt. Soledad, 1953

The cross built within the city park on Mt. Soledad in 1934 and rebuilt in 1954 was specifically intended for Easter sunrise services, and for years maps identified the site as the Mt. Soledad Easter Cross. However, in the 1980s, the presence of a prominent religious symbol on public property in apparent violation of the constitution led to lawsuits, and at one point a court ordered the cross to be removed. Instead, the constitutional issue was resolved by returning the land under the cross to private ownership.  The Easter cross became the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross, a tribute to armed forces servicemen and women, and in 2006 the property was taken over by the U. S.  Department of Defense. After an act of congress in 2014 allowed it to be transferred to private ownership it was sold to the Mount Soledad Memorial Association in 2015. In September 2016 the courts ruled that since the cross no longer stood on public property the case for its removal was moot.

The legal battles may now be over, the cross on Mt. Soledad is still standing, and the panorama a visitor may find themselves the center of amply repays the few minutes it now takes to drive to it.


PB and the Mattoon Act

Pacific Beach experienced a period of growth in the mid-1920s, including a new business district at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Cass Street, Crystal Pier and the opening of new subdivisions like Pacific Pines, North Shore Highlands and Crown Point. However, this growth soon stalled and was followed by a period of stagnation that lasted through most of the 1930s. While the Great Depression which followed the stock market crash of October 1929 undoubtedly played a role, many blamed this slowdown on the Mattoon Act.

The Mattoon Act, or Acquisition and Improvement Act, was passed by the California legislature in 1925. Named for its author, Everett Mattoon, it was intended to facilitate community development by allowing local authorities to create improvement districts where property owners would be assessed to pay for construction projects which benefited the district. The authorities would also have the right to acquire property for an improvement project through condemnation, if necessary.

Promoters of an improvement project would petition the local government authority to approve a project and an assessment district created to pay for it. While approval of a project did not require a vote of property owners in the district, a signed protest by 51 percent of the owners would be required to stop it. Once a project was approved and a district established the project would be funded by bonds to be repaid by an ad valorem tax on property owners within the district. A collective lien was placed on all property in the district, remaining in effect until the assessment for the entire district had been paid in full. Any delinquent payments were to be added, or ‘pyramided’, onto the district’s assessment for the next year, in effect requiring owners who did pay their taxes to pay their neighbors’ delinquent taxes as well.

The impact of the Mattoon Act on Pacific Beach was primarily the result of one project, the Mission Bay Causeway, a roadway built across what had been mud flats and open water between West Point Loma Boulevard and Crown Point. In April 1927 a petition was filed with the San Diego City Council asking for construction of a causeway under the provisions of the Mattoon Act. The San Diego Union reported that the project would be of immense proportions, costing thousands of dollars, and would mean the creation of an extensive assessment district north of the bay and on the Old Town flats, with the issuance of 6 percent bonds. A month later, in May 1927 the council voted unanimously to begin proceedings which could result in the construction project, estimated to cost about $500,000.

The causeway project was not without opposition, however. Attorney H. C. Gardiner, representing 150 Pacific Beach residents, protested that it was an unwarranted and unnecessary burden and threatened to fight it in court. After the council adopted a resolution of intention in August 1928, and set a date a month later to hear protests, Gardiner outlined his objections in a letter to the Union, complaining about the cost of the project, its potential to spoil Mission Bay, and the Mattoon Act itself, recently condemned by the Real Estate Association of San Diego and already in ill repute due to its ‘vicious provisions’ and ‘objectionable features’. In their September meeting, the council overruled these protests and formally authorized the project.

In November 1928 the council voted four to one in favor of issuing bonds and acquiring rights-of-way for the causeway project, again sweeping aside protests. In December, opponents of the project, led by Gardiner, filed another protest with the city council, claiming that the Mattoon Act was purely a street improvement measure and conferred no authority for the construction of bridges, which was the greater part of the Mission Bay Causeway project. When construction actually began, later in December 1928, Gardiner filed suit, and in January 1929 a judge granted a temporary injunction, halting the work.

In what was called one of the most bitterly fought court cases in recent years (attorneys were said to be like ‘gladiators sparring for position’) the project was nearly struck down in April 1929 when the judge ruled against 36 separate objections to the project but upheld one, that the proposed right-of-way crossed a small section of federal property and that the permit to cross this land was revocable by the Secretary of War and therefore did not represent a permanent dedication to the public (the property in question had been acquired by the federal government in 1878 to build a levee to divert the waters of the San Diego River into Mission Bay). Judge Griffin was prepared to make the temporary injunction against the causeway project permanent, but before his final ruling the attorney representing the promoters of the project made a ‘spectacular dash’ across the continent by air mail plane to Washington, D.C., returning with a permanent easement for a right-of-way for highway purposes signed by the Secretary of War. The judge reopened the case and reversed his former decision, although he did permit the injunction to stand pending appeal, provided the plaintiffs posted a $50,000 bond. The protesters were unable to raise the bond, Judge Griffin lifted the injunction, and construction work was resumed in July 1929.

With the Mission Bay Causeway finally under construction, some prominent Pacific Beach residents expressed positive opinions about the project. J. M. Asher Jr., who lived in his recently completed mansion at the top of Loring Street hill, was quoted as saying that his interests in Pacific Beach led him to be enthusiastic about the causeway; ‘I am convinced that land owners here will find it a great factor in the rise of property values’. An ad in the Evening Tribune in February 1930 noted that San Diego residents could already drive from Barnett Avenue to the south end of the causeway and if they did they would grasp the significance of the statement that the new causeway would effect such a transformation in Pacific Beach as it has never known. A transformation not only in the lives of its people but also in Pacific Beach real estate values. ‘But you should invest here now! Later may be too late for maximum profit’.

The new causeway did effect a transformation in Pacific Beach, in the lives of its people and in real estate values, but not in the way that its promoters had hoped. By 1930 the negative effects of the Mattoon Act were already being felt in districts around the city and county. The assessments added to property taxes to repay improvement bonds both increased the cost of ownership and reduced the value of the property, and increasing numbers of owners were either unable or unwilling to make their payments. The pyramiding provision of the Mattoon Act meant that these delinquent payments could be added to future assessments, which even more owners would fail to pay, creating a potential death spiral of rising assessments and more delinquencies.

In January 1930 a joint meeting of city councilmen and county supervisors pledged all possible relief for owners of property in Mattoon Act assessment districts. It was the ‘sense of the meeting’ that there should be no further pyramiding of assessments and that each landowner should be required to pay only his share of the cost of the improvement for which the district was formed. If bondholders did not agree they should take their case to the state courts, where the local officials believed they would find no legal basis for pyramiding. In August the supervisors established a revolving fund of about $60,000 to eliminate the year’s delinquencies on bond payments and also canceled penalties on delinquencies. According to the Evening Tribune, these measures created a ‘better feeling’ about tax bills in local Mattoon districts.

Construction of the Mission Bay Causeway was completed and a grand opening was held in January 1931. Four cadets from the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in Pacific Beach officially cut the ribbon at the south end of the roadway at Rosecrans Street. The Tribune noted that the large crowd was sprinkled by residents of Pacific Beach, Crown Point and owners of adjoining property who would pay the bills. The opening of the causeway was also accompanied by renewed advertising for Crown Point and other subdivisions in Pacific Beach.

However, delinquencies within Mattoon Act districts, including the Causeway district, continued to increase, exacerbated by the general economic collapse of the Great Depression. In February 1931 the county assessor reduced tax valuation of property in Mattoon districts by approximately 50 percent. Although he said the reduction was effected to bring relief to overburdened property owners, he noted that it was also justified by the present sales value, or lack of it, in the territory bearing heavy improvement assessments. The large, and growing, tax burden on property in these districts undermined its value, in some cases making it unsaleable.

Relief for overburdened property owners and increased delinquencies also meant that improvement districts did not raise enough revenue to make scheduled payments to bondholders. In August 1933 holders of Causeway bonds, led by the American Securities Company, won a state supreme court ruling that would have forced the city to levy a special tax to make up $31,000 in delinquent interest payments. In April 1934 the court also ruled in favor of the securities company’s demand that the city pyramid all amounts delinquent to date in the next year’s assessment. James Abbey, deputy district attorney in charge of Mattoon litigation, objected, predicting that pyramiding would result in immediate and total collapse of Mattoon Act districts, that taxpayers would no doubt refuse to pay any further assessments when they saw their tax bills, and that the situation should bring the bondholders of Mattoon Act districts to the realization that there is very little prospect for immediate payment of their bonds. Supervisor S. P. McMullen actually advocated a tax strike by property owners; ‘It’s getting better all the time for the property owners’, he said. ‘The more penalties accrue, the quicker the owners will realize how impossible it is to carry their burden, and they will quit paying taxes at all and thus force the bondholders to terms’. Rather than comply with the state supreme court ruling, the city appealed to the United States Supreme Court in July 1934 to halt pyramiding in the Mission Bay Causeway district on the grounds that pyramiding would amount to illegal taking of property without due cause, but in January 1935 the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Mattoon Act in the Causeway district, denying the city’s appeal.

The June 7, 1935, San Diego Union ran to 134 pages; 28 pages of news and advertising and over 100 pages dedicated to a delinquent tax list, eight columns to a page, listing the owners, descriptions and amount of taxes delinquent for property in the county. In some of the newer subdivisions in the Pacific Beach area like North Shore Highlands, Congress Heights, Pacific Pines and Crown Point, nearly every lot in the tract appeared to be listed. Some prominent citizens were included on the list, like Kate Sessions, who owed $152.92 on property in her Soledad Terrace subdivision and $66.86 on her nursery in the Homeland Villas No. 2 tract as well as additional taxes on other properties around the city. J. M. Asher Jr. owed $91.34 on the property in Acre Lot 11, where he had built his house at the top of Loring Street hill. The San Diego Army and Navy Academy, located on 31 acres in the heart of Pacific Beach that is now the Pacific Plaza shopping center, and with improvements that included recently completed 4-story dormitory buildings, was delinquent by over $8000. For the academy, this failure to pay property taxes was a fatal blow. Overextended by the dormitory building program, founder Thomas Davis had been forced to mortgage the property, buildings and furnishings, down to the silverware in the mess hall, to Security Trust & Savings Bank of San Diego. One of the conditions of the resulting deed of trust was that the academy would be responsible for property taxes, and when Davis failed to pay the delinquent taxes the trust company declared default in 1936. The campus was sold to the John E. Brown College Corporation in 1937 and was known thereafter as Brown Military Academy.

Although the U. S. Supreme Court had denied their last legal defense against pyramiding delinquent Mattoon assessments, it was obvious to local officials that pyramiding was not a viable option. According to deputy district attorney Abbey the situation had ‘just gone plain crazy’; the law seemed to give no alternative but to pyramid but under pyramiding many a lot would be called upon to pay a district assessment at least five times as great as its assessed valuation. The Causeway district was already 54 percent delinquent and if the assessments were pyramided, they would become 100 percent delinquent, like many districts already were. The county assessor added to the alarm, saying that the 100-page delinquent tax list spoke for itself; out of 155,000 real estate accounts the previous year approximately 80,000 were delinquent. Also 16,000 had been removed from the tax rolls for being delinquent over five years, reducing the tax rolls to 139,000. The supreme court order would add $3,500,000 special taxes to pay in addition to the regular levy, and the possibility of payment of such a huge sum was ‘far beyond the realm of possibility’. All such districts would without doubt go 100 percent delinquent and another 20,000 accounts would go off the rolls.

Instead of pyramiding more taxes on property owners in assessment districts, most of whom could not or would not pay them, the county proposed a $2,600,000 bond issue which would be used to buy up the existing Mattoon Act bonds at deep discounts. About half of this county bond would then be repaid by property owners in the districts, but with reasonable assessments so that the owners would resume paying their taxes. The other half would be repaid from general property taxes and gasoline taxes, reflecting the fact that much of the improvement work had involved the construction of arterial roads that actually benefit the entire region, not just the district in which they are located.

Abbey had prepared legislation enabling the Mattoon settlement plan which was introduced by the San Diego county delegation and enacted during the 1935 session of the state legislature. The settlement plan was put to a vote in San Diego County on October 29, 1935, and passed by a margin of 3 to 1. The San Diego Union celebrated it as not only a relief measure for assessment-burdened property, allowing it to be returned to general taxation and affording owners a practical method of repaying their obligations and clearing their titles, but also as a ‘Go’ signal, clearing away the wreckage from an era of reckless and unscrupulous promotion and promising renewed initiative and foresight to back projects for future progress.

The state supreme court upheld the Mattoon settlement legislation in July 1936 and in March 1937 Abbey went to San Francisco to negotiate with representatives of a large block of Causeway district bonds, which the county was to buy and retire at 50 percent of their face value. According to the San Diego Union, the district was 65 percent delinquent in city and county taxes because of the Mattoon blight. It had approximately 1500 taxpayers and included lands from the Marine base to La Jolla. In June 1937 the Union announced that settlement of the Causeway Mattoon district was voted unanimously by the county board of supervisors. $730,000 of the $743,000 bonds were in the county treasurer’s office and money was available to pay for them at the county’s price.

The Causeway district had the largest area of any Mattoon district in the county, with 56 percent or over half of the assessed valuation of such districts, and a Union editorial noted that clearing up 56 percent of the Mattoon blight meant that the hardest half of an extremely difficult task was almost finished. A solution to the Mattoon problem, a disastrous community blunder, would lift an immense worry from the literally thousands of local residents involved in the maze of legal complications created by promoters, salesmen and contractors who exploited the Mattoon Act as an easy means of making a quick cleanup in San Diego. The settlement would free the community to begin again where it left off nearly 10 years before when a small minority of individuals deluded the rest of the community with reckless promise of sudden and unearned speculative profit.

Title insurance companies agreed to issue title insurance policies in the Causeway Mattoon district without mention of the fact that the properties had been in such a district. The policies would include a note saying that San Diego County had forever waived the right to levy future Mattoon assessments on land in the district. An ad in the Union by the Southern Title and Trust Company announced that the company would insure titles in the entire Causeway district showing the property to be clear of Mattoon bonds as long as there were no delinquent assessments.

On the Fourth of July, 1937, Pacific Beach celebrated the Causeway district’s ‘declaration of independence’ from Mattoon Act ‘bond-age’ with fireworks and a huge ‘bond-fire’ at the beach, symbolizing burning of the last Mattoon bonds. City and county officials and citizens who had labored long to release the district from the heavy Mattoon yoke joined in the festivities (James Abbey had the privilege of throwing the first bundle of bonds on the fire), and predicted an era of progress and prosperity. The president of the Pacific Beach Chamber of Commerce declared that nothing could stop Pacific Beach now; ‘Our unfortunate experience with Mattoon bonds set back our development, but only temporarily. From now on watch us grow’.

Early PB Water Supply

When the Pacific Beach Company was formed in 1887 one of the tasks the founders assigned themselves in developing the new community was to ‘construct water works, reservoirs, [and] lay down mains and water pipe’. In the days leading up to the opening sale of lots at Pacific Beach in December 1887, their advertisements emphasized that arrangements had been made to give Pacific Beach a ‘splendid water system’, and that ‘men were already at work laying the pipe from the city water works’. When they cut prices in half a few months later to revive lot sales (San Diego’s ‘great boom’ collapsed in the spring of 1888), they also assured potential purchasers of an ‘abundant supply of city water’ and other substantial improvements.

The city water that was piped to Pacific Beach in 1888 was provided by the San Diego Water Company from wells beneath the San Diego River in Mission Valley. Construction was also underway on a 35-mile wooden flume which would reach up the river to Boulder Creek and deliver a flow of mountain water to the city water system. The completion of the flume was marked by a gala celebration and parade in San Diego on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1889.

This additional water became particularly important for Pacific Beach when the community turned to agriculture, especially lemon cultivation, after the failure of its original centerpiece, the San Diego College of Letters, in 1891. In March 1892 the San Diego Union’s Local Intelligence column noted that a Mr. Bowers, who had come west last fall from Tennessee, had purchased a thirty-acre tract at Pacific Beach and was having 4,000 feet of water pipe laid over his land. The property was to be put in lemons during the next few weeks. In April, C. H. Raiter, a Minnesota banker who had spent the previous winter in Pacific Beach, sent instructions to have a ten-acre tract in PB piped, fenced and broken. In July, George Hensley, secretary of the Pacific Beach Company, claimed that much of the new water available to San Diego was going to waste and proposed giving anyone planting an orchard of at least five acres free water for the next year. He reported that the 170 acres lately planted in Pacific Beach were making a fine growth.

The lemon ranches in Pacific Beach were concentrated between what are now Ingraham and Noyes streets and extended from Pacific Beach Drive uphill to north of Beryl Street (the Bowers ranch bordered Beryl, the Raiter ranch PB Drive). The lower ranches began at an elevation of about 50 feet while the upper ranches were at nearly 200 feet above sea level. The Pacific Beach Company built a reservoir at an elevation of about 300 feet and in August 1893 asked for permission to connect with the city water system. The reservoir, located in the foothills near Los Altos Road, is still used to store water for Pacific Beach.

Although the flume was often represented as a new source of water for San Diego, in fact both the wells in Mission Valley and the flume from Boulder Creek were ultimately dependent on rainfall in the San Diego River watershed. In 1894 the San Diego region experienced a drought which dried up the river and its tributary creeks and drained the relatively shallow Cuyamaca reservoir, which held the flume company’s reserves. With flume deliveries cut back the water company was unable to maintain consistent supplies of water to more remote areas, including Pacific Beach. In October 1894 the Union’s Pacific Beach Notes column reported that the reservoir was dry and those living in the higher lands were out of water a good part of the time. In this instance the rains did return; a storm in the middle of January 1895 caused flooding all over the county. In Pacific Beach, Rose Creek was reported to be a roaring river, the country around the race track east of the creek was a vast lake and the tracks of the Pacific Beach railroad were nowhere to be seen.

The flume was built of redwood and open to the sky and the essence of the wet wood apparently infused the pure mountain water on its 35-mile ride to the city. In June 1896 Pacific Beach Notes noted that some citizens were buying Coronado water because of the ‘rare old peculiar odor of flume water’. Worse than the odor, some believed that the water was unhealthy. The Union reported in September 1896 that a worker on Mrs. Rowe’s ranch in Pacific Beach had typhoid fever caused, it is said, by drinking too much flume water. The water was cheap, however. In July 1897, Maj. W. D. Hall told the Union that he did not pay so much for water for his entire 10 acres as for enough, in Phoenix, Arizona, to water an acre and a half. He used it so plentifully that his trees were kept free from scale.

Drought returned in 1898; a June Pacific Beach Notes column reported that the ranchers near the hillside had been absolutely without water the past two days. Although the Union’s correspondent hoped this was only a temporary scarcity, the report in August was that the water situation was becoming serious. The ranches nearest the hillside were the greatest sufferers. Again, the correspondent held out hope that ‘that the experience of August, 1873, will be repeated, when, according to the Union, 1.95 inches of rain fell’. History did not repeat itself in this case; in November the news was that water on the higher levels was at a premium. ‘Weeks go by without any water at all, that being used for domestic purposes being hauled in tanks’.

The 1898 drought was not relieved by a January storm either, and in March 1899 the Union’s Local Intelligence column reported that F. W. Barnes of Pacific Beach was tired of waiting for the San Diego Water company to furnish water, and was putting in a well; ‘If he gets water, William D. Hall will at once put in a well, and others at the Beach will probably do the same. The seriousness of the water situation overshadows every other topic. For several days past the service has been very insufficient, the higher levels feeling the situation very keenly’. There is no indication that Barnes ever got water, though, or that others at the Beach did the same.

Although a delightful shower freshened the grass and trees wonderfully in May 1899, wells were sunk in Rose Canyon and a pumping plant put in with the hope of insuring a good supply of water during the coming summer. Connection was made with the Rose Canyon well in June and the water service was said to have improved. The president and an engineer from the San Diego Water Company visited Pacific Beach in July with a view to making an ‘equal distribution of water’. They concluded that if the reservoir could be filled and an extra check valve installed for the higher ranches, it would solve all the difficulties.

The water shortages also caused lemon ranchers to take other conservation measures. Pacific Beach Notes noted in December 1899 that many ranchers were cutting out their cypress hedges, as it had been proved they do more harm than good, and enough water cannot be given them to satisfy their thirst. ‘They will take all you give them and rob the lemon trees as well. It is a pity as a cypress is a thing of beauty’.

The water company’s improvements apparently did have a beneficial effect and an Evening Tribune Pacific Beach Notes column in March 1900 reported that everybody in Pacific Beach was grateful to the water company for carrying them through the drought. In September 1900 the Tribune reported that the water service had been very good on the beach that summer; ‘when we remember that this is our third dry year that is a good deal to say that water has been of the very best quality and has been furnished in abundance’.

In 1901 the holdings of the San Diego Water Company within the city limits were purchased by the city and water distribution became the responsibility of the city water department. This reorganization did not include any new sources of water, however, and the water supply to relatively remote sections like Pacific Beach remained unreliable. The Evening Tribune reported in June 1902 that the water service on the Beach had been very poor that summer. Sterling Honeycutt had become the latest resident to try his luck with a well and in October the news was that his well had struck salt water and then, at 215 feet, indications of oil. This had led to much excitement but in the end neither oil nor fresh water in sufficient quantities were found.

Water shortages in Pacific Beach were compounded by a deteriorating water distribution infrastructure. The superintendent of the city water system reported in January 1903 that the mains in many places had ‘outlived their usefulness’, especially if laid in salt, alkali or adobe soil. He particularly called attention to the Pacific Beach pipeline and announced that he had ordered 5000 feet of cast iron pipe to replace portions of kalamein pipe that were giving trouble and causing the loss of millions of gallons of water (kalamein was an alloy coating for iron pipes). A letter to the editor of the Evening Tribune in March by a Pacific Beach resident described the condition of a water main that supplied some of the upper ranches at Pacific Beach. The main was about 500 yards long and during the past seven years had often experienced two or three breaks in one week. About 25 yards of the main was simply covered with a string of rubber bands and clamps. The writer claimed that during the past two years out of a total of 230 acres of bearing orchard at Pacific Beach, 60 acres had been cut down or abandoned, largely on account of the difficulty and expense of procuring an adequate supply of water.

The new cast iron section of the Pacific Beach pipeline was completed and connected in May of 1903 and concern about the water supply subsided. ‘Abundant water is now assured’ reported the Tribune correspondent, but the water that came through the new pipes ‘is very much in the nature of ink on account of the tar in the pipes’. It was not unwholesome to drink on that account, but was ‘unsatisfactory just now to wash with’.

The Pacific Beach Company had been dissolved in 1898 and its remaining holdings, the property it had been unable to sell, distributed to its shareholders. However, the five-acre site of the Pacific Beach reservoir had not been included in this distribution and the trustees of the defunct company finally sold the site, and the reservoir, to the city for $2000 in 1906.

Most of the other unsold property was acquired by Folsom Bros. Co. and this company initiated an ambitious effort to market Pacific Beach to prospective purchasers by developing or improving the community before offering lots for sale. The improvements would include grading streets, putting in curbs and sidewalks, and laying water mains. In January 1907 the Union reported much improvement going on in Pacific Beach; miles and miles of water pipe laid and streets graded by Folsom Bros. Co. By June Folsom Bros. Co. ads highlighted its improvements; sidewalks are being laid on block after block, avenues of fine palms are being planted. New water mains are being laid to tap each section as it is developed.

By August 1909 nearly a mile of cement sidewalk and curbing has been laid in Pacific Beach. Over two miles of street grading has been completed. The water supply has been increased. A concrete storage reservoir had been completed (presumably meaning that the Pacific Beach reservoir had been lined with concrete).

In 1912 horticulturist Kate Sessions and her brother Frank bought the western portion of Pueblo Lot 1785, 74 acres, as additional growing fields for their expanding nursery operations. Frank Sessions also leased the eastern 86 acres of the pueblo lot from the city. Pueblo Lot 1785 is in the foothills above Pacific Beach and adjoins the Pacific Beach reservoir site; the eastern portion is now Kate Sessions Park. Since much of this land was above the level of the existing reservoir, Frank Sessions dug another reservoir at the highest point on his land, above today’s Soledad Way, where he could store water to irrigate the growing fields below. In January 1913 he received a permit from the city to build a pumping plant on the city reservoir site to pump water further uphill to his reservoir. The Sessions’ reservoir was also eventually deeded to the city, in 1918 (the site is now a private home and tennis court).

The water situation in Pacific Beach stabilized, but for some the memory of drought and shortages remained. In September of 1913 the San Diego Union described a palatial home being built in Pacific Beach for C. C. Norris. The home, still standing on Collingwood Drive, is only a short distance from the Pacific Beach reservoir and not far below its elevation, and Norris apparently was well aware of the history of water shortages at the higher elevations of Pacific Beach. Among the details provided of the home’s interior (birch doors . . . old colonial type stairs with spiral newel post composed of a spindel balustrade . . . large tile mantle of unique design) the basement included a cistern with pump to furnish the house with rain water.

Over the ensuing century the San Diego region has expanded its water supply to keep pace with population growth, at first from a system of dams on local rivers, then by importing water from the Colorado River and Northern California, and most recently by desalinating sea water, so even though the past few years have seen a return of drought conditions like in the 1890s, the residences built on what were once the upper lemon ranches in Pacific Beach are not out of water a good part of the time, at least not yet.

The Pacific Highway

Northern end of the Pacific Highway, San Diego's Gateway to the North.

Northern end of the original Pacific Highway, San Diego’s former Gateway to the North, with Torrey Pines Park and the older (upper) and newer (lower) Torrey Pines grades in the background.

A road from San Diego north toward other population centers along the California coast has existed since the 18th century. El Camino Real led from Old Town around the eastern shore of Mission Bay, through Rose Canyon and over the mesa to Sorrento Valley. From there it continued north through what are now Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe, Encinitas and Carlsbad to Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, and beyond. Much of its original route in these areas, and in other parts of California further north, is traced by streets, roads and highways which are still called El Camino Real.

In the 19th century, most travel between San Diego and other coastal California towns was by ship or, after 1885, by rail, although from the 1860s to the 1880s a stagecoach line ran to Los Angeles from Old Town, and later from downtown, over much of the same route as El Camino Real. Improvements to the road north began in 1894 when A. G. Gassen, who owned most of the property in Rose Canyon, offered to deed the city a 40-foot right-of-way through his property if the city would build a wagon road along the side of the canyon, avoiding the old road in the creek bed which was ‘troublesome and dangerous in the rainy season’. Although the mayor objected to what he felt was the improvement of Gassen’s property at city expense, gangs of ‘pick and shovel men’ were put to work on the city wagon road and it was eventually completed in 1895.

Meanwhile, San Diego was growing and this growth included new communities along its northern shores, beginning in 1887 with the La Jolla Park and Pacific Beach subdivisions. The streets of these subdivisions and subsequent extensions and additions eventually connected and provided an alternative route along the coast from the mouth of Rose Canyon to La Jolla. This coastal route was later extended beyond La Jolla to accommodate tourists who wanted to visit what became, in 1899, Torrey Pines Park, first on burros and then in large tally-ho coaches.

In 1898 the San Diego Union reported on an international exhibition of automobile vehicles being held in Paris and added that the close of the century could find the horseless wagon coming into general use in the United States, and that its advent would be marked by the long desired era of good roads. The first automobile was seen in San Diego in October 1899 as part of a circus parade. In December 1899 D. C. Collier, a prominent real estate operator, was reported to have ordered one from the east which, according to the Union, was expected to be scaring horses in San Diego in about 4 weeks. Collier did have the distinction of being the first San Diegan to own an automobile, in February 1900, and he was soon joined by others, beginning the inexorable growth in automobile traffic and the need for more and better roads that has never really stopped.

In May 1904 the Los Angeles Times reported on the first ever trip by car from Los Angeles to San Diego along the coast route. The Times claimed that many had gone as far as Oceanside and San Luis Rey by being helped over the sand at San Onofre, but had then gone inland to Escondido; the run along the coast was considered impossible for most automobile users because of steep grades, deep sand stretches and the fords. Nevertheless, a driver with three guests left the Times building at 8:10 AM and passed the San Diego courthouse a few minutes before 6 PM, having covered the 115 miles in only 9 ¾ hours, including two hours at various stops.

By 1909 an automobile trip to Los Angeles was no longer considered impossible, but was still noteworthy. The Union reported in August that the MacFarlands, a prominent Pacific Beach couple, traveled to ‘Elks Week’ in Los Angeles overland in their Maxwell Runabout. On their return they made the distance between Los Angeles and Pacific Beach in eight hours.

In 1912 the California state highway commission announced its intention to build a highway to Los Angeles beginning at the San Diego city limits near Del Mar and working north. Feeling that the city should build a proper connection with the state road, the council authorized the city engineer to recommend a feasible route from Old Town to the city limits. The routes under consideration were either by way of La Jolla or Rose Canyon, and both routes would begin with a fine concrete and steel bridge over the San Diego River at Old Town.

The city engineer’s recommendation, presented in August 1912, favored the coast route, via Pacific Beach, La Jolla and the Torrey Pines grade. He reasoned that the coast highway, except for the Torrey Pines grade, was built over comparatively level country and would be easier to grade and maintain. It also had water available for sprinkling, at least as far as the Biological station (now Scripps Institution of Oceanography), and the alignment as a whole was far superior to the other road. The coast road passed through a populous and rapidly growing district and would accommodate increasing local as well as through traffic. Finally, this was one of the finest scenic drives in the vicinity of San Diego, invaluable as an advertisement, and always had been and always would be by far the most popular route.

By contrast, the road through Rose Canyon had been located and constructed as a wagon road before the automobile was dreamed of and was a ‘side-hill’ road, following the windings of the side-hill upon which it was built with a view more to economy in construction than good alignment. It had many sharp turns, was narrow in places and the hillside on which it was built sloped anywhere from 15 to 35 degrees. It could be improved by straightening out some of the worst turns but converting it into a boulevard equal in width and alignment to the La Jolla road would be expensive. It was also hot, dusty and unattractive in the summer months and there was no water available for sprinkling purposes. The city engineer conceded that it was 3.5 miles shorter, which would have been an argument in its favor in the days of horse-drawn vehicles, but with 90% of travel now by automobile, the straighter alignment of the coast road, presumably allowing higher speeds, was as important as distance.

The city engineer did recommend that the Torrey Pines grade, with a grade of 9 or 10 percent and a short, dangerous turn or ‘switch back’, should be entirely relocated and rebuilt (this was a route from Torrey Pines beach to Torrey Pines mesa now followed by Torrey Pines Park Road). The grade opposite the Biological station (now the northern extension of La Jolla Shores Drive) was also ‘susceptible of improvement’ in several places, with three sharp turns that should be straightened out.

The city engineer’s concern about water for sprinkling purposes was related to the fact that he believed that the time when the city would be financially able to improve a boulevard with a substantial pavement was not yet at hand. Instead, he respectfully suggested that the coast road be surfaced with good road material, decomposed granite, and the pipeline extended from the Biological station, where in addition to dust abatement it could probably also be used on the city farm on Torrey Pines mesa. The city engineer also suggested a connecting link between the coast and Rose Canyon routes at a point near the city farm to allow those who preferred the shorter route via Rose Canyon an opportunity to go that way.

Although the city council adopted the city engineer’s recommendation, a group of ‘Rose Canyon boosters’ objected to the coastal route and prepared a petition outlining the advantages of Rose Canyon. In addition to being four miles shorter and avoiding two dangerous grades, the petitioners noted that from a scenic standpoint the Rose Canyon route was preferable to the route by way of Torrey Pines since it would furnish the traveler a change of scenery, the traveler having already been in view of the ocean for the greater portion of the distance between Los Angeles and San Diego. They also made the prescient point that the Rose Canyon route would open up a large area of the city of San Diego to future development.

By 1913 surveyors were at work on the Torrey Pines grade and despite the city engineer’s concerns about funding the plan did include concrete pavement with a surface of coarse sand and oil. Property owners in Pacific Beach and La Jolla, who would be expected to pay for improvement of streets in their neighborhoods, also endorsed paving the coast highway through their communities. The Evening Tribune noted that the coming Exposition of 1915 was expected to attract large crowds, many of whom would arrive by automobile, and an improved highway would give residents of these communities the advantage of this heavy influx of visitors.

However, the paving projects in Pacific Beach and La Jolla were delayed by local politics. In Pacific Beach, the dispute was whether to pave Grand or Garnet avenues. Grand Avenue was also the right-of-way of the ‘La Jolla Line’, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway, which ran down the center of the wide avenue and which would have complicated the paving project. The council initially voted unanimously to pave Grand, but after continuing protests over the Grand Avenue assessment district, reversed course and in February 1915 decided to pave Garnet Avenue.

Prior to 1915 the only route from San Diego to Pacific Beach and La Jolla passed east of Mission Bay and entered Pacific Beach over Grand or Garnet avenues. In 1915, however, the Bay Shore Railway built a bridge over the inlet to Mission Bay between Ocean Beach and the sandy peninsula that became Mission Beach. When the ‘Hatfield flood’ of January 1916 washed out the bridges over the San Diego River at Old Town this bridge briefly became the only route from San Diego to Pacific Beach, La Jolla and the north. The bridge at Old Town was eventually rebuilt but when the route for a paved highway to the north was being considered in April 1916, rival groups representing Ocean Beach and Old Town appeared before the city council to make their case. Drawing upon history, the Old Town faction noted that Father Junipero Serra was something of a pathfinder and road builder and that in making his way north he chose the road through Old Town that became known as El Camino Real. The Ocean Beach party responded that although they had the greatest respect for the Padres, they had also established their settlement at Old Town while San Diego grew up at an entirely different site, so they might have also been mistaken in their location of the best route north.

Debates about which route to pave did not immediately translate into action, however. In April 1917, the Automobile Club of Southern California report on highway conditions for the Los Angeles Coast Route stated that pavement was complete from Second and Broadway to the India and Winder street crossing, thence dirt road to the top of Torrey Pines grade, with the exception of the Biological hill which is paved. From Torrey Pines into Los Angeles pavement was complete.

In July 1918 the news was that the city engineer’s office was working on plans for paving La Jolla Boulevard to Turquoise Street, Turquoise to Cass and Cass to Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. Garnet would be paved next and ultimately paving would be completed to Winder Street. New specifications called for 4 inches of concrete on a 20-foot wide roadway. The city would pay 60 percent with the remainder to be assessed against the abutting property on a 10-year bonding plan. Progress was slow, however; Garnet Avenue was finally paved in November 1919 and the remaining sections of paving completed in early 1920, finally giving motorists a continuous paved highway from San Diego to Los Angeles via Pacific Beach and La Jolla.

Meanwhile, despite being relegated to secondary status, the Rose Canyon road was also being improved. In January 1919 the Evening Tribune reported that a gang of city prisoners with picks and shovels was putting the road between Morena and Sorrento in first class shape for auto truck travel, widening a number of sharp curves so that two machines can make the turns without danger of colliding. According to the Tribune most truck hauling between San Diego and Los Angeles used that road because it is 5 miles shorter. The city also had in view future paving of that highway, which had been the main highway to the north before the coast highway was improved.

In 1924 Mission Boulevard through Mission Beach was paved as part of the extension of the San Diego Electric Railway through Mission Beach to La Jolla, providing another paved route between Pacific Beach and San Diego proper. This alternative route joined the coast highway at Garnet Avenue and Cass Street via Pacific Avenue (later Pacific Beach Drive) and Cass. The route was reportedly somewhat shorter and avoided the ‘unsavory back door of the city’, presumably referring to the slaughterhouse on the north side of the San Diego River across from Old Town.

An Evening Tribune headline in December 1924 announced that ‘Pigs May Build Rose Canyon Highway’. According to the Tribune, the sale of hogs raised at the city farm on municipally-collected garbage had raised over $5000. Other recent sales had swollen the pork barrel from the municipal piggery to such an extent that the city manager had decided to go ahead with construction of the Rose Canyon highway. He proposed to appropriate $12,000 for a gasoline power shovel and $12,000 for a fleet of six trucks to improve the grade through Rose canyon. This would take heavy truck traffic off the paved highway through La Jolla and the Biological and Torrey Pines grades. The Rose Canyon route remained unpaved, however, while the paved coast highway through the beach communities became part of U.S. Route 101 in the new nation-wide system of standardized roads in 1926.

In 1927 the state highway commission indicated that it would aid San Diego in its plans to pave Rose Canyon and re-route the Torrey Pines grade. The city council adopted a resolution in March 1927 authorizing plans and specifications under which the city would grade and prepare the road for paving and the state highway commission would pave the road to a width of 30 feet. In August 1927 the San Diego Union reported that a petition with the signatures of more than 650 citizens asked the council to start proceedings for the paving of the Rose Canyon road, then little used because of its rough, unpaved condition but which, if paved, would take all the stage, truck and other heavy traffic off the coast route. In January 1928 the state highway commission did make provision in its budget for paving the Rose Canyon road if the city would obtain the rights of way and grade the road to state standards.

In February 1929 the common council again discussed construction of a continuous paved highway by way of Rose Canyon north to a new connection with the state highway just this side of Del Mar. The discussions included a new 6% grade down Torrey Pines hill and a new approach for the highway into Del Mar, including a new overhead crossing over the Santa Fe tracks just south of Del Mar. The current paved highway across Torrey Pines mesa would be materially widened. In August 1929 a contract for grading the Rose Canyon highway was awarded to the R. E. Hazard Company; the city council also provided funds to change the channel of the creek in Rose Canyon to straighten out the road and make it unnecessary to build a bridge over the creek. The new road would be 29,000 feet long and graded to a width of 46 feet. Plans called for paving the road for a width of 30 feet. The road would leave Balboa Avenue near Pacific Beach and head north, following the old Rose Canyon grade for several miles and then swinging down into the canyon to parallel the Santa Fe right of way for a mile before swinging back to the west to climb up to the Torrey Pines mesa road several miles south of the Torrey Pines grade.

Grading was completed and the new highway opened to traffic in June 1930. The Union reported that it was not merely an old road widened but departed from the old route to seek an easier gradient and more wide-angle turns. Plans would permit use of the road until the work of paving was started by the state, perhaps before the next rainy season.

Paving was completed and state highway officials came to town for an official opening in December 1930. The ceremonies took place at the junction of the new Rose Canyon highway with the old Torrey Pines highway at the city farm, about where Revelle College at the University of California, San Diego, is now located. The improvement effort then moved north to where four steam shovels were expected to begin removing dirt for the new gradient that would replace the tortuous Torrey Pines grade. The city administration was also planning to improve the road by widening the causeway across the flats near the northern limits, widening of the Torrey Pines mesa road and improving the road from the mouth of Rose canyon into the city.

The original plan to replace the Torrey Pines grade had been for a bypass road with a 6% grade on the west, or ocean side, of Torrey Pines Park. In addition to improving the grade, the new road would be the finest scenic highway in Southern California, in the opinion of the division engineer for the state highway commission. However, even in the 1930s, the plan to carve a highway out of scenic cliffs in what was then a city park met opposition and the League to Save Torrey Pines Park was organized in La Jolla. Under pressure from the League, the park board voted to oppose the road. The city responded by voting to rescind the 1899 ordinance setting aside Torrey Pines Park, withdrawing it from the jurisdiction of the park board. The park board sued, and won, and eventually a compromise was reached in which a new road would be built within the park, but on the east, or valley side, instead. Initially the new route was to be for northbound traffic only, with southbound traffic continuing to use the old grade.

The widening of the road on Torrey Pines mesa south of Torrey Pines Park was also affected by environmental concerns, this time over the fate of a line of trees on the east side of the existing road. This controversy was solved by building a separate roadway to the east of the trees, allowing the trees to remain in the center of the divided highway. Although the highway is now long gone, some of these trees remain on what is now the UCSD campus.

With the completion of the new Torrey Pines grade in June 1931 the San Diego Union began to refer to the highway project as the Million Dollar Gateway to the North, and to note that only the segments south of Rose Canyon remained uncompleted. Improvement of the road from Rose Canyon into the city would involve grading and paving an extension of what was then Atlantic Street (now Pacific Highway) from Barnett Avenue to the Rose Canyon highway at Balboa Avenue. The city would grade the Atlantic Street extension and the state would then pave the entire route from Rose Canyon to Broadway. State aid was also expected for an overhead bridge over the Santa Fe tracks south of Del Mar provided the city would build a bridge over Sorrento Slough (the outlet from Los Penasquitos creek and lagoon on Torrey Pines Beach).

The Sorrento bridge was completed in September 1932 but it could not be opened until the overhead bridge was completed. In January 1933 contracts for two other bridges, over Cudahy Creek and Tecolote Creek, north of the San Diego River, were awarded and the bridge over the San Diego River was advertised for bid. Grading of the Atlantic Street extension between Barnett Avenue and Balboa Avenue began in March 1933 and was expected to be completed within 90 days. However, construction work was delayed in April by heavy rain, 1.3 inches in 4 hours, and many places along the highway were flooded with mud and water. The muddy condition of the fill across Morena temporarily halted construction work there and work on the San Diego River bridge was delayed when a truck carrying steel rods for the bridge became stuck.

The overhead bridge at Del Mar was completed in June 1933 and in August the contract to pave Atlantic Street and extension was awarded. The new San Diego River bridge was expected to be ready by the time the paving was complete. The work was completed and a formal dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony opened the Million Dollar Gateway to the North in December 1933. After the dedication at the downtown terminus of the new road, a caravan of several hundred automobiles, three abreast, carried the crowd to the ribbon-cutting at the foot of Rose Canyon.

A few months after the formal opening of the Gateway to the North, in April 1934, the city planning commission decided that the proper name for Atlantic Boulevard would be Pacific Highway and voted to ask the council to order the change in name. In June 1935 an ordinance was adopted changing the names of Atlantic Street, West Atlantic Street, Rose Canyon Highway, Torrey Pines Mesa Road and Torrey Pines Road to Pacific Highway (Pacific Avenue in Pacific Beach had earlier been renamed Braemar Avenue to avoid any confusion with the new Pacific Highway; it was renamed again in June 1935 to Pacific Beach Drive).

Pacific Highway Sign

As San Diego continued to grow, and traffic on the gateway to the north continued to increase, further improvements were made to Pacific Highway. In 1938, for example, the 9.7-mile section between Barnett Avenue and Miramar Road, including the bridge over Rose Creek in Pacific Beach, was widened to four lanes with a raised area dividing the highway. By the 1960s, however, these incremental improvements had also become inadequate and the gateway to the north was completely rebuilt. The new freeway, Interstate 5, followed much the same route as Pacific Highway from San Diego through Rose Canyon, but then diverged in a northerly direction toward Sorrento Valley and beyond.

Some portions of the original highway that weren’t buried under the new freeway remain in service today. The former Atlantic Street in San Diego is still called Pacific Highway from its beginning at what was once the ferry landing on the bay and is now Seaport Village to just beyond the San Diego River, which it crosses on its original bridge. Where Pacific Highway turns toward Mission Bay and becomes Fiesta Island Road a short segment of the original route continues over Cudahy Slough, where the 1933 bridge is still standing (although now a dead end).

1933 Pacific Highewy bridge over Cudahy Slough

1933 Pacific Highway bridge over Cudahy Slough

A few other sections of the former Pacific Highway, including Mission Bay Drive in Pacific Beach, Gilman Drive between Interstate 5 and UCSD and North Torrey Pines Road between UCSD and Del Mar are also still in use. The ‘overhead bridge’ over the railroad tracks south of Del Mar is also still there and was recently retrofitted to meet modern structural and seismic standards. When San Diego relinquished its interest in the bridge to Del Mar (the bridge lies within both cities), Del Mar declared the bridge to be a historic site and the redevelopment effort also preserved that monument to the former Pacific Highway, San Diego’s Gateway to the North.

Recently restored 1933 North Torrey Pines Bridge

Historic Pacific Beach Trees

Screen grab of Google Street View, Ingraham Street south of Fortuna Drive, before January 30, 2016.

Screen grab, Google Street View, looking north on Ingraham Street south of Fortuna Drive, sometime before January 30, 2016.

A massive pine tree growing along the west side of Ingraham Street south of Fortuna Drive in Pacific Beach recently blew over in a fierce windstorm, killing a passing motorist. The story in the San Diego Union-Tribune mourned the victim, a popular musician on her way to a performance, but also noted that many residents expressed a fondness for the tree, which one likened to an old friend; ‘I’ve known that tree for a long time. It was an icon, it really was’. Some residents estimated the tree was about 100 years old. Although this particular tree probably wasn’t that old, there are trees in Pacific Beach that are that old or older and many others which may be considered icons or old friends.

The most iconic tree in Pacific Beach would be the Kate Sessions Tipuana tree which stands on the site of her former nursery at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Pico Street. It has been a local icon for at least 75 years; an item in the San Diego Union’s Public Forum in June 1941 written by Max Matousek, a former foreman at her nursery, encouraged all tree-lovers to visit it the next week-end when it would be in flower, a mass of golden yellow and a living monument to Kate Sessions. He described the tree, probably about 15 years old at the time, as 35 feet tall and spreading its branches 65 feet in one direction and 55 feet in the other, one of the finest and largest specimens in Southern California.

Kate Sessions Tipuana Tree

Kate Sessions Tipuana Tree

Kate Sessions had come to San Diego in 1884 to replace the principal of the Russ School, predecessor of San Diego High School, who had abruptly resigned. However, she soon resigned herself, entered the nursery business and became active in civic organizations dedicated to improving and beautifying San Diego by planting trees (civic leader Julius Wangenheim later recalled that she apparently decided it was easier to get something out of the good earth than into the heads of young San Diegans). She was allowed to use a portion of the City Park, now Balboa Park, in exchange for planting and caring for 100 trees and donating an additional 300 trees in boxes to the city each year. She moved her nursery from the park to Mission Hills in 1905 and in 1912 acquired property in the foothills above Pacific Beach for her nursery operations. In 1924 she purchased property on both sides of Rose Creek north of what was then Grand and is now Garnet Avenue, and moved her sales office from Mission Hills to that location. Apparently she planted the Tipuana tree shortly after this move; in 1946 it was said to have been planted over 20 years before. She became a Pacific Beach resident in 1927 and died at the age of 83 in 1940.

In 1941 the Federal Public Housing Authority expropriated most of eastern Pacific Beach to build the Bayview Terrace housing project for defense workers and their families. An announcement of the project noted that the nursery formerly owned by the late Kate Sessions, prominent San Diego horticulturist, was included in the site, and the blooming acacia trees, long a landmark in San Diego, would be preserved in a proper setting. The preservation effort apparently extended to the Tipuana tree as well, which survived this project and others which threatened its future.

In July 1960, for example, the Union reported that a tree planted 40 years ago by a woman who brought greenness to San Diego was scheduled for alteration as the march of progress cut under its friendly boughs. The street under its friendly boughs, now Garnet but by then called Balboa Avenue, was being widened and traffic lanes would pass from 7 to 10 feet from the base of the tree, which might have made it necessary to trim branches to allow vertical clearance and remove some minor roots. However, city officials backed down after the Pacific Beach Garden Club and the Pacific Beach Women’s Club organized a campaign to protect the tree and modified the plan to add a 15-foot buffer between the street and the tree. ‘I know of no one in city government who wants to harm a twig on this fine old tree’, said the city park and recreation director. ‘We’re going to do nothing to damage it’. A senior design engineer in the city engineer’s office agreed, saying ‘our instructions are to avoid damaging the tree in any way’.

Emboldened by their success, the campaign to protect Kate Sessions’ Tipuana tree then petitioned the state park board to make the tree a state historical monument, and in May 1961 their proposal was accepted. A story in the Union reported that the tree, said to have been planted in 1905 (years before Kate Sessions first acquired property in PB and nearly 20 years before she owned the property where it stands), would become a state historical monument. A plaque recognizing Kate Olivia Sessions’ Nursery Site and commemorating the life and influence of a woman who envisioned San Diego beautiful was dedicated on July 7, 1961. The plaque was actually mounted on a stone monument under the tree and didn’t refer to the tree at all, but news reports emphasized that the Tipuana tree, said to be 50 years old, was the actual landmark.

The San Diego Union’s report on the campaign to save the Kate Sessions Tipuana tree also mentioned that construction crews were trying to preserve another, even larger tree believed planted by Miss Sessions on the construction site for the Capehart housing project (successor to the Bayview Terrace project and now the Admiral Hartman Community). This tree, thought to be a Ficus, was located on a promontory overlooking Mission Bay about 1 quarter mile south of Kate Sessions school. This description matches a huge Moreton Bay Fig tree (Ficus macrophylla) still growing today behind houses near the intersection of Chalcedony and Donaldson Drive, south of Kate Sessions school and overlooking Mission Bay. It is unlikely, however, that this tree was planted by Kate Sessions; it actually appears to be one of the last remaining signs of the area’s lemon ranching past.

Moreton Bay Fig tree, Chalcedony Street and Donaldson Drive.

Moreton Bay Fig tree, Chalcedony Street and Donaldson Drive.

For over a decade beginning in 1892 life in Pacific Beach revolved around growing, packing and shipping lemons. Most of the lemons were grown on ‘acre lots’, parcels of approximately ten acres corresponding to pairs of today’s residential blocks. Most acre lots were located on what were then the fringes of the community, south of Reed Avenue and north of Diamond Street, and there are still traces of the former lemon ranches to be seen in these areas. The large two-story frame home at 1860 Law Street was originally the ranch house for the Wilson and Bowers lemon ranch on Acre Lot 34, now the two blocks surrounded by Lamont, Chalcedony, Kendall and Beryl streets (although the house, built in 1892, was moved from other side of Law about 1912). Two other ranch houses, at 1932 Diamond, built for the Coffeens in 1895, and at 4775 Lamont, built for the Roxburghs in 1904, remain on Acre Lot 50, the two blocks east of Lamont between Diamond and Chalcedony.

On other former acre lots the ranch houses have disappeared but the sites are still marked by the trees which once stood next to them. The two blocks east of Olney Street between Chalcedony and Beryl where the large Moreton Bay Fig tree stands was once Acre Lot 30, where Frank Marshall established a lemon ranch in 1894. A panoramic photo of Pacific Beach from the east taken in 1906 shows lemon groves and a ranch house surrounded by large trees on this site.

Lemons ranches on Acre Lots 53 and 30 from Bunker Hill, 1906.

Pacific Beach lemon ranches from Bunker Hill, 1906, showing ranch house and trees on Acre Lot 30 (San Diego History Center #283).

The lemon groves eventually died out and after the area was reconfigured for the Bayview Terrace housing project in 1941 the ranch house had also disappeared, but the tree was spared and can be seen in an aerial photo of the area from 1946. The builders of the Capehart housing project also succeeded in their efforts to preserve this iconic tree, saving the last visible reminder of the Marshall’s lemon ranch.

1946 aerial view of Bayview Terrace housing project showing Moreton Bay Fig (San Diego History Center #10356-2)

1946 aerial view of Bayview Terrace housing project showing Moreton Bay Fig (San Diego History Center #10356-2)

Trees are also the only survivors of other former lemon ranches in Pacific Beach. On the former Acre Lot 33, east of Lamont between Chalcedony and Beryl streets, a ranch house built for Wilson and Bowers in 1893 was torn down in the 1940s and the entire area was cleared for one of the first planned developments in Pacific Beach, Lamont Terrace (the homes with the brick chimneys and shingle siding). The only thing left standing was another Moreton Bay Fig tree which once stood beside the ranch house and is now in front of the house at 1922 Law.

Moreton Bay Fig tree, 1922 Law Street.

Moreton Bay Fig tree, 1922 Law Street.

On Acre Lot 49, west of Lamont between Diamond and Chalcedony, the house on Mary Rowe’s lemon ranch was demolished in the 1950s but a large palm tree which once marked her ranch house still stands in front of the apartment buildings at 1828-1840 1/2 Missouri.

Palm from Mary Rowe lemon ranch, now in front of 1828-1840 1/2 Missouri

Palm from Mary Rowe lemon ranch, now in front of 1828-1840 1/2 Missouri

In other parts of Pacific Beach, it is not individual trees but rows of trees, many of them over a century old, which have become iconic. In 1907 Folsom Bros. Co., which owned most of Pacific Beach and was trying to attract buyers by grading streets and laying sidewalks and water mains, also advertised that avenues of fine palms were being planted. These rows of palms still line parts of Lamont and Hornblend streets. The rows of palms along Bayard Street south of Grand Avenue and Pacific Beach Drive west of Bayard were also planted in the early years of the twentieth century. These trees lined the approach to Braemar Manor, the bayside mansion of the F. T. Scripps family and now the site of the Catamaran Hotel.

Palm trees along Pacific Beach Drive and Bayard Street

Palm trees along Pacific Beach Drive and Bayard Street

The group of Canary Island palms on the west side of Bayard between Reed and Thomas Avenues once stood in front of the Rockwood Apartments, later the Rockwood Home for the Aged, built in 1904.

Site of Rockwood Apartments, behind the Phoenix canariensis palms on Bayard

Site of Rockwood Apartments, behind the Phoenix canariensis palms on Bayard.

Another century-old Canary Island palm tree is growing in the patio of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church at Garnet Avenue and Jewell Street. The church’s web site actually presents its history through the character of this tree; ‘My name is Phoenix Canariensis . . . I live and grow in the patio of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church. I really don’t know where I came from but that’s not important because new life began for me in 1915 when the Ladies Aid Society transplanted me to beautify the barren sandy soil around their church’. After recounting a century of history, the tree describes its present environment; ‘I now live on the busiest street in all of San Diego. I am completely surrounded by businesses and apartments. Parking is a problem. People from the streets sometimes sleep in this patio, giving testimony to the gravity of the times’. It even considers its future; ‘Some say that the life of a Canary Date Palm is about 80 years. I know that I shall soon complete my cycle of life. The men seem to know it too. They are giving me extra attention . . . I even see a new family of palm trees in the refurbished patio’.

Phoenix canariensis in the patio of Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church

Phoenix canariensis in the patio of Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church

Other trees in Pacific Beach may not qualify as iconic but could still be considered old friends. When I was growing up on Diamond Street across from Brown Military Academy in the 1950s we had a decent view to the southwest, including the bay, Point Loma and the ocean. Before that view was obscured by the glaring Newberry’s sign in 1961 and completely blotted out by the Plaza Apartments in 1970, one of the most prominent landmarks visible from our front window was a tall Norfolk Island Pine tree, perfectly symmetrical, growing a few blocks south.


Norfolk Island Pine tree in front of Baldwin Academy, Hornblend Street.

We traced it to Hornblend Street, just west of Kendall Street, where it is still growing in front of the historic house which is now the Baldwin Academy. It must be about 90 years old; it was already tall in an aerial photo of Brown Military Academy taken in 1938. I seem to recall that it had a lighted star on top during the holiday season, although I can’t imagine how anyone could have placed it there.

83:14603-1 Pacific Beach - Aerial - 1938

1938 aerial photo of Pacific Beach showing Norfolk Island Pine (foreground), also palm trees at the ranch house on Missouri (left) and Moreton Bay Fig on Law (right), beyond Brown Military Academy (center). (San Diego History Center #83:14603-1)

After last week’s fatal accident in Pacific Beach city crews went to Ocean Beach to cut down a pair of Torrey Pines that the city had deemed unstable and a threat to public safety. According to the Union-Tribune, a local resident stopped to see what was going on and became infuriated when he was told that two historic trees planted in the 1930s were going to have to come down. He placed himself in front of one of the trees, defending it from the city workers, presumably brandishing chainsaws, until they were able to convince him that the trees had been condemned. He then walked away, unable to watch the destruction. Other residents also joined in the complaints, saying that the trees were some of the most historic in that coastal community. The Torrey Pines were eventually cut down, but this incident again showed the fondness that a community can express for their historic trees.