Tag Archives: Folsom Bros. Co.

Sidewalking Pacific Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Postscript:

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

O. J. Stough Owned PB

Oliver J. Stough never lived in Pacific Beach, but at the turn of the twentieth century he actually owned most of it. He had acquired property in what was then an undeveloped area from a defunct railroad company and sold it to the group of investors who became the Pacific Beach Company. The company combined Stough’s former holdings with their own to create the Pacific Beach subdivision in 1887. Stough later joined these investors and eventually became the majority owner of the Pacific Beach Company. The company was dissolved in 1898 and its Pacific Beach real estate was distributed to the stockholders, primarily Stough. When he sold to Folsom Bros. Co. in 1903 the San Diego Union reported that ‘Pacific Beach has changed owners’.

O. J. Stough was a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1828, and a veteran of the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. In 1868 he purchased land that became a part of the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, co-founded by Stough in 1872 (there is still a Stough Street and Stough Park in Hinsdale). In the 1880s Stough began spending parts of his year in San Diego, where he also acquired large property holdings. Among his purchases in San Diego were Pueblo Lots 1773, 1775, 1784, 1789, 1792, 1794, 1796, and 1799, over 1000 acres north of what was then called False Bay, now Mission Bay. This property, which covered about half of what is now Pacific Beach, as well as parts of Bird Rock and Mount Soledad, had been part of a subsidy granted by the city to the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company to encourage it to build a railroad connecting San Diego directly to the east. Although the railroad was never built, the company kept the land and passed it to a successor, the Los Angeles and San Diego Railroad Company. That company sold its rights in these pueblo lots to Milton Santee, and Santee assigned the rights to Stough in January 1887. Stough then sold the southwest quarter of Pueblo Lot 1794 to Charles Collins and a one-quarter interest in the remaining property to O. S. Hubbell.

pueblolots2

Collins and Hubbell were among the group of investors who established the Pacific Beach Company in July 1887, and in September 1887 they transferred the property they had acquired from Stough to their new company. Stough also sold his remaining three-quarters interest in Pueblo Lots 1789, 1792, 1794 (minus the southwest quarter), 1796 and 1799, 706 acres, to the company for $300,000. In October 1887 City Engineer H. K. Wheeler drew up a map for the Pacific Beach Subdivision which included this property along with the Pacific Beach Company’s other holdings north of False Bay. An opening sale of lots for the new subdivision was held in December 1887.

The centerpiece of the new community of Pacific Beach was to be the San Diego College of Letters, with a four-block campus on College Avenue (now Garnet) where the Pacific Plaza shopping center is located today. The cornerstone was laid for a college building in January 1888 and classes began in September, but financial problems prevented the college from starting other buildings planned for the site. However, in August 1889 the Union announced that arrangements had been made for erection of a central hall and recitation rooms; ‘the bills are to be sent to O. J. Stough, who has generously come to the front in providing for the needs of this institution’. Construction began in September and in January 1890 Stough Hall, ‘a neat and substantial brick edifice’, was opened with a program of music and speech making. In addition to its educational purposes, Stough Hall was used for elocution contests, lectures and the college commencement exercises attended by trainloads of San Diego citizens.

Financial problems continued at the college, however, and the college company was forced to sell bonds backed by mortgages on its campus and other real estate assets. Most of these bonds were then purchased by O. J. Stough, but despite his support the college still failed in early 1891 and the college campus property was auctioned by the sheriff at the court house door to pay off the college’s accumulated debts. Stough reacquired the campus property from the successful bidder in July 1892 but since the property was still security for the college’s mortgage bonds, which were in default on their interest payments, another sheriff’s sale was ordered to satisfy the bondholders (primarily Stough himself). An auction in August 1894 was cancelled when the successful bidders failed to complete the sale, claiming a technicality, but after the state supreme court affirmed the original order of sale a final auction was held in April 1896. The college campus was acquired by a community group dedicated to restoring a college on the site, but this effort went nowhere and the proposed college never opened.

O. J. Stough had not been one of the original directors or stockholders of the Pacific Beach Company at its creation in 1887 but by the time the company filed for dissolution in 1898 he owned over 60% of its shares (the First National Bank of San Diego held most of the rest). In 1898 the company still owned most of the property in Pacific Beach and as part of its dissolution this property was divided among the stockholders in proportion to their respective interests, with Stough receiving the lion’s share: 41 acre lots, 20 whole blocks and over 50 partial blocks. Although Stough did not live in Pacific Beach (his home was on Fourth Street between Hawthorn and Ivy) he did put his property in Pacific Beach to use; the Union reported in 1899 that O. J. Stough had rented a house and installed a foreman preparatory to beginning the fall plowing and sowing of 1200 acres to hay.

map854d

Pacific Beach property distributed to O. J. Stough after the dissolution of the Pacific Beach Company in 1898. Stough later sold most of this property to Folsom Bros. Co.

In November 1903 the San Diego Union announced that ‘Pacific Beach has changed owners’; ownership of the larger portion of land had passed from O. J. Stough to the firm of Folsom Bros. The Union article explained that Mr. Stough had been the owner of over seven-tenths of the unimproved property at the charmingly situated suburb and the sale included the whole of his interest, about a hundred blocks or four thousand lots, the whole amounting to nearly 660 acres at Pacific Beach. The Union went on to explain that the deal was already closed and the papers in escrow but that the transfer would not take place until the next year. In fact, the transfer was not finalized until December 1906, over three years later, but by 1907 O. J. Stough’s involvement in Pacific Beach had ended. Where Stough had been content to cut hay on his Pacific Beach property, Folsom Bros. Co. began an improvement program which included grading streets and installing curbs, sidewalks and water mains in hopes of attracting residential buyers.

Stough Hall, built in 1889 for the San Diego College of Letters, had become the community’s primary gathering place for ‘entertainments’, dances and other events that were regularly described in the San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach column. In 1894 a good program was rendered at the young people’s entertainment; cake and lemonade were served. In 1895 the ‘Red and White’ cream festival under the auspices of the Ladies Aid Society was a most enjoyable entertainment. A very enjoyable entertainment was given on Friday night by the Endeavor Society in 1896 and in 1897 a mass meeting was held at Stough Hall to consider raising money to purchase the college property to present to the state for a normal school. The County Horticultural Society met at Stough Hall in 1898 and heard local lemon rancher F. W. Barnes describe his experiences; ‘How we handle our lemons’.  Stough Hall was beautifully decorated and dancing was indulged in at Miss Eugenia Johnson’s eighteenth birthday in 1902.

In 1904 Folsom Bros. Co. also acquired the college campus and developed the buildings, including Stough Hall, into a resort that they called the Hotel Balboa. However, the hotel was not a success and in 1911 the buildings became the nucleus of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, which in 1937 became Brown Military Academy. When Brown Military Academy moved in 1958 one of the first buildings torn down to make room for the Pacific Plaza shopping center was Stough Hall, the last reminder of O. J. Stough in Pacific Beach (although some say that Oliver Avenue was named in his honor).

Hotel Balboa about 1906. Stough Hall is on the left and the original college building on the right.

Hotel Balboa about 1906. Stough Hall is on the left and the original college building on the right.

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.

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.

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 1895. 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 built on Mary Rowe’s lemon ranch in 1893 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.

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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.

Army and Navy Academy

Army Navy Academy

Army and Navy Academy, a private military school for seventh to twelfth grade boys in Carlsbad, traces its history back over 100 years. According to a historical timeline provided on the academy’s website, that history began when Captain Thomas A. Davis founded the San Diego Army and Navy Academy with thirteen students in 1910. The timeline also notes that Capt. Davis founded his school not in Carlsbad but in Pacific Beach, at the old Balboa Hotel. So, what historical threads tie a modern school in Carlsbad to an old hotel in Pacific Beach?

In 1910 the Hotel Balboa (not Balboa Hotel) was the latest occupant of the former campus of the San Diego College of Letters, built to be the primary attraction of the new Pacific Beach subdivision established in 1887. The cornerstone of the college had been laid with great ceremony in January 1888, just weeks after lots in Pacific Beach were first put on sale, and the college opened with 37 students in September 1888. The college building was a large wooden structure designed and built by James W. Reid, architect of the recently completed Hotel del Coronado. However, the college was unable to repay construction costs and when Reid sued, and won, it was closed and the property, including the college building, was sold at auction at the courthouse door in 1891.

Over the next decade the college campus in Pacific Beach changed hands several more times and was used for such purposes as a Y. M. C. A. camp and summer school and, in 1901, as a hotel, the College Inn. In 1904, Folsom Bros. Co. first leased then bought the college campus intending to convert it into a first-class resort. Folsom Bros. renovated the buildings, improved the landscaping and sponsored a contest to name their new property. The winner received a $100 lot in PB or $100 in gold for suggesting Hotel Balboa. However, the Hotel Balboa also did not live up to expectations and Folsom Bros. sought other uses for the property. In 1909 a portion was subleased to the Pacific Beach Country Club.

Captain Thomas Alderson Davis had served in Puerto Rico as an officer in the 6th Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1907 he had established a military school in El Paso but in 1910 he visited San Diego, liked what he saw, and decided to stay. He leased the Hotel Balboa and on November 23, 1910, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy began classes there with a group of 13 cadets and with Capt. Davis as the only instructor. The academy grew rapidly; by the end of its second year it had added courses and faculty and claimed to have 73 students. Growth in attendance was accompanied by increased status; in 1914 the academy was recognized by the war department as a Class A school, which entitled it to the detail of a retired army officer to serve on the faculty at the army’s expense.

In 1921, after ten years in its rented quarters in Pacific Beach, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy announced that it was purchasing the Point Loma Golf and Country Club next to the new Navy and Marine Corps training centers on San Diego Bay. Capt. Davis explained that he expected proximity to these military training facilities would be of benefit to his cadets, particularly those interested in naval training. However, the move to Point Loma never happened; Capt. Davis was unable to obtain the terms he wanted for the Point Loma property and instead purchased the property the academy had been leasing in Pacific Beach. In 1923 Capt. Davis also purchased two blocks on the north side of the campus and in 1925 two more blocks on the west side.

Most of the cadets attending the San Diego Army and Navy Academy were residential students who lived on campus during the academic year. They had been accommodated in the original college buildings and then, as enrollment increased, in wooden cottages built elsewhere on the grounds. When enrollment continued to increase during the 1920s, passing 200 in 1924, these accommodations also became insufficient and the academy initiated a more ambitious building program. A mess hall capable of seating 300 was built in 1924, an auditorium and infirmary in 1927, and a three-story reinforced concrete dormitory in 1928. A swimming pool and four-story concrete dormitory were added in early 1930 as attendance grew to more than 400. In anticipation of continued growth, another pair of four-story dormitories were completed by the end of 1930. These rows of large concrete dormitories and the other new structures on the college campus site dwarfed the original college buildings and dominated the skyline of Pacific Beach for decades.

However, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy suffered along with the rest of the country as the Great Depression took hold in the early 1930s. Enrollment of cadets declined to under 200 and the academy found itself unable to repay the costs of its building program. In 1930 the academy received the first of a series of loans from the Security Trust & Savings Bank of San Diego, secured by a deed of trust to the college campus property, and in 1932 all the ‘furniture, furnishings and equipment of every kind and character’ belonging to the academy were mortgaged to the bank (including the knives, forks and spoons in the dining room and the band drum major’s baton). When the academy fell behind in repayment of these obligations, and was even unable to pay taxes on the property, the bank declared it in default and in 1936 announced its intention to sell the property.

In August 1936, the San Diego Union carried a special announcement from Col. Davis (he had received an honorary ‘Kentucky Colonel’ commission from the governor of Kentucky in the 1920s), founder and for 25 years president of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, that he and his brother, Maj. John L. Davis, Jr., vice president and commandant, had resigned their positions and would no longer be associated with the academy in any way. He could be contacted care of Davis Military Academy in Carlsbad. An article in the same paper added that the Davis Military Academy had leased the Red Apple Inn in Carlsbad and that school would open in September, 1936.

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The Davises were joined in Carlsbad by several other members of the administration and faculty from the Pacific Beach academy, including Charles Bain, Raymond Ede, Samuel Peterson and Maj. William Atkinson and his wife Virginia. Many of these original staff members later rose to high positions at the new school, including two future presidents, and several buildings on the campus are named in their honor.

At the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in Pacific Beach, an active-duty army officer who had been professor of military science and tactics took over as commandant. The academy retained its high rating and recognition by the war and navy departments, meaning that graduates were entitled to admission to the military academies at West Point and Annapolis. 150 students had enrolled for the academic year beginning in September 1936 and 20 of the original 30 faculty members would return.

The academy did begin classes in September 1936 but in March 1937 the property in Pacific Beach was sold to the John E. Brown College Company, which announced that it would be renamed Brown Military Academy. The change in name and ownership was apparently popular on the Pacific Beach campus; the 1937 graduating class voted unanimously to be graduated from Brown Military Academy and to have its insignia on their rings. Col. and Maj. Davis consented to the sale with the stipulation that they would be allowed to transfer the name, San Diego Army and Navy Academy, to their new school in Carlsbad.

In December 1938, a little over two years after founding the Davis Military Academy in Carlsbad and a year after it had reacquired the San Diego Army and Navy Academy brand, Col. Davis resigned and returned to his former school in Pacific Beach as assistant to the president of John Brown Schools. He was named president of Brown Military Academy in February 1940, resuming his role, after a brief interruption, as head of the first military academy he had established in San Diego. Maj. Davis took his place as president of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad.

Col. Davis retired from Brown Military Academy in 1954 and in February 1958 John Brown Schools announced that the academy would relocate to Glendora to make way for commercial development of its Pacific Beach campus. Most of the 475 cadets and 90 faculty were expected to make the move, although some faculty joined former headmaster Louis Bitterlin in opening San Diego Military Academy in Solana Beach (San Diego Military Academy closed in 1977 and the site, on Academy Drive, is now Santa Fe Christian Schools).

In June 1958 Col. Davis, then 84 years old, was honorary reviewing officer at the final commencement exercise at Brown Military Academy in Pacific Beach, where he had founded San Diego Army and Navy Academy 48 years earlier. Shortly thereafter, many of the academy buildings, including the former Hotel Balboa, were demolished and replaced with a shopping center, Pacific Plaza, which opened in 1960. A plaque outside the Great Buffet restaurant in Pacific Plaza commemorates the ‘West Point of the West’ which formerly occupied the site.

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The large concrete dormitories remained standing until 1965 when they too were demolished and replaced with an apartment complex, now the Plaza condominiums, in 1970. The Brown Military Academy campus in Glendora was itself was closed in 1968.

End of Browns

Today the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad is still located on the site where Col. Thomas A. Davis established Davis Military Academy in 1936 in the former Red Apple Inn. In 1937 it assumed the name of the academy Col. Davis had first founded in 1910 in Pacific Beach but dropped the ‘San Diego’ from its name in 1943, the same year that Maj. Atkinson, the former bandleader at the Pacific Beach academy, began a 30-year tenure as president. In 1948 Army and Navy Academy also began a building program which has never really stopped. The latest addition to the campus is a new sports center, opened in 2013, where a sign reminds passers-by that it all began over a century ago.

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Pacific Beach Hotel

The Pacific Beach Hotel was built in 1888 at the foot of Grand Avenue, a location near the beach and the terminus of the railroad from San Diego. Along with a nearby dance pavilion it was expected to be one of the main attractions of the new suburb. In 1897 it was moved from its original location to what had since become the center of the community, Lamont and Hornblend streets, and for another quarter century served first as a hotel then as the offices of the succession of real estate companies that hoped to benefit from the community’s growth. When it burned down in 1931 it had been vacant for years and was considered a haunted house by local residents.

The heart of Pacific Beach from Wheeler's map. The 'Avenues' south of Grand Avenue are named for early PB land speculators including Thomas, Reed, Gassen and Hubbell (Thomas and Reed Streets survive to this day). This map also shows Missouri Avenue (Street), the only surviving 'state' street name in the PB grid.

In 1887 a ‘syndicate of millionaires’ acquired most of the property in the undeveloped area north of Mission Bay (then called False Bay), christened their new tract Pacific Beach, and incorporated themselves as the Pacific Beach Company. These developers also built a railroad line that ran from downtown to the ocean front in Pacific Beach over what are now Garnet, Balboa and Grand avenues. At about where Second (now Bayard) Street intersects Grand the railroad line curved south to a passenger depot and maintenance facility at the end of the line. In 1888 the Pacific Beach Company built a hotel, the Hotel del Pacific, on Block A along this curve, the site of the present-day Starbucks on the southeast corner of Grand and Mission.

News from Pacific Beach during the late 1880s and early 1890s suggested that the hotel was not initially a success. In November 1889 a Special Notice in the San Diego Union, ‘Removed to 872 Sixth St. The remnant of furniture from Pacific Beach Hotel, cheap’, implied a clearance sale. By September 1890 the hotel had apparently dropped the Hotel del Pacific name and was under new management; the Union ran an ad for ‘Pacific Beach Hotel, new management–reasonable rates. Choice rooms, with lovely ocean view; excellent meals. Special rates made to parties and families. Picnics supplied on short notice. Magnificent beach; fine surf bathing; bath house in connection; free use of pavilion. Round trip by motor from San Diego, 25 cents. For rates and further information address Pacific Beach Hotel, San Diego, Cal. Telephone 198’.

There may also have been difficulties with vendors or contractors; the Union’s Local Intelligence column in March 1891 reported that the argument to set aside the order for sheriff’s sale in the case of the Southern California Lumber Company vs. the Pacific Beach Hotel was continued before Judge Torrance (a sheriff’s sale was a public auction of real property at the courthouse door to satisfy a judgement against the property owner). Not all of the news was discouraging, though; the Union reported in February 1892 that the Pacific Beach Hotel was full. In February 1893 the Pacific Beach railway advertised Sunday excursions to Pacific Beach for 25 cents, round trip. Luncheon could be had at the Pacific Beach Hotel for 25 cents.

In 1894 the Pacific Beach railway was extended to La Jolla, which had its own hotel among other attractions, and the added competition may have diminished the appeal of the Pacific Beach Hotel. In October 1894 the Pacific Beach Notes column in the Union noted that the Robertsons had moved into the hotel building, wording which suggested an extended stay and a possible change in the hotel’s purpose (Thomas Robertson was an engineer for the Pacific Beach Railway; he was killed, ‘literally cooked alive’, in a 1908 train wreck). A state committee considering sites for a normal school in February 1895 was offered the former San Diego College of Letters buildings and its 16 acres of land in Pacific Beach and also the Pacific Beach Hotel and pavilion.

By December 1896 the hotel had apparently become such a liability that the Pacific Beach Company reached an agreement with Sterling Honeycutt to take it off their hands. The company granted Honeycutt the north half of Block 239 of Pacific Beach and required him to move the hotel building situated in Block A and the building known as the pavilion located on Block 261 to this new location within six months. The new property, the south side of Hornblend between Lamont and Morrell streets, was over a mile inland and near the College railway stop at Lamont and Grand Avenue. The price was $2000.

hotel

The move was completed within the allotted time with the hotel building placed upon the northwest corner of the block, the southeast corner of Lamont and Hornblend, and the pavilion on the northeast corner of the block, the southwest corner of Hornblend and Morrell. The San Diego Union reported in February 1897 that three carpenters and several masons and plasterers were working on the Hotel del Pacific, and it would soon be ready for the painters (the old name was still faintly visible on the porch roof in photos taken at the new site). It was apparently ready for business by the end of the year and ads appeared in the Union in October 1897 for ‘Business Chances; the Pacific Beach Hotel, 20 rooms, with all heavy furniture, to rent on reasonable terms. Address S. Honeycutt, Pacific Beach, Cal’. In November the Union reported that Mr. Honeycutt had rented the hotel to a Mr. Hurd. Another series of ads then announced that the Pacific Beach Hotel was open for guests; ‘large sunny rooms, most pleasant dining room in the county. Everything new, and best of attention shown to our guests’.

However, even in its new location the Pacific Beach Hotel was apparently not a very good ‘business chance’. It was listed in the Union again in May 1898: ‘For rent—The Pacific Beach Hotel, modern building containing fifteen rooms completely furnished; one of the nicest seaside hotels near San Diego; motor railroad stops in front of the hotel. A good chance for a nice family. References required’. In July 1899 Pacific Beach Notes in the Union noted that the hotel had been opened by Messr. Gregg and their mother, Mrs. Greenwood, arrangements with Mr. Rowen not being consummated. For his part, Mr. Honeycutt granted an undivided half of his interests in Block 239, ‘including the building known as the Pacific Beach Hotel and furniture’, to Mrs. Honeycutt in 1899.

Business did improve when a Y.M.C.A Summer Camp was held at the college in August 1899 and the hotel and college buildings were filled with summer school students. Business also apparently picked up in the winter; in February 1900 Pacific Beach Notes noted that the hotel was full of visitors from the East and in September 1900 many eastern people were said to have engaged rooms for the coming winter.

In November 1903 the San Diego Union reported that a big Pacific Beach hotel building formerly owned by Sterling Honeycutt has been sold to purchasers represented by Folsom Bros., the well-known real estate men, who would not say who the purchasers were but promised big improvements. The purchasers turned out to be the Folsom Bros. themselves and the improvements may not have been that big; a month later the news was that the new hotel owned by Folsom Bros. was expected to be opened to the public before the expiration of the present week. Mrs. M. I. King, well known in San Diego as a first class hotel manager, would be in charge. The Pacific Beach Hotel did open and was listed in the 1904 and 1905 San Diego City Directory, with Mrs. M. I. King as manager.

However, Folsom Bros. Co. still felt the need for a modern, attractive and at the same time reasonably priced resort hotel to accommodate their clients from the north and east. In 1904 they leased and a year later completed the purchase of the campus and buildings of the former San Diego College of Letters, a block northwest of the Pacific Beach Hotel on the north side of Garnet. Folsom Bros. Secretary O. W. Cotton explained to the Union in 1906 that the company then remodeled and rebuilt these buildings from top to bottom, named the place Hotel Balboa, and had one of the most delightful year around hotels on the coast, which was rapidly becoming one of the most popular.

With a modern, attractive, delightful and popular hotel only a block away Folsom Bros. Co. had no need for a second hotel in the vicinity and instead took over the former hotel building for their offices. When Lamont Street was graded in 1907, the Union reported that work on curbs and sidewalks would commence in a few weeks, starting at the railway depot at Lamont and Grand and continuing up Lamont past the general offices of the Folsom Bros. Co. and to Hotel Balboa.

The Folsom brothers retired from active management of Folsom Bros. Co. in 1910 and in 1911 the company was renamed the San Diego Beach Company, which San Diego City Directories listed at ‘Lamont cor Hornblend’ and later at 4437 Lamont, Pacific Beach. San Diego Beach Company notices for stockholders meetings and assessment (and delinquent) notices for stockholders posted in the Evening Tribune listed the company’s address as 4437 Lamont as late as 1921. After the San Diego Beach Company moved its office downtown later in 1921 the building was apparently abandoned, although in 1928 the Evening Tribune carried a story about an Easter outing given by the Dixie Riding Academy of Pacific Beach, 4437 Lamont Street.

Magner White, then a reporter for the San Diego Sun, had received the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for a story about an eclipse of the sun. In 1930, writing for the Evening Tribune, White wrote about a ‘foray’ into an old deserted dwelling at Pacific Beach: ‘A house vacant more than two years immediately becomes a “haunted” house—and in Pacific Beach, on Lamont avenue, there’s one, a 20-room, high-windowed, high-ceilinged frame structure, that has been vacant more than five times two years.’ It had once been a hotel but ‘aloof and deserted and weed-bordered’ it had since been gathering the traditions of a “haunted” house; children wouldn’t go into it, mysterious lights were seen in upper rooms, doors slammed mysteriously and broken panes rattled and sometimes fell out. Nevertheless, accompanied by two squealing, giggling little girls, his party decided to investigate.

There was a health department notice on the front door warning that the place was unfit for human habitation until brought up to date with plumbing (although there wasn’t any sign of plumbing, even in the kitchen). There were long half-inch pipes hanging from the ceiling which curled up to end in spigot-like fixtures, plainly gas pipes indicating that the place had once been lighted with gas. Old letters and other papers dating back more than 20 years were scattered over one of the floors, including O. W. Cotton’s June 1907 pay stub from Folsom Bros. Co. (for $150). They paused at the top landing and an old door chose that moment to fall off its hinges. White admitted that he jumped, and the little girls squealed. In the attic they found the source of the mysterious lights; candles discarded by hoboes who had been sleeping there. There were also old cans and more than two dozen empty whiskey bottles. When they opened the door to one room that probably had been closed for months if not years a jar of canned fruit in the room exploded, possibly due to the sudden admission of fresh air. The little girls ran back downstairs and the rest of them decided it was time to get out.

White had noted that a story such as this always brought out the facts and that within a few days someone was bound to write in, and indeed a few days later he reported that M. W. Folsom had written him with some interesting facts. The huge “haunted house” frame building in Pacific Beach was the building known at first as the Pacific Beach Hotel and that was later used as the general offices of his company, Folsom Bros. Co. Except for the Hotel Coronado, it was San Diego’s first beach-front hotel, built at the end of Grand Avenue, and later moved to its present site.

A little over a year after Magner White’s story, on December 3, 1931, the San Diego Union reported that fire of unknown origin had destroyed the Old Pacific Beach Hotel building, corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets, Pacific Beach. The fire was discovered at 10:30 the previous night and firemen were still fighting the blaze in the morning. The hotel, a historic landmark in Pacific Beach, was built more than 40 years ago. It was three stories high, had been vacant for several years, and was last occupied by the local telephone company. More than 35 cadets from the San Diego Army and Navy Academy had arrived at the scene of the blaze first and had prevented the flames from spreading to nearby buildings. They used a fire hose from the academy and made connection to the street hydrant (the Academy had been founded in 1910 in the former Hotel Balboa buildings). The next day the Union reported that the fire marshal believed that the fire was incendiary, based on two previous attempts set fire to the structure on June 21, but that this belief had not been substantiated by evidence. The building was admittedly a fire trap.

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The site of the former hotel, real estate office and haunted house is now occupied by the Patio on Lamont Street restaurant. Ornate bike racks have replaced the paved walkways which once led from the curb to the entrance doors facing Lamont. The towering palm trees along Lamont Street that were planted nearly a century ago in front of the Folsom Bros. Co. office are all that remain today of this historic Pacific Beach landmark.

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Barney Oldfield in PB?

Barney Oldfield was the ‘King of Speed’, the most famous driver from the very first days of automobile racing. He began by racing bicycles but in 1902 he was invited to drive Henry Ford’s race car, ‘999’. Although he had never driven a car before, he won his first race against what was supposed to be the fastest car in the world. His success in this and many subsequent races sparked his own career and also contributed to Ford’s rise as America’s foremost auto maker. Oldfield not only beat other drivers in these races but also routinely set new speed records. He was the first to break the mile-a-minute mark, completing a mile course in one minute, an average speed of 60 MPH, on June 30, 1903.

On November 25, 1903, Oldfield came to San Diego to participate in the city’s first ‘automobile meeting’ on Thanksgiving Day at a track in Coronado. The Evening Tribune announced that the great Barney Oldfield, the ‘mile-a-minute-man’, had arrived with his string of ‘buzz wagons’ (although the paper noted that the name no longer did him justice since he had been ‘steadily chopping down the mile automobile record until it stands at 55 seconds flat’). Advertisements for the event promised that the famous mile-a-minute man would attempt to lower his mile record, but in the aftermath the Tribune reported ‘No Records Smashed’, although Oldfield did complete one mile lap in 58 seconds. The paper blamed the poor condition of the track on the back stretch, where the sand in one of his circuits of the mile ring came near being the chauffeur’s undoing. Nevertheless, the exhibition was a complete success, with the first automobile races in the city calling out an attendance of 1500 people. ‘Oldfield, of course, was the center of attraction, and no one was disappointed’.

The Tribune interviewed George Nolan, manager of San Diego Cycle and Arms Co., who reported that so far as he had learned everyone was pleased with the event. Asked about the possibility of a second appearance here of Oldfield, Nolan said that it wouldn’t surprise him if Oldfield would come back with one of his racing machines to beat the world’s record for a mile straightaway. Asked where the straightaway race course was he replied ‘On Pacific Beach, the finest place in the country. Four miles of wide beach there as hard as this table, convenient to get at and in all other respects desirable’. Nolan added that the mile straightaway record was 46 seconds, but was not held by Oldfield, whose record was for a circular course.

Actually, automobile racing on beaches had been introduced earlier in 1903 at Ormond Beach, the ‘birthplace of speed’, just north of Daytona Beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast, where the hard-packed sand provided the long, hard, flat and straight surface ideal for speed trials. Over the next few years speed records were repeatedly set and then broken there until in 1906 the Stanley Rocket, a steam-powered and aerodynamically designed vehicle, set a record of 127 MPH over a mile course which stood for years.

Automobiles had actually ‘raced’ on Pacific Beach in 1903 too, but at a much more leisurely pace. The San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach Notes column reported in September 1903 that F. W. Barnes and E. C. Thorpe, two of the community’s leading citizens, had raced their automobiles on the beach and made the entire length of the beach in eight minutes, which would represent a speed of about 30 MPH.

Meanwhile, Barney Oldfield continued winning and setting records on race tracks around the country. In April 1907 he was again in the San Diego area where he was the featured attraction in the opening of the Lakeside Inn Speedway, and where he again set a record for one mile on a circular track at 51 4/5 seconds, nearly 70 MPH, breaking his own record by 1 1/5 seconds. However, the San Diego Union reported that the great auto driver also had another goal in mind while he was in town and that following the race in Lakeside he would begin preparations for a try at the one mile straightaway record. In an arrangement with Folsom Bros. Co., he would attempt to lower the record on the magnificent stretch at Pacific Beach. San Diego would be given the opportunity to see the great ‘racing king’ speed his ‘flyer’ at a far faster gait than was possible on a circular track where turns had to be made.

According to the paper, he had been taken to Pacific Beach two weeks before by M. W. Folsom. He had expressed great surprise when he drove his car on the beach and immediately gave it as his opinion that he could smash some records if given the opportunity. A trip over the beach strengthened this opinion and he stated that he had not the slightest doubt that he would be able to do the mile in 40 seconds, or even less. The following Thursday was selected as the date and since afternoon would be the most propitious time of the day, as tide conditions would then be more perfect, the runs would be made between 1:30 and 3 o’clock. Accompanied by his wife he would leave for the Hotel Balboa at Pacific Beach immediately after the races in Lakeside concluded on Sunday, and his cars would follow on Monday morning so that he could become thoroughly acquainted with the beach and the conditions prevailing.

The beach at Pacific Beach was four miles in length and at low tide 600 feet wide and Oldfield was said to be enthusiastic over its possibilities as a race course. He stated that in his opinion it was far superior to Ormond Beach, where the great winter races of the Atlantic coast were held. The sand at Pacific Beach was harder and the wind far more favorable for record smashing than at the Florida resort. Ample train service would be provided by the Pacific Beach & La Jolla line, and special excursion rates would be made for the big crowd that would undoubtedly witness the great speed trials.

As it happened, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway, formerly the PB & LJ line, was in the midst of a major upgrade, realigning its right of way to enter Pacific Beach directly along the route of today’s Grand Avenue, rather than the circuitous route on today’s Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa Avenues around the defunct race track. The railroad company had a large force of men at work and was anxious to finish the construction of the cut-off at the earliest possible time. The large crowds anticipated for the proposed speed trials at Pacific Beach would have necessitated many extra trains, which would mean the loss of practically a full day’s work. Since the railroad was unwilling to give up even one day’s work, the speed trials were temporarily postponed.

Barney Oldfield never did race on Pacific Beach, but in 1910 he did put in an appearance at Daytona Beach where he finally broke the Stanley Rocket’s longstanding record by driving his Blitzen Benz at 131 MPH (although the Rocket’s record for a steam car, 127 MPH, was not broken until 2009). Oldfield was also a no-show at the first San Diego County road race held on New Year’s Day 1913, a two-lap 91.7-mile circuit which began and ended at Garnet and Cass Street in Pacific Beach and included check stations at Escondido and South Oceanside. ‘Barney Not In’ was the headline on the Union’s article announcing the official entry list and starting positions.

Postscript:

Barney Oldfield had set a new speed record of 131 miles per hour over a mile course at Daytona Beach in 1910. A year later ‘Wild Bob’ Burman drove the same Blitzen Benz over the same course to set a new record of 141 MPH, covering a mile in 25.5 seconds. Burman also broke Oldfield’s records for the flying mile, half-mile, quarter-mile and kilometer in exhibitions on the day before the first Indianapolis 500 race in May 1911, again using the same Benz (and finished 19th in the actual race on May 30, in a different, smaller Benz, that complied with race rules).

In 1912 Burman acquired a new 200 horsepower Benz and on Christmas Day brought it to Pacific Beach for what apparently was its first speed trial. The San Diego Union headline stated that the stage was set for ‘fast driving by Bob Burman in Big Benz’ and that his ‘whirl over beach’ was likely to make history in auto racing; ‘Today is the time, Pacific Beach the place, while Bob Burman and other noted drivers are the lure that will cause the greatest gathering of motor fans that have ever witnessed a speed contest in San Diego’.

In 1912 San Diego was a city of about 45,000 people and about 3000 cars, and according to the local papers anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people and 1500 cars descended on Pacific Beach to watch. The railway line ran special trains every 20 minutes from 12:30 to 4 p.m. and added flat cars with board seats to handle passengers that overflowed the regular coaches. Low tide was at 5:14 p.m., sunset at 4:43  and the events began at about 3:00 with a race between a little blue Hupmobile and a Buick. A few minutes later Burman and two of the ‘noted drivers’ raced their Benz cars over a two-mile course with Burman winning handily. Then came the big event, Burman’s attempt to shatter his world mark.

Burman’s first run over the mile course on the beach was clocked at 28 seconds, almost 130 MPH, and a record for a course on the west coast. After winning a second two-mile race against the other two Benz drivers he returned for one more speed trial saying ‘If I don’t have ill luck I’ll make it better than 26 seconds’. However, he did have ill luck; at the half-mile mark the big Benz caught fire and, with flames licking at his hands and face, Burman retreated from his seat to the pointed back of the car which he straddled, steering with his left hand and operating the emergency brake with his right foot. When the blazing car finally came to a stop he got off and was helped to push it into the ocean and put out the fire. ‘If any person wishes me a merry Christmas, I may shoot him’, he said while he fastened a rope to the damaged car so it could be towed away.

A week later Burman was the favorite to win the New Year’s Day road race that started and ended in Pacific Beach, but his replacement Benz broke down on the rough county roads and, after patching the damaged part with wire, he finished the race in last place.  ‘Wild Bob’ Burman was killed in a race at Corona in April 1916.

PB Methodist Churches

The first church in Pacific Beach was organized in September 1888, the year after the community’s creation and opening sale of lots. The founder was Rev. C. S. Sprecher, who was also one of the founders of the San Diego College of Letters which opened the same month on the College Campus, now the site of Pacific Plaza. In 1889 the church acquired property across the street from the college and a year later a building was moved onto the site for church services. The Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church is still there, at the southwest corner of Garnet Avenue and Jewell Street, although the original wooden church gave way to the current mission-style building in 1941.

The college failed in 1891 but Pacific Beach found a new purpose as a center of lemon cultivation. Many of the lemon ranchers, however, were not Presbyterians and in 1901 a Methodist congregation was also established in Pacific Beach. At first the Methodists met at the Presbyterian church but in 1904 they purchased ten lots at the southeast corner of Lamont and Emerald streets and modified the existing building on the site for their own church building (in 1906, the Methodist minister, Henry Roissy, also purchased the former home of E. C. and Rose Hartwick Thorpe on the other side of Emerald Street, the northeast corner of Lamont and Emerald).

In the first years of the twentieth century the lemon industry also declined but real estate speculation, led by Folsom Bros. Co., generated new growth in the population, and in church congregations. The San Diego Union reported in April 1906 that Easter services in both Pacific Beach churches were well attended, especially the Methodist chapel; ‘Mr. Roissy being very much liked and an able speaker, the chapel will soon have to be enlarged’.

Fundraising for a new Methodist church included what the Union called a good, old-fashioned, healthy (for body, soul and pocket-book) box social held in the church parlor. ‘To the uninitiated-and there were many-the excitement of buying at auction, suppers, in dainty boxes; hunting the fair partners who had prepared them; then examining and partaking of the delicious feasts, was wholly enjoyable’ (attendance was good, in spite of inclement weather, and the treasurer was able to add $10 to the steadily growing church fund). If box socials were already old-fashioned in 1906, the custom may require explanation today. Young ladies would bring a dinner for two in an elaborately decorated box to the box social, where the boxes were auctioned off to the young men in attendance. When all the boxes had been claimed, the young men would discover which of the young ladies had prepared their box, then sit down to enjoy the contents with her. The proceeds of the auction would go to the church. The boxes were supposed to be anonymous, but it wasn’t unheard of for the girl who donated one to provide a favored boy with a hint.

Instead of enlarging their existing church building, the Methodists acquired one of the largest buildings in town and remodeled it. This building had originally been built in 1888 as a dance pavilion overlooking the beach near the foot of Grand Avenue and close to the terminus of the railway between San Diego and Pacific Beach. In 1896 lemon rancher Sterling Honeycutt had purchased the north half of Block 239, the south side of Hornblend Street between Lamont and Morrell streets, and moved the dance pavilion (and the hotel which had adjoined it) to this property, which was across Lamont from his lemon ranch. At its new location on the southwest corner of Hornblend and Morrell the former dance pavilion was also on the railway line to San Diego and Honeycutt had converted it into a lemon curing and packing plant. By 1906, however, the lemon business in Pacific Beach had also run its course, and Honeycutt, a founder and trustee of the Methodist Church in Pacific Beach, donated the packing house to the church. $2,500 in repairs was required to transform the building into the ‘beautiful church edifice’ that was dedicated in February 1907.

(SDHC #395-A)

The Pacific Beach Methodist Church (former dance pavilion, left) and Folsom Bros. Co. office, (former hotel, right), on Hornblend Street between Lamont and Morrell, dominate the PB skyline in 1908. Lamont Street is in foreground. (San Diego History Center #395-A)

In 1912 the old church property at Lamont and Emerald was sold to Bessie Davis, wife of San Diego Army and Navy Academy founder Capt. Thomas A. Davis. The Davises built a home on the property, which was just across Lamont Street from the academy, and spent the rest of their lives there. The Roissys sold the former Thorpe home to John L. Davis, Jr., Capt. Davis’ brother, in 1924 and ‘Mother’ Davis, their mother, lived there into the 1950s. That house burned down in 1957.

The Methodists continued to worship in the church at Hornblend and Morrell until 1922 when it was sold and apparently torn down. It had disappeared from the tax rolls by 1924 and for the next 25 years Methodists in Pacific Beach had to attend services elsewhere. As the population surged in the 1940s a new Pacific Beach Methodist Church was established in 1947, led by Rev. Alfred Hughes. This congregation met in a church building built for the Wee Kirk by-the-Sea in 1943 at the southeast corner of Emerald and Haines streets.

Wee Kirk by the Sea

A few months after re-establishment of the Methodist church at Emerald and Haines, the San Diego school district announced an ‘exchange of functions’ between the Pacific Beach Elementary School, then located on the north side of Emerald Street, across from the church, and the Pacific Beach Junior High School, then located where PB Elementary is now, at Fanuel and Tourmaline streets. The junior high school would occupy the site of the elementary school, which would be expanded to accommodate its expected growth. The school superintendent was authorized to acquire the two blocks of property south of the school, which included the Methodist church.

In May 1948 the school board offered the Methodist church $36,000 for the property and Rev. Hughes accepted (he also paid $5050 for a house and garage that the school auctioned off after acquiring another parcel in the expansion area, in what is now right field of the recreation center softball diamond). Rev. Hughes’ and most of the other buildings on the new school property were moved or cleared away before the school reopened in time for the 1950 school year. However, many former students of the junior high school (now PB Middle School) remember the church building still standing in the middle of their school playing fields into the 1960s.

A month after selling the former Wee Kirk by-the-Sea building to the school district, the Methodists dedicated a site at the southwest corner of Ingraham and Thomas streets for a new church. Former barracks buildings from Camp Callan in Torrey Pines were moved to the site and served as church buildings until a new sanctuary was built in 1959. This sanctuary and the former barracks (now known as Hughes Hall) remain the home of the second oldest church congregation in Pacific Beach.

San Diego Beach

Pacific Beach. What could be a more fitting name for a district of San Diego with a wide sandy beach along the Pacific Ocean? That is apparently what the original promoters of Pacific Beach thought in 1887 when they christened their new subdivision and incorporated themselves as the Pacific Beach Company. And that is what this community of San Diego is still called today. But in the 1920s a new developer, declaring that the past had not done justice to San Diego’s finest residential area, decided that it needed a fresh start, beginning with a new name: San Diego Beach.

It was true that Pacific Beach had been a disappointment to the succession of real estate operators who had come before. The Pacific Beach Company had donated a four-block campus near the center of their tract (where Pacific Plaza is today) and had expected a college built on the site, the San Diego College of Letters, to attract purchasers for their town lots. However, the college failed within a few years and the hoped-for college town reverted to a semi-rural community dependent on lemon ranching. In 1903 Folsom Bros. Co. acquired much of this property as well as property in the Crown Point area that became the Fortuna Park additions. Folsom Bros.’ plan was to stimulate growth through a program of improvements, which included grading streets, laying curbs and sidewalks, and renovating and reopening the former college buildings as the Hotel Balboa. However, these improvements also failed to attract a sufficient number of new residents and in 1910 the Folsom brothers withdrew from their company, which was then taken over by A. H. Frost and renamed the San Diego Beach Company.

By the early 1920s there were about 150 residences and 500 residents in Pacific Beach. Most community activity was still centered within a few blocks of the former college campus, which had been reborn once again in 1910 as the San Diego Army and Navy Academy (later Brown Military Academy). One of the two churches was across the street from the academy, at the corner of Jewell and Garnet. The Pacific Beach schoolhouse was next door to the church on Garnet, although it was replaced in 1923 by a new school a block further west at Emerald and Ingraham, now the site of the PB middle school (the old wooden schoolhouse was moved onto the academy grounds to serve as its junior school). The Women’s Club building was a block south of the academy, on Hornblend between Jewell and Kendall streets. The office of the San Diego Beach Company and the other church (before it was sold in 1922) were also on Hornblend, between Lamont and Morrell streets (these buildings had originally been a hotel and a dance pavilion on the beach at the foot of Grand Avenue and were moved to this more central location in 1897). The post office and a store were at the corner of Lamont and Grand, another block south.

However, the steam railroad between San Diego and La Jolla, which had run along Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach and stopped at a station at Lamont and Grand, had been abandoned in 1917. The electric rapid transit line from San Diego to La Jolla which replaced it in 1924 followed a different route, over a bridge at the entrance to Mission Bay and along Mission Boulevard through Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. The more developed central portion of Pacific Beach had become more isolated and the undeveloped beach-front areas more accessible.

The main coast highway connecting San Diego to Los Angeles and the north, paved in 1919, then ran through Pacific Beach along Garnet to Cass, north on Cass to Turquoise Street and west on Turquoise to Bird Rock and La Jolla. An alternative route between San Diego and Pacific Beach via Mission Beach also joined the coast highway at Garnet and Cass. In 1923 Earl Taylor, a real estate operator recently relocated from Long Beach, noted that over 6000 autos daily, including about 70 auto stages, representing over 25,000 people, passed this intersection of the main artery to the beach and the coast highway each day. In October 1923 Taylor acquired more than 100 lots west of Cass Street, most of them facing Garnet Avenue, and in March 1924 he announced construction of the new business center of Pacific Beach, or New Pacific Beach, which he styled ‘the coming Long Beach of San Diego’ (apparently a positive image in that era). Improvements in New Pacific Beach included the Dunaway Pharmacy building, completed in 1926, which is still standing at the corner of Garnet and Cass.

Taylor also invited successful developers from beach-front communities around Los Angeles to invest in New Pacific Beach, and in 1925 Ernest Pickering, who had developed the pleasure piers in Santa Monica and Venice, announced plans for a million-dollar pleasure pier in Pacific Beach (a pleasure pier was basically an amusement park built out over the beach; although definite amusements were not announced, the Evening Tribune speculated that they would likely include Ginger Snaps, Great Slides, Over-the-Tops, Treat-em-Roughs, and other devices dear to the pleasure-loving world at Southern California beaches). Taylor expected the pier to increase prosperity for Pacific Beach, noting that lots in Venice were valued at up to $1000 a front foot following construction of their pier. In fact, the Union reported, Venice had been built and sustained by the amusement pier industry.

Although Pickering was the ‘Pleasure Pier King’ and the project was initially referred to as the Pickering Pier, he soon backed out and turned over development of the pier to Neil Nettleship, a prominent Santa Monica realtor. Nettleship was also put in charge of the development of over 500 acres of Pacific Beach property that the pier syndicate had acquired from the San Diego Beach Company. It was Nettleship, said to be moving with his family to Pacific Beach for permanent residence, who decided that Pacific Beach needed an entirely new identity.

Declaring that the good people of the section formerly known as Pacific Beach had expressed themselves overwhelmingly in favor of a change of name to San Diego Beach, and a charter had been secured from the Secretary of State for the San Diego Beach Chamber of Commerce, Nettleship ‘took the liberty’ of dedicating a full-page ad in the October 4, 1925, San Diego Union to ‘enumeration of the reasons for the aforesaid change of names’. First, he said, Pacific Beach might describe anywhere on the Pacific coast, and he claimed there was, in fact, a Pacific Beach near Los Angeles (there actually is another Pacific Beach in Washington). San Diego Beach could only be in one place. Second, San Diego Beach definitely identified San Diego as being on the sea, a fact which he claimed most Americans were not aware of, and naming a beach after it would advertise this fact to the world. Third, ‘new occasions teach new duties’, so the new Pacific Beach would benefit immeasurably by a fresh name and a fresh start in life. The past had not done justice to its purple, panoramic hills, its inimitable mountain-marine views, its graceful, unobstructable slopes, its tall, commanding palisades and its gentle, sea-level sites. ‘A new name, O Pacific Beach! A new fame, O San Diego Beach!’

An accompanying article in the Union declared that the future of newly named San Diego Beach, formerly Pacific, was assured. The greatest factor in the rapid rise of San Diego Beach was said to be the new fast San Diego Electric car service; San Diego Beach realty experts declared that without this service former Pacific Beach languished, with it San Diego Beach should increase at least 1000 per cent in population within the next 12 months or two years at the outside. Nettleship was quoted as saying that the new name had superior advertising value, both to San Diego and to the former Pacific Beach and that ‘All in all, the change should be highly beneficial to all concerned, the small loss in sentiment being many times compensated for in the greater clarity, vigor and import of the new name’.

To capitalize on the superior advertising value of the new name, the first official act of the new San Diego Beach Chamber of Commerce was the creation of an 80-foot streamer to be stretched across the intersection of Garnet Avenue and Cass Street, the new ‘business center’ of the ‘new beach’. The Union initially reported that the streamer would read ‘San Diego Beach combines the features of all beaches – beauty, climate, bathing, soil, accessibility’. However, the Nettleship Company (‘acting in the general good of the new San Diego Beach, nee Pacific Beach’) changed course and announced that the slogan would be selected in a word-‘less’ contest (‘in which you would be rewarded for the number of words you leave out – the shorter the slogan, the more paid’). In creating a slogan it would help to bear in mind that San Diego Beach combined the features of all beaches – ‘five-point’ perfection; the climate of Long Beach, the beauty of Santa Monica, the soil of Santa Barbara, the swimming of Palm Beach and the accessibility of Venice; ‘It has what other beaches want’. Presumably bearing this in mind, Mr. S. A. Smith of La Jolla received $20, $2.50 a word, for the winning slogan: ‘San Diego Beach has what other beaches want’.

Despite the greater clarity, vigor and import, and the superior advertising value of San Diego Beach, the community had been called Pacific Beach for nearly 40 years and transitioning to a new name was bound to be awkward. Some followed the Nettleship Company in treating Pacific Beach like a maiden name; a December 1925 ad for Beach Property contained a listing for a good, substantial 5-room plastered house on Grand Avenue in New San Diego Beach (Nee Pacific Beach). Other writers inserted ‘Pacific’ parenthetically into the new name, as in a June 1926 full-page ad in the Union by the Greater San Diego Beach Association inviting potential investors to ‘Live – Play and Profit at San Diego (Pacific) Beach’. A May 1926 story in the Evening Tribune about an upcoming grunion run on San Diego beaches included an invitation to ‘smelters’ from Neil Nettleship, prominent developer of San Diego (Pacific) Beach, to make use of the free and public beach oven (fire ring?), fire-wood pile, picnic tables and other conveniences provided on the beach adjoining the site of the new pier.

On other occasions, the two names, or even combinations of the two names, were mixed. Nettleship himself announced in April 1926 that an estimated 10,000 people attended the formal christening of the new pier in Pacific Beach as ‘Crystal Pier’ (despite threatening weather and actual showers). He then went on to say that the future of San Diego’s Pacific Beach was assured, and that he regarded San Diego Beach, in fact, as the perfect beach, possessing all five of the requirements which make it so (this time he went on to note which requirements the competition lacked; Long Beach lacked panoramic beauty, Santa Barbara lacked accessibility to a large population, Santa Monica lacked perfect swimming, Venice lacked fertile soil and Palm Beach lacked the perfect climate). Newspaper reports also mixed the two names, sometimes in the same article. In May 1926 the Union reported that a plan by ‘resort boosters’ to put the road up Mt. Soledad in shape for automobiles and eventually pave the ‘short-cut from Pacific Beach to La Jolla’ was put forward by the chambers of commerce of Mission Beach, San Diego Beach and La Jolla

In at least one instance, local governments implicitly endorsed the name change. In December 1925 the Common Council of the City of San Diego and the Board of Supervisors of the County of San Diego signed off on Kendrick’s Addition to San Diego Beach, a subdivision of Acre Lot 47 Pacific Beach. This term remains part of the legal description of property on Chalcedony and Missouri streets between Ingraham and Jewell to this day.

The annual roundup of regional attraction on New Year’s Day, 1929, included a story about long stretches of clean white sand that were playgrounds for thousands annually. Pacific Beach was said to be on high, sloping land overlooking the ocean and affording a marvelous panorama to the south. ‘Marking a new era of development Pacific Beach has recently been rechristened San Diego Beach, and much activity has centered during the past year there, and in its immediate vicinity’ (despite PB’s rechristening, the article then moved on to La Jolla, ‘just north of Pacific Beach’).

Despite the promotional campaign by local realtors and occasional mention in the papers, the name San Diego Beach did not catch on and was rarely used outside of real estate ads. In city directories of the late 1920s, for example, even the entry for the Nettleship-Tye Company, ‘Developers of San Diego Beach’, listed its branch office at the Crystal Pier Bldg, Pacific Beach. The new name also failed to produce the population growth that Nettleship had predicted and the real estate market in Pacific Beach, or San Diego Beach, continued to languish. The branch office in Pacific Beach was closed by 1930, the Nettleship-Tye Company itself had disappeared by 1931 and in 1932 Neil Nettleship was managing a life insurance office downtown. Neil Nettleship’s idea that the real estate market would somehow benefit from a fresh name and a fresh start was no more successful than those of his predecessors and as he withdrew from Pacific Beach and eventually from the real estate business San Diego Beach went with him.