Tag Archives: Lemons

Original PB Ranch House

Bowers Ranch House

In February 1892 the San Diego Union reported that Pacific Beach was to have quite an increase in the way of permanent residents:

It was learned yesterday that nine easterners had each purchased a ten-acre lot, all joining and situated just above the College of Letters. Eight teams are now at work breaking and preparing the soil for improvements that are to be made. The purchasers are in the city, and they intend planting the entire ninety acres in fruit, with the exception of sufficient space on which to build residences this spring.

The adjoining ten-acre lots were the ‘acre lots’ which had just appeared on a new map of the Pacific Beach subdivision, filed in January 1892. Although the original PB subdivision map from October 1887 had divided the entire community into uniform residential blocks, property in the outlying areas had not sold well and the new map consolidated most blocks north of what is now Diamond Street into the acre lots, intended for agricultural uses. As the Union had observed, these acre lots proved to be extremely popular and more than a dozen of them were purchased in the first months of 1892, most just to the north of the college campus, later the San Diego Army and Navy Academy and Brown Military Academy, and now the Pacific Plaza shopping center (the college itself had closed the year before, in 1891).

Detail from 1892 PB subdivision map showing acre lots north of the college campus (modern street names added)

Portion of 1892 PB subdivision map showing acre lots north of the college campus (modern street names added)

Two of the easterners, brothers-in-law and business partners from Henning, Tennessee, actually bought three adjoining acre lots which met at the corner of what are now Chalcedony and Lamont streets. R. C. Wilson and G. M. D. Bowers were Confederate veterans and proprietors of Wilson & Bowers, general merchandise, in Henning, and Wilson had married Bowers’ sister Susie in 1879.  In February 1892 Wilson and Bowers jointly purchased Acre Lots 34 and 50 and in March 1892 they added Acre Lot 33 of Pacific Beach. Lots 50 and 33 were on the east side of Lamont; lot 50 between Diamond and Chalcedony streets and lot 33 between Chalcedony and Beryl. Acre Lot 34 was between Chalcedony and Beryl but west of Lamont, extending to what is now Kendall Street. The price was $100 an acre; $1850 for lots 34 and 50 and $990 for lot 33. A year later Wilson and Bowers also bought Acre Lot 51, east of lot 50 and extending to what is now Noyes Street, for $830.

By the end of March 1892 the San Diego Union reported that 4,000 feet of water pipe was being laid over this 30-acre tract and that the property was to be put in lemons during the next few weeks. The new owners had also reserved sufficient space on which to build their residences. The Bowers built their home on Acre Lot 34 in 1892, the first ranch house to be built on a Pacific Beach lemon ranch, and moved in with their five children. The Wilsons, with two children, built in 1893 across Lamont on Acre Lot 33.

The development of lemon ranches on the acre lots combined with facilities for curing, packing and shipping lemons brought a decade of relative prosperity to Pacific Beach. The ranchers and their families became prominent in Pacific Beach society and their activities were noted in San Diego newspapers. In one example from 1893, the Union reported that Miss Eddie Sue Bowers and Miss Annie Bell Wilson wore dainty costumes of cream color to a joint birthday party for Miss Evangeline Rowe and Miss Mary Barnes, who in their soft pink gowns were ‘like two rosebuds in their fresh girlish beauty’ (the Rowe lemon ranch was just south of the Bowers, in Acre Lot 49; the Barnes ranch was Acre Lot 64, just south of the Rowes).

Pacific Beach lemon ranches could generate profits over time selling lemons for a few cents a pound, or all at once by selling the ranch itself for thousands of dollars. Wilson and Bowers chose the second option, beginning with the eastern portion of Acre Lot 51, which they sold in June 1894 for $500. Lot 33, including the Wilsons’ home, was sold in September 1895 for $5500. In October 1895 both lot 50 and the western portion of lot 51 were sold, for $3000 and $1000, and lot 34, with the Bowers’ home, was sold in November for $5500. Both families then returned to Henning, Tennessee, having realized a gain of nearly $12,000 on their Pacific Beach real estate investments.

On Acre Lot 33, the family of Ozora Stearns and, after 1899, Carrie Linck lived in the Wilson ranch house while shipping carloads of lemons from the ranch. After 1901 the property passed through a series of five absentee owners until it was sold in 1904 to the Layman family, who remained on the ranch for the next thirty years. The Stearns had named the ranch Vencedor, but the Laymans renamed it Seniomsed (Des Moines, their former home, spelled backward). In 1947 Acre Lot 33 was included in the Lamont Terrace development (the homes with the brick chimneys and shingle siding) and the former ranch house was torn down, leaving only a Moreton Bay Fig tree to mark its place. Across Lamont Street in the former Acre Lot 34, however, the Bowers’ home remains as a monument to PB’s lemon ranching past.

The Bowers had sold Acre Lot 34 to William Davis, a mining engineer, who moved in with his wife and sister in December 1895. Two children were also born to the Davises while living on their Pacific Beach ranch. Mr. Davis spent much of his time at the Arizona mines and his sister, Louise, may have actually run the ranch. She may also have been the one who gave the ranch its name; in June 1896 the Union reported that Miss Davis had shipped 84 boxes of choice lemons from Ondawa Ranch.

In May 1898 the Davises sold Acre Lot 34 to James and Sarah Jowett and by July Mr. Jowett was said to be making extensive additions to the barn and putting flumes all over the ranch. However, the Jowetts also moved on after a few years, selling Acre Lot 34 in December 1901 to Ires E. Cobb, who sold it a few months later, in May 1902, to Walter and Louisa Boycott for $5000.

Mr. Boycott was a retired publisher from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and according to the Evening Tribune he came to San Diego with his family to enjoy the salubrious climate and profit from the good times just in sight. By July 1902 the Tribune reported that the family was enjoying their new home and Mr. Boycott was fertilizing heavily and picking a fine quality of fruit from the heavy Lisbon lemon trees. A year later, in June 1903, the good times apparently came in sight for the Boycotts and they sold the ranch for $6000 to Abraham and Adelaide Manny, who changed the name of the ranch from Ondawa to Las Flores. When Miss Virginia Manny entertained a pair of her friends from Los Angeles in 1906, the Union noted that the young women were delighted with Pacific Beach, as well they might be, since the view from the floral bowers of Las Flores, over banana trees, palms and lemon orchards, to the bay and Mexican mountains, was unmatched.

Lemon ranching in Pacific Beach had begun with the development of the acre lots in 1892, particularly the Wilson and Bowers properties, and lemons had supported the community for over a decade, but by 1906 many people foresaw that PB’s future prosperity would come from residential development, not agriculture. In December 1906 an advertisement appeared in the San Diego Union for an elegant Pacific Beach residence, with city water, all modern conveniences, highly improved grounds, on ½ acre or more, only a short distance north of the depot, in ‘block 34’. The ad also offered lots in block 34, with fine fruit trees and water on each lot, prices low, terms easy, illustrated description free, A. J. Manny, owner (the ‘depot’ was the Lamont Street stop on the railroad between San Diego and La Jolla, which ran along Grand Avenue).

Although Manny apparently had intended to sell the ranch house and the other lots separately, in fact the entire acre lot was sold in January 1907 to Robert Ravenscroft. By 1907 a number of the Pacific Beach acre lots had already been re-subdivided back into city blocks, including the lots immediately west and south of lot 34, and in December 1907 Ravenscroft followed suit, recording a subdivision map that turned Acre Lot 34 back into the two blocks shown on the original 1887 map of Pacific Beach, along with their original block numbers. Like the other blocks on the original map, Block 90, south of Beryl Street, and Block 105, north of Chalcedony Street, were divided into 40 25- by 125-foot lots with a 20-foot-wide alley through the center of each block, connecting Kendall and Lamont streets. The 80-foot-wide street between the blocks, Florida Avenue on the original map, was re-dedicated to the city and became an extension of Law Street.

Blocks 90 and 105

Subdivision of Acre Lot 34 into 80 individual lots meant that the ownership and any improvements on each lot was recorded in the city lot books. The lot book data shows that from 1908 to 1911 the Ravenscrofts continued to own every lot in the subdivision and that the only improvement, the original ranch house, was valued at $425 and located on lots 17-20 of Block 105, a location at the southwest corner of Law and Lamont streets. In 1913, the lot book entry for lots 17-20 in Block 105 no longer showed improvements but instead contained the note ‘Imps on blk 90’, and the lot book entry for Block 90 showed a new improvement valued at $425 for lots 25-27. This suggests that the ranch house had been moved across Law Street and down the block to its present location at 1860 Law.

The lot books also showed that in 1911 three lots on the south side of Block 105, lots 29-31, were sold to Ferdinand Defrenn. In November 1911 a building permit was issued to F. Defrenn for a 6-room cottage on Chalcedony Street valued at $1700 (although that home, at 1838 Chalcedony, was destroyed by fire in 1927). In the next few years the Ravenscrofts sold most of the remaining lots on the south side of Block 105 while continuing to own all of Block 90 and the lots on the north side of Block 105. The Defrenn’s home on Chalcedony was rebuilt but no other homes were built in the subdivision over the next 30 years.

Miss Susie Ravenscroft, a 19-year old telephone operator, was married at home in 1911. The Evening Tribune reported that the ceremony took place in the front parlor under a canopy of ferns and smilax ‘thick starred with Shasta daisies’. The back parlor decorations were of pink roses and ferns. Punch was served in the large sun-parlor. Several kodaks were produced and there were many pretty groupings on the front lawn of the spacious Ravenscroft grounds.

Robert Ravenscroft died in 1916 and in 1923 the Ravenscroft family’s holdings in blocks 90 and 105 were sold to Cameron Hutton, secretary-treasurer of a downtown sheet metal fabrication and auto body shop. In 1925 Hutton also reacquired six of the lots in the south half of Block 105 that had been sold by the Ravenscrofts.

In 1922 the city council ‘closed up’ Law Street between Kendall and Lamont streets and the alleys in blocks 90 and 105 for the ‘public interest and convenience of the city’. Although the street and alleys had been mapped and dedicated fifteen years earlier there had been no actual grading or other improvement, and no new construction requiring access, so these closings would have had little practical effect. The 1923 – 1927 lot books contained a notation that Law St. and all alleys were closed in 1922, but this notation was scratched out in the 1928 lot book, presumably indicating that the street and alleys had been reopened. When Lamont Street was paved in 1928 between Garnet Avenue and the city property that became Kate Sessions Park, the project included the curbs and sidewalks along blocks 90 and 105 which remain today.

R. W. Brown Paving

The former ranch house was vacant in 1928 but from 1929 to 1933 it was home to Roscoe Porter, a real estate operator. His son David Porter recounted in a 1995 interview for the San Diego Historical Society’s oral history program that the family moved to a ‘great big old Victorian house’ two or three blocks north of the Academy on the corner of Lamont and Law Streets where they had eight acres of fields and orchards with strawberry patches, tangerines, orange and grapefruit trees, lemons, pears and apricots.

In November 1933 ads appeared in the San Diego Union for Vista Villa Rest Home ‘for particular people; sea air, wide verandas, large rooms, food to your needs’. If you needed rest, quiet, right thinking and proper diet, you should live at Vista Villa, 1860 Law St.; ‘Broad verandas, large grounds. Exclusive’. The rural nature of the property was also still evident in a 1938 advertisement for a big work horse, kind and gentle, for sale, cheap, 1860 Law St., Pacific Beach.

1937 aerial view of Pacific Beach. Brown Military Academy, the former college campus, is in the foreground with the land once covered by lemon ranches beyond. The acre lots originally owned by Wilson and Bowers are outlined.

1937 aerial view of Pacific Beach. Brown Military Academy, the former college campus, is in the foreground with the land once covered by lemon ranches beyond. The acre lots originally owned by Wilson and Bowers are highlighted (San Diego History Center 83:14603-1).

However, major changes occurred in San Diego beginning in 1935 when Reuben Fleet moved the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from Buffalo to San Diego. Consolidated and other local aircraft manufacturing companies experienced explosive growth as demand grew for military aircraft in the years before and during World War II. Tens of thousands of aircraft workers who came to San Diego required homes and many found them in Pacific Beach, only a few miles away from the downtown factories.  In 1942 there was still only the one home on Law and one on Chalcedony but by 1947 houses lined the streets in what had been Acre Lot 34 and today it is hard to imagine that the area could ever have been a ranch, except for the original ranch house that still stands above it all.

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.

The Honeycutts in PB

Sterling Honeycutt was born in Tennessee in 1832. His family later moved to Indiana and in 1856 he married Nancy Huntington, an Indiana native. The couple moved to Rock Island County, Illinois, where in 1869 they reportedly erected the first residence in the village of Reynolds. They were also involved in building the first Methodist church in that area. In the 1880 census, Sterling Honeycutt, not yet 50 years old, described himself as a ‘retired farmer’, presumably having profited by selling his farm.

In the early 1890s the Honeycutts moved to San Diego and in 1893 they purchased Blocks 215, 216, 237 and 238 of Pacific Beach, four adjacent blocks between Grand and Garnet avenues and Jewell and Lamont streets (then Grand and College avenues and 9th and 11th streets, and just across College from the campus where the San Diego College of Letters had operated from 1888 to 1891). Although shown on the map as city blocks divided into lots and separated by public streets, there were no actual improvements or graded streets in 1893 and the Honeycutts developed this property as a lemon ranch. In 1894 they also acquired the northwestern portion of Block 214, on the other side of Lamont, and although they were still living downtown at the time they occasionally spent a few days at their cottage there, at the southeast corner of Lamont and Garnet, ‘looking after the interests of their fine lemon ranch’.

At the end of 1896, Honeycutt also purchased the north half of block 239, the south side of Hornblend Street (then California Avenue) between Lamont and Morrell (12th) streets, in a deal that required him to move the hotel and the dance pavilion that the Pacific Beach Company had built near the beach at the foot of Grand Avenue to this new location within six months. The hotel ended up at the western end of the block, the southeast corner of Hornblend and Lamont. The dance pavilion was moved to the east end of the block, the southwest corner of Hornblend and Morrell. In this new location the pavilion was also adjacent to the railway to San Diego, which ran along the north side of Balboa Avenue at the time, and it was converted into a facility for curing, packing and shipping lemons.

In 1900 a nephew of Mrs. Honeycutt became the first member of the Honeycutts’ extended family to join them in Pacific Beach when the west 5 acres of Acre Lot 51, between Diamond and Chalcedony streets east of an extension of Morrell Street, was granted to Mrs. Lizzie Huntington. The Huntingtons soon left, however, granting the property to Sterling Honeycutt. In 1904 Honeycutt also acquired the east 3.3 acres of Acre Lot 51, between Diamond and Chalcedony and west of Noyes Street.

In November 1903 the Braymer Comet of Caldwell County, Missouri, reported that W. P. Parmenter and wife, Frank McCrary, Jr., and wife and Moses Town and wife and daughter were expected to leave for California and that all except Mr. Town and family expected to make their future homes there. The paper explained that Parmenter, a local Justice of the Peace, had sold his fine farm for $65 an acre and was moving with his wife to San Diego, where he had bought a home, on account of Mrs. Parmenter’s health, which had been bad for many years.

Mrs. Parmenter was the former Sallie Honeycutt, Sterling Honeycutt’s younger sister. The Parmenters had purchased Blocks 249 and 272, two adjacent blocks between Grand and Reed avenues and Lamont and Kendall streets, just across Grand Avenue from Sterling Honeycutt’s lemon ranch. Once established in Pacific Beach, Parmenter also bought the north half of Block 213, the property on the south side of Garnet between Morrell and Noyes, and the southwest quarter of Block 214, the northeast corner of Lamont and Hornblend.

Frank McCrary’s wife Wilda was the Parmenters’ daughter and Honeycutt’s niece. The McCrarys also bought property in Pacific Beach, acquiring E. Y. Barnes’ former lemon ranch on the west half of Acre Lot 64, which was located between Emerald, Jewell, Diamond and Lamont streets. This property came with the home that the Barnes had built at the northeast corner of Jewell and Emerald. The Parmenters and McCrarys also jointly purchased Acre Lot 20, the 9.7 acre tract east of Lamont between Beryl Street and the city land that became Kate Sessions Park, and a few months later sold it to John W. Warren, yet another resident of Caldwell County (Warren later sold it to Sterling Honeycutt). And even though the Comet had suggested that the Town family didn’t expect to make their future home in California, Moses Town also purchased property in Pacific Beach, the south half of block 217, the lots on the north side of Hornblend between Ingraham and Jewell, which included a house at the northwest corner of Hornblend and Jewell. Their daughter, Ella, worked as the ‘janitress’ at the Pacific Beach schoolhouse, on Garnet Avenue across the alley from their home.

Frank McCrary’s brother Charles had also married one of the Parmenters’ daughters, and Honeycutt’s niece, Winnie. The Charles McCrarys moved to Pacific Beach from Missouri in 1903 and purchased the south half of block 213, the property on the north side of Hornblend between Morrell and Noyes streets. In 1904 they also bought the northeast corner of block 214, which included a house at the southwest corner of Garnet and Morrell. Another Honeycutt nephew, the Parmenters’ son Frank, his wife Ida and their son Guy also moved from Missouri to Pacific Beach in 1904. Guy Parmenter went on to become one of the original thirteen cadets in the inaugural class of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1910.

Two of Sterling Honeycutt’s own brothers and their families also joined the migration from Missouri to Pacific Beach. Daniel Honeycutt, his daughter Orpha and her husband, Mark McLain, came from Caldwell County while John Honeycutt, his wife Edwina and their son Harry came from Jasper County.

Sterling Honeycutt’s siblings and nieces and nephews had joined a growing concentration of residents in what had become the heart of the Pacific Beach community at the beginning of the twentieth century. This central core, a few blocks on either side of Lamont Street north of Grand Avenue, also included the former college buildings, which became the Hotel Balboa in 1904 and the Army and Navy Academy in 1910. The community’s two churches and the school house were located within a block of the college campus. The railroad between La Jolla and San Diego ran along Grand Avenue and stopped at the Pacific Beach station just west of Lamont Street. Also at Grand and Lamont, on the northwest corner, was the E. Y. Barnes store and post office.

The area south of Grand, however, remained undeveloped until 1904 when the McCrary brothers and Frank Parmenter began building a second store on the southwest corner of Lamont and Grand, the northeast corner of Block 249. A building permit was issued in November 1904 and in January 1905 the new store ‘threw open its doors’. The San Diego Union described the new emporium as the largest in the suburb, and noted that the proprietors were recent arrivals from Missouri. In 1906 the Pacific Beach post office was moved across Grand Avenue to the McCrary & Parmenter store and W. P. Parmenter became postmaster.

While his relatives and their neighbors had been migrating from Missouri and buying property in Pacific Beach, Honeycutt himself had been selling off portions of his lemon ranch as he transitioned from lemon ranching into the real estate business. In 1901 he sold block 216 to Thomas McConnell, William Pike bought block 238 in 1903 and block 237 in 1904, and most of block 215 had been sold by 1905. By 1907 Honeycutt no longer owned any of the property of his former lemon ranch. In exchange, he had purchased property on the east side of Block 206 and the west side of Block 207, both sides of Noyes Street between Garnet and Felspar, and in 1904 he built a house on the southeast corner of Block 206, the northwest corner of Garnet and Noyes. In 1906 the Honeycutts and Charles McCrarys bought the east half of Acre Lot 48, except for the southeastern corner quarter where the ranch house originally built for the Gridleys stood. They later divided this property, the Honeycutts keeping the north half and the McCrarys the south half.

The Honeycutts were founding members of a Methodist congregation in Pacific Beach in 1901. Initially the Methodists had met in the Presbyterian church at the corner of Garnet and Jewell, and later at the school house next door, but the arrival of the Parmenters and McCrarys apparently increased the size of the congregation enough to justify acquiring a church of their own. In February 1904 the Honeycutts purchased the northwest quarter of Block 180, the southeast corner of Lamont and Emerald, and transferred it to the church. An existing structure on this property was converted to a church building. Honeycutt later acquired the remainder of Block 180, between Lamont, Emerald, Morrell and Felspar streets.

Growth of the Methodist congregation continued, however, and in 1906, faced with expanding the existing church building, the Honeycutts donated the former dance pavilion and lemon packing house at Hornblend and Morrell to the church. When Nancy Honeycutt died in May 1909, her obituary in the San Diego Union noted that the Honeycutts had been prominent in the religious, social and commercial development of the community, Methodism at Pacific Beach largely owed its existence to them, and the present edifice, dedicated as a Methodist church two years earlier, was a monument to the family. Nearly the entire population of Pacific Beach turned out to her funeral services there, ‘filling the place as never before’.

Sterling Honeycutt had been a successful lemon rancher but was also one of the first to recognize that property in Pacific Beach held even greater value for residential development. His former lemon ranch was one of the first areas to be developed, with graded streets, concrete curbs and sidewalks, and a number of new homes. He became a real estate operator and continued to invest in Pacific Beach real estate. In 1909 he acquired a five-acre tract in the northeast corner of Pueblo lot 1800 and subdivided it as Sterling Park, between Lamont, Chico and Kendall streets and Pacific Beach Drive.

Property owned by the Honeycutts, their relatives and former neighbors from Caldwell County, Missouri during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Property owned by the Honeycutts, their relatives and other former residents of Caldwell County, Missouri during the first decade of the twentieth century.

By the end of the decade the extended Honeycutt family and their fellow migrants were a sizable presence in Pacific Beach, with seven households counted in the 1910 census. Sterling Honeycutt himself, by then a widower, lived in a house full of relatives, including his niece Pearl and three children of Nancy’s niece Agnes Rogers. His sister Sallie Parmenter, with husband William shared a household with their daughter Wilda McCrary, her husband Frank and their children (Charles McCrary and his family had moved back to Missouri in 1908, but returned and settled in San Diego in 1911). The Parmenters’ son Frank, with wife Ida and their son Guy lived on Lamont Street. Honeycutt’s brothers Daniel, with daughter Orpha McLain and her husband Mark, and John, with wife Edwina and their son Harry, his wife and child were also Pacific Beach residents. Moses and Ella Town, not relatives but neighbors of the Parmenters and McCrarys in Missouri, also still lived on Hornblend.

Sterling Honeycutt died in 1911, followed within a few years by the elder Parmenters and the Towns. Other family members moved away, some to downtown San Diego and some back to Missouri. By 1920 only the families of Daniel Honeycutt and Frank Parmenter remained in Pacific Beach, and Frank and Ida Parmenter still lived at the corner of Lamont and Thomas streets into the 1950s.

When Venice Park was created from Acre Lots 72 and 73 of Pacific Beach in 1906, a new street in the subdivision was named Honeycutt Street, presumably in honor of the then-prominent Pacific Beach residents (although Honeycutt was not a participant in the subdivision). The name of this street, between Morrell and Lamont streets from Pacific Beach Drive to Crown Point Drive, is the only sign of the Honeycutt family remaining in Pacific Beach.

Honeycutt and Fortuna

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.

Celebrity PB Pioneer

 

Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight - Rose Hartwick Thorpe, 1883

Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight – Rose Hartwick Thorpe, 1883

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RHT - Autograph

The House Next Door

 

Gridley Ranch House, Diamond Street, 1968

Gridley/McConnell Ranch House, 1790 Diamond Street, 1968

An old 2-story frame house with white siding, green trim, a shingle roof and a brick chimney stood next door to our home on Diamond Street during the 1950s and 60s. Widening and paving the street had cut into the front yard leaving a badly eroded bank down to the sidewalk. An unpaved driveway cut through this bank on the east side and led to a garage at the back of the lot. There was a patio with a large brick outdoor fireplace or incinerator in the yard and a fish pond with large goldfish by the side of the house.

Our lot and the lot that this old house sat on were separated by a cement-block wall with bricks on top. The unpaved alley that ran behind both of our lots all the way between Jewell and Lamont Street was also blocked by a wooden fence along this same line, and by another fence further west, so this portion of the alley was blocked off from either end. We always wondered why.

It turns out that the cement-block wall and the fence in the alley marked the boundary between two historical Pacific Beach ‘acre lots’, and the blocked section of alley was a consequence of the different ways these two acre lots had been developed. When the Pacific Beach Company first sold lots to the public in December 1887 their map of Pacific Beach was a grid of north-south streets and east-west avenues which divided the entire area into residential blocks of 40 lots each. However, the Pacific Beach Company found that most people preferred to buy lots in a central corridor centered around Grand Avenue, which was also the route of the railroad to San Diego. To encourage sales in the outlying areas to potential farmers and ranchers, the company filed an amended subdivision map in 1892 in which most of the area south of Reed Avenue and north of Diamond Street (then Alabama Avenue) was consolidated into ‘acre lots’ of about 10 acres each, eliminating many of the original streets and avenues. In our area, Missouri Avenue and Jewell and Kendall Streets (then Ninth and Tenth Streets) were removed and Acre Lot 48 formed from the land between Diamond and Chalcedony (then Idaho) and what had been Jewell and the east side of Kendall on the original map. Acre Lot 49 was the land east of Kendall between Chalcedony, Diamond and Lamont (Eleventh) Street.

The acre lots went on sale in 1892 for $100 an acre and both of these lots were quickly sold. Mary E. Rowe purchased Acre Lot 49 and developed a lemon ranch on the property. Her 2-story ranch house stood near the center of the lot, where the apartments at 1828-1840½ Missouri Street are now (the large palm tree in front of these apartments once stood in front of the Rowe ranch house). Mrs. Rowe had moved to Pacific Beach in 1889 and her daughters Evangeline and Mabel had been students at the San Diego College of Letters. Her lemon ranching venture began successfully and by 1897 the San Diego Union singled her out  in reporting that ‘the ladies of Pacific Beach were justly proud of their ranches’; hers was then valued at $9000.

Mrs. Rowe moved to Los Angeles in 1900 and left the lemon ranch in the hands of her son Percy. However, by then the lemon business had seen its day and the new century brought another ‘boom’ in residential development. In 1903 Acre Lot 49 was sold to John and Julia Hauser and the Hausers re-subdivided the property into residential lots. The map for Hauser’s Addition reinstated Missouri Street and re-established the original two blocks of 40 25 X 125 foot lots which had preceded the acre lot. Like the originals, and most other blocks in Pacific Beach, these blocks included a 20-foot wide alley. Julia Hauser died in 1937, John Hauser remarried in 1939, and in 1950 my parents bought lots 39 and 40 of Block 2, Hausers Addition, from Martha Hauser, his widow. Block 2 was between Diamond and Missouri Streets and lots 39 and 40 were at the southwest corner, on Diamond Street adjoining Acre Lot 48.

By contrast, Acre Lot 48 has never been re-subdivided and was broken up piecemeal over the years into the irregularly-sized lots that exist today. In 1892 Hannah Cogswell had acquired the western half and Milton Trumbauer the eastern half; Trumbauer’s deed specified that his property had a frontage of 290 feet on ‘Alhambra’ (Alabama) Avenue, a depth of 680 feet and contained 4.65 acres. Today this would be from the cement-block wall half way down the block toward Jewell Street, and from Diamond Street to Chalcedony. Trumbauer did not hold on to his half of the lot for long; by 1894 county records show that the E 1/2 of Acre Lot 48 was owned by Fannie B. Gridley.

The old house on the property was built for Mrs. Gridley in 1896 by E. C. Thorpe, the contractor (and lemon rancher) who was also the husband of the famous poet Rose Hartwick Thorpe. Mrs. Thorpe’s 1896 diary mentions that he secured the contract to build the house on January 6, commenced work on January 13 and that it was finished by March 11, 1896, despite occasional delays due to rain. The status of the Gridleys’ house was also reported in the Pacific Beach Notes column of the San Diego Union and Evening Tribune; on February 24, 1896 the note was that Mrs. Gridley’s house was nearing completion and would soon be ready for occupancy and on March 15 Mrs. Gridley was said to be moving into her new home. These reports are confirmed by county records; beginning in 1897 the ‘value of improvements’ on the E 1/2 of Acre Lot 48 ($250) corresponded to about what other houses in Pacific Beach were assessed at in those days.

The Gridleys remained in the house for six years and were noted in other Pacific Beach Notes; in 1899 Mr. Gridley was thrown from his carriage and badly injured in a runaway accident and in 1900 Miss Kate Gridley left for Stanford University on Sunday’s steamer. In 1902 they sold their half of the acre lot to Francis Kinney and in 1903 Kinney sold to J. W. Stump. The Stumps were prominent in organizing the Pacific Beach Methodist Church, which was then located at the corner of Lamont and Emerald, just a block away. When Mrs. Stump’s health compelled them to move in 1906  a procession of about forty people from the church marched over for a surprise party bearing food and gifts.

The Stumps also initiated the haphazard re-subdivision of Acre Lot 48 by splitting off the southeast quarter of their eastern half, where their house stood, and selling the remainder to Sterling Honeycutt. Honeycutt was a prominent real estate developer in Pacific Beach at the time and he proceeded to carve up his portion of the property into residential lots, while also setting aside land for the westward extension of Missouri Street and the alleys laid out in Hausers Addition to the east.

The southeastern corner of Acre Lot 48 was put on the market by real estate agents Asher & Littlefield who placed the following ad in the February 11, 1907, Union:

Here’s a Money Maker

At Pacific Beach, a beautiful southeast corner, 125X270, with a nice 8-room house, bath, hot and cold water, fireplace, etc.: barn, chicken house, 30 lemon trees in full bearing, 5 peach trees, 11 guava bushes, 2 fig trees, flowers, shrubs, etc. This is on Diamond avenue, and only one block from Hotel Balboa. Would be a good buy at $5000. Our price is only $4000.

(Hotel Balboa was the most recent occupant of the defunct San Diego College of Letters buildings; they were taken over by the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1910 and demolished to make room for Pacific Plaza in 1958.)

This 125 X 270 parcel, a strip 125 feet wide on the east line of the lot between Diamond Street and Missouri, including the house, barn, chicken house and fruit trees, was sold in 1906 to Ralph Houck. In 1912 it was sold again, to Kate McConnell. The McConnell family, Thomas and Elizabeth and their 9 children, had immigrated from Ireland to Iowa in 1881. In 1897, one of the sons, also named Thomas, had moved to Pacific Beach and began buying agricultural properties. In 1900 he had been joined by his father, sister Kate and brother John, and the McConnell family became well-established in Pacific Beach.

Although Miss McConnell granted easements to Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company and San Diego Consolidated Gas & Electric Company for a telephone line and natural gas pipeline above and under her property in what would later become the alley, the parcel between Diamond and Missouri remained intact for decades until she sold to Arthur and Marion Hansen in 1946. Within a year the Hansens had divided the property into three parcels and sold them off. The east 65 feet of the south 125 feet, between Diamond Street and the future alley, including the old house, was sold to Roy and Catherine Pridemore in 1947. The west 60 feet of the south 125 feet was also sold in 1947, to Florence Dreher. The Pridemores acquired Ms. Dreher’s  lot in 1948 and in 1950 sold off the west 50 feet of their combined property while retaining the east 75 feet. These two properties thus came to resemble normal Pacific Beach residential parcels made up of 25 X 125-foot lots.

The remaining parcel, the north 145 feet of the east 125 feet, between these properties and Missouri Street, was much larger and was initially advertised as suitable for a motel. While other lots carved out of larger tracts in Acre Lot 48 had set aside land for public alleys and even for Missouri Street, there was no such exception for this parcel. The south 20 feet stood in the way of the 20-foot-wide alleys on either side and fences were built to block access from the alleys. Raymond and Clara Butchart purchased it from the Hansens in 1947 and in 1965 they finally granted the city an easement over that 20-foot strip. The fences were then removed and the alley opened and paved from Jewell to Lamont Streets.

The house itself, one of the last remaining ranch houses from Pacific Beach’s acre lots, stood for a few years after that. In 1968 the property was sold and the old buildings demolished and replaced by a 12-unit apartment complex, the Tiffany, which now practically fills the 75 X 125 foot lot. Our former home, remodeled with the addition of a second story, has also been sold. The two properties are still divided by a cement-block wall.

 

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Gridley/McConnell House