4275 Cass Street, the Earl & Birdie Taylor Library
4275 Cass Street is now the address of the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library. My wife remembers 4275 Cass as the address of her school, Martha Farnum Elementary. My Dad tells me that 4275 Cass was my first home address, when we lived at the De Luxe Trailer Park.
This address actually represents the entire block, surrounded by Thomas and Reed Avenues and Cass and Dawes Streets, and before its uses as library, school and trailer park the block had been known as the Collins place. Charles Collins had been a newspaperman in Sioux City, located on the Missouri River in western Iowa. In 1870 Sioux City was on the frontier, a center for trade with the Great Sioux Reservation further up the Missouri. Collins believed that Sioux City was the natural gateway to that region and would prosper if the Indians could be pushed out and the territory opened to whites, particularly the Black Hills, which were rumored to contain gold.
In 1872 Charles Collins began a campaign in his Sioux City Weekly Times to attract gold seekers to the Black Hills, and he organized parties of explorers to travel there from Sioux City. Initially the army prevented these parties from trespassing on the reservation, but ultimately it gave in to the continuous agitation promoted by Collins. In 1874 George Custer led a reconnaissance mission to the Black Hills and returned with confirmation of the presence of gold. The government attempted to negotiate with the Indians to purchase the hills, but the Indians were unwilling to sell. Tensions mounted, Indians left their reservations, the army set out to find them and force them back, and when they eventually met, at the Little Bighorn River in June 1876, the Indians annihilated a battalion of the Seventh Cavalry under Col. Custer. It is no exaggeration to say that Charles Collins set the stage for that epic battle.
The Indians were eventually returned to diminished reservations, the Black Hills were opened to mining, and Collins moved to Deadwood in the mining district where he continued to publish newspapers and, in 1878, a History and Directory of the Black Hills. After a few more years, his biography notes, he moved on again, to California, where he reportedly made a fortune in real estate ‘no doubt by using the same promotional and persuasive methods he had used in promoting the Black Hills’.
Since there were no rumors of gold on Mount Soledad it is unlikely that Charles Collins actually used the same methods as he did in the Black Hills when he joined J. R. and R. A. Thomas, D. C. Reed and others to form the Pacific Beach Company in 1887. This ‘syndicate of millionaires’ already owned considerable property in the area; Collins, for example, had acquired 20 acres in 1885 and later added another 40 acres. The Pacific Beach Company purchased most of the remaining property in the area, christened the community Pacific Beach, drew up a subdivision map and offered lots for sale in December 1887.
The Pacific Beach subdivision map divided the area into residential blocks separated by east-west avenues and north-south streets. Some of the avenues were named for principals of the Pacific Beach Company, including Thomas, Reed and Collins (Collins Avenue has disappeared but was about where Roosevelt Avenue in Crown Point is now). The blocks were numbered; the block between Thomas and Reed Avenues and the streets that became Cass and Dawes was Block 264. Block 264 was within the area of Collins’ original holdings and in 1888 he bought it back from the Pacific Beach Company and apparently built a cottage.
In 1891 the San Diego Union reported that Captain C. C. DeRudio, on leave from the Seventh Cavalry, had moved his family to Pacific Beach to test its many merits as a residence quarter. The DeRudios had leased the Collins cottage, which occupied a tract near both Mission Bay and the ocean (then-Lieutenant Charles Camilus DeRudio had survived the Little Bighorn battle, having spent two days concealed in bushes while surrounded by Indians). Capt. DeRudio spent his time in Pacific Beach experimenting with gardening to ascertain what will grow so near the ocean before returning to his regiment at Fort Sill. It may have been Capt. DeRudio’s agricultural experimentation that left Block 264 surrounded by eucalyptus trees, which made it stand out in early aerial photos and which were still prominent in the 1940s.
When Charles Collins died in 1893 the Union noted that he had been a leader in the pioneer movement that opened the Black Hills of Dakota to settlement, and that he owned considerable real estate in and around San Diego. Ownership of Block 264 passed to his widow Annie and in 1900 it was acquired by Lida Clarkson who, a few months later, passed it on to her sister and brother-in-law M. J. and C. G. Akerman. Over the next few years Block 264 changed hands several more times until in 1904 the north half was sold to Mrs. Anna Byford Leonard and Miss Josephine Wells, and in 1905 the south half was sold to Miss Wells and her sister Ada.
Mrs. Anna Byford Leonard was an ardent Theosophist who lived at the international Theosophical headquarters at Lomaland on Point Loma. Before coming to San Diego she had been the first woman sanitary inspector in Chicago, in 1889, and is credited with improving the lives of children by initiating enforcement of the eight-hour work day for children under 14. The Wells sisters were pioneer San Diego business women who came to San Diego about 1894 and owned and operated a tourist home at Sixth Ave and Broadway. Josephine Wells died in 1913 but Ada continued to own the south half of Block 264 and a half-interest in the north half, and Mrs. Leonard the other half-interest in the north half, until the 1920s.
Earl Taylor and his wife Birdie came to Pacific Beach in 1923 with their son Vernon and daughter Erma and soon became involved with the local real estate community. An October 1923 article in the San Diego Union reported that Taylor was one of a group of former mid-westerners who had acquired 120 acres in the heart of Pacific Beach and planned a new high-class subdivision with ‘race and building restrictions which would make it highly desirable’ (this tract became the Congress Heights No. 2 and North Shore Highlands subdivisions, and also included the existing Congress Heights subdivision minus the six lots that had already been sold).
The Union article also reported that Taylor had bought more than 100 lots between Cass Street and the ocean, most fronting on Garnet Avenue, which Taylor planned to turn into the Pacific Beach business district. In 1923 the main Coast Highway between San Diego and Los Angeles passed along the east side of Mission Bay, then west on Garnet Avenue to Cass. An alternative route, also paved, ran around the other side of the bay to the bridge between Ocean Beach and South Mission Beach, then along Mission Boulevard to Pacific Avenue (now PB Drive), east to Cass, and north to Garnet (Mission Boulevard did not continue through Pacific Beach and was not paved north of Pacific). From the intersection of these two routes at Garnet and Cass, the Coast Highway continued north on Cass to Turquoise Street, then west on Turquoise, where it became La Jolla Boulevard and continued north through La Jolla, Torrey Pines, Del Mar and other coast cities to the north.
Earl Taylor estimated that 25,000 people passed through Pacific Beach daily in 6000 automobiles and 70 ‘auto stages’ and that these thousands would observe the developments of this beautiful locality, particularly the business district he was planning along Garnet from Cass to the ocean. He began developing the business center of what he called New Pacific Beach beginning with the two-story Dunaway Pharmacy building, still standing at the northwest corner of Garnet and Cass.
The 1923 Union article on Pacific Beach development had also mentioned other improvements planned for the area, including an auto camp to occupy a full bock near ocean and bay. Dewitt and Kizzie Martin, also recent arrivals from the mid-west, had apparently anticipated the potential value of property passed by thousands of automobiles daily. Block 264 was vacant, it fronted on the western branch of the coastal highway and was only a few blocks south of its intersection with the eastern branch at Garnet and Cass. In 1924 the Martins bought both halves from Miss Wells and Mrs. Leonard and began developing the Mission Bay Auto Camp at 4275 Cass.
Over the next few years the Martins, and his father James, developed their auto camp into more than just an overnight stop for passing automobiles but also a destination for what today would be called ‘snowbirds’. In the winter of 1928 the Union reported that Martin ‘rounded up’ the visitors stopping at his camp and took them to the Mission Beach bathhouse and beach where they enjoyed the warm mid-winter sun and sparkling water, in sharp contrast to the plight of the friends and relatives they had left behind in the grip of King Winter (Mr. and Mrs. Earl Taylor were mentioned as hosts on one such party from the Martin Auto Camp, where dancing was enjoyed and refreshments served).
In July 1928 an ad for ‘income property’ appeared in the San Diego Union:
AUTO CAMP FOR SALE, AS GOING CONCERN
A whole block, 40 lots; only 2 blocks from ocean, 1 ½ blocks from bay. Boating, fishing and bathing the year around. Located in the city limits of San Diego; 270-foot frontage on main highway between La Jolla and San Diego. 33 buildings, 29 rentals, 1, 2 and 3-room cabins; gas, electric lights, large lobby, store and lunch counter, gas station; cabins all newly furnished. One of the newest and finest sanitary systems in any camp in San Diego county. Many large trees; ½ of property vacant. Camp needs more cabins. Property all newly fenced. Doing better than $2000 per month. This property is one of the best camp locations between Los Angeles and San Diego. And anyone who can adapt themselves to this kind of business, can obtain increased returns. Buildings insured for $15,000; taxes, $660. Price $45,000, $7500 to $10000 cash, balance arranged to suit. Owner might consider partner, or leasing property. Owner, 4275 Cass blvd, Pacific Beach.
In subsequent years the auto camp at 4275 Cass went through a series of owners and names before being sold in 1938 to E. J. Ellis, who also owned the De Luxe Trailer Park in Cathedral City. The Union reported that the new De Luxe Trailer Park 2, 4275 Cass Blvd, Pacific Beach, proved the increasing interest and investment in trailers. The property consisted of an entire city block and was surrounded by eucalyptus trees.
The De Luxe Trailer Park was still in operation in 1947 when my parents moved from Iowa City to San Diego, where my Dad was to begin a career at the Naval Electronics Laboratory on Point Loma. They had lived in a trailer in Iowa and hired a neighbor to tow it to San Diego while they followed in their car. When they arrived in San Diego they found the De Luxe, where their trailer was assigned a space in the northeast corner.
On March 1, 1948, the Union reported that the calculations of Julius Caesar’s astonomers, made in 49 BC, had affected the lives of 15 babies born the previous day in seven San Diego area hospitals. According to the Union, these leap year arrivals, ten boys and five girls, would technically have to wait until 1952 to mark their first birthdays. Among the parents of these leap year babies were John C. and Mary Webster of 4275 Cass St., a son, in Mercy Hospital.
John C. Webster (and me) at the De Luxe Trailer Park, 4275 Cass Street, in 1948.
The trailers, the wall and the eucalyptus trees at 4275 Cass are long gone but the house with the chimney across Dawes Street is still there.
Later in 1948 the Union reported that the sale of De Luxe Trailer Park at 4275 Cass St., Pacific Beach, for $100,000 plus, had been announced. Kenny Ellis, who operated the park for 11 years, had sold the park to R. J. Bragg. The Union noted that the park embraced an entire city block.
Martha Farnum attended Coronado High School, acted in school plays and was guard on the girls’ basketball team which lost to Anaheim in the Southern California championship game in 1923. She graduated from San Diego State College in 1928 and taught school in Oakland before returning to the San Diego school system, where she taught in a number of schools before becoming principal of the Ocean Beach and Logan elementary schools. In 1934 she was put in charge of a special project to make textbooks more relevant to students. She became curriculum coordinator, then director of elementary school education and finally assistant superintendent of city schools, in charge of elementary education. When she died in 1952, while still in her 40s, the Board of Education announced that she would be honored with a school named after her.
The opportunity to name a new school would not be long in coming. San Diego had experienced tremendous growth during World War II, particularly among defense workers and military personnel, many of whom had settled in Pacific Beach. The post-war ‘baby boom’ added even more to the numbers of school-aged children. My wife’s parents, for example, had worked at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego during the war, building bombers, and after the war they moved to Reed Avenue in Pacific Beach where their two daughters were nearing school age in the 1950s.
The federal government had built Bayview Terrace Elementary school as part of a public housing project for defense workers in 1941 and Crown Point Elementary had been built in 1946, the first school built in San Diego after the war. Still, it was apparent that more schools would be needed to keep pace with the growth in the school-aged population. The Union wrote in 1950 that enrollment of city school children had increased 50% in the past decade and school officials predicted it would almost double the 1940 count by 1954.
In 1950 San Diego voters passed a $11 million bond issue to fund a building program which included plans for a new elementary school in the Crown Point-Pacific Beach area. In 1951 the Board of Education applied for federal funds for school projects in parts of the city most heavily impacted by the war effort, including a new elementary school in southwestern Pacific Beach. In 1952 the San Diego Union reported that residents in that trailer court on Cass St. near Garnet St. had been asked to find another spot to park their trailers. The entire block had been purchased by the Unified School District, which planned to build a school there.
On November 30, 1953, four hundred Pacific Beach children and their teachers moved into the new Martha Farnum Elementary School at 4275 Cass Street (my wife was one of the new kindergartners, after starting the school year at Crown Point). The Union reported that the school was federally financed under the defense impact area program and was built for $337,450. It would relieve crowded conditions in other PB elementary schools.
Martha Farnum Elementary represented the latest trends in school constructions; classrooms were built back-to-back with sheltered outdoor walkways, eliminating noisy interior corridors. It included 16 classrooms, an administrative and health unit and a cafeteria-auditorium. The new school was dedicated in April 1954 and presented with a portrait of Miss Farnum as part of its dedication ceremony. The Union noted that she was the first woman to hold a top administrative position in the local school district.
Martha Farnum Elementary had been built in the 1950s with federal impact money to address a serious overcrowding situation in Pacific Beach elementary schools. By the 1980s, even though the Pacific Beach area continued to grow by expanding up the slopes of Mount Soledad and the population density increased when single-family homes were replaced with apartments and condominiums, the population of school-aged children in PB had actually gone into decline. At the same time, new communities of San Diego like Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch required schools, and California’s Proposition 13, passed in 1978, severely restricted property taxes necessary to fund school districts.
The San Diego school district proposed a plan to close schools with declining enrollments and then lease the properties, using the proceeds to fund new school construction elsewhere. Local committees in Pacific Beach, Point Loma and La Jolla were given the task of deciding which schools in their areas to close. In Pacific Beach, the choice was between Martha Farnum or Crown Point. The committee decided that Crown Point occupied a larger area and could be expanded if necessary in the future, so Martha Farnum was selected for closure (despite further population growth, the population of school-aged children in Pacific Beach has continued to decline and Bayview Terrace was also closed as a community elementary school in 2013).
Martha Farnum Elementary was closed after the 1983 school year and in the summer of 1983 the school district offered it for lease. The property apparently was leased, but the proposal to build apartments and condominiums on the property was unpopular with Pacific Beach residents and that development was blocked. In 1987 an alternative proposal to use the site for parkland and a library was negotiated by the school district and the city, but the city manager removed the funds necessary to purchase the site from the city budget in the interest of economy.
In 1988 the Union reported that city school trustees had approved an agreement to sell Farnum Elementary School to the city, which planned to convert it into a library and a park. The agreement involved cash, land improvement and property worth roughly $3.3 million. The Union explained that city and school officials had negotiated for years over the fate of Farnum until donors appeared, who turned out to be Erma O’Brien and her brother Vernon Taylor, who wanted the library and park to be a monument to their father Earl Taylor. After years of design and construction, the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library opened to rave reviews in May 1997.