Tag Archives: Pacific Beach History

Dairy in PB’s Bone Canyon

The abandoned dairy in a canyon north of Pacific Beach from a 1960s article in the Sentinel

In February 1930 the San Diego Union reported that fire from an undetermined cause had destroyed the feed storage building of the La Jolla Dairy, located in Bone Canyon, a mile north of Pacific Beach. According to W. C. Rannells, the owner, several tons of feed and 700 bales of hay were lost but the fire departments of La Jolla and Pacific Beach had saved two other buildings adjoining the feed house.

This fire wasn’t the first one that Rannells had experienced. In July 1924, at a time when the dairy was located at the south end of Fay Street in La Jolla next door to the newly opened La Jolla High School, the La Jolla fire department had fought three fires there in a single week. These fires were believed to have been set by a ‘fire bug’ or ‘pyromaniac’ who objected to the operation of the dairy at its location adjacent to the school. This sentiment was apparently shared by many in La Jolla, including Miss Ellen Browning Scripps, who announced that if the board of education would buy the Rannells dairy she would donate enough of her adjoining land to ‘square out’ the property. The board did acquire the dairy and accepted Miss Scripps’ donation and the former dairy site is now the Vikings’ football field. Mr. Rannells reestablished the dairy in what was then called Bone Canyon, north of Pacific Beach.

Bone Canyon was ‘as nice a little green canyon as you’ll ever be surprised to find’, according to the San Diego Union in 1938; ‘There’s a dairy at the head of it, a commercial vegetable patch at the mouth and a goldfish ranch in between’ (the goldfish ranch belonged to Shizur Nakashima and was near where Foothill Boulevard now meets Vickie Drive). The Union columnist added that some fossils once found there gave it the name. A few days later he reprinted a letter from Mrs. Grace Lapham of La Jolla correcting him. She wrote that she didn’t object to having her forebears designated as fossils but that the canyon and surrounding hills was once the property of her grandfather, S. W. Bone, a pioneer San Diego merchant, and for that reason was still known as Bone Canyon.

Samuel W. Bone had been the proprietor of a dry goods store on Fifth Street in San Diego and although he lived downtown he invested in property in Pacific Beach. One of these investments was the east half of Pueblo Lot 1780, 80 acres extending from what is now the northern end of Vickie Drive north to around Camino Ardiente in the La Jolla Alta community and east to about Thunderbird Lane. The canyon that came to bear his name runs through the center of this property. Mr. Bone purchased the property in 1893 and held it until 1912 when it was sold to O. J. Stough. After passing through the hands of Mr. Stough’s attorney Arthur Casebeer it was acquired by William C. Rannells in 1925.

William Rannells was born in 1890 on a ranch in what was then called Linda Vista but would now be on Mira Mesa Boulevard near Black Mountain Road. In 1902 the family moved to Pacific Beach, buying Block 264, the block where the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library now stands, but then undeveloped land that the Rannells intended to develop as a ranch. After about a year in Pacific Beach, though, they moved on to La Jolla where William’s father and his older brother Nathan or Nate established the Rannells & Rannells livery service. In 1906 his younger sister Katherine married Fred A. Wetzell and two years later Fred Wetzell and William Rannells started the Wetzell & Rannells dairy in La Jolla. By 1910 William Rannells was sole proprietor of the dairy business, which became known as the La Jolla Dairy. From 1912 to 1914 William and another brother, D. W. Jr., also operated Rannells Brothers Confectionery, fine candies and ice cream.

In 1917 and 1918 the San Diego Union carried ads in the help-wanted section for a man for milking and general dairy work. A married man was preferred. There were 20 cows to milk and a house would be provided; apply to W. C. Rannells, La Jolla. In 1922 the Union reported that Will C. Rannells, a prominent dairyman and one of La Jolla’s pioneers, narrowly escaped death when he was knocked down and gored by a ‘pet’ bull at his dairy in La Jolla. He had owned the bull since it was young and had cared for it himself and considered it harmless. He had gone into its pen to repair a water pipe when the bull leaped on him and forced him against a fence and attempted to trample and gore him. The hired man eventually drove the bull away with a shovel but Rannells suffered a deep cut in his thigh. He was taken away by workers who had started building the new high school next to the dairy. The bull was to be dehorned and have a ring put in its nose. Rannells returned to work and in 1924 the Rannells dairy was among the leaders in ratings of San Diego’s milk supply by the state department of agriculture, earning a rating of 94.0 in the Grade A Raw category.

After moving from Fay Avenue W. C. Rannells continued to operate the dairy in Bone Canyon for over 20 years. In 1930 the Union carried an ad in the livestock wanted section for a young, registered Guernsey bull, 12 to 18 months old, W. C. Rannells, La Jolla. Ads for La Jolla Dairy, the only dairy serving fresh, raw, guaranteed milk twice daily, also ran in the Union. In March 1941 the San Diego County farm bureau’s dairy department met at the W. C. Rannells dairy in Pacific Beach and in 1942 W. C. Rannells was listed as a director of the dairy department of the farm bureau. Also in 1942, he advertised in the Union for an experienced machine milker, married, one understanding feeding, etc., apply Dairy, Pacific Beach, or W. C. Rannells, La Jolla, ph. Glencove 5-3143. Another help wanted ad, for a machine milker, 30 cows, W. C. Rannells, and the Glencove phone number, appeared in 1943.

The war years of the early 1940s had seen tremendous growth in the population of Pacific Beach, including federal housing projects for the thousands of aircraft workers who flooded San Diego to work at Consolidated Aircraft and other wartime industries. One of these housing projects, Los Altos Terrace, was located at the mouth of Bone Canyon with a street, Sylvanite Drive, that followed the course of today’s Vickie Drive and Castle Hills Drive to Windsor Drive. Commercial development was also booming and Pacific Beach was beginning to expand into the Mount Soledad foothills along the road from Lamont Street to the top of the mountain. This road ran across a corner of the Rannells’ land in the hills east of the canyon, making it attractive to real estate speculators. In August 1946 the Rannells sold the portion of their property lying east of the road, the property that one day would be the neighborhood along Parkview Drive, to Arthur and Marion Hansen. A few months later, in October 1946, they sold the remainder of their property, which included the canyon and the dairy (and the road) to Eugene and Thelma DeVoid (in 1949 the DeVoids granted the city an easement and right-of-way for the road, to be dedicated as a public street and named Soledad Road).

The DeVoids financed the purchase of the canyon property with a promissory note for $8,893.22, secured by a chattel mortgage for the livestock at the dairy, which in 1946 included 68 milk cows, 36 Guernsey heifers 6 to 28 months old, 13 Guernsey heifer calves 1 week to 6 months old and 2 registered Guernsey bulls, a total of 119 head of dairy cattle. The DeVoids’ dairy operation in Bone Canyon was apparently a success and their herd grew over time. In 1950 their chattel mortgage for livestock included 1 Jersey, 38 Holstein, and 61 Guernsey cows, 16 heifer calves, 30 heifers, and 2 bulls, one a Holstein and the other Guernsey, a total of 147 head, all branded with an ‘X’ on their right hip. Also mortgaged were dairy equipment like refrigerating units, milking machines, milk aerators, a sterilizer and all other various and sundry equipment of every name and nature used in the operation of the dairy at the DeVoid ranch two miles north of Pacific Beach in a canyon leading north from Sylvanite Drive.

The DeVoids also followed the Rannells’ example by selling off portions of their property along Soledad Road as residential building sites. Three parcels on the west side of the road, overlooking the canyon and the dairy, were sold between 1951 and 1954. In 1957 the DeVoids sold the remainder of their property, the east half of Pueblo Lot 1780 less the four parcels along Soledad Road that had previously been sold, to James M. Banister, a real estate developer, for $109,220.00.

In the early 1960s the Sentinel, a Pacific Beach newspaper, reported on the discovery by four youngsters of what appeared to be an abandoned farmhouse in a canyon north of Pacific Beach. A Sentinel reporter investigating the story called upon ‘oldtimers’ to ‘rack their memories of the old days’. He interviewed Nate Rannells, then 79 and retired as La Jolla’s postmaster, who was sure that the farmhouse was the remains of the old Will Rannells dairy. ‘My brother, Will, built the dairy there in the early winter of 1924. It lies in the canyon to the west of the old Kate Session nursery. It originally comprised three cottages, a milk shed and storage house, cow and horse barns and a corral.’ He added that his brother had 100 cows and a few horses and delivered milk by the dipper-full or by the can to homes and to the trade. The Sentinel reporter noted that the milk-shed and storage house were then still standing, although the roofs had caved in. The corral, one cottage and remains of a horse barn were also still there. The reporter visited a vantage point at the end of Soledad Way and reported that the remains of the Will Rannells dairy could still be seen and was a sight worth seeing. He added that in the distance to the west bulldozers were slashing out sites for new dwellings and soon even the remains of the old Will Rannells dairy would be just a memory.

The property that the DeVoids sold to James Banister was eventually acquired by Techbilt Construction, which had amassed hundreds of acres on the slopes of Mt. Soleded north of Pacific Beach. Techbilt constructed a number of developments around Vickie Drive and Castle Hills Drive in the 1960s and in 1970 began developing the La Jolla Alta developments on the hills on both sides of the canyon. In March 1974 the city council rejected a master plan that called for another 808 homes on a 223-acre site when nearby residents objected to development in the canyon. Techbilt then submitted a scaled-back plan for a 649-unit development that preserved 165 acres for open space, most of it in the canyon, and this plan was accepted in September 1974. The La Jolla Alta community was constructed and Alta La Jolla Drive built across the canyon but most of what was once called Bone Canyon has so far been spared by the bulldozers. The remains of the Rannells and DeVoid dairy, however, are just a memory.

Screen grab from Google Maps satellite view of ‘Bone Canyon’ today

Pacific Building Co. in PB

Pacific Building Company built this home at 1132 Diamond Street for its president O. W. Cotton in 1907 (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

In early 1903 O. M. Schmidt and A. J. Dula filed subdivision maps for the Fortuna Park and Second Fortuna Park additions south of what became Pacific Beach Drive and commissioned Dula’s brothers-in-law Murtrie and Wilbur Folsom as sales agent for the new tract. The Folsom Brothers’ ads in the Evening Tribune described Fortuna Park as a beautiful home spot, destined to be one of San Diego’s best suburbs, and where a $25 lot was likely to quadruple in value in a few months. They then embarked on a marketing expedition to the Arizona Territory where they expected to find eager buyers for summer homes surrounded by the cool waters of Mission Bay. There they sold dozens of lots to buyers in places like Morenci, Prescott, Douglas, and Bisbee, which is where they sold lots 39 and 40 in block 2 of Second Fortuna Park to O. W. Cotton for $40.

Oscar W. Cotton had been born in San Francisco in 1882 and was working at his first job in Bisbee, making $70 a month. He was apparently so impressed with the Folsom brothers’ sales pitch that he not only purchased lots for himself but also became their agent, selling Fortuna Park lots to other residents of the Arizona back country. In July 1903 Cotton came to San Diego to see for himself the properties he had bought, and had represented to others, and decided to stay and join the Folsom Brothers firm. In November 1903 Folsom Brothers significantly expanded their interests, acquiring O. J. Stough’s holdings of almost the entire territory of Pacific Beach. An ad in the San Diego Union a month later announced that the company would make improvements, including the erection of many sightly residences, that would make it the most attractive suburb of San Diego and insure its rapid development.

Work on the sightly residences was soon underway; the Tribune reported in December 1903 that the new concrete dwelling on Broadway near Sunset Avenue now being erected by Folsom Brothers was fast nearing completion and foundations had been laid by the same firm for the erection of four other structures, work upon which would be commenced within a few days (Broadway is now Ingraham Street and Sunset is Fortuna Avenue). In January 1904 the Tribune reported that Mark Folsom, their father, had laid the foundations for a handsome dwelling at the corner of Broadway and Thomas Avenue. The building would be constructed of concrete cement, elaborately finished on the exterior and surrounded by spacious lawns.

Home built for Mark Folsom in 1904 at the corner of Ingraham and Thomas, since demolished (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

In February, the handsome office building of Folsom Brothers which was being erected at the corner of Broadway and Grand Avenue was fast nearing completion and would be ready for occupancy within a few weeks. This building was also of concrete cement and very attractive in its architectural design. Although the main part of the office would be devoted wholly to the business of selling building sites in Pacific Beach, there would also be a department to be used as the headquarters of the architect who would superintend the building operations of the firm.

The business of selling building sites in Pacific Beach was a good one for Folsom Brothers in 1904; the Evening Tribune reported that on occasion no less than five teams might be seen conveying prospective buyers through the suburb and along the famous ocean strand. Anticipating further growth in its real estate business the company filed articles of incorporation in August 1904. Murtrie Folsom became president and Wilbur Folsom vice-president of the new Folsom Bros. Co. and O. W. Cotton was named secretary and treasurer. The construction side of the business was also promising and in September the Pacific Beach Construction Company was incorporated with the Folsom brothers and Cotton as directors. A Folsom Bros. Co. ad in the Union explained that the construction company was organized primarily for the upbuilding of Pacific Beach property. It would manufacture and deal in all kinds of building materials, including the most modern and practical style of cement blocks, and would build houses of this and other materials. It was listed in the 1905 San Diego City Directory as Folsom Bros. Co. Building Department, alabastine stone and building material, at the same address as Folsom Bros. Co. Real Estate.

The next few years were busy ones for the Folsom Bros. Co. building department. The San Diego Union reported in October 1904 that developments of the past week in building improvements in Pacific Beach had surpassed those of any like period since Folsom Bros. Co. started their immense and comprehensive plans of development. The foundations and framework of no less than ten structures in various stages of completion could be found within a radius of only two blocks from the Pacific Beach Hotel. Some were store buildings and some residences and nearly all either in whole or in part being constructed of the patent cement-concrete building blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co.

The Pacific Beach Hotel was at the center of the community at the time, the corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets, where the Patio restaurant is now (the hotel building later became the Folsom Bros. Co. sales office). The new store buildings included the ‘handsome two-story edifice’ of McCrary and Parmenter at the southwest corner of Grand Avenue and Lamont Street, a block south of the hotel, which ‘threw open its doors’ in January 1905 and which was constructed ‘in whole’ of concrete blocks. (this store, ‘the largest in the suburb’ in its day, became Ravenscroft’s grocery in 1913 and was later the Full Gospel Temple before being demolished in the 1950s). The residences in various stages of completion in 1904 included a number on Hornblend Street within two blocks of the hotel, some of which are still standing, including the home built for H. J. Breese at the northeast corner of Hornblend and Morrell (later the passion fruit ranch of Dr. H. K. W. Kumm) and the homes built for Anna Boulet and Ansel Lane (now the Baldwin Academy) on the north side of Hornblend between Jewell and Kendall streets. Outside of the central two-block radius, the Union reported that the magnificent home of James Haskins on Diamond Avenue, fast nearing completion in December 1905, was constructed partly of the concrete blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co.

In 1906 O. W. Cotton was the author of a piece in the San Diego Union that promoted Folsom Bros. Co. as an establishment that had grown from three employees to having a payroll that included from fifty to sixty names. Their alabastine stone plant, a factory for the manufacture of artificial stone (concrete building blocks), had grown from a little experimental block yard in Pacific Beach employing four people to a third of a block downtown employing thirty people that furnished building materials for nearly every structure built in San Diego. And this was just the beginning of what they planned to accomplish.

In a memoir published in 1962 Cotton later explained that the experimental yard had actually been the engine house of the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla railroad near the foot of Grand Avenue, where Folsom Bros. had attempted to make concrete blocks from beach sand. It turned out that beach sand is too fine-grained to bind into blocks and the plant was moved away from the free source of this raw material to the downtown site where the blocks were made of coarser river sand. Even with better quality products, however, the venture was not profitable and the company soon got out of the concrete block business to concentrate instead on lot sales.

In December 1906 Folsom Bros. Co. announced a new ‘opening sale’ of 250 Pacific Beach lots beginning on January 1, 1907. Their ad in the Union explained that the company had just inaugurated a policy of improvement and development and homebuilding. The improvement and development would include grading permanent streets and boulevards and paving sidewalks. The homebuilding would be accomplished by the Pacific Building Company, which would be opening for business on January 1, 1907, and would build houses costing from $1,500 to $10,000 at Pacific Beach upon easy monthly payments about equaling rent (the lots themselves were another $250). Other Folsom Bros. Co. ads emphasized that the Pacific Building Company, an allied company, would build houses ‘for purchasers of lots from us’.

The Pacific Building Company had been incorporated in December 1906 with Cotton heading the list of five founding directors and stockholders and serving as president and general manager. The company would be allied with Folsom Bros. Co. and initially shared the same office at 1015 5th Street but the Folsom brothers were not included as directors or even stockholders of the new company. In early 1907 the report of building permits in the San Diego Union generally included at least one for Pacific Building Company in Pacific Beach or Fortuna Park. One week in April the building permits report in the Evening Tribune listed four permits for the company to be erected in Pacific Beach; two frame dwellings valued at $1800 each, one frame cottage, also $1800, and a cement cottage at $2800. In May the Union reported permits for two one-story frame cottages at Pacific Beach, one valued at $2600 and the other $2300, a two-story residence at $5000 and a cottage at $2300.

In June 1907, a report on developments in Pacific Beach mentioned that the Pacific Building Company was erecting a six-room house in Fortuna Park for Mr. DeHart and also a large cottage for Mr. Mott (actually Macht) on Missouri Avenue. It had just completed a large cottage for Mr. J. M. Asher, Jr., and a smaller one, and was then finishing a large house on Diamond Avenue. In July the Union listed two more houses started by the Pacific Building Company and credited the reorganization of Folsom Bros. Co. at the beginning of the year with generating so much activity that the arrival of freight cars full of lumber in the suburb was commonplace (the freight cars would have arrived at the West Coast Lumber Company siding off the La Jolla railroad line on Grand just east of Lamont, where the 7-11 is now).

Mr. DeHart’s home in Fortuna Park is no longer there but three houses built in 1907 in the 1100 block of Missouri, including the home built for Mr. Macht, are still standing . Other homes built by the Pacific Building Company also remain today in Pacific Beach. A building permit was issued in June 1907 for the one-story frame building on Reed Avenue between Lamont and Morrell streets to cost $1700 that still stands at the southwest corner of Reed and Morrell. In October 1907 the Pacific Building Company started work on the much larger house at Lamont and Beryl streets for the MacFarlands valued at $3500-$4000.

The large house that Pacific Building Company was finishing on Diamond Avenue in 1907 was intended for Cotton himself. In June the Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. O. W. Cotton had returned from a wedding journey to Yosemite, and that Mrs. Cotton, who had been Miss Violet Savage, would be remembered as one of the ‘charming members of the younger set in Los Angeles’. They were staying at the Hotel Robinson to await completion of their attractive cottage at Pacific Beach. That attractive cottage is also still there, at 1132 Diamond Street. While living in Pacific Beach Mrs. Cotton was noted for her musical talent; a former concert pianist, she entertained guests at Mrs. Haskins annual holiday reception for members of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. ‘The appreciative audience demanded many recalls and Mrs. O. W.  Cotton continued to give rare pleasure to the parting guests to the very last’.

In 1907 Pacific Building Company and Folsom Bros. Co. shared an office and O. W. Cotton was a director and officer of both companies but in February 1908 the Evening Tribune reported that Cotton had disposed of his interest in Folsom Bros. Co. to devote his entire time to managing the Pacific Building Company, where he was president and general manager. W. W. Whitson, president of the Hillcrest Company, bought out Cotton’s interest in Folsom Bros. Co. and was installed as first vice-president and treasurer (Murtrie Folsom remained as president and Wilbur Folsom was moved to second vice-president and secretary). In a 1984 interview with the San Diego Union, Cotton’s son John claimed that there had been a ‘falling out’; the Folsoms wanted to build houses out of concrete and his father thought that was pure folly. Whatever the reasons, separation from Folsom Bros. Co. allowed Pacific Building Company to expand its home construction business beyond Folsom Bros. Co.’s base in Pacific Beach.

The Cottons also moved from Pacific Beach, selling their Diamond Street home to G. H. Robinson, a Folsom Bros. Co. salesman, in 1908. According to the Union, Mr. Robinson had been married in Los Angeles and had bought for his bride the beautiful home on Diamond formerly owned by O. W. Cotton. The Cottons first moved to Hillcrest, where they bought a lot from Whitson and had another home built by Pacific Building Company valued at $4000. In 1912 they moved again; the Union reported that among the many handsome homes recently completed in South Park was a beautiful two-story residence erected by the Pacific Building Company for O. W. Cotton, president of the corporation which had erected 532 buildings to date.

Most of these homes and the hundreds more built over the ensuing years were in the fast-growing communities served by streetcar lines radiating from San Diego. One such ‘streetcar suburb’ was the company’s Tract No. 4, built in 1910 at the end of the line that once ran out Imperial Avenue (then called M Street) and at the time just outside of the city limits (which then ended at Boundary Street). Most of the homes built by Pacific Building Company in Tract No. 4, or Sierra Vista, can still be seen in the Mountain View district of San Diego. Other tracts of inexpensive homes were developed in Normal Heights and East San Diego, also then outside the city limits along the streetcar lines on Adams and University avenues (at the time homes like these could be purchased for less than $1500; in 2019 one built in 1911 on the 30th Street streetcar line in South Park was the San Diego Union-Tribune’s example of what could be bought today for San Diego’s median home price, $560,000). Pacific Building Company also continued to build larger custom residences throughout the city, including the showplace home for Charles Norris on Collingwood Drive in Pacific Beach in 1913.

O. W. Cotton had started his real estate career with Folsom Bros. Co. and then departed to concentrate entirely on construction, but in 1926 he decided to get out of the building business and back into subdivision sales and general real estate practice. Readers of the real estate pages in the local papers in June 1926 would have seen an announcement that the Pacific Building Company was marketing a magnificent tract stretching from the hilltops overlooking La Jolla right down to the water’s edge but could not hit on a name to do it justice and were offering a $100 reward for a suitable name. A week later the Pacific Building Company announced a winner; the tract would be known as Monte Costa. The next week’s Evening Tribune carried an ad for Monte Costa, but it was attributed to ‘O. W. Cotton, Successor to Pacific Building Company’, and by the end of 1926 ads for Monte Costa were by ‘O. W. Cotton Real Estate’ (the tract was actually the Bird Rock subdivision and the new name never caught on). In November 1926 Pacific Building Company underwent voluntary dissolution but as late as 1930 the San Diego city directory still had a listing for ‘Pacific Building Company O. W. Cotton Successor’ (and an entry for ‘O. W. Cotton Successor to Pacific Building Company’ at the same address).

O. W. Cotton continued to be one of San Diego’s best known real estate personalities for decades. In 1946 he was joined by his sons John and William as partners in O. W. Cotton Co., later Cotton Management Co. and Cotton Co. He died in 1975 at the age of 93. Hundreds of homes built by his Pacific Building Company are still standing in San Diego’s former streetcar suburbs and even in Pacific Beach, where the company commenced operations with three houses in 1907.

The home built for O. W. Cotton at 1132 Diamond today

The Richerts in Pacific Beach

The home built in 1914 for Joseph and Margaret Richert and their eight children at the corner of Diamond and Olney streets in Pacific Beach.

In April 1896 Margaret B. Richert purchased lots 13 to 28 in Block 140 of Pacific Beach, the eastern portion of the block surrounded by what are now Diamond, Noyes, Missouri and Olney streets. The Richerts, Margaret and Joseph J., both then 30 years old, moved into a small home on Diamond with their baby daughters Helen and Ruth. A few months later the San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach Notes column reported that the Richerts’ cottage was being enlarged by building an addition of two rooms. Pacific Beach was a lemon-growing center at the time and like most of his neighbors Mr. Richert identified himself in the 1900 census as a lemon rancher. Dr. Martha Dunn Corey, the first physician in Pacific Beach, lived on the western section of the block and resided in the house still standing at the corner of Diamond and Noyes streets. Dr. Corey’s husband George was also a lemon rancher and it is likely that the rest of the block was covered with lemon trees.

The Richerts were active participants in Pacific Beach community affairs. They became members of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church 1894 and Mr. Richert was elected a ruling elder in 1914. Mrs. Richert joined the Pacific Beach Reading Club, now the Pacific Beach Women’s Club. Before its clubhouse was built in 1911 the Reading Club met in members’ homes, and meetings were often held at the Richerts’. Their family also grew with the addition of another daughter, Martha, in 1898 and their first son, Ralph, in 1899. The Pacific Beach Notes column noted in October 1899 that J. J. Richert had built another addition to his cottage.

Although J. J. Richert was counted as a Pacific Beach lemon rancher in the 1900 census, he was also interested in dairy ranching and began to accumulate grazing land in the Rose Canyon area, a few miles north and east of his home in Pacific Beach. This area was part of the pueblo lands of San Diego, a legacy of San Diego’s time as a Mexican pueblo that had been subdivided into pueblo lots of about 160 acres. In June 1897 Richert purchased 40 acre parcels in pueblo lots 1299 and 1300 from George Selwyn and by 1902 had added another 40 acres in each of these lots, leaving him with the east half of lot 1299 and the west half of lot 1300 (La Jolla Village Square is now located within this parcel).

Much of the other property in this area was owned by George Gilbert, also a dairyman, who was married to Mr. Richert’s sister. One of Gilbert’s properties was pueblo lot 1291, where Rose Canyon changes direction from mostly north-south to east-west and where Gilbert had built a ranch house. The Pacific Beach Notes column in the Union frequently noted visits between Mrs. Richert and her sister-in-law Mrs. Gilbert; in October 1898 Mrs. Gilbert was the guest of Mrs. Richert for a few days and in March 1899 Mrs. Richert and her daughters were spending the week with Mrs. Gilbert. Although Mrs. Gilbert died in 1900 the family visits continued; in 1902 Mrs. Richert and family spent part of the week at the Gilbert Ranch and in 1903 the news was that Mrs. Richert had returned home after spending the summer at the Gilbert ranch in Rose Canyon.

In April 1903 J. J. Richert was elected to the San Diego city council as one of two delegates from the First Ward (the First Ward included all of San Diego north of the San Diego River but in those days the only significant population centers north of the river were Pacific Beach and La Jolla). He was appointed to the water and the health and morals committees but he resigned from the council in November 1903 giving as his reason prolonged illness in his family which prevented him from attending to his duties. He was replaced by F. T. Scripps, another prominent Pacific Beach resident.

In the early years of the twentieth century the Richerts family grew some more with the addition of another son, Roy in 1902, and daughter Elizabeth (Bessie) in 1904, followed by two more sons, Joseph J. Jr. in 1906 and Thomas in 1909. The Richerts also continued to spend much of their time at the Gilbert ranch in Rose Canyon. In 1905 Richert and Gilbert joined forces; Gilbert became co-owner of Richert’s holdings in the pueblo lands and Richert became co-owner of the west half of pueblo lot 1301, one of Gilbert’s holdings. A year later Richert became co-owner of three more of Gilbert’s holdings, pueblo lots 1295, 1292 and 1291, the site of the ranch house. In 1908 Gilbert and Richert became co-owners of pueblo lot 1267 and by 1910 three more pueblo lots, 1302, 1303 and 1308, were jointly owned by Gilbert and Richert.

Richert and Gilbert used their land for grazing cattle, but Rose Canyon was also an important transportation corridor between San Diego and the north. The Santa Fe railroad had long held a right-of-way through their ranch and portions of the city’s wagon road to Sorrento Valley also had a right-of-way over their property. As automobiles and trucks became more numerous in the early years of the twentieth century, the city began improving the roads through Rose Canyon. In 1908 Richert transferred a strip of land 40 feet wide through pueblo lot 1299 to the city for road purposes, the first stage of the project that eventually became the Pacific Highway in 1933 and is now Gilman Drive. A year later they granted the U. S. Long Distance Tel. & Tel. Co. a right of way over the same pueblo lot.

In 1909 W. G. Kerckhoff and H. W. Kellar, promoters of Del Mar, proposed a railroad between San Diego and Del Mar which would have followed a route similar to today’s Interstate 5, passing through a 2000-foot tunnel between Rose Canyon and Sorrento Valley. Part of their route passed over land owned by Richert and Gilbert and in 1909 they granted the Kerckhoff-Kellar railway a 175- to 200-foot right of way through their property. The deeds included a clause that the land would revert to them if the railroad was not completed within three years and at least one train each way a day was being operated, and although some grading was done along Morena Boulevard the railroad was never built and the right-of-way was forfeited.

Although the Richerts spent much of their time at what the papers had started calling the Gilbert-Richert ranch in Rose Canyon, they were residents of Pacific Beach and the children attended the Pacific Beach school, where Helen and Ruth Richert were two of the four students graduating with the January class in 1911. Pacific Beach students could continue their education by taking the train to San Diego High School where Martha Richert was among the victors of an inter-class swimming meet in 1916. Boys could choose to attend the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, opened in 1910 in the former college and hotel building a few blocks from the Richerts’ home in Pacific Beach, and cadet corporal Ralph Richert won the prize for individual drill in a military field day there in 1916. At the academy’s graduation exercises in 1918 Ralph was one of sixteen ‘soldierly young men’ who received diplomas.

The Richerts’ eighth child was born in 1909 and although their home on Diamond Street had been enlarged over the years it was evidently too small for the family and in 1914 they built a much larger house at the corner of Diamond and Olney streets. The new J. J. Richert residence was one of the showplaces of the community and its photo was featured along with the Norris home, the Hollister (Frost) home and the Army and Navy Academy in a story headlined ‘Pacific Beach Delightful Resort Near San Diego’ in the Union on New Year’s day 1918.

George Gilbert died in 1911 and J. J. Richert assumed sole ownership of their holdings in Rose Canyon. In 1912 he acquired another pueblo lot, 1278 (where University City High School is now located). However, the dairy business was suffering from rising costs for everything from feed to milk bottles and caps, and in July 1917 Richert was one of the United Dairymen of San Diego County who signed their names to an advertisement in the San Diego Union requesting unanimous support on the part of the consumer to an increase in the retail price of milk (to 7¢ a pint or 13¢ a quart). Richert also looked for other commodities that could be produced on his ranch lands. In 1918 he became a director of the Encinitas Bean Growers Association, which pledged that 40,000 acres of land in the county would be planted to lima beans. The Union reported that an educational food production tour under the auspices of the county farm bureau stopped at the ranch of Joe Richert of Rose Canyon, a grower of bush lima beans, where from 20 to 30 sacks per acre were harvested. The rancher told of his seed selection, method of planting and cultivation.

In 1920 Richert increased his holdings in Rose Canyon by purchasing a portion of pueblo lot 1277 and additional acres in pueblo lot 1267. A number of other pueblo lots near Richert’s holdings were still city property and the city had passed an ordinance in 1908 freezing sales of pueblo lots until 1930. Richert petitioned the city council to lease these lots instead, and in 1922 he was granted leases to pueblo lots 1272, 1273, 1279, 1304 and 1306. By 1924 Richert owned all or part of 15 pueblo lots, amounting to over 1700 acres in the Rose Canyon area, and leased the 5 city-owned pueblo lots with more than 750 additional acres adjacent to his land.

View of the former Gilbert-Richert ranch from Mount Soledad about 1953. The ranch buildings can be seen among the trees in the canyon. This area is now covered by a freeway and housing tracts.

After the United States entered World War I in 1917 the army built a huge training base in what was then called the Linda Vista mesa, a few miles east of the Richert ranch (the Miramar air station now occupies a portion of this area). Thousands of soldiers passed through Camp Kearny and some of them apparently found opportunities to fraternize with their neighbors. In December 1919 the Richerts’ eldest daughter Helen was married to Andrew Pittman, formerly a lieutenant of the U. S. Army artillery corps who had been stationed at Camp Kearny. In 1921 their daughter Martha married Evan Carey, also a former artillery officer at Camp Kearny. The weddings took place in the Richerts’ home and were officiated by the minister of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, where the Richerts were long-time members.

Ruth Richert was married in 1923, not to a former soldier but to former neighbor Fred Corey, the son of Martha Dunn Corey. The Richerts’ eldest son Ralph was married in 1924 to a woman he had met when both were students at the Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University). Another Richert son, Roy, attended San Diego High School where he starred as a tackle on the football team. He was described as a silent, savage fighter who hit the line hard and crashed through opponents. He also attended the Oregon college and starred on the Aggie football team where he was named captain in his senior year. He was married on New Year’s Eve 1927 in the St. Francis chapel at Balboa Park. Roy Richert turned down a chance to become the football coach at San Diego High and instead became a coach in Oakland. Elizabeth (Bessie) Richert married James Bowers, a dentist, in 1928, and moved to Monrovia. In 1935 the Richerts’ youngest son Thomas, a star athlete and medical student, married Loretta Turnbull, world’s champion woman speedboat pilot, in St. James-by-the-Sea Church in La Jolla. The Union reported that after a short reception the couple boarded the Turnbull yacht for a brief honeymoon in local waters before motoring to Montreal where he would complete his medical studies.

Joseph J. Richert died in January 1936. His obituary in the Union noted that he had come to San Diego in 1887, spent most of his life here as a rancher, and owned extensive property in Rose Canyon. Margaret Richert died in 1951 at her home on the corner of Diamond and Olney streets. The home is still standing today, recently restored to its former glory.

In 1940 Mrs. Richert had sold the ranch property in Rose Canyon to George Sawday and Oliver Sexson, ‘cattle barons’ who already ran large herds around Ramona, Julian and Warner Springs (and at the nearby Los Penasquitos ranch). However, the pueblo lands around Rose Canyon were also in the path of San Diego’s urban growth and cattle ranching was not to be part of the plan. In 1956 San Diego voters approved a proposition authorizing the sale of pueblo land on Torrey Pines mesa to the University of California for a San Diego campus, and in 1960 the university regents voted to acquire the land and begin development of UCSD. The city also developed a master plan for a University City to surround the new campus and provide housing and commercial services for the tens of thousands of students, faculty and staff expected to be attracted to the university. This new city would extend east and south of the campus as far as San Clemente Canyon, most of it on land once owned or leased by the Richerts. Development began in the 1960s with the University City housing tract and is still underway, most recently with construction of a new San Diego trolley line through Rose Canyon to the university.

Approximate location of pueblo lots in the La Jolla Village and University City area today. Lots once owned by Richert are outlined in red; lots outlined in green were leased from the city.

 

 

The Braemar Subdivisions

San Diego History Center #AD1049-078 F5D6

On the original map of the Pacific Beach subdivision from October 1887 a railroad line from downtown San Diego ran down Grand Avenue to a depot located between the Pacific Ocean and False (Mission) Bay near the southwest corner of the community. The property allocated for the depot occupied about four blocks between Reed and Hubbell avenues and from west of First Street to Third Street (Hubbell Avenue has become Pacific Beach Drive, First Street is now Mission Boulevard and the other numbered streets have been renamed Bayard, Cass, Dawes, etc). On the map the depot property was surrounded by residential blocks, most consisting of 40 lots.

 

In an amended map recorded in 1894, the Pacific Beach Company consolidated most of the residential blocks south of Reed Avenue into ‘acre lots’ intended for agricultural use and eliminated Gassen and Hubbell avenues. The blocks east of the depot property became Acre Lot 69; south of the depot Block 389 and half of Block 387 remained, while the rest became acre lots 70 and 71. The Pacific Beach Company had originally purchased the 40 acres south of the depot property from James Poiser, a sheep rancher, and Poiser still retained a plot on the bay shore known as ‘Poisers 1 Acre’.  The railroad line had been extended up the coast to La Jolla but an engine house for the line’s locomotives remained in a smaller ‘depot grounds’ on the former depot property. The remainder of the property became known as the ‘unnumbered lots east of the depot grounds’.

In December 1899 Poisers 1 Acre was sold to Frederick Tudor (F. T.) Scripps, brother of the newspaper tycoon E. W. Scripps and half-brother of Ellen Browning Scripps, the La Jolla philanthropist. In August 1900 Scripps also bought Acre Lot 71, 4.9 acres located just to the north of Poisers 1 Acre and separated from it on the map by the former Hensley Avenue. Scripps petitioned the city council to close Hensley Avenue, which then apparently reverted to Scripps and gave him possession of an approximately 6-acre parcel between the bay and the depot property. By the end of 1901 he and his wife Emma had built a palatial bayfront home surrounded by elaborate landscaping that they called Braemar Manor.

F. T. Scripps also acquired and developed other property in Pacific Beach. In 1903 he purchased acre lots 43 and 44, between Diamond, Allison (now Mission Boulevard), Chalcedony and Cass Streets and subdivided it as Ocean Front Addition. Closer to home, he extended his bayside property another block east by purchasing Acre Lot 70 and Block 387 (except for lots 33 and 34, which the Pacific Beach Company had sold to Richard Poiser, James’ brother, in 1889). In 1904 he added another 1 1/3 acres of land west of and adjoining the original Poisers 1 Acre property, between the bay shore and Acre Lot 71. He also purchased the ‘unnumbered lots east of the Depot Grounds’ and Acre Lot 69, extending his holdings north to Reed Avenue and east to Dawes Street.

In 1907 Scripps consolidated his holdings into the Braemar subdivision, five residential blocks east of Bayard Street and Lot A, west of Bayard Street and south of Pacific Avenue (now Pacific Beach Drive), where his home and gardens were located. The residential blocks were intended for sale but despite the apparent attractions of the beach and bay and the convenience of the nearby Braemar station on the railroad line (on Grand Avenue at Bayard), buyers showed little interest in this remote corner of Pacific Beach. One buyer did purchase 4 adjacent lots on Oliver Street in 1908 and another 4 buyers purchased a total of 8 lots in 1909 but few additional lots were sold and only one home was built in the Braemar subdivision before the 1920s (in 1912, still standing at 932 Oliver Avenue). In 1917 Scripps also subdivided the property in the unnumbered lots, north of Pacific and west of Bayard, as First Addition to Braemar. Only two lots were sold there over the ensuing decade but Scripps had homes built on three lots he owned facing Bayard between Reed and Oliver avenues, presumably as rentals.

In 1924 the San Diego Electric Railway opened a fast streetcar line between downtown and La Jolla via Mission Beach that ran through Pacific Beach over what became Mission Boulevard. The coast highway from San Diego to Los Angeles also passed through Pacific Beach and had been paved in 1919. The western branch of the coast highway entered Pacific Beach from Mission Beach then followed Pacific Avenue and Cass Street to Garnet Avenue, passing through the heart of the Braemar subdivision. At Garnet it was joined by the eastern branch and continued on Cass to Turquoise Street and La Jolla Boulevard on its way north. By the mid-1920s thousands of motorists were traveling on the coast highway daily and real estate speculators began developing the corner of Cass and Garnet as the new business center of Pacific Beach. Crystal Pier was developed as a tourist attraction in 1925 and a number of new housing tracts were planned, including the Palisades, North Shore Highlands, Pacific Pines and Crown Point.

F. T. Scripps also saw opportunity in the renewed interest in Pacific Beach real estate. In May 1926 he persuaded the Common Council to close the southernmost half-block of Bayard Street and in June filed a subdivision map for Braemar Extension, incorporating the closed street along with that portion of the Braemar subdivision east of Bayard and south of Pacific and newly acquired property south of Pacific extending another block east to Dawes Street (Scripps also finally bought the two lots in the former Block 387 that had not been included in the 1907 Braemar subdivision and included them in the 1926 Braemar Extension). Braemar Lane was moved a half-block north on the map and a new city street, Briarfield Drive, was shown to the east of Lot B of the new subdivision. Lot B, east of the closed portion of Bayard Street and south of the new Braemar Lane, was divided into three parcels fronting on Mission Bay which were distributed to three of the four Scripps children (F. Tudor, Jr., the youngest, was only 18 at the time and apparently not eligible). Thomas Scripps, the oldest, received the western-most lot, separated from his parents’ property by the closed portion of Bayard Street, and his own bayside home was completed by the end of the year. The closed portion of Bayard Street was designated Lot C of Braemar Extension and effectively became a private drive into the grounds of the Scripps compound.

The Braemar Extension subdivision map specifically excepted any portions thereof lying below the line of mean high tide, but Scripps also obtained a 50-year lease from the Board of State Harbor Commissioners for use of the tidelands extending from the mean high tide mark offshore to a proposed seawall (which was never built). Scripps then reportedly spent over $100,000 in improvements for the Braemar, First Addition to Braemar and Braemar Extension subdivisions, including concrete streets, alleys, sidewalks and curbs, and even a cove for boating (Briarfield Cove, surrounded by Briarfield Drive).

On the day of its opening in July 1926 the San Diego Union proclaimed that the Braemar tract would be one of the most highly developed residential beach properties yet presented; ‘All public utilities, including gas, electricity, water and a complete sewer system are in and ready for connection’. The development was also ‘carefully restricted’; no homes could be built which cost less than a minimum value, which ranged from $3500 to $7500 depending on the value of the lot. There were uniform set-back restrictions and restrictions against flats or apartment houses, and also race restrictions:

No part of said property, or any building thereon, shall ever be used or occupied by any person not of the Caucasian race, either as owner, lessee, licensee, or in any capacity other than of a servant or employee of the occupant nor shall said property ever by mortgaged, sold or transferred to any person not of the Caucasian race.

A sales poster featuring a birds-eye view of Braemar emphasized its location on the bay and a block from the ocean and showed the western branch of the coast highway running through the tract before continuing through Mission Beach to downtown San Diego. A streetcar is shown passing by on the fast electric line from San Diego to La Jolla. The trees lining the streets in this view also actually existed and many are still growing.

In 1926 Scripps also undertook a major renovation of Braemar Manor which enlarged it and changed its exterior appearance to the then-popular English cottage style. This style also inspired the architecture of some of the first homes in the Braemar subdivision. An ad in the San Diego Union in September 1926 invited the public to inspect the charming English home at the new Braemar tract built by A. M. Southard Co. (still standing at the corner of Oliver and Cass streets). Another Southard ad in 1927 showed the English cottage at 4225 Bayard, designed and built for Mr. F. T. Scripps.

Not all the new homes built in Braemar were English cottage style; an ad by builder Everett H. Bickley showed the two-story Spanish-style home at 4121 Bayard as it appeared in 1927. A set of ‘artistic entrance gates’ designed by Frank W. Stevenson and said to be faithful reproductions of the stately entrances to be seen on the picturesque old estates in England marked the entrance to Braemar on the coast highway. The tall stone gateposts with the letter ‘B’ flanking Cass Street at Reed Avenue no longer exist but the shorter sections beyond the sidewalks are still there, the one on the west side incorporated into the resident’s brick wall.

In October 1926 selling agents Barney & Rife warned of a ‘price advance’ and then a few days later advertised that they were extending the deadline by a few days because the warning had brought them so many eager customers. In November they warned again that with the steady demand for the property there was a probability of the tract being entirely sold out with the next few weeks. In reality the Braemar tract was competing for buyers with the other new developments in Pacific Beach and all were experiencing disappointing initial sales. By 1928 only 50 of the 147 lots in the Braemar tract had been sold and there were only 8 new residences, all but one of which were on property actually owned by Scripps or Barney & Rife. Two of these residences were not even new but were relocated there from other Scripps properties. The house at 953 Reed had once been James Poiser’s home before he sold his 40-acre bayside tract to the Pacific Beach Company in 1887.  That transfer had excepted the property Poiser’s house was on and it had become lots 33 and 34 of Block 387. Scripps obtained these lots in 1925 and incorporated the block into Lot B of Braemar Extension, and the existing house was moved to make room for a home for his son Thomas. The house at 961 Reed had probably been one of the three rental houses built by Scripps in the First Addition to Braemar in 1917. In the First Addition only one additional lot had been sold by 1928 and the only improvements were the two remaining rental homes. Only 5 lots had been sold to the public in Braemar Extension and none had been improved other than the home of Thomas Scripps in Lot B.

Real estate activity in Pacific Beach continued to be slow throughout the 1930s, due to in part to the great depression and the impact of the Mattoon Act, which greatly increased property taxes to pay for civic improvements like the causeway across Mission Bay, and in the Braemar subdivisions only a few more homes had been built by 1940. However, in 1935 Consolidated Aircraft had opened a manufacturing plant on the Pacific Highway near the San Diego airport and in 1940 began production of the B-24 Liberator bomber. Demand for the bombers increased as World War II began in Europe and the United States began preparing for war, and Consolidated expanded production in other factories built along Pacific Highway. Tens of thousands of aircraft workers flooded into San Diego to man the assembly lines and real estate developers recognized that these workers would require housing in areas accessible to the factories, like Pacific Beach, and especially in areas that already had paved streets, sidewalks and other improvements, like the Braemar tract.

F. Tudor Scripps Jr., the youngest son of F. T. and Emma Scripps, teamed up with builder Larry Imig and their contracting and building company commissioned a number of low-cost homes which qualified for FHA Title 6 financing. Other builders also joined the construction boom and the number of homes in Braemar had more than doubled by 1942 and doubled again by 1945, to more than 50. By 1953 the number of homes had doubled again and the tract was fully built out. Martha Farnum elementary school opened across Reed Avenue from the Braemar entrance gates to accommodate the surge of children growing up in Braemar and the surrounding neighborhoods.

F. T. Scripps had died in 1936 but Emma Scripps continued to live at Braemar Manor until her death in 1954. In 1959 Braemar Manor was razed and the Catamaran Hotel built on what had been Lot A of the Braemar subdivision. One room from the Scripps’ home, the English cottage-style dining and music room, was saved from destruction and moved across town to Rose Creek. Now known as the Rose Creek Cottage it is available for weddings and other special events.

In 1926 Scripps and other landowners with bay front properties had been granted a 50-year lease to the Mission Bay tidelands beyond the high water mark where their properties actually ended.  Many of the leaseholders had built piers, docks, fences and other improvements on this leased land, which had become known as Crescent Beach. The leases had stipulated that on termination of the lease the lessee would remove all improvements, but when the leases did expire in May 1976 many of the Crescent Beach leaseholders, some of the wealthiest and most influential people in San Diego, refused to comply with the terms of the lease.  The city had the offending docks and piers demolished and sand dredged from the bottom of the bay was deposited on shore to extend the beach beyond the former high water mark.  A paved bayside walk was built on the reclaimed land outside of the private property lines so that the actual beachfront is open and accessible to the public. Residents on Briarfield Drive in the Braemar Extension subdivision still have private beaches on Briarfield Cove, which remained open to the bay under a bridge on the bayside walk. Only the Catamaran Hotel still has a pier extending into Mission Bay.

The Scripps at Braemar

Braemar Manor, prior to 1926 renovation (San Diego History Center #93:18888)

Frederick Tudor (Fred, F. T.) Scripps was born in 1850 in Rushville, Illinois. His widowed father had emigrated from England with six children from his previous marriages (among whom was Ellen Browning Scripps), married again, and raised five more children in the Rushville area. Fred was the third of these children; the youngest, Edward Willis (E. W.) Scripps, born in 1854, went on to establish a newspaper empire which eventually became the E. W. Scripps Company, a media conglomerate which exists to this day. While E. W., Ellen and her brother (his half-brother) James were prospering in the newspaper business, Fred remained a farmer in the Rushville area. He was described as the ‘problem’ sibling in the Scripps family; never settling on a career, moving from one venture to another, and losing money along the way. Nevertheless, the Scripps family remained close and in 1890 Fred and Ellen travelled to California to visit his sister (her half-sister) Annie who had moved to Alameda for her health. After a month in northern California Fred and Ellen traveled to San Diego to visit cousins and spent some time traveling around the region, including Pacific Beach and La Jolla and the undeveloped land east of these suburbs that was then called Linda Vista.

Both Ellen and Fred were impressed with the San Diego area, particularly Fred who, like his sister Annie, suffered from arthritis and felt that he would benefit from the milder climate. They convinced E. W. to visit later in the year and he also liked what he saw and agreed to join Ellen in purchasing property in Linda Vista. They began by purchasing three tracts of land totaling 400 acres north of Carroll Canyon, extending east from about where Interstate 15 runs today. Fred sold his farm in Rushville and moved to San Diego to oversee development of the new Scripps estate. Construction of a palatial home on the property, which E. W. Scripps named Miramar, began in 1891 and proceeded throughout the decade; when completed in 1898 it had grown to 49 rooms.

Sarah Emma Jessop was born in England in 1871. Her father, Joseph Jessop, a jeweler, had been told by his English doctor that his ‘chances for health’ depended on moving to Southern California. His doctor also prescribed a change of careers, giving up his jewelry business in favor of the outdoor life of a rancher. Accordingly, the Jessops moved to San Diego County in 1890 and bought a 50-acre ranch in Linda Vista, a location which is between today’s Black Mountain Road and Interstate 15, north of Miramar Road and south of Carroll Canyon Road. The Jessops and the Scripps thus became neighbors; the northeast corner of the Jessops’ property met the southwest corner of the Scripps’. Fred Scripps and Emma Jessop became acquainted and in December 1893, when he was 43 and she was 20, they were married.

E. W. and Ellen Scripps had intended for their ranch to become a home not only for themselves but also for other members of their extended family, but even with the addition of separate wings it apparently was never large enough for all of them. Ellen was the first to leave, beginning her long association with La Jolla when she bought property on Prospect Street in 1896. Fred and Emma followed soon after, purchasing property on the shore of Mission Bay and building their bay-front home Braemar Manor.

The land at the northwest corner of Mission Bay had once been the property of James Poiser, who had raised sheep there and watered them at freshwater springs in the area.  Poiser had purchased 40 acres in the north end of Pueblo Lot 1803 from Alonzo Horton in 1885 and was among those whose land was acquired by the Pacific Beach Company in 1887.  Poiser’s deed granted the Pacific Beach Company his 40 acres ‘excepting therefrom 1 acre previously sold, and one acre around the house now occupied by me to be taken off the end of any block that may be laid out to cover said ground’. On a map of the Pacific Beach subdivision recorded at the end of 1894, Map 791, this property had become Acre Lots 70 and 71, Blocks 387 and 389, and ‘Poisers 1 Acre’.

The bayside Poisers 1 Acre tract passed through the hands of several other owners before F. T. Scripps acquired it in December 1899. He also bought Acre Lot 71, at the southwest corner of the streets that became Bayard Street and Pacific Beach Drive. Scripps wasted little time developing his property; the San Diegan – Sun newspaper (owned by E. W. Scripps) noted in October 1900 that ‘F. Scripps is making a fine home on the old Poiser place near the bay. The inside finish of his house is of white cedar. He has also a fine, commodious barn, wharf and all conveniences of a seaside home’. Landscaping of the 7-acre site was also underway; the Evening Tribune reported in November 1900 that Mr. Scripps was improving his place at the ocean front by putting in roses and bulbs.

By the end of 1901 the home had become ‘Mr. Fred Scripps beautiful residence on the bay’. Early photos showed a large two-story home with a central gabled section which featured a balcony overlooking the bay, dormer windows to each side and a covered porch extending the full width of the building on the bay side. The Scripps’ home was notable not only for its size and architecture but also for its landscaping.  Emma Scripps was an avid gardener and, with Kate Sessions, one of the founding members of the San Diego Floral Association in 1907. In an article she wrote for the association journal The California Garden in 1909, Mrs. Scripps figuratively led visitors through her garden, from a ‘geranium walk’ to beds of asters, penstemons, dahlias and a glorious bed of gladiolus flowers, over 600 bulbs, each with a stem of cherry-red blossoms 18 inches in length and all in bloom at the same time. There was also a bed of chrysanthemums, a Japanese garden, and flat stepping stones picked up on the beach leading through a pergola of cypress logs.

Aerial view of Braemar Manor and grounds (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

Mr. Scripps went on to purchase and subdivide other tracts of land between his home on Mission Bay and Ellen’s home in La Jolla, becoming prominent as a real estate developer. His holdings included the Braemar subdivision adjacent to his home, the Ocean Front subdivision between Diamond and Chalcedony streets, and F. T. Scripps Addition to La Jolla Park, between Marine and Westbourne streets in La Jolla (which included Rushville Street, named for his home town). He was also instrumental in improving the road connecting his properties that became La Jolla Boulevard.

Mrs. Scripps belonged to a number of community organizations, including the Pacific Beach Reading Club, and frequently hosted these groups’ meetings in her home. The Scripps property was also the scene of elaborate public events to benefit causes which Mrs. Scripps supported. In 1910 the San Diego Floral Association cordially invited the public to the beautiful garden of Mr. and Mrs. F. T. Scripps, at Brae Mar, which would be converted into Fairyland for the benefit of the Talent Workers’ Hospital fund. The garden would be decorated in the most lavish manner and there would be Japanese and oriental refreshment booths, a flower booth, fortune teller’s booth, candy booth and apron, fancy work and tooled leather booths. The San Diego Union added that the booths would be filled with bright articles, not the least of these being the ‘pretty and popular girls’ who would be in charge of them. ‘Misses Violet, Fanny and Linda Jessop, sisters of Mrs. Scripps, are to meet the guests and look after their welfare generally’.

In 1914, Mrs. Scripps invited the Floral Association to Braemar Manor for an outdoor meeting.  The California Garden reported that whereas the only living things on the place when the Scripps took possession twelve years before were a few cypress trees and Bermuda grass, today the grounds were surrounded with double rows of Phoenix Canariensis palms, ‘large and sturdy in appearance’.  Here and there were various out-buildings, including a substantial wigwam built by ‘real red men’ and filled with numberless Indian relics and curios. There was a lath house, rich in ferns and tuberous begonias and a luxuriant grapevine formed an arbor which the sun could not penetrate. On the bay front were other summer houses, including a Japanese teagarden and a little log hut. Florally, despite sitting just off the ocean front and with sandy soil, Braemar had produced creditable blooms of almost every flower family. Mrs. Scripps’ roses had long been famous through having won many ribbons and cups at the flower shows.

In 1921 Miss Annie Scripps, the Scripps’ youngest daughter, married Austen Brown, a graduate of the Army and Navy Academy in Pacific Beach. The wedding took place at ‘Brae Mar Manor, the Scripps home in Pacific Beach’ and was solemnized in the conservatory of the home. The Tribune reported that the bride looked very pretty in her white velvet gown and veil, and her sister Miss Mary Scripps, set her well off in a charming dark frock. The roles were reversed two years later when Mary Scripps married William Gardner Corey, son of Pacific Beach pioneer Dr. Martha Dunn Corey, in July 1923.   That wedding took place at Saint James-by-the-Sea in La Jolla with Mrs. A. G. Brown (nee Annie Scripps) as matron of honor, followed by a wedding reception at the home of the bride’s parents in Pacific Beach.

Braemar Manor had always been an impressive residence but in the mid-1920s it underwent an extensive renovation which included both new construction and a change in style. The new construction included the addition of a dining room with an arched ceiling that was attached to the west end of the estate (and which is the only surviving portion of the home, although now in a different location). The new dining room was finished in the then-popular half-timbered look with leaded windows called English cottage style, and the original portions of the house were also upgraded with leaded windows, towering brick chimneys and exposed exterior woodwork to match.

Braemar Manor, after 1926 renovation (San Diego History Center #87:16174)

Scripps also took steps during 1926 to make the surrounding neighborhood more to his liking. In May the Common Council adopted a resolution closing the half-block of Bayard Street that had continued south of what is now Braemar Lane. The property east of the closed portion of Bayard Street was divided into three parcels fronting on Mission Bay which were distributed to three of the four Scripps children (F. Tudor, Jr., the youngest, was only 18 at the time). Thomas Scripps, the oldest, received the western-most lot, separated from his parents’ property by the closed portion of Bayard Street, and his own bayside home was completed by the end of the year. The closed portion of Bayard Street effectively became a private drive into the grounds of the Scripps compound.

The upgrades to the Scripps’ property were followed by even larger and more elaborate social and community events. In June 1926 Emma Scripps and two of her sisters gave an elaborate garden tea in honor of their other sister, Fannie, Mrs. Frederick C. Sherman.  Mrs. Sherman was moving to Long Beach soon to join her husband, who was an officer aboard the battleship USS West Virginia. The Union reported that the affair, to be given at the Scripps’ home, Braemar, at Pacific Beach, would present a lovely setting with colorful awnings and umbrellas throughout the gardens, and on the beautiful strip of beach which adjoined the garden. An orchestra would provide special music during the afternoon on the spacious lawn.

In 1928 the Scripps’ neighbors, the ZLAC Rowing Club, needed funds to build a clubhouse and money was raised by selling tickets to a May fete in the ‘beautiful and spacious gardens of Mrs. F. T. Scripps who is now an honorary member of the club’. According to the Evening Tribune, the garden fete at the Fred Scripps home in Braemar on June 2 was one of the most important social functions of the season;  ‘The Scripps gardens are among the show places of San Diego, and include many interesting features, among them being the log cabin, where a dark mammy will tell fortunes; an adobe house built by the Indians of Mesa Grande, and an unusually attractive lath house’.

A year later, in April 1929, the Union announced that Brae Mar, the charming home of F. T. Scripps at the head of False Bay, with its colorful gardens and walks, had again been chosen by the ZLAC Rowing Club as the setting for its annual garden fete. In addition to an open air dancing pavilion, a crystal gazer to read fortunes, a Japanese tea room and a novel Indian house, special entertainment for children had been planned; ‘On the Scripps private beach is a replica of the Mayflower and around this boat will be treasure hunts, ponies to ride, and story tellers to interest the little ones’.

Replica of the Mayflower on the beach in front of Braemar Manor (San Diego History Center #2380-2)

By 1931 the ZLAC fete had become a ‘brilliant function’ on the ‘social horizon’ of the ‘elite sets’ in San Diego. The Evening Tribune heralded the Fourth Annual Garden Fete of the ZLAC Rowing Club as the most important of forthcoming affairs; ‘Ever since the first Garden Fete was given four years ago, this function has climaxed the social activities of each Spring season’. The outstanding feature of the afternoon’s entertainment was expected to be the Tom Thumb Wedding in which the little four- and five-year-old sons and daughters of older ZLAC members were to come down through the Grape Arbor to the open garden where the ceremony was to be solemnized. After the event the Tribune reported that the colorful garden fete in the beautiful gardens of Mrs. Fred T. Scripps at Braemar had been one of the most successful ever, with over 1500 guests and over $1000 collected for the new club house fund. An unusually large number of children were present to enjoy the pirate ship, puppet show and Tom Thumb wedding. Miss Ann Packard and her twin sister Mrs. Norman Karns, members of ZLAC crew 11, were in charge of the exciting pirate ship and Myra Rife Smith, another ZLAC member, was the veiled fortune teller.

ZLAC garden fetes were held again in 1932 and 1933, described as the opening event of the early summer season which marked the beginning of the highly enjoyable out-of-doors events which made summer a season of gayety. No fete was held in 1934 however, and in 1935 the Union noted that while Garden Mayfairs are in San Diego’s social tradition, the ZLAC Rowing Club had given up its annual garden party in May at Braemar. Fortunately, the Neighborhood House was carrying on the tradition by opening the George Marston gardens each springtime for a similar fete.

The end of the ZLAC fetes did not mean an end to other social events on the Scripps estate, which included gatherings of the Scripps’ and Jessops’ large extended families. In September 1935 the San Diego Union carried a photo spread (‘Young Society Splashes in Good Old Summertime’), showing cousins Billy Corey, Mitch Corey and Carroll Scripps ready for a slide at Braemar, Carrington Corey, Jack Sherman, George Jessop and Tommy Scripps being taught to swim, and Virginia Corey ready for a plunge, at the home of their grandparents in Pacific Beach.

Frederick T. Scripps died at the age of 85 in January 1936. The brother of the late E. W. Scripps and the late Ellen Browning Scripps was said to have lived quietly, devoting himself to his family and real estate activities. His widow, Emma, remained on the family estate for many years and continued the tradition of gracious entertainment for the community. In July 1936 the Union reported that many of the same attractions seen at the ZLAC affairs were again put to use for a charming English garden fete arranged by the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church in the lovely bayside home of Mrs. F. T. Scripps; ‘booths and tables common to this sort of outdoor fair, fortune tellers of mystic powers, pirate ship and treasure chest attractions for the youngsters, wandering troubadours and Spanish and Mexican dances on the green’. Refreshments would be served in the music room with the assistance of a group of ‘charming sub-debs’.

In 1937 the lovely gardens of Mrs. F. T. Scripps at the foot of Bayard Street in Pacific Beach were scheduled to be the scene of one of the prettiest garden parties of the opening of summer, this time under the auspices of the Pacific Beach Women’s Club. Again, fortune tellers would peer into the future and would reveal what is in store for inquirers and there would be a fish pond and puppet show and treasure chests for the youngsters aboard the old ‘pirate ship’ which stood on the water’s edge of the big estate which borders Mission Bay. The Union even carried a photo of Little Miss Annie Linda Brown and Miss Diana Scripps, cunning granddaughters of Mrs. Scripps, contemplating the beauty of the garden as they planned which of the many exciting things to interest small folk they would patronize at the garden party the following afternoon.

Mrs. Sarah Emma Scripps continued to live at Braemar until her death in September 1954. The 7-acre estate was then acquired by Vernon Taylor and Clinton McKinnon, who began the process of rezoning so that a 3 million dollar hotel could be constructed on the property. Braemar Manor was razed in 1959 and construction began on the Catamaran Motor Hotel, an ‘oriental-styled modern hostelry’ on Mission Bay, with completion anticipated for early summer. In January 1960 the Union’s society columnist attended a party at the new hotel on the site of the ‘Stratford manor house of the late Mr. and Mrs. F. Tudor Scripps’ and reported that the dining room (with cathedral arches) was being developed as a wedding chapel and the Old English garden, setting for the ZLAC fairs of two decades ago, had become severely simple Japanese walks paved with grey beach pebbles from Mexican beaches.

Weddings at the Catamaran Wedding Chapel began in 1962 and were popular until the chapel was again moved to make way for a parking garage in 1986. The building was donated to the Pacific Beach Town Council and moved to a site on the other side of Pacific Beach, a ‘useless and vacant lot’ owned by the Navy on the south side of Garnet Avenue, across from Soledad Mountain Road and bordering Rose Creek. The site had been acquired by the government as part of the wartime Bayview Terrace public housing project and later transferred to the Navy for its Capehart housing project. Nothing was ever built on that particular parcel and the Navy offered to lease the property as a community service. Now known as the Rose Creek Cottage, it is still available for weddings and other special events.

While nothing remains of the F. T. Scripps family’s presence in Pacific Beach, the enduring legacy of the extended Scripps family is familiar to most San Diegans. E. W. and Ellen Browning Scripps provided support for the Marine Biological Association laboratory in La Jolla in 1903; the lab later merged with the University of California, becoming the Scripps Institution for Biological Research, then, as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, was the foundation of the University of California, San Diego campus in La Jolla. Scripps Hospital and Scripps Metabolic Clinic, established by Ellen Scripps in 1924 and originally located near her home in La Jolla, have evolved into Scripps Health, now considered San Diego’s premier health care provider. Ellen Scripps and her sister Virginia also supported The Bishop’s School, founded in 1909, again near her home in La Jolla, and which is still one of San Diego’s, and the country’s, top independent college-prep schools. In 1926 Ellen Scripps founded Scripps College, a women’s liberal arts college on the Claremont Colleges campus in Claremont, California. Miramar, the Scripps’ ranch and their first home in the San Diego area, gave its name to the nearby military air station and the development that grew up around it and when the ranch itself was sold by the Scripps heirs in the 1960s the residential community built on the property was named Scripps Ranch.

The Jessop name is also still remembered in San Diego. Disregarding his doctor’s advice, Joseph Jessop gave up the outdoor life of his ranch in Linda Vista and opened a watchmaking and jewelry shop on F Street downtown. Jessop Jewelers became a San Diego institution and was still operated by the Jessop family until 2018, when the last shop was closed. Jessop’s watchmaking background was memorialized in a 24-foot-tall street clock built over a century ago that had stood outside Jessop Jewelers on Fifth Avenue and more recently in Horton Plaza shopping center. The clock was vandalized and removed from the mall for repair in 2019 but Jim Jessop, Joseph’s grandson, has announced that it will be restored and put on display at a new location.

Legendary Collingwood Estate

In 1974 San Diego Union columnist Frank Rhoades wrote about a businesswoman who had bought a four-story, 14-room Pacific Beach house on a huge lot at 1650 Collingwood Drive in Congress Heights. Rhoades wrote that the famed house had been built early in the century by a state senator named Collingwood and was known as the Senator Collingwood Estate. The new owner, Patrice Dorough, had spent $30,000 restoring it to the mansion it was when built in 1914. An ad in the Union a few years later (‘View View View’) offered the ‘prestigious Collingwood estate’ for lease, a 4 BR, 2 ½ ba home w/turn-of-the century charm. Rhoades soon reported that the historic 17-room house, built in 1910, the main structure on the Collingwood estate and perhaps the first house in Pacific Beach, had been leased.

Patrice Dorough did live at 1650 Collingwood in the 1970s and perhaps she did have her residence restored to what it had been in 1914, but what it had been then was not the estate of a mythical state senator, much less the first house in Pacific Beach, but instead the home built for a young Pacific Beach real estate salesman named Charles Norris. In August 1913 the San Diego Union listed a building permit for a nine-room frame residence at Wilbur near Jewell in Pacific Beach, valued at $6500. A month later the Union followed up with a story that included a ‘perspective design’ of the residence and provided what amounted to a guided tour:

The house is entered through a porch having a cement floor and steps leading thereto. The reception hall is of white enamel trim, with birch doors and window sash stained with a mahogany finish, the stairs are of the old colonial type, having a spiral newel post composed of a spindle balustrade carried around a central post and on up the stairs. The spindrels, risers and strings are to be painted white, while the hand rail and treads will be of birch with a mahogany finish. The dining room, which is large and has light from two sides with French doors leading onto a side porch, is finished the same as the hall. The living room is finished in a natural white cedar. In this room is a large tile mantel of unique design, and bookcases. The kitchen and pantry are in white enamel and have all the built-in features.

On the second floor there are four bedrooms, a sewing room and two baths with tile floor and base. This floor is to be finished entirely in white enamel.

In the basement there is a large furnace room, storage room and a cistern with pump to furnish the house with rain water. A solar heater on the roof will supply hot water. The entire exterior is to be plastered over metal lath.

The structure was designed and is being erected by the Pacific Building Company.

The Evening Tribune reported in November 1913 that the beautiful new home of Charles Norris, under construction on the hills, was nearing completion; ‘It is the first residence being built on the new tract just opened, owned by A. H. Frost. The grounds are being improved and a number of sites are being located for other new homes. Mr. Norris and family expect to be settled in their new home for the Christmas holidays.’

Like most property in Pacific Beach at the time, the site had belonged to the San Diego Beach Company, the former Folsom Bros. Co. renamed in 1911 when the Folsom brothers retired and A. H. Frost became president. In 1913 the company had transferred about four blocks north of Beryl Street and between Ingraham and Kendall streets to Frost, and in early 1914 Frost incorporated these blocks into a new subdivision to be called the Congress Heights Addition. The map of Congress Heights replaced Wilbur Street with Collingwood Drive and added Malden Street, Monmouth Drive and Colina Street (the original map included a short section of Jewell Street which was extended when Colina Street was renamed Jewell in 1926). The recently completed house, the only residence in the new subdivision, stood on lots 119 and 120, at the corner of Collingwood and Colina in the center of Congress Heights. The assessed value of the improvement in the city’s tax books was $750 (compared to an average assessment of $150-$250 for other houses in Pacific Beach).

In April 1915 Pacific Beach was the subject of the San Diego Union’s series of ‘Little Journeys to the Suburbs’ which reported that PB was one of the most desirable of the local communities, a locality of homes composed largely of people who had retired from active business. Several of the county’s show places were within its environs, notably the homes of F. T. Scripps, James H. Haskins and Charles C. Norris (the Scripps home, also assessed at $750, once stood where the Catamaran is now and the Haskins home, assessed at $450, is still standing on Diamond Street across from the middle school).

Charles Norris was not one of those Pacific Beach residents who had retired from active business. When he moved in to his new home around the Christmas holidays in 1913 he was not yet thirty years old and was an active real estate salesman. In the 1900 census he had been living on Julian Street in the Ocean View area of San Diego with his mother Sarah and his older sister Alice. Charles, age 15, was ‘at school’ at that time and a ‘student’ in the 1903 city directory, by which time the family had moved to 1534 Fifth Street. In April 1903 the family apparently visited La Jolla; a list of arrivals at the Seaside Inn included Mrs. S. R. Norris, Alice G. Norris and Chas. Norris (A. H. Frost was also on the list and they may have first met there). By 1904, when the family lived at 1644 Tenth Street, near the corner of Tenth and Date, Charles was a clerk at E. J. Swayne, a local real estate office. Charles Norris was listed as a salesman at E. J. Swayne in the 1905 city directory.

The Norris family made news in September 1906 when their home at Tenth and Date streets was burglarized while the family were out calling on some friends on Golden Hill. According to the Evening Tribune, when Mrs. Norris and son Charles Norris of the E. J. Swayne real estate company returned home about 9:20 o’clock they were surprised to find the doors open and to hear someone moving about the house, but the thief had seen their approach and darted out the rear door when they entered. Within the house everything was turned upside down, drawers being opened on the floor and the whole house in general disorder. The Tribune noted that the thieves were experts of the highest order; they took only the solid silver, discarding the plate, and only the best of Mrs. Norris’ and her daughter’s jewelry. Charles Norris, immediately after phoning to police headquarters, set out after the thieves, tracking them from footprints under the window. The plunder taken consisted of many valuable pieces of silver and jewelry many of which were heirlooms of the family, the total value being about $500. The police were watching all trains and had notified the jewelry stores and pawnshops.

About a week later the thief was caught by police officers at the San Diego Savings Bank when he attempted to change a pocketful of small change. The Tribune explained that at one of his recent heists he had gotten away with the contents of a child’s savings bank containing about $20, mostly in small silver and nickels. The police surmised that the thief would attempt to change this ‘chicken feed’ into money of larger denomination, and had requested all banks, saloons, cigar stores and business houses to be on the watch and report anything suspicious. After prolonged ‘sweating’ following his arrest, H. F. Hammond broke down and confessed to robbing five residences and was jailed in lieu of $2,000 bond. He had been living at the Willard Hotel and on searching the room the stolen jewelry was found hidden between the sides of the upper drawer of his bureau and its outside casing. From Mrs. Norris’ residence he had taken two watches, one of which was a lady’s silver watch; two solid gold necklaces, one diamond ring worth over $75, two gold rings, one pair of diamond ear rings, two gold chain watch fobs, one costly razor, one silver neck chain and one diamond pin.

In 1907 the Norris family moved to Pacific Beach where they lived in a home owned by A. H. Frost at the northwest corner of Olney Street and Garnet Avenue. Charles Norris still worked for E. J. Swayne but was also involved in real estate transactions on his own account, including a lot with a nine-room house on Fifth Street between Maple and Nutmeg ‘amidst the best in the Florence Heights residence section’ which he bought for $6000 as an investment in 1908. In 1909 Norris sold a lot on Tenth between I and J streets to D. C. Reed for $5000. C. C. Norris also owned unimproved property in Pacific Beach, including several lots on Diamond Street across Ingraham from the Haskins home. Mrs. Norris was active in social circles in Pacific Beach; she was one of the ‘handsomely gowned’ ladies who assisted Mrs. Haskins in receiving at the annual reception for the Pacific Beach Reading Club in December 1908 and was also among the guests present at the club rooms of the Pacific Beach Country Club on the occasion of the 12th wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Pease in 1909 (Mr. Pease was secretary of the San Diego Beach Company). The 1910 census found the family still living on Garnet Avenue, Charles reporting his occupation as real estate salesman and Sarah as ‘own income’.

In the years after 1910 Charles Norris apparently left E. J. Swayne and worked independently out of an office in the Granger building on Fifth Street downtown while continuing to live with his mother and sister in Pacific Beach. After moving into the house in Congress Heights in 1914 his listing in the San Diego city directory no longer referred to a downtown office, simply listing his occupation as ‘real estate’ and his residence (and his mother’s and sister’s) as ‘nr Lamont North Pacific Beach’.

The 1916 city directory listing for Charles Norris, real estate, added that he worked at 4437 Lamont Street, the address of A. H. Frost’s San Diego Beach Company office, formerly the office of Folsom Bros. Co. and before that the Pacific Beach Hotel (the building had been moved to the corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets from the beach area by Sterling Honeycutt in 1897). Although he lived at the home on Collingwood Drive until 1918 that property (and all other property in Congress Heights) was also actually owned by A. H. Frost.

In July 1918 Charles Norris married Miss Ethel Thomas in Toledo, Ohio, and after an extended wedding trip the couple returned to Pacific Beach in August. Miss Thomas had lived on Collingwood Avenue in Toledo and there is speculation that she had a hand in naming the street in Congress Heights (even though the street was named years before her marriage and relocation to Pacific Beach). The couple did not remain on Collingwood for long, however; they were not listed in the 1919 San Diego city directory and the 1920 census showed Charles and Ethel Norris living in Monroe, Michigan, near Toledo, where he was a salesman for Delco Light. They did return to California after a few years, first to Riverside and, fifteen years later, Pasadena, and finally to Orange County.

A. H. Frost sold lots 119 and 120 of Congress Heights to William Young in November 1918 and in April 1919 it was sold again, to Carolyne Percy. In 1932 Mrs. Percy sold the property to Charles Benton, a paint manufacturer and roofing contractor. When the Bentons moved in it was still the only address on Collingwood Drive but with the population explosion in Pacific Beach during and after the second world war the Bentons had 14 neighbors on Collingwood by 1954. In 1960 the home was owned by retired rear admiral John Andrew and made news when a 21-month-old baby who had wandered away from a nearby birthday party fell into the pool. The baby was pulled out within minutes and resuscitated by a neighbor using mouth-to-mouth respiration.

The Norris home had originally occupied two lots and was surrounded on three sides by streets; Collingwood Drive, Malden Street and Colina (later Jewell) Street. In 1961 Admiral Andrew sold the eastern-most 50 feet of lot 120, facing Jewell Street, and the new owners built a home there, at 4960 Jewell, completing the buildout of homes on the block. What was once the first residence in a new tract, and a notable show place, is now one of the row of elegant homes lining Collingwood Drive, but the one with a legacy (and a legend).

Pacific Beach Historical Society Photo

Springtime in PB

Vacant lots and other undeveloped spots around Pacific Beach have turned a brilliant shade of green after a series of winter storms blew ashore in January. In 2019 these undeveloped spots are few and far between and the greenery is only apparent in isolated islands between streets, sidewalks and houses.  It makes you wonder what it would have looked like before all the development occurred.

Actually, news reports from those early days did comment on the natural beauty of Pacific Beach after winter and spring rains. In January 1888 the only development in Pacific Beach was a hastily-constructed railway line built along what became Balboa Avenue. The line had been completed as far as Lamont Street in time to deliver more than 2500 people from San Diego to a hillside a couple of blocks north for the laying of the corner-stone of the San Diego College of Letters, the first substantial building in the month-old community. No one could have wished for a better January day, according to the San Diego Union; clouds were threatening rain in the morning but before the second train-load of excursionists reached Pacific Beach the sun had broken through the clouds and the green grass contributed to a sublime scene at the college campus. The San Diego Daily Bee added that the new campus was a lovely spot on a verdant slope. One of the speakers at the corner-stone ceremony also described the spring-like verdure, with the whole scene bathed in perennial sunshine. The college opened in September of 1888 but was not a success and closed in early 1891. The buildings remained, however, and were reopened in 1905 as the Hotel Balboa. A color (or colorized) post card from that time still shows a sublime scene of spring-like verdure bathed in sunshine (in 2019 the site is a parking lot at Pacific Plaza II).

When the college closed most of the academic community moved away but some remained and found the verdant slope surrounding the campus to be ideal for lemon cultivation. Several hundred acres were planted and in March 1895 a report in the Union stated that the lemon trees never looked finer nor made better growth. In other parts of Pacific Beach the fertile soil and winter rains combined to produce crops of grain and hay; the report in May 1895 was that hundreds of acres of grain were being harvested and the yield was good. The hillsides above the fields and orchards also benefited from the rain; the Union reported in February 1897 that ‘the hills and valleys hereabouts are clad in the most attractive emerald’.

Not every year was so ideal. In November 1897 men and teams and plows were said to be at work from daylight until dark getting ready to put in the seed for next year’s hay crop but in March 1898 the news was that although these grain-fields still looked green the need of rain was becoming very urgent. By August less than an inch of additional rain had fallen and the Union reported that the water situation was becoming serious. The ranches nearest the hillside were the greatest sufferers; the lemon ranches were irrigated but there was not enough water to supply the ranches at higher elevations. The Union’s Pacific Beach correspondent added that it was hoped that the experience of August 1873 would be repeated, when 1.95 inches of rain fell. However no rain did fall that August and only another quarter of an inch fell over the next three months.

1899 seemed destined to perpetuate the drought conditions in Pacific Beach. In March the news was that the seriousness of the water situation overshadowed every other topic. The service had been very insufficient for several days and the higher levels were feeling the situation very keenly. However in early May a delightful shower freshened the grass and trees wonderfully and a connection with a well in Rose Canyon had improved the water service. Showers in October were very welcome; the air was clear and beautiful and everyone seemed happy, not because a sufficient amount had fallen but because of the promise of more. By November 1899 the fields and hillsides were taking on the bountiful green so dear to all lovers of nature and O. J. Stough had nearly finished seeding 1200 acres to hay around the Beach.

Winter rains greeted the arrival of the twentieth century; the report from Pacific Beach in January 1900 was that the grain fields were beautiful and farmers said the prospects were never better. By March the grain was looking well since the rain and Pacific Beach ranches were a very pretty sight, the rich dark green of the orange trees mingled with the shades of the fruit from lightest green to deep yellow, contrasted with the pink and white of the peach blossoms. In April the ranches were busy picking lemons and the mowing machines were busy cutting O. J. Stough’s hay.

Although the young grain was looking well and pasture was good early in March 1901 another rain was ‘about due’. Apparently it did arrive on or around March 21, the date of the spring equinox. The report from Pacific Beach was that the ‘equinoctial’ rain was much needed and brought the grain along in fine shape (the correspondent added that arrangements should be made to have an equinox twice a month the whole year). The weather continued to be uncooperative, however. Most of the hay on the beach had been cut by mid-April 1901 but the Evening Tribune reported in late April that after holding off when it could have done the most good, a storm came ‘just in time to catch the new hay in the cocks so the farmers will have to fork it all over’ (ideally farmers ‘make hay while the sun shines’). The hay balers were back at work by the end of May and a quantity of hay was baled and shipped out.

The beneficial effects of winter rains became a common theme in the news from Pacific Beach in the new century. In January 1902 the Tribune reported that all the rain had soaked into the ground, which showed how very dry the earth must have been, but the hills had begun to show green and the lemon trees were looking well and were bearing heavily, with the promise of good price in the near future. A year later, in April 1903, the Union reported that recent rains had made fishing in False Bay (Mission Bay) very good, which kept the anglers busy when not employed in the orchards. The hay was all cut and most of it cured and the orchards were laden with bloom, not only with orange and lemon blossoms but with peach, pear and plum. Although 1903 and 1904 were relatively dry years, 1905 had the second highest annual rainfall ever recorded to that time in San Diego, over 16 inches. In June the Union reported that never had old Soledad been more lovely, with his mantle of variegated green and yellow, the tones of which vary with every hour of the day. The low-lying mesas between La Jolla and San Diego took on a more brilliant coat of red as many varieties of ice plant neared maturity and mingled with the long blooming sunshine flower.

O. J. Stough sold his holdings of over half the territory of Pacific Beach to Folsom Bros. Co. in November 1903. While Stough had plowed and seeded hundreds of acres of his land in the fall to harvest grain and cut hay in the spring, Folsom Bros. Co. was a real estate company that hoped to convert this undeveloped acreage into residential lots. By 1907 they were grading streets and pouring concrete sidewalks, and a subsidiary, Pacific Building Company, was incorporated to build homes for new lot owners. Lemon ranching had also gone into decline as eastern markets were increasingly supplied with lemons from across the Atlantic, particularly from Sicily, and some former lemon ranchers re-subdivided their land into residential lots. As more streets and sidewalks were paved and more houses built, fewer sublime scenes of variegated green were to be seen after winter rains (although the Union reported in 1908 that the people of Pacific Beach had been given a treat from Mother Nature in the fields of wild flowers that cover the hills back of the residence section).

The springtime displays continued to be noted for a few more years in the San Diego Union’s annual New Year’s day report of suburban communities. The Union wrote in 1918 that after the rainy season, which occurred in the winter months, the hills and every available spot in Pacific Beach were ablaze with wild flowers and all vegetation sprang into marvelous growth. No one could do justice to the advantages of living in this particular spot of Southern California. In 1922 the report was that the town occupied a site that might have been chosen by the gods. The setting was that of a beautiful picture in which no form of natural beauty had been omitted. To the north and east were green hills. ‘In such environs abide health and beauty. Hebe herself must have made this her dwelling place.’ (Hebe was the goddess of youth, and cupbearer for the gods and goddesses, serving their nectar and ambrosia).

Population growth and a new surge of residential development and street improvement following the war years of the 1940s eliminated most of the remaining open ground in central Pacific Beach, but for a while there were still green hills to the north and east in the springtime. When Kate Sessions Elementary School was opened at that corner of the community in 1956 this former student can remember a field of yellow mustard extending up the slope to a saddleback on the ridge. The development of Pacifica and Wesley Palms in 1960 replaced the green hills to the east, and the natural look of the hills to the north also disappeared as development continued up the slope of Mount Soledad. But even today, verdure can appear in undeveloped spots following winter rains; the San Diego Union-Tribune commented that the grass along local freeways had turned ‘greener than an Irish meadow’ after heavy rains in February 2019.

PB’s Hotel Balboa

In July 1904 the San Diego Evening Tribune reported that after five days’ careful consideration of over 1,200 names submitted for their new hotel at Pacific Beach, Folsom Bros. Co. wished to announce that the name finally selected was Hotel Balboa. Ten different contestants had suggested the name and Folsom Bros. awarded the prize, choice of a $100 lot in Pacific Beach or $100 in gold, to the first; the other nine would be eligible for a $20 discount on any lot they may select from the company’s holdings. Folsom Bros. Co. had received letters from all over the United States and even from Canada and considered the name a happy choice as the discoverer of the mighty western sea would always be associated with the Pacific Coast. That a splendid hostelry, where the weary traveler may find rest and recuperation, should be built upon the shores of the sea which he discovered and should bear his name seemed both timely and appropriate.

San Diego College of Letters, Pacific Beach, 1888. (SDHC #9800)

The splendid hostelry to be named after the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean was not actually new. The original building had been built in 1888 for the San Diego College of Letters on its campus north of what is now Garnet Avenue and west of Lamont Street. It was the first substantial structure in Pacific Beach, designed and built by James W. Reid, architect of the Hotel del Coronado. A second college building was added in January 1890, just west of the original building and across Garnet from Kendall Street. That building was funded by O. J. Stough, owner of most of Pacific Beach at the time, and became known as Stough Hall. The college failed in 1891 and the college campus property was the subject of several foreclosure auctions at the courthouse door before being acquired by William Johnston, minister of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, with the intention of reestablishing a college at the site. However, the college project never materialized and instead Rev. Johnston and his family moved into the main building and also rented rooms to boarders and visitors, especially easterners visiting during the winter season. By 1901 it was listed in the San Diego city directory as the College Inn, with Rev. Johnston as secretary and manager. Stough Hall became the venue for dances and other community activities for Pacific Beach residents.

Folsom Bros. Co. was a real estate company that controlled the Fortuna Park additions south of Pacific Beach and in 1903 purchased O. J. Stough’s holdings, giving it control of the majority of the property in Pacific Beach as well. To stimulate lot sales Folsom Bros. began a program of improvement and development, grading streets and adding curbs and sidewalks in what was then the center of the community, the area around Hornblend and Kendall streets south of the college campus. In April 1904 the company also leased the campus itself, the four blocks surrounded by Garnet Avenue and Jewell, Emerald and Lamont streets which included the College Inn and Stough Hall. In addition to $50 per month rent Folsom Bros. would be required to spend a like amount in improving and repairing the grounds and buildings – painting the inn was particularly mentioned. The terms included an option to continue the lease for a second year at $100 per month or to purchase the property for $15,000. Folsom Bros. announced that the property would be developed into a first class resort.

After deciding on the appropriate name in July, Folsom Bros. began the conversion of the former college into the promised first class resort. The company announced in September 1904 that a subsidiary, the Pacific Beach Construction Company, would be incorporated to undertake the development and complete the Hotel Balboa. The work was still underway in April 1905 when Folsom Bros. Co. exercised its option to purchase the college campus from Rev. Johnston. In August 1905, the San Diego Union announced that the new Hotel Balboa would be thrown open to the traveler and tourist, although the regular formal opening would take place later, at the beginning of the winter season. Travelers and tourists responded; the weekly Pacific Beach news column listed guests from Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Arizona and Texas during October and November. In mid-November, artistically printed folders and cards distributed throughout the city announced that the new Hotel Balboa was offering the general and traveling public a low special rate for a few weeks until the formal winter opening, affording an unusual opportunity to enjoy a period of sea and bay side life at this favorite Southern California resort at greatly reduced rates.

The Union’s annual New Year’s Day review of San Diego’s communities in 1906 proclaimed the opening of the magnificent Hotel Balboa in the very heart of Pacific Beach to be of first importance among the large number of improvements that had taken place in that suburb during the year 1905. In point of architectural beauty, location and appointment it stood second to none in San Diego. The grounds were in process of being adorned and beautified by flower gardens, stately walks and drives and it had been furnished throughout in admirable style and was capable of accommodating over 100 guests. It was situated on an eminence over 100 feet above sea level giving a magnificent view of every aspect of scenery that this favored spot afforded. A feature that the guests found especially interesting was the observatory erected over the building which contained the dining room and ballroom, which brought the whole country in the environs plainly into view (the dining room and ballroom were in Stough Hall; the ‘observatory’ was the tower Rev. Johnston had built over Stough Hall in 1898). To the south lay Mission Bay, one of the finest bodies of still water in California, four miles long and two miles wide with exceptional opportunity for indulgence in still water sports. The bathing and boating was ideal and during duck season its surface was covered with all sorts of birds. The hotel’s cuisine was un-excelled and its rates reasonable, ranging from two dollars a day upward. Every room had an outside exposure and was provided with city water, electric lights and telephones. The new and elegant furnishings and excellent service made it a delightful spot in which to rest or recreate.

However, the hotel’s first season was a short one. In April 1906 the last two guests, Alexander and Mary McGillivray, returned to North Dakota and the hotel closed for the summer to allow improvements that would greatly add to its list of attractions (the McGillivrays were winter visitors who owned a 20-acre ranch four blocks south of the hotel that never had a ranch house of its own). Larger palms in the ballroom and ping-pong room and several exterior cozy corners were among the latest features. Additional work on the ballroom floor made it so tempting that impromptu dances had been held nearly every night since its completion. Although the hotel itself was closed, many people, both residents and tourists, spent a day or more at Pacific Beach and the Hotel Balboa. Most of them came out of curiosity, having heard what an excellent place it is for a day’s rest or outing. Garnet Avenue had been graded and surfaced with oil and driving over the fine oiled boulevard delighted many of the visitors. Young people found great enjoyment swimming, boating and playing on the hotel tennis courts. It not being in the nature of young people to sit still, the evenings usually ended on that slippery floor in dancing.

That ballroom was the scene of a ‘floral contest’ in June 1906, a ‘fairyland of color and costume’. The San Diego Union reported that the ballroom never looked more beautiful and there had never been a larger or more delighted concourse of people assembled there. Almost the entire population of Pacific Beach turned out, along with visitors from La Jolla, San Diego and Los Angeles. The ping-pong room, converted into a reception hall, was canopied with huge pepper boughs. In the large bay-window alcove of the ballroom cypress branches were used and their pungent fragrance filled the entire building. The ballroom itself was one great bower of palms. Miss Lena Campbell won the prize for the most artistic floral costume, a white princess gown covered with asparagus fern and white carnations. One woman appeared in the unique but somewhat startling costume of Mother Eve, modernized by a black dress under the fig leaves. There were many in white with ropes, wreaths and solid banks of roses, lilies, honeysuckle and other flowers.

Hotel Balboa had been conceived as a year-round resort, and in June 1906 Folsom Bros. Co. published a letter in the Union addressed ‘to the pleasure seeker’; with the approaching of summer the one thought which comes to all is ‘Where shall we spend our vacation?’. The letter suggested that in forming a decision the main points to be taken into consideration should be the opportunities for a complete rest and change, the number of pastimes and pleasures to be enjoyed and lastly the expense. The Hotel Balboa was the most delightful year round resort hotel on the coast; the beautiful parlors, wide verandas, large airy comfortably furnished sleeping apartments, cozy, light dining rooms and the very best cuisine, a large ballroom with splendid floor for dancing, and out of door sports, such as tennis on new double tennis courts, croquet, boating and bathing on Mission Bay, pleasures on the beautiful beach, driving, shooting and rambling in the foothills were but a few of the delightful amusements. There were special weekly and monthly rates for the summer season. The hotel’s amenities and amusements were also described in a beautifully illustrated brochure.

Pacific Beach celebrated the Fourth of July in 1906 with picnic lunches at the beach, games and sports, songs, addresses, a concert by the city guard band and fireworks. Although these activities would take place at the beach, the day would begin and end at the Hotel Balboa. All carriages, automobiles, bicycles, etc., would assemble at the hotel at 8:30 a. m. to march to the water front and after the fireworks display in the evening from the cliff at Diamond Street would return for dancing at Hotel Balboa. The Evening Tribune reported that the program was carried out smoothly from the beginning of the parade until the last dance at midnight.

Activities at the Hotel Balboa increased as the summer season advanced in 1906 but the San Diego Union noted that formal affairs did not find as much favor as impromptu musicales, card parties and dances. Outdoor activities were also popular; from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all who could be coaxed off the veranda and shaded lawns spent that time in and on the bay, and many enthusiastic fishermen sought the surf every evening. Everyone drives, as the afternoon cools, or else plays tennis or croquet. The young people of Pacific Beach had begun practicing tennis and hoped before long to announce a tournament. After dinner, cards and games were brought out and at the hotel few evenings pass without a visit to the ballroom by the devotees of the dance. For the card games in the parlors of the Hotel Balboa, dignified games like whist were put aside for more frolicsome games of hearts or black-jack. Parties from the hotel also went boating at night to see the ‘phosphorus’, the glassy surface of Mission Bay lighting up wonderfully with the movement of the boat and touch of the oars.

Improvements continued in 1907; Folsom Bros. ads for Pacific Beach real estate noted that the grounds of the Hotel Balboa were being laid out and developed at great expense by the eminent landscape architect responsible for the beautiful Westlake, Eastlake, Elysian, Echo and Hollenbeck parks in Los Angeles. In February a building permit was issued for a pergola connecting the two buildings of the Hotel Balboa, valued at $1000. The Union reported in July that for six months men and teams had been digging, cutting, filling and leveling on the grounds of the Hotel Balboa. The grounds had been laid out on the front and rear and on the west side of the hotel in curb drives and walks, spaces for grass plots and squares for cottages. No planting had been done as yet and would not be until winter rains came but looking at the grounds from the tower over the ballroom of the hotel one could see the lines and curves and could not but realize that the hand of an artist had been at work.

The 1907 makeover of the hotel also involved a change in management and a different approach to the visitor experience. Folsom Bros. had marketed the hotel as a first-class resort, a place for out-of-town visitors to spend a vacation, but in the summer of 1907 ads described Hotel Balboa as a most home-like family hotel, a delightful and restful place in which to spend the ‘week end’. Although the new decorations, furnishings and alterations that had been in progress for several months were not entirely completed, the new management decided to throw open the hotel for its first ’week end’ in July and as a result the house was filled to overflowing with a very select party of San Diego business and professional men and their wives and families. Some came Saturday morning but most arrived on the 3:30 train, prepared to stay until Sunday evening. An eight-course dinner was served at 6 o’clock in the new dining room and then the new ballroom was thrown open and a well-known orchestra called young and old to the dance, which lasted until midnight.

By August 1907 the Union was reporting that the ‘week ends’ recently inaugurated by the new management of Hotel Balboa were proving a great success and seemed to fill a want long felt by those of San Diego’s business and professional men who, with their families, liked to get away from home and business surroundings for a quiet Sunday of rest and recreation. Ever since the recent remodeling and refitting of the hotel the idea of spending weekends at Hotel Balboa had been growing in favor, and now every Saturday afternoon the train dropped an increasing number of people at Pacific Beach to enjoy the outing so that the number of ‘week enders’ together with the regular guests of the hotel filled the house to overflowing. Interestingly, many of the arrivals listed in reports of the hotel ‘week ends’ were Pacific Beach residents and their wives who were unlikely to have arrived on the Saturday afternoon train. Mr. and Mrs. James H. Haskins, whose home was at the corner of Diamond and Ingraham streets, and A. S. Lane, whose home on Hornblend near Kendall (now the Baldwin Academy) was within shouting distance of the hotel, probably walked. Not all the guests were local either; hotel arrivals in September included Mr. and Mrs. A. F. MacFarland, who apparently liked what they saw in the vicinity and bought lots at the corner of Beryl and Lamont where they built the neo-classical home that is still standing there.

San Diegans were again well represented at the Hotel Balboa ‘week ends’ in September, filling the popular hotel to overflowing. The vaudeville entertainment given in the ballroom proved to be the best ever, creating screams of laughter from all sides of the room. The performers (who were dressed up as crows, even to beak and claws) were called back again and again. In addition to the 50 hotel guests, 100 Pacific Beach and La Jolla residents were present. Following the performance light refreshments were served and dancing indulged in until the midnight hour. The hotel arrivals column listed the 50 guests, most of whom were residents of San Diego and again included many Pacific Beach residents including the Haskins and also F. J. Hinkle and family (who lived in the house now at Law and Ingraham streets) and Mr. and Mrs. F. T. Scripps (of the former Braemar mansion at the foot of Bayard). Mrs. Scripps’ sisters, Misses Violet and Fannie Jessop from Coronado, were also hotel guests. Out-of-town visitors in September 1907 included a group of nine ‘Hawaiian beauties’ who visited Pacific Beach, where they were met with carriages and taken by Folsom Bros. on a drive. The tour included a stop at the Hotel Balboa where they had about an hour and a half to themselves; they played pool, danced and sang many of their native songs, then were guests at a delightful tea given by Folsom Bros.

The hotel ‘week ends’ for business and professional people from San Diego came to an end in 1907 and by early 1908 the news was of the entertainment and social activities held at the hotel; old-fashioned dances and songs in the ballroom and whist in the card rooms. Manager C. B. Combe gave a sailing party on Mission Bay and members of the Pacific Beach theatrical club were rehearsing for their entertainment, to be given in the hotel theater. There would be a minstrel part, followed by vaudeville, then refreshments and dancing. In March 1908 a ‘baby party’ was one of the most enjoyable events ever given at the popular house. Every room was full and many guests had to be turned away. A number of gentlemen chose the Buster Brown costume, some appeared as Little Lord Fauntleroy and others were simply Mamma’s Pets in loose jumpers and big sashes. The ladies were so charming that it was a pity they could not dress in the sweet simple costume of a child at all times. The new tennis courts were finished, and although hotel arrivals included some parties from New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and even Nome, Alaska, most arrivals were from the local area, perhaps responding to ads emphasizing a homelike atmosphere and the lowest rates in the city; family rates were said to be lower than housekeeping.

In February 1908 W. W. Whitson, president of the Hillcrest Company, purchased an interest in Folsom Bros. Co. and was installed as its first vice-president and treasurer. In May, Mr. and Mrs. Whitson held a ball and card party at the Hotel Balboa that the society page of the Union called one of the most pretentious society events of the season. Between four and five hundred guests from San Diego took the La Jolla line train from Fourth and C streets downtown, special rates having been secured for their accommodation. On arrival at the pretty village of Pacific Beach a broad boulevard lighted by hundreds of swaying Japanese lanterns led to the brilliantly illuminated hotel, where elaborate decorations of palms, greenery and geraniums were arranged throughout the picturesque rambling structure. A list of the hundreds of guests, a virtual who’s who of San Diego society at the time, was continued on a second page (Mr. Whitson’s association with Folsom Bros. Co., and the hotel, ended in November 1908 when the Folsom brothers bought out his interest).

While the ballroom and other amenities were popular for dances and other community activities and the hotel rooms could be filled on weekends by local residents attracted by the lowest rates in town, the Hotel Balboa never became the commercial success that Folsom Bros. Co. had anticipated and by 1909 it was apparently closed; no ads had appeared since mid-1908, it was no longer listed in the ‘hotel arrivals’ columns and guests were no longer mentioned in the news reports from Pacific Beach. When a group of leading Pacific Beach citizens, including Mr. MacFarland and Mr. Haskins, formed the Pacific Beach Country Club in February 1909 a portion of the Hotel Balboa was sub-leased for their club rooms. When the country club hosted a delightful dance in May 1909 the ‘north wing of the big hostelry’ was turned over to the guests of the club, about fifty of whom were taken out from San Diego on a new gasoline motor car, which made a special round trip for the occasion (one of the new McKeen rail cars, or ‘Red Devils’, introduced to the La Jolla line in 1908).

The hotel buildings and grounds were ready for other opportunities and in November 1910 Captain Thomas A. Davis, a veteran of the Puerto Rican campaign of the Spanish American War, leased the property and opened the San Diego Army and Navy Academy on the site. Although there were only thirteen cadets in the first class and he was the only instructor, the academy thrived under Capt. Davis’ leadership and soon outgrew the original hotel buildings. After considering a move to a larger facility in the Loma Portal area Davis instead purchased the college campus property in 1921 and in 1923 added on by acquiring the two blocks on the north side of the campus and two more blocks on the west side in 1925.

The hotel buildings continued to be used for teaching and administration but the growing battalion of cadets was housed first in rows of wooden cottages and then in enormous reinforced concrete barracks built between 1928 and 1930. The cost of this building program combined with the economic downturn of the Great Depression led to the academy’s bankruptcy in 1936 but it was taken over in 1937 by the John E. Brown College Corp. and operated until 1958 as Brown Military Academy. The property was then developed into a shopping center and the old buildings, once the Hotel Balboa and originally the San Diego College of Letters, were demolished. Workers razing the buildings found a tin baking soda can containing newspapers, maps and other articles placed in the cornerstone at its dedication in 1888.

Today the only reminder of these earlier times is a small monument dedicated to Brown Military Academy outside a Chinese restaurant in the shopping center. The monument includes an aerial photo of the academy that shows the buildings that had once been the Hotel Balboa – and are now a parking lot.

Train Wreck and Reckoning

On January 16, 1908, the 1:55 PM train with 30 passengers bound for Pacific Beach and La Jolla departed from the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway station at the foot of C Street in San Diego. According to the San Diego Union, the train was steaming through Middletown at a fair rate of speed when it left the rails and plowed along the ties for fully 300 feet before the engine turned over on its side at right angles to the track. The engineer, Thomas Robertson, was pinned in the engine’s cab by the reverse lever and scalded to death by steam escaping from the boiler. The fireman, Thomas Fitzgerald, was hurled head foremost into a clump of cactus and also badly burned by escaping steam (he died of his injuries 10 days later). Although women screamed and men made for the doors, the two coaches and mixed coach/baggage car making up the train remained upright and came to a standstill amid the hiss of the steam. Not a passenger was even so much as scratched nor was there a window in either of the three cars broken; the fright incident to the cars bumping along over the ties and a severe shaking up summed up the damage to the passengers.

The Union interviewed one passenger, Miss Zoe Overshiner, a 16-year-old girl from Pacific Beach who was on a front seat of the first car and ‘tells a graphic story of the accident’:

I was talking with [a] friend of mine about something, I’ve forgotten what it was now, when all of a sudden the engine began to act funny and our car began bumping heavily. This was due, as we afterwards found out to the fact that it had left the rails. The first shock was not so bad as might have been expected and we were not frightened until we saw the engine plunge over the bank and turn over on its side. Then the steam hid the engine and I climbed through the window of the car and jumped to the ground. I didn’t want to get hurt and the door wouldn’t open, or at least, I though it wouldn’t. I don’t remember whether I screamed. Maybe I did. It was enough to make any one scream when the engine reared up in the air and turned over on its side. It’s no joke to be in a railroad wreck.

The writer added that ‘it is probable that she is right’.

The 1908 train wreck occurred where Winder Street then crossed the railroad right-of-way, near where West Washington Street passes under I-5 today. The immediate cause was said to have been ‘spreading of the rails’; spikes holding one of the rails to the ties had come loose, the rail had shifted and the engine had fallen through and bumped along on the ties. The railroad company admitted that while much of the line had recently been improved with heavier 60-pound rails, the work of relaying the track had stopped short of the site of the accident, where the rails were of the lighter 35-pound type first used on the line and in service ever since. However, the company claimed that the track where the wreck occurred had been put in good shape two or three days before.

Like Miss Overshiner, most of the passengers who had been scared and severely shaken up in the accident were residents of Pacific Beach or La Jolla, and the two victims were also long-time local residents. Thomas Fitzgerald had worked for what was then the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railway when it was first completed to the foot of Grand Avenue in 1888, and he had built a house on Reed Avenue near the depot there. Thomas Robertson’s family had once lived in the Pacific Beach Hotel building near the depot and Mrs. Robertson was a charter member of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. When the railroad was extended to La Jolla in 1894, becoming the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla Railway, these railway employees had moved to its new base there, where the Robertsons’ home was noted for its rose garden (although the company’s name was changed again in 1906, suggesting a move even further up the coast, the tracks were never extended beyond La Jolla).

Understandably, a fatal train wreck involving a number of their fellow citizens and raising doubts about the safety of their only transportation link to the city caused concern, and sparked anger and outrage, in the affected communities. On January 27, eleven days after the accident, the Union reported that 25 or 30 people attended a hearing before the city council of a petition signed by nearly 200 citizens of Pacific Beach, La Jolla and other points along the line of the LA&SDB asking for an investigation (at the time there were only about 300 households in Pacific Beach and La Jolla combined):

We the undersigned, citizens of Old Town and patrons of the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach railway, most respectfully request that your honorable body fully investigate the conditions and methods of said railroad. That all laws and ordinances of every kind regulating said railroad be vigorously enforced, so that not only our rights as citizens be secured, our comforts and conveniences be regarded, but our lives and those of our families be made reasonably secure when forced to use said railroad. We would call your attention to the following notorious facts:

First. This road is and has been for some time in a frightfully dangerous condition, many of the ties being rotten and the spikes in such a state that they can be extracted with the fingers. Even the new parts of the road being, in the opinion of those competent to judge, badly constructed. The engines and cars are very old, small, out of date and without the safety equipment the law requires, all this making travel perilous to the last degree, so much so that the late sad accident, long predicted, might have been a frightful calamity.

Second. The convenience or wishes of the citizens are in no way considered as to train service or the time table. The trains are too few in number and are run at inconvenient hours.

Only a part of the abuses have been stated, but we pray your honorable body that steps be taken by you to secure our rights and restore our comforts and safety.

At the council meeting, which was also attended by General Manager Hornbeck and Attorney Leovy representing the railroad company, a Mr. Dyer, said to have lately located at Pacific Beach, stated that every statement made in the petition was true (there is no contemporary record of a Mr. Dyer in Pacific Beach; possibly the speaker was Mr. De Hart, who had recently moved to a home on Shasta Street). He said that with reasonably safe and proper railway service many hundreds would be added to the population of Pacific Beach but as it was, every time people boarded the trains they did so with fear and trembling. Mr. Rockwood (of The Rockwood, PB’s first apartment building, at Bayard Street and Thomas Avenue, a block from the railroad’s Ocean Front station on Grand at Bayard) described how he had found a broken rail just the day before the accident and had flagged down a train with a red bandana, possibly preventing another accident. He also explained how it was possible to pull spikes from the ties with the fingers and that dozens of the ties were rotten. A. C. Pike (presumably W. A. Pike, who owned most of the two blocks north of the railroad’s Grand Avenue right-of-way, adjacent to its Pacific Beach station at Lamont Street) stated that he had actually counted 702 rotten ties, that many spikes were not properly driven and many of the rails were rusty, being, in fact, crystalized with it. He closed his remarks with the ‘somewhat  abrupt conclusion’ that the whole road was rotten, equipment, roadbed, even the official management. A. S. Lane (whose home on Hornblend, now the Baldwin Academy, was a block from the Pacific Beach station) asked that a committee be appointed to go over the railroad, although he noted that considerable improvement work had been done since the recent accident.

General Manager Hornbeck replied to the criticisms at considerable length, beginning by complaining  that the petition had been prompted by the spirit expressed by Mr. Pike, that the official management of the railroad was ‘rotten’. He dismissed criticism of the ties, saying that the new, heavier rails were laid on the same class of ties and would have been laid on the existing ties at the scene of the accident except for construction delays. When a protester interrupted Mr. Hornbeck to ask why the railroad had been in such a hurry to burn the ties damaged by the train leaving the track, Mr. Hornbeck replied that this was a dirty, contemptuous story; he agreed that the ties had been burned but that it was 24 hours after the accident, they were worthless and they were burned to get them out of the way.  When Mr. Hornbeck alleged that unfair means had been used to secure signatures for the petition and some had signed without knowing what they were signing, one of the petitioners ‘came to his feet in a hurry’ and declared that Mr. Hornbeck’s statement was a lie. The president of the council attempted to restore order, saying that personalities must not enter into the discussion – to which the petitioner replied that Mr. Hornbeck had started it. Mr. Hornbeck did agree to the suggestion of a first-hand inspection and invited every member of the council to go over the railroad and see for themselves. After further discussion it was decided to make the trip the following week.

Eight out of the nine members of the city council accompanied by City Engineer Crowell, General Manager Hornbeck and a number of the petitioners, made the inspection trip in a special train. To make the examination thorough, the councilmen walked much of the way from the city to the ‘Scripps station beyond Pacific Beach’, presumably referring to the Ocean Front station on Grand at Bayard Street, the palm-lined drive leading to F. T. Scripps’ bayfront mansion (where the Catamaran Hotel now stands). From Pacific Beach to La Jolla, which would have followed a route along today’s Mission Boulevard, La Jolla Hermosa and Electric avenues, and Cuvier Street, the party inspected the roadbed from an open flat car. According to a report in the San Diego Union the following day, the eight council members were expected to report that the statements in the petition were much exaggerated and that the line was reasonably safe for travel, probably as much so as any of the railroads running out of the city. ‘After the representations made by the petitioners I was surprised to find things in as good shape as they are’, said one councilman.

The ninth council member, F. J. Goldkamp, dissented from the general consensus of his colleagues. He had made a personal inspection trip over the railroad before the official inspection because, he said, a petition signed by 200 people, 20 of whom had appeared before the council, was a matter that should not have been delayed for 10 or 12 days and that in the meantime the company had a chance to make improvements of the existing conditions. For example, he reported that he saw a worker being employed driving spikes into the ties. Mr. Goldkamp contended that the complaints of the people were fully borne out by the conditions as he found them, and he had personally pulled spikes out of the ties with his fingers.

The two reports resulting from the separate inspections of the LA&SDB were presented to the city council at a meeting on February 18, 1908. According to the San Diego Union, the report by City Engineer Crowell ‘practically exonerated’ the company from the charges made by citizens of Pacific Beach and La Jolla and concluded that the roadbed was perfectly safe for public travel. Mr. Crowell’s report stated that the roadbed from the downtown station to a point past Winder Street in Middletown was in fine condition, having been recently relaid with new 60-pound steel rails and the grades much improved by cutting down the hills and filling in the low points besides straightening the line and eliminating two bad curves. From the end of the new track to Old Town the track had the old light rails and there were many bad ties, although they were no worse than was found on any other railroad leading out of the city.

Through Old Town the track had been straightened out and entirely reconstructed with new ties and 60-pound rails. The bridge over the San Diego River was in good condition except for some bolts that needed to be tightened. ‘In one or two instances’ he found a tie in a condition that would allow pulling a spike out with the fingers, a condition which also applied to the parallel Santa Fe (a mainline railroad with much more traffic carrying much heavier loads).

From Old Town to Pacific Beach the roadbed had been widened and a cut-off built across the race track, eliminating a number of curves (this cut-off replaced the circuitous route around the former race track east of Rose Creek via what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa avenues to Lamont Street with the more direct route along present-day Grand Avenue to Lamont). He walked over a good portion the track from the Pacific Beach station (Lamont Street) toward the ocean front and found that portion in good condition. ‘After going over the whole length of the road, I have no hesitancy in saying that I do not consider the roadbed in a dangerous condition’.  Mr. Crowell’s report was referred to the city attorney.

Councilman Goldkamp’s report stated that the complaints of the people were fully borne out by the condition of the road at the time of presenting their petition. Owing to the lapse of ten days between presenting the petition and the inspection the railroad people were enabled to employ a large staff of extra men to repair all the worst parts of the road, to replace broken ties, to drive in loose spikes, to put in new ones and cover up all the defects sufficiently to pass the investigation of the councilmen. Mr. Goldkamp contended that this work of making the road appear safer at the time was only of a temporary nature and owing to the rottenness of the ties and the lightness of the rails these parts were liable to become unsafe again very soon. The rolling stock was old and out of date and made more unsafe by the use of old-fashioned link and pin couplings connecting the cars. He concluded that in view of the growing population of Pacific Beach and La Jolla it was time for the service to be modernized. The owners had apparently expressed a desire to ‘electrize’ the line and the council should call upon them to complete that process within six months or their franchise should be forfeited. Mr. Goldkamp’s report was simply filed.

Although the LA&SDB was never ‘electrized’, it did upgrade its rolling stock in the next few months with a pair of new gasoline-powered McKeen rail cars that had the added advantage of being able to operate over the city’s street railways and convey suburban passengers to and from businesses and theaters near the center of town without changing trains (steam trains were not allowed on downtown streets and could only go as far as the line’s terminus at the foot of C Street). The McKeen cars were painted a ‘rich Tuscan red’ and soon became known as ‘Red Devils’. And despite Mr. Goldkamp’s misgivings, the rottenness of the ties and the lightness of the rails did not contribute to any further accidents on the La Jolla line, although about 20 passengers were injured, one seriously, when a La Jolla train collided with a Santa Fe train in 1917 at a crossing near Old Town. The railroad was also involved in accidents with automobiles, including one in which a woman was killed and several other passengers seriously injured when it collided with a La Jolla train in Old Town in 1909.

Automobiles were first introduced to San Diego in 1900 and as their use increased over time, and roads to Pacific Beach and La Jolla were improved, fewer residents were ‘forced’ to use the train to reach destinations downtown. With fewer passengers to pay operating costs, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway applied to the Public Utilities Commission to discontinue service and in 1919 the line was abandoned. The rails were torn up and sold for scrap, although the section of right-of-way between Grand Avenue and Bird Rock over what are now Mission Boulevard and La Jolla Hermosa Avenue was reused between 1924 and 1940 for an electric railway line from downtown to La Jolla via Mission Beach. North coast residents forced to use that line were still not entirely secure, however. In 1937 a pair of the electric cars collided head-on in heavy fog in the Midway area, injuring 31 passengers, some seriously.