Tag Archives: Pacific Beach History

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 extension of Jewell Street that was further extended in 1926 when Colina Street was renamed Jewell). The recently completed house, the only residence in the new subdivision, stood on lots 119 and 120, at the corner of Collingwood, Colina and Malden 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 V. 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.