San Diego Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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