Hermann Karl Wilhelm (H.K.W.) Kumm was born in Germany in 1874. He was drawn to missionary work in Africa and served on missions in Eqypt and the Sudan in the late 1890s. In 1900 he formed the Sudan United Mission, dedicated to establishing Christianity and preventing the spread of Islam among the pagan tribes of sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Kumm led the mission for more than twenty years and traveled widely within Africa, including areas previously unexplored by Europeans, for which he is sometimes considered the ‘last of the Livingstones’. He also wrote several books describing the lands he had visited and the lives of other African missionaries.
On one of his expeditions into the jungles of the Congo region he contracted a fever which undermined his health. His doctors advised him to relocate to a mild climate and in 1925 Kumm moved with his family to Pacific Beach, where his reputation as an explorer, geographer and writer quickly earned him celebrity status. He was chosen to be the principal speaker at the ‘formal christening’ of the new $150,000 Crystal Pier in April 1926 and the May 1926 celebration of a new road to the top of Mt. Soledad.
Dr. Kumm had moved to Pacific Beach not only for his own health but because he believed that local conditions were ideal for the cultivation of passion fruit. He had developed an interest in botany and hoped to produce a better variety of passion fruit, large and tasty, by crossing the small but highly flavored Australian variety with the larger but less flavorful South American type. The Kumms’ home at the northeast corner of Hornblend and Morrell streets (named Passiflora after the genus of the passion vine) was on ten lots, the entire southwest quarter of the block, and within a year he had started 500 seedlings and had nearly 200 plants growing, of which 50 were bearing.
In order to continue his experimentation on a larger scale, Dr. Kumm leased 20 acres of pueblo land from the city on Torrey Pines Mesa, in the vicinity of Miramar Road, in August 1927. The Evening Tribune reported that the initial planting of 5 acres was believed to be the largest area ever planted in the United States to the passion fruit vine. In April 1929 he was also granted a lease of 37 acres of city-owned pueblo land in Pueblo Lots 1780 and 1781, in the hills north of Pacific Beach where the Emerald Cove and Crystal Bay gated communities are now located (despite the opposition of the PB chamber of commerce, which felt that the property would be put to better use as a golf course).
The April 1929 lease of land above Pacific Beach coincided with an announcement in the San Diego Union that the growing of passion fruit had passed the experimental state and that acreage coming into bearing and demand for products necessitated construction of a factory and immediate development of a business; ‘Opportunity open for business man with at least $30,000 to take over complete control of manufacturing end and establish profitable business in sale of products’. While business men were considering this offer, Pacific Beach residents were given the opportunity to sample the products. When the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club met at Braemar Manor, the home of Mrs. F. T. Scripps, for her annual musical entertainment in April 1929, the refreshments included ice cream made with passion fruit from the gardens of Dr. H. K. W. Kumm. A month later, the Woman’s Club garden fete at the Scripps’ home included booths of various kinds where refreshments were served. Mrs. H. K. W. Kumm was in charge of passion fruit products.
While in Pacific Beach Dr. Kumm occasionally recounted his African travels in talks to various civic organizations. He brought trophies including the tusks of a buffalo that once treed him to a meeting of the University Club. He told the Lions Club that in 1908 he penetrated the darkest part of Central Africa and crossed the continent at a latitude where other explorers had failed. A meeting of local realtors learned that he crossed Africa on foot, accompanied only by natives, and explored lands never before touched by whites, his work bringing him many signal honors in the scientific world.
He also developed a new interest, this time in gliders. In the summer of 1929 glider clubs from around Southern California had held competitions in which gliders were launched from the top of Loring Street hill and the hills behind the corner of Fanuel and Agate streets. In November 1929, at an organizational meeting at his home, Dr. Kumm was unanimously elected president of the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California. He and his wife also sponsored San Diego Girl Gliders and helped them to purchase their own sailplane.
H. K. W. Kumm died in 1930 of heart disease induced by the fever he had contracted in Africa. He was 56 years old. Despite his efforts, the passion fruit industry he hoped to develop in Pacific Beach never really took off. A visitor in 1931 noted that Passiflora, the Pacific Beach home of the late Dr. and Mrs. Kumm, was a particularly delightful spot to visit, with the passion fruit blossoms as well as an abundance of fruit on the vines, but regretted that Dr. Kumm could not have been spared to carry on his work at Passiflora. Mrs. Kumm returned to her native country of Australia in 1931, listing her home in the Evening Tribune; ‘Passiflora, a delightful home with an assured income at 2004 Hornblend’. According to the Tribune, 12,000 pounds of passion fruit were picked the previous year and a contract existed for the crop at 12 cents a pound. The property included a 7-room and a 3-room house, a garage, packing house, lath house and greenhouse, 75 varieties of roses, all kinds of bearing fruits and avocados, a fish pond, many fine trees, tropical plants and shrubs. ‘Was appraised at $12,000. Submit any offer over $8,000’.
Today the tropical plants and shrubs, bearing fruits, and roses that once flourished at Passiflora are all gone and the packing house, greenhouse and fish pond have given way to apartments and town houses. The Kumms’ former home at the corner of Hornblend and Morrell is now the only reminder of their Pacific Beach passion fruit ranch.