Oliver J. Stough never lived in Pacific Beach, but at the turn of the twentieth century he actually owned most of it. He had acquired property in what was then an undeveloped area from a defunct railroad company and sold it to the group of investors who became the Pacific Beach Company. The company combined Stough’s former holdings with their own to create the Pacific Beach subdivision in 1887. Stough later joined these investors and eventually became the majority owner of the Pacific Beach Company. The company was dissolved in 1898 and its Pacific Beach real estate was distributed to the stockholders, primarily Stough. When he sold to Folsom Bros. Co. in 1903 the San Diego Union reported that ‘Pacific Beach has changed owners’.
O. J. Stough was a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1828, and a veteran of the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. In 1868 he purchased land that became a part of the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, co-founded by Stough in 1872 (there is still a Stough Street and Stough Park in Hinsdale). In the 1880s Stough began spending parts of his year in San Diego, where he also acquired large property holdings. Among his purchases in San Diego were Pueblo Lots 1773, 1775, 1784, 1789, 1792, 1794, 1796, and 1799, over 1000 acres north of what was then called False Bay, now Mission Bay. This property, which covered about half of what is now Pacific Beach, as well as parts of Bird Rock and Mount Soledad, had been part of a subsidy granted by the city to the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company to encourage it to build a railroad connecting San Diego directly to the east. Although the railroad was never built, the company kept the land and passed it to a successor, the Los Angeles and San Diego Railroad Company. That company sold its rights in these pueblo lots to Milton Santee, and Santee assigned the rights to Stough in January 1887. Stough then sold the southwest quarter of Pueblo Lot 1794 to Charles Collins and a one-quarter interest in the remaining property to O. S. Hubbell.
Collins and Hubbell were among the group of investors who established the Pacific Beach Company in July 1887, and in September 1887 they transferred the property they had acquired from Stough to their new company. Stough also sold his remaining three-quarters interest in Pueblo Lots 1789, 1792, 1794 (minus the southwest quarter), 1796 and 1799, 706 acres, to the company for $300,000. In October 1887 City Engineer H. K. Wheeler drew up a map for the Pacific Beach Subdivision which included this property along with the Pacific Beach Company’s other holdings north of False Bay. An opening sale of lots for the new subdivision was held in December 1887.
The centerpiece of the new community of Pacific Beach was to be the San Diego College of Letters, with a four-block campus on College Avenue (now Garnet) where the Pacific Plaza shopping center is located today. The cornerstone was laid for a college building in January 1888 and classes began in September, but financial problems prevented the college from starting other buildings planned for the site. However, in August 1889 the Union announced that arrangements had been made for erection of a central hall and recitation rooms; ‘the bills are to be sent to O. J. Stough, who has generously come to the front in providing for the needs of this institution’. Construction began in September and in January 1890 Stough Hall, ‘a neat and substantial brick edifice’, was opened with a program of music and speech making. In addition to its educational purposes, Stough Hall was used for elocution contests, lectures and the college commencement exercises attended by trainloads of San Diego citizens.
Financial problems continued at the college, however, and the college company was forced to sell bonds backed by mortgages on its campus and other real estate assets. Most of these bonds were then purchased by O. J. Stough, but despite his support the college still failed in early 1891 and the college campus property was auctioned by the sheriff at the court house door to pay off the college’s accumulated debts. Stough reacquired the campus property from the successful bidder in July 1892 but since the property was still security for the college’s mortgage bonds, which were in default on their interest payments, another sheriff’s sale was ordered to satisfy the bondholders (primarily Stough himself). An auction in August 1894 was cancelled when the successful bidders failed to complete the sale, claiming a technicality, but after the state supreme court affirmed the original order of sale a final auction was held in April 1896. The college campus was acquired by a community group dedicated to restoring a college on the site, but this effort went nowhere and the proposed college never opened.
O. J. Stough had not been one of the original directors or stockholders of the Pacific Beach Company at its creation in 1887 but by the time the company filed for dissolution in 1898 he owned over 60% of its shares (the First National Bank of San Diego held most of the rest). In 1898 the company still owned most of the property in Pacific Beach and as part of its dissolution this property was divided among the stockholders in proportion to their respective interests, with Stough receiving the lion’s share: 41 acre lots, 20 whole blocks and over 50 partial blocks. Although Stough did not live in Pacific Beach (his home was on Fourth Street between Hawthorn and Ivy) he did put his property in Pacific Beach to use; the Union reported in 1899 that O. J. Stough had rented a house and installed a foreman preparatory to beginning the fall plowing and sowing of 1200 acres to hay.
In November 1903 the San Diego Union announced that ‘Pacific Beach has changed owners’; ownership of the larger portion of land had passed from O. J. Stough to the firm of Folsom Bros. The Union article explained that Mr. Stough had been the owner of over seven-tenths of the unimproved property at the charmingly situated suburb and the sale included the whole of his interest, about a hundred blocks or four thousand lots, the whole amounting to nearly 660 acres at Pacific Beach. The Union went on to explain that the deal was already closed and the papers in escrow but that the transfer would not take place until the next year. In fact, the transfer was not finalized until December 1906, over three years later, but by 1907 O. J. Stough’s involvement in Pacific Beach had ended. Where Stough had been content to cut hay on his Pacific Beach property, Folsom Bros. Co. began an improvement program which included grading streets and installing curbs, sidewalks and water mains in hopes of attracting residential buyers.
Stough Hall, built in 1889 for the San Diego College of Letters, had become the community’s primary gathering place for ‘entertainments’, dances and other events that were regularly described in the San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach column. In 1894 a good program was rendered at the young people’s entertainment; cake and lemonade were served. In 1895 the ‘Red and White’ cream festival under the auspices of the Ladies Aid Society was a most enjoyable entertainment. A very enjoyable entertainment was given on Friday night by the Endeavor Society in 1896 and in 1897 a mass meeting was held at Stough Hall to consider raising money to purchase the college property to present to the state for a normal school. The County Horticultural Society met at Stough Hall in 1898 and heard local lemon rancher F. W. Barnes describe his experiences; ‘How we handle our lemons’. Stough Hall was beautifully decorated and dancing was indulged in at Miss Eugenia Johnson’s eighteenth birthday in 1902.
In 1904 Folsom Bros. Co. also acquired the college campus and developed the buildings, including Stough Hall, into a resort that they called the Hotel Balboa. However, the hotel was not a success and in 1911 the buildings became the nucleus of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, which in 1937 became Brown Military Academy. When Brown Military Academy moved in 1958 one of the first buildings torn down to make room for the Pacific Plaza shopping center was Stough Hall, the last reminder of O. J. Stough in Pacific Beach (although some say that Oliver Avenue was named in his honor).