PB’s Main Street

Garnet Avenue runs diagonally from left to right along the edge of a lemon orchard, past the church and schoolhouse (with bell tower) at Jewell Street and another lemon orchard toward the beach about 1904. The view is looking southwest from the former college buildings. (San Diego History Center #266)

On the original 1887 subdivision map of Pacific Beach ‘avenues’ ran in an east-west direction between the Pacific Ocean and the vicinity of Rose Creek and ‘streets’ ran north and south between False (now Mission) Bay and the Mt. Soledad foothills. One avenue, Grand Avenue, was also the right-of-way of the railway between Pacific Beach and downtown San Diego and was considerably wider than the others. The avenues south of Grand were named for PB’s founders, who included J. R. Thomas and D. C. Reed. The avenues north of Grand, with a single exception, were named for states. The exception was College Avenue, two blocks north of Grand, so-called because it was the site of the San Diego College of Letters campus, on the north side between 9th and 11th (now Jewell and Lamont) streets. The college, opened in 1888, was the first significant development in Pacific Beach and was intended to be the economic and cultural magnet that would attract residents to the new community. The first church was also located on College Avenue, across from the college, and in 1896 the schoolhouse was moved next door to the church. In 1900 the avenues north of Grand were renamed for gemstones and College became Garnet Avenue, but it is still the community’s main street.

Garnet Avenue and Lamont Street about 1904, taken from the college buildings. Garnet runs diagonally from lower right along the edge of Sterling Honeycutt’s lemon orchard. Honeycutt’s home, the first residence on Garnet, is at center left, the southeast corner with Lamont. (SDHC #23535)

The college failed in 1891 and for the next decade Pacific Beach flourished as a center of lemon cultivation. One of the first lemon ranchers was Sterling Honeycutt, who in 1893 planted his trees on the blocks directly across from the college campus, south of Garnet. In 1894 Honeycutt also built a house across Lamont Street from his ranch, at the southeast corner of Garnet and Lamont. The Honeycutt house was the first home on Garnet Avenue, joining the college buildings, the church and the school as its only improvements at the time. In fact, only a portion of the avenue itself was improved; according to the 1903 edition of the United States geological survey map the roadway in front of the former college buildings only extended from Haines to Noyes streets. The map showed that only Grand Avenue (and the railway) and Diamond Street actually extended from one end of the community to the other.

Lemon ranching declined after the turn of the twentieth century and in 1903 most of the property in Pacific Beach was purchased by Folsom Bros. Co., real estate operators who believed that the future of the community was in residential development. Folsom Bros. took over and refurbished the former college and it opened as the Hotel Balboa in 1905. They also began improving streets in the area surrounding it, including Garnet Avenue. Residential development did follow; the Evening Tribune reported in December 1903 that work had begun on Sterling Honeycutt’s new home on College between 12th and 13th worth nearly $5000 (the new street names, actually Garnet, Morrell and Noyes since 1900, were apparently not yet widely accepted in PB). The news in April 1904 was that Mr. Honeycutt’s new house was nearly completed and that another handsome residence on Garnet would be built by Mr. Overshiner. The Honeycutt home was at the northwest corner of Garnet and Noyes; the Overshiner home, also completed in 1904, was at the northwest corner with Olney. Another new resident on Garnet was Charles McCrary, who moved into a home he had built on the south side of Garnet west of Morrell Street. In 1905 George Harris also built a home on Garnet, on the north side between Olney and Pendleton.

By 1906 the San Diego Union reported that ‘from a hamlet to a flourishing suburb . . . from a district marked by quiet and solitude to one where business activity and social gaiety are everywhere – this in brief is the history of Pacific Beach, covering a period of but a year or two. To the visitor of a few years back, Pacific Beach would hardly be recognized as the same place. Instead of fields covered with their green verdure are to be found city blocks interweaved with a network of graded streets and wide boulevards with a multitude of sightly residences dotting the surface of the suburb . . . The year just closed has witnessed more improvement than may be found in the entire aggregate of all the other years of the existence of the suburb’. The Union added that ‘Many new residences, some of them of beautiful and elaborate design’, had been constructed and occupied, including that of George Harris.

1906 photo looking west from Bunker Hill. Grand Avenue and the Pacific Beach railroad are in the foreground, the Hotel Balboa in the background, with the east end of Garnet Avenue and the Harris, Overshiner and Honeycutt homes on the north side in between (detail from SDHC #344)

Over the next few years several more homes were built on Garnet Avenue in the vicinity of Noyes Street. Two houses were built in 1907 at the northeast corner of Noyes, across from Honeycutt’s new home, and Mr. Honeycutt himself had two more homes built in the same block, between Morrell and Noyes, in 1909 and 1912. The four blocks of Garnet between Lamont and Pendleton streets became one of the two main centers of residential development in Pacific Beach. Some of the original homes are still standing in the other area, Hornblend between Morrell to Ingraham streets, a block south and a few blocks west, but none of the first homes on Garnet have survived. A driver training video captured a couple of them in the background around Noyes Street during the 1960s.

The first automobile appeared in San Diego in 1900 and as automobile ownership grew in the new century the San Diego city council designed a system of ‘boulevards’ radiating from downtown to more distant suburbs like Pacific Beach and La Jolla. The La Jolla boulevard was planned to pass through Pacific Beach following Garnet Avenue to Cass Street, then north to Turquoise and on through Bird Rock to La Jolla. The populated section of Garnet Avenue, between Lamont and Pendleton, had been graded in 1907 and in 1908 a force of 30 men and several teams began grading the section between Pacific Beach and La Jolla. The surface of the boulevard was to be of natural earth, thoroughly rolled.

While the roadway had been improved in places there were still no structures along Garnet west of the former college and the church and schoolhouse, which were at the corner of Jewell Street. This changed in 1909 when the San Diego Union reported that H. W. Parker had completed a new house on the north side of Garnet, less than two blocks from the beach, between Allison and Bayard streets (Allison was renamed Mission Boulevard in 1929). Two years later J. W. Simmons built a home next door to the Parker house, on the corner with Bayard, and in 1913 Parker built a second house adjoining his existing residence. These three frame houses stood alone near the western end of Garnet Avenue for decades.  One of them, later the long-time home of Rev. George Williams, then Casa Aljones, Diego’s Mexican restaurant and the PB Bar & Grill, survived until just a few years ago when it was replaced by Mavericks Beach Club. Also in 1913, Michael McCusker built a 5-room cottage at the northeast corner of Haines in the formerly empty stretch of Garnet between Bayard and Jewell streets.

The Hotel Balboa, the former college buildings on the north side of Garnet between Lamont and Jewell streets, had not been successful and in 1910 it was leased to Capt. Thomas Davis. Capt. Davis turned the former college and hotel buildings into the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, ‘a select school for manly boys’. In its first year the academy only had 13 cadets and Capt. Davis was the only instructor, but it grew rapidly and by 1918 it was described as ‘by far the liveliest institution of the community, and at the same time Pacific Beach’s most substantial asset’. By 1920 the ‘battalion of cadets’ had grown from 13 to over 100, most of whom were housed in wooden cottages on the academy campus. Some teachers and staff, including cooks, housekeepers and janitors, were housed in the former hotel buildings.

With still more cars on the road the city engineer was asked in 1912 to recommend a route for a highway to connect San Diego to the state highway that had reached the city limits at Del Mar. Although there was a winding wagon road through Rose Canyon the engineer recommended a route over the straight and level streets of Pacific Beach, over Grand Avenue and Bayard Street, continuing through La Jolla and over Torrey Pines Mesa. The proposed highway would be paved and local residents would be assessed the paving costs. The railway still ran down the center of Grand at that time and Pacific Beach residents complained that it would be unsuitable for automobile traffic, and that the costs of paving both sides would be excessive. Their recommendation was for the coast highway to run through Pacific Beach over Garnet Avenue and Cass Street, and the council eventually agreed. Garnet Avenue was paved in November 1919 and Seth Mitchell opened an ‘oil station’ at the northeast corner of Garnet and Cass, the first commercial establishment on the street.

Although there were few houses and fewer businesses along Garnet Avenue, the coast highway traffic made it a prime target for billboard advertising. In July 1919 the Pacific Beach Citizens’ Improvement Club petitioned the council to prohibit the erection of billboards and to remove those already erected. The billboards were declared to be an eyesore and a traffic hazard; ‘For the past two years our community has been blessed with these unsightly and disfiguring billboards. In consequence of these obstructions three or four serious accidents have occurred. Three machines have gone into the ditches, another has had a wheel torn off and another had a side stove in, all caused by the view being cut off by great boards. We ask you to prohibit the erection of any more boards here, and would ask for the removal of boards already here’. The council apparently disregarded this petition; the billboard company Foster & Kleiser obtained a building permit for another ‘poster panel’ at 1280 Garnet in 1926 and for many years billboards were the only ‘improvements’ on several blocks of Garnet Avenue. Like other improvements they were assigned a value for property tax purposes; the city lot books recorded their assessed values at $40 each.

Aerial view of Pacific Beach about 1922, looking northeast. Grand Avenue and the abandoned railroad run diagonally from bottom left to top right. Garnet Avenue is parallel to Grand and two blocks north, with the three frame cottages at the west end and the Army and Navy Academy in the distance. The original residential districts on Garnet and Hornblend Street are clustered near the academy. The paved coast highway (darker surface) runs through Pacific Beach over Cass Street and Garnet Avenue, with a gas station at their intersection. East of Cass Garnet is lined with billboards. (SDHC #10364-4)

The coast highway and plans for a fast electric streetcar line between downtown and La Jolla over Allison Street attracted the interest of out-of-town real estate speculators who in October 1923 closed a $750,000 deal for hundreds of acres in Pacific Beach. One of these capitalists was Earl Taylor, and according to the San Diego Union he had acquired more than 100 lots near the ocean front:

This property extends from Cass boulevard over which the state highway runs north, to Allison street, which will be used by the new electric car line to La Jolla, extension of which has been a factor in the big deal now announced. More than half of these lots face on Garnet street, the east and west highway through Pacific Beach. Mr. Taylor plans a business district here, beginning at the point where the highway turns to the north, and which now is occupied by a service station. He has plans prepared for a big business block at the corner of Cass and Garnet. A drug store, grocery and confectionery store already have asked for space in this building, he says.

In March 1924 Taylor announced the commencement of construction on the New Business Center of Pacific Beach. The first building – a modern brick store – would be started the next day and others would follow on Garnet between Cass Street and the ocean front. Around this, ‘as a nucleus’, would cluster the ‘splendid business and home development of the new Pacific Beach’. He added that the paving of Garnet from Cass to the ocean front for its whole 52 feet of width had already been authorized and would be pushed through as rapidly as possible. Sidewalking of several of the blocks 14 feet wide would be started at once. It was the intersection of the main artery to the beach and the main coast highway, it was convenient to the present population of over 1000, which was rapidly increasing, and over 6000 autos daily, including about 70 auto stages, passed or turned at this point; over 25,000 people going through each day. Before July electric cars (i.e., the streetcar line) would be running on Allison Street, two blocks west.

The modern brick store, the first building in the new Pacific Beach business district, was the original Dunaway pharmacy, at 981 Garnet Avenue, the southwest corner of Cass. During the prohibition years of the 1920s prescriptions for ‘medicinal’ alcohol could be filled at pharmacies and in 1926 the Evening Tribune reported that 12 pints of bonded whisky, as well as a revolver and $5.50 in cash, were included in the loot obtained by burglars at Dunaway’s drug store. Later in 1926 work began on the two-story brick edifice on the northwest corner of Garnet and Cass and Samuel Dunaway moved across the street to this building, 980 Garnet, in 1927. The new Dunaway pharmacy and soda fountain operated on this corner for decades and the building, where the Dunaway name is still carved in the lintel over the front door, is the best-known historic building in Pacific Beach. There was also a one-story brick extension to the west on Garnet with several storefronts on Garnet. In 1927 two of these storefronts were occupied by a plumber and a hardware company. The original pharmacy building across Garnet became a real estate office.

The Dunaway building in 2020

Earl Taylor had also reached out to Ernest Pickering, the developer of successful ‘pleasure piers’ in Santa Monica and Venice, and in 1925 Pickering announced plans for a million-dollar pleasure pier in Pacific Beach (a pleasure pier was basically an amusement park built out over the beach, with amusements such as Ginger Snaps, Great Slides, Over-the-Tops, and Treat-em-Roughs). However, Pickering soon backed out and development of the project was turned over to Santa Monica realtor Neil Nettleship. Under Nettleship the plan changed from a pleasure pier to a ballroom, the Crystal Ballroom on Crystal Pier, which would extend from the western end of Garnet Avenue nearly 1000 feet into the ocean. The pier and ballroom were among the improvements Nettleship hoped would change the character of Pacific Beach, which he also wanted to rename San Diego Beach. Construction began on the office building at the head of the pier in 1925, a ‘formal christening’ was held in April 1926 and the pier and ballroom opened to the public in July 1927.

However, it turned out that the pier’s pilings had not been treated with the proper preservatives and within a few months they had been attacked by marine borers and weakened to the point that the pier and ballroom were condemned and closed. It would be another nine years before the pier at the end of Garnet was repaired and reopened. Nettleship and his partner Benjamin Tye maintained a real estate office in the pier building and Burt Bircher opened a restaurant across Ocean Boulevard, the southeast corner of Garnet in 1926. Also in 1926 Earl Taylor had a small real estate office built at the other end of the block, the northwest corner of Garnet and Allison. Allison Street was renamed Mission Boulevard in 1929, extending the boulevard from Mission Beach through Pacific Beach, and also in 1929 another gas station was opened at the southeast corner of Mission and Garnet.

Garnet Avenue looking east from the pier in 1926. (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

Although neither Taylor’s New Pacific Beach nor Nettleship’s San Diego Beach had the immediate success that had been anticipated for them, other business establishments and homes were built along Garnet in the 1920s. Herman Owen had built a house in the same block as the service station, at 1078 Garnet, in 1920. In 1924 William and Laura Samuel opened a restaurant opposite the Dunaway building on the southeast corner of Cass and Folsom Bros., attempting to reenter the real estate market in Pacific Beach, moved into an office built next door at 1011 Garnet in 1925. Across the street, buildings erected at 1020 Garnet in 1925 and 1038 Garnet in 1926 became another real estate office and a furniture store.

Another service station had been built on Garnet in 1923 at the northeast corner of Dawes, and across Garnet, on the southeast corner of Dawes, the Pacific Beach Lumber Company opened in 1925. Further east, at the northeast corner of Everts, Rose Murphy opened the Pacific Beach Laundry in 1926. The blocks between Fanuel and Haines streets, previously only occupied by billboards, saw homes built at 1471 and 1425 Garnet in 1922 and 1925 and more real estate offices opened at 1365 and 1440 Garnet in 1926. Between Haines and Ingraham, in 1925 Martha McCusker built a new house at 1506, next door to her former home at 1504 Garnet, and in 1926 another residence was constructed on the same block at 1526 Garnet. Across the street, Percy Eldridge had lived at 1551 Garnet since 1922 and Sigmund Mattey opened the Pacific Beach Garage at the southwest corner of Ingraham Street the same year. A home was also built at the other end of the block, at 1503 Garnet, the southeast corner of Haines, in 1926.

The San Diego school district built a new school for Pacific Beach two blocks north of Garnet, on the west side of Ingraham Street, in 1923. The original schoolhouse, on Garnet west of Jewell, next to the Presbyterian church, was moved to a new site on the San Diego Army and Navy Academy campus to become its junior school. In its place W. E. Standley built a frame cottage and garage valued at $2800 at 1655 Garnet in 1924. Another cottage had been built west of the schoolhouse, at 1637 Garnet, by Henry Gist in 1922. This house, later a restaurant, toy store, and Tommy’s TV, remained standing into the 1990s.

On the north side of Garnet between Ingraham and Jewell, a former lemon ranch was acquired by the San Diego Army and Navy Academy for use as a parade ground and athletic field in 1925. The academy’s main campus occupied the blocks between Jewell and Lamont streets north of Garnet. The original academy buildings constructed for the college in the 1880s and renovated for the Hotel Balboa in 1905 faced Garnet. During the 1920s the Garnet Avenue frontage was supplemented by a stone arch, dismantled from the Isis theater downtown and reconstructed opposite Kendall Street in 1928, and in 1929 by a concrete triple arch over the academy’s main entrance at the northwest corner of Garnet and Lamont Street. The number of cadets had reached nearly 400 by the mid-1920s and the academy accommodated the growing numbers by building a number of 3- and 4-story reinforced concrete dormitory buildings along Lamont and Emerald streets between 1928 and 1930. A concrete auditorium/gym building was built in 1927 along Garnet west of the original campus buildings.

Aerial view of Brown Military Academy about 1938 with Garnet Avenue in the foreground. The church and Ravenscroft grocery are on either side of Jewell Street at lower left and part of the commercial block containing the post office is at the extreme right, at the corner of Lamont Street. The arch from the Isis Theater is across from Kendall Street at center.  (SDHC #83:14603-1)

The property across Garnet from the academy was also a vacant former lemon ranch but in 1926 Robert Ravenscroft opened a new grocery store on one corner, across Jewell from the Presbyterian church, and a commercial block was built on the other corner, with Lamont. The Pacific Beach post office, a barber, a confectioner and a Nettleship-Tye real estate office initially occupied storefronts in the new commercial building. Ravenscroft’s new grocery was in a two-story building with apartments upstairs. Before moving to Garnet and Jewell he had operated a grocery at the southwest corner of Lamont and Grand Avenue since 1913. The post office, with Clarence Pratt as postmaster, had also been located at that intersection, at Pratt’s store on the northwest corner, and Pratt continued as postmaster in the new location at 1865 Garnet.

Also in 1926, Henry Saville had a house built at 1741 and a stucco building that served as a store and a restaurant was built at 1851 Garnet. The Saville home is actually still there, hidden behind the façade of a smog testing station. The restaurant at 1851 Garnet, later a bar called the Roller Derby Room, was remodeled in 1967 and became the Beef House, Pablo’s, and since 1985 the Broken Yolk restaurant. Major Peterson, the headmaster of the Army and Navy Academy, built a house at 1965 Garnet, on the south side east of Lamont, in 1922. Across the street, a small building at the northeast corner of Lamont and Garnet served as a real estate office. Two more gas stations were built at this end of Garnet, one at 2015 Garnet in 1927 and another at 1945 Garnet in 1929.

Growth in Pacific Beach and development along Garnet Avenue was limited during the 1930s. The entire country suffered the effects of the great depression but in Pacific Beach the depression was further deepened by the Mattoon Act, which was intended to fund development projects, like the Mission Bay causeway, by assessments on property owners in improvement districts that would benefit from the projects, like Pacific Beach. The Mattoon Act also included a provision that ‘pyramided’ delinquencies onto the next year’s assessment, meaning in effect that property owners that did pay their assessments would have the delinquent assessments of those who did not added to their assessment in subsequent years. Many property owners could not or would not pay the increased assessments, leading to a ‘death spiral’ of increased delinquencies and growing assessments until the county government engineered a bailout in 1937. The combined effects of the depression and the Mattoon Act had a negative effect in Pacific Beach; on Garnet Avenue 24 of the existing 76 addresses, nearly a third, were listed as vacant in 1933. The depressed economy was good for some types of business; the Ocean View tourist camp, a trailer park offering low cost housing, opened on the south side of Garnet between the beach and Mission Boulevard in 1938.

Photo of Garnet looking west from Cass Street about 1940, now a mural on the building that has replaced Hill’s Market in the photo (mural by Kathleen King-Page, 1988)

By the start of the 1940s, Pacific Beach had mostly recovered from the depression and the Mattoon Act, but had not grown significantly since the 1920s. Garnet Avenue was still a significant traffic artery but had seen little further development. The 1941 city directory listed 75 addresses on Garnet Avenue, including 7 gas stations and garages, 6 real estate offices, 4 restaurants, 3 groceries, 2 liquor stores, 2 barbers and a beauty shop, and only 4 addresses were still listed as vacant. Several of the businesses were housed in the brick Dunaway building at the northwest corner of Cass Street, which was also the community’s only drug store. Several other businesses and the post office were located in the other retail block, also built in 1926, at the southwest corner of Lamont across from the academy. The half-dozen blocks between these two centers of business were occupied by about a dozen businesses and another dozen homes. The academy itself had failed financially, unable to repay the construction costs of its large concrete dormitories, and in 1937 had been sold and renamed Brown Military Academy.

But things were about to change. In 1935 Consolidated Aircraft moved to San Diego and by 1940 had expanded into several large manufacturing plants along the Pacific Highway north of the airport to produce B-24 Liberator bombers as the country rearmed in anticipation of the coming world war. Tens of thousands of aircraft workers moved to San Diego to work for Consolidated, creating a serious housing shortage. In 1941 the federal government stepped in with temporary housing projects within commuting range of the factories, some of which were in Pacific Beach, and commercial home-builders also began development projects in Pacific Beach. The rapid growth in population led to a corresponding growth in the local economy, much of it centered on PB’s main street, Garnet Avenue.

To be continued.