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Railroads Through Del Mar

A recurring news story in recent years has been yet another bluff collapse where the railroad line passes above the beach in Del Mar. At the end of February 2021 it was a section of bluff just south of 4th Street that gave way. No-one was injured in this incident but as a precautionary measure trains have been required to pass through the area at reduced speeds. In November 2019 heavy rains and stormwater runoff caused a bluff collapse south of Seagrove Park that came within a few feet of the tracks. Trains continued to run under restricted speed limits then too but for months the line was shut down on weekends to allow construction crews to shore up the bluff with steel plates and a reinforced concrete wall. Before that, between August 2018 and February 2019, six bluff collapses had occurred in a two-mile section of the Del Mar bluffs causing short-term interruptions of passenger service on the railroad. After each of these incidents it was noted that the bluffs are eroding at an average rate of 6 inches annually and that San Diego’s only active railway connection to the outside will eventually have to be moved inland, away from the top of the bluffs, a move that will cost an estimated three billion dollars and require decades to complete. The potential alternative routes will all require tunnels or a deep trench under Del Mar and after the latest incident the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that a drilling rig was on the streets taking soil samples from 200 feet below.

Section of bluff south of 4th Street in Del Mar that collapsed in February 2021. The retaining wall that once supported the bluff was knocked down and fell onto the beach.

Ironically, this section of the railroad line has already been moved once before – from a safe inland route over the streets of Del Mar to the now precarious location on the ocean bluffs. In 1881 the California Southern Railroad began laying tracks north from a terminus on San Diego Bay to connect with the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, a transcontinental railroad then being built across northern Arizona. The California Southern line ran north through Rose Canyon and over the Miramar divide to Sorrento Valley, where it crossed the eastern edge of Los Penasquitos Lagoon on a causeway then climbed the ridge north of the lagoon toward Del Mar (portions of this right of way can still be seen south of Ocean View Avenue). It passed through Del Mar on Railroad Avenue, today’s Stratford Court, where a depot was located at about 9th Street. From the north end of Railroad Avenue the line descended towards a crossing of the San Dieguito River and continued along the coast to Oceanside.

Portion of the original California Southern railroad right of way south of Del Mar.

Beyond Oceanside the route originally went inland along the Santa Margarita River to Temecula and Colton, then through Cajon Pass to Barstow and a connection with the A & P. That line was abandoned after several washouts in the Santa Margarita valley and rail traffic from San Diego was switched to the ‘surf line’, the route between Oceanside and Los Angeles still in use today. The surf line was later incorporated into the Santa Fe Railroad and since 1992 the portion in San Diego County has been owned by the North County Transit District, which operates Coaster commuter trains between San Diego and Oceanside.

William Kerckhoff’s home in Del Mar.

The California Southern was still running over the streets of Del Mar in 1905 when the South Coast Land Company acquired much of the property in the community and in other coastal communities as far north as Oceanside and embarked on an ambitious program to develop the area. This company was headed by four wealthy businessmen from Los Angeles, Henry Huntington, William Kerckhoff, Henry Keller and Charles Canfield, and also Ed Fletcher, a San Diego real estate promoter. Huntington had consolidated regional rail lines in and around Los Angeles into the Pacific Electric interurban rail system in 1901 and since then had been expanding it into cities and towns surrounding Los Angeles. Huntington and Kerckhoff jointly owned of the Pacific Light and Power Company, which provided electric power in the Los Angeles area, including to the Pacific Electric. Keller and Canfield were financiers, having made fortunes in land (Keller had sold the Malibu ranch in 1892) and oil (Canfield and Edward Doheny drilled LA’s first ‘gusher’ in 1892). Fletcher was a land agent with extensive knowledge of San Diego’s rural back country.

Henry Keller’s home in Del Mar, also known as the Rockhouse.

The development plan was modeled on previous ventures in which many of the same businessmen had bought up tracts of land in undeveloped areas, extended the electric railroad and utilities they controlled into these areas and profited by selling building lots and water and power to the thousands of new residents they attracted. In San Diego County water and power were to be provided by a huge new power station on the San Luis Rey River for which Fletcher would arrange the purchase of dam sites and water rights.  Fletcher also mapped out the building lots in new subdivisions, beginning with Del Mar. For rail service, the plan was to build an electric line between Del Mar and San Diego that would eventually connect with Huntington’s Pacific Electric in Santa Ana.

In January 1907 Keller and Kerckhoff obtained a franchise to build and operate a railroad within the city of San Diego. San Diego’s city limits extend north as far as the Del Mar bluffs and the Keller-Kerckhoff railroad was intended to follow a route across the western side of Los Penasquitos lagoon toward these bluffs. In Del Mar the route would continue along the bluffs to where they end at about 15th Street, where a new station would be built close to the hotel the land company intended to build. Construction began at the San Diego end in mid-December 1907 and by May 1908 grading of a roadbed was underway north of the San Diego River. Fletcher proceeded to map and acquire property for the remainder of the right of way to Del Mar, which was initially expected to include a tunnel under Mount Soledad.

Charles Canfield’s home in Del Mar.

However, while an expansion of the Pacific Electric to San Diego may have appealed to Henry Huntington and the South Coast Land Company the prospect of new competition was not welcomed by the existing steam railroads and although Huntington was a founder and president he did not own a controlling interest in Pacific Electric. E. H. Harriman, president of the Southern Pacific railroad, also held a large position in Pacific Electric and made it known that he would oppose extending it to San Diego. With its future link to Pacific Electric effectively blocked by Harriman, interest in the Keller-Kerckhoff railroad to Del Mar faded and construction work was discontinued. It was never completed, and the power station on the San Luis Rey River was also never built, but the land company did succeed in developing Del Mar into a resort community. The company’s principals were among the first to acquire building lots and many built summer homes there.

The Keller-Kerckhoff railroad never arrived but its right of way in and around Del Mar offered lower elevations, more favorable grades and fewer curves than the original California Southern route followed by the Santa Fe. In 1909 the right of way was acquired by the Santa Fe and two steam shovels and a force of about 300 men were employed to grade a roadbed and lay tracks. The new route along the blufftop and on an embankment that sloped up from the lagoon to the southern end of the bluffs replaced the old route’s steep climb into Del Mar. When the first train passed over the completed line in August 1910 the Union reported that hundreds of citizens lined the tracks along the bluff for nearly two miles waving enthusiastically. The Santa Fe had built 8 ¼ miles of railroad, reducing the grade from 2.2 to 1.4 percent but adding only 87 feet to the actual distance. Three of the worst grade crossings on the line had also been eliminated.

Maps showing the original 1881 California Southern railroad route through Del Mar in 1903 and the 1910 blufftop route in 1943.

Del Mar historian Nancy Hanks Ewing also credits the South Coast Land Company for the building that served as the Del Mar station from 1910 to 1995. She wrote that W. G. Kerckhoff disliked the ornate two-story frame structures then in use by railroads and when designing a new depot on the proposed route of the new electric railroad he patterned it after Pacific Electric stations in the Los Angeles area – long, low, and of red brick. The Santa Fe completed the red brick station building to serve Del Mar after their new blufftop line opened and the original route and station on Stratford Court were abandoned. It is still standing at the side of the tracks near the beach at Del Mar but trains no longer stop there, stopping instead at the transit center in Solana Beach a few miles up the line.

The challenges to the blufftop route around Del Mar were apparent from the very beginning. In 1910 the San Diego Union wrote that construction of the new cut-off was ‘apparently an impossible engineering feat’. A particularly difficult area was nicknamed Devil’s Canyon because of its ‘habit of spitting an immense volume of water out at the new work at the wrong time’. The engineers addressed that difficulty by building a retaining wall 80 feet in length and 16 feet high with a drainage culvert at its base and an earthen embankment above the wall where the rails were laid. However, heavy rains in December 1940 softened the roadbed on the embankment and a northbound freight train ran off the rails. The engine and a number of empty boxcars slid down the slope toward the beach, the engineer and fireman in the engine’s cab were scalded to death by the steam, and a brakeman was crushed to death between two cars. The Union noted that a northbound passenger train bearing holiday crowds had passed the spot safely twenty minutes earlier. There have been no more actual train wrecks on the Del Mar bluffs but the constant erosion and increasingly frequent collapses of the bluffs affirm that the blufftop railroad ultimately is an impossible engineering feat and the railroad through Del Mar will be moved once again.

View from a train to the beach 65 feet below. The edge of the bluff is only a few feet from the roadbed and is eroding at an average of six inches annually.

Brown Military Academy

Captain Thomas A. Davis was a retired army officer who had seen service in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1910 he moved to Pacific Beach and founded the San Diego Army and Navy Academy at what had originally been the campus of the San Diego College of Letters on the four blocks surrounded by Garnet Avenue and Jewell, Emerald and Lamont streets. The college had opened in 1888 in an imposing building designed by the architects of the Hotel Del Coronado, and a second building, Stough Hall, was added in 1890. However, the college closed in 1891 and in 1904 it was converted into a resort hotel, the Hotel Balboa. The hotel venture was also unsuccessful and in 1910 the buildings and grounds were leased to Capt. Davis.

San Diego Army and Navy Academy began with 13 cadets and with Capt. Davis as the sole instructor but by 1915 the ‘battalion of cadets’ totaled more than 100, most of whom were resident on campus. When enrollment grew beyond the capacity of the original college buildings the additional cadets were housed in small wooden cottages built on the academy grounds. In 1921 Capt. Davis attempted to purchase the Point Loma Golf and Country Club in Loma Portal and move the academy to that larger facility but was unable to obtain the terms he wanted. Instead, Davis purchased the property and buildings he had been leasing in Pacific Beach and between 1923 and 1925 also added most of the two blocks to the north, between Emerald, Jewell, Diamond and Lamont streets, and to the west, between Garnet Avenue and Ingraham, Emerald and Jewell streets. When a  new public elementary school was built for Pacific Beach in 1923 the old schoolhouse was moved from its original location next to the Presbyterian Church on Garnet to the academy’s northern addition, near the corner of Lamont and Emerald streets, and enlarged to become its junior school, the first of many expansion projects to be undertaken in the 1920s.

By 1924 enrollment was over 200 and another construction project, a mess hall seating over 300, was completed. A new concrete gymnasium/auditorium building with a stage, motion picture projection room and an indoor range for rifle practice was built in 1927 and an infirmary building, in the Spanish architectural style with sun porches and an excellent view of the bay and ocean, was also added that year. In 1928 enrollment stood at over 300 and Col. Davis (he had received an honorary ‘Kentucky Colonel’ commission in 1922) announced an ambitious construction program designed to give the academy a housing capacity of 1000 cadets. A three-story concrete dormitory intended to house at least 60 was scheduled for completion in time for the fall term, when 400 or more cadets were expected. A year later, in 1929, work began on a large swimming pool with dressing rooms, showers and a chlorination plant ‘to guarantee absolute sanitation’. Another concrete dormitory, this one of four stories, was also started.

On January 1, 1930 more than 400 cadets in full dress uniforms led by their band marched in the Rose Parade in Pasadena. The new four-story dormitory was dedicated a month later and plans were announced for two additional four-story dormitories, housing 270 more cadets, to be completed in time for the fall term. The two new dormitories were dedicated in the fall of 1930, the academy’s twentieth anniversary. Like the two original dormitories they were of California-Spanish architecture, ‘distinguished by graceful arches, long esplanades and a beauty of design that is typically Californian’. This row of massive concrete dormitories or barracks completed in 1930 dominated the skyline of Pacific Beach for decades.

1930 was also the year that the economic effects of the Great Depression began to be felt and establishments of all kinds, including private boarding schools, experienced painful contractions. The academy’s enrollment declined and revenue was no longer sufficient to cover the combined costs of operations and of the recent building program. To make up the difference Col. Davis mortgaged first the original college campus property, with all the major academy buildings, then the mostly vacant blocks of academy land to the north and west, and finally, in 1932, ‘furniture, furnishings and equipment of every kind and character’, down to mess hall utensils, band instruments and even the drum major’s baton. By 1932 enrollment had declined to about 200 and remained near that level for years, causing the academy to fall further behind in payments to its creditors.

In March 1936 Security Trust & Savings Bank declared the academy’s loans to be in default and the balance immediately due and payable, and gave notice of its intention to sell the property. Unable to meet the bank’s demands Col. Davis stepped down; the San Diego Union carried a special announcement in August 1936 from Col. Davis, president, and his brother Major John Davis, vice president and commandant, that they had resigned their positions and would no longer be associated with San Diego Army and Navy Academy. The announcement added that personal communications could be addressed to them care of the Davis Military Academy in Carlsbad. A separate article in the Union reported that the Davis academy had leased the former Red Apple Inn in Carlsbad and would open in September. There was no further explanation at the time of the reasons behind the resignations or the creation of the Carlsbad academy. A week later the Union followed up with a report that the Pacific Beach academy would reopen for the fall term in September 1936 with most of the previous year’s faculty and Major Edmund Barnum, professor of military science and tactics, as commandant. 150 cadets had already enrolled for the fall term.

In March 1937 the academy property in Pacific Beach was purchased by the John E. Brown College Corp. and the San Diego Union reported that Dr. Brown and his staff would take over operation of the academy. The Davises would be allowed to retain the San Diego Army and Navy Academy name for their new school in Carlsbad so the Pacific Beach school would be renamed Brown Military Academy. Present policies and curriculum would continue until the close of the current school year. The new administration did initiate a landscaping project to transform the campus into a ‘garden of beauty’ beginning with the quadrangle enclosed by the Spanish-style dormitories, to be laid out as a formal garden flanked by towering palms, lawns, flower gardens and walks.

Aerial view of Brown Military Academy in 1945. The original college building and Stough Hall are in the center, the gymnasium/auditorium to their left and the infirmary, pool and dormitory buildings on the right. The formal garden added by the new Brown administration is in the quadrangle surrounded by the dormitories. Col. Davis lived in the home at the extreme right of the photo, across Lamont Street from the dormitory buildings. (Howard Rozelle photo)

John E. Brown had begun as an evangelist preacher and founded John E. Brown College (later John Brown University) at Siloam Springs, Arkansas, in 1919. He was a proponent of vocational training and believed that schooling should be oriented toward ‘skilled labor and craftsmen’ and not the ‘white collar field’. He also favored strict discipline, religious observance and righteous morality at his schools, and the academy was expected to fit into his education philosophy. One activity that did not fit, however, was dancing, and the balls and dinner dances that had been fixtures of the academy social calendar were banned (at John Brown University today dancing is only allowed if conducted ‘in a way that upholds the scriptural principles of modesty and respect for others’).

A little over a year later, in December 1938, Col. Davis resigned the presidency of his academy in Carlsbad and shortly after that, in March 1939, went back to Pacific Beach to work for Dr. Brown as assistant to the president. In February 1940 he was appointed president of Brown Military Academy, assuming essentially the same position he had held, with a short interruption, since founding the academy 30 years earlier. Ironically, the academy he returned to in Pacific Beach is now long gone while the Carlsbad academy, its name shortened to Army and Navy Academy, is still in operation.

Col. Davis remained at the head of Brown Military Academy for nearly 15 more years, retiring in 1954. Although a strict disciplinarian himself, he did what he could to soften the more ascetic policies instituted by the new administration. In the matter of dancing, Col. Davis wrote to the manager of a local orchestra in 1941 that while Dr. Brown had banned dancing on campus, or even attending dances in the city, there had been ‘something of a change’ since his return and the boys ‘sometimes arranged social affairs of this kind off campus’.  They might be planning ‘something of the kind’ soon and he was interested in details about her orchestra, including prices. By the 1950s these off-campus social affairs had become regular items on the society pages of the local papers. In 1954, for example, the Union announced a formal Valentine’s Day ‘Sweetheart Dance’ hosted by the senior class at La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. The academy orchestra would provide the music and the guests would include young ladies from The Bishop’s School at La Jolla. Girls from The Bishop’s School were again guests of Brown’s Letterman’s Club for a formal dance at the Beach and Tennis Club in October.

When not entertaining Bishop’s girls at formal dances Brown Military Academy cadets existed in a highly structured environment with a heavy emphasis on military discipline and training. The academy combined a junior school for students from kindergarten to eighth grade and a senior school for high school and junior college students. The ‘battalion of cadets’ was organized along military lines and individual cadets held military ranks ranging from private to major. They were commanded by a battalion staff of higher ranking cadets and further divided into military companies and the band, each with their own cadet staffs. The companies competed in intercompany athletics and in military drills, where the best-drilled company received streamers for the company flag. Cadets woke to the sound of reveille in the early morning, wore uniforms on campus and ate with their military company in the mess hall. The day ended with the sound of call to quarters.

Mornings at the academy were devoted to academics and afternoons to athletics. The academic and military preparation provided to cadets enabled the academy to nominate them for admission to the national service academies. Athletically, the academy fielded teams which competed in local interscholastic leagues. Music was a major emphasis and Brown Military Academy had a highly regarded marching band (and also a dance orchestra for those occasional off-campus social affairs). The marching band appeared in academy ceremonies and also in parades around the city. Patriotic holidays in Pacific Beach often featured the academy band in parades on Garnet Avenue, beginning near the beach and often ending with a ceremony at the academy flagpole. For parades and other formal occasions the cadets, including junior school students, wore full dress uniforms like those worn by cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

The years following the Brown acquisition of the academy in 1937 were also a period of tremendous growth in Pacific Beach. Consolidated Aircraft had moved to San Diego in 1935 and opened a factory near the airport, attracting tens of thousands of aircraft workers to San Diego to build B-24 Liberator bombers. World War II led to the arrival of even more workers, as well as military personnel and employees, creating a major housing shortage in San Diego. The federal government responded with temporary housing projects in areas within commuting distance of the factories and bases, including Pacific Beach, and commercial builders also began construction of low-cost homes in Pacific Beach subdivisions like Pacific Pines, North Shore Highlands and Crown Point. Population growth and housing construction continued in the post-war period and by the mid-1950s most areas of Pacific Beach, including the area surrounding Brown Military Academy, had been fully built out (my family lived in one of these homes, built in 1950 right across Diamond Street from the academy).

Our home was across Diamond Street from the academy. Here one of the barracks is reflected in our front window.

Population growth also led to commercial development in Pacific Beach, particularly on Garnet Avenue, the community’s main street. Brown Military Academy occupied three blocks on Garnet and as the commercial value of this property increased it began selling off portions of it to developers. Part of the athletic field and parade ground fronting on Garnet west of Jewell became the site of a Safeway supermarket in December 1950. However, in February 1958 the San Diego Union reported that the entire academy would close that summer and relocate to the site of another Brown school in Glendora to make way for commercial development of its remaining 23-acre campus in Pacific Beach. The academy administration announced that the land was being ‘released’ to meet the community’s need for its rapidly increasing business expansion; retention of the campus for school purposes would not be wise in view of the land’s increased commercial value. The move had been under study for three years as the school was increasingly being ‘hemmed in’ by the community’s growth. The purchase price was said to be more than a million dollars.

Col. Davis reviews his ‘gray-clad boys’ at Brown Military Academy’s final commencement exercise at Pacific Beach in 1958 (San Diego History Center photo, UT Uncatalogued, Col Davis, 1958)

The Pacific Beach academy’s final commencement exercises were held in June 1958 and Col. Davis was present as honorary reviewing officer. The Evening Tribune reported that Col. Davis, then 84 years old, was unable to stand to take the review but he sat at rigid attention with his cane held straight up as 400 of his ‘gray-clad boys’ marched by. His life story, which included the founding of the academy in 1910, was read over the public address system as a tribute to him. The Tribune added that immediately after the commencement exercises Brown Military Academy would move to Glendora.

Although it was expected that most of the 475 cadets and 90 faculty members would make the move to Glendora, a few who preferred to remain in the San Diego area joined former headmaster Louis Bitterlin in opening the San Diego Military Academy in the former Las Flores Inn in Solana Beach. This academy also closed in 1977 and the site, on Academy Drive in Solana Beach, is now occupied by Santa Fe Christian Schools.

Development of the southern and western portion of the college campus property was soon underway, beginning with the demolition of the historic buildings dating to the days of the San Diego College of Letters. In August 1958 the San Diego Union reported that workmen razing buildings of the former Brown Military Academy found papers dating from 1887 in a tin baking soda can in the building’s cornerstone. These were artifacts from the January 1888 ceremony for which many residents of San Diego traveled over a new railroad line to the new community of Pacific Beach to welcome its first building, originally a college, later a hotel and finally a military academy.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the Pacific Plaza shopping center was held on May 17, 1960, and stores were open within a year. The original plan was to retain and remodel the four reinforced concrete dormitory buildings in the north eastern portion of the College Campus as a ‘geriatrics center’. The geriatrics center never happened but the abandoned buildings did remain standing for years, during which time they were thoroughly ransacked and all their windows broken (and the former academy property between the abandoned buildings and Diamond Street became a de facto playground for neighborhood kids). Col. Davis lived across Lamont Street from the dormitory buildings and sadly had to witness the deterioration of the institution to which he had devoted nearly 50 years of his life. Col. Davis died in 1964, the last academy buildings were finally demolished in 1965, and the Plaza apartments (later condominiums) were being built on the site by 1970. Today the only sign of Brown Military Academy in Pacific Beach is a small plaque in a parking lot at the corner of what was once its campus.

Sign Pollution in PB

Looking west on Garnet Avenue at Haines Street in 1972 (Dan Webster photo)

Pacific Beach grew dramatically during the twentieth century and nowhere was that growth more apparent than along Garnet Avenue, the community’s main street. Development had taken off during the war years of the 1940s and by the late 1950s Garnet was lined with commercial establishments ranging from shops, bars and gas stations to supermarkets, department stores and banks. These establishments identified themselves and advertised their businesses with signs, some painted on the sides of buildings but others mounted on roofs or projecting over sidewalks and other public property, many of them illuminated at night. The increasing number, size and brightness of signs had an increasingly negative effect on the community’s aesthetics, eventually generating resistance among residents.

Garnet Avenue at night, 1972 (Dan Webster photo)

The Pacific Plaza Shopping Center was built in 1960 on the former campus of Brown Military Academy on the north side of Garnet between Jewell and Lamont streets. One of the outlets in the center was a J. J. Newberry junior department store which was crowned with a large three-faced sign featuring the Newberry logo on a white background which was brilliantly illuminated at night. The store opened in February 1961 and the sign immediately provoked outrage among nearby residents. Within a month a petition signed by 173 Pacific Beach residents was submitted to the city council protesting its brilliance, which one councilman agreed was the brightest he had seen anywhere (my home at the time was a block away, facing the sign, and was among those most affected). However, the city planning director informed the council that the city had no control over signs in commercial zones. He said he would study the factors involved in the brilliance of a sign and report to the council, perhaps with a recommendation for some type of control. For its part, J. J. Newberry apparently recognized the negative public relations impact of its sign and the white background was soon turned off, leaving only the blue logo to be seen at night (which was still very large and offensive to nearby residents).

The J. J. Newberry store in Pacific Plaza, 1972 (Dan Webster photo)

The Newberry sign was a particularly glaring example but sign pollution continued to blight Garnet Avenue and other commercial districts in San Diego for years, generating periodic complaints from citizen’s groups and occasional action by the city. After the Clairemont Town Council complained about ‘sign clutter’ and ‘visual pollution’ on a section of Morena Boulevard the San Diego City Council voted in 1971 to impose restrictions on the height and size of signs in that area. The San Diego Union noted at the time that similar zoning rules had been in effect in La Jolla for years. The Clairemont council had also called for a citywide sign ordinance and in 1973 the San Diego City Council did adopt an ordinance to regulate the number, size and other characteristics of what were called ‘on-premises signs’ in all commercial and industrial zones.

The 1973 ordinance established the legal framework for the regulation of on-premises signs. It presented a set of standards and controls designed to ‘optimize communication between the citizen and his environment’, to facilitate the ‘protection not only of the public, but the aesthetic character of the City’, and to ‘ensure the availability to the business community of adequate quality on-premises signs’. The ordinance imposed limits on the number and size of signs and required all signs to have a city permit. New or modified signs would need a building permit conforming to the new requirements; existing signs which already met the requirements could obtain a use permit. Signs that did not conform to the new requirements would be declared ‘public nuisances’ and abated ‘as prescribed by law’. Importantly, a fee based on the area of the sign would be assessed for each permit, and permits had to be renewed, and an additional fee paid, every two years.

Tire store at Garnet and Gresham in 1972, covered in signs (Dan Webster photo)

The ordinance specified that a business having frontage on a public right-of-way of 250 feet or less would be entitled to one freestanding ground sign. The height and permitted area of ground signs would depend on the right-of-way’s width and the traffic speed allowed (although on Garnet Avenue most buildings extended all the way to their property line at the public sidewalk, leaving no space for a ground sign). Signs would be allowed on the walls of buildings visible from a public right-of-way but the permitted area of wall signs depended on the length of frontage on the right-of-way and the right-of-way’s width, and also on whether or not the premise had other ground, roof or projecting signs. Roof signs were permitted instead of, but not in addition to, ground or projecting signs if no reasonable alternative sign location existed. If permitted, roof signs would also be limited in height and area depending on the width and traffic speed of the adjoining public right-of-way. Any one premise with frontage on a public right-of-way would be permitted one projecting sign along that right-of-way instead of, but not in addition to, a ground and roof sign. The area of the projecting sign would depend on the width and traffic speed of the public right-of-way and also the frontage of the premise on that right-of-way. The maximum projection over the public right-of-way was also limited to no more than five feet or two-thirds of the width of the sidewalk, whichever was less. About 21,000 sign owners were expected to require permits for about 42,000 signs throughout San Diego.

Garnet Avenue at Ingraham Street, 1972 (Dan Webster photo)

The council passed the sign ordinance in April 1973 but it faced resistance from business owners opposed to the new regulations, and especially to the fees. According to the San Diego Union some merchants ‘lit up’ with ‘neon-like indignation’ when they learned what their fees would be and pledged to work for the recall of councilmen who voted for the sign law. For example, the Union noted that Pacific Honda at 1277 Garnet Ave. was billed $3,139 for two signs. The United Business Commission filed suit and enforcement of the ordinance was delayed for several years until an appellate court ruled that the sign fee was a ‘valid exercise of the city’s police power’ in March 1979. The city council also compromised with the business group by amending the ordinance to reduce fees for permit renewal and to allow non-conforming signs to remain until 1980.

Looking east on Garnet Avenue from about Bayard Street in 1972 (Dan Webster photo)

Apparently some combination of the restrictions and fees on signs, and perhaps increased community resistance to sign pollution, have had an effect and in the decades after the 1970s the aesthetics of the city’s commercial districts have improved considerably, particularly along Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach.

Garnet Avenue at Bayard Street in 2021

PB’s Main Street (Part 2)

Garnet Avenue has always been the ‘main street’ of Pacific Beach. It began as College Avenue in 1887 when the community’s founders placed the college campus they expected to become the foundation of their new subdivision on the north side of the avenue, between Jewell and Lamont streets. The San Diego College of Letters was built there in 1888, but the college failed financially and closed after a few years. In 1910 the college campus was reborn as the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, later Brown Military Academy, which finally fulfilled the founders’ expectations and for several decades was the community’s most important institution. Growing enrollment at the academy during the 1920s attracted commercial development to the area, including a grocery store across the street at the southeast corner of Jewell and another commercial block with a grocery, restaurant, barber, confectionary shop and the local post office at the southwest corner of Lamont.

College Avenue had been renamed Garnet in 1900 and with the proliferation of automobiles in the first decades of the twentieth century became a link in the main coast highway between San Diego, Los Angeles and points north. Paved in 1919, the coast highway passed through Pacific Beach over Garnet, Cass and Turquoise streets and continued through La Jolla to Del Mar. As traffic increased on the coast highway in the 1920s the area around the intersection of Garnet and Cass became another focus of commercial activity, centered on the Dunaway pharmacy building on the northwest corner. However, there was little development on Garnet between the ‘old’ Pacific Beach which had grown up around the college and academy and the ‘new’ Pacific Beach around Dunaway’s, and little development anywhere in Pacific Beach during the depression years of the 1930s. By 1940 there were still only 75 addresses listed on Garnet Avenue in the San Diego city directory.

In 1935 Consolidated Aircraft moved to San Diego and attracted tens of thousands of workers from around the country to build B-24 Liberator bombers at its manufacturing complex near the airport (in 1941 Consolidated merged with Vultee to become Consolidated Vultee Aircraft, or Convair). The war years of the early 1940s also brought large numbers of military personnel and their families to San Diego which added to the influx of aircraft workers to create a massive housing shortage. The federal government built temporary housing projects within commuting range of Consolidated, including several in Pacific Beach, and private contractors also began building low-cost homes in Pacific Beach, including on Garnet Avenue.

Between Dawes and Everts streets, where the only existing improvements had been Snyder’s gas station at 1106 and the Pacific Beach Lumber Company at 1121 Garnet, houses were built at 1160 in 1938 and 1140 Garnet in 1939. Across the street, at 1151 Garnet, a ‘1940 Honeymoon Economy Cottage’, described as a two-bedroom home and large lot on a paved street, was offered for $142.50 down. The houses at 1140  and 1160 Garnet are actually still there, at the back of their lots behind the storefronts on the sidewalk. Four 1-bedroom homes, built in 1946, are also still standing at 1757 – 1765 Garnet, across from what was then Brown Military Academy and is now a CVS pharmacy in Pacific Plaza. Further east on Garnet, many houses and apartments built in the 1940s and 1950s are still standing between Morrell and Pendleton streets.

Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, built in 1941

However, most development along Garnet Avenue from the 1940s on has been devoted to businesses and other services for the growing number of residents moving into homes elsewhere in Pacific Beach. When the Spanish Mission-style Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church was built in 1941 at the southwest corner of Garnet and Jewell Street, replacing the community’s first church, which had occupied that location since the 1880s, the San Diego Union reported that the new edifice was designed to serve a community whose population had more than doubled in the last year and a half. On the same block, at the southeast corner of Ingraham, H. C. Curtis built a masonry and stucco store and opened a grocery and meat market in 1941. In 1942 another store building was constructed diagonally across that intersection, at 1570 – 1580 Garnet. War had been declared in December 1941 and a number of items including sugar and tires were rationed to prevent shortages or increase availability for the war effort. The office of the rationing board for the Pacific Beach area was in this new building, at 1570 Garnet; the other three storefronts there began as a church, beauty shop and grocery. A nursery opened in the same block, at 1530 Garnet, in 1942.

Further west, between Dawes and Everts, the Victory Café and Victory Billiard Parlor opened in 1941 at 1159 and 1161 Garnet. Between Bayard and Cass streets two small shops, a barber at 954 and a variety store at 933 Garnet, were built in 1942. Next door to the barber, at 956 Garnet, a restaurant opened in another new building in 1944. These storefronts in the 900 block joined the Dunaway pharmacy buildings at the corner with Cass, built in the 1920s, as the only buildings on the block at that time. Other buildings built during the war years at this end of Garnet included a barber shop at 1036 and a liquor store at 1038 Garnet.

World War II ended in August 1945 and a little over a year later, in September 1946, the Mission Bay branch of the Security Trust & Savings Bank opened in an imposing building at 875 Garnet, the southwest corner of Garnet and Bayard (the original bank building is now gone and a clothing store occupies this corner today). An ad in the San Diego Union inviting residents to an open house included a message from the Pacific Beach Chamber of Commerce, ‘Another Forward Step’, which noted that the population of Pacific Beach had been 6000 in 1941 and had grown over the war years to over 24,000. According to the chamber, a well-planned business development had been under way since January 1945 which had given Pacific Beach close to two million dollars in business buildings and service establishments. Many more business buildings had been contracted for and would go into construction when war-time restrictions were eased. The war emergency had stopped plans for the bank but these plans were activated immediately upon cessation of hostilities.

The 1500 block of Garnet in 1946 (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

The 1946 ad for the Security bank included a list of 23 existing Pacific Beach businesses that extended a hearty welcome and best wishes for the bank’s success. All but one were on Garnet (the other was a block south, on Ingraham), and 15 had opened in new buildings along Garnet within the previous year. Seven of these new businesses were in the 1500 block, between Haines and Ingraham streets, including Pacific Beach Hardware at 1520, Academy Cleaners at 1525, Pacific Seafood at 1535, H & R Sporting Goods at 1559 and H & W Electric at 1561. Sibley’s Shoes and Bonnie’s Sportswear, at 1560 and 1562 Garnet, were in one of four new buildings extending along the north side of the block.

Pacific Beach Hardware in 1972

Three of the other new businesses listed in the chamber’s 1946 ad were in the 1900 block of Garnet, between Lamont and Morrell streets; Les Hanson Plumbing at 1936, Henry Rigoli’s real estate office at 1958, and George Brooks’ real estate office at the northwest corner of Morrell, 1976 Garnet. Other stores that had opened on Garnet and welcomed the new bank in 1946 included John’s food market and drug store at 1260 and 1280, Pacific Beach Auto at 1321, Western Auto at 1401 and a photography studio at 1845 Garnet, now absorbed into Broken Yolk café.

George Brooks’ real estate office about 1947 (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

As the chamber had predicted, many more business buildings went into construction after wartime restrictions were lifted. In the first block of Garnet there had been a restaurant at 701 Garnet, the southeast corner of Ocean Boulevard since the 1920s, and in 1945 another restaurant opened on the northeast corner, at 704 Garnet. A building at 714 Garnet, built in 1947, became Bert’s Place bar in 1951 and by 1952 a building in between, at 710 Garnet opened as Sleep E-Z Mattress, soon to become the Elbow Room bar.

Between Bayard and Cass the row of storefronts at 951 to 959 Garnet had been built by 1950. A jewelry store, beauty shop and liquor store were among the early tenants. Across the street, Ted Schiller’s camera store and a furniture store had opened at 936 and 930 Garnet. The store at 930 was demolished to make way for a Bank of America parking lot in 1979 but the store that had been Ted Schiller’s is still there.

In the 1000 block of Garnet Malanga Shoe Repair and Malanga Dry Cleaner opened at 1029 and 1031 Garnet in 1948 and in 1949 another pair of buildings went up next door, Bryan’s Paint and a photo supply store at 1035 and 1037 and women’s clothing, shoes and a paint supply store at 1041 to 1045 Garnet. Also in 1949 a medical arts building with two physicians and a dentist went up at 1050 and a barber shop opened next door at 1058 Garnet.  A Western Union telegraph office occupied the building at 1059 Garnet by 1950.

The Victory Lanes bowling alley, a long-time Pacific Beach landmark, held its grand opening in October 1948 at 1165 Garnet. In the same block of Garnet a pair of new buildings went up in the late 1940s, 1118, an auto repair shop and 1122, a paint store. The buildings at 1136, 1138 and 1140 and, across the street, the Arcade building at 1135 Garnet had all opened by 1950. In addition to two storefronts on Garnet, the Arcade building had a long interior corridor that was lined with offices and shops. These buildings are all still there, although the iconic sign on the former Victory Lanes building was taken down in the 1980s and only the base remains. A gas station at 1186, the northwest corner of Everts, had also opened by 1950 but closed by 1970.

Also opened before 1950 were a row of adjoining storefronts in the 1300 block, extending from 1331 to 1349 Garnet. At the time these were a stationer, real estate office, clothing stores, the North Shores Sentinel newspaper and Waibel’s Café. Used car lots at 1375, the southwest corner of Gresham, and 1370, the northwest corner, had opened and a brick dentist office at 1344 and the Pacific Beach Veterinary Clinic, still open at 1362 Garnet, had all been built by 1950.

There had been three homes in the 1400 block of Garnet since the 1920s but no further development until a Western Auto store opened at 1401, the southeast corner of Gresham, in 1946. By 1950 a row of storefronts had been built on the south side of the street, between 1415 and 1433, with Garnet beauty shop, H & H model store, a restaurant and an electric contractor. On the north side, between 1430 and 1466 Garnet were Harry Malin optometry, real estate offices, a lawyer, Boney’s market and another restaurant. A Tastee Freeze ice cream shop also opened in 1949 at 1474 Garnet, the northwest corner of Haines, but that building is no longer there and today’s Mr. Frostie shop is located in the strip mall that replaced it in the 1960s.

Between Ingraham and Jewell streets the north side of Garnet had long been the parade ground and athletic fields of Brown Military Academy. In 1950 Safeway built what it called its largest and most modern supermarket in San Diego, along with a parking lot that together covered most of that side of the block. In 1961 Safeway replaced that store with what was again characterized as San Diego’s most modern supermarket, set further back on the property. The store has since undergone other changes in ownership and been rebuilt again and the space is now anchored by a Trader Joe’s market. On the south side of Garnet, Sampsons’s Store for Men and Boys also moved into a new building at 1625 Garnet in 1950.

1727, 1721 and 1717 Garnet in 1972. The former Bennett store at 1717 is now a parking lot

Across from Brown Military Academy in the 1700 block of Garnet an automobile paint shop at 1717, an auto repair shop at 1727 and an appliance shop at 1753 had opened by 1949, Milton’s Fix-It shop at 1721 and Lloyd’s Bike Shop at 1749 were added the next year and a chiropractor office at 1711 the year after that. In the 1800 block, also across from the academy, a pair of buildings built in 1949 at 1833 and 1837 Garnet became a sheet metal business and poultry shop. The Mission Bay Masonic Club was meeting at 1827 Garnet in 1950.

Development continued along Garnet Avenue during the 1950s. A ‘small café’ opened in 1950 at the southwest corner of Mission Boulevard which by 1953 had been superseded by Oscar’s drive-in. The Old Ox later occupied the site and it is now the Fat Fish. And in January 1951, a month after Safeway held the grand opening of the city’s largest supermarket in the 1600 block of Garnet, another supermarket, a Food Basket, said to be the largest in the county, opened at the northwest corner of Garnet and Mission Boulevard.

Dr. Mitchell opened an office at 845 Garnet in 1951 and across the street Earl Taylor built a real estate office at 826 Garnet in 1952. By 1956 a dentist office had also been built next to the doctor at 835 Garnet. In November 1953 a 35,000 square foot building at 909 Garnet, the southeast corner of Bayard, became a J. C. Penney department store. Two other companies, Highlander men’s clothing and Evelyn Wigton’s apparel, also occupied 25-foot storefronts in the same building, at 915 and 919 Garnet. F. W. Woolworth at 945 and a Singer Sewing Center at 939 Garnet both opened in 1955, and Kirby’s Shoes at 929 and Anita Frocks at 931 Garnet were in business by 1957. By 1958 the building at 967 – 969 Garnet had also been constructed; 967 was originally a bargain women’s clothing shop and 969 an Italian restaurant.

In the 1000 block of Garnet Bryan’s Paint moved across the street from 1035 to a new building at 1060 Garnet in 1950. In 1952 the paint store moved again, to 1062 Garnet, and the Ten Thirty Eight Club became the first of many bars to occupy 1060 Garnet, moving from its previous address at 1038 Garnet. Barbecue Pit opened in 1953 at 1030, Frazee Paint opened next door at 1020 Garnet in 1954 and in 1958 Vic Tanny’s gym opened across the street at 1019 Garnet. There had long been a gas station at the northeast corner of Cass but in January 1959 a new branch of Home Federal Savings and Loan opened on that corner, at 1000 Garnet. According to the San Diego Union the two-story Monterey style building included 7,500 square feet and cost a quarter-million dollars. Suburban Savings and Loan had an office across the street at 1001 Garnet, the southeast corner of Cass, but in 1960 a permit valued at $192,000 was issued for construction of a new building to replace their old quarters. In the 1970s and 80s that new building became a Pacific Bell service center.

Cornet, Karl’s, Sid’s and the Jewel Box about 1952 (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

A & A Hardware opened at 1220 Garnet in 1950 and in 1951 Muehling’s  department store, at 1277 Garnet, the southwest corner of Fanuel, a Cornet 5-10-25-cent store at 1257 Garnet, and a building in between with four storefronts, 1261, 1263, 1265 and 1269, then Karl’s Shoes, Sid’s men’s wear, Jewel Box and Mode O’Day women’s clothing stores, were built. Two more women’s clothing stores, Berner Shops and Remar’s, at 1221 and 1231 opened in 1953 and the Thrifty ‘cut rate drug store’ at 1211 Garnet in 1956. At the opposite end of the block Telisales had opened a television salesroom at 1200 Garnet in November 1952. By 1956 this building had become the Green Room cocktail lounge and has been a drinking establishment ever since (Flamingo, Pink Phink, Daily Planet, Tavern at the Beach).

Kitty-corner across Fanuel from Muehlings’s, at 1302 Garnet, the U. S. National Bank building was completed in 1951. The Union reported that bank president C. Arnholt Smith was trying something new, getting away from the conventional design for banks, and that the one-story brick building followed ‘Normandy architectural lines’. The brick bank building is still there but is now a Wells Fargo. In 1952 an optometrist and the Allison-McCloskey escrow company moved into a new building at 1350 – 56 Garnet and a lawyer occupied the new building at 1360 Garnet. Another optometrist office had opened by 1956 at 1330 Garnet and a doctor and dentist office at 1324 was open by 1957. Allison-McCloskey escrow moved to a new office building at 1336 Garnet in 1960.

1447 – 1453 Garnet Avenue about 1951 (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

A number of buildings went up in the first years of the 1950s in the 1400 block of Garnet. On the north side, a building at 1420 – 22 Garnet housed Valdon Shops, a women’s clothing store, and the Mission Trails gift shop . Across the street, McDaniel’s dime store opened at 1439 Garnet and H & R sporting goods, the Hollywood beauty shop, Togs for Tots and Cameron’s shoes occupied the building at 1447 – 53. Alexander’s book and stationery store opened in one building at 1459 and Golden State Fabrics in another at 1471 Garnet (the house that had been numbered 1471 Garnet since the 1920s was renumbered 1465 and remained, as the Pacific Beach Mortuary and Tommy’s TV, until replaced by a bicycle shop in 1970). In the 1500 block a new building at 1550 housed a restaurant in 1950 and one at 1554 Garnet had a furniture business by 1952. In 1954 Golden State Fabrics moved from 1471 into a new building across Haines Street, at 1501 Garnet. The building next door, then numbered 1515, 1517 and 1519 Garnet, had opened the year before as a beauty salon and men’s clothing store.

At the southwest corner of Kendall a seat cover center and auto body shop had gone into business at 1775 and 1777 Garnet by 1953. The building at 1735 Garnet was built in 1954 and for years was a Frontier Furniture outlet. Robert Ravenscroft had built a grocery with living quarters upstairs at 1701 Garnet, the southeast corner of Jewell, in 1926. The grocery was closed in 1942 and the upstairs converted to apartments, and in 1977 the entire building, and the adjoining building at 1711 Garnet, was replaced by a San Diego Federal Savings and Loan branch, one of the first to have an automated ’24-hour Teller’. The building at 1717 Garnet later became a parking lot for the savings and loan branch, which is now a V-Outlet. The other buildings on this block remain, including a house built in 1926, the first improvement on this side of the block, still standing behind the façade of a smog check station at 1741 Garnet. In the 1800 block, Balboa Electric had opened at 1811 Garnet by 1952. The building which had stood at the southwest corner of Lamont since the 1920s continued to support a variety of commercial activities including a drug store, grocery, laundry, variety store, beauty salon and eventually the Back Door bar throughout the 1950s until it was replaced by a gas station in 1964.

Eno’s, and the Honeycutt house (Pacific Beach Historical Society photo)

One of the first buildings on Garnet Avenue, and the first residence, had been built in 1894 at the southeast corner of Lamont Street by Sterling Honeycutt, an early Pacific Beach lemon rancher. In the 1920s another structure was built in front of the Honeycutt house that by the 1940s had become Eno’s soda fountain, stationer, news dealer, utility company collection office and Greyhound bus depot. Mrs. Eno lived in the former Honeycutt house behind the store. In 1954 these buildings were replaced by Henry’s drive-in, at 1905 Garnet. A building across the street at 1926 Garnet was constructed in 1955 for a furniture and appliance store. A building at the northeast corner of Lamont, built in 1958, became a carpet store and the Tumbleweed Tavern before being replaced in 1974 by a Glendale Federal bank in 1974.

Brown Military Academy and vicinity, 1945 (photo by Howard Rozelle)

Brown Military Academy was located on the north side of Garnet between Jewell and Lamont streets. The academy had begun in 1910 as the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in the buildings constructed in the 1880s for the San Diego College of Letters but in the late 1920s had added a number of new buildings including four large reinforced concrete dormitories. Burdened by the construction costs the Army and Navy Academy failed financially during the depression years of the 1930s and the campus had been sold to John Brown Schools in 1937. Since then the academy had been increasingly ‘hemmed in’ by Pacific Beach’s growth and in 1958 Brown Schools ‘released’ its 23-acre campus ‘to meet the community’s need for its rapidly increasing business expansion’; retention of the campus for school purposes ‘would not be wise financially in view of the land’s increased commercial value’. Brown Military would move to a campus in Glendora and the property was sold for over a million dollars to a commercial development company to become a shopping center and apartment project.

Pacific Plaza 1972

The academy’s last commencement exercises were held in June 1958 and demolition began soon after; the Union reported in August that workers razing the former college buildings had found artifacts dating from the 1888 ceremonial laying of the cornerstone of the college, the first significant building in Pacific Beach. A groundbreaking ceremony for the Pacific Plaza shopping center was held in 1960 and a supermarket, bank, bowling alley, cinema, numerous stores and huge parking lots filled these two blocks along Garnet soon after. This shopping center was itself extensively rebuilt in the 1980s. Another groundbreaking had taken place at the other end of Garnet in 1959 where a 31,000 square foot building at the southeast corner of Mission Boulevard became the new home of Muehling’s department store and later Miller’s West. This building was also replaced in 1980 and is now Sea Coast Square.

Garnet Avenue had originally ended just east of Pendleton Street, where it merged into what was then called Grand Avenue (which was also the right of way of the railway between Pacific Beach and downtown San Diego). Grand Avenue (and the railway, before it was scrapped in 1919) continued across Rose Creek and around what had been a race track before turning south on the route of today’s Mission Bay Drive. In 1937 what had been Grand east of Lamont Street was renamed Balboa Avenue and Grand Avenue was extended over what had been Ivy Avenue, the street that continued in a straight line from Lamont to Mission Bay Drive through the former race track property. In 1960 the section of Balboa east of the merge with Garnet was renamed again, becoming the extension of Garnet Avenue.

The extension of Garnet Avenue east of Pendleton developed at a different pace and with a different character then the original section of Garnet. Grand Avenue had been much wider than other streets and avenues in Pacific Beach to accommodate the railway which once ran down its center so the section that became Balboa and then the eastern extension of Garnet is wider, and carried more traffic, than the original section of Garnet.

East of Rose Creek Garnet Avenue is now dominated by automotive services, drive-in fast food eateries and strip malls with large parking lots. In 1940 the only consumer business in this district was Boland’s grocery near the northwest corner of Mission Bay Drive, then called Pacific Highway. By 1942 a gas station had also opened on southeast corner of the Pacific Highway. Wartime population growth, particularly from the nearby Bayview Terrace housing project, led to commercial building in the block west of Pacific Highway, then the 2700 block of Balboa, with another gas station on the south side of the block and another grocery, a restaurant and a liquor store on the north side. In the intervening years most development in this section has replaced whatever was there before, although the Wienerschnitzel at the corner of Bond Street dates from the mid 1960s. In 1973 Home Savings & Loan built a branch at the southwest corner of Garnet and Mission Bay Drive, now a Chase Bank. The only building remaining from the 1940s is the former Boland’s grocery building, now the Nite Owl cocktail lounge.

West of Rose Creek the extension of Garnet now passes through what was once the Bayview Terrace federal housing project and is now the Admiral Hartman Community, a government-owned residential area with no frontage on Garnet. In the years before the federal government acquired this property the Kate Sessions nursery sales office was located on this street just west of the creek, a site now commemorated with a California historic landmark plaque. From 1888 to 1893 a plant making asbestos products was also located on the north side of the street, about where it now intersects Soledad Mountain Road. Across the street is the Rose Creek Cottage, the tudor-style dining room from the Scripps Braemar Manor on Mission Bay transplanted to this location in the 1980s. From there a sign points the way to the business district of Garnet Avenue, the main street in Pacific Beach.

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; ‘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. 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 the Roller Derby Room, Beef House and Pablo’s, is the original section of the expanded 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

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.

Pacific Beach Schools

 

The Pacific Beach Schoolhouse (with bell tower), next to the Presbyterian church and a lemon orchard about 1904 (San Diego History Center Photo #266)

Pacific Beach was expected to be an academic community when it was founded in 1887. A four-block campus in the center of the community, now the site of the Pacific Plaza shopping center, was set aside and granted to the San Diego College of Letters. The college opened in September 1888 and in its first year enrolled over 100 students. Collegiate students had to be at least 14 years old and meet stringent requirements for admission, particularly proficiency in Latin, but the college also included a preparatory course for younger students or students not meeting the admission requirements. The students were both male and female, some as young as 8. The college did attract residents to the new community. According to the 1889 San Diego city directory, 13 of the 37 residents listed for Pacific Beach were associated with the college. The college directory showed that about a quarter of the students were Pacific Beach residents, many of them the children or relatives of faculty members.

However the College of Letters closed after two years, and many in the college community moved away. Some of the faculty went on to careers in the San Diego school district. Harr Wagner, a professor and one of the founders of the college, became superintendent of schools in 1891 and F. P. Davidson, another college founder and professor, was principal at the Russ high school downtown from 1890 until he resigned to become superintendent of schools in 1898. Other college faculty and a number of former students became teachers in the school system. With the college no longer an option, Pacific Beach children of high school age could attend the Russ school, taking the train downtown from a station at Grand Avenue and Lamont Street. Grade school children attended school at a one-room public schoolhouse built in 1888 at the southwest corner of Hornblend and Everts streets (now a parking lot behind Crunch Fitness). In 1892 there were 22 students at the Pacific Beach schoolhouse and their teacher was Miss Eliza Lundegreen.

After the college closed the principal economic activity in Pacific Beach became lemon ranching. Most of the ranches were concentrated in the area around the college campus, the social and business center of the community. The former college buildings were used for community meetings and dances, and stores, businesses, the station and the Presbyterian church were all just a few blocks away. In 1895 Pacific Beach residents petitioned the school board to also move the school to this more central location. A site was acquired on Garnet Avenue west of Jewell Street and the church, and the schoolhouse was moved there in 1896. The Pacific Beach schoolhouse was still just one room with one teacher, who taught all grades. In 1898 the teacher was Miss Lu Jennings, who received a salary of $72.50 per month. In 1901 Miss Jennings transferred to the University Heights school and Miss Edith Phillips was appointed to the Pacific Beach school. The fact that these teachers were all ‘misses’ was no coincidence; it was the stated policy of the school district to only hire unmarried women, apparently because wives were assumed to be provided for by their husbands. A meeting of the board in 1902 adopted the following resolution:

Resolved, that no married woman shall be employed as a teacher of the public schools of San Diego unless it shall be proved to the satisfaction of the board that said teacher is the support of the family, or that other good and sufficient reason exists that in the judgement of the board makes such an appointment advisable.

At the turn of the twentieth century Pacific Beach was still a lightly populated agricultural community and in 1902 only 25 students were attending the Pacific Beach school. However, lemon ranching was in decline 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 Pacific Beach was in residential development. Folsom Bros. began a campaign of civic improvements, grading, ‘curbing’ and ‘sidewalking’ streets to make the area more attractive to homebuyers. Lots were sold, houses were built, and families moved in, and by 1906 attendance at the Pacific Beach school had increased to 40. A principal who also taught 5th and 6th grade was added to the faculty, but residents complained that crowding two teachers and all grades and classes into one small room was unfair to teachers, scholars and parents. In the summer of 1906 a large south wing containing two rooms was added to the original schoolhouse and finished ‘with paint outside and plaster within’. The San Diego Union reported that the enlarged schoolhouse would accommodate 150 children and was an improvement long needed by the rapidly increasing population. The improvements were none too soon; by 1907 attendance had increased to 50 pupils. However, attendance at the Pacific Beach school actually went down at the beginning of the 1908 school year. The Union speculated that the less-than-expected attendance was because the ‘vaccination question’ had not been settled; some parents would not send their children to public schools if vaccination was required and were waiting to find out.

In 1903 Folsom Bros. Co. also acquired the college campus property and after renovating the former college buildings opened as the Hotel Balboa in 1905. However the hotel was also unsuccessful and in 1910 Folsom Bros. leased the property to Capt. Thomas A. Davis, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, who founded a military academy on the site, initially with 13 cadets and himself as the only instructor. The San Diego Army and Navy Academy was only for ‘manly boys’ and originally included only grade school subjects, but within two years enrollment had increased to over 70, the faculty had grown to 6 and the curriculum extended to high school subjects. By 1918 the academy had continued to grow and was recognized as ‘by far the liveliest institution of the community, and at the same time Pacific Beach’s most substantial asset’, according to the Union. Although some local boys attended the academy, most of the cadets were from elsewhere and boarded in wooden cottages built on the campus. In 1921 Capt. Davis attempted to move the academy to Point Loma, adjacent to the new Navy and Marine Corps training centers, but when this effort failed he purchased the college campus property that he had been leasing and beginning in 1923 also acquired most of the two blocks on the north side of the campus and the two blocks on the west side.

The surrounding community had also been growing, partly due to the academy’s positive economic impact, and although some local boys attended the academy the public school became increasingly crowded; attendance for the 1922 school year was 116 students. The school district had purchased the block between Emerald, Diamond, Ingraham and Haines streets, a few blocks from the existing school, in 1921, and in 1922 announced plans for a new school on the site. A school building with six classrooms and an auditorium was built on the north side of Emerald Street, just west of Ingraham Street in time for the 1923 school year. Five teachers were assigned to the new Pacific Beach school; a principal, who also taught 7th and 8th grades, and teachers for 5th and 6th, 3rd and 4th, 2nd and 1st grade. The original schoolhouse, which had stood next to the Presbyterian Church from 1896 to 1923, was moved to the campus of the Army and Navy Academy where it was enlarged and turned into the academy’s junior school.

Paving of the coast highway through Pacific Beach along Garnet Avenue and Cass Street in 1919, completion of a fast electric streetcar line between downtown and La Jolla on Mission Boulevard in 1924 and a new entertainment and business district around Crystal Pier in 1926 contributed to a growth in the population of Pacific Beach during the 1920s, and a corresponding increase in the number of school-age students. Faced with another shortage of classrooms the school board in 1928 purchased a 9-acre site west of Fanuel between Turquoise and Tourmaline streets. The board announced that it would begin construction of a junior high school on the site as soon as the ‘estimated and probable’ enrollment reached 200 pupils, although they expected that total enrollment in September 1930 would be only 176. At a board meeting in April 1930 40 Pacific Beach residents led by Neil Nettleship, promoter of Crystal Pier, appeared at a board meeting and presented a list of 209 children who they said would be eligible to attend the school by the next February. The board was apparently persuaded and in May voted to advertise for bids for the construction of a $55,000 junior high school.

The Pacific Beach junior high school opened on February 1, 1931 with Dr. J. R. Nichols, who had been vice principal of the La Jolla junior and senior high school, as principal. Two months later Dr. Nichols was suspended without pay for three days as penalty for ‘boxing the ears’ of a student on the school grounds. The board of education noted that corporal punishment was not itself contrary to board rules but that Dr. Nichols had ‘acted in haste and without due regard to controlled action’. Apologies all around had satisfactorily concluded the incident.

Consolidated Aircraft moved to San Diego in 1935 and in the runup to World War II established a complex of manufacturing plants near the San Diego airport to build military aircraft. Tens of thousands of people moved to San Diego to work in these plants, creating a serious housing shortage. In 1941 the federal government acquired a number of tracts within commuting distance of the plants for temporary housing projects, including one in the eastern part of Pacific Beach. The Bayview Terrace project included over 1000 ‘demountable’ plywood homes and other facilities, including an elementary school. The Bayview Terrace elementary school opened in April 1942 with 270 students, who had previously been attending the Pacific Beach elementary school under crowded conditions that required double sessions. The school was built and owned by the federal government but leased to the city board of education and operated as a public school. The temporary homes for defense workers were removed in the 1950s and replaced by homes for military families, now the Admiral Hartman Community. The Bayview Terrace school, also built of plywood, was condemned by the fire department and rebuilt in the 1950s.

The number of defense workers in San Diego continued to grow during the war and the buildup of military forces in the San Diego area further contributed to population growth. Pacific Beach was a short distance from the aircraft plants and military facilities around San Diego Bay and had an abundance of vacant land, much of it already improved with paved streets and sidewalks and utilities like water and gas. The federal government added two more temporary housing projects in Pacific Beach during the war. Los Altos Terrace, with 428 housing units, was built in 1942 on the blocks surrounding the junior high school on Tourmaline Street, and the Cyane project, with 232 units, was built in 1944 in Fortuna Park between Pacific Beach Drive and Crown Point. Commercial developers also stepped in to meet the increasing demand for housing, particularly in improved subdivisions like Crown Point, North Shore Highlands and Braemar. But although these housing developments led to a huge increase in the population of Pacific Beach, including school-age children, wartime budget restrictions did not allow for further expansion of the school system.

The war ended in 1945 and in 1946 one of the first new schools to be authorized in San Diego was an elementary school in southern Pacific Beach, near the hundreds of new homes of the Cyane housing project and the Crown Point subdivision. A four-block area between Pacific Beach Drive, Fortuna Avenue and Ingraham and Jewell streets was purchased for $36,000 and Crown Point Elementary school opened for 525 boys and girls in January 1948. The San Diego Union reported that San Diego’s first post-war school relieved serious overcrowding at Pacific Beach Elementary, but that increased school enrollment in the area had already outstripped its facilities and two grades destined for Crown Point would remain at the Pacific Beach elementary school. Within a month of its opening the board of education approved an addition to the new school, practically doubling its size, and predicted that another elementary school would soon be needed for the Pacific Beach area if school enrollment there kept expanding. 1948 was also the year when St. Brigid Church and Academy was dedicated. A generation of Catholic children attended this private school on Cass and Diamond streets before it closed in 1971.

Over the summer of 1950 the school district accommodated the growing school-aged population in Pacific Beach by adding classrooms and other facilities, and by switching the functions of the existing Pacific Beach elementary and junior high schools. The campus of what had been the elementary school was doubled in size with the acquisition of the block between Emerald and Felspar streets west of Ingraham (and the closing of Emerald in that block). A new physical education building, assembly/cafeteria building and additional classrooms were built for what would become the junior high school there. An assembly/cafeteria building was also added to the former junior high school, which was then reopened as the elementary school. The board explained that placing a larger junior high school near the center of the community and smaller elementary schools in more outlying areas was in line with ‘up-to-date planning’ in which elementary schools serve a smaller section of the community so younger children will not have so far to walk or ride to school. In fact most children from the Los Altos Terrace project would only have to walk a block or two to the elementary school and children from North Shore Highlands only a few blocks further.

The population of Pacific Beach continued to grow in the 1950s and another school in the southwestern part of Pacific Beach was opened in 1953 on the site of a former trailer park on Cass Street between Thomas and Reed avenues and next to the Braemar subdivision. Martha Farnum Elementary was built for $337,450, financed by the federal government under the ‘defense impact area’ program, and initially served 400 students. The school was named for the first woman to hold a top administrative position in the San Diego school district. Martha Farnum had been the assistant superintendent in charge of elementary education and when she died the year before, while still in her 40s, the school board announced that a school would be named in her honor. 1953 was also the year that a new high school was opened south of Grand Avenue and west of Rose Creek, built on fill dredged from Mission Bay while transforming the natural marshland in the northwest corner of the bay into De Anza Cove and Point. Mission Bay High School also benefitted from federal ‘defense impact area’ funds.

In 1956 the last new public school to be built in Pacific Beach opened at the northeastern corner of the community, on Beryl Street north of Noyes Street. The site was then undeveloped land at the base of the Mt. Soledad foothills and there was nothing but more undeveloped land north or east of the school. Kate Sessions Elementary was named for horticulturist Kate Sessions, best known as the ‘mother of Balboa Park’, who had established a nursery operation and made her home in Pacific Beach not far from where the school was built. 499 students were present when it opened (including me).

Brown Military Academy in 1938. Newer concrete dormitory buildings stand behind the older college buildings on the original college campus (San Diego History Center Photo #83_14603-1)

While population growth in Pacific Beach had spurred construction of public schools, it had a negative impact on the military academy. In the late 1920s a number of large reinforced-concrete dormitories had been built to accommodate a corps of cadets that had grown to over 400, but the depression of the 1930s had reduced enrollment and, unable to repay the building costs, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy was sold to John Brown College in 1937 and renamed Brown Military Academy. In the 1950s the Brown organization announced that the academy was increasingly being ‘hemmed in’ by the community’s growth and ‘retention of the campus for school purposes would not be wise financially in view of land’s increased commercial value’. The campus was sold for over a million dollars to an investment company and Brown Military Academy relocated to Glendora. Most of the academy buildings, including the original College of Letters buildings, were demolished and the Pacific Plaza shopping center built on the site. The concrete dormitories remained standing, abandoned and heavily vandalized, until they were torn down in 1965.

The population of Pacific Beach continued to grow as single-family homes gave way to multi-unit condominiums and apartments and as residential developments moved into previously undeveloped areas such as the Mt. Soledad foothills. However, many of the new residents were college students or young adults without children and school attendance actually went down. At the same time, newer communities like Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch were being developed and attracting families with school-age children. The school board decided to close one of the under-utilized schools in the southern part of Pacific Beach and lease the property to fund school construction elsewhere. Since the Crown Point school had a larger campus and could better accommodate future expansion if needed, the board decided to close the Martha Farnum school in 1983. The school was razed and is now the site of the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library. Other Pacific Beach schools have remained but many of their students come from outside the community. Since 2008 the Crown Point school, now known as Crown Point Junior Music Academy, has attracted students through a music magnet program. The Bayview Terrace school was converted to a Mandarin language magnet school in 2013 and is now called Barnard Elementary. Mission Bay High School also responded to declining enrollment by busing students in from other areas.

No new schools have been built in Pacific Beach for over 60 years, but existing schools have undergone additions, reconstruction and upgrades. The school building originally constructed in 1923 as the elementary school and switched to a junior high school in 1950 did not meet state earthquake safety standards and was reconstructed in 1976. And the campus, now Pacific Beach Middle School, is currently (2020) in the midst of a ‘whole site modernization’ project in which the two-story classroom buildings built in 1950 are being torn down and replaced.

Draining Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach lies on a coastal plain at the foot of Mount Soledad, which rises toward a summit north of the community. The area receives an average of about ten inches of rain a year, most of it coming during winter storms that can drop a large volume of water in a short period of time. In its natural state, even heavy rainfall was absorbed in the relatively flat plains region, although the extreme southwest corner along the shore of Mission Bay is barely above sea level and drains very slowly. In this area, where the Catamaran Resort is now, rainwater remained at or near the surface and an early settler developed a spring to water a flock of sheep. There are also other locations where natural ‘sinks’ or depressions in the otherwise level plain could collect rainwater and become seasonal ponds or marshes. Rain falling on Mount Soledad ran off into canyons: Tourmaline Canyon, near the northwest corner of the community, runs into the ocean and the canyon now followed by Soledad Mountain Road drains into Rose Creek and then Mission Bay, but Bone Canyon, above Vickie Drive, and the canyon between Kate Sessions Park and Kate Sessions school, above lower Academy Street, both empty into areas that have become populated.

1943 topographic map of Pacific Beach, showing intermittent streams flowing from canyons and a ‘sink’ off Ingraham four blocks south of Garnet

In the first decades after its founding in 1887 Pacific Beach was a rural community covered with fields and orchards that largely benefited from the winter rains. The San Diego Union reported in February 1903 that ‘the glorious rains have put everything in the best of shape: the hay fields are looking fine, and the orchards have had a soaking way down deep’. As time went on houses and roads replaced hay fields and orchards, and for these new uses of the land glorious rains could instead leave things in worse shape. In 1901 Fred T. Scripps built a palatial home on the shoreline of Mission Bay in the same low area where the sheep herder had his spring. In January 1916 a series of winter storms that caused devastating floods all over southern California also drenched Pacific Beach. The Union reported that Scripps’ home was practically surrounded by water left by the storm and city employees were sent out to help drain the pool.

The canyon above today’s Academy Street once sustained a seasonal stream that in winter months flowed south along what became Noyes Street toward Mission Bay. In 1900 the Evening Tribune described the area along Noyes between Diamond Street and Garnet Avenue as ‘rich bottom land’ and reported that a local farmer was setting out 4000 strawberry plants. But in 1926, after houses had replaced strawberries along Garnet, property owners petitioned the city council to take some action to prevent water draining down Noyes from forming a ‘small lake’ at the intersection of Noyes and Garnet. They suggested that a closed conduit be constructed along Noyes to care for the flood waters. The Manager of Operation recommended that the City Engineer be instructed to prepare plans for paving Noyes between Garnet and Diamond to take care of the storm waters. Neither of these ideas was implemented at the time.

The war effort of the 1940s led to enormous growth in the population of Pacific Beach, accompanied by increased homebuilding and street improvement, some of which took place in areas prone to flooding. The area around Thomas and Reed avenues between Ingraham and Jewell streets is in one of the natural depressions which earlier owners had drained by digging a ditch westward across Ingraham. The ditch interfered with development of nearby property and in 1941 the city council awarded a contract for what was apparently the first underground storm drain in Pacific Beach, under Reed Avenue between Ingraham and Haines streets. The ditch was then filled in and by 1950 these blocks were lined with houses. This storm drain was later extended to Mission Bay at the foot of Fanuel Street and up Ingraham to Garnet Avenue.

Alley between Thomas and Reed avenues and Jewell and Ingraham streets, illustrating the natural ‘sink’ in this area drained first by a ditch and then a storm drain

A storm drain also made development possible in a section of northwest Pacific Beach, near where Tourmaline Canyon enters the ocean. The original railroad line between Pacific Beach and La Jolla had crossed this canyon over a bridge but when the line was upgraded to a fast streetcar line in the 1920s the bridge was replaced by a solid dirt embankment over a concrete culvert. The canyon originally continued east for another block or so, between the embankment, now La Jolla Boulevard, and Turquoise Street, but in 1952 the city laid a storm drain in this section of the canyon and in the years since it has been filled in. In its place is a row of houses and the Barrier Reef condominiums along a new block of Sapphire Street.

As streets were paved and houses built on formerly absorptive land, stormwater runoff became an increasing problem in Pacific Beach, particularly in the ‘rich bottom land’ in the vicinity of Noyes Street. In 1953 the city council came up with a plan for a storm drain system that would empty into Mission Bay at the foot of Olney Street. The drain would run under Olney between the bay and Grand Avenue and under Grand between Olney and Kendall street. A branch would run under Noyes Street between Grand and Diamond Street and from there one branch would run west to Lamont and another would run north to Academy Street and under Academy to Beryl. Half of this project was to be funded by the city under a 1952 storm drain bond issue, but half was to be funded by the owners of over 1000 lots in an assessment district bordering the route of the proposed drain.

When the council met to consider this storm drain project a large group of property owners appeared to protest the project. Most of the complaints were about the boundaries of the assessment district, with owners of property at higher levels complaining that only the owners lower down whose property was affected by stormwater would see any benefit from their assessment payments. Other protesters contended that underground storm drains were not needed at all. Richmond Jackson, who owned a home on Noyes overlooking Academy Street, suggested that the drainage problem could be solved with settling basins, which could also be used for fishing. Any runoff could be contained in surface drains within paved streets. Academy Street, below his house, had been paved a few years earlier and Jackson claimed that it had been successful at draining stormwater in that area. Faced with a survey indicating that 90% of affected property owners opposed it, the council abandoned this ambitious storm drain project in March 1954. Instead the city used its own funds to build a storm drain on Grand Avenue and Olney Street draining into Mission Bay. The city also acquired easements and built a storm drain under two blocks between Morrell and Noyes streets and Grand and Reed avenues, a particularly low area in these ‘bottom lands’ with a history of flooding, and connected it to the Olney drain.

Outlet of the Olney Street storm drain into Mission Bay

In 1955 a city council proposal to pave and otherwise improve Noyes from Reed to Beryl streets included construction of a storm drain between Grand Avenue and Diamond Street. Again there were protests; the people below wanted the drain, the people above did not. However, this time the council overruled the protests and the street improvements, including the storm drain, were made in 1956. In the years since, as development continued in the foothills above Pacific Beach, this storm drain has been extended up Academy Street and Edgeworth Road to beyond Kate Sessions Park, effectively solving the drainage problems originating from this canyon.

Increased runoff due to development also increased the drainage problems in the low-lying areas of southwestern Pacific Beach, periodically flooding the area around Mission Boulevard and Pacific Beach Drive. In 1953 the existing sewage pumping station there was upgraded to also handle storm water. After a major storm in January 1964 flooded the area once again, city manager Tom Fletcher told the San Diego Union that ‘ponding’ began at the Mission Boulevard-Pacific Beach Drive intersection after storms of any magnitude, and spread to Oliver Avenue, which is about the same elevation. When the ponding reached a depth of about two feet excess water also ran south on Mission Boulevard, placing a load on the drains there. However, he announced that a project included in the city’s capital outlay program for the year would double the capacity of the drainage system. This storm drain project ran up Dawes Street from Mission Bay and along Grand, Fanuel and Felspar as far as the corner of Gresham and Emerald streets. Over the next few years storm drains were also added under Missouri, Loring and Sapphire streets, leading to the ocean.

Outlet of the Missouri Street storm drain at the beach

Pacific Beach has continued to grow, and storm drains along Soledad Mountain Road and Vickie Drive were among those added to handle increased runoff as development expanded onto Mount Soledad. In addition to mitigating flooding, some of these large concrete tubes turned out to have other unanticipated uses, at least during the dry season. Members of a Facebook group for Pacific Beach old-timers responded to the question ‘Who explored the underground storm drains of PB?’ with claims to have not only explored but to have ridden skateboards and Flexies, some with flashlights taped on them for headlights, through the drains. Some recalled riding from the end of Vickie Drive to Tourmaline Beach or skateboarding to Mission Bay. In the wet season, though, the storm drain system is meant to keep Pacific Beach dry and it has generally been effective, although storms of any magnitude still cause ponding in the area where sheep once drank from natural springs and city workers had to bail out Fred Scripps’ home.

Storm drain system in Pacific Beach

Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach

In 1887 a group of wealthy San Diego businessmen formed the Pacific Beach Company, which acquired several square miles north of Mission Bay, drew up a subdivision map and began selling lots in the tract they christened Pacific Beach. The map showed Pacific Beach extending from the ocean nearly to Rose Creek and divided into rectangular blocks separated by north-south streets and east-west avenues. The map also showed a railway line then under development by the same group of businessmen which circled around a race track on the other side of Rose Creek, slicing through several of these blocks and passing through the center of the community to a depot near the beach. On the map the railway’s right of way was called Grand Avenue. The founders named the avenues south of Grand after themselves and north of Grand they were mostly named for states. The streets were numbered, from First Street near the beach to Seventeenth Street near the creek, except for Broadway, between Eighth and Ninth streets. Since the company had granted the railway a 40-foot right of way along its centerline Grand Avenue was made wider than most other avenues and streets in Pacific Beach, 125 feet instead of the standard 80 feet. The railway and Grand Avenue departed from the rectangular street pattern east of Eleventh (now Lamont) Street to bypass the race track. Today the railway is gone and what was originally called Grand Avenue east of Lamont has become Balboa Avenue. Grand now continues straight from Lamont to beyond Rose Creek over what was then called Ivy Avenue.

The Pacific Beach Company intended for the community to develop around a college opened in 1888 on a campus two blocks north of Grand at College (now Garnet) Avenue and Eleventh Street, and the railroad located a station on its right of way just west of Eleventh that became known as the College Station. C. E. Frost opened a store nearby carrying stationery, notions, and a supply of food items. The railroad also built a siding on the east side of Eleventh where the Pacific Beach Lumber Company set up a lumber yard to supply home builders in Pacific Beach (where the 7-Eleven market is now). Fannie Gleason purchased the lot next door and built one of these early homes, one that is still standing and is now Mamma Mia’s restaurant. Further west on Grand, a grocery store, which also served as the community post office, was opened at the southeast corner of Eighth (now Haines) Street. These businesses were advertised in The College Rambler, the student newspaper in 1889. In 1893 San Diego’s board of aldermen also ordered a water trough to be installed at Eleventh Street and Grand Avenue.

The railroad had its terminus at the foot of Grand Avenue, which is also where the Pacific Beach Company had built a hotel and dance pavilion. The track (and Grand Avenue) actually curved south at Second (now Bayard) Street to what was called the Depot Grounds, which included the railroad’s engine shed. The hotel was located in Lot A, between this curve and the avenue that continued straight from Second to the beach, then called Elm Avenue. In 1893 the railroad extended the line to La Jolla, turning north at Second to a right of way along First Street (later Allison Street and now Mission Boulevard). Elm Avenue later disappeared from maps and Grand Avenue was shown continuing straight to the beach.

In 1896 the Pacific Beach Company sold the hotel and dance pavilion at the beach and also half of the block east of Eleventh and north of the lumber yard and Gleason’s home to Sterling Honeycutt. As part of the deal, Honeycutt was required to move the hotel and pavilion from the beach to this new location. The buildings were moved in early 1897 and the hotel was put down on the west side of the block, at Eleventh Street and California Avenue (now Hornblend Street) and the pavilion on the east side, at California and Twelfth (Morrell) Street. At the same time the College Station depot was enlarged and ‘beautified’ and the San Diego Union reported that the changes had ‘greatly improved the appearance of this place’. Since Grand Avenue, and the railroad, sliced diagonally through the south half of the block, the pavilion building ended up next to the railroad siding and Honeycutt converted it to a lemon curing, packing and shipping plant (in 1907 it was converted again, into a Methodist church).

Also in 1896, Frost sold his grocery store and post office at the College Station and W. F. Ludington became the grocer and postmaster. The store was enlarged and in 1901 it was taken over by E. Y. Barnes, a former student at the college, who also became the postmaster. In 1904 W. P. Parmenter and his sons-in-law the McCrary brothers built another store on the southwest corner of Grand and Lamont. This store was a substantial two-story building made of cement blocks. When Barnes left Pacific Beach in 1905 the McCrary store became the post office, with Parmenter as postmaster, and Clarence Pratt took over the store on the north side from Barnes. When Robert Ravenscroft acquired the McCrary store in 1913 the post office moved back across Grand to Pratt’s store and Pratt became postmaster. These stores remained at the corner of Grand and Lamont until the mid 1920s, when the post office moved and Ravenscroft built a new grocery, both of them on Garnet Avenue. The cement block store on the south side of Grand later became the Full Gospel Tabernacle before being replaced by a gas station in the 1950s.

Pacific Beach was not the only subdivision in San Diego to have a Grand Avenue, or numbered streets, or avenues named for states. In 1899 the city had adopted a policy to require street names throughout the city to be unique, and in 1900 a city ordinance changed the names of most of the streets and avenues in Pacific Beach. The numbered streets were all renamed after statesmen, from Allison to Randall, and the state-themed streets north of Grand were renamed for gemstones. College Avenue was also renamed for a gemstone; Garnet Street (now Avenue). Grand Avenue and the avenues south of Grand retained their original names (and the Grand Avenue in La Jolla became Girard Street). Broadway, the main north-south street, was renamed Izard Street but this name was apparently unpopular and it later became Ingraham Street.

In the early years of the twentieth century the Folsom brothers, Murtrie and Wilbur, purchased most of the Pacific Beach subdivision, nearly 100 blocks and over 650 acres, and began an ambitious program of development and improvement in an effort to stimulate sales of residential lots. Much of their development effort involved street improvements, particularly in the College Station area, then the heart of the community. In 1907 the city council granted a petition by property owners fronting on Grand Avenue between Lamont and Ingraham streets to grade that section of Grand at their own expense. The list of property owners included the Folsoms, Pratt, Parmenter and the McCrarys, and also C. L. Boesch, who in 1906 built the home that is still standing at the northeast corner of Grand and Jewell Street. Streets were graded by gangs of men and teams of horses cutting and filling to bring the surface of a street to the grade or elevation established by the city engineer. In the days before automobiles few streets were paved, but in 1908 the council also ordered curbs and sidewalks on Grand Avenue between Lamont and Ingraham. Some of these sidewalks can still be seen.

The Pacific Beach race track had been built on the east side of Rose Creek in 1887 and the railway from San Diego had looped around it before angling southwest toward the College Station at Lamont Street. However, the race track had been unsuccessful and had repeatedly been washed out by flooding of Rose Creek. In 1906 it was sold to a group of investors who subdivided the property as Mission Bay Park, which extended Pacific Beach avenues, including Grand and Ivy, into the new subdivision. With the race track no longer an obstacle, the railway company shortened the route to Pacific Beach with a cutoff through the former race track on Ivy Avenue, continuing west to Lamont. Service over the new line began in 1907.

Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway train on Ivy Avenue right of way, now Grand Avenue, about where Mission Bay High School is now, in 1914 (San Diego History Center photo, #91:18564-1666)

In 1910 the city council ordered Grand to be graded from Pendleton Street to the Ocean Front and contractors Clouse and Goodbody completed the work in September of that year at a cost of $9552. At its highest point around Broadway (Ingraham) the grade was lowered substantially; the Evening Tribune reported that property owners were building retaining walls in front of their properties on Grand Avenue since the grading had made a six-foot cut in front of their properties. Some of these retaining walls, made of cobblestones, are still standing on the south side of Grand between Ingraham and Haines streets, with the yards and homes behind them standing on the natural surface of the land, several feet above the street.

By 1912 automobiles were becoming more common and the city engineer was asked to recommend the most feasible route to connect San Diego with the state highway to be constructed north from Del Mar. His report concluded that a coastal route, via Pacific Beach, La Jolla and the Torrey Pines grade, was preferable to a route through Rose Canyon. The coast road was relatively level, except for the Torrey Pines grade itself, and would be easier to grade and maintain. It was also considered an advantage that the coast road passed through a populous district and would thus accommodate local as well as through traffic. The Rose Canyon route was built as a wagon road ‘before the automobile was dreamed of’ and although it was about four miles shorter it was a ‘side-hill’ road carved into the slopes of Mount Soledad with many sharp turns. The engineer argued that since 90 per cent of travel was then by automobile, a straight alignment, allowing higher speeds, was preferable to a shorter distance.

In 1914 the council authorized the city engineer to submit plans and specifications for paving Grand Avenue and Cass and Turquoise streets in Pacific Beach as part of this route.  However, a delegation of Pacific Beach property owners appeared before the council with a request to change the routing of the proposed coast highway from Grand to Garnet Avenue. Their main objection was that Grand Avenue was divided by the tracks of the La Jolla railroad and was undesirable for automobile traffic. Nevertheless, in November 1914 the city council passed a resolution of intention to pave ‘with an asphaltic oil wearing surface, laid upon a concrete base’ the roadway of Grand Avenue, except for the 40-foot strip of land in the center of Grand under the control of the railroad, by then called the Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railway. This work was to be funded by assessments on property owners in the district deemed to benefit by the improvement of Grand Avenue, which was essentially all of Pacific Beach and Fortuna Park.

A. R. Pease, secretary of the San Diego Beach Company, successor to the Folsom brothers as owner of much of this property, sent a postcard to Pacific Beach property owners noting that an expense of over $60,000 would be chargeable against a district in which their property was located. His company and other large owners of property desired to protest against doing the work during those ‘times of financial stringency’. ‘Will you join with us in the protest? If so, sign and return annexed return card at once’. More than 900 property owners signed the protest and in February 1915 the council met and sustained the protests. The resolution to pave Grand Avenue was repealed. The city eventually agreed that since the coast highway was of value to the entire city half of the cost of the paving would be paid from the general fund. The council also agreed to alter the route, and the coast highway, via Garnet and Cass streets, was finally paved in April 1919.

Also in 1919, after years of declining service, the Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railway was abandoned and the tracks taken up and shipped to Japan as scrap. The right of way, 40 feet in width, 20 feet on each side of the tracks, was quitclaimed and restored to the city in June 1923. In 1924 the San Diego Electric Railway Company opened a fast streetcar line that entered Pacific Beach via Mission Beach and continued over the route of the original railway on Allison Street toward La Jolla.

The coast highway and fast streetcar line improved access to Pacific Beach and attracted the attention of a new set of real estate promoters, who planned to transform the beach area by building a ‘pleasure pier’ at the end of Garnet Avenue and developing a new business center around the intersection of Garnet and Cass. In 1925 work was begun on Crystal Pier and Dunaway Pharmacy was opened to anchor the new business district. The promoters also pressed the city for street improvements in the area and in April 1927 a contract was awarded to E. Paul Ford to pave the streets and alleys extending from the beach to Cass Street between Emerald Street and Thomas Avenue, including Grand Avenue. Wider than the other streets, the pavement on Grand west of Cass was divided by an unpaved island in the center. Diamond Street was paved between Cass and Pendleton streets in 1926 and streets were paved in mid-1920s real estate developments in other areas of Pacific Beach, like North Shore Highlands, Braemar and Pacific Pines, but Grand Avenue east of Cass Street remained unpaved for decades.

For fifty years, from 1887 to 1937, Grand Avenue had followed the route of the original Pacific Beach railroad, straight between the beach and Lamont Street then angling northward toward Garnet Avenue and curving around the race track east of Rose Creek. On the map the continuation of the roadway east of Lamont had been called Ivy Avenue. In 1907, after the race track was abandoned, the railroad was realigned to run across the former track over Ivy Avenue to Lamont. In 1937 the map was changed and the section of Grand Avenue east of Lamont was renamed Balboa Avenue. Ivy Avenue was renamed Grand Avenue.

The newly renamed section of Grand Avenue east of Lamont Street had been graded in 1907, and between Noyes and Olney streets the grade was lowered over 10 feet leaving adjoining lots far above the street. However, there were no residences or other improvements along the former Ivy Avenue and no bridge over Rose Creek, so this section of Grand was unused and was not even shown on gas station road maps. In 1941, during World War II, the federal public housing authority expropriated most the land east of Olney Street in Pacific Beach, including both sides of Grand Avenue, for a temporary housing project for defense workers. The Bayview Terrace project eventually included over 1000 ‘demountable’ homes and a new street system, including two blocks of Grand Avenue east of Olney. However, this section of Grand did not extend across Rose Creek to join Pacific Highway.

When Pacific Beach was founded in 1887 Mission Bay was a shallow estuary at the mouth of the San Diego River, much of it covered in mud flats. Dredging projects had begun as early as the 1920s to deepen the bay and utilize the material removed from the bottom to build up and shape the shoreline and create islands. By the late 1940s the west side of the bay had been dredged it to a depth of 8 feet, with points and bays created along the western shore and an island created in the middle. In 1948 work began on the eastern side of the bay, and the dredging spoil was deposited on shore in the vicinity of Rose Creek, creating De Anza Point and Cove and building up nearly 200 acres of land extending from the bay to Grand Avenue. Mission Bay High School and the baseball fields, tennis courts and golf course bordering Grand were built on this fill.

The high school opened September 1953 but even before it opened Pacific Beach civic organizations had approached the city council about paving Grand Avenue and extending it to Pacific Highway, citing the ‘already bad situation’ and the ‘condition which will develop’ with the opening of the new school. In June 1954 the council responded by passing a resolution to pave Grand between Cass and Ingraham with three inches of asphalt concrete over a six inch cement base. The contract was awarded to Griffith Company in September 1954. This was followed by a resolution to pave Grand between Ingraham and the high school In May 1955. This project also specified a two inch asphalt concrete surface to be laid in a raised island between curbs in the center. That contract was also awarded to Griffith in September 1955. From the high school to Pacific Highway, including a bridge over Rose Creek, a joint venture involving R. E. Hazard and Company and W. F. Maxwell Company was awarded a contract in February 1955. By the end of 1956 Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach was paved from end to end.

Grand Avenue and Lamont Street, once the site of the College Station and PB’s stores, post office, lumber company and water trough

A Hot and Stormy Scene

San Diego College of Letters (San Diego History Center Photo 9800)

He came to build a college, a scientific and literary light-house which would guide people into the golden harbor of wealth, culture, character and happiness, but his own passage into this harbor was thrown off course by turbulence in his domestic life. The tabloids of the day spread the rumor that his wife had rediscovered her first love and ‘on by-streets and in moon-lit cover’ had enjoyed ‘enchanting trysts’. She left town, a divorce suit followed, and then came news that she had died. He also organized the local church and became its first minister, and finding himself single again he married the Sunday school pianist, a 16-year-old girl who had once been a playmate of his own sons. After only a few months the yellow press struck again with a story that she had fallen for a youthful instructor at the college and flown the coop. She denied the rumor about the instructor but defended her decision to split, adding that the marriage was through the influence of others, not of her own free will. Another divorce suit followed. This was Pacific Beach in 1889.

Cecil Spencer (C. S.) Sprecher was born in 1846 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where his father Samuel Sprecher was pastor of the Lutheran Church. In 1849 his father became president of Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio, serving as president until 1874 and remaining there as a professor until 1884. C. S. Sprecher attended Wittenberg where he received a BA degree in 1868 and a DD degree in 1871. He was ordained a Lutheran minister in 1871 and in 1872, while pastor-elect of the Lutheran Church of Tiffin, Ohio, was married to Irene (Rena) Robinson, of nearby Bucyrus. He later served as pastor in Lutheran churches in Findlay and Ashland in Ohio. In October 1883 The Mail of Stockton, California, reported that Rev. C. S. Sprecher of Ashland had been engaged to occupy the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church in that city and would preach there next Sunday. He had not only moved most of the way across the country but had switched denominations (his older brother Samuel had preceded him to become a prominent Presbyterian minister in Oakland and San Francisco).

C. S. and Irene Sprecher brought four children with them to Stockton; Samuel (born 1873), James (1875), Katherine (1879) and Blanche (1881). In September 1885 ‘Jimmie’ Sprecher was a guest at a 13th birthday party there for Miss Eunice Stacey. Misses Lillie Logan, Maude Gilbert and Myrtle Visher were also among the guests. The next month James and Samuel Sprecher and Misses Logan and Stacey were guests at a surprise party given for Miss Visher. However, the Sprechers’ stay in Stockton was relatively brief; The Mail reported in December 1886 that the Rev. C. S. Sprecher had left town on the steamer Mary Garratt and after spending a few days in San Francisco he would go to Los Angeles to take charge of a church in that city. That church was the Second Presbyterian Church at the corner of Daly and Downey (now North Broadway) in East LA.

The Sprechers’ time in Los Angeles was even shorter. In July 1887 the San Diego Union reported that Rev. C. S. Sprecher, the prominent preacher and educator, had arrived in San Diego and that Professor Davidson, of Springfield, Ohio, would arrive in a few days; ‘these gentlemen are associated with Harr Wagner in locating a high grade college in the vicinity of San Diego’. A month later the San Francisco Examiner reported from Los Angeles that Rev. C. S. Sprecher, pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church, had resigned to take charge of a new Presbyterian college to be established at San Diego, endowed by a syndicate of capitalists who were building a city on False Bay, north of San Diego. The regents would be C. S. Sprecher, F. P. Davidson and Harr Wagner.

Harr Wagner was editor of the San Diego literary magazine Golden Era which had been promoting a college in San Diego. F. P. Davidson was Sprecher’s brother-in-law, married to his sister Ella. Both Wagner and Davidson were also Wittenberg graduates. The ‘syndicate of capitalists’ mentioned by the Examiner was the Pacific Beach Company and their city on False Bay was to be christened Pacific Beach (False Bay was also to be christened Mission Bay). A prime four-block location in the center of the tract (now Pacific Plaza) was reserved for the college campus. The San Diego College Company was incorporated in August 1887 with Wagner, Sprecher and Davidson as the principal stockholders and directors. In October 1887 college company president Sprecher formally accepted the college campus property from the Pacific Beach Company. Back in Stockton a surprise party was given to Miss Maude Gilbert and the time was pleasantly spent in games and refreshments. Among the young folks present was Miss Eunice Stacey, who would have been 15.

Laying the Cornerstone, San Diego College of Letters, January 28, 1888

The cornerstone for San Diego College of Letters was laid with great ceremony on January 28, 1888. The San Diego Union reported that college president C. S. Sprecher delivered the keynote address on ‘The Influence of the College in opening up the Higher Avenues of Wealth and Happiness’, concluding with the promise that San Diego College would become a ‘scientific and literary light-house, guiding the people of the city and the world into the golden harbor of wealth, culture, character and happiness’. The cornerstone was then loaded with copies of the Union and other local papers, the addresses given on the occasion and a Bible, and lowered into place while Rev. Sprecher declared that ‘we lay the corner-stone of San Diego College – unsectarian but not un-Christian – her faith the faith of Christendom – her hope the hope of the civilized Christian world’. The City Guard Band played the national anthem and the ceremonies were concluded with a benediction (when the college building was razed in 1958 workers reportedly found a tin baking soda can containing old newspapers).

As work on the college continued through the summer of 1888, Rev. Sprecher took the opportunity to spread the influence of the Presbyterian church around the San Diego area. The San Diego Union reported in March that Rev. Sprecher, Rev. Seward and Rev. Noble had organized a Presbyterian church in the school-house at Coronado Beach with twenty-four parishioners and in July the Union reported that Rev. C. S. Sprecher, D.D., of Pacific Beach College, would preach for the Presbyterians at that old school building ‘across the bay’. However, out-of-town papers found more sensational news about Rev. Sprecher to report from San Diego. A July 1888 San Francisco Examiner headline read ‘Not Dimmed by Time’; ‘The affection a minister’s wife retains for her first love’, and ‘Meetings by moonlight’.  According to the Examiner, ‘social circles of San Diego’ and the ‘Presbyterian stratum in particular’, were startled by an announcement that Rev. C. S. Sprecher had applied for a divorce. A little inquiry elicited the fact that the couple were not occupying their home and the estrangement was long standing and permanent.

The Mail from Rev. Sprecher’s recent home of Stockton summarized the news; ‘When the Rev. Mr. Sprecher and his pretty wife left Stockton some time ago and went to San Diego, Mrs. Sprecher was delighted to find a former lover there. The pastor and his wife have now separated, although the matrimonial knot has not as yet been untied by the courts’. The Alameda Daily Argus was more succinct; ‘Rev. Sprecher seeks a divorce. Mrs. S. admires a jeweler’. However, in the Bucyrus Evening Telegraph, the Ohio town where Rev. Sprecher had preached and Irene Robinson had lived, and where they were married in 1872, there was skepticism about the Examiner’s account of the affair in its ‘usual sensational style’. Noting that both Mr. and Mrs. Sprecher were well known there, the Telegraph dismissed the contention that prior to her marriage she had known and loved one J. K. Boyse, ‘which all here know is false’. The Telegraph concluded that the article was ‘probably exceedingly overdrawn’, and the Examiner had ‘drawn upon its imagination in the absence of facts, and at the expense of justice’.

While newspapers across the country were discussing the Sprechers’ marital situation, nothing could be found in the San Diego Union. Instead, an article in September 1888 reported that Rev. Sprecher, again with Revs. Seward and Noble, held a meeting in the reception room of the college at Pacific Beach to organize a Presbyterian church. The Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, now at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Jewell Street, traces its origins to that meeting, September 9, 1888, and notes that eight members were enrolled that day. These original members included Eunice Stacey and her parents, James and Esther. The first minister was C. S. Sprecher. According to the Union a Sunday school had already been flourishing there with an attendance of 36 on a recent Sunday and among the ‘officers’ listed for the school was Miss Eunice Stacey, pianist.

The San Diego College of Letters opened with 37 students on September 20, 1888 and a month later, October 18, C. S. Sprecher’s father Samuel Sprecher, the long-time president of Wittenberg College, arrived to assume the presidency of the college and was welcomed with an elaborate ceremony. The first term ended before the Christmas holiday. On December 27, 1888, an item in the Brief Mentions column of the San Diego Union mentioned that a marriage license had been granted to Cecil S. Sprecher and Eunice A. Stacey, both of San Diego. The actual marriage license and certificate notes that Eunice A. Stacey was 16 years of age and that James Stacey, her father, described as a resident of Pacific Beach, was present as a witness. On January 3, 1889, The Mail of Stockton reprinted an article from the local Pacific Beach weekly under the headline ‘Married Again; Rev. C. S. Sprecher Takes a Stockton Girl Unto Himself’. According to the Pacific Beach, the wedding occurred at 3 o’clock on December 26 with groom’s father, Dr. Samuel Sprecher, officiating. The happy couple took the 4:20 train for the north at Morena and would spend a week at Elsinore. Their many friends, including the Pacific Beach, wished them a long and happy life. ‘It only remains to add’, wrote The Mail, ‘that the bride formerly resided in Stockton and was of the flock presided over by the reverend gentleman while pastor of the local Presbyterian church’. ‘The former Mrs. Sprecher, it will be remembered, found her previous lover when the couple moved to San Diego from Stockton. Divorce followed, and she married the lover’.

The college opened for its second term on January 3, 1889, and the Union reported on January 6 that Rev. C. S. Sprecher and bride had returned. However, the long and happy life, or at least marriage, that their many friends had wished them did not last for long. On May 4, 1889, the San Francisco Examiner reported from San Diego that ‘The Bird Has Flown; Rev. Dr. Sprecher’s Young Wife Flits From Her Cage’ and ‘Natty Major Birdsall. An Exciting Race and a Stormy Scene – A Divorce Suit Expected’. The Examiner’s bombshell explained that Eunice Stacey Sprecher, wife of the President of the College of Letters at Pacific Beach, took the train for the north accompanied by Major Birdsall, an instructor of military tactics at the college. The affair was thought to have been an elopement until Birdsall returned alone. The young wife, only a few months a bride, was now at home with her parents at Stockton. ‘She has left her reverend spouse, with the determination never to live with him again. What her relations have been with the youthful Major is the subject of much conjecture’.

The story continued that Rev. Dr. Sprecher was nearly fifty years of age and was divorced last summer from his former wife, who uttered all sorts of dreadful complaints against him. She made no defense to his suit for divorce on the ground of desertion, and went away East to her former home, where she died one day last November. On the day following, society was astounded by the announcement that Dr. Sprecher had married Miss Stacey, a beautiful girl of sixteen. It was said that her parents, who are poor people, persuaded her into the unequal match. The couple had resided at the college but the husband was said to have been insanely jealous; the wife permitted too much attention from ‘big boy scholars’, Major Birdsall being of the number and especially favored by her. They would stroll and take rides together.

The Examiner went on to say that Dr. Sprecher moved from his Pacific Beach house to his house downtown but his duties at the college kept him away from home considerably and matters became worse. He tried to break up the growing intimacy with Birdsall but the couple met surreptitiously and took long buggy rides. The account reached a climax when ‘one day last week Mrs. Sprecher drove to a prominent drugstore and the Major stepped out and took a seat in the buggy with her’. The husband was watching and rushed up to interfere, but the couple drove off excitedly with Dr. Sprecher in hot pursuit. He gave up after a chase of nearly a mile through the city and ‘a hot and stormy scene followed at the town residence that night’. In conclusion, it was understood that Dr. Sprecher would seek a divorce and friends of Mrs. Sprecher said that he could have it ‘and welcome’. For his part, ‘young Birdsall denies that he had anything to do with Mrs. Sprecher’s going away’.

Two days after the Examiner story The Mail published a letter to the editor from Mrs. Sprecher herself:

To the Editor of the Mail – Sir: To my great surprise I read in your paper several false statements in the report about my leaving San Diego, so I write this for the public to read as the truth.
I married Mr. Sprecher a few months ago, not of my own free will, but through the influence of others; and being young, I believed that I could be contented, but since then I have not seen a happy day.
I did my best to please him and stood a great deal of misery, because I had married him and thought it my duty. But when things kept growing worse, and he did not seem disposed to change his ways, I decided the best thing would be to separate.
I left San Diego alone, and as for Major Birdsall, there was never anything between us, and as far as I know Major Birdsall had no idea of my leaving San Diego. I am sorry to hear that any one would lower himself enough to start such reports. I wish to say that I was never in a buggy with Major Birdsall, nor had I any such intention, nor did I take any such walks as are reported. Mr. Sprecher never accused me of so doing, as he had no occasion, and I cannot understand how he would allow such a report to be circulated, without correcting it.
Major Birdsall was never seen in a buggy with me, and as for the hot and stormy scene that followed, as the paper states, there was no such a scene.
Examiner please copy.

Eunice Stacey Sprecher
Stockton, May 6th.

The San Diego Union weighed in on May 7 with its own account of Mrs. Sprecher’s departure; ‘Major Birdsall. Denies Emphatically the Charges Made Against Him. He Will Sue the Examiner. The Story of Elopement Said to Be Entirely Without Foundation – True Facts in the Case’.  According to the Union, she had left San Diego on a visit to her parents at Stockton. Mrs. Sprecher was somewhat younger than her husband and this, allied with the fact that she was very popular, had given rise to a scandal appearing in the Examiner which tied Mrs. Sprecher’s departure to ‘undue familiarity with the youths of the college, singling out particularly the name of Major Birdsall as her especial favorite, and charging him with accompanying her a certain distance on her journey home’. The Union ‘detailed one of its representatives to inquire into the matter’, and the result was such as to ‘contradict entirely this version of a very ordinary circumstance’. The officials and others connected with the college had been seen, and all agreed in denouncing the allegations as totally without foundation, and expressing sympathy for the parties so unjustly wronged. The day Mrs. Sprecher left San Diego Major Birdsall was in town all day and was seen in company with many of his numerous friends. The Major belongs to one of the most respectable families in San Diego and has always enjoyed an enviable reputation. He holds his title by virtue of a commission from Governor Waterman, and was for some time Drill Instructor at the Pacific Beach College. Proceedings would be immediately instituted against the Examiner for libel. Much sympathy was expressed in the community on behalf of Professor and Mrs. Sprecher, who have been so unjustly dragged into such unpleasant notoriety.

While the Examiner’s  sensational account of Mrs. Sprecher’s departure from San Diego may have been exaggerated, particularly with respect to Major Birdsall, the Union’s contention that it was a very ordinary circumstance, a visit to her parents, and that the San Francisco paper’s allegations were totally without foundation, turned out to be incorrect. Mrs. Sprecher herself wrote the editor of The Mail that she had been persuaded to marry Mr. Sprecher through the influence of others and that it was her decision to separate after a great deal of misery. The false statements she objected to were about the alleged drama over Major Birdsall and the ‘hot and stormy scene’.

In October 1889 she wrote another letter, this time to Rev. Sprecher:

Stockton Oct. 11, 1889

Mr. C. S. Sprecher:-

I take the liberty to write you a few lines, asking what you are going to do in regard to a divorce, you must certainly know by this time that I will never live with you again. I am able and capable of taking care of my self and I certainly will not live with you.
And it is as little as any man can do when a woman cannot and will not live with him to release her. Now if you will apply no matter what grounds you take I will not say a word but I suppose of course you would have closed doors in court and have no causes published. I am sure that is the way I should do, and if you do not apply I certainly shall and further more it need not be any trouble to you if you will apply I will settle all bills and I am sure that is reasonable.
It will save me a great deal of trouble as I never was in court but I shall certainly go if you do not.
Hoping to hear your answer soon I will close.

Eunice A. Sprecher
257 Washington St.
Stockton
Cal.

Mr. Sprecher did file for divorce and this letter was introduced as Exhibit A in testimony taken in October 1890. In other testimony, Rev. Sprecher said that he did not know why his wife had left him other than she claimed she was not happy. They had not quarreled about anything except that he wanted her to stay and she would not. When he remonstrated with her on the proposition of her going away she would not entertain his remonstrance and became a little irritated about that. He denied that he treated her ill in any way and affirmed that he had provided for her, that she had plenty of food and clothing, and that he had ‘exercised such an affection as a man ought to for his wife’. He said that he had written to her shortly after she had gone away and she had replied that she would come back to him if he would move from San Diego. He did make arrangements, business arrangements, to change his location, ‘selling out and everything of that sort’, but when he went to Stockton to have her come with him and live elsewhere she had changed her mind. A few months later she wrote that she would apply for a divorce if he would ‘make no appearance against her’ but he replied that he would most certainly resist it; she had no grounds for divorce and he could not afford to have her apply on false grounds and not appear to vindicate himself.

A number of Mr. Sprecher’s colleagues at the college added testimony that supported the view that Mrs. Sprecher had been treated well and had no reason to leave. Harr Wagner testified that the Sprechers lived at the college and he saw them every day when he went there to teach (he was professor of literature). His observation of the treatment that the defendant received from the plaintiff was that it was very considerate and kindly; he never heard any harsh words or of any ill treatment of any kind. His brother E. R. Wagner, a German professor, testified that he also lived at the College of Letters, in sleeping room 22, and that the Sprechers resided in the suite just adjoining to the south in the same building and on the same floor. He always went to breakfast with them and his observation of Mr. Sprecher’s conduct toward his wife was that it was always gentlemanly and Christian. He endeavored to be very kind, possibly to overstep the boundary by being too kind. They had the best furnished suite and rooms of any one in the college. None of these middle-aged men had anything to say about Major Birdsall or the fact that she was a teenage girl and that he was nearly three times her age with children of her age, or about the suggestion that she had been married against her will. Mrs. Sprecher did not make an appearance and on December 1, 1890, the marriage between C. S. Sprecher and Eunice Sprecher was dissolved and the parties freed and released from the bonds of matrimony.

By then Eunice Stacey Sprecher had apparently resumed a normal life in Stockton. The Mail had reported in March 1890 that the Turn Verein masquerade ball proved to be a very pleasing affair, many of the costumes being quite handsome. Among the maskers was Mrs. Eunice Sprecher, whose costume was a ‘fancy dress’. In April the San Francisco Call reported that Mrs. Eunice Sprecher was home at Stockton from a brief visit to San Francisco. And in July 1891, a little more than half a year after her divorce, The Mail reported that a marriage license had been issued to Frank D. Higginbotham, aged 27 years, of San Francisco, and Eunice A. Stacey, aged 18, of Stockton. He remarried in 1897 but she seems to have disappeared from the printed record.

During the summer of 1890 Harr Wagner, C. S. Sprecher and F. P. Davidson, who owned 99.5% of the stock in the college ‘transferred their interests to eastern parties’. Wagner ‘vacated his chair’ at the college and returned to his position as editor of the Golden Era and Sprecher also resigned and joined him there as associate editor (Davidson also left, to become principal of the Russ high school, later San Diego High). In 1892 Sprecher moved to Los Angeles where he first worked as an agent for the Golden Era and then as an independent publisher and printer. In 1897 he also resigned, or ‘demitted’, from the ministry. After the departure of its founders, the college opened for one more term in the fall of 1890 but then closed for good in 1891.

Major Birdsall also became a printer, for Cosmopolitan magazine and the New York Herald, but before leaving San Diego in about 1893 he was often seen in parades on downtown streets in the uniform of the California National Guard. A roster of guard officers listed Alfred W. Birdsall; Major and Military Instructor Pacific Beach Military College, Jan. 15, 1888; term expired May 26, 1889; appointed 1st Lieut. and Signal Officer 9th Infantry, June 20, 1890. Nearly 30 years later, in 1919, the Union reported that Major Fred W. Birdsall, a native San Diegan who had recently returned from overseas service, was in town for a short visit after an absence of 26 years. According to the Union, Major Birdsall had the distinction of being the first white child born in San Diego, in 1870. He had received his first military training in this city where he was military instructor at Pacific Beach. He had enlisted in the army at the outbreak of the European war and went to France with the first American troops. The Union noted that among his assignments in France was command of an army prison in Finistere. The Union did not mention that he was court martialed there for striking, cursing and abusing prisoners, and was ‘reduced to the foot of the list of majors’ and fined $600. The Union also did not have anything to say about his term as military instructor at Pacific Beach, or why the term ‘expired’ in May of 1889.

PB’s First Black Residents

867 Missouri Street in 2020. This house was built in 1906, the first house in the Ocean Front subdivision. Frank Tate became the first Black homeowner in Pacific Beach when he bought it in 1908.

Pacific Beach was first subdivided and lots offered for sale in 1887. The first residents were attracted to what was expected to be a college community surrounding the San Diego College of Letters, located where Pacific Plaza is now. However, the college closed in 1891 and the community was soon transformed into a center of lemon cultivation. Some of the lemon ranchers came from Southern states and brought their entire households, and even their servants, with them.

In 1899 Mrs. Carrie Belser Linck bought a lemon ranch on acre lot 33, at the northwest corner of Lamont and Chalcedony streets. She came from Tennessee along with her mother, three sisters and brother Charles. When Charles Belser arrived in January 1900 to assume management of his sister’s ranch, the San Diego Evening Tribune noted that ‘Mr. Belser of Nashville Tenn. and his colored man servant had arrived’. In June 1900 the San Diego Union reported that in Pacific Beach Belser & Co., lemon packers, were shipping cars east at the rate of two a week, but residents were complaining that they had seen nothing of the ‘census man’ and hoped he would not forget them. The census man did come around on June 22 and enumerated the Linck household, including 18-year old John Miller, servant, for the 1900 United States census. The census form had a column for ‘color or race’ and John Miller was listed as ‘B’, while Mrs. Linck, the Belsers and the other 200+ residents of Pacific Beach at the time were listed as ‘W’. John Miller may well have been the first Black resident in Pacific Beach.

Mrs. Linck sold the ranch in May 1901 and moved to San Francisco with her sisters, the ‘Misses Belser’, but there was no further news of Charles Belser or John Miller. In 1903 the Tribune reported that Mr. and Mrs. Roberts from Arkansas had moved into the upper Baker ranch; ‘They bring with them a carload of household goods, a colored family for servants besides horses and dogs’ (the upper Baker ranch was on acre lot 30, the northwest corner of Chalcedony and Olney streets). Lettie Lee Roberts died in 1905, Preston Roberts moved downtown in 1907, and there was no additional information about the ‘colored family’ who had accompanied them to Pacific Beach and would presumably have been its first Black family.

In 1900 Fred T. Scripps, brother of newspaper tycoon E. W. Scripps, bought several acres of land along the shore of Mission Bay at the southwest corner of Pacific Beach and by 1901 had completed an imposing bayfront home, Braemar Manor. His wife Sarah, better known as Emma, was an avid gardener who developed the elaborate landscaping on the grounds surrounding their home. An estate like this required domestic help, and the 1905 San Diego City Directory listed ‘Corushia’ Tate as domestic and Frank Tate as coachman for F. T. Scripps. In the 1906 directory Frank Tate was a gardener and Crozier Tate a cook living in Pacific Beach, and the 1908 directory listed Frank as cook for F T Scripps and also James Tate as a gardener in Pacific Beach.

The 1910 United States census attempted to account for everyone in a ‘dwelling’ and to list, among other things, their name, relation, age, ‘color or race’, marital status and number of years married, place of birth and occupation. At the Scripps dwelling, in addition to Frederick T., head, and Sarah E., wife, and their two sons and two daughters, the census also listed James, Josephine, Frank and ‘Crosha’ Tate, servants (as well as Frederick Hagan, chauffeur). James, 49, and Josephine, 50, were from Alabama and had been married 35 years. His occupation was gardener and hers was ‘house’, presumably a maid. Frank was 31 and also from Alabama, and Crozier, 26, was from Missouri. They had been married for 7 years. He was a gardener and she was a cook. Although the data on the census form doesn’t connect all the dots, in fact James and Josephine Tate were Frank Tate’s parents and Crozier was his wife. In the ‘color or race’ column, James, Josephine and Frank Tate were listed as ‘B’ and Crozier was ‘Mu’, presumably meaning Mulatto or a person of mixed White and Black ancestry. Of the 420 other Pacific Beach residents enumerated in the 1910 census, one other entry was listed as ‘B’, 19-year-old Abbey Benjamin, who was from South Carolina. She was a servant in the household of Alfred Pease, an executive of the Folsom Bros. Co., which owned much of Pacific Beach at the time. Everyone else was listed as ‘W’, although 22 had the additional notation on the form that they were ‘Mexican’.

In 1903 F. T. Scripps purchased acre lots 43 and 44 of Pacific Beach, the property between Diamond, Cass and Chalcedony streets and what is now Mission Boulevard, and subdivided it as Ocean Front. Although many lots were sold in the four blocks of the Ocean Front subdivision there were no improvements until Scripps had a house built in 1906 on lots 17 and 18 of block 4, a home that is still standing at 867 Missouri Street. Although Scripps presumably built it as a rental he sold the property to Frank Tate in November 1908 and for more than 20 years it was home to members of the extended Tate family. The 1913 city directory, for example, reported that James Tate and Homer Tate, Frank’s father and brother, lived on ‘Missouri s w cor Bayard’. Homer was a nurseryman, although not for the Scripps but with Cash’s nursery in Pacific Beach.

Frank Tate himself did not live in his house for long. Although city directories from 1908 to 1911 had listed him as cook for F. T. Scripps and living in Pacific Beach, a ‘situation wanted’ ad in the Union in 1912 sought a position in a private family as cook; ‘Good worker, a very fine cook, young colored man. Apply at Scripps bldg. Frank Tate’. In 1914 the city directory listed Tate Frank (Crozier), janitor Scripps Bldg, home 525 C. 525 C Street is the address of the Scripps Building, built by F. T. Scripps in 1907-1908 and still standing at the southwest corner of 6th Avenue downtown. Apparently the janitor position came with living quarters and Frank and Crozier Tate made their home there.

While living downtown, Frank Tate was one of ‘long list of signers’ of a petition to the city council protesting a sign on the front of the Plaza Theatre reading ‘The patronage of white people only solicited’. The petition called the sign ‘out of harmony with the spirit of the best and highest citizenship of this state’, and added that it ‘breeds contempt and prejudice’. As ‘citizens and taxpayers contributing to the upbuilding of the city’ the signers felt ‘unjustly humiliated before the eyes of all classes of citizens’ (there is no indication that the council responded to the petition). Frank Tate was also a baseball player, a member of the San Diego Hornets, which the Evening Tribune noted was a ‘colored outfit’. The sports page of the Union in 1914 included a note that the San Diego Hornets would like a game with any ‘fast’ team at a suburb or in town, ‘notify Frank Tate, Scripps building’. The Hornets were good, defeating the ‘Cycle & Arms nine’ 12 to 5 in August 1914 and claiming the championship of the county. However, the Tribune reported that the ‘darktown’ heroes managed only five hits and made five errors as they were ‘taken down a peg’ in June 1915 by Carmen, 6-3, at Athletic Park.

Frank Tate’s brother Homer died at the age of 29 in 1915 and Frank himself died in 1916, aged 37. His widow, Crozier, made news in 1918 in a Union article about C. Chrisman, a ‘negro fighter’ who was with the ‘Buffaloes’ over in France during World War I. The story included an extract of a letter he had just written to his sister, Mrs. Crozier Tate, of Coronado. Crozier later married Clarence E. Brown and in 1923 C. E. and Crozier Brown sold the property on Missouri Street in Ocean Front to Josephine Tate, Frank’s mother.

In 1911 James Tate’s sister Georgia Pickens had also gone to work for the Scripps as a domestic. The 1912 city directory listed William Edwards, janitor, as residing in Ocean Front, Pacific Beach, presumably meaning the Ocean Front subdivision and presumably in the home owned by Frank Tate, the only home in the subdivision at the time. By 1914 they had married and Mrs. Georgia Edwards was listed as a cook for F. T. Scripps. In the 1918 city directory William Edwards, gardener, Georgia Edwards, laundress, James Tate, gardener, Josephine Tate, cook, Ellen Pickens (James and Georgia’s mother) and Elliott Tate (Ellen’s grandson, James and Georgia’s nephew), were all said to be residing at the ‘south end of Bayard’. This is the same location or address listed in the city directory for F. T. Scripps himself, so the extended family may have been living at Braemar Manor, either under the same roof as the Scripps or in separate buildings on the grounds. The 1920 U. S. Census listed Georgia Edwards, 41, Ellen Pickens, 83, and Elliott Tate, 28, as living in a dwelling on Bayard Street, which could describe the Frank Tate house at the corner of Bayard and Missouri or the Scripps’ property at the foot of Bayard. James and Josephine Tate, both 63, were listed in the same dwelling as the Scripps family. The ‘color or race’ of all five of the Tate relatives was listed in the census as ‘Mu’ (surprisingly, only 57 of the 100 names on the two pages containing their names were ‘W’; 38 others were ‘Jp’ – Japanese).

In 1915 a second house had been built in the Ocean Front subdivision, on lots 31 and 32 of block 3, 936 Diamond Street, and in 1920 it was purchased by Elliott Tate, then working for the city street department. Also in 1921 James and Josephine Tate moved in to the Missouri Street house, joining his mother Ellen Pickens. His sister Georgia Edwards and her husband moved to La Jolla, to Cuvier Street adjacent to the Bishops School.

In 1924 Henry Campbell purchased another property in Ocean Front, lots 35 and 36 of block 4, 812 Diamond, and built a home where he lived with his wife Cath and two children. This property was near the corner of Diamond and Allison streets, a block from the beach (Allison has since been renamed Mission Boulevard). Allison was also the route of the San Diego Electric Railway No. 16 fast streetcar line between downtown and La Jolla, opened in 1924, which stopped at Diamond. The Campbell family was also Black, and like Elliott Tate, Henry Campbell was employed by the city street department. In 1925 he received a building permit for a ‘shed’ on his property and in 1926 he petitioned the city council for a license to operate a dance hall on the site. The petition was protested by the Pacific Beach Chamber of Commerce, which asserted that Diamond Street and vicinity was a strictly residential neighborhood and ‘not adapted to jazz band concerts and Charleston contests’. The license was granted anyway and dances ‘for colored people only’ were held at Campbell’s Pavilion or Campbell’s Beach for several years.

(Kitty McDaniel collection)

Campbell may have held dances on his property even before the pavilion was licensed; on June 20, 1924, the Evening Tribune reported that police led by the local ‘dry’ agent interfered with plans for a ‘negro dance’ near the ocean front at Pacific Beach. Nine ‘negroes’ were arrested and charged with illegal possession of 16 pints of intoxicating liquor. The dance was to have been a celebration of the emancipation of colored residents of Texas on June 19, 1865 – Juneteenth. They were each fined $50 in police court.

The Campbells left Pacific Beach and moved back downtown in 1929. The 1930 census listed nearly 1500 names in Pacific Beach and of these only 9 were identified as ‘Neg’ in the color or race column (there were also 70 ‘Mex’, 50 of whom were located at the brick yard in Rose Canyon, 35 ‘Jp’ and 2 ‘Fil’, Filipinos, the new servants at Braemar Manor). The 9 Black residents included the Elliott Tate family at 936 Diamond, Josephine Tate and Ellen Pickens, then 98 years old, at 867 Missouri, and Jessie Coleman, a 44-year-old female servant working at a home on Los Altos Road. Also included were James and Ella Bass, who lived at 4811 Pendleton Street, then a remote spot at the northeast corner of Pacific Beach overlooking the canyon where Soledad Mountain Road now runs, but at the time undeveloped land. The Basses had purchased the property in 1922 and built a board house valued at $600 there in 1925. He had been a janitor at the Spreckels Building downtown but by 1930 was a caretaker for the city play and recreation department. They also raised rabbits on the property.

In 1934 James Bass suffered a leg injury which developed into blood poisoning and required the amputation of the leg. The Pacific Beach chamber of commerce offered to sponsor a series of benefit plays on the school stage in hopes of buying him an artificial leg (the Union reported that Pacific Beach residents were ‘showing a fine and friendly spirit toward James Bass, Negro, who recently had the misfortune to lose a leg’). The benefit plays came up short but friends and fellow playground employees made up the difference and Bass did receive an artificial leg; a photo of the ‘well known colored man’ and his artificial leg appeared in the Union. Ella Bass died in 1937, and James Bass moved away soon after.

James Tate had died in 1927 and Josephine Tate remained in the house at 867 Missouri in Ocean Front until her death in 1931. A White family lived in it for most of the rest of the 1930s but by 1940 it was again occupied by a Black family, Theodore and Elsie Mills and their 3 children. Theodore remarried and moved to the Skyline district about 1965 but Elsie remained at the Missouri Street home into the 1970s.

Elliott Tate and his family also remained in Ocean Front for decades. Ramón Eduardo Ruiz Urueta, later a history professor at UCSD, was born and raised in Pacific Beach during the 1920s and 30s and he devoted a chapter in his 2003 book Memories of a Hyphenated Man to his ‘home town’. He remembered that ‘on almost any day, Mr. Tate, who swept the streets for the city of San Diego, could be seen pushing his two-wheel cart’. The Tates’ daughter Edna was in his grade and ‘took no guff from any of the boys in school’; their son Frank, one of his sister’s classmates, was ‘always courteous’. Mr. Tate and his family were the ‘sole blacks in town’ but as far as he knew no one ‘bothered’ them. ‘Yet by choice or design,’ Dr. Ruiz wrote, ‘the Tates lived on the west end of Diamond Street, far from any neighbors’.

While the Ocean Front subdivision was near its western extremity, Pacific Beach was sparsely settled at the time and the Tate home was actually no farther from its neighbors than many others in the community. The Tate family’s situation had more to do with their association with the Scripps family at Braemar Manor, another home at the west end of the community. F. T. Scripps had originally owned Ocean Front and offered the first house built there, 867 Missouri, to Elliott’s cousin Frank in 1908. In 1920 Elliott Tate bought the second house there, 936 Diamond, half a block away, remaining there until his death in 1966. By then there were few if any vacant lots anywhere in Pacific Beach and he was surrounded by neighbors (including his daughter Edna and her husband Joseph Fields, who lived next door at 944 Diamond into the 1980s). In 1968 the Tate home at 936 Diamond was replaced by an 8-unit Ray Huffman apartment building, appropriately named Tate Manor. The Tate name still identifies the site over a half-century later, although it is now mostly hidden behind a tree.