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PB’s Hotel Balboa

In July 1904 the San Diego Evening Tribune reported that after five days’ careful consideration of over 1,200 names submitted for their new hotel at Pacific Beach, Folsom Bros. Co. wished to announce that the name finally selected was Hotel Balboa. Ten different contestants had suggested the name and Folsom Bros. awarded the prize, choice of a $100 lot in Pacific Beach or $100 in gold, to the first; the other nine would be eligible for a $20 discount on any lot they may select from the company’s holdings. Folsom Bros. Co. had received letters from all over the United States and even from Canada and considered the name a happy choice as the discoverer of the mighty western sea would always be associated with the Pacific Coast. That a splendid hostelry, where the weary traveler may find rest and recuperation, should be built upon the shores of the sea which he discovered and should bear his name seemed both timely and appropriate.

San Diego College of Letters, Pacific Beach, 1888. (SDHC #9800)

The splendid hostelry to be named after the discoverer of the Pacific Ocean was not actually new. The original building had been built in 1888 for the San Diego College of Letters on its campus north of what is now Garnet Avenue and west of Lamont Street. It was the first substantial structure in Pacific Beach, designed and built by James W. Reid, architect of the Hotel del Coronado. A second college building was added in January 1890, just west of the original building and across Garnet from Kendall Street. That building was funded by O. J. Stough, owner of most of Pacific Beach at the time, and became known as Stough Hall. The college failed in 1891 and the college campus property was the subject of several foreclosure auctions at the courthouse door before being acquired by William Johnston, minister of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, with the intention of reestablishing a college at the site. However, the college project never materialized and instead Rev. Johnston and his family moved into the main building and also rented rooms to boarders and visitors, especially easterners visiting during the winter season. By 1901 it was listed in the San Diego city directory as the College Inn, with Rev. Johnston as secretary and manager. Stough Hall became the venue for dances and other community activities for Pacific Beach residents.

Folsom Bros. Co. was a real estate company that controlled the Fortuna Park additions south of Pacific Beach and in 1903 purchased O. J. Stough’s holdings, giving it control of the majority of the property in Pacific Beach as well. To stimulate lot sales Folsom Bros. began a program of improvement and development, grading streets and adding curbs and sidewalks in what was then the center of the community, the area around Hornblend and Kendall streets south of the college campus. In April 1904 the company also leased the campus itself, the four blocks surrounded by Garnet Avenue and Jewell, Emerald and Lamont streets which included the College Inn and Stough Hall. In addition to $50 per month rent Folsom Bros. would be required to spend a like amount in improving and repairing the grounds and buildings – painting the inn was particularly mentioned. The terms included an option to continue the lease for a second year at $100 per month or to purchase the property for $15,000. Folsom Bros. announced that the property would be developed into a first class resort.

After deciding on the appropriate name in July, Folsom Bros. began the conversion of the former college into the promised first class resort. The company announced in September 1904 that a subsidiary, the Pacific Beach Construction Company, would be incorporated to undertake the development and complete the Hotel Balboa. The work was still underway in April 1905 when Folsom Bros. Co. exercised its option to purchase the college campus from Rev. Johnston. In August 1905, the San Diego Union announced that the new Hotel Balboa would be thrown open to the traveler and tourist, although the regular formal opening would take place later, at the beginning of the winter season. Travelers and tourists responded; the weekly Pacific Beach news column listed guests from Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Arizona and Texas during October and November. In mid-November, artistically printed folders and cards distributed throughout the city announced that the new Hotel Balboa was offering the general and traveling public a low special rate for a few weeks until the formal winter opening, affording an unusual opportunity to enjoy a period of sea and bay side life at this favorite Southern California resort at greatly reduced rates.

The Union’s annual New Year’s Day review of San Diego’s communities in 1906 proclaimed the opening of the magnificent Hotel Balboa in the very heart of Pacific Beach to be of first importance among the large number of improvements that had taken place in that suburb during the year 1905. In point of architectural beauty, location and appointment it stood second to none in San Diego. The grounds were in process of being adorned and beautified by flower gardens, stately walks and drives and it had been furnished throughout in admirable style and was capable of accommodating over 100 guests. It was situated on an eminence over 100 feet above sea level giving a magnificent view of every aspect of scenery that this favored spot afforded. A feature that the guests found especially interesting was the observatory erected over the building which contained the dining room and ballroom, which brought the whole country in the environs plainly into view (the dining room and ballroom were in Stough Hall; the ‘observatory’ was the tower Rev. Johnston had built over Stough Hall in 1898). To the south lay Mission Bay, one of the finest bodies of still water in California, four miles long and two miles wide with exceptional opportunity for indulgence in still water sports. The bathing and boating was ideal and during duck season its surface was covered with all sorts of birds. The hotel’s cuisine was un-excelled and its rates reasonable, ranging from two dollars a day upward. Every room had an outside exposure and was provided with city water, electric lights and telephones. The new and elegant furnishings and excellent service made it a delightful spot in which to rest or recreate.

However, the hotel’s first season was a short one. In April 1906 the last two guests, Alexander and Mary McGillivray, returned to North Dakota and the hotel closed for the summer to allow improvements that would greatly add to its list of attractions (the McGillivrays were winter visitors who owned a 20-acre ranch four blocks south of the hotel that never had a ranch house of its own). Larger palms in the ballroom and ping-pong room and several exterior cozy corners were among the latest features. Additional work on the ballroom floor made it so tempting that impromptu dances had been held nearly every night since its completion. Although the hotel itself was closed, many people, both residents and tourists, spent a day or more at Pacific Beach and the Hotel Balboa. Most of them came out of curiosity, having heard what an excellent place it is for a day’s rest or outing. Garnet Avenue had been graded and surfaced with oil and driving over the fine oiled boulevard delighted many of the visitors. Young people found great enjoyment swimming, boating and playing on the hotel tennis courts. It not being in the nature of young people to sit still, the evenings usually ended on that slippery floor in dancing.

That ballroom was the scene of a ‘floral contest’ in June 1906, a ‘fairyland of color and costume’. The San Diego Union reported that the ballroom never looked more beautiful and there had never been a larger or more delighted concourse of people assembled there. Almost the entire population of Pacific Beach turned out, along with visitors from La Jolla, San Diego and Los Angeles. The ping-pong room, converted into a reception hall, was canopied with huge pepper boughs. In the large bay-window alcove of the ballroom cypress branches were used and their pungent fragrance filled the entire building. The ballroom itself was one great bower of palms. Miss Lena Campbell won the prize for the most artistic floral costume, a white princess gown covered with asparagus fern and white carnations. One woman appeared in the unique but somewhat startling costume of Mother Eve, modernized by a black dress under the fig leaves. There were many in white with ropes, wreaths and solid banks of roses, lilies, honeysuckle and other flowers.

Hotel Balboa had been conceived as a year-round resort, and in June 1906 Folsom Bros. Co. published a letter in the Union addressed ‘to the pleasure seeker’; with the approaching of summer the one thought which comes to all is ‘Where shall we spend our vacation?’. The letter suggested that in forming a decision the main points to be taken into consideration should be the opportunities for a complete rest and change, the number of pastimes and pleasures to be enjoyed and lastly the expense. The Hotel Balboa was the most delightful year round resort hotel on the coast; the beautiful parlors, wide verandas, large airy comfortably furnished sleeping apartments, cozy, light dining rooms and the very best cuisine, a large ballroom with splendid floor for dancing, and out of door sports, such as tennis on new double tennis courts, croquet, boating and bathing on Mission Bay, pleasures on the beautiful beach, driving, shooting and rambling in the foothills were but a few of the delightful amusements. There were special weekly and monthly rates for the summer season. The hotel’s amenities and amusements were also described in a beautifully illustrated brochure.

Pacific Beach celebrated the Fourth of July in 1906 with picnic lunches at the beach, games and sports, songs, addresses, a concert by the city guard band and fireworks. Although these activities would take place at the beach, the day would begin and end at the Hotel Balboa. All carriages, automobiles, bicycles, etc., would assemble at the hotel at 8:30 a. m. to march to the water front and after the fireworks display in the evening from the cliff at Diamond Street would return for dancing at Hotel Balboa. The Evening Tribune reported that the program was carried out smoothly from the beginning of the parade until the last dance at midnight.

Activities at the Hotel Balboa increased as the summer season advanced in 1906 but the San Diego Union noted that formal affairs did not find as much favor as impromptu musicales, card parties and dances. Outdoor activities were also popular; from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all who could be coaxed off the veranda and shaded lawns spent that time in and on the bay, and many enthusiastic fishermen sought the surf every evening. Everyone drives, as the afternoon cools, or else plays tennis or croquet. The young people of Pacific Beach had begun practicing tennis and hoped before long to announce a tournament. After dinner, cards and games were brought out and at the hotel few evenings pass without a visit to the ballroom by the devotees of the dance. For the card games in the parlors of the Hotel Balboa, dignified games like whist were put aside for more frolicsome games of hearts or black-jack. Parties from the hotel also went boating at night to see the ‘phosphorus’, the glassy surface of Mission Bay lighting up wonderfully with the movement of the boat and touch of the oars.

Improvements continued in 1907; Folsom Bros. ads for Pacific Beach real estate noted that the grounds of the Hotel Balboa were being laid out and developed at great expense by the eminent landscape architect responsible for the beautiful Westlake, Eastlake, Elysian, Echo and Hollenbeck parks in Los Angeles. In February a building permit was issued for a pergola connecting the two buildings of the Hotel Balboa, valued at $1000. The Union reported in July that for six months men and teams had been digging, cutting, filling and leveling on the grounds of the Hotel Balboa. The grounds had been laid out on the front and rear and on the west side of the hotel in curb drives and walks, spaces for grass plots and squares for cottages. No planting had been done as yet and would not be until winter rains came but looking at the grounds from the tower over the ballroom of the hotel one could see the lines and curves and could not but realize that the hand of an artist had been at work.

The 1907 makeover of the hotel also involved a change in management and a different approach to the visitor experience. Folsom Bros. had marketed the hotel as a first-class resort, a place for out-of-town visitors to spend a vacation, but in the summer of 1907 ads described Hotel Balboa as a most home-like family hotel, a delightful and restful place in which to spend the ‘week end’. Although the new decorations, furnishings and alterations that had been in progress for several months were not entirely completed, the new management decided to throw open the hotel for its first ’week end’ in July and as a result the house was filled to overflowing with a very select party of San Diego business and professional men and their wives and families. Some came Saturday morning but most arrived on the 3:30 train, prepared to stay until Sunday evening. An eight-course dinner was served at 6 o’clock in the new dining room and then the new ballroom was thrown open and a well-known orchestra called young and old to the dance, which lasted until midnight.

By August 1907 the Union was reporting that the ‘week ends’ recently inaugurated by the new management of Hotel Balboa were proving a great success and seemed to fill a want long felt by those of San Diego’s business and professional men who, with their families, liked to get away from home and business surroundings for a quiet Sunday of rest and recreation. Ever since the recent remodeling and refitting of the hotel the idea of spending weekends at Hotel Balboa had been growing in favor, and now every Saturday afternoon the train dropped an increasing number of people at Pacific Beach to enjoy the outing so that the number of ‘week enders’ together with the regular guests of the hotel filled the house to overflowing. Interestingly, many of the arrivals listed in reports of the hotel ‘week ends’ were Pacific Beach residents and their wives who were unlikely to have arrived on the Saturday afternoon train. Mr. and Mrs. James H. Haskins, whose home was at the corner of Diamond and Ingraham streets, and A. S. Lane, whose home on Hornblend near Kendall (now the Baldwin Academy) was within shouting distance of the hotel, probably walked. Not all the guests were local either; hotel arrivals in September included Mr. and Mrs. A. F. MacFarland, who apparently liked what they saw in the vicinity and bought lots at the corner of Beryl and Lamont where they built the neo-classical home that is still standing there.

San Diegans were again well represented at the Hotel Balboa ‘week ends’ in September, filling the popular hotel to overflowing. The vaudeville entertainment given in the ballroom proved to be the best ever, creating screams of laughter from all sides of the room. The performers (who were dressed up as crows, even to beak and claws) were called back again and again. In addition to the 50 hotel guests, 100 Pacific Beach and La Jolla residents were present. Following the performance light refreshments were served and dancing indulged in until the midnight hour. The hotel arrivals column listed the 50 guests, most of whom were residents of San Diego and again included many Pacific Beach residents including the Haskins and also V. J. Hinkle and family (who lived in the house now at Law and Ingraham streets) and Mr. and Mrs. F. T. Scripps (of the former Braemar mansion at the foot of Bayard). Mrs. Scripps’ sisters, Misses Violet and Fannie Jessop from Coronado, were also hotel guests. Out-of-town visitors in September 1907 included a group of nine ‘Hawaiian beauties’ who visited Pacific Beach, where they were met with carriages and taken by Folsom Bros. on a drive. The tour included a stop at the Hotel Balboa where they had about an hour and a half to themselves; they played pool, danced and sang many of their native songs, then were guests at a delightful tea given by Folsom Bros.

The hotel ‘week ends’ for business and professional people from San Diego came to an end in 1907 and by early 1908 the news was of the entertainment and social activities held at the hotel; old-fashioned dances and songs in the ballroom and whist in the card rooms. Manager C. B. Combe gave a sailing party on Mission Bay and members of the Pacific Beach theatrical club were rehearsing for their entertainment, to be given in the hotel theater. There would be a minstrel part, followed by vaudeville, then refreshments and dancing. In March 1908 a ‘baby party’ was one of the most enjoyable events ever given at the popular house. Every room was full and many guests had to be turned away. A number of gentlemen chose the Buster Brown costume, some appeared as Little Lord Fauntleroy and others were simply Mamma’s Pets in loose jumpers and big sashes. The ladies were so charming that it was a pity they could not dress in the sweet simple costume of a child at all times. The new tennis courts were finished, and although hotel arrivals included some parties from New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and even Nome, Alaska, most arrivals were from the local area, perhaps responding to ads emphasizing a homelike atmosphere and the lowest rates in the city; family rates were said to be lower than housekeeping.

In February 1908 W. W. Whitson, president of the Hillcrest Company, purchased an interest in Folsom Bros. Co. and was installed as its first vice-president and treasurer. In May, Mr. and Mrs. Whitson held a ball and card party at the Hotel Balboa that the society page of the Union called one of the most pretentious society events of the season. Between four and five hundred guests from San Diego took the La Jolla line train from Fourth and C streets downtown, special rates having been secured for their accommodation. On arrival at the pretty village of Pacific Beach a broad boulevard lighted by hundreds of swaying Japanese lanterns led to the brilliantly illuminated hotel, where elaborate decorations of palms, greenery and geraniums were arranged throughout the picturesque rambling structure. A list of the hundreds of guests, a virtual who’s who of San Diego society at the time, was continued on a second page (Mr. Whitson’s association with Folsom Bros. Co., and the hotel, ended in November 1908 when the Folsom brothers bought out his interest).

While the ballroom and other amenities were popular for dances and other community activities and the hotel rooms could be filled on weekends by local residents attracted by the lowest rates in town, the Hotel Balboa never became the commercial success that Folsom Bros. Co. had anticipated and by 1909 it was apparently closed; no ads had appeared since mid-1908, it was no longer listed in the ‘hotel arrivals’ columns and guests were no longer mentioned in the news reports from Pacific Beach. When a group of leading Pacific Beach citizens, including Mr. MacFarland and Mr. Haskins, formed the Pacific Beach Country Club in February 1909 a portion of the Hotel Balboa was sub-leased for their club rooms. When the country club hosted a delightful dance in May 1909 the ‘north wing of the big hostelry’ was turned over to the guests of the club, about fifty of whom were taken out from San Diego on a new gasoline motor car, which made a special round trip for the occasion (one of the new McKeen rail cars, or ‘Red Devils’, introduced to the La Jolla line in 1908).

The hotel buildings and grounds were ready for other opportunities and in November 1910 Captain Thomas A. Davis, a veteran of the Puerto Rican campaign of the Spanish American War, leased the property and opened the San Diego Army and Navy Academy on the site. Although there were only thirteen cadets in the first class and he was the only instructor, the academy thrived under Capt. Davis’ leadership and soon outgrew the original hotel buildings. After considering a move to a larger facility in the Loma Portal area Davis instead purchased the college campus property in 1921 and in 1923 added on by acquiring the two blocks on the north side of the campus and two more blocks on the west side in 1925.

The hotel buildings continued to be used for teaching and administration but the growing battalion of cadets was housed first in rows of wooden cottages and then in enormous reinforced concrete barracks built between 1928 and 1930. The cost of this building program combined with the economic downturn of the Great Depression led to the academy’s bankruptcy in 1936 but it was taken over in 1937 by the John E. Brown College Corp. and operated until 1958 as Brown Military Academy. The property was then developed into a shopping center and the old buildings, once the Hotel Balboa and originally the San Diego College of Letters, were demolished. Workers razing the buildings found a tin baking soda can containing newspapers, maps and other articles placed in the cornerstone at its dedication in 1888.

Today the only reminder of these earlier times is a small monument dedicated to Brown Military Academy outside a Chinese restaurant in the shopping center. The monument includes an aerial photo of the academy that shows the buildings that had once been the Hotel Balboa – and are now a parking lot.

San Diego’s Cable Cars

Everyone has heard of San Francisco’s cable cars. Twenty-three cable car lines were built there between 1873 and 1890 and three are still in operation today, the last cable car system in the world and a major tourist attraction for the hilly city. Fewer people know that San Diego also had a cable car line in the nineteenth century. It only ran for a couple of years and was tainted by scandal.

The completion of a transcontinental rail line in 1885 had created a ‘boom’ in the city’s population and the resulting spread in the populated area created a demand for public transportation. In 1886 the San Diego Street Car Company laid three miles of tracks on D Street (now Broadway) and Fifth Street (now Avenue) in the downtown area and began operations with horse-drawn cars. However, some of the new residents had moved to homes on the mesa north of downtown, an area then known as Florence Heights, and real estate operators were preparing to open additions even further to the north, like College Hill and University Heights. A street car line using horse power over these distances would be impractical and the use of steam engines was generally not allowed on street railways.

One alternative form of motive power that was just coming into existence at the time was electricity. The first practical electric motors capable of powering vehicles had been introduced in the early 1880s and by the mid-1880s systems were being developed to adapt electric power to street railways. In February 1887 the Electric Rapid Transit Street Car Company was formed in San Diego. The Electric Rapid Transit company intended to utilize a system patented by J. C. Henry on a line from the foot of Fourth Street to Florence Heights, continuing to University Heights along Fifth Street. In the Henry system electricity supplied by a central dynamo was delivered through wires strung above the tracks and picked up by a ‘troller’, a device that pinched the wire between grooved wheels and was towed by a cable that connected it to car’s electric motor.

The Electric Rapid Transit Fourth Street line went into operation in January 1888. According to the San Diego Union, two trains were run between H (now Market) and Upas streets in seven minutes. They were reportedly capable of performance that had seemed inconceivable at the time, climbing and even stopping and starting on an 8 or 9 percent grade. However, some passengers were concerned that the great sparks flying from under the wheels, some of which were as brilliant as an electric light, made riding the cars seem like ‘fooling with dynamite’. Dr. Gochenauer, the president of the company, reassured the passengers that the sparks were caused by burning rust and dirt and would disappear when the rails had become polished. He also reassured passengers that fine watches would not be injured by the intense magnetism radiated from the motor.

Dr. Gochenauer resigned in March, 1888, stating that the system had reached a state of perfection and was in complete running order and that he was leaving so he could introduce the Henry system of street car propulsion to other California cities. Trains were making trips every ten minutes from Steamship Wharf to Florence Heights and hourly trips from Florence Heights to University Heights. However, the street car traveling public had apparently not been entirely convinced by Dr. Gochensuer’s reassurances and the Union reported that in future a coach would be attached to each electric motor car, thereby giving an option to the many possessed by the idea that ‘to ride on an electric motor is to ruin your watch’. By the end of 1888 the company had four cars running from the foot of Fifth Street to Laurel Street and was expecting to run an additional car every half hour from Laurel to University Heights, making fifteen miles an hour.

Despite the many positive reports on the merits of the electric street cars, however, the Electric Rapid Transit company was not a commercial success. The new electric system was one of the first to be deployed anywhere and the technology was not yet entirely reliable. There were frequent breakdowns and service interruptions and in the summer of 1888 the whole system shut down for six weeks for alterations and repairs. In April 1889 new president George D. Copeland asked the city council to amend his company’s franchise to allow it to use motive power other than electricity or horses. In a conversation with the Union, Mr. Copeland revealed that his preference was for a cable railway. Operation of the electric railway had ceased by the summer of 1889 and in July the wires and poles on Fourth, Fifth and G streets were removed; apparently boys were in the habit of throwing stones at the wire on Fourth Street, making a very unpleasant noise and causing ladies to avoid that street for fear of frightening their horses.

In June 1889 another group of prominent citizens and property owners initiated a competing proposal for a cable line along Fourth Street from the waterfront to University Heights. When they learned that downtown businesses and residents of Sixth Street would subscribe substantially more money toward construction of the line than those of Fourth Street, the proposed route was altered to run from the foot of Sixth Street to C Street, then on C Street to Fourth, where it would continue north.  The San Diego Cable Railway Company was given an ‘official and legal birth’ in August 1889 when articles of incorporation were filed listing D. D. Dare as president, John C. Fisher as vice-president and J. W. Collins as secretary and treasurer. At a council meeting in September the city awarded the Cable Railway company a franchise to build and operate a cable line.

In a cable railway, cable cars connect to a continuously moving miles-long loop of cable in a conduit under the streets powered by an engine in a central power house. The connection, called a grip, extends beneath the floor of the car into a slot between the rails and enables the operator of a cable car, the gripman, to grip the moving cable to put the car in motion or release it to come to a stop. The San Diego Cable Railway was built in two sections which met in front of a power house at Fourth and Spruce streets. The lower or ‘town’ section was about two miles in length and would follow the route favored by the Sixth Street subscribers, on Fourth Street between the power house and C, then on C to Sixth, and on Sixth to K. The upper or ‘mesa’ section ran about three miles between the power house and a park to be built overlooking Mission Valley, following Fourth to University, then on what are now Normal Street and Park Boulevard to the terminus. The line was single track with occasional turnouts to allow cars going in opposite directions to pass. Turntables were built at each end of the line to turn the cars around and in front of the power house to transfer cars to and from a section of track that led inside, where they were stored when not in use. The rails were a narrow three foot six inch gauge and were laid on cast iron yokes, which formed the conduit beneath the rails for the moving cable. The two sections had separate cables, continuous loops which ran from inside the power house out to the main line on Fourth Street, where they were diverted under the lower or upper section by pulleys. There were also pulleys under turns and at the ends of the lines. Within the conduit the cable ran in both directions under the single track line; at the turnouts the cables moving in different directions split to follow one of the branches. The cable for the lower section was designed to move at eight miles per hour; the upper cable moved at ten MPH. The two cables totaled 52,000 feet in length. They were initially laid in the conduit by attaching the cable to a grip in a car and drawing the car along the line with a team of about a dozen horses.

On April 11, 1890, the Union reported that Vice President Fisher had applied the match to the fuel in the furnaces and soon the hissing of steam gave a decidedly business-like sound to the affairs at the power house at the corner of Fourth and Spruce streets. Workmen began their lunch to the melodious sound of a powerful whistle. The power house was a solid brick structure occupying 100 feet on Fourth Street, 200 feet on Spruce Street and 40 feet on Third Street. The engine room was on the Spruce Street side, where two immense Corliss steam engines powered the cable-driving apparatus, most of which, including the huge driving wheel, was manufactured at the Coronado foundry.

The cable cars were ‘things of beauty’, with both an open and closed compartment for passengers. The gripman’s platform was in the center of the open end, with a bench for passengers on each side and shorter seats in front facing the track (the open end apparently served as the smoking section). The closed portion of the car was beautifully finished in rare woods, with stained glass transoms along the top, richly curtained windows and nickel-plated metal work. Best of all, electric bells were provided by which passengers could notify the gripman to stop the car without leaving their seats. They were ‘gorgeous little palaces on wheels’, the handsomest in the world. The outside of each car was beautifully finished in rich colors with gold lettering. The cars were numbered and named: 1, Montezuma; 2, El Escondido; 3, Los Penasquitas; 4, La Jolla; 5, Alvarado; 6, Cuyamaca; 7, San Ysidora; 8, San Juan Capistrano; 9, Tia Juana; 10, El Cajon; 11, Point Loma; 12, Los Flores.

The section of the line between downtown and the power house was completed first and a grand opening was held on June 7, 1890. The cars, with No. 2, El Escondido in the lead, were run out over the turntable at the entrance to the power house and on to the line, where the grip-end was festooned with a large flag, palm fronds and flowers by members of the Ladies’ Annex of the Chamber of Commerce. At 10:00 o’clock the gripman ‘put on the grip’ and the car started down from the heights; ‘for San Diego a car of progress of weightier consequences than any which had ever gladdened her vision’. All along the line people ran to their doors and windows and gates, waving and shouting and waving flags. The foot of Sixth Street was reached in just 22 minutes. The car was turned on the turntable and on the way back it filled up rapidly for the hill climb.

A ceremony featuring the City Guard Band, city officials and other dignitaries was held in the afternoon at the power house, which had been draped in bunting for the occasion. Among the speakers was Rose Hartwick Thorpe, the world famous author of the poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight, then a resident of Pacific Beach, who read an original poem, The Maiden by the Sea, written for the day. An original song composed by Philip Morse was sung and received the ‘loudest possible marks of appreciation’:

All cheer to the men whose enterprise and zeal
Have given us this splendid cable line
With Collins, Dare and Fisher and likewise Haversale
Our city will soon all other outshine,

With the chorus:

Then let the big wheel turn that hauls the cable round
And everyone will make the trial trip
And over all the world the chorus shall sound
For San Diegans never lose their grip.

The second section of the cable line, the upper or mesa section, was completed In July 1890. It ran north from Fourth and Spruce to a park, pavilion and recreation grounds on a hill overlooking Mission Valley. Cars ran every ten minutes and the fare was five cents.

One of the reasons for building street railways was to attract commerce and residents to the areas accessed by the lines, and property along the line of the cable railway was no exception. Real estate operators offered deals on lots along Fourth Street and in the new subdivisions near the northern terminus. The cable company also developed property it owned along the line, including a new baseball field, Recreation Park, at Fourth and A streets. The Union reported in August 1890 that the San Diegos and the Schillers and Murthas would play a match game of ball in the new ball park on the line of the cable railway. The grounds were 350 by 400 feet and the boys had been practicing every day for the past three weeks so all interested in the welfare of the national game should turn out strong for the opening game on Sunday. The baseball season opened in October and the Union announced that ladies would be admitted free at Recreation Park on the cable line. The new St. Josephs hospital also opened on the cable line near Recreation Park.

The San Diego Union’s New Year’s 1891 summary of San Diego in 1890 included a section on the ‘cable road’, which had been in operation since July without any accident or repairs. The ‘first-class cable railway’ extended five miles through the center of the city to Mission Heights where a beautiful park of five acres and a spacious and handsome pavilion always attracted visitors and where every convenience is afforded to patrons of the road to spend a day enjoying the beautiful scenery. In June 1891 the cable railway company announced plans to celebrate its first anniversary with a musical entertainment and concert at the pavilion, and, in the evening, a grand ball. Late cars would be run to accommodate such as desire to attend and remain out until late in the evening.

However, behind the scenes, all was not well with the cable railway. It had been backed by the California National Bank, founded in January 1888 by D. D. Dare and J. W. Collins, who were also the principal founders and directors of the cable company. One day in November 1891 the California National Bank failed to open and despite a reassuring notice on its doors, its ‘temporary suspension’ proved to be permanent. It turned out that the bank had been little more than a front and that Collins and Dare had looted as much as $880,000 from its stockholders and depositors, a staggering sum in the 1890s, some of which had been used to fund their cable railway. Dare fled the country, reportedly for Italy, but Collins was arrested in San Diego in February 1892 and charged with embezzling $200,000 of the bank’s funds. Rather than be taken to jail, Collins, who had also suffered a personal tragedy when his entire family drowned in a yacht accident the year before, shot himself in his hotel room while the marshal waited for him outside.

In March 1892, unable to pay creditors, its financial backing cut off and its principal officers dead or in hiding, the company was ruled to be insolvent under the insolvent act of 1880. It was forbidden to transfer any property or to collect or receive any debts and the sheriff was appointed to take charge as receiver. The cars would continue to run, however, and Judge Puterbaugh authorized the sheriff to purchase coal to keep them running. The judge also granted a request for $10 to employ musicians to attract people to the pavilion on Sundays. This would be to the advantage of the creditors and the public would enjoy the very excellent programs. Other expenditures were approved to repair and maintain the road bed and keep it in good condition.

In September 1892 Judge Puterbaugh authorized the receiver to purchase new cables for the line and to raise funds to pay for them by issuing ‘receiver’s certificates’. Two new cables were ordered and one had arrived but on October 15 the receiver reported to the judge that there was no money to move the cable from the depot and put it in position and that no more receiver’s certificates could be sold. He asked the judge to sign an order to stop the operation of the railway and Judge Puterbaugh did so. Although there were occasional rumors that the slot wheels were being oiled and of a quiet bustling at the power house in anticipation of reopening the line, San Diego’s cable railway never ran again.

In September 1893 the Union reported that a controlling interest in the San Diego Cable railway company had been acquired by the Electric Storage railway company and that it had shipped three cars of the ‘electric storage pattern’ to run on the cable line. Nothing more was heard of this venture, however, and the cable company continued to be run by a court-appointed receiver. The big steel cable purchased for the cable line and stored at the Santa Fe depot was sold at auction for $1,355.

In September 1894 it was announced that preparations had been made to reopen the street railway leading to the fine pavilion at the end of the road overlooking Mission Valley, formerly a popular resort for dancing and Sunday concerts, and one of the most pleasant places of resort within reach of busy people. To bring it within reach again, a line of horse cars would operate over the rails of the cable railway from the end of the existing electric railway on upper Fifth Street. The cars would be the cable cars from the former cable railway and three horses would be attached to each car. R. H. Dalton, then the receiver of the cable railway, would be general manager of the new line. A first class lunch counter would be maintained at the pavilion.

In January 1895 Judge Puterbaugh authorized the receiver of the Cable Railway Company to sell the power house, machinery and other property and in February the assets of the cable company were sold at public auction to George B. Kerper of Cincinnati for $17,000. Kerper said he intended to resume operations as soon as possible, probably within four months. A month later, in March 1895, Kerper announced the sale of the cable line to a syndicate of eastern capitalists for $55,000, while retaining a three-fourths interest. The syndicate would expend another $25,000 to ‘electrize’ the line

The syndicate of eastern capitalists incorporated in April 1896 as the Citizens Traction Company, with a mission to take over the property, rights and franchise of the San Diego Cable Railway and transform it into an electric road. Kerper would be president and there would be no immediate change from the route of the cable railway, but new features would be introduced at the pavilion end of the line. The pavilion grounds, Mission Cliff Park, would be ‘conducted on temperance principles’ but a hotel would be erected on adjoining land where a public garden would be maintained and ‘something stronger than lemonade will be obtainable under rules of good order’. The Traction company expected to have the new line in operation by July 1 and to generate the electric power at the power house at Fourth and Spruce Streets. The company would convert the former cable cars to electric power and continue to run them over the narrow gauge rails of the former cable line.

The Citizens Traction Company did operate on the route of the former cable railway for another year or so but in early 1898 it was acquired by the San Diego Electric Railway, the former San Diego Street Car horse car system that had been purchased by the Spreckels interests in 1892 and converted to electricity. The San Diego Electric Railway already had a line on Fifth Avenue from downtown to University Avenue, so the portion of the Citizens Traction line from University to Mission Cliff Park was converted to standard gauge and a connection made to the Fifth Avenue line to extend it to the pavilion. The rest of the Citizens Traction line, the former San Diego Cable Railway, was abandoned. The power house was sold in 1902 and torn down in 1903; the Union reported that although the work had been kept quiet for fear of collecting a crowd the stack had been blown up on March 17. The tracks on Fourth, C and Sixth streets were also removed in 1903, the last visible signs of San Diego’s cable railway.

Train Wreck and Reckoning

On January 16, 1908, the 1:55 PM train with 30 passengers bound for Pacific Beach and La Jolla departed from the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway station at the foot of C Street in San Diego. According to the San Diego Union, the train was steaming through Middletown at a fair rate of speed when it left the rails and plowed along the ties for fully 300 feet before the engine turned over on its side at right angles to the track. The engineer, Thomas Robertson, was pinned in the engine’s cab by the reverse lever and scalded to death by steam escaping from the boiler. The fireman, Thomas Fitzgerald, was hurled head foremost into a clump of cactus and also badly burned by escaping steam (he died of his injuries 10 days later). Although women screamed and men made for the doors, the two coaches and mixed coach/baggage car making up the train remained upright and came to a standstill amid the hiss of the steam. Not a passenger was even so much as scratched nor was there a window in either of the three cars broken; the fright incident to the cars bumping along over the ties and a severe shaking up summed up the damage to the passengers.

The Union interviewed one passenger, Miss Zoe Overshiner, a 16-year-old girl from Pacific Beach who was on a front seat of the first car and ‘tells a graphic story of the accident’:

I was talking with [a] friend of mine about something, I’ve forgotten what it was now, when all of a sudden the engine began to act funny and our car began bumping heavily. This was due, as we afterwards found out to the fact that it had left the rails. The first shock was not so bad as might have been expected and we were not frightened until we saw the engine plunge over the bank and turn over on its side. Then the steam hid the engine and I climbed through the window of the car and jumped to the ground. I didn’t want to get hurt and the door wouldn’t open, or at least, I though it wouldn’t. I don’t remember whether I screamed. Maybe I did. It was enough to make any one scream when the engine reared up in the air and turned over on its side. It’s no joke to be in a railroad wreck.

The writer added that ‘it is probable that she is right’.

The 1908 train wreck occurred where Winder Street then crossed the railroad right-of-way, near where West Washington Street passes under I-5 today. The immediate cause was said to have been ‘spreading of the rails’; spikes holding one of the rails to the ties had come loose, the rail had shifted and the engine had fallen through and bumped along on the ties. The railroad company admitted that while much of the line had recently been improved with heavier 60-pound rails, the work of relaying the track had stopped short of the site of the accident, where the rails were of the lighter 35-pound type first used on the line and in service ever since. However, the company claimed that the track where the wreck occurred had been put in good shape two or three days before.

Like Miss Overshiner, most of the passengers who had been scared and severely shaken up in the accident were residents of Pacific Beach or La Jolla, and the two victims were also long-time local residents. Thomas Fitzgerald had worked for what was then the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railway when it was first completed to the foot of Grand Avenue in 1888, and he had built a house on Reed Avenue near the depot there. Thomas Robertson’s family had once lived in the Pacific Beach Hotel building near the depot and Mrs. Robertson was a charter member of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. When the railroad was extended to La Jolla in 1894, becoming the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla Railway, these railway employees had moved to its new base there, where the Robertsons’ home was noted for its rose garden (although the company’s name was changed again in 1906, suggesting a move even further up the coast, the tracks were never extended beyond La Jolla).

Understandably, a fatal train wreck involving a number of their fellow citizens and raising doubts about the safety of their only transportation link to the city caused concern, and sparked anger and outrage, in the affected communities. On January 27, eleven days after the accident, the Union reported that 25 or 30 people attended a hearing before the city council of a petition signed by nearly 200 citizens of Pacific Beach, La Jolla and other points along the line of the LA&SDB asking for an investigation (at the time there were only about 300 households in Pacific Beach and La Jolla combined):

We the undersigned, citizens of Old Town and patrons of the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach railway, most respectfully request that your honorable body fully investigate the conditions and methods of said railroad. That all laws and ordinances of every kind regulating said railroad be vigorously enforced, so that not only our rights as citizens be secured, our comforts and conveniences be regarded, but our lives and those of our families be made reasonably secure when forced to use said railroad. We would call your attention to the following notorious facts:

First. This road is and has been for some time in a frightfully dangerous condition, many of the ties being rotten and the spikes in such a state that they can be extracted with the fingers. Even the new parts of the road being, in the opinion of those competent to judge, badly constructed. The engines and cars are very old, small, out of date and without the safety equipment the law requires, all this making travel perilous to the last degree, so much so that the late sad accident, long predicted, might have been a frightful calamity.

Second. The convenience or wishes of the citizens are in no way considered as to train service or the time table. The trains are too few in number and are run at inconvenient hours.

Only a part of the abuses have been stated, but we pray your honorable body that steps be taken by you to secure our rights and restore our comforts and safety.

At the council meeting, which was also attended by General Manager Hornbeck and Attorney Leovy representing the railroad company, a Mr. Dyer, said to have lately located at Pacific Beach, stated that every statement made in the petition was true (there is no contemporary record of a Mr. Dyer in Pacific Beach; possibly the speaker was Mr. De Hart, who had recently moved to a home on Shasta Street). He said that with reasonably safe and proper railway service many hundreds would be added to the population of Pacific Beach but as it was, every time people boarded the trains they did so with fear and trembling. Mr. Rockwood (of The Rockwood, PB’s first apartment building, at Bayard Street and Thomas Avenue, a block from the railroad’s Ocean Front station on Grand at Bayard) described how he had found a broken rail just the day before the accident and had flagged down a train with a red bandana, possibly preventing another accident. He also explained how it was possible to pull spikes from the ties with the fingers and that dozens of the ties were rotten. A. C. Pike (presumably W. A. Pike, who owned most of the two blocks north of the railroad’s Grand Avenue right-of-way, adjacent to its Pacific Beach station at Lamont Street) stated that he had actually counted 702 rotten ties, that many spikes were not properly driven and many of the rails were rusty, being, in fact, crystalized with it. He closed his remarks with the ‘somewhat  abrupt conclusion’ that the whole road was rotten, equipment, roadbed, even the official management. A. S. Lane (whose home on Hornblend, now the Baldwin Academy, was a block from the Pacific Beach station) asked that a committee be appointed to go over the railroad, although he noted that considerable improvement work had been done since the recent accident.

General Manager Hornbeck replied to the criticisms at considerable length, beginning by complaining  that the petition had been prompted by the spirit expressed by Mr. Pike, that the official management of the railroad was ‘rotten’. He dismissed criticism of the ties, saying that the new, heavier rails were laid on the same class of ties and would have been laid on the existing ties at the scene of the accident except for construction delays. When a protester interrupted Mr. Hornbeck to ask why the railroad had been in such a hurry to burn the ties damaged by the train leaving the track, Mr. Hornbeck replied that this was a dirty, contemptuous story; he agreed that the ties had been burned but that it was 24 hours after the accident, they were worthless and they were burned to get them out of the way.  When Mr. Hornbeck alleged that unfair means had been used to secure signatures for the petition and some had signed without knowing what they were signing, one of the petitioners ‘came to his feet in a hurry’ and declared that Mr. Hornbeck’s statement was a lie. The president of the council attempted to restore order, saying that personalities must not enter into the discussion – to which the petitioner replied that Mr. Hornbeck had started it. Mr. Hornbeck did agree to the suggestion of a first-hand inspection and invited every member of the council to go over the railroad and see for themselves. After further discussion it was decided to make the trip the following week.

Eight out of the nine members of the city council accompanied by City Engineer Crowell, General Manager Hornbeck and a number of the petitioners, made the inspection trip in a special train. To make the examination thorough, the councilmen walked much of the way from the city to the ‘Scripps station beyond Pacific Beach’, presumably referring to the Ocean Front station on Grand at Bayard Street, the palm-lined drive leading to F. T. Scripps’ bayfront mansion (where the Catamaran Hotel now stands). From Pacific Beach to La Jolla, which would have followed a route along today’s Mission Boulevard, La Jolla Hermosa and Electric avenues, and Cuvier Street, the party inspected the roadbed from an open flat car. According to a report in the San Diego Union the following day, the eight council members were expected to report that the statements in the petition were much exaggerated and that the line was reasonably safe for travel, probably as much so as any of the railroads running out of the city. ‘After the representations made by the petitioners I was surprised to find things in as good shape as they are’, said one councilman.

The ninth council member, F. J. Goldkamp, dissented from the general consensus of his colleagues. He had made a personal inspection trip over the railroad before the official inspection because, he said, a petition signed by 200 people, 20 of whom had appeared before the council, was a matter that should not have been delayed for 10 or 12 days and that in the meantime the company had a chance to make improvements of the existing conditions. For example, he reported that he saw a worker being employed driving spikes into the ties. Mr. Goldkamp contended that the complaints of the people were fully borne out by the conditions as he found them, and he had personally pulled spikes out of the ties with his fingers.

The two reports resulting from the separate inspections of the LA&SDB were presented to the city council at a meeting on February 18, 1908. According to the San Diego Union, the report by City Engineer Crowell ‘practically exonerated’ the company from the charges made by citizens of Pacific Beach and La Jolla and concluded that the roadbed was perfectly safe for public travel. Mr. Crowell’s report stated that the roadbed from the downtown station to a point past Winder Street in Middletown was in fine condition, having been recently relaid with new 60-pound steel rails and the grades much improved by cutting down the hills and filling in the low points besides straightening the line and eliminating two bad curves. From the end of the new track to Old Town the track had the old light rails and there were many bad ties, although they were no worse than was found on any other railroad leading out of the city.

Through Old Town the track had been straightened out and entirely reconstructed with new ties and 60-pound rails. The bridge over the San Diego River was in good condition except for some bolts that needed to be tightened. ‘In one or two instances’ he found a tie in a condition that would allow pulling a spike out with the fingers, a condition which also applied to the parallel Santa Fe (a mainline railroad with much more traffic carrying much heavier loads).

From Old Town to Pacific Beach the roadbed had been widened and a cut-off built across the race track, eliminating a number of curves (this cut-off replaced the circuitous route around the former race track east of Rose Creek via what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa avenues to Lamont Street with the more direct route along present-day Grand Avenue to Lamont). He walked over a good portion the track from the Pacific Beach station (Lamont Street) toward the ocean front and found that portion in good condition. ‘After going over the whole length of the road, I have no hesitancy in saying that I do not consider the roadbed in a dangerous condition’.  Mr. Crowell’s report was referred to the city attorney.

Councilman Goldkamp’s report stated that the complaints of the people were fully borne out by the condition of the road at the time of presenting their petition. Owing to the lapse of ten days between presenting the petition and the inspection the railroad people were enabled to employ a large staff of extra men to repair all the worst parts of the road, to replace broken ties, to drive in loose spikes, to put in new ones and cover up all the defects sufficiently to pass the investigation of the councilmen. Mr. Goldkamp contended that this work of making the road appear safer at the time was only of a temporary nature and owing to the rottenness of the ties and the lightness of the rails these parts were liable to become unsafe again very soon. The rolling stock was old and out of date and made more unsafe by the use of old-fashioned link and pin couplings connecting the cars. He concluded that in view of the growing population of Pacific Beach and La Jolla it was time for the service to be modernized. The owners had apparently expressed a desire to ‘electrize’ the line and the council should call upon them to complete that process within six months or their franchise should be forfeited. Mr. Goldkamp’s report was simply filed.

Although the LA&SDB was never ‘electrized’, it did upgrade its rolling stock in the next few months with a pair of new gasoline-powered McKeen rail cars that had the added advantage of being able to operate over the city’s street railways and convey suburban passengers to and from businesses and theaters near the center of town without changing trains (steam trains were not allowed on downtown streets and could only go as far as the line’s terminus at the foot of C Street). The McKeen cars were painted a ‘rich Tuscan red’ and soon became known as ‘Red Devils’. And despite Mr. Goldkamp’s misgivings, the rottenness of the ties and the lightness of the rails did not contribute to any further accidents on the La Jolla line, although about 20 passengers were injured, one seriously, when a La Jolla train collided with a Santa Fe train in 1917 at a crossing near Old Town. The railroad was also involved in accidents with automobiles, including one in which a woman was killed and several other passengers seriously injured when it collided with a La Jolla train in Old Town in 1909.

Automobiles were first introduced to San Diego in 1900 and as their use increased over time, and roads to Pacific Beach and La Jolla were improved, fewer residents were ‘forced’ to use the train to reach destinations downtown. With fewer passengers to pay operating costs, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway applied to the Public Utilities Commission to discontinue service and in 1919 the line was abandoned. The rails were torn up and sold for scrap, although the section of right-of-way between Grand Avenue and Bird Rock over what are now Mission Boulevard and La Jolla Hermosa Avenue was reused between 1924 and 1940 for an electric railway line from downtown to La Jolla via Mission Beach. North coast residents forced to use that line were still not entirely secure, however. In 1937 a pair of the electric cars collided head-on in heavy fog in the Midway area, injuring 31 passengers, some seriously.

Kate Sessions in PB

Kate Sessions is a legendary figure in San Diego history, best remembered as the ‘Mother of Balboa Park’, which she is credited with transforming from a barren mesa into a landscaped beauty spot and where she is now honored with a bronze statue. Miss Sessions is also honored in Pacific Beach, where a California Registered Historical Landmark at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Pico Street ‘commemorates the life and influence of a woman who envisioned San Diego beautiful’ and explains that she operated a nursery and gained world renown as a horticulturist at that site. A city park overlooking the community and a nearby elementary school are also named in her honor.

In 1892 Kate Sessions had been awarded a 10-year lease on 32 acres of Balboa Park, then called City Park, that required her to plant and maintain 100 ‘choice and varied’ trees in the park and to provide 300 ornamental trees ‘in crocks and boxes’ to the city each year, the trees that transformed the park and eventually shaded many downtown streets. Her lease also allowed her to cultivate and grow additional plants on the site for sale. When her lease in the park and the agreement to provide trees for public spaces came to an end she moved her commercial nursery business to land she had acquired in Mission Hills, then mostly open land in the north of the city. However, Mission Hills was in the path of residential development as San Diego continued to grow and a streetcar line was extended there in 1909. Property values increased and assessments for property taxes also grew. Although Miss Sessions objected, she was unable to obtain relief and she began looking for another area with the climate and soil, and open space, for nursery operations. In 1912 she found what she was looking for in the Mount Soledad foothills above Pacific Beach.

Pueblo Lot 1785 is the half-mile square lying north of Loring Street and east of a northerly projection of Ingraham Street (and the Pacific Beach reservoir site). The eastern 86 acres of Pueblo Lot 1785 had been set apart for the city in 1889, but Miss Sessions and her brother Frank bought the western 74 acres, Frank the northern half and Kate the southern half. Frank Sessions also obtained a 5-year lease on the city’s portion and obtained city permission to install a pumping plant at the adjacent Pacific Beach reservoir to supply a private reservoir he dug at a high point at the northeast corner of his property, near where Soledad Way now meets Soledad Road. He relocated his poinsettia fields from Mission Hills to these lands and by the winter of 1914-15 the San Diego Union reported that the whole hillside was a mass of brilliant red easily discernable from the city.

However, Kate Sessions had other plans for her half of the property in the southwest of the pueblo lot. In 1913 she recorded a subdivision map for Soledad Terrace, dividing the 37-acre parcel into 28 lots connected by Los Altos Road and Soledad Road. Most of these lots were between one and two acres, larger than the typical residential lot but smaller than the acreage lots in the nearby Pacific Beach subdivision. Miss Sessions hoped that lots in her subdivision would appeal to buyers interesting in planting gardens. In April 1915 at least a hundred members of the San Diego Floral Association and other ‘lovers of flowers’ made a ‘pilgrimage’ to Soledad Terrace to inspect the Sessions’ gardens and greenhouses and to hear Miss Sessions’ plans for the development of that section. One of these plans was for completion of Soledad Road to the top of Mount Soledad, and the following April the Floral Association’s visit to Soledad Terrace included a trip by automobile to the top, guided by Miss Sessions, where they celebrated the completion of the road by planting five Torrey pine trees that she donated for the occasion. However, despite the publicity associated with the Floral Association’s annual meetings at Soledad Terrace, Miss Sessions’ real estate venture got off to a slow start. One lot was sold in 1914, another in 1915, and two more in 1916, but sales then stalled until the 1920s and most lots in the central portion of the subdivision remained unsold into the 1930s. The first home in Soledad Terrace was not built until 1926.

Frank Sessions’ five-year lease on the city-owned eastern portion of Pueblo Lot 1785 came to an end in 1917 and he moved on to become superintendent of the city pueblo farm on the mesa between La Jolla and Torrey Pines (where prisoners cut hay and raised vegetables and planted the eucalyptus groves which still stand around the university campus there). His property in the pueblo lot was acquired by Miss Sessions, giving her ownership of the entire western section of the lot. This property included the reservoir that had been used to irrigate the leased land and which she then granted to the city along with an easement for the pipeline supplying it from the Pacific Beach reservoir.

Although she had moved most of her nursery operations to the new growing fields in the Mount Soledad foothills, the Kate Sessions Nursery sales lot remained in Mission Hills into the 1920s and Miss Sessions continued to live in Mission Hills, on Montecito Way, a name she had personally proposed to the City Council. In 1924 she purchased nearly 7 acres of property on Rose Creek in Pacific Beach, property that fronted on Garnet Avenue, then called Grand Avenue and part of the paved highway from San Diego to the north via Pacific Beach and La Jolla (the Pacific Highway through Rose Canyon was not paved until 1930). The nursery sales lot was then moved from Mission Hills to this site, now marked by the historical monument at the corner of Garnet and Pico Street. A tipuana tree that Miss Sessions is supposed to have planted also stands on the site as a ‘living monument’.

In 1927 Miss Sessions herself moved to Pacific Beach, to a ‘two-story cement home’ on lot 22 of Soledad Terrace with a view that ‘could never be obstructed’. In Pacific Beach she was noted for providing inspiration and leadership to community organizations. She frequently addressed the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club and other groups on horticultural topics and was instrumental in founding the Pacific Beach Garden Club. The Floral Association continued to meet annually at her gardens. The Kate Sessions Nursery not only sold plants and trees to retail customers and provided landscaping services to private residences, many of them in Pacific Beach, but also donated plants and landscaping to public institutions such as the new fire station and the school. She was made an honorary member of the ZLAC Rowing Club for her services landscaping their clubhouse on the shore of Mission Bay.

Soledad Road, the extension of Lamont Street that continues to the summit of Mount Soledad, originally climbed the steep slope just north of Loring Street by looping to the west through the Soledad Terrace subdivision before turning north along the boundary between Soledad Terrace and the city land in the eastern part of Pueblo Lot 1785 (although Soledad Road was straightened in 1961, portions of the original loop still exist as Kate Sessions Way and a driveway and storm drain south of today’s Soledad Club). This loop isolated the extreme southwest corner of the city’s property, south and west of the road and east of Soledad Terrace. In 1933 Pacific Beach residents led by Kate Sessions proposed turning this isolated 2-acre section of public property into a city park. Miss Sessions proposed that the little park would be planted with two exotics, blue plumbago and bougainvillea, in addition to native Matilija poppy and two native oak trees (Miss Sessions would donate the exotics and the oak trees). The native shrubs already on the tract would be maintained. The exotic plants would provide color, sky blue and purple, and be visible as a ‘gorgeous splotch’ across the bay. The park would be known as Color Park. Color Park was approved and dedicated in 1935 and the Union reported in 1937 that Boy Scouts under the capable direction of Miss Sessions were at work clearing weeds in the park.

By 1937 Kate Sessions had been a presence in Pacific Beach for 25 years and a full-time resident for 10 years. 1937 was also the 50th anniversary of the founding of Pacific Beach and the chamber of commerce planned a golden jubilee dinner to celebrate the occasion. The president of the chamber announced that Miss Sessions’ devotion to the interests of Pacific Beach through the years and her confidence in its future had earned her the distinction of being the ‘community’s foremost citizen’, and that the jubilee dinner would be held on her 80th birthday and she would be the guest of honor. Over 500 people, including many ‘old-time’ residents, were present as community leaders presented testimonials to her character and achievements.

Kate Sessions died on Easter Sunday, 1940, following a lengthy hospital stay that resulted from falling and breaking her hip while watering plants in her garden. She is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, where her grave lies along Kate Sessions Avenue under a twisted juniper, her favorite tree. Most of her nursery sales lot on Rose Creek was taken over by the United States government in 1941 for a public housing project but the site is marked by the tipuana tree and the historical monument, dedicated in 1961. Her home in Soledad Terrace is still standing but the large garden lots that once characterized the subdivision have mostly been divided up and filled with large homes, swimming pools and tennis courts. An elementary school built between her former growing fields in the foothills and her nursery site on Rose Creek was named in her honor and opened in January 1956 (I was one of the 499 students who began classes that day).

The city had leased Frank Sessions its property on the eastern side of Pueblo Lot 1785 between 1912 and 1917 and in 1935 had dedicated the 2-acre Color Park in its southwest corner. In 1948 the entire tract became a city park called Soledad Terrace Park. Without Miss Sessions’ supervision the original Color Park had become neglected and was in a state of ruin, according to a 1956 article in the Sentinel, a Pacific Beach weekly. The Sentinel noted that Color Park was the last undertaking of Kate Sessions’ life, and the only one left unaccomplished, and asked what could be more appropriate than to dedicate a revived and completed Kate O. Sessions Color Park on the 100th anniversary of her birth. The city council actually improved on this suggestion and on the 100th anniversary of her birth, November 8, 1957, 79 acres in the eastern part of Pueblo Lot 1785, all of the city land east of Soledad Road, was dedicated as Kate O. Sessions Memorial Park.

Pacific Pines

Pacific Pines is a subdivision in Pacific Beach surrounded by Reed Avenue, Pacific Beach Drive, and Jewell and Lamont streets. The four blocks that became Pacific Pines in 1926 had originally been included in the Pacific Beach Company’s 1887 subdivision map as residential blocks 283, 284, 305 and 306, surrounded by Reed and Hubbell avenues and Ninth and Eleventh streets and separated by Gassen Avenue and Tenth Street. However, few lots were sold south of Reed Avenue (or north of Alabama Avenue, now Diamond Street) and in 1892 an amended map of the Pacific Beach subdivision, Map 697, re-subdivided the area south of Reed by eliminating the east-west avenues (including Gassen and Hubbell) and most of the streets (including Ninth and Tenth). The former residential blocks (and the former avenues and streets) were consolidated into ‘acre lots’ of around 10 acres each, intended for agricultural purposes. Between Reed and what had been Hubbell avenues, the area between Ninth and Tenth streets (including what had been Ninth and Gassen Avenue) became Acre Lot 62; the area between Tenth and Eleventh (including Tenth and Gassen) became Acre Lot 61. Reed Avenue and Eleventh (now Lamont) Street continued to exist on map 697, which also transformed much of the area north of Alabama Avenue into acre lots.

Map 697, Recorded January 1892

Although property in these areas hadn’t sold well as residential lots, the acre lots proved to be extremely popular and thirteen were sold within the first few months after map 697 was recorded in January 1892. One of these was Acre Lot 61, sold to C. H. Raiter, a director of the First National Bank of Alexandria, Minnesota, who had spent the past winter in the vicinity. Mr. Raiter paid $1010, $100 an acre for the 10.1-acre parcel, in April 1892. When he left for home a few weeks later, the San Diego Union reported that he intended making this his home, in the winters at least, and had sent instruction to have the ten-acre tract put equally into oranges and lemons and to reserve a good building site. The property was to be piped, fenced and broken and planted as soon as possible, and Mr. Raiter intended coming back in the fall to superintend the construction of a residence.

The Raiters did return, in the winter at least, and in February 1894 Mrs. Anna Raiter recorded the deed for the adjoining Acre Lot 62, paying $940 for the 9.4 acre plot. However, Mr. Raiter never did superintend the construction of a residence; no improvements were ever assessed for acre lots 61 and 62 although the property was apparently planted to orange and lemon trees and ‘had 1000 little cypress plants put around it’. In 1895 the Union reported that Mr. Raiter was piping his entire tract and when the Raiters arrived for another winter visit in February 1897 and the Santa Fe train rolled him in sight of the beach, his orange and lemon grove with its surrounding hedge surpassed his most sanguine expectations and he (again) decided to make San Diego the home of his retirement.

Although the Raiters never built a retirement home they did continue to visit the San Diego area in the winter months. In February 1899 they were on the Union’s list of hotel arrivals at the Horton House downtown, and were said to be visiting with Sterling Honeycutt, then a leading lemon rancher and landowner in Pacific Beach. In April 1902 the Raiters were listed as arrivals at the Lakeside Hotel. It was during that trip to the San Diego area that they sold their Pacific Beach property to D. C. Campbell, who then sold it to Alexander and Mary McGillivray, wealthy absentee owners from Dickinson, North Dakota.

The amended Pacific Beach subdivision map of 1892, Map 697, had ended at the southern boundary of acre lots 61 and 62 but in 1898 the trustees of the Pacific Beach Company purchased the northern 61 feet of Pueblo Lot 1800, immediately south of and adjacent to these acre lots. Another five-acre parcel at the eastern edge of Pueblo Lot 1800, immediately south of this 61-foot strip and opposite Acre Lot 61, was purchased by Eliza Turner. In the remainder of Pueblo Lot 1800, the eastern half was subdivided as the Fortuna Park Addition in 1902 and the western half (except for a six-acre parcel in the southwestern corner) as Second Fortuna Park in 1903. The five-acre parcel opposite Acre Lot 61 was subdivided by Sterling Honeycutt in 1909 as Sterling Park.

Many acre lots had been developed as lemon ranches and lemon cultivation dominated the economy of Pacific Beach for the decade after 1892, but by the first years of the twentieth century the agricultural economy had begun to fade and real estate operators led by Folsom Bros. Co. were converting lemon groves into residential blocks by grading streets and building concrete curbs and sidewalks. One of the first areas to be developed was Sterling Honeycutt’s former lemon ranch between Garnet and Grand avenues and Jewell and Lamont streets, and one of the first streets to be graded, ‘curbed’ and ‘sidewalked’ was Kendall, the former Tenth Street (San Diego had decided in 1900 to require all street names to be unique and there were already ‘numbered’ streets downtown).

Grading of Kendall Street between Garnet and Grand was done in April 1907 and there were plans to grade it all the way to the bay to make a ‘splendid entrance’ to Fortuna Park, south of acre lots 61 and 62 and then controlled by Folsom Bros. Cement sidewalks were also planned for Kendall between Garnet and Grand, to be extended south to Reed Avenue and later all the way to Mission Bay. Since the 1892 subdivision map had eliminated Tenth Street south of Reed Avenue this route to Fortuna Park and Mission Bay was then private property, but in April 1907 the McGillivrays reconveyed the westerly 80 feet of Acre Lot 61 to the city for use as a street and public highway. In June 1907 the city ‘confirmed and accepted’ the conveyance and the property was ‘set apart as a part of Kendall Street’. This part of Kendall Street was graded shortly afterward, completing what the Union called a ‘main thoroughfare from hotel to bay’ (the Hotel Balboa, the former San Diego College of Letters building, was at the other end of Kendall, across from its intersection with Garnet Avenue).

However, the opening of a main thoroughfare through acre lots 61 and 62 did not lead to their development into residential blocks, at least not right away. Mr. McGillivray died in 1907 and although Mrs. McGillivray acquired additional property in Pacific Beach and Fortuna Park, she continued to live in North Dakota until her death in 1924 (the McGillivray House in Dickinson has since become famous as a ‘haunted house’). In 1925, acre lots 61 and 62 were acquired by Exchange Securities Corp, headed by J. H. Shreve, and then passed to Roy Snavely and Charles Brown, former realtors from Pasadena. Snavely and Brown also acquired the 61-foot strip south of acre lots 61 and 62. In May 1926 they announced that the 20-acre tract would be subdivided and would be known as Pacific Pines, since it was surrounded by a row of beautiful pine trees (presumably the ‘1000 little cypress plants’ put around the property in the 1890s). The Union reported that it was the aim of the owners to preserve every tree on the tract, and all streets would be improved with concrete paving, curbs and sidewalks. Spanish style construction would be suggested to everyone building a residence.

The subdivision map of Pacific Pines, Map 1917, was recorded in June 1926. Other former acre lots in Pacific Beach had already been returned to residential blocks, including the 1904 Subdivision of Acre Lots 57, 58, 59 and 60, Map 922, just to the east across Lamont Street. These earlier re-subdivisions generally recreated the blocks of the original 1887 map by replacing the streets eliminated in the 1892 revision, usually with the original pattern of 40 25- by 125-foot lots and a 20-foot alley, and with the original block numbers. At Pacific Pines, Kendall Street had already been replaced and Map 1917 also set aside the westerly 80 feet of Acre Lot 62 as Jewell Street. An extension of Oliver Avenue from Map 922 replaced the original Gassen Avenue and recreated the four blocks which had existed here before the acre lots. However, these blocks looked somewhat different than most others in Pacific Beach; 20 50-foot lots with depths that depended on the block. In blocks 1 and 2, between Reed and Oliver, the lots were all 134.5 feet deep. In block 3, south of Oliver and west of Kendall, lots 1-10 were 125 feet deep and lots 11-20 were about 130 feet deep. In block 4, east of Kendall, the lots were all about 120 feet deep. The alleys were 16 feet wide and Oliver Avenue was 50 feet wide, narrower than the standard 80-foot streets in Pacific Beach (including Reed Avenue and Kendall, Jewell and Lamont streets) and the 75-foot streets in Fortuna Park to the south. Another unusual feature of the Pacific Pines subdivision map was the wide curvature of the street corners that cut off a portion of corner lots.

The Pacific Pines subdivision map also included another street, Pacific Avenue, along its southern boundary. East of Kendall, opposite the Sterling Park subdivision, the Pacific Pines map set aside 81 feet for Pacific Avenue. West of Kendall, Pacific Pines adjoined Fortuna Park, which already had a street named Pacific Avenue, 78.5 feet wide, along its northern boundary. In this area the Pacific Pines map placed Pacific Avenue in the 61-foot strip, which, combined with the existing 78.5-foot avenue in Fortuna Park, would have created a street 139.5 feet wide. The developers announced that Pacific Avenue in this area would be divided into two roadways with a park in the center, a solution that can still be seen today. Pacific Avenue was renamed Pacific Beach Drive in 1935 to avoid any confusion with Pacific Highway, the new route from downtown to Del Mar through Rose Canyon (although the old name still appears on curbstones).

Brown and Snavely opened their new subdivision for public inspection and sale in June 1926. The Union announced that the Pacific Pines company had adopted ‘the subdivision of distinction’ as its slogan and that it would provide home sites where formality was not demanded but where restrictions had been provided. It was near the ocean and bay, bordered by rows of stately pine trees. In September the city council passed a resolution of intention that all streets in Pacific Pines were to be graded and paved with five inch Portland cement pavement, concrete curbs, sidewalks, cast iron water mains, fire hydrants, etc. The contract was awarded to Harris & Wearn in December 1926, and paving was completed in 1927, giving Pacific Pines some of the first paved residential streets in Pacific Beach. The curved curbs and sidewalks around the wide street corners, particularly the intersection of Oliver and Kendall at the center of the tract, became a signature feature of Pacific Pines.

The opening of Pacific Pines for inspection and sale coincided with the opening of several other subdivisions in Pacific Beach, including North Shore Highlands, Crown Point, Braemar and the Palisades, and all of these tracts initially experienced disappointing sales. In Pacific Pines only five lots were sold in 1927, and only one residence built, a stucco cottage valued at $9000 for J. P. Harris (of Harris & Wearn, the paving contractor). Mr. Harris’ home faced the ‘park’ laid out by his company in the wide expanse of Pacific Avenue. The number of addresses on the streets of Pacific Pines grew to 5 in 1929 and 7 by 1930, but growth stalled in the 1930s and only one additional address had been added by 1940 (6 of these early homes remain, recognizable by the Spanish style construction suggested to everyone building a residence in Pacific Pines).

Consolidated Aircraft moved to San Diego in 1935 and built a manufacturing complex next to the airport downtown. In 1940 Consolidated began production of the B-24 Liberator bomber, hiring tens of thousands of aircraft workers who mostly arrived from out of town. Thousands of military personnel were also stationed in San Diego and many more began arriving after war was declared in December 1941. Even before the government stepped in to develop temporary housing projects for defense workers, including several in Pacific Beach, commercial developers began meeting the demand for affordable housing in existing residential neighborhoods like Pacific Pines.

In July 1941 the Original Dennstedt Company advertised that 19 Title VI homes were under construction at Pacific Pines, a tree-shaded, home-like atmosphere in a marine location 7 minutes from San Diego, and more than thirty were planned. $250 down and no ‘extras’ was all you would need to move into a Dennstedt luxury home. Dennstedt ads emphasized that each home was different – original and individual; a buyer could choose from Norman, Colonial, Cape Cod, English, and others.  The $250 down payment applied to 2-bedroom homes; 3-bedrooms required $350 down. Dennstedt was joined by other developers and affordable 2-and 3-bedroom homes in Pacific Pines were sold nearly as fast as they could be built. The 1941 San Diego city directory had listed 8 addresses in Pacific Pines but by 1942 the list had grown to 67 addresses and in 1943 77 addresses were listed on these four blocks of 20 lots each. The city directories also showed that most of these residents were aircraft workers or military personnel.

Seventy-five years have passed since that Pacific Pines building boom and some of those homes have since been replaced by apartment buildings or town homes, but many remain, still recognizable as Cape Cod, English or the even earlier Spanish style. Some of the trees growing in Pacific Pines may also be the original pine (or cypress) trees that the developers had aimed to preserve.

PB Asbestos Works

In September 1888 the San Diego Union published an article about a new industry, an important manufacturing establishment to be located at Pacific Beach. According to the Union, an asbestos manufactory would soon be in operation near the driving park. Asbestos was found in large quantities near Elsinore and constituted the base material for manufacturing boiler covering, fire-proof cement and roof-paint. The San Diego Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Company would put in an establishment capable of crushing 8,000 pounds of that mineral per day. A number of men were at work upon the necessary buildings and the enterprise would be pushed forward with all rapidity possible. A spur would be extended from the San Diego and Pacific Beach railroad to the buildings to facilitate shipments. George W. Hazzard of San Diego was one of the prime movers of the new industry and John D. Hoff, of Elsinore, was manager.

The driving park was the race track that was once located north of Mission Bay and east of Rose Creek, and the railroad once circled around the race track over what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet Avenue. The site of the proposed asbestos manufactory was on the north side of the railroad and west of Rose Creek, where Soledad Mountain Road now intersects with Garnet. John D. Hoff had located asbestos mines in Terra Cotta City, near Elsinore, and in 1888 San Diego’s transcontinental rail connection via Colton ran within a few miles of these mines, enabling shipment by rail to the mill on the Pacific Beach railroad. George W. Hazzard was a prominent San Diego businessman and two-time president of the chamber of commerce, with a particular interest in ventures involving mining and minerals. The Pacific Beach Company had donated the property to Hazzard and Hoff, granting Fractional Blocks 173 and 174 of Pacific Beach and a parcel extending 400 feet east of these blocks, in Pueblo Lot 1788, ‘upon the express condition and for no other consideration’ than that Hoff and Hazzard should ‘construct a corrugated Iron Building to be located on the lands herein described and to provide the necessary machinery to carry on the manufacture of Asbestos Goods and Wares’. Said building and machinery were to cost not less than $4000, construction was to commence within 30 days and to be completed and in full operation within 3 months, and the grantees were to maintain and operate such manufactory for a period of 3 years.

Within a month the Union reported that the boiler, engine and pumps for the asbestos works had been tested and all worked satisfactory. The Union also carried advertisements for the asbestos goods offered by the San Diego Asbestos Mining and Manufacturing Company, with works at Pacific Beach and mines near Terra Cotta City. The goods included indestructible fire proof roof paint, boiler covering and fire proof cement. Apparently the company did meet its deadline for being in operation within three months and by March 1889 were offering testimonials by ‘well-known persons and manufacturing establishments’ that had their asbestos goods in use. Among the persons and establishments listed were the San Diego College of Letters and the First Presbyterian Church in Pacific Beach, and Harr Wagner, Thos. Cogswell, J. W. Fairfield and Captain Woods, residents of Pacific Beach. The timetable for the Pacific Beach railway listed a stop at Asbestos Works, along with stops at the Driving Park, the College and the Pacific Beach depot near the foot of Grand Avenue.

In October 1889 the asbestos company, now incorporated as the John D. Hoff Asbestos Company, ran another series of ads in the Union, this time featuring asbestos roof paint. One ad claimed that Roofs! Old Rusty Roofs, Leaky Roofs, and even New Roofs could be made to last many years by using Hoff’s Asbestos Fire-Proof Roof Paints – bright red and brown. Another ad asked readers to Look at your Roofs! See if they are Rusty or Decaying. If they were the ad suggested using Hoff’s Asbestos Fire-Proof Roof Paint, which would stop leaks as the fibre of the Asbestos fills all holes and stops the rust microbe and makes a covering that protects it from the acids in the air.

A January 1890 article on the ‘extraordinary developments of one of San Diego’s principal enterprises’ in the San Diego Union singled out the John D. Hoff Asbestos Company as being among the manufacturing industries of San Diego which is specially entitled to the notice of the public. According to the Union, it was little more than a year since the plant was put in, at which point the company’s efforts had been very problematical, but the operations of the institution had become so well established and so widely appreciated that it had come to be regarded as one of the most valuable permanent industries of this section. The company had secured a contract for covering the boilers at Governor Waterman’s gold mine at Stonewall with asbestos (the Stonewall Mine, located under what is now Cuyamaca Lake, was the largest gold mine in San Diego County). There would be 1,800 square feet of surface to cover; the factory was running day and night and the force at the mines had been correspondingly increased.

Production of asbestos paint and other commercial products had also become well established. In May 1890 the Union reported that another large shipment of asbestos goods had been sent down from Pacific Beach and forwarded by steamer to San Francisco. An order had been received from Denver for two tons of asbestos roofing and asbestos paint. The company had applied for patents for its paints and was the only manufacturer who had succeeded in amalgamating asbestos, white lead, zinc and linseed oil. To keep pace with the increase in its business the asbestos company began upgrading its operations in Pacific Beach. In June 1890 the Union wrote that a paint machine had arrived at the asbestos works and was ‘a corker’. The large combination paint mill weighed three thousand pounds and was a combination of three machines of large capacity, producing the paint ground, colored and canned, ready for market; ‘it mixes the paint thoroughly and evenly and grinds finer than can be done by any other process’.  It also required more power, and in July 1890 the asbestos works in Pacific Beach replaced its original engine with two new ones to power a crusher and a grinder to work up the asbestos to be mixed into paint. This expansion seems to have run into problems, however, and the Hoff Asbestos Company later sued George W. Beermaker et al for damages resulting from the sale of an alleged dangerous and worthless boiler which is said to have caused delay in the works for a number of weeks over the summer.

The San Diego Union was not the only publication following the story of the asbestos works in Pacific Beach. The Golden Era was an illustrated monthly magazine ‘devoted to the artistic and industrial progress of the West’ which had relocated from San Francisco to San Diego in 1887. An article in the November/December 1890 issue about manufacturing in the San Diego Bay region noted that from Pacific Beach on the northwest, and around the bay to National City, a cordon of plants was growing up within easy reach of railroad and wharf. The John D. Hoff Asbestos Company’s steam manufacturing works at Pacific Beach was one of those plants whose ‘mechanical sinews are waking the echoes, painting their silhouettes of smoke on the sky, and spreading their silvery clouds of steam on the golden abyss of the busy day’.  It had been newly fitted with 30-horse engine power and must soon double its room and capacity. The article speculated that the business of utilizing asbestos could be developed and extended indefinitely. The Golden Era also published full-page ads for the asbestos company and its general agents, Story & Isham Commercial Company, illustrated by John C. Hill, the company’s advertising artist.

The Golden Era’s editor was Harr Wagner, who had also been a founder of the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach where he was professor of English. Wagner and his wife Madge Morris, also a writer at the Golden Era, had moved to Pacific Beach and built a home when the college opened in 1888. A special issue of the Golden Era in December 1890 was entirely devoted to a novel by Madge Morris entitled ‘A Titled Plebeian’, and included a testimonial that noted that the author wrote the narrative at her Villa Home, Pacific Beach – made attractive and beautiful – both interior and exterior – by Hoff’s Glossy Asbestos Paints and that the views through her open casement windows reflect on the shores of the Bay – a net-work of buildings – alive with busy men Amalgamating, Packing and Shipping, Hoff’s Asbestos Paints and Lubricants (the Wagners’ home is still standing at the corner of Diamond and Noyes streets, presumably still including a layer of Hoff’s Glossy Asbestos Paint, and still with a view of the bay).

However, that view of buildings alive with busy men producing Hoff’s asbestos paints did not last much longer. The glowing reports about the asbestos industry and the memorable ads for Hoff’s asbestos products disappeared from the Union and the Golden Era after 1890. Perhaps the company did not fully recover from the difficulties and delays surrounding the equipment upgrade to the works in the summer of 1890. San Diego’s ‘great boom’ had peaked in 1888 and the city’s population, potential customers for asbestos paint and other products, had steadily declined since then. Customers for boiler and steampipe coatings, like the Stonewall mine and San Diego’s cable railway, were also failing. In February 1891 the railroad between San Diego and Elsinore washed out and was never rebuilt, cutting off the direct rail link between the mines and processing plant in Pacific Beach. The Story & Isham Commercial Company had been the asbestos company’s general agents, promoting, marketing and distributing the asbestos products, but that support ended when Story & Isham failed in early 1891.

In December 1891 the San Diego Union reported that the Pacific Asbestos Company, described as successor to the John D. Hoff Asbestos Company, had filed articles of incorporation. Although the works would remain in Pacific Beach and John D. Hoff was named as one of the directors, the new company’s main office would be located in Los Angeles with a branch office in San Diego. In July 1892 Hoff sold his half-interest in the Pacific Beach real estate to A. B. Cairnes, then serving as San Diego’s first fire chief, while reserving the ‘right to use the one-half acre of ground now occupied by the Asbestos Works’. George Hazzard deeded his half-interest in the property to Cairnes unconditionally in August.  The timetable of the Pacific Beach railroad still listed a stop at Asbestos Works on July 1, 1892, but Asbestos Works was missing from the July 24 timetable.

Although Hoff had reserved the right to use the asbestos works, that right was apparently not exercised, at least not for long. The 1893-94 city directory listed a Hoff John D. Asbestos Co factory in Pacific Beach, but that entry was gone in the 1894-95 directory. City lot books, which list property assessments for tax purposes at the beginning of each year, showed that John D. Hoff owned 4.6 acres in the southwest corner of Pueblo Lot 1788 with improvements worth $2000 in 1892; in 1893 Pacific Asbestos Co. owned ‘1/2 A. in SW Co’ with improvements worth $1500 (and Cairnes owned 4 acres with no improvements). In 1894 Cairnes owned all of the southwest corner with improvements worth $150. $1500 or $2000 was a very large assessment, consistent with a building and machinery that cost ‘not less than $4000’ while $150 was less than the assessment for a typical house at the time, perhaps representing the value of an empty corrugated iron building. These facts suggest that the asbestos works in Pacific Beach had not only been shut down and abandoned by the end of 1893 but had been dismantled and removed, leaving the empty building behind. That building was apparently suitable to be used as a residence; the Union’s notes from Pacific Beach in July 1894 included the fact that the Murrays had moved back into their own cottage on the hill and the asbestos place was without a tenant.

A. B. Cairnes retired from the fire department on his 65th birthday in 1905 and in 1906 began building a home in Block 173, at the northwest corner of the parcel he had purchased from Hoff and Hazzard. When the surrounding area was included in the Bayview Terrace federal housing project for defense workers and cleared in 1941, this house was spared and became the Bayview Terrace community building. The community building burned down in 1957, but some traces of its walls and gateposts can still be seen at the corner of Soledad Mountain Road and Felspar Street. No traces of the asbestos works remain, however, and its location is not known precisely. According to the 1893 lot book it was in the southwest corner of the half-mile square Pueblo Lot 1788. A July 1892 deed described the land on which the asbestos works was located as the ‘E ½ of Block 174 being a subdivision of Pueblo Lot 1788’. Since Pueblo Lot 1788 was never actually subdivided into blocks and Block 174 was actually in the Pacific Beach subdivision, in Pueblo Lot 1789, this was probably meant to describe where the eastern portion of Block 174 would have been if it was a full-sized block of 20 lots and did extend into Pueblo Lot 1788. The dividing line between these two pueblo lots is now the western side of Soledad Mountain Road, so the asbestos works would have been located in or just to the east of Soledad Mountain Road, and just north of Garnet Avenue.

Selling the Palisades

In the mid-1920s the ocean-front area of Pacific Beach was still mostly vacant, but it was becoming less isolated. More people were driving automobiles and the Coast Highway between San Diego and Los Angeles, paved since 1919, ran through Pacific Beach on Garnet Avenue and Cass Street. Another branch of the highway, also paved, connected Garnet and Cass to downtown through Mission Beach. For those without cars, the San Diego Electric Railway opened a ‘fast’ streetcar line between San Diego and La Jolla in 1924. The No. 16 streetcar ran through Mission Beach and Pacific Beach over what is now Mission Boulevard.

This increased accessibility caught the attention of out-of-town real estate speculators and in October 1923 the San Diego Union reported that capitalists from Los Angeles and Long Beach had purchased about 350 acres in various areas of Pacific Beach, including more than half of its ocean frontage. The buyers indicated that they intended to spend money liberally to develop their holdings into one of the best residence sections in Southern California. In March 1925 they announced that one of their investments would be a ‘million-dollar pleasure pier’ at Pacific Beach. This development was to be financed and built by Ernest Pickering, who had successfully developed pleasure piers in Santa Monica and Venice (pleasure piers were essentially amusement parks built over the beach). Property values had skyrocketed after construction of the piers in these beach cities and the developers expected a similar return on their investment in Pacific Beach. Construction of the pier in Pacific Beach began in September 1925.

However, Pickering soon withdrew from the project and turned over the development of the Pacific Beach ocean-front to Neil Nettleship, an associate from Santa Monica. Nettleship believed that in order to prosper Pacific Beach would require an entirely new identity, beginning with a new name, San Diego Beach. He continued construction of the pier, which would be the centerpiece of the new San Diego Beach, and also began marketing selected tracts in the nearby ocean-front property that he controlled.

On April 18, 1926, with the pier ‘rapidly assuming form and substance’ at the foot of Garnet Avenue, the public was invited to its ‘formal christening’ as Crystal Pier. The christening of the pier would also be the occasion for the opening sale of the Palisades, scenic ocean-view sites one block from the beach and five blocks north of the new pier. The Palisades consisted of the four blocks lying between Chalcedony, Loring and Bayard streets and the streetcar line on Mission Boulevard, then called Allison Street. According to the official program the events would begin at the Palisades in the morning, with amplified music, a dance orchestra, nail-driving contests and airplane stunt-flying (any purchasers of Palisades home sites would also get a free airplane ride). The actual christening at the unfinished pier, where a mammoth bottle would be crushed by a new electrically-driven pile-driver, would occur in the afternoon. The keynote address would be delivered by Dr. H. K. W. Kumm, geographer, explorer, climatologist, the first white man to explore the last unknown inhabited portion of the globe in Central Africa, and a recent arrival in Pacific Beach, where he was planning to develop a better strain of passion fruit. There would also be a free treasure hunt for children and a surfboard riding exhibition.  Despite threatening weather and actual showers Nettleship claimed that a crowd estimated at 10,000 persons attended the christening ceremonies, ‘many sales of property being the consequence’.

Neil Nettleship had formed a partnership with Ben Tye and the Nettleship-Tye Company in turn formed the Crystal Pier Amusement Company, offering stock to investors to raise capital for their improvement projects. Some of these improvements were apparently in place by May, when Miss Palisades, the official representative of San Diego Beach, invited San Diegans to week-end near the pier where the Nettleship-Tye Company had installed a free public beach oven, picnic tables and benches (the invitation in the Union included a photo of Miss Palisades inspecting a pile-driver ‘now busy building Crystal Pier’).

Memorial Day, which even in 1926 was considered the beginning of ‘beach season’, came on Monday, May 31, and the promoters of San Diego Beach planned an elaborate ‘beach warming’ to usher it in. Like the Crystal Pier christening a month earlier, the beach warming would be the occasion for the opening sale of another Palisades tract, Palisades Ocean Front, between the beach and the streetcar line from Chalcedony to Loring streets. In preparation for a busy summer sales season the Nettleship-Tye Company had announced the appointment of the George F. Emery Organization as its general sales agent and the Emery Organization began its sales campaign by inviting all San Diego to help celebrate their taking over for sale the Nettleship-Tye land holdings, including Palisades Ocean Front, the choicest property in San Diego Beach. The beach warming arranged for the next Sunday and Monday would be the greatest free entertainment of its kind in the city’s history. The two-day ‘jollification’ would include music, a free luncheon, contests and souvenirs, and everything was free; you could make your headquarters at the big tent on the Palisades Ocean Front just north of the pier; ‘take No. 16 street car at Third and Broadway, or motor out and we shall park your car free’.

According to the Evening Tribune the first day of the beach warming was a great success; George Emery was quoted as saying that the sale of Palisades Ocean Front was gratifyingly large and he expected a repetition of the success on the second day. The results of that second day were also encouraging, convincing the Emery Organization to inaugurate a series of ‘weekly thrills’, beginning with a ‘tug-of-war’ between a Curtis airplane and a race car to be held at the picturesque Palisades, ‘now being eagerly purchased’. On that occasion the airplane won, but the car’s driver claimed mechanical problems and a ‘momentous second tug-of-war’ was scheduled for the following weekend.

In July the weekly thrills gave way to an ‘Announcement Extraordinary!’. A free lecture by the famed psychologist Brookhart, the idol of men and women who think of tomorrow in life’s calendar, would be given at the Palisades, San Diego Beach – at the big tent on Sunday, August 1. The subject would be ‘San Diego as I See and Analyze It’. The ad explained that Bae Pierre Brookhart, mentalist, philosopher, prophet, would tell you what the future holds in store for San Diego, how it would look 10 years from now. ‘This Great Seer, who sees all and knows all, will unroll the curtain of knowledge for all to read. Be at the Big Tent at 2 P.M. Sunday; you will be astounded at his revelations’. Free transportation would be furnished for those without cars but directions were provided for those who wished to drive out with their own car: ‘take Coast Highway toward La Jolla. After turning to the right at Pacific Beach corner, drive five blocks, look for big tent on left, and drive in’. In 1926 the ‘Coast Highway to La Jolla’ was Garnet Avenue and Cass Street and ‘Pacific Beach corner’ their intersection, where Dunaway Pharmacy was being built at the time. Five blocks north would be Chalcedony Street where the big tent could apparently be seen off to the left, within the Palisades tract (Bae Pierre Brookhart was described as a French-Indian philosopher; his book Sciences of Life as an ‘introductory amalgam of spiritual, esoteric tidbits’)

August 1 was also the day that plans were announced for construction of the North Shore Club at the Palisades. It would cost approximately $1,000,000, be six stories high, built of brick and art stone, with a huge arch over the highway, a pedestrian crossing connecting the first floor of the building to the beach and also a tunnel under the highway from the basement to the beach. There would be 100 guest rooms, a roof garden, veranda overlooking the ocean, a mezzanine floor entirely circling the building, and two elevators. Other amenities included a large dining room, main lobby, ballroom, swimming pool, gymnasium, locker rooms, tennis courts, gardens, fountains and a drug store and other concessions on the first floor. According to the San Diego Union, the entire block bounded by Chalcedony and Law streets and Ocean Boulevard, with 270 feet of ocean frontage, had already been purchased from the Geo. F. Emery Organization for $46,600.

The Geo. F. Emery ads in the Tribune repeated this news and announced that the ‘Deal is Closed! A group of lots in Block 79, Palisades, sold to a Beach Club Hotel Syndicate for $46,600, exactly what our printed price list call for – not a thin dime discount’. By September the North Shore Club itself was advertising; its September 3 ad in the Tribune, in advance of Labor Day, said that ‘Next Labor Day you can flee to this wonderful building – and so escape the greatest crowd in the city’s history’. ‘This wonderful building’ was represented by a drawing of a nine-story edifice occupying the entire block, with towers at the corners surmounted by radio masts. A ‘pedestrian overhead promenade’ crossed over the wide boulevard in front of the building and a tunnel opened onto the beach. The accompanying text explained that the tunnel directly connected the beach with the wonderful indoor swimming pool and that the building would include a radio broadcasting station.

The San Diego Union explained that beach clubs had saved the beaches of Los Angeles from overcrowding and cheap commercialism, they bestowed privacy and assured living quarters and breathing space for those who wished to go periodically to the beaches. In effect, they constituted a beach residence on an expenditure of a few hundred dollars, instead of the thousands required for a beach home of one’s own. San Diego would soon have the same beach problems as LA if it did not provide itself with adequate beach clubs. The North Shore Club continued to advertise through September 1926 but interest among potential members was apparently underwhelming and the ads and other references to a beach club at the Palisades soon disappeared from the papers.

In addition to advertisements aimed at potential purchasers, the promoters of Palisades real estate also targeted potential salesmen. An August ad by the Geo. F. Emery Organization in the Tribune was for Creative Salesmen for the Palisades, Top Commissions, Prospects Furnished. ‘Big money for men of ability who can handle high class clients’. Another August ad was for Salesmen With Cars; ‘Palisades going good. Big development to be started will make it go faster. Bus, lunch, lecture. Want efficient salesmen for permanent, high-class business’.

When the relationship between the Geo. F. Emery Organization and the Nettleship-Tye Company ended in October the Nettleship-Tye Company began placing its own classified ads for salesmen in the Tribune (the Emery Organization moved over to the North Shore Highlands subdivision a few blocks to the east of the Palisades, where it arranged an opening sale December 5 with another big tent, bands, refreshments and a free lunch). One Nettleship-Tye ad announced ‘This Is It’; they would start their fall campaign selling Palisades at San Diego Beach and could place a few more eager, earnest salesmen. Another ad said ‘Our men are hitting on high and no knocks. Buyers are buying Palisades at San Diego Beach. There is nothing better to buy and nothing better to sell’. Another said ‘Here’s the deal. Palisades, parlor car buses, solicitors, lunch, lecture and plenty of half page ads. Can use few high class salesmen with cars. More prospects than we can handle. See us quick for big money’. In another, ‘more real honest to goodness prospects than our force can handle – Palisades – San Diego’s hot-spot subdivision. If you have a good car and can sell here’s your permanent job’.

Information about the Palisades could also be found in the real estate sections of the local papers. An October article in the Union featured a view inside the new downtown offices of the Nettleship-Tye Company and of Mr. Tye working at his private desk. Tye claimed that an extensive improvement program would be rushed to completion following the fast sale of Palisades. The improvements would include gas, water, electricity, paved sidewalks, curbs and gutters, but since the improvements would more or less halt traffic in the area the public was urged to inspect the property prior to the improvement program and take advantage of the free dinner served daily at the Palisades Pavilion tent followed by a lecture on the scarcity and desirability of beach frontage.

In an article in the Tribune Mr. Tye commented on the large number of easterners buying homesites in the Palisades; one of the most prominent professional men of Kansas City, a capitalist of Detroit, and a woman very prominent in the social world of New York. ‘The most striking feature of the progress made by San Diego Beach in general and the Palisades in particular the past few months, is the tone of the beach. San Diego Beach will be a high class residential district of San Diego, as already proved by the Braemar development and now by the Palisades’. He continued that ‘It is certainly inspiring that former Pacific Beach, which never did seem to get a start, should now blossom into one of San Diego’s finest dwelling communities, as the swan proceeded from the duckling in the folk-story’. The story included a photo illustrating ‘home building at the Palisades’; the first and only home in the Palisades at the time, one that is still standing at 834 Beryl Street.

Beginning in August 1926 ads for the Palisades had begun to threaten a ‘price advance’; an ad in the Tribune asked ‘Do you want it? You will have to act now, for the present opportunity will be withdrawn in 30 days’ then went on to suggest the free parlor car tour with a delightful lunch and educational lecture at the Palisades and added that the Geo. F. Emery Tours were ‘the talk of the city’. As the year went on the warnings increased; in October it was ‘2nd Call. Only one more week-end until the first Palisade price advance! The buying stampede on November 7th – last day of the old prices – will be so great that you better act now. Let the last-minute throngs rush over your property instead of you’.

Although these warnings of last-minute throngs and a buying stampede matched the rhetoric that the Palisades’ promoters had been proclaiming throughout the 1926 season, the actual results of the Palisades marketing campaign appear more modest. City lot books from that era document the ownership of each lot in each block of every subdivision in the city at noon of the first day of January every year. On January 1, 1927, the close of the year when the Palisades tracts had first been opened for sale, only 6 pairs of lots had changed hands in the original Palisades tract east of the streetcar line (Palisades ‘homesites’ were pairs of the standard 25-foot lots). In the Palisades Ocean Front tract west of the tracks, what had been three Pacific Beach blocks between Law and Loring streets (Blocks 41, 78 and 116) were re-subdivided in August 1926 as Nettleship-Tye Subdivision #1. In this new subdivision, which included the new Crystal and Dixie drives and a new city park, Palisades Park, no property had changed hands in 1926. The only substantial transfers of property had been on Block 79 in the ocean front tract, between Chalcedony and Law streets west of Allison, where on January 1, 1927 J. E. Dodd owned 27 lots; all 10 of the lots along Ocean Front Boulevard, the 16 lots on Chalcedony and one lot on Law Street. J. E. Dodd had represented the North Shore Club and was described as its president, but plans for a 9-story building on this property had not materialized and a year later, on January 1, 1928, all of Dodd’s holdings had reverted to the Crystal Pier Amusement Company (the other property on Law Street in Block 79 had already been in the hands of private owners before 1926 and was not part of the Palisades sales campaign). As for the prominent easterners buying homesites in the Palisades, all but two of the new owners of lots in these tracts had been listed in the San Diego city directory in recent years.

By the end of 1926 the Nettleship-Tye Company seemed to recognize that sales of homesites in the Palisades were lagging, and the company tested the idea of actually building and selling homes on the sites instead. A classified ad appeared in the Houses for Sale column of the San Diego Union in December 1926; ‘Modern bungalow, Palisades, San Diego Beach, half block off car line, beautiful home, large lot, two bedrooms and all modern conveniences, ready to move in, $1000 cash will handle. Will gladly show by appointment. Nettleship-Tye Co.’. An ad for Beach Property in July 1927 offered 1 new 5-room stucco, up-to-the-minute bungalow, beautiful Palisades location, very desirable, right place, easy terms. These ads could only refer to the home at 834 Beryl, the only home in existence in the Palisades at the time. It would eventually be purchased by Fay and Mary La Baume, the first actual residents of the Palisades (Mr. La Baume was a salesman for S. F. Woody, another Pacific Beach realtor).

In 1927 the promoters of the Palisades shifted their sales strategy again. Instead of the ‘half-page ads’ inviting the public to a luncheon and lecture, a Nettleship-Tye Company ‘salesmen wanted’ ad in May 1927 sought experienced subdivision salesmen and closers who know the ‘lunch and lecture method’ for a big summer campaign opening now. ‘We have the system and outside organization to put qualified out-of-town buyers on our beautiful Palisades beach property daily all summer long. City improvements going in now’.

‘City improvements’ such as paved sidewalks, curbs and gutters, had been mentioned before in Palisades ads but in May 1927 these improvements were finally happening. The city council had received a petition to pave the streets in the Palisades district in October 1926. An ordinance establishing the grade of these streets passed in January 1927, a resolution of intention was adopted in February and a resolution ordering work was adopted in March. Bids for the improvements were received in April the contract was awarded to E. Paul Ford. The improvements actually were ‘going in’ in May 1927 and were completed in June and July, dates that are stamped in the concrete sidewalks of the Palisades. In October 1927 the San Diego Beach Chamber of Commerce voted to hold a dance at the Crystal Pier Ballroom to celebrate the completion of paving in the Palisades (the pier, which included a ballroom over the water, had also been completed and opened in July 1927, but it turned out that the pilings had not been properly treated and were soon attacked by marine borers; it was condemned and closed in 1928, and not rebuilt until 1934).

Lot sales in the Palisades continued at about the same pace in 1927. Eight more homesites, or pairs of lots, had new owners on January 1, 1928, in the Palisades tract east of the streetcar line (including the homesite under the only actual home in the tract, which had been purchased by the La Baumes). West of the tracks, no lots had been sold yet in the Nettleship-Tye #1 subdivision and in Block 79 the 27 lots owned by J. E. Dodd for the North Shore Club at the beginning of 1927 had returned to the ownership of the Crystal Pier Amusement Company by 1928. With sales of lots lagging, in April 1928 the promoters changed direction again and advertised their ocean frontage for lease; ‘long term lease at low rental on an entire block of ocean front property at Pacific Beach, on the car line and suitable for beach cottages’.

The developers also revisited to the idea of actually building and selling homes instead of homesites in the Palisades. In April 1928 building permits were issued to the Nettleship-Tye Company for houses at 820, 827 and 838 Wilbur Street. Later that year the house at 820 Wilbur was one of four homes around the city that were featured in an educational exhibit by ‘Home Beautiful’ expert Rosalie Ann Hager. An article in the Union explained that this home in the lovely Palisades district overlooking the sea was built by the Nettleship-Tye Company and loaned to Miss Hager for the occasion. It was a medium-priced home of pure Spanish design with five rooms besides a large breakfast nook. There was a photo of the exterior of the home and a detailed description of its interior, including the color scheme, draperies, floor coverings and furniture, which Miss Hager had planned for a young couple. The Union reported that nearly 10,000 guests attended the week-long open house for these ‘Home Beautiful’ residences.

Despite the talk of buying stampedes and throngs of eager purchasers, only about 10 percent of the lots in the Palisades had actually been sold by 1928. The three homes built on Wilbur and the La Baume home on Beryl were the only actual residences and the La Baumes were the only residents. San Diego was still a small town in the 1920s and Pacific Beach was a remote suburb, even if it was served by a highway and a streetcar line. Potential buyers could also choose from other nearby subdivisions including Crown Point, Braemar, Pacific Pines and North Shore Highlands, all of which also opened in 1926 (and also had disappointing sales). Real estate sales would not improve for many years; the Great Depression which began in 1929 and lasted through the 1930s reduced economic activity of all kinds and in Pacific Beach the Mattoon Act further depressed the market by pyramiding ever-higher assessments on property owners to pay for construction of the causeway across Mission Bay.

The Nettleship-Tye company closed its branch office in the Crystal Pier building in 1930 and the partnership itself had ended by 1931 when Nettleship had Tye charged with grand theft for allegedly depositing the proceeds of lot sales into his own account instead of the company’s (the indictment was dismissed and the judge indicated that whatever difference the partners had should be settled in civil litigation). By 1940 only five more residences had been built in the Palisades, all in the section east of Mission Boulevard (which had been paved in 1928 and renamed in 1929) and there was still no home construction west of Mission Boulevard in the Palisades Ocean Front tract.

All of this changed in the 1940s as Consolidated Aircraft and other defense industries ramped up production during the war years and attracted tens of thousands of workers to San Diego. Many of these workers were first housed in temporary government housing projects in Pacific Beach, including the Los Altos Terrace project just two blocks from the Palisades. When the Federal Housing Authority made loans available for defense workers to buy commercially-built homes, builders attempting to meet the demand were attracted to tracts like the Palisades that had already been improved with paved streets, sidewalks and utilities but were still mostly vacant. This home-building surge continued even after the war and by the early 1950s there were few vacant lots to be found in any residential area of Pacific Beach, including the Palisades.

Cocktail Springs

Before the railway arrived in the early 1880s, travel between San Diego and other California destinations was either by sea or over the trail that once connected it to the other California missions and pueblos, now called El Camino Real but also known at different times as Fremont’s trail, Kearny’s trail, the Los Angeles road and the Temecula road. In 1868 Alfred Seeley began operating stagecoaches from Old Town to Los Angeles over this route, at first weekly, then, by 1871, six days a week. In 1869 Seeley acquired the former Bandini adobe in Old Town, added a second story, renamed it the Cosmopolitan Hotel, and used it as the San Diego terminus of the Seeley stage line.

The trip from San Diego to Los Angeles covered about 130 miles and took two days, including an overnight stop in San Juan Capistrano. The passengers rode in the same coach for the entire journey but the horses had to be exchanged for a fresh team at regular intervals, so stage stations with barns or corrals for horses and dining facilities for passengers grew up along the way. The first relay of horses leaving the Cosmopolitan Hotel were ready for replacement by the time they reached the Sorrento Valley area, where the stage station was operated by Ellar McKellar.

McKellar was born in Scotland in 1841 and served in an Ohio cavalry regiment in the American Civil War. After the war he re-enlisted in the army and served three years during the Indian wars. After his discharge in 1868 he ended up in San Diego where in 1871 he married and became a naturalized citizen. McKellar first kept Seeley’s horses in Sorrento Valley but in 1874 he moved a few miles further north, near the divide between the Sorrento and San Dieguito River valleys, to a place known as Cocktail Springs. In 1876 he filed a homestead application for the property, in Section 18 of Township 14 South, Range 3 West. According to Del Mar historian Nancy Ewing there was already an adobe structure on the property but McKellar added a dining room and kitchen for travelers and also built a blacksmith shop and corral for horses. A delinquent tax list published in the Union in 1879 listed 40 acres of government land about 1 mile north of Cordero Valley, known as Cocktail Springs and claimed by E. McKellar, with a valuation of $50 and with $50 in improvements (Cordero Valley is now known as Carmel Valley, after a group of Carmelite Sisters of Mercy who settled there in the 1890s).

John Davidson, the first curator of the San Diego Historical Society’s Junipero Serra Museum, speculated in a 1934 article in the Evening Tribune that Cocktail Springs was the medium-sized pool of fresh water that the diarist of Governor Portola’s overland journey from San Diego to Monterey had reported in 1769 at the end of the valley about half a league north of Sorrento Valley. Davidson’s article was accompanied by photos of the adobe buildings still standing at Cocktail Springs in 1934.

The stage station at Cocktail Springs did not serve travelers for very long, however. The California Southern Railroad began laying track north from National City in 1881 and the tracks had reached Oceanside by the end of the year, then continued to Colton and, by 1885, a connection with a transcontinental rail line at Barstow.  From San Diego to Oceanside the railway paralleled the route of the Seeley stage line, and was far faster and more comfortable, so stagecoach travel, and the stage station at Cocktail Springs, soon became obsolete. Ellar McKellar remained on the land and in November 1884 his homestead claim, No. 1731, was ‘established and duly consummated’ and he was awarded a patent for the SE ¼ of the NW ¼, the N ½ of the SW ¼ and the SW ¼ of the SW ¼ Section 18, Township 14 south, Range 3 west, 161 and 62/100 acres centered around the present-day intersection of El Camino Real and Del Mar Heights Road.

Ellar McKellar did not farm his homestead for long either. In September 1885 the San Diego Union reported that a man had fallen or jumped into San Diego Bay from the Steamship Company’s wharf, and despite the efforts of a bystander and the crew of a passing schooner to save him he had sunk, leaving a hat and an empty leather purse in the water. A fisherman who had seen him go out on the wharf reported that he had been whistling ‘The Ship That Never Returned’.

A few days later the Union reported that the man who drowned in the bay had been identified by his wife from the hat and purse recovered from the water. The Union interviewed the wife and learned that the drowned man was Ellar McKellar, who had resided in the San Dieguito Valley at a point known as Cocktail Springs and had a farm of 160 acres. Mrs. McKellar also told the Union that he sometimes drank very heavily but had not been on a spree for six or seven months. She usually came to the city with him to keep him from drink – he never drank at home – but he had left earlier in the week with a two-horse team to bring some farm products to market. He had received six dollars in money and with that must have got drunk.

The next day McKellar’s body was recovered from the bay and identified by Mrs. McKellar, and a coroner’s inquest brought in a verdict of accidental drowning. The Union noted that he had many friends who looked upon him as a jolly Scotchman, possessing many excellent qualities and one fatal vice, but he hadn’t known when he walked along the wharf merrily whistling ‘The Ship That Never Returned’ that it was waiting for him with black sails set.

The McKellars’ grave at Mt. Hope Cemetery

In March 1886 McKellar’s estate, the acreage around Cocktail Springs and personal property including two horses, one wagon, one barrow, one plow, one set of harness, two goats, one colt, carpenter’s tools, three dozen chickens, one hog, one ton of hay and one lot of household property, was assigned to his widow, Eliza. In March 1887 Eliza McKellar acquired another 160 acres in Section 19, south of and adjoining the homestead in Section 18. Over the next few years she sold off both of these properties in 40- and 80-acre parcels. The last parcel to be sold, to Martha Waters in March 1893, was the NW ¼ of the NW ¼ of Section 19 and the SW ¼ of the SW ¼ of Section 18, the 80 acres surrounding the springs and stage station and traversed by the old stagecoach road.

Later In 1893 Martha and B. J. Waters granted the county an easement of right-of-way for a new public road over this property, changing the route of what they called the ‘old Temecula and San Diego road’. The new road would be fifty feet in width and would leave the old road about 190 feet north of Cocktail Springs and rejoin it about 420 feet south of Cocktail Springs, being about 700 feet long and running about 90 feet from the existing road in a curve, as shown in a ‘rough diagram’ included in the deed. This bend in the county road that became known as El Camino Real remained for more than 80 years.

Cocktail Springs was not in the news much after the stagecoaches stopped visiting. In 1899 the Union reported that Mr. Froehlich of Miramar was opening a blacksmith shop at the old stage station, known as Cocktail Springs, on the county road. In 1941 an ad in the San Diego Union offered Cocktail Springs Rancho for sale; ‘One mile east of Del Mar; 73 acres; beautiful large trees; 2 springs; old adobe ruins; 30 acres in black-eyed beans; ideal horse ranch: price $5500’. It was for sale again in 1947 as Historical Cocktail Springs Rancho, 73 acres at $200 per acre, 1 mile east of Del Mar, 1st stage stop on El Camino Real. It was ideal for a horse or dude ranch with many huge trees and adobe ruins. A portion of the ranch was listed again in 1957 as a 3-B.R. 2 bath on 3 acres (historically known as Cocktail Springs); ‘trees, natural beauty, quiet pet pony stays’. The 3-bedroom house was probably not the adobe ruin; in 1955 John Davidson’s wife Winifred, herself an eminent historian and a founder of the Historical Society, wrote in the Union that the last time they visited Cocktail Springs the only reminder of the old days was the huge eucalyptus with pock-pitted bark shadowing Fremont Trail (although Nancy Ewing wrote that the adobe ruins remained into the 1970s).

Cocktail Springs stage station site in the 2010s. El Camino Real, the former stage route, crosses Del Mar Heights Road at top right and runs diagonally through the 80-acre parcel where the springs and stage station were once located.

In the 1970s San Diego’s growth extended to what was then called North City West, the area between the Sorrento and San Dieguito River valleys east of Interstate 5, now called Carmel Valley and home to tens of thousands of residents. El Camino Real was realigned and widened into a major thoroughfare through Carmel Valley, obliterating any sign of the original road. Residential neighborhoods were built in the area around El Camino Real and Del Mar Heights Road during the 1980s and in the 1990s a major shopping center was built south of Del Mar Heights and east of El Camino Real. The property southwest of this intersection, where the stage station had once stood, was also graded but then sat vacant for decades. A biosciences company campus was built on a portion of the site in 2004 and just last year construction began on the One Paseo mixed-use project on the remaining 23 acres. Scheduled to open in 2019, One Paseo will include over 600 apartments and condominiums, over 95,000 feet of retail space, 280,000 square feet of office buildings and probably a new ‘watering hole’ or two at what was once Cocktail Springs.

One Paseo under construction at Cocktail Springs site, 2018

Pacific Beach, 1918

A new year can be a time for retrospection, a look back at life in earlier days, especially some significant number of years ago, like a century. A century ago, in 1918, the community of Pacific Beach was thirty years old. The Pacific Beach Company’s opening sale of lots had occurred in December 1887 and since then nearly 500 people had become residents (two years later, in 1920, the federal census counted 464 residents in 138 residences in Pacific Beach). Many residences were clustered around the intersection of Lamont and Hornblend streets, the first district in Pacific Beach to have been improved with concrete curbs and sidewalks in an effort to encourage residential development. This district also contained the community’s school, its two churches, stores, post office, Woman’s Clubhouse and a stop on the railway to downtown San Diego. The most important institution in Pacific Beach at the time, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, was a block away, on Garnet Avenue. Other residents lived on the slopes above this central district in what had been lemon ranch houses, and some lived along the ocean front near the foot of Grand and Garnet avenues where there was also a railway stop. Much of the rest of Pacific Beach, Crown Point and the Mt. Soledad foothills were entirely vacant.

A look back at life in this Pacific Beach of a century ago was provided in the New Year’s Day 1918 edition of the San Diego Union. A story headlined ‘Pacific Beach Delightful Resort Near San Diego – Residents Enjoy Unusual Advantages and Diversions’ included photos and sections devoted to Recreation, Ideal Homesite, Social Features, Industries, and Schools-Churches.

At the top of the page was a photo of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy – ‘a select school for manly boys’. The manly boys, the battalion of cadets, were standing at attention in their dress uniforms in front of the academy buildings, formerly the San Diego College of Letters and later the Hotel Balboa. Capt. Thomas A. Davis had leased the Hotel Balboa building and founded the academy in 1910 with thirteen cadets, and the 70 or 80 cadets who posed for this photo seven years later were evidence of its early success. Below the photo of the academy were photos of other buildings in Pacific Beach; the residences of George Hollister, C. C. Norris,  J. J. Richert and J. W. Simmons, the Pacific Beach Reading Club House, the Bay View Apartments (‘where accommodations may be had by visitors’) and a cottage at Ocean Front (‘showing sample of cottage for rent’).

An introduction by Mrs. Laura J. Defrenn, the corresponding secretary of the Reading Club, described Pacific Beach as a pleasing expanse of sunlit hills, shady dells and rolling plains with the murmuring ocean spreading away in seeming infinity of space on the west while on the south and east the vista of mesa, city, shipdecked harbor, majestic mountains and rugged Point Loma presented a picture too beautiful for brush or pen to paint. Homeseekers would be pleased, she said, as the hills on the north and the land gently sloping away south to Mission Bay afforded all kinds of locations in beautiful Pacific Beach. The climate was the most ideal in the world and being a suburb within a few minutes’ ride of San Diego, the city of opportunity, Pacific Beach people had all the benefits of city life, as evidenced by the number of business and professional men who had their homes at Pacific Beach and conducted their business in the city. With a rich alluvial soil, gardens flourished the year round and all kinds of fruits abound so that an energetic man could get a living from the soil, if other ways failed. There were many fine homes and comfortable locations could be obtained for a reasonable price. The streets were bordered with palms and pepper trees and there were many fine fruit orchards. After the rainy season in the winter months the hills and every available spot were ablaze with wild flowers and all vegetation sprung into marvelous growth.

Mrs. Defrenn also noted that another valuable asset of Pacific Beach was its proximity to Camp Kearny, no other place being as near, and people wishing to be near their loved ones in the camp could obtain homes in the ‘village’. Camp Kearny, a huge army base intended for training troops from six southwestern states, had been hastily constructed in 1917 after the United States entry into World War I. The camp was located in the Kearny Mesa area, then called Linda Vista Mesa, and parts of it are now incorporated in the Miramar air station. Soldiers began arriving at the camp in August 1917 but the paved road to the camp from San Diego that became Linda Vista Road was not completed until June 1918, so in January 1918 Mrs. Defrenn may have been correct in claiming no other place was as near the camp as Pacific Beach. She was also apparently correct in thinking people might wish to be near their loved ones.  An article in the Union in June 1917 had said that hundreds of Arizona people would become residents of San Diego as soon as Camp Kearny opened. Practically every member of the First Arizona Infantry, a national guard unit that would be training at Linda Vista, was preparing to send family members to San Diego where the majority of them would remain for the entire period of training, and many even after the men had been sent to France.

J. D. Pritchard was a newsman at the Evening Tribune and he was the author of the section on Recreation for the New Year’s Day Pacific Beach story. Stating that a home, like a business, must be protected against the monotony of its daily duties (‘all work and no play, etc.’ applies with equal pertinence to the home and business, he wrote) it was therefore essential in determining an ideal home location to know that the opportunity for ‘play’, recreation or amusement, was conveniently arranged and provided for.

In this respect, Pacific Beach was equipped with the natural facilities to provide most any form of recreation or amusement that the heart might desire, being surrounded by Mission Bay, the ocean, Mt. Soledad and Rose Canyon. According to Mr. Pritchard Pacific Beach perhaps had no rival in the matter of providing free, public bathing accommodations. The citizens of ‘the beach’ had built a substantial pier on the bay front which extended out into the channel of deep water and had two sets of dressing rooms, one for ladies and one for men (the ‘Plunge’ at the foot of Kendall Street). This provided a lively scene daily as scores of enthusiastic bathers indulged in their aquatic frolic (Mr. Pritchard’s interest in bathing extended to bathing attire, and in June 1918 he was a judge at a ‘bathing suit fashion show’ in which the committee wandered around on the beach and tagged those they found worthy of special attention; a photographer then took photos of the girls which the judges used to determine winners based on the shapeliness and personal beauty of the contestant and the ‘economical arrangement’ of the costume).

Winners of the 1918 Bathing Suit Fashion Show.

According to Mr. Pritchard, boating was another favorite form of recreation at Pacific Beach. While the little rowboat would be all-satisfying to some, there were also those who preferred the greater speed and lesser labor of the motor boat, and there are still those of greater courage or love for adventure whose particular idea of pleasure would be driving a launch out through the channel and tasting the briney life on the high seas (courage and love of adventure would have mattered; before the channel between Mission Bay and the ocean was flanked by stone jetties and finally dredged in 1955 this channel was a rough passage that caused numerous accidents, some of them fatal).

Naturally enough, where boating and bathing had been so conveniently and abundantly provided for by nature, fish would likewise abound in quantity and variety (Mr. Pritchard was also a fisherman, and reportedly landed a 34-pound halibut at Point Loma in June 1918). The truant schoolboy would not be alone upon the pier or along the shore, in fact his mother or father would also likely be found there. The borders of Pacific Beach also provided a great resort for the nimrods of the community. Ducks and sea fowls of various varieties haunted the water boundaries while quail, doves and rabbits were found on the brush-covered slopes and hills to the north and canyon tributaries to the east.

Mr. and Mrs. James W. Simmons lived in a house at the corner of Garnet and Bayard featured in one of the photos accompanying the New Year’s article. Mr. Simmons had been a school superintendent and member of the Michigan state board of education and they had chosen Pacific Beach as a retirement home a few years earlier, which presumably qualified him to comment on what made Pacific Beach the Ideal Homesite (Mr. Simmons was also the enumerator for the 1920 census in Pacific Beach). His thesis was that Pacific Beach had the environment that would satisfy nearly every individual. It was within the corporate limits of San Diego and an average of twenty-five minutes from the center of business by auto or car (meaning train; the railroad between downtown and La Jolla passed through Pacific Beach on Grand Avenue and what became Mission Boulevard, although it was discontinued later in 1918). It had an excellent water system, as well as the service of the gas and electric plants, and an excellent school which was part of the city department (the two-room schoolhouse was replaced a few years later, in 1923, by a new elementary school at Emerald and Ingraham streets, later expanded and now the Pacific Beach Middle School). More advanced pupils could attend the Russ High School (now San Diego High School, the only high school in San Diego at the time; Pacific Beach residents began attending La Jolla High School when it opened in 1922 and since 1953 have attended Mission Bay High School on Grand Avenue). There was also an up-to-date naval and military academy where young men from several states received an academic training that prepared them for the state university, West Point and Annapolis.

There were churches, a post office, clubs and a business center with good supply stores in Pacific Beach (these, and the school and military academy, were all within a block or two of Lamont and Hornblend). Both morning and evening papers were left at your door by carrier, and postal and grocery deliveries were made daily. Pacific Beach was on the state boulevard along the coast northward so residents were far from an isolated people (the coast highway, the main route from San Diego to the north, ran through Pacific Beach on Garnet Avenue, Cass and Turquoise streets and would be paved later in 1918). But these essentials did not constitute the larger part of what made Pacific Beach the ideal place for locating a home. According to Mr. Simmons, the topography was ideal; it lay south of the foothills and extended to the ocean on the west and to Mission Bay on the south. The eastern section was somewhat rolling while the western portion was generally level. The land-locked Mission Bay was an excellent place for boating and sailing, and afforded the best fishing grounds to be found in this region. Ducks by the thousands during the seasons of their migration found ample feeding grounds in the bay.

Mr. Simmons added that the charm of the ocean would always be of interest to most people and the ocean front was an ideal place for recreation, rest and pleasure. The long sandy beach was a favorite resort for picnic parties and the ideal place for children to romp and play. The beach was absolutely safe; there was no undertow and no ‘suddenly deepening places’, so that the most timid could go out into the line of breakers. There was no better beach for surf bathing to be found on the western coast. At extreme low tide the beach was about 600 feet in width and composed of sand so clean that the daintiest dress would not be soiled by contact. Those portions where the water had receded were so hard and compact that driving (i.e. a horse and buggy) and ‘automobiling’ were a perfect delight.

Many found sport in surf fishing, especially in the season of the corvina; others never tired of clam digging at low tide. During the open season of the abalone, large numbers were found clinging to the rocks at the north end of the beach. For those who took pleasure in growing things, PB was again the ideal place. The soil was easily worked and one could easily get the evidence of what could be grown by visiting the various places where flowers, fruits and vegetables had been assisted by man’s knowledge and encouragement. As for the view, the outlook from Pacific Beach was both great and pleasing; the broad expanse of ocean, the more quiet waters of the bay, the slopes of Point Loma and beyond the point the Coronado Islands.

For her part, Mrs. Simmons contributed a section on Social Features. The social life of Pacific Beach revolved around its two churches and its clubs. An active and progressive woman’s society was associated with each church, and all strangers were especially made welcome, but the enterprise and public spirit of the women was particularly shown in their excellent club and up-to-date clubhouse. The Pacific Beach Reading Club had been organized twenty-two years earlier and while it was still small, with fifty members, it had always been among the foremost in club affairs of the county (Mrs. Simmons was vice-president and later became president of the club). In the present national crisis (the United States entered World War I in April 1917) it was showing its patriotism by opening the clubhouse to the Red Cross for a work room. Two sewing machines had been purchased for its use and had already done much work in making hospital garments and other needed supplies.

The civic issues of Pacific Beach were looked after by the Improvement Club. This club by its committees kept in touch with all business affairs of a public nature, called public meetings of all the citizens when it is deemed advisable and in general promoted the public interests of the community. Take it all together, Pacific Beach was ‘wide-awake and homey’. There was a spirit of fraternity and neighborliness that is rare and that makes life worth living. The moral and spiritual atmosphere was high and those who lived there agreed that for a home with real neighbors and friends, where one can really live, it is second to none.

Pacific Beach resident J. J. Richert was the author of the section on Industries, and he began by asserting that Pacific Beach, although a small place, was not without industry. There were two grocery stores in Pacific Beach and one in Mission Bay Park addition which did a flourishing business on account of the army and navy academy and the summer resorts along the beach (the two grocery stores in PB were on opposite sides of Grand Avenue at Lamont Street, two blocks from the academy, Ravenscroft’s on the southwest corner and Pratt’s on the northwest; the Mission Bay Park addition is the former race track property east of Rose Creek and Ponder’s grocery was on what is now Garnet Avenue near Mission Bay Drive, opposite the Nite Owl bar). Groceries were not all that the beach could boast, however; there was also a large dairy, which provided not only the home customers but also quantities of milk and cream for San Diego, eight miles distant (Chapman’s dairy, and hog ranch, was on Reed Avenue, between Ingraham and Jewell streets and Pacific Beach Drive).

The J. J. Richert home today.

One of the most beautiful spots of the little town was Miss Sessions poinsettia garden on the top of the hills that form a background for Pacific Beach. They were always in demand and the leading florists of San Diego looked to her for their Christmas supply. There were also Japanese gardens of violets and carnations near the beach. There were several profitable chicken ranches but almost every housewife had her pen of chickens, and freshly laid eggs for breakfast was the result. Leaving Pacific Beach proper and going north a short distance, there were brickyards which furnished San Diego with building material. The bricks and tile turned out there were considered the best in the market. In the same vicinity were several large cattle ranches that extend into the back country and raise hay, grain, corn and vegetables (the brickyards and the cattle ranches, one of them owned by Richert, were in Rose Canyon).

The New Year’s 1918 article about Pacific Beach concluded with a section on Schools and Churches by C. W. Wood (although it is probable that the author was actually Charles M. Wood, an attorney who lived in a former lemon ranch house on Missouri near Lamont Street; the only C. W. Wood in the 1918 city directory was a streetcar conductor who lived on Meade Avenue in University Heights). According to Mr. Wood, Pacific Beach was well supplied with schools and churches. Of the two churches the Presbyterian was by far the older, being the first on the field and with much the largest membership. It had a flourishing Sunday school, two young peoples’ societies of Christian Endeavor, and a Ladies’ Aid and Mission Society (the Presbyterian Church now at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Jewell Street was built in 1941, replacing the original church building on the site). The Methodist Episcopal Church was the younger of the two organizations and though much smaller in point of numbers was nevertheless a ‘wideawake and efficient organization’. It also supported a Sunday school and Ladies’ Aid Society (the Methodist church met in a building that had begun as a dance pavilion on the beach near Grand Avenue, was moved to the corner of Hornblend and Morrell streets in 1897 where it became a lemon packing facility, and was renovated and dedicated as a church in 1907; it was sold and torn down in 1922).

On the subject of schools, Mr. Wood wrote that the public school In Pacific Beach would rank favorably with those of all of San Diego’s flourishing suburbs but by far the liveliest institution of the community, and at the same time Pacific Beach’s most substantial asset, was the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, a high-grade military school which was founded November 23, 1910 by Captain Thomas A. Davis, late of the Sixth United States Volunteer Infantry. From an enrollment of thirteen cadets at the beginning there had been an aggregate attendance, during the seven years of its history, of over 500 students from over 20 states and four foreign countries. Each year a representative of the war department inspected the battalion of cadets and the last report was certainly complimentary, the military zeal and appearance of the cadets being rated as ‘excellent’. Pacific Beach was certainly proud of her military academy.

The Norris Home as it appears in 2018

Many things have changed in Pacific Beach since New Year’s Day 1918. The Hollister house, later owned by Dr. Oscar Kendall, once overlooked Mission Bay at the end of Fortuna Drive where the Crown Point Villa Condos are now and J. W. Simmons’ home has become a parking lot and sunglasses store at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Bayard Street, but a century later the Norris home on Collingwood Drive near Jewell Street and the Richert home at the corner of Diamond and Olney are still standing.

Bay View Apartment Building, 2018.

The Bay View Apartment building is still on Shasta Street near La Playa Avenue and although the Reading Club changed its name to the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club in 1929 it still occupies the same clubhouse, also known as Hornblend Hall, on Hornblend between Jewell and Kendall streets. The rental cottage at Ocean Front, however, was demolished just last year and is now the parking lot for a building under construction at the corner of Hornblend and Mission Boulevard. The most important institution in Pacific Beach in 1918, the Army and Navy Academy, is long gone. Enrollment continued to increase in the 1920s and by 1930 several large reinforced-concrete barracks had been built to supplement the original college buildings, but in 1958 the academy moved, the buildings were all demolished and the property was redeveloped as the Pacific Plaza shopping center and Plaza condominium community.

The Cottage at Ocean Front (732 Hornblend Street). Screen grab from Google Street View some time before January 1, 2018. The site is now a parking lot.

As Mrs. Defrenn had predicted in 1918, homeseekers have been pleased with Pacific Beach and there are now about 50,000 more of them, in 25,000 more homes, which along with paved streets, parking lots and sidewalks have mostly covered over the rich alluvial soil and the spots once ablaze with wild flowers (although some today might question her contention that fine homes and comfortable locations can be obtained for a reasonable price). Miss Sessions’ poinsettia garden no longer exists either, but in its place is Kate Sessions Memorial Park, still one of the most beautiful spots in the little town. The gardens (and truck farms) planted by Japanese residents in 1918 disappeared when those ‘enemy aliens’ (and their U. S. born children) were sent to relocation camps in 1942.

However, the ‘natural facilities’ that provide recreation or amusement still surround Pacific Beach a century later, and although no-one is ‘automobiling’ on the beach today, and the abalone have long since been pried off the rocks, most would agree that there is still no better place on the coast for ‘surf bathing’. Mission Bay has been transformed by dredging and filling and is now an aquatic park famous for boating and other recreational opportunities, although duck hunting is no longer one of them. A century later, the residents of the delightful resort near San Diego still enjoy unusual advantages and diversions.

Rose Canyon Brick

San Diego’s Rose Canyon is endowed with what has been described as an inexhaustible supply of clay, ideal for making bricks, and millions of bricks were produced there until the last brickyard closed in the mid-1960s. The canyon was named for Louis Rose, who had come to San Diego in 1850 and beginning in 1853 had acquired most of what was then called La Cañada de las Lleguas. A monument to Rose near the northern entrance to Rose Canyon, on what was once the median of the Pacific Highway and is now a lawn on the University of California campus, credits him with being a brickmaker as well as a tanner, outstanding citizen and pioneer of Rose Canyon. In fact, while Rose was a prominent citizen of early San Diego and his tannery made him a Rose Canyon pioneer, there is no evidence that he was actually involved in brickmaking.

In 1861 Rose was forced to sell his holdings in the canyon to a creditor, Lorenzo Sota, and in 1875 Sota’s daughter and heir Rosa sold the canyon to Adolf G. Gassen. By the late 1880s San Diego had developed to the point where substantial multi-story buildings were being built downtown and in October 1888 the San Diego Union reported that bricks were being ‘burned’ in the Rose Cañon kiln for the Pauly & Gassen building. By November 1888 the news was that work on the Pauly-Gassen block, Fourth and E streets, would be rushed as soon as the material could be hauled to the ground. The first load of brick had been brought in the day before from the yard of Quereau & Bowman in Rose’s Canyon and no building in the city would have a better article for foundation or walls (the brick Pauly-Gassen Building is still standing on the northeast corner of Fourth and E).

In April 1890 the Union reported that Charles H. Hill had secured a ten-year lease of eighty acres of land in Rose Canyon that was said to be well supplied with good clay for brick. He also began work on a ‘continuous brick kiln’ capable of firing 9 million bricks a year. According to the Union the kiln was the invention of Max Boehncke and was a large circular or elliptical structure divided into sixteen compartments, each large enough to hold a day’s work of the brickyard. In a continuous kiln of this type newly molded clay bricks would be loaded into one of the compartments and remain there while the compartment was advanced through the different phases of brickmaking each day by moving the fire to a new compartment and altering the flow of air between compartments. Outside air would be drawn first through cooling compartments, cooling fired bricks and warming the air before it entered the firing compartments, where it combined with fuel in combustion that raised temperatures to over 2000° F, vitrifying or ‘burning’ the bricks. The exhaust from the firing compartments would then be fed through ‘water smoking’ compartments, warming and drying the unfired bricks and preparing them for firing, before escaping through a chimney in the center of the structure which produced the draft for the entire process. At any given time five or six of the compartments would be for water smoking, three compartments would be used for firing the dried bricks and four for cooling the bricks after firing. Each day a compartment of cooled bricks would be emptied and made available for another load of newly molded bricks, perpetuating the continuous process. The kiln would be 100 feet long and 60 feet wide and was expected to be completed by the middle of the summer.

By the middle of summer, in July 1890, the Union reported that the continuous brick kiln recently built by C. H. Hill in Rose Canyon was in operation, turning out 25,000 bricks per day. The company had the contract for furnishing the brick for the new opera house and was already delivering the material. The brick delivered so far were of particularly fine quality, being evenly burned and of uniform hardness. Mr. Hill also expected to find a market shipping brick by sea; vessels leaving San Diego often took on rock or sand ballast, which they had to pay for, so if a load of bricks were taken on instead of ballast a ship might save money even without charging freight.

The Union also reported that Charley Hill’s continuous brick kiln in Rose Canyon had become a ‘curiosity’ and was visited by a large number daily. The curiosity might have been due to the kiln’s peculiar 114-foot high chimney. During construction it was found to be out of plumb; some said the mason had made a mistake and others claimed that it had settled unevenly as it rose and gained weight. The builders attempted to straighten the unfinished portion of the chimney with the result that it not only ‘leaned’ but was ‘bent’ at the top. There are reports that its lean was further increased by flooding of Rose Creek in 1916, when water stood six feet deep around the chimney, and possibly even by earthquakes on the Rose Canyon fault. In the 1930s measurements of the chimney showed that it leaned 3° 26” from vertical and the center of the top was 6.3 feet from the center of the bottom.

A Union article in December 1890 stated that the seven ‘pressed brick machines’ at Rose Canyon brickyard had been started up for the first time and Charles Hill said that they would turn out from 20,000 to 25,000 bricks a day to begin with, but when running at full capacity 100,000 could be made. An order for 75,000 bricks for the three additional stories of the George J. Keating building would be filled first (the Keating building, its upper three stories made of red brick, is still standing at Fifth Avenue and F Street downtown). In January 1891 Hill said that 100,000 bricks would be ready to leave the kiln, and that some would go north to fill orders (the California Southern Railroad built a siding at the brickyard and named it Ladrillo, Spanish for brick). As expected, some bricks were also shipped by sea; in February 1891 the Union reported that the schooner David Park was taking on 82,000 bricks from the Rose Canyon yards for Eureka. In March the schooners Bertha Dolbeer and Lottie Carson sailed for Eureka with 26,000 and 86,000 bricks, respectively, from Rose Canyon. In May it was the schooner Ruby A. Cousins taking 60,000 bricks from the Rose Canyon brickyard to Eureka. Other local projects also required bricks; in 1891 E. W. Scripps, the newspaper tycoon, contracted with Charles Hill to furnish 40,000 bricks to begin work on his planned family residence at Miramar that became the Scripps Ranch.

Like other land that the American city of San Diego had taken over from the former Mexican pueblo, Rose Canyon was divided into pueblo lots, generally a half mile square and 160 acres. A. G. Gassen’s purchase from Rosa Sota had included four pueblo lots in the lower part of Rose Canyon, lots 1788, 1787, 1778 and 1777. In August 1891 G. A. Garrettson and Jacob Gruendike incorporated the Rose Canyon Brick Company and bought Pueblo Lot 1778 from Gassen, apparently giving them control of Hill’s continuous kiln. According to the San Diego Union the Rose Canyon company seemed to be doing a big business and employed a large number of men. Two million of their bricks were used in the upper three floors of the Fisher Opera House which once stood on Fourth Street between B and C streets downtown, previously said to be Hill’s customer.

However, the brickmaking operations that the Rose Canyon Brick Company had taken over from Hill apparently extended into the adjoining Pueblo Lot 1787, which Gassen still owned, and in May 1893 Gassen sued the Rose Canyon company to recover possession of lot 1787, which his lawsuit claimed the defendants had ousted him from in August 1891. The lawsuit was decided in Gassen’s favor; he was awarded Pueblo Lot 1787 and $100 damages and the Rose Canyon company was ordered to refrain from digging up or removing clay from the premises or removing any machinery. A descendant of D. F. Garrettson noted later that when the property was surveyed the boundary went right through the brick kiln. Although the Rose Canyon Brick Company continued to exist and owned the Rose Canyon property until it was sold in 1938 for nonpayment of state and county taxes, Gassen’s lawsuit put an end to its brickmaking operations.

Brickmaking in Rose Canyon resumed in 1901 when Gassen sold 7 acres in the northwest quarter of Pueblo Lot 1787 to James R. Wade, a masonry contractor. In April 1904 Wade, his brother William and Homer G. Taber founded Union Brick Company. In August of that year Taber announced that new machinery would be installed at the company’s Rose Canyon plant giving it a capacity of 35,000 bricks per day. Two years later, in 1906, the Union reported that arrangements had been completed for the removal of the Union Brick plant from its Rose Canyon location to near the foot of 22nd Street, although Rose Canyon remained the source of the company’s clay. The owners would build a boarding house for employees who wanted to live near the new brickyard, as the company preferred they should.

In 1908 the Union Brick Company’s stock and plant was acquired by J. T. Maechtlen, J. W. Rice and General E. C. Humphrey. The Union reported that they expected to have the plant in operation shortly, employing about 25 men and turning out between 25,000 and 30,000 bricks a day. This plant was still downtown; in an ad for Union Brick Company, ‘manufacturing first class building bricks’, on New Year’s day 1909 J. J. Maechtlen was listed as president, J. W. Rice as vice president and E. C. Humphrey as secretary, office 510 Granger Block, yard foot 23rd St. The 1911 city directory indicated that the office and yards were at the foot of 23rd St. and that clay pits were located in Rose Canyon. Presumably the four brickyard laborers who were counted in Rose Canyon in the 1910 federal census, all Spanish-speaking and born in Mexico, worked in the clay pits. John W. Rice became president of Union Brick Co. in 1910 and in 1916, when contributions were being solicited for Mercy Hospital campaign fund, as ‘San Diego’s sole manufacturer of bricks’ he forwarded a note to campaign headquarters to the effect that he would make his contribution in the form of bricks to be used in construction of the hospital buildings.

By 1917 the company had moved its yard from the foot of 23rd Street back to Rose Canyon. Other construction projects in San Diego created an additional demand for bricks and the ‘sole manufacturer’ stepped up production. A story in the Evening Tribune in 1921 described how a Fordson tractor at the Union Brick Company in Rose Canyon was ‘moving a mountain at the rate of 25,000 bricks a day’; turning a mountain of clay into buildings for the naval training station, marine base and naval hospital that were then being built in San Diego by the federal government. One man on the Fordson was plowing the clay pit with a 14-inch deep tillage bottom and carrying it to a hopper, doing the work that it formerly took four men and eight horses to accomplish. In 1923 the Union Brick Company took out an ad in the San Diego Union to correct some misleading statements made in regard to the brick situation in San Diego. Apparently the Union had stated that 1800 cars of brick were shipped into San Diego the previous year. This was absolutely incorrect, according to the ad; all these bricks had been shipped from Rose Canyon, which is within the city limits. The level of activity in the Rose Canyon brickyard was also reflected in the 1930 census, which showed that a dozen Spanish-speaking Mexican natives were then employed as laborers there and living with their families in the vicinity.

When the Union Brick Company moved its brickyard from 23rd Street back to Rose Canyon, it also closed its office there and moved its business address to 3565 Third Avenue, the residence of president John W. Rice (which of course was made of brick). In 1946 John W. Rice turned the company over to his son, John W. Rice Jr., although he continued to go to work at the brickyard daily for many years. Under the younger Rice the company undertook a number of improvements to boost production to keep pace with San Diego’s growth. One improvement was substitution of the traditional sand-molded process to the more modern wire-cut method. In 1952 the Union Brick Company supplied the bricks for the new Sears, Roebuck building (500,000 bricks) and Telephone Company building (250,000) in Normal Heights. Production tripled to 12 million bricks a year by 1954.

Rose Canyon and the Union Brick Co. brickyard, 1953.

In 1955 the company announced plans for another expansion to initiate production-line techniques and year-round production. Up to that time the company’s production season had been limited to April 1 through September 15, based upon prospects for favorable weather. Untimely rains could ruin quantities of unfired bricks stacked for four to six weeks in the drying yard at the Rose Canyon plant. The new process would include a tunnel for continuous drying under controlled humidity conditions and a new continuous kiln for pre-heating, burning and cooling the brick.

While Rose Canyon had been an ideal location for brick production it was also a natural route of travel to and from San Diego. San Diego’s main rail link to the outside world ran through the canyon and a road first opened in 1894 became the Pacific Highway in the 1930s. With increasing numbers of travelers passing the brickyard along their route, its leaning chimney became one of San Diego’s most prominent landmarks. In December 1958 it was even decorated for Christmas; the Union reported that a helicopter was used to lower a likeness of Santa Claus onto the leaning chimney of the Union Brick Yard in Rose Canyon. However, traffic continued to increase and in 1960 the news was that an additional four lanes of U. S. 101 would force the Union Brick Company to move from Rose Canyon, although in recognition of its landmark status the ‘leaning tower of Rose Canyon’ would be spared.

The chimney’s reprieve turned out to be a short one, however; in January 1962 the ‘leaning smokestack’ toppled over during heavy winds accompanying a rainstorm with only the bottom third still standing. A photo in the Union showed a figure of Santa Claus, which had once stood atop the tower, lying among the ruins. A couple of days after the leaning chimney blew down, Union Brick president John W. Rice Jr. proposed that a replica, tilted at a similar angle, would be built as a monument to the original at the company’s new location in Sorrento Valley.  The company’s sales manager added that the area, without the leaning chimney, looked like a ‘woman without her earrings’ and said that construction, using bricks from the original stack, would begin as soon as approval was granted. Approval was not granted and the replica chimney was never built, but Rose Canyon’s brick heritage has been commemorated in other ways. In 1963 the masonry contractor for the new Rancho Bernardo community announced that more than 25,000 bricks had been salvaged from the ‘leaning chimney of Rose Canyon’ and would be used in fireplaces in Rancho Bernardo homes and apartments. And more than 50 years after the chimney fell and the last brick was made in Rose Canyon, when the Karl Strauss brewery and tasting room opened in Rose Canyon in 2013, one of the items on its menu was a cask-conditioned barleywine named Union Brick.