Category Archives: People

PB Passion Fruit Ranch

Hermann Karl Wilhelm (H.K.W.) Kumm was born in Germany in 1874. He was drawn to missionary work in Africa and served on missions in Eqypt and the Sudan in the late 1890s. In 1900 he formed the Sudan United Mission, dedicated to establishing Christianity and preventing the spread of Islam among the pagan tribes of sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Kumm led the mission for more than twenty years and traveled widely within Africa, including areas previously unexplored by Europeans, for which he is sometimes considered the ‘last of the Livingstones’. He also wrote several books describing the lands he had visited and the lives of other African missionaries.

On one of his expeditions into the jungles of the Congo region he contracted a fever which undermined his health. His doctors advised him to relocate to a mild climate and in 1925 Kumm moved with his family to Pacific Beach, where his reputation as an explorer, geographer and writer quickly earned him celebrity status. He was chosen to be the principal speaker at the ‘formal christening’ of the new $150,000 Crystal Pier in April 1926 and the May 1926 celebration of a new road to the top of Mt. Soledad.

Dr. Kumm had moved to Pacific Beach not only for his own health but because he believed that local conditions were ideal for the cultivation of passion fruit. He had developed an interest in botany and hoped to produce a better variety of passion fruit, large and tasty, by crossing the small but highly flavored Australian variety with the larger but less flavorful South American type. The Kumms’ home at the northeast corner of Hornblend and Morrell streets (named Passiflora after the genus of the passion vine) was on ten lots, the entire southwest quarter of the block, and within a year he had started 500 seedlings and had nearly 200 plants growing, of which 50 were bearing.

In order to continue his experimentation on a larger scale, Dr. Kumm leased 20 acres of pueblo land from the city on Torrey Pines Mesa, in the vicinity of Miramar Road, in August 1927. The Evening Tribune reported that the initial planting of 5 acres was believed to be the largest area ever planted in the United States to the passion fruit vine. In April 1929 he was also granted a lease of 37 acres of city-owned pueblo land in Pueblo Lots 1780 and 1781, in the hills north of Pacific Beach where the Emerald Cove and Crystal Bay gated communities are now located (despite the opposition of the PB chamber of commerce, which felt that the property would be put to better use as a golf course).

The April 1929 lease of land above Pacific Beach coincided with an announcement in the San Diego Union that the growing of passion fruit had passed the experimental state and that acreage coming into bearing and demand for products necessitated construction of a factory and immediate development of a business; ‘Opportunity open for business man with at least $30,000 to take over complete control of manufacturing end and establish profitable business in sale of products’. While business men were considering this offer, Pacific Beach residents were given the opportunity to sample the products. When the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club met at Braemar Manor, the home of Mrs. F. T. Scripps, for her annual musical entertainment in April 1929, the refreshments included ice cream made with passion fruit from the gardens of Dr. H. K. W. Kumm. A month later, the Woman’s Club garden fete at the Scripps’ home included booths of various kinds where refreshments were served. Mrs. H. K. W. Kumm was in charge of passion fruit products.

While in Pacific Beach Dr. Kumm occasionally recounted his African travels in talks to various civic organizations. He brought trophies including the tusks of a buffalo that once treed him to a meeting of the University Club. He told the Lions Club that in 1908 he penetrated the darkest part of Central Africa and crossed the continent at a latitude where other explorers had failed. A meeting of local realtors learned that he crossed Africa on foot, accompanied only by natives, and explored lands never before touched by whites, his work bringing him many signal honors in the scientific world.

He also developed a new interest, this time in gliders. In the summer of 1929 glider clubs from around Southern California had held competitions in which gliders were launched from the top of Loring Street hill and the hills behind the corner of Fanuel and Agate streets. In November 1929, at an organizational meeting at his home, Dr. Kumm was unanimously elected president of the Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California. He and his wife also sponsored San Diego Girl Gliders and helped them to purchase their own sailplane.

H. K. W. Kumm died in 1930 of heart disease induced by the fever he had contracted in Africa. He was 56 years old. Despite his efforts, the passion fruit industry he hoped to develop in Pacific Beach never really took off. A visitor in 1931 noted that Passiflora, the Pacific Beach home of the late Dr. and Mrs. Kumm, was a particularly delightful spot to visit, with the passion fruit blossoms as well as an abundance of fruit on the vines, but regretted that Dr. Kumm could not have been spared to carry on his work at Passiflora. Mrs. Kumm returned to her native country of Australia in 1931, listing her home in the Evening Tribune; ‘Passiflora, a delightful home with an assured income at 2004 Hornblend’. According to the Tribune, 12,000 pounds of passion fruit were picked the previous year and a contract existed for the crop at 12 cents a pound. The property included a 7-room and a 3-room house, a garage, packing house, lath house and greenhouse, 75 varieties of roses, all kinds of bearing fruits and avocados, a fish pond, many fine trees, tropical plants and shrubs. ‘Was appraised at $12,000. Submit any offer over $8,000’.

Today the tropical plants and shrubs, bearing fruits, and roses that once flourished at Passiflora are all gone and the packing house, greenhouse and fish pond have given way to apartments and town houses. The Kumms’ former home at the corner of Hornblend and Morrell is now the only reminder of their Pacific Beach passion fruit ranch.

Passiflora, Dr. Kumm’s home and passion fruit ranch in Pacific Beach, now modernized with a false mansard fascia

Original PB Ranch House

In February 1892 the San Diego Union reported that Pacific Beach was to have quite an increase in the way of permanent residents:

It was learned yesterday that nine easterners had each purchased a ten-acre lot, all joining and situated just above the College of Letters. Eight teams are now at work breaking and preparing the soil for improvements that are to be made. The purchasers are in the city, and they intend planting the entire ninety acres in fruit, with the exception of sufficient space on which to build residences this spring.

The adjoining ten-acre lots were the ‘acre lots’ which had just appeared on a new map of the Pacific Beach subdivision, filed in January 1892. Although the original PB subdivision map from October 1887 had divided the entire community into uniform residential blocks, property in the outlying areas had not sold well and the new map consolidated most blocks north of what is now Diamond Street into the acre lots, intended for agricultural uses. As the Union had observed, these acre lots proved to be extremely popular and more than a dozen of them were purchased in the first months of 1892, most just to the north of the college campus, later the San Diego Army and Navy Academy and Brown Military Academy, and now the Pacific Plaza shopping center (the college itself had closed the year before, in 1891).

Detail from 1892 PB subdivision map showing acre lots north of the college campus (modern street names added)
Portion of 1892 PB subdivision map showing acre lots north of the college campus (modern street names added)

Two of the easterners, brothers-in-law and business partners from Henning, Tennessee, actually bought three adjoining acre lots which met at the corner of what are now Chalcedony and Lamont streets. R. C. Wilson and G. M. D. Bowers were Confederate veterans and proprietors of Wilson & Bowers, general merchandise, in Henning, and Wilson had married Bowers’ sister Susie in 1879.  In February 1892 Wilson and Bowers jointly purchased Acre Lots 34 and 50 and in March 1892 they added Acre Lot 33 of Pacific Beach. Lots 50 and 33 were on the east side of Lamont; lot 50 between Diamond and Chalcedony streets and lot 33 between Chalcedony and Beryl. Acre Lot 34 was between Chalcedony and Beryl but west of Lamont, extending to what is now Kendall Street. The price was $100 an acre; $1850 for lots 34 and 50 and $990 for lot 33. A year later Wilson and Bowers also bought Acre Lot 51, east of lot 50 and extending to what is now Noyes Street, for $830.

By the end of March 1892 the San Diego Union reported that 4,000 feet of water pipe was being laid over this 30-acre tract and that the property was to be put in lemons during the next few weeks. The new owners had also reserved sufficient space on which to build their residences. The Bowers built their home on Acre Lot 34 in 1892, the first ranch house to be built on a Pacific Beach lemon ranch, and moved in with their five children. The Wilsons, with two children, built in 1893 across Lamont on Acre Lot 33.

The development of lemon ranches on the acre lots combined with facilities for curing, packing and shipping lemons brought a decade of relative prosperity to Pacific Beach. The ranchers and their families became prominent in Pacific Beach society and their activities were noted in San Diego newspapers. In one example from 1893, the Union reported that Miss Eddie Sue Bowers and Miss Annie Bell Wilson wore dainty costumes of cream color to a joint birthday party for Miss Evangeline Rowe and Miss Mary Barnes, who in their soft pink gowns were ‘like two rosebuds in their fresh girlish beauty’ (the Rowe lemon ranch was just south of the Bowers, in Acre Lot 49; the Barnes ranch was Acre Lot 64, just south of the Rowes).

Pacific Beach lemon ranches could generate profits over time selling lemons for a few cents a pound, or all at once by selling the ranch itself for thousands of dollars. Wilson and Bowers chose the second option, beginning with the eastern portion of Acre Lot 51, which they sold in June 1894 for $500. Lot 33, including the Wilsons’ home, was sold in September 1895 for $5500. In October 1895 both lot 50 and the western portion of lot 51 were sold, for $3000 and $1000, and lot 34, with the Bowers’ home, was sold in November for $5500. Both families then returned to Henning, Tennessee, having realized a gain of nearly $12,000 on their Pacific Beach real estate investments.

On Acre Lot 33, the family of Ozora Stearns and, after 1899, Carrie Linck lived in the Wilson ranch house while shipping carloads of lemons from the ranch. After 1901 the property passed through a series of five absentee owners until it was sold in 1904 to the Layman family, who remained on the ranch for the next thirty years. The Stearns had named the ranch Vencedor, but the Laymans renamed it Seniomsed (Des Moines, their former home, spelled backward). In 1947 Acre Lot 33 was included in the Lamont Terrace development (the homes with the brick chimneys and shingle siding) and the former ranch house was torn down, leaving only a Moreton Bay Fig tree to mark its place. Across Lamont Street in the former Acre Lot 34, however, the Bowers’ home remains as a monument to PB’s lemon ranching past.

The Bowers had sold Acre Lot 34 to William Davis, a mining engineer, who moved in with his wife and sister in December 1895. Two children were also born to the Davises while living on their Pacific Beach ranch. Mr. Davis spent much of his time at the Arizona mines and his sister, Louise, may have actually run the ranch. She may also have been the one who gave the ranch its name; in June 1896 the Union reported that Miss Davis had shipped 84 boxes of choice lemons from Ondawa Ranch.

In May 1898 the Davises sold Acre Lot 34 to James and Sarah Jowett and by July Mr. Jowett was said to be making extensive additions to the barn and putting flumes all over the ranch. However, the Jowetts also moved on after a few years, selling Acre Lot 34 in December 1901 to Ires E. Cobb, who sold it a few months later, in May 1902, to Walter and Louisa Boycott for $5000.

Mr. Boycott was a retired publisher from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and according to the Evening Tribune he came to San Diego with his family to enjoy the salubrious climate and profit from the good times just in sight. By July 1902 the Tribune reported that the family was enjoying their new home and Mr. Boycott was fertilizing heavily and picking a fine quality of fruit from the heavy Lisbon lemon trees. A year later, in June 1903, the good times apparently came in sight for the Boycotts and they sold the ranch for $6000 to Abraham and Adelaide Manny, who changed the name of the ranch from Ondawa to Las Flores. When Miss Virginia Manny entertained a pair of her friends from Los Angeles in 1906, the Union noted that the young women were delighted with Pacific Beach, as well they might be, since the view from the floral bowers of Las Flores, over banana trees, palms and lemon orchards, to the bay and Mexican mountains, was unmatched.

Lemon ranching in Pacific Beach had begun with the development of the acre lots in 1892, particularly the Wilson and Bowers properties, and lemons had supported the community for over a decade, but by 1906 many people foresaw that PB’s future prosperity would come from residential development, not agriculture. In December 1906 an advertisement appeared in the San Diego Union for an elegant Pacific Beach residence, with city water, all modern conveniences, highly improved grounds, on ½ acre or more, only a short distance north of the depot, in ‘block 34’. The ad also offered lots in block 34, with fine fruit trees and water on each lot, prices low, terms easy, illustrated description free, A. J. Manny, owner (the ‘depot’ was the Lamont Street stop on the railroad between San Diego and La Jolla, which ran along Grand Avenue).

Although Manny apparently had intended to sell the ranch house and the other lots separately, in fact the entire acre lot was sold in January 1907 to Robert Ravenscroft. By 1907 a number of the Pacific Beach acre lots had already been re-subdivided back into city blocks, including the lots immediately west and south of lot 34, and in December 1907 Ravenscroft followed suit, recording a subdivision map that turned Acre Lot 34 back into the two blocks shown on the original 1887 map of Pacific Beach, along with their original block numbers. Like the other blocks on the original map, Block 90, south of Beryl Street, and Block 105, north of Chalcedony Street, were divided into 40 25- by 125-foot lots with a 20-foot-wide alley through the center of each block, connecting Kendall and Lamont streets. The 80-foot-wide street between the blocks, Florida Avenue on the original map, was re-dedicated to the city and became an extension of Law Street.

Blocks 90 and 105

Subdivision of Acre Lot 34 into 80 individual lots meant that the ownership and any improvements on each lot was recorded in the city lot books. The lot book data shows that from 1908 to 1911 the Ravenscrofts continued to own every lot in the subdivision and that the only improvement, the original ranch house, was valued at $425 and located on lots 17-20 of Block 105, a location at the southwest corner of Law and Lamont streets. In 1913, the lot book entry for lots 17-20 in Block 105 no longer showed improvements but instead contained the note ‘Imps on blk 90’, and the lot book entry for Block 90 showed a new improvement valued at $425 for lots 25-27. This suggests that the ranch house had been moved across Law Street and down the block to its present location at 1860 Law.

The lot books also showed that in 1911 three lots on the south side of Block 105, lots 29-31, were sold to Ferdinand Defrenn. In November 1911 a building permit was issued to F. Defrenn for a 6-room cottage on Chalcedony Street valued at $1700 (although that home, at 1838 Chalcedony, was destroyed by fire in 1927). In the next few years the Ravenscrofts sold most of the remaining lots on the south side of Block 105 while continuing to own all of Block 90 and the lots on the north side of Block 105. The Defrenn’s home on Chalcedony was rebuilt but no other homes were built in the subdivision over the next 30 years.

Miss Susie Ravenscroft, a 19-year old telephone operator, was married at home in 1911. The Evening Tribune reported that the ceremony took place in the front parlor under a canopy of ferns and smilax ‘thick starred with Shasta daisies’. The back parlor decorations were of pink roses and ferns. Punch was served in the large sun-parlor. Several kodaks were produced and there were many pretty groupings on the front lawn of the spacious Ravenscroft grounds.

Robert Ravenscroft died in 1916 and in 1923 the Ravenscroft family’s holdings in blocks 90 and 105 were sold to Cameron Hutton, secretary-treasurer of a downtown sheet metal fabrication and auto body shop. In 1925 Hutton also reacquired six of the lots in the south half of Block 105 that had been sold by the Ravenscrofts.

In 1922 the city council ‘closed up’ Law Street between Kendall and Lamont streets and the alleys in blocks 90 and 105 for the ‘public interest and convenience of the city’. Although the street and alleys had been mapped and dedicated fifteen years earlier there had been no actual grading or other improvement, and no new construction requiring access, so these closings would have had little practical effect. The 1923 – 1927 lot books contained a notation that Law St. and all alleys were closed in 1922, but this notation was scratched out in the 1928 lot book, presumably indicating that the street and alleys had been reopened. When Lamont Street was paved in 1928 between Garnet Avenue and the city property that became Kate Sessions Park, the project included the curbs and sidewalks along blocks 90 and 105 which remain today.

R. W. Brown Paving

The former ranch house was vacant in 1928 but from 1929 to 1933 it was home to Roscoe Porter, a real estate operator. His son David Porter recounted in a 1995 interview for the San Diego Historical Society’s oral history program that the family moved to a ‘great big old Victorian house’ two or three blocks north of the Academy on the corner of Lamont and Law Streets where they had eight acres of fields and orchards with strawberry patches, tangerines, orange and grapefruit trees, lemons, pears and apricots.

In November 1933 ads appeared in the San Diego Union for Vista Villa Rest Home ‘for particular people; sea air, wide verandas, large rooms, food to your needs’. If you needed rest, quiet, right thinking and proper diet, you should live at Vista Villa, 1860 Law St.; ‘Broad verandas, large grounds. Exclusive’. The rural nature of the property was also still evident in a 1938 advertisement for a big work horse, kind and gentle, for sale, cheap, 1860 Law St., Pacific Beach.

1937 aerial view of Pacific Beach. Brown Military Academy, the former college campus, is in the foreground with the land once covered by lemon ranches beyond. The acre lots originally owned by Wilson and Bowers are outlined.
1937 aerial view of Pacific Beach. Brown Military Academy, the former college campus, is in the foreground with the land once covered by lemon ranches beyond. The acre lots originally owned by Wilson and Bowers are highlighted (San Diego History Center 83:14603-1).

However, major changes occurred in San Diego beginning in 1935 when Reuben Fleet moved the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from Buffalo to San Diego. Consolidated and other local aircraft manufacturing companies experienced explosive growth as demand grew for military aircraft in the years before and during World War II. Tens of thousands of aircraft workers who came to San Diego required homes and many found them in Pacific Beach, only a few miles away from the downtown factories.  In 1942 there was still only the one home on Law and one on Chalcedony but by 1947 houses lined the streets in what had been Acre Lot 34 and today it is hard to imagine that the area could ever have been a ranch, except for the original ranch house that still stands above it all.

Jaguarina at Pacific Beach

The San Diego Union called it the largest gathering of people ever got together in the district of San Diego. An estimated 7000 people, which would have been more than a quarter of the city’s population at the time, came to the Pacific Beach Driving Park on People’s Day, Sunday, October 28, 1888, to watch an event billed as ‘Sword Combat on Horseback—Jaguarina vs. Capt. Wiedemann’. Admission was 50 cents, grandstand 25 cents extra, or $1 for a round trip railroad ticket, admission to grounds and grandstand. Special excursion trains ran on the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railroad every hour until noon and every half-hour afterwards.

Pacific Beach Driving Park about 1906 (San Diego History Center #344)
Pacific Beach Driving Park grandstand and clubhouse about 1906 (San Diego History Center #344)

The driving park was a racetrack built in 1887 in the space north of Mission Bay, east of Rose Creek, and west and south of the railroad right-of-way over what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet Avenue. The grandstand and a clubhouse were located about where Figueroa Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue intersect today. People’s Day, and a Ladies’ Day held the day before, were ‘two great extra days’ at the close of a ‘four days of first class racing’ in its first fall race meeting.

Sword combat on horseback, in which the contestants used regulation cavalry sabers and wore metal helmets and armor, had become popular in the mid-1880s in San Francisco. Among the best-known contestants were Duncan C. Ross, the ‘Champion of the World’, and Sgt. Owen Davies (or Davis), a cavalryman stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco and said to be the best swordsman in the army. They crossed swords at Woodward’s Gardens, an early San Francisco amusement park, on September 27, 1885.

Jaguarina was a skilled swordswoman and rider who joined in this sport and became famous for consistently beating her male opponents. Then known as Jaguarine, she defeated Sgt. Davies in February 1887 and also won a contest against a Capt. J. H. Marshall. Although Duncan Ross himself refused to fight a woman, the ‘famous horsewoman and sword-wielder’ defeated Capt. E. N. Jennings, formerly of Her Majesty’s Eighth Royal Hussars and considered the best all-round master-at-arms in America, who had beaten Ross.

The ‘world renowned champion Amazon’ could also attract a crowd to a theater. In July 1887 she joined a company of other entertainers, including the ‘original and only and inimitable’ illusionist Macalister and Queen of Song Miss Annie Ainsworth, in a show at Louis’ Opera House in San Diego. Later in 1887 she moved to Ensenada, about 80 miles south of San Diego in Mexico, from where she became a frequent visitor to San Diego. In September 1887 the Union reported that she offered the use of her helmet to a girl who was dressing up as Minerva on a float representing the California state seal for an Admission Day parade.

In August 1888 Jaguarina received a challenge from a gentleman residing in San Diego who was claimed to be a first-class swordsman, having received his training in the military schools and service in Europe. According to the Union, she expressed herself not only willing but anxious to meet him, but only if his challenge was accompanied by the usual ‘forfeit’ or deposit; ‘she does not propose to go to the trouble and expense of training unless there is enough money at stake to make it worth while’.

The gentleman in question was Conrad Wiedemann, a native of Bavaria who had come to America seventeen years earlier after receiving a thorough training in ‘fencing and all the branches’ under Colonel Wicowski of the Russian army. He had recently been appointed a professor of physical culture at the San Diego Business College, a commercial college founded in 1887 dedicated to enabling young ladies and gentlemen to successfully compete in business pursuits (he was not associated with the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach, which had just opened in the previous month). The Union reported that Professor Wiedemann, the ‘magnificently developed athlete who presides over the gymnastic exercises of the Turn Verein in this city’, was the unacknowledged challenger who had thrown down the gauntlet to the renowned Jaguarine, and that while no definite arrangements had been made it was no longer a matter of doubt the two would come together (the Turn Verein was a gymnastic society popular with the German immigrant population). The ‘muscular German’ was said to weigh 185 pounds, have a chest measurement of 43 inches and biceps measuring 15 inches (although Jaguarina may have outweighed him; she told an interviewer for the New York Times in 1897 that she weighed 197 pounds, with muscles evenly developed all over the body).

Apparently Wiedemann did provide the usual forfeit and in early October the Union announced that the forthcoming race meeting and athletic tournament during the last week of the present month at Pacific Beach would conclude with what would ‘doubtless prove the most attractive display of athleticism ever witnessed in this section of the country’, the sword combats between Prof. Wiedemann and Jaguarine. A few days later the Union raised expectations even further by claiming that some who had seen these tests of skill and courage class them ‘among the most exciting scenes ever witnessed’ and that these brilliant exhibitions of skill with an equally interesting display of horsemanship ‘must indeed be one of the sights of a lifetime’.

The Union had reported that Jaguarine would be riding her favorite steed from Ensenada to San Diego, a trip that would take about two days, and on October 13, 1888, announced that the Queen of the Sword had arrived from Old Mexico and registered at the Tremont House. She was neatly attired in a plain black dress and at her neck a Turkish crescent broach, in which a diamond sparkled, was her only piece of jewelry. Her room was scattered with stilettos, rapiers, broadswords and other weapons, and an English mastiff and a Danish boarhound were sleeping quietly at the feet of the strong woman. A few days later the City Guard Band serenaded the famous swordswoman at the Tremont and a large number of persons were attracted to the spot and many were the good wishes expressed for the lady’s success in her coming broadsword combat with Captain Wiedemann. She also sat for two different paintings and declined a request for a third.

The fall race meeting at the Pacific Beach Driving Park began on Tuesday, October 23, and ended on Friday. Saturday was Ladies’ Day, featuring bicycle and pony races which the ‘fair ones’ watched with the liveliest interest. Jaguarina was also in attendance and viewed the proceedings from the judges stand. Sunday, October 28, 1888, was People’s Day, and thousands of the admirers of Jaguarina went out to see the great swordswoman ‘measure blades with her skillful antagonist’, while the stalwart Captain Wiedemann, of many battles, ‘attracted a legion of representatives of the far-off Teutonic fatherland’. The crowd first watched a series of footraces and a blindfold wheelbarrow race before a recess was taken at noon for luncheon, served in excellent style in the clubhouse.  After lunch there were a couple of quarter-mile horse-races before the ‘event of the day’, the mounted sword combat between Captain Wiedemann and Jaguarina; ‘A rush was made to every vantage point, and crowds of the spectators swarmed upon the track, in order that a good view of the combat could be obtained’.

The contest was to consist of eleven rounds, called ‘attacks’, of three minutes each unless a point was scored first (‘A point is a fair cut on head or body above the waist’), with a one-minute rest between attacks.  The contestants each had a second, also mounted, who was supposed to claim a point when their principal landed a blow on their opponent.  The referee would then decide whether to allow the point.

Wiedemann rode into the arena first wearing blue military trousers, steel breast and back plates, and a regulation broadsword mask, and armed with a German rapier.  Jaguarina followed a few minutes later dressed in fawn-colored knee breeches, top boots and a white flannel shirt.  The Union reported that she was cheered heartily as she rode bareheaded in front of the grand stand, the picture of health and wearing an air of supreme confidence.  She donned her fine French military cuirasse, a breastplate of brass and copper, ‘which still bears deep indentations, as marks of respect from Captains Davis, Jennings and Marshal, received in former contests’.  The combatants then made their customary salutations to each other, the judges, the referee and the audience, before retiring to their respective corners.

The vast crowd was now on the tiptoe of expectation, and, without delay, the tones of the trumpet sounded the signal to the first attack.  Both plied their spurs and met in the center of the field at a gallop and lost no time in crossing arms, Jaguarina taking the initiative with a high carte cut, which was skillfully parried by her opponent, who attempted a return, which was again neatly stopped by a return parry and quickly followed by a prime cut, which was effective and brought home a resounding whack.  This, the first point, was claimed and allowed for Jaguarina.

The Union continued with a blow-by-blow account of the battle.  The second attack involved considerable fencing before Jaguarina ‘essayed to force the fighting’ and reached short, leaving herself unprotected.  Before she could return on guard, the Captain availed himself of the advantage and scored a point, which was allowed.  In the third attack, both horses acted badly but Wiedemann’s recovered more promptly allowing him to deal a succession of rapid cuts.  Jaguarina’s friends claimed these were all parried but the Captain’s judge claimed a point, which the referee allowed.  In the fourth attack, there was considerable fencing, much bad behavior on the part of the horses, and much excitement amongst the spectators, but no point was scored.   No point was scored in the fifth attack either, despite ‘some animated discussion between the judges and the referee, in which the multitude commenced to participate’.

The Union report continued:

When the charge was made in the sixth attack it was evident that Jaguarina’s blood was up, and that she was determined to force the fighting.  She circled around her opponent rapidly and attacked him fiercely front and rear.  Jaguarina drove her opponent to his corner, his horse backing, rearing and plunging.  Jaguarina now made a hot assault and scored a point which was allowed.

During the seventh attack the excitement commenced to run high.  The vast multitude being on their feet, and it was no longer possible to exercise any control over those who found points of vantage from which to obtain a full view of the contest.  There was good, sharp, quick fighting on both sides, well-meant cuts and skillful parries.  There was the ring of the clash of weapons on the armor, and the contestants parted to their respective corners.

Both seconds claimed a point, but the referee ‘not being in a position nor sharp enough to see the point’ awarded it to the Captain.

This raised a howl of indignation on the part of the throng, and Sergeant Roos, Wiedemann’s second, evidently fearing some danger to himself, ungracefully slid off his steed and ‘was hustled back among the populace’.

A replacement was found for Wiedemann’s second and the contest continued.  The eighth attack was ‘short, sharp and decisive’ and the point was awarded to Jaguarina, but the ninth attack was ‘long and hot, the blood of the Teuton was up, and so was that of Jaguarina’.  The contestants forced each other all over the field and ‘points were clamorously claimed on both sides’, but the referee was unable to give a decision and ordered the attack to be renewed.  Jaguarina drove the Captain to his corner and ‘after much clashing of steel, the combatants were seen to come apart and Jaguarina and her second galloped gaily to her corner’.  When the referee awarded the point to Wiedemann the cheering by his partisans was ‘drowned in a general outburst on the part of the adherents of the fair mistress of the sword’.  In response to the vigorous protest, the referee was removed and replaced by a graduate of West Point.

With the score standing at Wiedemann 4, Jaguarina 3, the judges decided that the two attacks in which no points had been scored would not count, and the contest would be extended to thirteen attacks.  Wiedemann was awarded the point at the end of a melee of the tenth attack and in the eleventh Jaguarina ‘went in with a headlong rush and forced him back until his horse went on his haunches, and scored a ‘palpable hit’.  During the twelfth attack ‘a blade was seen to flash through the air and Jaguarina threw the fragments of a broken sword from her to the ground’.  Another sword was put into her hand and she went on to take another point.

When on the thirteenth and last time the trumpet called the contestants to the charge, to say that there was excitement among the respective participants of the combatants would but feebly express the temper of the multitude, as the score at this time stood five to five.

This final attack ended with Wiedemann aiming a cut at Jaguarina in high carte, which she parried and, before he could protect himself, ‘the sound of Jaguarina’s blade was heard on his cuirasse from a vigorous and unmistakable cut in carte’ which ended the contest with a score of six to five in favor of Jaguarina.

The victor at once doffed her helmet and cuirasse and received round after round of applause from those present, many of her more enthusiastic friends throwing their caps high in the air.  After a gallop round the track with her second, Jaguarina returned to her dressing room receiving the congratulations of her friends en route.

Captain Wiedemann was gracious in defeat, telling a Union reporter that he had no complaints to make whatever in regard to the treatment he had received at the hands of the judges. He was lavish in his praises of the ability of Jaguarina, declaring that she was the quickest sword handler, with only one exception, he had ever met.

One aspect of the contest which did come under criticism was ‘bad behavior on the part of the horses’. Accordingly, an effort was made by a number of citizens to arrange another sword contest between Jaguarina and Wiedemann, to take place on foot. An event was scheduled for the D Street Theater on November 11 which would include a novel, ultra-fashionable European scene, the Salle d’Armes, in which Jaguarina would be brought together with Captain Wiedemann in an assault-at-arms ‘unhampered by refractory and unwilling horses’. As a bonus, Jaguarina would also produce her classical art groupings, tableaux vivantes, living representations of classical works of art. The Union expected it to be one of the events of the year, and although Jaguarina, the people’s favorite, had so many admirers, Captain Wiedemann also had many friends who were confident in his powers to turn the tables on his opponent.

The event, on Monday, November 12, 1888, began with a ‘flag march’ by the juvenile pupils of Captain Wiedemann, a vocal solo by Jaguarina (‘The Gems of Tyrol’), which showed that she had an excellent voice, and a gymnastic exhibition in which the Turn Verein showed muscle and skill on the parallel bars.  Jaguarina again appeared in the classic art pictures, described as ‘more than interesting’, closing with a representation of ‘Diana in the Chase’.  The main event of the evening, the sword contest between Jaguarina and Captain Wiedemann, was exciting and realistic and again won by Jaguarina by 6 points to 4 and ‘showed that the famous swordwoman was altogether too quick for the redoubtable Captain, able though he is’.

Jaguarina returned to Ensenada but was still occasionally seen in San Diego, particularly in theaters. In April 1889 she attended a performance of The King’s Fool by the Conried Opera Company in which one of the best parts of the entertainment was the exhibition given by the Vienneses lady fencers. Miss Jaguarina was a most interesting spectator of the opera and of the fencing exhibition, and showed her hearty appreciation by her applause. After the play she paid a visit to the lady fencers and extended her compliments and congratulations.

Both Jaguarina and Wiedemann also appeared again in sword combats on horseback, although not against each other. Jaguarina met Baron Arno von Feilitzsch, said to be a captain in the Imperial Guards of Germany, at the Pantheon in Los Angeles in April 1889.  Two months later, in June, Wiedemann also met the baron at the Pantheon. According to the Union, Wiedemann proved too much for the late opponent of Jaguarina, and won eight attacks out of eleven. Jaguarina acted as referee.

In November 1889 she was back at a theater in San Diego, this time on stage. The Union reported that Mlle Jaguarina, the well-known swordswoman, actress, singer, beauty and accomplished woman generally, would appear as the Fairy Queen in the Humpty-Dumpty Company at Louis’ Opera House. ‘Jaguarina is possessed of unquestioned histrionic ability and is further qualified for the role she will assume by a faultless figure, perfect in all its dimensions, and endowed with all the grace and fascination which even the queen of the fairies should possess’. After the performance, the Union reported that Mlle Jaguarina’s well-developed, rounded figure in the scanty costume of the Fairy Queen called forth great admiration.

Jaguarina left Ensenada shortly afterwards and continued her acting and fencing career, including exhibitions of mounted combat, in eastern cities. In February 1893 the Union reported that the champion female swordswoman who has met every swordsman of prominence in America and Europe was a cast member in a spectacular play, ‘The Spider and The Fly’, which was touring the west coast and would be performed at Fisher’s Opera House. However, the play was delayed and apparently never produced in San Diego. When she retired from fencing around the turn of the twentieth century she continued acting under her real name, which was Ella Hattan.

The Pacific Beach Driving Park, located on the flood-plain of Rose Creek, was largely washed away by December storms in 1889 and never fully restored. The site was occasionally used for baseball games and other spectacles such as balloon ascents and parachute drops by men, women and monkeys over the next few years. In 1903 it was sold to A. G. Spalding, the sporting goods magnate and resident of Point Loma, who briefly established a saddle-horse breeding facility on the site. The property was subdivided as Mission Bay Park in 1906 and in 1907 the railroad to Pacific Beach and La Jolla, which had originally circled around the race track, was realigned to cut through what remained of the track along what today is Grand Avenue. The clubhouse became Ye Olde Mission Inn, a ‘picturesque country resort’, but the inn burned down in November 1908. The San Diego Sun reported in 1931 that the ruins of the grandstand and stables were still to be found, almost hidden in the brush, and the judges stand was saved and incorporated into the Rancho 101 Motel that remained on the site until 1968. Today there is nothing left to mark the location where Jaguarina and Capt. Wiedemann thrilled thousands of San Diegans in 1888 with one of the most exciting scenes ever witnessed.

Rancho 101

The Honeycutts in PB

Sterling Honeycutt was born in Tennessee in 1832. His family later moved to Indiana and in 1856 he married Nancy Huntington, an Indiana native. The couple moved to Rock Island County, Illinois, where in 1869 they reportedly erected the first residence in the village of Reynolds. They were also involved in building the first Methodist church in that area. In the 1880 census, Sterling Honeycutt, not yet 50 years old, described himself as a ‘retired farmer’, presumably having profited by selling his farm.

In the early 1890s the Honeycutts moved to San Diego and in 1893 they purchased Blocks 215, 216, 237 and 238 of Pacific Beach, four adjacent blocks between Grand and Garnet avenues and Jewell and Lamont streets (then Grand and College avenues and 9th and 11th streets, and just across College from the campus where the San Diego College of Letters had operated from 1888 to 1891). Although shown on the map as city blocks divided into lots and separated by public streets, there were no actual improvements or graded streets in 1893 and the Honeycutts developed this property as a lemon ranch. In 1894 they also acquired the northwestern portion of Block 214, on the other side of Lamont, and although they were still living downtown at the time they occasionally spent a few days at their cottage there, at the southeast corner of Lamont and Garnet, ‘looking after the interests of their fine lemon ranch’.

At the end of 1896, Honeycutt also purchased the north half of block 239, the south side of Hornblend Street (then California Avenue) between Lamont and Morrell (12th) streets, in a deal that required him to move the hotel and the dance pavilion that the Pacific Beach Company had built near the beach at the foot of Grand Avenue to this new location within six months. The hotel ended up at the western end of the block, the southeast corner of Hornblend and Lamont. The dance pavilion was moved to the east end of the block, the southwest corner of Hornblend and Morrell. In this new location the pavilion was also adjacent to the railway to San Diego, which ran along the north side of Balboa Avenue at the time, and it was converted into a facility for curing, packing and shipping lemons.

In 1900 a nephew of Mrs. Honeycutt became the first member of the Honeycutts’ extended family to join them in Pacific Beach when the west 5 acres of Acre Lot 51, between Diamond and Chalcedony streets east of an extension of Morrell Street, was granted to Mrs. Lizzie Huntington. The Huntingtons soon left, however, granting the property to Sterling Honeycutt. In 1904 Honeycutt also acquired the east 3.3 acres of Acre Lot 51, between Diamond and Chalcedony and west of Noyes Street.

In November 1903 the Braymer Comet of Caldwell County, Missouri, reported that W. P. Parmenter and wife, Frank McCrary, Jr., and wife and Moses Town and wife and daughter were expected to leave for California and that all except Mr. Town and family expected to make their future homes there. The paper explained that Parmenter, a local Justice of the Peace, had sold his fine farm for $65 an acre and was moving with his wife to San Diego, where he had bought a home, on account of Mrs. Parmenter’s health, which had been bad for many years.

Mrs. Parmenter was the former Sallie Honeycutt, Sterling Honeycutt’s younger sister. The Parmenters had purchased Blocks 249 and 272, two adjacent blocks between Grand and Reed avenues and Lamont and Kendall streets, just across Grand Avenue from Sterling Honeycutt’s lemon ranch. Once established in Pacific Beach, Parmenter also bought the north half of Block 213, the property on the south side of Garnet between Morrell and Noyes, and the southwest quarter of Block 214, the northeast corner of Lamont and Hornblend.

Frank McCrary’s wife Wilda was the Parmenters’ daughter and Honeycutt’s niece. The McCrarys also bought property in Pacific Beach, acquiring E. Y. Barnes’ former lemon ranch on the west half of Acre Lot 64, which was located between Emerald, Jewell, Diamond and Lamont streets. This property came with the home that the Barnes had built at the northeast corner of Jewell and Emerald. The Parmenters and McCrarys also jointly purchased Acre Lot 20, the 9.7 acre tract east of Lamont between Beryl Street and the city land that became Kate Sessions Park, and a few months later sold it to John W. Warren, yet another resident of Caldwell County (Warren later sold it to Sterling Honeycutt). And even though the Comet had suggested that the Town family didn’t expect to make their future home in California, Moses Town also purchased property in Pacific Beach, the south half of block 217, the lots on the north side of Hornblend between Ingraham and Jewell, which included a house at the northwest corner of Hornblend and Jewell. Their daughter, Ella, worked as the ‘janitress’ at the Pacific Beach schoolhouse, on Garnet Avenue across the alley from their home.

Frank McCrary’s brother Charles had also married one of the Parmenters’ daughters, and Honeycutt’s niece, Winnie. The Charles McCrarys moved to Pacific Beach from Missouri in 1903 and purchased the south half of block 213, the property on the north side of Hornblend between Morrell and Noyes streets. In 1904 they also bought the northeast corner of block 214, which included a house at the southwest corner of Garnet and Morrell. Another Honeycutt nephew, the Parmenters’ son Frank, his wife Ida and their son Guy also moved from Missouri to Pacific Beach in 1904. Guy Parmenter went on to become one of the original thirteen cadets in the inaugural class of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1910.

Two of Sterling Honeycutt’s own brothers and their families also joined the migration from Missouri to Pacific Beach. Daniel Honeycutt, his daughter Orpha and her husband, Mark McLain, came from Caldwell County while John Honeycutt, his wife Edwina and their son Harry came from Jasper County.

Sterling Honeycutt’s siblings and nieces and nephews had joined a growing concentration of residents in what had become the heart of the Pacific Beach community at the beginning of the twentieth century. This central core, a few blocks on either side of Lamont Street north of Grand Avenue, also included the former college buildings, which became the Hotel Balboa in 1904 and the Army and Navy Academy in 1910. The community’s two churches and the school house were located within a block of the college campus. The railroad between La Jolla and San Diego ran along Grand Avenue and stopped at the Pacific Beach station just west of Lamont Street. Also at Grand and Lamont, on the northwest corner, was the E. Y. Barnes store and post office.

The area south of Grand, however, remained undeveloped until 1904 when the McCrary brothers and Frank Parmenter began building a second store on the southwest corner of Lamont and Grand, the northeast corner of Block 249. A building permit was issued in November 1904 and in January 1905 the new store ‘threw open its doors’. The San Diego Union described the new emporium as the largest in the suburb, and noted that the proprietors were recent arrivals from Missouri. In 1906 the Pacific Beach post office was moved across Grand Avenue to the McCrary & Parmenter store and W. P. Parmenter became postmaster.

While his relatives and their neighbors had been migrating from Missouri and buying property in Pacific Beach, Honeycutt himself had been selling off portions of his lemon ranch as he transitioned from lemon ranching into the real estate business. In 1901 he sold block 216 to Thomas McConnell, William Pike bought block 238 in 1903 and block 237 in 1904, and most of block 215 had been sold by 1905. By 1907 Honeycutt no longer owned any of the property of his former lemon ranch. In exchange, he had purchased property on the east side of Block 206 and the west side of Block 207, both sides of Noyes Street between Garnet and Felspar, and in 1904 he built a house on the southeast corner of Block 206, the northwest corner of Garnet and Noyes. In 1906 the Honeycutts and Charles McCrarys bought the east half of Acre Lot 48, except for the southeastern corner quarter where the ranch house originally built for the Gridleys stood. They later divided this property, the Honeycutts keeping the north half and the McCrarys the south half.

The Honeycutts were founding members of a Methodist congregation in Pacific Beach in 1901. Initially the Methodists had met in the Presbyterian church at the corner of Garnet and Jewell, and later at the school house next door, but the arrival of the Parmenters and McCrarys apparently increased the size of the congregation enough to justify acquiring a church of their own. In February 1904 the Honeycutts purchased the northwest quarter of Block 180, the southeast corner of Lamont and Emerald, and transferred it to the church. An existing structure on this property was converted to a church building. Honeycutt later acquired the remainder of Block 180, between Lamont, Emerald, Morrell and Felspar streets.

Growth of the Methodist congregation continued, however, and in 1906, faced with expanding the existing church building, the Honeycutts donated the former dance pavilion and lemon packing house at Hornblend and Morrell to the church. When Nancy Honeycutt died in May 1909, her obituary in the San Diego Union noted that the Honeycutts had been prominent in the religious, social and commercial development of the community, Methodism at Pacific Beach largely owed its existence to them, and the present edifice, dedicated as a Methodist church two years earlier, was a monument to the family. Nearly the entire population of Pacific Beach turned out to her funeral services there, ‘filling the place as never before’.

Sterling Honeycutt had been a successful lemon rancher but was also one of the first to recognize that property in Pacific Beach held even greater value for residential development. His former lemon ranch was one of the first areas to be developed, with graded streets, concrete curbs and sidewalks, and a number of new homes. He became a real estate operator and continued to invest in Pacific Beach real estate. In 1909 he acquired a five-acre tract in the northeast corner of Pueblo lot 1800 and subdivided it as Sterling Park, between Lamont, Chico and Kendall streets and Pacific Beach Drive.

Property owned by the Honeycutts, their relatives and former neighbors from Caldwell County, Missouri during the first decade of the twentieth century.
Property owned by the Honeycutts, their relatives and other former residents of Caldwell County, Missouri during the first decade of the twentieth century.

By the end of the decade the extended Honeycutt family and their fellow migrants were a sizable presence in Pacific Beach, with seven households counted in the 1910 census. Sterling Honeycutt himself, by then a widower, lived in a house full of relatives, including his niece Pearl and three children of Nancy’s niece Agnes Rogers. His sister Sallie Parmenter, with husband William shared a household with their daughter Wilda McCrary, her husband Frank and their children (Charles McCrary and his family had moved back to Missouri in 1908, but returned and settled in San Diego in 1911). The Parmenters’ son Frank, with wife Ida and their son Guy lived on Lamont Street. Honeycutt’s brothers Daniel, with daughter Orpha McLain and her husband Mark, and John, with wife Edwina and their son Harry, his wife and child were also Pacific Beach residents. Moses and Ella Town, not relatives but neighbors of the Parmenters and McCrarys in Missouri, also still lived on Hornblend.

Sterling Honeycutt died in 1911, followed within a few years by the elder Parmenters and the Towns. Other family members moved away, some to downtown San Diego and some back to Missouri. By 1920 only the families of Daniel Honeycutt and Frank Parmenter remained in Pacific Beach, and Frank and Ida Parmenter still lived at the corner of Lamont and Thomas streets into the 1950s.

When Venice Park was created from Acre Lots 72 and 73 of Pacific Beach in 1906, a new street in the subdivision was named Honeycutt Street, presumably in honor of the then-prominent Pacific Beach residents (although Honeycutt was not a participant in the subdivision). The name of this street, between Morrell and Lamont streets from Pacific Beach Drive to Crown Point Drive, is the only sign of the Honeycutt family remaining in Pacific Beach.

Honeycutt and Fortuna

Barney Oldfield in PB?

Barney Oldfield was the ‘King of Speed’, the most famous driver from the very first days of automobile racing. He began by racing bicycles but in 1902 he was invited to drive Henry Ford’s race car, ‘999’. Although he had never driven a car before, he won his first race against what was supposed to be the fastest car in the world. His success in this and many subsequent races sparked his own career and also contributed to Ford’s rise as America’s foremost auto maker. Oldfield not only beat other drivers in these races but also routinely set new speed records. He was the first to break the mile-a-minute mark, completing a mile course in one minute, an average speed of 60 MPH, on June 30, 1903.

On November 25, 1903, Oldfield came to San Diego to participate in the city’s first ‘automobile meeting’ on Thanksgiving Day at a track in Coronado. The Evening Tribune announced that the great Barney Oldfield, the ‘mile-a-minute-man’, had arrived with his string of ‘buzz wagons’ (although the paper noted that the name no longer did him justice since he had been ‘steadily chopping down the mile automobile record until it stands at 55 seconds flat’). Advertisements for the event promised that the famous mile-a-minute man would attempt to lower his mile record, but in the aftermath the Tribune reported ‘No Records Smashed’, although Oldfield did complete one mile lap in 58 seconds. The paper blamed the poor condition of the track on the back stretch, where the sand in one of his circuits of the mile ring came near being the chauffeur’s undoing. Nevertheless, the exhibition was a complete success, with the first automobile races in the city calling out an attendance of 1500 people. ‘Oldfield, of course, was the center of attraction, and no one was disappointed’.

The Tribune interviewed George Nolan, manager of San Diego Cycle and Arms Co., who reported that so far as he had learned everyone was pleased with the event. Asked about the possibility of a second appearance here of Oldfield, Nolan said that it wouldn’t surprise him if Oldfield would come back with one of his racing machines to beat the world’s record for a mile straightaway. Asked where the straightaway race course was he replied ‘On Pacific Beach, the finest place in the country. Four miles of wide beach there as hard as this table, convenient to get at and in all other respects desirable’. Nolan added that the mile straightaway record was 46 seconds, but was not held by Oldfield, whose record was for a circular course.

Actually, automobile racing on beaches had been introduced earlier in 1903 at Ormond Beach, the ‘birthplace of speed’, just north of Daytona Beach on Florida’s Atlantic coast, where the hard-packed sand provided the long, hard, flat and straight surface ideal for speed trials. Over the next few years speed records were repeatedly set and then broken there until in 1906 the Stanley Rocket, a steam-powered and aerodynamically designed vehicle, set a record of 127 MPH over a mile course which stood for years.

Automobiles had actually ‘raced’ on Pacific Beach in 1903 too, but at a much more leisurely pace. The San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach Notes column reported in September 1903 that F. W. Barnes and E. C. Thorpe, two of the community’s leading citizens, had raced their automobiles on the beach and made the entire length of the beach in eight minutes, which would represent a speed of about 30 MPH.

Meanwhile, Barney Oldfield continued winning and setting records on race tracks around the country. In April 1907 he was again in the San Diego area where he was the featured attraction in the opening of the Lakeside Inn Speedway, and where he again set a record for one mile on a circular track at 51 4/5 seconds, nearly 70 MPH, breaking his own record by 1 1/5 seconds. However, the San Diego Union reported that the great auto driver also had another goal in mind while he was in town and that following the race in Lakeside he would begin preparations for a try at the one mile straightaway record. In an arrangement with Folsom Bros. Co., he would attempt to lower the record on the magnificent stretch at Pacific Beach. San Diego would be given the opportunity to see the great ‘racing king’ speed his ‘flyer’ at a far faster gait than was possible on a circular track where turns had to be made.

According to the paper, he had been taken to Pacific Beach two weeks before by M. W. Folsom. He had expressed great surprise when he drove his car on the beach and immediately gave it as his opinion that he could smash some records if given the opportunity. A trip over the beach strengthened this opinion and he stated that he had not the slightest doubt that he would be able to do the mile in 40 seconds, or even less. The following Thursday was selected as the date and since afternoon would be the most propitious time of the day, as tide conditions would then be more perfect, the runs would be made between 1:30 and 3 o’clock. Accompanied by his wife he would leave for the Hotel Balboa at Pacific Beach immediately after the races in Lakeside concluded on Sunday, and his cars would follow on Monday morning so that he could become thoroughly acquainted with the beach and the conditions prevailing.

The beach at Pacific Beach was four miles in length and at low tide 600 feet wide and Oldfield was said to be enthusiastic over its possibilities as a race course. He stated that in his opinion it was far superior to Ormond Beach, where the great winter races of the Atlantic coast were held. The sand at Pacific Beach was harder and the wind far more favorable for record smashing than at the Florida resort. Ample train service would be provided by the Pacific Beach & La Jolla line, and special excursion rates would be made for the big crowd that would undoubtedly witness the great speed trials.

As it happened, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway, formerly the PB & LJ line, was in the midst of a major upgrade, realigning its right of way to enter Pacific Beach directly along the route of today’s Grand Avenue, rather than the circuitous route on today’s Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa Avenues around the defunct race track. The railroad company had a large force of men at work and was anxious to finish the construction of the cut-off at the earliest possible time. The large crowds anticipated for the proposed speed trials at Pacific Beach would have necessitated many extra trains, which would mean the loss of practically a full day’s work. Since the railroad was unwilling to give up even one day’s work, the speed trials were temporarily postponed.

Barney Oldfield never did race on Pacific Beach, but in 1910 he did put in an appearance at Daytona Beach where he finally broke the Stanley Rocket’s longstanding record by driving his Blitzen Benz at 131 MPH (although the Rocket’s record for a steam car, 127 MPH, was not broken until 2009). Oldfield was also a no-show at the first San Diego County road race held on New Year’s Day 1913, a two-lap 91.7-mile circuit which began and ended at Garnet and Cass Street in Pacific Beach and included check stations at Escondido and South Oceanside. ‘Barney Not In’ was the headline on the Union’s article announcing the official entry list and starting positions.


Barney Oldfield had set a new speed record of 131 miles per hour over a mile course at Daytona Beach in 1910. A year later ‘Wild Bob’ Burman drove the same Blitzen Benz over the same course to set a new record of 141 MPH, covering a mile in 25.5 seconds. Burman also broke Oldfield’s records for the flying mile, half-mile, quarter-mile and kilometer in exhibitions on the day before the first Indianapolis 500 race in May 1911, again using the same Benz (and finished 19th in the actual race on May 30, in a different, smaller Benz, that complied with race rules).

In 1912 Burman acquired a new 200 horsepower Benz and on Christmas Day brought it to Pacific Beach for what apparently was its first speed trial. The San Diego Union headline stated that the stage was set for ‘fast driving by Bob Burman in Big Benz’ and that his ‘whirl over beach’ was likely to make history in auto racing; ‘Today is the time, Pacific Beach the place, while Bob Burman and other noted drivers are the lure that will cause the greatest gathering of motor fans that have ever witnessed a speed contest in San Diego’.

In 1912 San Diego was a city of about 45,000 people and about 3000 cars, and according to the local papers anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 people and 1500 cars descended on Pacific Beach to watch. The railway line ran special trains every 20 minutes from 12:30 to 4 p.m. and added flat cars with board seats to handle passengers that overflowed the regular coaches. Low tide was at 5:14 p.m., sunset at 4:43  and the events began at about 3:00 with a race between a little blue Hupmobile and a Buick. A few minutes later Burman and two of the ‘noted drivers’ raced their Benz cars over a two-mile course with Burman winning handily. Then came the big event, Burman’s attempt to shatter his world mark.

Burman’s first run over the mile course on the beach was clocked at 28 seconds, almost 130 MPH, and a record for a course on the west coast. After winning a second two-mile race against the other two Benz drivers he returned for one more speed trial saying ‘If I don’t have ill luck I’ll make it better than 26 seconds’. However, he did have ill luck; at the half-mile mark the big Benz caught fire and, with flames licking at his hands and face, Burman retreated from his seat to the pointed back of the car which he straddled, steering with his left hand and operating the emergency brake with his right foot. When the blazing car finally came to a stop he got off and was helped to push it into the ocean and put out the fire. ‘If any person wishes me a merry Christmas, I may shoot him’, he said while he fastened a rope to the damaged car so it could be towed away.

A week later Burman was the favorite to win the New Year’s Day road race that started and ended in Pacific Beach, but his replacement Benz broke down on the rough county roads and, after patching the damaged part with wire, he finished the race in last place.  ‘Wild Bob’ Burman was killed in a race at Corona in April 1916.

Haskins Hospitality


James H. Haskins was a master machinist and inventor who was awarded his first patent, a screw-cutting tool for metal lathes, while still in his early 20s. He later worked for the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago. According to the San Diego Union, he was for many years superintendent of the McCormick reaper factory there. While at McCormick he received several more patents for machines that improved the manufacture of components for the company’s harvesters. In 1902 McCormick merged with four smaller rivals to become the International Harvester Company. At about that same time Haskins, then in his early 50s, retired, and with his wife Frances, relocated to San Diego.

In June 1904 he purchased the southeast corner of Acre Lot 78 in Pacific Beach from O. J. Stough. Acre Lot 78 was between today’s Diamond, Haines, Chalcedony and Ingraham streets, and Haskins’ property extended 125 north and 250 feet west from the corner of Diamond and Ingraham. Stough owned the balance of Acre Lot 78 as well as the adjacent Acre Lot 79 ½, between Diamond, Gresham, Chalcedony and Haines, and in 1905 Stough and Haskins recorded a subdivision map which divided these acre lots back into the four residential blocks originally platted in the 1887 map of Pacific Beach. Haskins’ property became lots 21 – 30 of Block 146 according to Map 948, Subdivision of Acre Lots 78 and 79 ½ at Pacific Beach. Map 948 also restored Missouri Street and the alleys that had appeared on the original 1887 map.

In September 1905 the Evening Tribune reported that a building permit had been issued to J. H. Haskins for a residence at Pacific Beach to cost $5000. In November, the Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. Jas. H. Haskins had spent part of the week superintending the erection of their new home, and a week later announced that the magnificent home at Diamond and Broadway was fast nearing completion (actually, Broadway had been renamed Izard Street in 1900; it became Broadway once again in 1907 and was finally renamed Ingraham in 1913). Workmen were putting the finishing touches on the garage in the rear. The residence was a credit not only to Pacific Beach but to all San Diego and was constructed partly of the concrete blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co. and the rest entirely of redwood.

Once in their new home the Haskins quickly established a reputation for hospitality that was often featured in the local papers. In March 1906 the San Diego Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. Haskins of Diamond Street had entertained a small company with whist and fireside tales. Bright lights streaming from the many windows assured the guests, long before reaching the home, the cheery welcome waiting there. The games seemed hardly begun when the charming hostess led all in to a delicious luncheon. Later they were shown through the cottage – a thoroughly modern and typically American suburban home – and it was with regret that they dispersed at a late hour. On another occasion, Mr. Haskins’ birthday in January 1907, his wife gave him a surprise, ‘a party with a cake and candles and all the goodies and pleasures that go to make up such an event’. The Union reported that at first a few friends ‘happened’ in to play cards, but before long quite a merry company had assembled to enjoy their host’s surprise, and Mrs. Haskin’s hospitality.

However, the most popular gatherings were when Mrs. Haskins opened her beautiful home for her annual reception to the members of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. These events apparently began at a regular meeting of the Reading Club in January 1908 at the Haskins’ home. According to the San Diego Union, after the study session and musical numbers, including a piano solo by Mrs. Cotton, Mrs. Haskins transformed the social hour into a reception for the members and their many guests, ‘ushering in the new year with good company and a good welcome’. The color scheme was green and red, an abundance of smilax, carnations and roses supplied from her own beautiful grounds and arranged with the assistance of Mr. Haskins. ‘The dining room table was radiant with its snowy napery, red ribbons and carnations and a variety of the cakes for which the hostess is famous’. Other members (members of the Reading Club were all women) assisted in receiving and presided at the tea table, the chocolate table and the punch bowl, assisted by a coterie of young ladies. After another round of musical entertainment featuring local women and girls in songs, solos, duets and chorus, ‘the appreciative audience demanded many recalls and Mrs. O. W. Cotton continued to give rare pleasure to the departing guests to the very last’.

Mrs. Haskins hosted the Reading Club again in December 1908 and, according to the Union, members and their friends responded in the number of a hundred and over, having learned in the past that no greater treat was in store for them in the season of good cheer. The hostess was assisted in receiving by Mesdames Howard, Norris, Robinson and Pease, all handsomely gowned and showing the Christmas spirit of good will to all. Mrs. Haskins opened the musical part of the program with a classical selection on the gramophone, followed by piano solos and vocal duets by some of the guests. ‘The house is finely contrived for an assembly, and seems a silent partner in the wholesouled, far-reaching hospitality of its owners . . . The viands, in unlimited quantity, were the best in variety and toothsomeness that this notable housekeeper could produce.’

The wholesouled hospitality and toothsome viands continued to be offered for many more years. In April 1915, for example, the Evening Tribune reported that the ladies’ aid society auxiliary of the Methodist Church had been invited to the Haskins’ delightful home to be entertained with instrumental and vocal music. About 50 guests were present, and after the program a delicious luncheon was served with Mr. and Mrs. Haskins’ usual well-known hospitality. Several gentlemen with carriages and autos kindly carried the ladies to and from the entertainment. The Haskins home had a garage (which workmen had been putting the finishing touches on in 1905) and Mr. Haskins owned an automobile (in 1912 a party of San Diego friends was taken in Mr. Haskins’ automobile to his beach home) so one of the gentlemen kindly carrying the ladies in an auto may have been Mr. Haskins himself.

In 1908 James Haskins was elected by the San Diego Common Council to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of the incumbent from the first ward. The San Diego Union noted that he had been a resident of Pacific Beach for the past two years and was looked upon as one of the most prominent citizens and the one best fitted to represent that section of the city. Haskins ran for a full term as city councilman in the general election of March 1909 but was defeated. He was also one of the organizers of the Pacific Beach Country Club, which held a Washington’s Birthday dance at the Hotel Balboa for its initial meeting in 1909 (the other organizers were A. F. MacFarland, G. H. Robinson and A. R. Pease).

A 1915 Union article about Pacific Beach noted that several of the county’s showplaces were within its environs, notably the homes of Fred T. Scripps, James H. Haskins and Charles C. Norris (the Scripps home was on Mission Bay, where the Catamaran Hotel is now; the Norris home is still standing on Collingwood Drive). In 1908 the Haskins had also built another house, valued at $3600, on the portion of their property to the west of their home. They also owned property in Block 145, on the other side of Ingraham Street, and in Block 162, across Diamond Street, about where the locker rooms at the PB middle school are today. They sold the property with the house next door in 1920 and both of the unimproved properties in 1925.

Mr. Haskins died in April 1930 and Mrs. Haskins died a month later. In their will they left the ‘Home Place’, together with all furniture, fixtures and fittings, to their neighbor S. A. Le Fevre (the ‘residue’ of the estate, about $10,000, went to Haskins’ brother, Robert G. Haskins, of Pontiac, MI). Le Fevre lived a block away, at the northwest corner of Diamond and Jewell (originally the home of the Cogswell family) but at the time there were no other houses between them on Diamond Street. He apparently left the Haskins home vacant until December 1937 when it was sold to Florabel and Ralph Skinner, and it has been owned by the Skinner family ever since.

Mr. Skinner was a teacher at La Jolla High School who also became a prominent citizen in Pacific Beach, at one time serving as president of the PB Chamber of Commerce. The Skinners also became prominent in the sports world; Florabel and Ralph’s son Bob went on to become a major-league baseball player and manager and Bob’s son Joel also played baseball in the major leagues. S. A. Le Fevre received notoriety of a different sort; he had lived alone as a pauper in his Diamond Street home but when he died in 1940 he was found to have $8000 in two bank accounts, and a search of his house turned up a roll of bills worth $2000 under a pile of clothing in a closet.

Folsom Bros. Co.

In January 1902 the San Diego Union reported that a new real estate firm, Folsom Bros., whose ad appeared in another column, had located at 1015 Fourth Street; ‘These gentlemen are from the east, having business affiliations there, and are enthusiasts on San Diego’s climate and natural resources’. The ad in the other column announced that Folsom Brothers, 1015 Fourth St., had some parties coming to San Diego from the east early in the year who contemplated investing and making their homes here, and invited owners who had houses or good building lots for sale to call their office; ‘Your chance for a sale will be better with us, as we have been hustling on the quiet outside of San Diego for the past year and do not depend merely on local transfers’. The new company also acquired a two-seat steam Locomobile, enabling them to hustle around inside San Diego as well.

The Folsom brothers, Murtrie (M. W.) and Wilbur (W. A.), were in their mid-20s in 1902 and their enthusiasm for the local climate and natural resources might have been encouraged by their parents, Mark and Helen Folsom, who had relocated to San Diego a few years earlier. Shortly after their debut in the papers, in March 1902, they reported that one of the parties they had recently induced to come here from the east, A. J. Dula of North Carolina, had purchased a 5-acre orange and lemon ranch in Chula Vista for $5000, and that they had other sales on the way.

Aurelius J. Dula was a native of North Carolina, a Confederate veteran who had been wounded at Gettysburg and Cold Harbor and had been elected in 1895 to the North Carolina state senate. Although he was nearly 60 years old, he was also the Folsom brothers’ brother-in-law, having married their older sister Lillian in 1892. Although Dula and the Folsom brothers first collaborated on the lemon ranch in Chula Vista, they soon turned their attention to the Pacific Beach area and Pueblo Lot 1800, part of the endowment that the American city of San Diego had inherited from the Mexican pueblo and had granted to the San Diego Land and Town Company, a subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railroad, as a subsidy for building the railroad that connected San Diego to the east. Pueblo Lot 1800 is located within the perimeter of today’s Lamont Street and Crown Point, Moorland, Riviera and Pacific Beach Drives (pueblo lots were typically a half-mile square and 160 acres, but the southeast corner of this lot was cut off by Mission Bay).

In November 1902 A. J. Dula and O. M. Schmidt, a retired wholesale grocery merchant from St. Louis, purchased most of the east half of Pueblo Lot 1800, everything except the northerly 61 feet and 5 acres in the northeast corner, and filed a map subdividing it as Fortuna Park Addition. In February 1903 they bought most of the west half as well, everything except the northerly 61 feet and about 6 acres in the southwest corner, and filed a subdivision map for Second Fortuna Park Addition. Folsom Bros. Co., representing their brother-in-law and his business partner, placed ads in the local papers offering lots in these new subdivision for $25. A few months later, in August 1903, Dula granted all his right, title and interest in these two tracts (excepting any portions already sold) to M. W. Folsom, who in November 1903 granted this interest to his father, Mark Folsom (O. M. Schmidt followed suit in 1905, granting all of his remaining interest in Fortuna Park, Second Fortuna Park and all bay frontage or any other property in Pueblo Lot 1800 to Folsom Bros. Co.).

With a foothold in the Fortuna Park additions, Folsom Bros. Co. set its sights on the Pacific Beach subdivision on the other side of Pacific Avenue, as Pacific Beach Drive was then called. In 1903 Pacific Beach was primarily an agricultural community with an economy centered around lemon cultivation. The first lemon groves had been planted in 1892 and over the next few years had grown to cover over 300 acres. Nearly half of the 54 households in Pacific Beach enumerated in the 1900 census were lemon ranchers or involved in harvesting and packing lemons, and many of the rest were also engaged in agriculture, as ranchers, farmers, or farm laborers. The Folsom brothers believed that Pacific Beach had more potential as a residential district, and that this would be achieved by development; grading streets, lining them with curbs and sidewalks, and most importantly, building houses.

When the Pacific Beach Company had been dissolved in 1898 its unsold land in the Pacific Beach subdivision was distributed to the remaining stockholders, principally Oliver J. Stough, whose share amounted to about a hundred blocks, four thousand lots, nearly 660 acres or about 70% of the unimproved land in the subdivision. In November 1903 the San Diego Union reported that Pacific Beach had ‘changed owners’; the larger portion of the suburb had passed from Mr. Stough to the firm of Folsom Bros. Co. (although they noted that even with the deal closed and the papers in escrow the actual transfer was not expected to take place until later). When asked about their plans, M. W. Folsom replied that ‘improvement and development’ would best express what the future had in store for Pacific Beach. There would be houses, and lots of them, not mere renting or beachfront shacks, but homes, quiet, refined and beautiful homes. He declared that at least sixty first-class modern dwellings would be built within one year, probably constructed from cement blocks. He added that the original liquor-selling restrictions of the old Pacific Beach Company would be rigidly adhered to (all deeds granted by the Pacific Beach Company had included a clause banning the vending of intoxicating liquors, either directly or under some evasive guise). Folsom family members were among the participants in the planned housing boom; one of the first new homes, started in January 1904 at Thomas Avenue and Ingraham Street (then called Broadway), was to be the home of Mark Folsom. Plans were for it to be constructed of concrete, elaborately finished on the exterior, and surrounded by spacious lawns. The Dulas and Wilbur Folsom also built homes nearby on Broadway, while Murtrie Folsom’s home was on Garnet Avenue.

Folsom Bros. Co. also acquired other properties in Pacific Beach, including the hotel building which in 1897 had been relocated from its original location at the beach to the corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets, and in January 1904 it reopened as the Pacific Beach Hotel. In April they leased the 16-acre College Campus between Garnet Avenue and Jewell, Emerald and Lamont streets, together with buildings and improvements, and announced plans to convert the former San Diego College of Letters into a first class resort (the lease included an option to buy after one year, which Folsom Bros. Co. exercised in 1905). While the conversion was underway, Folsom Bros. Co. offered a $100 prize for the best name for their new hotel and in July 1904, after careful consideration of over 1200 entries, announced that the name finally selected was Hotel Balboa (the lucky winner, the first to suggest Balboa, had the choice of a $100 lot in PB or $100 in gold; nine other contestants, who had also mentioned Balboa, were given a consolation prize of $20 off any PB lot).

Hotel Balboa

Over the next few years Pacific Beach did undergo a period of growth which many attributed to the Folsom Bros. Co.’s activities. The Evening Tribune reported in April 1904 that the sale of building lots by Folsom Bros during the past week had been unprecedented and that the recent growth in the population of PB was due to the enterprise of Folsom Bros. Co.; ‘on a number of occasions no less than five teams might be seen conveying prospective buyers through the suburb’. In August 1904 the Union noted the marked success of Folsom Bros. Co. in developing the suburb; ‘the large number of new residences and the amount of improvements fully attest to the rapid advance of this section of the city’. Twenty-one families were said to have been added to the population in the previous month. In response to their own growth, the Folsom Bros. Company filed articles of incorporation in August 1904, adding O. W. Cotton, F. M. Elliot and B. S. Kirby as stockholders and directors.

In July 1906 Folsom Bros. Co. secretary O. W. Cotton wrote a glowing testimonial about his company for the San Diego Union in which he said that in their three and one-half years of business they had grown from employing three people until today their regular payroll included from fifty to sixty names, and that this was just the beginning of what they planned to accomplish. An Alabastine stone plant, a factory for the manufacture of artificial stone or concrete building blocks, which had started as a little experimental block yard at Pacific Beach employing four men now employed thirty with a factory downtown. They had remodeled and rebuilt the Pacific Beach college, named it Hotel Balboa, and now have one of the most delightful year-round hotels on the coast.

Dr. Martha Dunn Corey was the first physician in Pacific Beach and, with her husband, had been among the first to attempt lemon ranching. She had moved away in 1900 to practice medicine in Ohio and when she returned in 1906 to set up a practice in La Jolla she claimed to be delighted with the changes she saw. She found the growth and improvement remarkable and said that every old resident of Pacific Beach should thank Folsom Bros. Co. for what they had done. Not everyone was ready to thank Folsom Bros. Co. for the growth and improvement, however. In January 1907 Pacific Beach rancher Wilbur Conover sent a letter to the common council complaining that ‘real estate town lot boomers’ were destroying numbers of fine trees and making a barren waste of what was once a beautiful section while grading ‘useless and silly 80-foot streets’ that there was no need for and no one wanted. O. W. Cotton explained to the council that the trees were within the areas dedicated for streets and were above the grade of the streets and had to go.

The 1903 transactions making Folsom Bros. Co. ‘owners’ of Pacific Beach had not actually been finalized at the time and for several years M. W. and W. A. Folsom, or Folsom Bros. Co., were listed as ‘trustees’ of these properties in the city lot books. In December 1906 another blockbuster land deal was announced involving the same parties and the same properties, which Folsom Bros. Co. had ‘held under contract for some time’ according to the papers, and this time deeds were recorded and Folsom Bros. Co. did become the owners of most of Pacific Beach. At the same time it transferred some of the properties which it already owned in its own right, including the College Campus, to Union Title and Trust Co. The completion of these transactions was accompanied by a reorganization of Folsom Bros. Co., with a number of prominent citizens including A. H. Frost and O. M. Schmidt, and Pacific Beach residents Sterling Honeycutt and H. L. Littlefield, added as stockholders. Frost and Schmidt joined the Folsom brothers and Cotton on the board of directors.

With its ownership in the tract established and reinforced with additional stockholders and capital, Folsom Bros. Co. renewed its efforts to market lots in Pacific Beach. A series of ads appeared in the San Diego Union predicting rapid increases in property values and encouraging buyers to ‘buy as early as you can at Pacific Beach’. An opening sale of 250 building lots was announced for January 1, 1907. Pacific Building Company, recently incorporated by prominent business men of San Diego and stockholders of Folsom Bros. Co., would be open for business January 1, and would build houses costing from $1,500 to $10,000 at Pacific Beach for any lot owner. The Pacific Building Company did open for business and did build homes in the Pacific Beach area; the report of building permits in the San Diego Union in early 1907 generally included at least one for the company in Pacific Beach or Fortuna Park, mostly of the ‘up-to-date bungalow type’. One of these up-to-date bungalows, built for Joseph Israel in 1907, is still standing at the southwest corner of Reed Avenue and Morrell Street (Joseph Israel was the son of lighthouse keeper Robert Israel and had grown up in the old Point Loma lighthouse).


In January 1907 work had begun on a ‘cut-off’ to allow the railway from San Diego to reach the Pacific Beach station at Grand Avenue and Lamont Street over the route of today’s Grand Avenue rather than the circuitous route it had taken around the former race track via Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa Avenues. The improvements to the line led to speculation that it would also be electrified, and possibly even continued beyond La Jolla to Los Angeles. Folsom Bros. Co. was quick to exploit the publicity surrounding the work; an ad in the Union announced that ‘dirt is flying’ on the new short-line to Pacific Beach, shortening the line and reducing travel time. It was the beginning of the re-construction of the whole line for rapid transit. The time to buy lots at Pacific Beach was NOW, not after the line was completed, since prices would be doubled and over on the day the first electric car passed.

Improvements to the infrastructure in Pacific Beach also continued in 1907. One project involved grading, curbs and sidewalks on Lamont Street from the railroad station at Grand Avenue north past the Folsom Bros. Co. offices in the former Pacific Beach Hotel and the Hotel Balboa to Emerald Street. Another project was improvement of the grounds of the Hotel Balboa itself and the grading of Kendall Street from the hotel to the bay, making a ‘splendid entrance into Fortuna Park’. A two-inch water main was also laid and ‘avenues of fine palms’ were planted.

In March 1908 Folsom Bros. Co. further increased its stake in Pacific Beach property, purchasing 366 lots from Madie Arnott Barr for $40,000. This property was in the eastern half of Pueblo Lot 1791 west of Ingraham Street between Felspar and Chalcedony. The company also purchased what the San Diego Union called the ‘front door’ to Pacific Beach; the property on the south side of Grand Avenue, between the Brae Mar railroad station at Bayard Street and the ocean, giving it a large ocean frontage at the foot of Grand, which the paper predicted would soon be ‘graded and oiled’.

Further changes also occurred in the corporate structure of Folsom Bros. Co. in 1908. In February of that year, W. W. Whitson bought out the shares of O. W. Cotton, its secretary, and O. M. Schmidt, its treasurer, and several other stockholders, and was elected vice-president and treasurer. Murtrie Folsom continued as president and Wilbur Folsom became second vice-president and secretary. Cotton left the company to become president and general manager of Pacific Building Company. Later in the same year, November 1908, the Folsom brothers bought out Whitson and several smaller stockholders. Two new directors, Philip Morse and Dr. F. R. Burnham, were added to the board of the company, which then owned 4000-5000 lots and improved property in Pacific Beach, including the Hotel Balboa, and was valued at $1 million.

However, growth in Pacific Beach had slowed after 1907 as potential residents were increasingly moving to the new districts opened up by the extension of street car lines north and east of downtown San Diego. The lists of building permits published in the Union in 1908 often showed that Pacific Building Company had taken out six or eight permits, but generally none were for Pacific Beach and instead were for areas such as Mission Hills, Hillcrest, North Park and Mountain View. One list in 1909 showed Pacific Building Company with ten permits, including three in Point Loma and Ocean Beach (which were served by an electric railway) but none in Pacific Beach (the electric cars of the rapid transit line that Folsom Bros. Co. had predicted never did pass through Pacific Beach and the railroad was scrapped in 1917, although a portion of the right-of-way along the beach was incorporated into the San Diego Electric Railway line to La Jolla via Mission Beach in 1924).

In 1907 the San Diego city directory listed 170 names in 125 households for Pacific Beach, more than double the number reported in 1903. One indication of Folsom Bros. Co.’s involvement in that growth was that 20 of these residents were directly employed by Folsom Bros. Co., including laborers, gardeners, salesmen, a cook and a waiter, presumably at the Hotel Balboa, and the Folsom brothers themselves. In 1909 the city directory listed 193 residents in Pacific Beach in 130 households, barely more than were listed in 1907. The rise in property values predicted by Folsom Bros. Co. ads had also failed to materialize. In 1907 they had reported the sale of 125 lots at an average of $250. In 1909 pairs of lots in a bay-front block with unlimited views were selling for $295. The Hotel Balboa, which Folsom Bros. Co. had created from the former San Diego College of Letters in 1905 and turned into a ‘first class resort’ also did not live up to expectations. In 1909 a portion of the hotel was leased to the Pacific Beach Country Club and in 1910 the entire campus became the San Diego Army and Navy Academy.

In January 1910 the Folsom brothers announced that they had retired from active management of Folsom Bros. Co., and were joining forces with D. C. Collier, one of San Diego’s leading real estate firms, to form the Collier-Folsom Sales Offices (although they continued to hold a large stock interest in the company they had founded). A. H. Frost became president of Folsom Bros. Co. and in January 1911 changed its name to San Diego Beach Company. San Diego Beach Company, initially based in the same offices at the former Pacific Beach Hotel building, continued to own much of Pacific Beach and was a major player in the PB real estate market for decades. Ironically, one of its first major real estate transactions was the August 1910 sale of its interests in Fortuna Park, the Folsoms’ first foothold in the Pacific Beach area, to the Asher-Mollison Company.

The Folsom brothers’ association with D. C. Collier was brief, and by 1911 they were again in business together as the Folsom Investment Company, Pacific Beach property a specialty, with Murtrie as president and manager and Wilbur as vice-president and treasurer. They also still lived in Pacific Beach; Wilbur’s family, his mother Helen and the Dulas were neighbors on Broadway (Ingraham Street), and Murtrie’s family lived on Garnet Avenue. By 1912, however, they had all moved away from Pacific Beach (also to the new streetcar suburbs) and for the next ten or twelve years the brothers worked independently as salesmen and real estate agents.

After a long period of stagnation, the real estate market in Pacific Beach began to show signs of life again in the early 1920s. In 1924 Earl Taylor established a Pacific Beach business district centered at the corner of Garnet Avenue and Cass Street and anchored by the Dunaway Pharmacy building, built in 1925. In 1924, the San Diego Electric Railway opened the ‘Beach Line’ between downtown San Diego and La Jolla via Mission Beach which ran along what is now Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach and was expected to boost the local economy in general and real estate values in particular. Once again, grading, paving and sidewalking of a new business center, this time on Garnet Avenue between Cass and the beach, was underway.

The Folsom brothers joined the anticipated real estate boom and attempted to re-enter the market they had dominated two decades earlier. For about a month, in June 1924, they advertised as Folsom Bros., general sales and development agents for Consolidated Pacific Beach Properties with their office, ‘Headquarters for Pacific Beach real estate’, at Garnet and Cass. However, while they maintained an office in PB for several more years by June 1926 their occasional ads in the Union, ‘Shank for bargains. He knows values at Pacific Beach’, referred readers to Joseph Shank, mgr. city office, Folsom Bros, 1126 7th St. In October 1926 Geo. Hawley announced that his company had opened an office at 1148 7th and that Folsom Bros. would also make it their city headquarters. In the end, the revival of the real estate market in Pacific Beach was brief, the great depression of the 1930s led to another downturn, and Folsom Bros. disappeared from the real estate scene.

In the 1930s Murtrie Folsom was described in city directories as a publisher or writer and on the 1940 census described himself as a statistician. In the 1940s, styling himself an ‘economic engineer’, he developed the idea for a ‘low-grade’ highway, a highway with grades of less than 3% and a maximum elevation of 4000 feet, between San Diego and Imperial County. He formed the Southwest Express Highway Association to promote his views and even travelled to Washington in the early years of the war to try to interest the military. Wilbur Folsom continued to sell real estate with occasional ads for individual properties in the local papers.

Although Folsom Bros. Co. actually owned the majority of Pacific Beach in the first decade of the twentieth century, and spent years improving and developing it, what little evidence there is of those activities is easily overlooked today. Gangs of men and teams of horses working for the company graded the streets and put in the cement curbs and sidewalks in some of the older sections of the community, especially in the area around Lamont and Kendall streets and Grand and Garnet avenues. The streets have since been paved but otherwise remain the same, and many sections of the curbs and sidewalks appear to date from those days. The most visible legacy of Folsom Bros. Co. though are the ‘avenues of fine palms’ which still line parts of Lamont Street and, after more than a century of growth, tower over the community that has also grown just like the Folsom brothers said it would.


A Distinguished Address


The quaint cottage at 2104 Diamond Street, overlooking the corner of Diamond and Noyes, is one of the first houses ever built in the Pacific Beach subdivision and may be the oldest one still standing. It is also associated with some of PB’s most distinguished early-day residents.

In 1887, at the height of San Diego’s great boom, a ‘syndicate of millionaires’ bought up the property we now know as Pacific Beach, incorporated as the Pacific Beach Company and, in October 1887, filed a map for the Pacific Beach subdivision. In December 1887 they held an opening sale which the San Diego Union called the most successful in the history of San Diego real estate transactions, with over $200,000 worth of lots ‘disposed of’. Not only that but the paper reported that the buyers were all legitimate investors, many of them intended to improve their lots and five handsome residences were to be erected immediately.

For some reason, perhaps because the lots were sold on an installment basis, the first deeds were not actually recorded until April 1888, but one of the first deeds that was recorded, on May 18, 1888, was for lots 39 and 40 of Block 140, the property under what is now 2104 Diamond Street (on the 1887 map it was Alabama Avenue, at the corner of Thirteenth Street). The grantee was Madge Morris Wagner and the consideration was $250 gold coin of the United States of America.

Madge Morris Wagner was the wife of Harr Wagner, editor of the Golden Era, a literary magazine established in San Francisco in 1852. Wagner had purchased the Golden Era in 1882 and in 1887 he moved it to San Diego, explaining to his subscribers that San Diego was destined to become a great city and the Golden Era was determined to contribute to and benefit from the city’s growth. In a May 1887 editorial he explained the benefits to a city of an institution of higher learning and suggested that San Diego was large enough to support one. To implement this vision, Wagner convinced the Pacific Beach Company to include a college in the plans for their new community. The October 1887 subdivision map did set aside a four-block College Campus in the center of town, where Pacific Plaza is now, and the Pacific Beach company deeded it to the college company founded by Wagner and his partners, C. S. Sprecher and F. P. Davidson. The cornerstone for the San Diego College of Letters was laid in January 1888 and the original college building was completed and opened for 37 students in September 1888.

San Diego College of Letters and student body, Pacific Beach, 1888.
San Diego College of Letters with student body, faculty and staff, Pacific Beach, 1888 (San Diego History Center #9800).

As a founder and professor at the college Harr Wagner would have been one of the first residents of Pacific Beach, and the house built on the Wagners’ property at the corner of Alabama and Thirteenth, a short walk from the college, may have been one of the handsome residences expected to be erected immediately, possibly as early as 1888. Although they had lived at 2229 E Street downtown when the 1887-88 San Diego City Directory was printed, their residence was listed as Pacific Beach in the 1889-90 directory.

From 1888 to 1892 John D. Hoff’s Asbestos Company was located near the present-day intersection of Garnet Avenue and Soledad Mountain Road in Pacific Beach. Hoff’s asbestos works manufactured paints, boiler coatings and other products incorporating asbestos. A March 1889 ad in the San Diego Union listed some well-known persons having Hoff’s asbestos goods in use and one of these well-known persons was Harr Wagner. Although the ad doesn’t specify what goods were in use or where they were being used, several of the other references on this list were located in Pacific Beach, including the College of Letters and the Presbyterian Church. It may be that Harr Wagner had used Hoff’s asbestos paint to protect and fire-proof his house, just a few blocks down the street from Hoff’s factory, sometime before March 1889.

There was certainly something there by the end of 1889. A U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey map of the Pacific Coast from False Bay to La Jolla, dated 1889, covered Pacific Beach and included cultural features such as buildings and roads. One of the buildings that showed up on this map was at Alabama and Thirteenth, presumably the Wagners’ home. The map also shows two buildings labeled ‘University Buildings’ a few blocks to the west. The original college building had been built in 1888 but a second building, Stough Hall, was begun in September 1889 and completed in January 1890. On the map, the western-most of the two university buildings is in the appropriate location for Stough Hall, but in the wrong orientation, aligned with the original college building. Stough Hall was actually aligned with College (now Garnet) Avenue and at an angle to the original building. Apparently the cultural features on the map, which included the house at Alabama and Thirteenth, had been field-checked in late 1889 when the location of Stough Hall was apparent but its final footprint was not.


Madge Morris Wagner was a successful writer in her own right who had long contributed articles and poems to the Golden Era. In 1889 she began work on a novel, A Titled Plebian, which was completed in July 1890 and published in the December 1890 issue of the Golden Era. An ad for Hoff’s asbestos company in the same issue of the Golden Era said that the author had written the narrative at her Villa Home, Pacific Beach – made attractive and beautiful – both interior and exterior – by Hoff’s Glossy Asbestos Paints. ‘The Mirror Walls 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 house at 2104 Diamond, on a bank above the street, still has a view of the shores of Mission Bay that would have included the site of the asbestos works, alive with busy men in 1889 and 1890.

The development of Pacific Beach and the establishment there of the San Diego College of Letters had anticipated that the population growth seen during San Diego’s great boom would continue indefinitely. Unfortunately for the developers, and for the college, the boom suddenly ended in 1888, a few months after the Pacific Beach Company’s opening sale and before the college had even opened. In addition to the grant of the College Campus itself, the company’s endowment to the college had included hundreds of lots to be sold by the college to fund future operations. The end of the boom, however, caused a collapse in the San Diego real estate market, including Pacific Beach lots, drying up this expected source of funding. The college managed to stay open for two years but in the summer of 1890 Harr Wagner and his fellow founders, Sprecher and Davidson, transferred their interest in the college company to ‘eastern parties’, presumably with deeper pockets. Wagner and Sprecher resigned their positions on the faculty to devote their time to the Golden Era, where Wagner was Editor and Sprecher became Associate Editor. Davidson remained at the college to represent the new owners.

In November 1890 Harr Wagner was elected County Superintendent of Schools and Madge Morris Wagner took over as editor of Golden Era. Wagner’s tenure as superintendent was notable for his progressive educational policies, but he was defeated for reelection in 1894 and eventually decided to take the Golden Era back to San Francisco.

In October 1891 the San Diego Union reported that Harr Wagner had moved his household goods from his home in Pacific Beach to the corner of Walnut and Albatross, and that Mr. Havice had moved into the house vacated by Mr. Wagner (George Havice was married to Harr Wagner’s sister Jennie). The Havices also owned an entire block, Block 213, a few blocks to the south, between what are now Garnet Avenue and Noyes, Hornblend and Morrell Streets. In 1892 the San Diego Union reported that Havice had set out lemon trees on his property, introducing the lemon industry that was to revive the economy of Pacific Beach and sustain it over the next decade.

Although the Wagners had moved to the Bankers Hill area, they still owned the property in Pacific Beach where in 1893 city records listed improvements assessed at $240, presumably the value of the house at the corner of Alabama and Thirteenth. In 1894 the Wagners sold the property to Elizabeth Dunn of Columbus, Ohio, and from 1895 to 1904 city records listed it under her name, with improvements continuing to be assessed in the range of $175 to $200. Miss Dunn, however, remained in Ohio and the property, and the house, has always been associated more with her sister, Dr. Martha Dunn Corey, a Pacific Beach pioneer who was also the region’s first resident physician.

In 1892 the Pacific Beach Company had begun selling ‘acre lots’ in the outlying areas of the community, tracts of about 10 acres intended for agricultural development. One of the first acre lots to be sold, in February 1892, was Acre Lot 19, granted to Lucien Burpee in trust for Martha Dunn Corey and her children (Acre Lot 19 is now C. M. Doty’s Addition, south of Kate Sessions Park and surrounded by Kendall, Beryl and Lamont streets). Dr. Corey and her husband, Col. George H. Corey, followed George Havice’s example and developed Acre Lot 19 into one of the first lemon ranches in Pacific Beach. In 1895 the city leased George Corey an additional 20 acres of the city land adjoining their property (that became Kate Sessions Park) on the condition that he clear it. While operating their lemon ranch the Coreys presumably lived in the ranch house on the property, while the cottage on Block 140 was rented out (the Evening Tribune reported in 1898 that Mr. and Mrs. Conover had leased Dr. Corey’s house on Alabama Street).

In 1900 the Coreys moved to Marion, Ohio, where Dr. Corey practiced medicine, but in 1906, by then a widow, she returned from Ohio and established a medical practice in La Jolla, with a home and office at 7816 Girard Street. She also formally acquired the property and the home at the corner of what had become Diamond and Noyes streets from her sister. City records show Martha Dunn Corey as the owner beginning in 1905; the deed transferring the property was recorded in 1908.

Dr. Corey lived and worked for nearly twenty more years in La Jolla, which she was said to have considered her only true home, but she also retained the house on Diamond and apparently even occupied it intermittently. The San Diego city directory for 1913 listed her address as Diamond ne cor Noyes, Pacific Beach (other directories from 1908 to 1924 listed her La Jolla address) and the San Diego Union reported that for Christmas 1913 Dr. Corey and her three sons motored to their home in Pacific Beach and prepared dinner for Mrs. S. C. Dempsey and her family (Sally Dempsey had a real estate office at 7818 Girard, next door to Dr. Corey and presumably her tenant).

Dr. Corey occasionally took time off to be with her sons, and some of that time was spent in Pacific Beach. In 1914 the Evening Tribune reported that Dr. Corey would accompany her sons Gardner and Fred Corey to university at Berkeley and would probably remain with them until Christmas. Her La Jolla residence would be leased and Dr. F. H. Parker had come to La Jolla to practice in Dr. Corey’s place. In December, 1914, the news was that she had returned from Berkeley to occupy her cottage in Pacific Beach where her sons Fred and Gardner were expected to spend the holidays. She would resume her practice in both La Jolla and Pacific Beach. In February, the report was that Dr. Corey ‘who now resides in Pacific Beach’ had opened a new office at the corner of Girard and Prospect. In May, her sons were expected to return to La Jolla and Pacific Beach to pass their vacation with their mother.

In 1917, after war was declared again Germany, she accompanied her son Dunleigh, also a physician, to Honolulu, where he was surgeon aboard the USS Schurtz (the Schurtz was a former German cruiser interned since 1914 and seized by the navy in 1917). They were said to have a pleasant apartment in town, with Lt. Corey commuting to his ship each day. Back in La Jolla, in 1923, her son Fred Corey married Miss Ruth Richert, who had grown up in the house that still stands at the other end of Block 140, at the corner of Diamond and Olney. Gardner Corey was also married in 1923, to Miss Mary Scripps, daughter of Fred and Emma Scripps who lived in Braemar Manor on Mission Bay where the Catamaran Resort Hotel now stands.

When Dr. Martha Dunn Corey retired in 1925 she moved back to Pacific Beach, not to Diamond Street but to the house on Grand Avenue at Bayard that is now the Needlecraft Cottage. Her former home in La Jolla is also still standing, although no longer at its original location on Girard Street, in the ‘downtown’ La Jolla business district. It was moved, first to Draper Street and then to The Heritage Place property at the corner of La Jolla Boulevard and Arenas Street.

Dr. Martha Dunn Corey's cottage, now at The Heritage Place in La Jolla.
Dr. Martha Dunn Corey’s cottage, now at The Heritage Place in La Jolla.

In 1922 Dr. Corey had sold the house at 2104 Diamond to Ed Ritchie, a construction supervisor for the San Diego and Arizona Railway who went on to supervise construction of the San Diego Electric Railway line through Mission Beach and Pacific Beach to La Jolla in 1924. From 1928 to 1930 his wife Josephine served as president of the Pacific Beach Women’s Club (formerly the PB Reading Club), following in the footsteps of its other illustrious leaders like founder Rose Hartwick Thorpe and Mary Stoddard Snyder. In 1926 the Ritchies added a garage and in 1928 the house was re-roofed.

When Ed Ritchie died in 1937 the house was already nearly 50 years old. At that time there were still only three other homes on the same block of Diamond Street (one of which was the Richerts’), and only 40 on all of Diamond Street. Mrs. Ritchie moved in with a daughter, also at a Diamond Street address two blocks away, and her former home was rented out, mostly to aircraft workers working at Consolidated Aircraft or Rohr during World War II. Many more aircraft workers were housed in the hastily constructed federal housing projects surrounding Block 140 on the north and east, and many of these workers remained in Pacific Beach after the war, contributing to the housing boom that has never really stopped. Today there are hundreds of homes, condominiums, town houses and apartments on Diamond Street, but the cottage at the corner of Diamond and Noyes may have been the first.

Raymond Chandler’s Esmeralda

Raymond Chandler was an author and screenwriter best known for his mystery novels featuring the ‘hard-boiled’ private detective Philip Marlowe. His first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939 and was followed in the 1940s by four others, Farewell, My Lovely, The High Window, The Lady in the Lake and The Little Sister. The Long Goodbye, probably his best novel, was published in 1954.

Chandler’s publishing career began in Los Angeles and his novels were mostly set in the Los Angeles area, where Chandler and his wife Pearl Eugenia (better known as Cissy) had lived since the 1920s. In 1946, the Chandlers moved to La Jolla where they lived in a home overlooking the beach on Camino de la Costa. Cissy Chandler was much older than her husband and she died in 1954 at the age of 84. Raymond Chandler was devastated by her death; he resumed his heavy drinking, attempted suicide, and engaged in increasingly erratic behavior, which included marriage proposals to numerous women. His writing also suffered, although he did manage to publish a final novel, Playback, in 1958.

Playback was another Philip Marlowe mystery but it differed from his previous work in that much of the action took place away from Los Angeles, in a suburb of San Diego that he called Esmeralda but which is easily recognizable as La Jolla. Although not his best literary work it is interesting for his observations of the town that had been his home for the preceding decade.

In the novel Marlowe was hired to tail a young woman after her arrival at Union Station in Los Angeles, but instead she got back on a train and continued to San Diego where she hired a taxi. Marlowe, who had followed her on the train, also hired a taxi and his driver learned from the dispatcher that the girl’s cab was going to Esmeralda, twelve miles north on the coast. Their destination was a hotel joint called Rancho Descansado, which consisted of bungalows with car ports, some single, some double, with rates that were pretty steep in season.

They headed north on Highway 101 to Torrance Beach, where they swung out toward the point. After passing through a small shopping center, some expensive houses and a 25 mile zone, his driver cut to the right, wound through some narrow streets and slid down into a canyon with the Pacific glinting off to the left beyond a wide beach. They stopped at a sign that said “El Rancho del Descansado” where Marlowe got out and checked in.

This drive traces a route through Pacific Beach, Bird Rock and the back streets of La Jolla to Torrey Pines Road. Beyond La Jolla Shores, where the Pacific would be visible beyond a wide beach on the left, and where Torrey Pines Road enters La Jolla Canyon, they would have found Rancho del Charro. Originally a riding stable and practice ring, it had been enlarged in the late 1940s and early 1950s into a motor hotel with riding facilities and guest cabanas. The site, where La Jolla Parkway merges with Torrey Pines Road, has since been redeveloped and is now a condominium community.


At Rancho Descansado Marlowe learned that his subject, Betty Mayfield, was being blackmailed. He went to her room where she threatened him with a gun and knocked him out with a whiskey bottle while he was trading punches with the blackmailer. However, Marlowe had learned that she was to have dinner that evening at the Glass Room, and of course Marlowe made it his business to be there too.

The Glass Room was on the beach, the entrance lobby was on a balcony which looked down over the bar and a dining room, and on one side was an enormous glass window where the view would have been sensational on a clear night with the moon hanging over the water. This is a perfect description of the Marine Room, open since 1941, where the enormous glass window still looks out over the ocean from the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.


At the Glass Room the blackmailer, Larry Mitchell, behaved boorishly, Betty called him a drunken slob, he slapped her face and was asked to leave. Betty told him in a voice the whole joint could hear that the next time he did that he should wear a bullet-proof vest, never a good idea in a murder mystery where the subject may turn up dead, like Mitchell did later that night.

Betty had checked out of the Rancho Descansado after the scene in her room and checked in to the Casa del Poniente. Later that night she found her way back to the Rancho and knocked on Marlowe’s door to ask for help; Larry Mitchell’s body was lying across a chaise on her balcony. She showed him her gun, which was missing one cartridge. They drove to the Casa where Betty entered through the lobby and Marlowe went in through the garage and climbed up the fire stairs. Betty popped sleeping pills and dozed off while Marlowe checked the balcony and found no body. After searching her bag and removing the rest of her pills Marlowe decided to return home to Los Angeles, taking the two-car diesel job that makes the run to L.A. non-stop.

The Casa del Poniente was set on the edge of the cliff, separated only by a very narrow walk, so Betty’s balcony hung right over the rocks and the sea. It was set in about seven acres of lawn and flower beds near a bathing beach with a small curved breakwater where people would lie around on the sand and kids ran around screaming. Betty’s room was on the twelfth floor, and there was another floor above it. Apparently it was very exclusive; a typical room rate was $14 a day, $18 in season.

No hotel in La Jolla fits this description but a blend of two hotels from the 1950s might have served as a model. The Casa de Mañana was built in 1924 near Seal Rock, separated from the cliffs not by a narrow walk but by the width of Coast Boulevard. It occupies an entire block which may be around seven acres and has a lawn and flower beds, but its low-lying Mission-style architecture did not rise above three stories. An exclusive hotel in its day, the Casa de Mañana is still there but has been a retirement home since 1953. And kids no longer scream at the the bathing beach with the curved breakwater just across Coast Boulevard from the Casa; today the Children’s Pool is reserved for sea lions to lie around on the sand.


The La Valencia Hotel on Prospect Street, also built in 1920s, is nowhere near the edge of the cliff but it is built into the side of a hill and from the bottom of the hill to the top of the tower may have thirteen floors. A luxury hotel then and now, the La Valencia would probably have been the model for Marlowe’s observations of the guests in the lobby; dedicated hotel lounge sitters, usually elderly, usually rich; women with enough ice on them to cool the Mojave Desert and enough make-up to paint a steam yacht and their men looking gray and tired, probably from signing checks.


The next day Marlowe drove back to Esmeralda and the Casa del Poniente and again made contact with Betty. They decided to drive up into the hills for a talk and their route took them down a dead-end street with old streetcar tracks still in the paving. They turned left up the hill at the high school. This would have been the corner of Fay and Nautilus Streets, east of La Jolla High School, where the tracks of the former San Diego Electric Railway line to La Jolla remained embedded in Fay Street into the 1960s. Between 1924 and 1940 the streetcar line had run from San Diego to La Jolla via Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Bird Rock, and along Fay Street from the high school to a terminal on Prospect. The portion of the right-of-way between Nautilus Street and Camino de la Costa in Bird Rock is now the La Jolla Bike Path.

While Marlowe was following Betty Mayfield around Esmeralda, he himself was being shadowed by another private investigator, Goble, a middle-sized fat man in a dirty little jalopy. To find out why, Marlowe allowed Goble to tail him, taking it easy so he wouldn’t blow a gasket. About a mile from the hotel there was a restaurant, The Epicure, with a low roof, a red brick wall to shield it from the street, and a bar. The entrance was at the side. Marlowe parked and went in and when Goble joined him they traded wisecracks over drinks and the plat du jour, meat loaf. Su Casa, a restaurant on La Jolla Boulevard between Playa del Norte and Playa del Sur, about a mile south of ‘downtown’ La Jolla, has a low roof, a wall, a side entrance and a bar, and in the 1950s it was called The Connoisseur (update, the building that had been The Connoisseur and Su Casa was demolished in 2022).


The night when Marlowe had entered the Casa del Poniente through the garage he had come across the parking attendant passed out in a Packard surrounded by the honeyed reek of well-cured marijuana. The next day Marlowe returned to question him and posed as a pusher. The attendant told Marlowe where he lived; a flea bag of an old frame cottage on Polton’s Lane, an alley behind the Esmeralda Hardware Company. Later, when Marlowe went to Polton’s Lane, he found the man dead, apparently having hanged himself. The La Jolla Hardware Company was located on the west side of Girard Street in the 1950s, between Prospect and Silverado. The alley behind it is actually called Drury Lane and even today there is a frame cottage there, although hardly what one would call a ‘flea bag’.


Chandler’s Esmeralda not only looked like La Jolla but what he described of its heritage was recognizable as well. In one chapter, Marlowe recalls what he was told by a man who had been there for thirty years. Originally it had been so quiet that dogs slept in the middle of the boulevard and you had to get out and push them out of the way. Then the town began to fill up, first with old women and their husbands and then, after the war, by guys that sweat and tough school kids and artists and country club drunks and them little gifte shoppes. The town was dominated by a wealthy family, the Hellwigs, and especially by Miss Patricia, who gave the town the hospital, a private school, a library, an art center, public tennis courts and God knows what else. In the actual La Jolla Miss Patricia Hellwig would have been Miss Ellen Browning Scripps, who donated Scripps Memorial Hospital, The Bishop’s School, and many other La Jolla landmarks, sometimes in association with her wealthy brothers and sisters. The list of landmarks donated by the Scripps also includes the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which became the nucleus of the University of California San Diego.

Chandler’s characters also expressed opinions on Esmeralda society. During their dinner at The Epicure, Goble told Marlowe that he was smart, got around and found things out. One of the things he found out was that Esmeralda was one of the few places left in our fair green country where dough ain’t quite enough. In Esmeralda you got to belong, or you’re nothing; you got to have class. A guy had made five million fish in the rackets and built some of the best properties in town, but he didn’t belong to the Beach Club because he didn’t get asked. So he bought it (the same guy, Brandon Clark, also owned the Rancho Descansado and the Casa del Poniente).

In the end Betty Mayfield’s pursuers really had nothing on her. Larry Mitchell was dead; not shot but fallen from Clark’s terrace on the floor above Betty’s balcony and his body removed to where no-one would ever find it. He wasn’t likely to be missed. Marlowe rescued Goble from a hired thug who was also lying in wait for Marlowe. After a showdown with Clark, who was apparently responsible for Mitchell’s death and the disappearance of his body, Marlowe drove home to Los Angeles, not doing more than ninety except he may have hit a hundred for a few seconds now and then.

Raymond Chandler died in 1959 at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla and was buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego. As his life had unraveled after Cissy’s death in 1954 one of the many loose ends he failed to tie up was having her buried; she had been cremated but her ashes were left in storage at Cypress View Mausoleum. After nearly sixty years this omission was finally corrected on February 14, 2011, Valentine’s Day, when her ashes were buried next to his grave at Mount Hope.


The Collins and the Petrel

The Collins - Wallace monument at Mount Hope.
The Collins – Wallace monument at Mount Hope.

Mount Hope Cemetery in San Diego contains the graves of many early residents of the city, some marked by notable monuments. One monument is particularly notable for its intimations of tragedy; a young mother, her two children and another young lady share the same death date. Carved in a side panel is an explanation; Frances J., Mary E., and John C. Collins, and Margaret G. Wallace ‘drowned by capsizing of yacht Petrel, near Roseville, Sept. 1, 1890’. The name of the husband and father, John W. Collins, with a death date a year and a half later, is also carved in the monument.

Epitaph on Collins - Wallace monument
Epitaph on Collins – Wallace monument

The Collins family had come to San Diego from Wyoming in 1887 where J. W. Collins and D. D. Dare had been in the banking business. In January 1888 they opened the California National Bank with prominent local citizen William Collier as president, Dare as vice-president and Collins as cashier. In early 1890 a subsidiary, the California Savings Bank, was also opened, with J. W. Collins as president. The Collins family lived, appropriately, on Bankers Hill, in the magnificent Victorian home at the corner of First and Kalmia streets now known as the Long – Waterman Residence. J. W. Collins had purchased the house from John Long in June 1890 and sold it to Jane Waterman in November (Jane Waterman’s husband, Robert Waterman, was then governor of California and owner of the most profitable gold mine in San Diego County; his term as governor expired two months later and three months after that he himself expired at his new home and was also buried in Mount Hope Cemetery).

The Long - Waterman Residence
The Long – Waterman (and Collins) Residence

The Petrel was built in Boston and had reportedly won five races there before being brought to San Diego on the bark Wildwood in July 1888. That fall she competed in a series of races on San Diego Bay which apparently captivated the public, receiving front-page coverage in the San Diego Union. The Petrel, a sloop, and the Volunteer, a catboat, winners of their respective classes in a San Diego Yacht Club race, then raced each other in what the Union called one of the most exciting races ever sailed on the bay. The Volunteer won, but the winning margin of 14 seconds over a fifteen mile course was considered so trifling that the honors were said to be even.

The Petrel then faced off against the catboat Teaser in what was to be a series of three races. The Petrel was a sloop, ‘built for speed’, and could carry, in addition to a mainsail and jib, a club gaff topsail and jib topsail and a spinnaker for running before the wind. To balance all this canvas the Petrel also carried five tons of lead ballast. She was 25 feet long overall with a beam of 9 feet. A catboat like the Teaser had only a single mainsail and a wider beam. To compensate for these differences in class the Teaser was granted a time allowance 5 ½ minutes for the first race; conditions for the second race would be based on the results of the first. There would be no other restrictions on sail or ballast.

In their first race the Petrel crossed the finish line nearly 7 minutes ahead of the Teaser, winning even after taking the 5 ½ minute allowance into account. In the second race, held a month later, the Petrel won easily but it was not considered a fair race owing in part to light winds. The third race was apparently never held; in August 1889 the Union complained ‘What is the matter with a race between the Teaser and the Petrel? These crack little yachts should make a gallant race and all San Diego would turn out and watch the struggle for supremacy’.

By 1890 the racing frenzy had apparently cooled, or at least was no longer front page news in the San Diego Union, but the Petrel remained at Hunt’s boatyard on the bay where her owner, John Young, took her out sailing most Saturdays. On the last Sunday in August Captain William P. Hay, a local shipping agent, approached Mrs. Collins at the United Presbyterian Church and remarked that he intended to take Mrs. Hay for a sail on the bay Monday if he could get a suitable yacht. He asked Mrs. Collins if she would like to join them and when she replied that she would Capt. Hay told her to meet him at Hunt’s boatyard at 10 o’clock in the morning and to bring her children Mary and Johnny and a picnic lunch. Capt. Hay also invited Miss Maggie Wallace, the pastor’s daughter, and she also accepted. Mr. Collins was away at the time, on a business trip to San Francisco.

At about 8 o’clock Monday morning, September 1, 1890, Capt. Hay telephoned Mrs. Collins to tell her that he had secured the Petrel, ‘a yacht well known in San Diego waters’, and that everything was in readiness for a delightful sail on the bay. Mr. Hunt brought the Petrel in from her mooring and the party sailed away about 10 o’clock. Conditions on the bay were not ideal; according to the Union there was a pretty stiff breeze blowing and ‘white caps flashed like puffs of steam from a million factories’. Hunt was concerned enough to suggest to Capt. Hay that he take in some of the sail but Capt. Hay replied ‘Oh, I guess not. I’m a pretty good hand at sailing anyway. I guess she’ll go all right’.

About noon a group of Portuguese fishermen at Roseville, on the west side of the bay near Ballast Point, saw a yacht sailing down the channel. Suddenly they saw that ‘a gale had struck the cloud of canvas’ and the yacht suddenly careened, tipped her nose and went straight down. The fishermen jumped into boats and pulled out to where the yacht had gone down but found no trace of the yacht or her occupants so they returned. A German fisherman returning to the bay later reported that he was startled to see a woman’s body floating in the water and he began to retrieve it when another body came to the surface nearby. This shocked him enough that he released the woman’s body and departed, ‘abandoning the drowned persons to the mercy of the sharks and fishes’ and ‘incurring much public censure’. Rumors of a disaster reached San Diego about 3 o’clock and search parties converged on the scene but found nothing that evening except for a coat which was identified as belonging to Capt. Hay and a fruit jar and other items which may have been part of a picnic lunch. The Union reported the following morning that all that was certain was that the party of six had drowned and no bodies had been recovered.

In the immediate aftermath and in the absence of any real evidence of what had occurred, the Union reported the speculation of other members of the waterfront community (all of whom were also apparently called ‘Captain’). A Captain Kehoe said he had seen the party depart from Hunt’s boatyard and that he would not have gone out in that yacht with such a sail in so strong a gale. She was not safe under so much canvas and only the most experienced sailor should have attempted it. ‘A boat built as she was will tip very easily, and she had so much lead in her that once full of water she was bound to go down like a stone’. The Petrel’s owner, Captain Young, said that he had only agreed to allow Capt. Hay to use the boat because he understood that another experienced Captain would also be aboard, and that it would not be safe for one man to take out a party of women and children.

The next day searchers hired the tugboat Santa Fe and returned to the site of the sinking. A weighted line was dragged along the bottom and soon snagged an obstacle which was raised far enough to identify as the sunken yacht. When it had emerged far enough for its mast to be lashed to the tug it was brought back to the docks where a crane would be used to raise it out of the water the following morning. Meanwhile, the body of Mrs. Collins had been found floating in the channel. A message was dispatched to friends of Mr. Collins in San Francisco conveying as many particulars of the calamity as necessary and requesting them to break the intelligence to Mr. Collins so that he might receive it as gently as possible. Apparently this was done and word was received that he would be in San Diego on Wednesday evening.

The Union also began a campaign to place some of the blame on what it perceived to be the inadequate efforts of the first responders, who were conspicuously identified as foreigners. The Portuguese, who had actually witnessed the accident and responded immediately but found no survivors or wreckage, were now said to have made no effort whatever to rescue the drowning and drowned, nor to locate the sunken yacht. ‘They are a churlish and unsentimental lot, to be sure, but even the most superlative boorishness is not accepted by the people as sufficient reason why they should have manifested such supreme and inhuman indifference to the fate of the party’. The German fisherman who had attempted to recover the body of a women but then released her upon the appearance of another corpse was ‘not a popular individual at present’. The Union inferred from his description that it was probably Mrs. Collins that he had begun to recover and that the second body was one of her children, based on the fact that ‘he intimates as clearly as his incomprehensible stupidity will permit that it was the body of a child’. ‘Who knows? Perhaps there might still have been a spark of life in that mother or her child; perhaps they had not been long in the water; perhaps had they been towed at once to shore resuscitation would not have been impossible’.

At the dock the Petrel was raised and although it had been expected that one or more of the bodies would be found on board the only vestiges of the picnic party were three parasols, those of the women on board, a small jar of jelly and a few other articles. The yacht itself had received comparatively little damage and could soon be repaired, although the Union speculated that her owners would probably ‘not be compelled to refuse many requests for her service hereafter’. Also, an accident like this would revive her past record; ‘before she came to this coast she carried a party of four to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean and at another time a party of eight and that in a race in Pacific waters a year or more ago she dipped enough to create consternation among her occupants and compel them to bail her out with hats’. The search for the other bodies continued; the bay in the vicinity of the sinking was dragged, and cannon were fired over the water and dynamite dropped into the bay in the belief that this would raise drowned bodies.

Although it was at first intended for Mrs. Collins’ funeral to be held at her late home, at the corner of First and Kalmia, it was deemed more appropriate to hold it at the Presbyterian Church, where friends and relatives gathered to pay their respects to the only recovered victim of ‘the most horrifying calamity that ever happened in the bay of San Diego’. After the service Mr. Collins and Rev. Wallace entered a closed carriage and the cortege moved away to Mount Hope Cemetery.

The bodies of the other victims turned up over the next few weeks. Mrs. Hay’s body was found floating in the surf about three miles south of the Hotel del Coronado on September 5. Her beautifully engraved gold watch had stopped at 11:39, presumably the very instant the capsizing had occurred. Also found nearby were two straw hats, one black, evidently the headgear of an elderly woman, and one white with a black-headed shawl pin thrust through it ‘in the fashion that ladies usually pin their hats to their hair’. The one was thought to have belonged to Mrs. Hay and the other to Miss Wallace. These findings were cited as evidence that the bodies would probably be found south of the bay, but on September 9 searchers dragging the channel found the body of William Hay almost on the spot where the yacht had disappeared.

On September 17 fishermen recovered a body of a child about two miles south of the head of Point Loma and returned it to San Diego. This turned out to be the body of Mary Collins, which was soon conveyed to Mount Hope. Miss Wallace’s body was found by a fisherman inside the bay on September 25 and a graveside funeral was held at Mount Hope. Finally, on October 6, the body of 9-year-old Johnnie Collins was found off Ensenada and after the necessary permits had been obtained from the Mexican consul and the Collector of Customs the body was returned and also interred at Mount Hope.

A few weeks later the news was that Dr. Bowditch Morton had bought the ‘famous yacht Petrel’ and proposed to have her put in first class order. He claimed to not have the least fear in using her when she is in proper repair. He would cut down her sails, put in airtight compartments and reduce the ballast.

Three years later, on October 26, 1893, a Captain Maitland of the British ship Valkyrie took two friends for a little cruise in the Petrel. In the stream, abreast the Santa Fe wharf, in a choppy sea caused by an ebbing tide and west wind, a sudden squall struck the sail and almost capsized the sloop. Capt. Maitland slacked the line and righted her but the boom swung around and struck the water and ‘in a twinkling the treacherous old craft was lying on her side, with Capt. Maitland and his friends in the bay’. The Union noted that there had been doubts expressed about Capt. Hay’s seamanship in the Collins tragedy but since Capt. Maitland’s seamanship could certainly not be called into question this accident demonstrated that the craft herself was unseaworthy and luckless. ‘The Petrel is regarded as a hoodoo along the waterfront. She has been remodeled and trimmed since the Collins tragedy, but she is built upon the wrong plan and won’t stand up if she has half a chance to lie down’.

John W. Collins had been out of town on September 1, 1890, and had not been directly involved in the Petrel disaster, but he was soon to be involved in a tragedy of his own making. In January 1891 he had become president of the California National Bank (and relinquished the presidency of the California Savings Bank). On November 12, 1891, customers were surprised to find the bank closed, with a note on the door explaining that ‘owing to continued shrinkage in deposits and our inability to promptly realize on our notes and accounts, the bank is temporarily closed’. The next day the subsidiary California Savings Bank also closed. A day later a national bank examiner assumed charge of the California National Bank and announced that the results of his examination would be forwarded to the comptroller of the currency and any further information would have to come from Washington. A few weeks later, based on his report, the comptroller of the currency appointed a receiver to oversee operations of the bank with a view to resumption of business within three months.

The resumption of business never occurred. On February 25, 1892, J. W. Collins was arrested at his rooms at the Brewster Hotel on a charge of embezzling and appropriating to his own use $200,000 of the funds of the bank. Bail was set at $50,000 and ‘in order to not create any excitement by Mr. Collins appearing on the street in charge of an officer’, he was confined to his rooms at the Brewster in custody of an officer while his friends attempted to secure the bond. On March 3, when the bond had still not been raised, a United States Marshal was sent to bring him to Los Angeles until his preliminary hearing. While the authorities waited outside Collins went into his bedroom as though to pack his valise. A shot rang out, officers burst into his bedroom, which was empty, then into the bathroom, where they found him stretched on the floor alongside the bathtub, blood pouring from his mouth and a smoking revolver in his hand. A doctor was summoned and pronounced him dead.

The Union accompanied the front-page news of Collins’ suicide with an editorial recalling the Petrel disaster; ‘The crash of the bullet that closed the chapter of the life of J. W. Collins yesterday afternoon was the last act in the tragedy that wiped the unhappy man’s wife and children out of existence two years ago on the bay. Even the most implacable enemy of Mr. Collins must admit that, embezzler of other people’s money though he may have been, the memory of his drowned babes and his wifeless home must have been strong upon him in that desperate extremity when he determined to escape further misery by the avenue of the suicide. The capsizing of the Petrel, the failure of the bank, the suicide of Mr. Collins – they make up the most tragic story ever chronicled in the history of San Diego county’.

On March 5 the body of John W. Collins was buried alongside his wife and children at Mount Hope. On April 4 the report of the receiver of the California Savings Bank revealed that it had been a front, operated as a ‘mere receiving depository’ of the California National Bank. Cash had been transferred from the California National Bank or simply entered in the books when necessary to make a good showing on reports. The July 1892 report of the receiver for the California National Bank was even more shocking, revealing that Mr. Collins had embezzled nearly $800,000 from the bank. ‘Although there have been published from time to time the most sensational statements regarding his methods of doing business and conducting the affairs of the bank, nothing has caused such undisguised astonishment as the facts brought to light yesterday’, the Union reported. ‘Just what methods Mr. Collins employed to bring about such a condition of affairs it is impossible to even conjecture. It will be apparent, however, to everybody in the least conversant with banking rules or business customs that they must have been decidedly irregular, if not actually criminal’. D. D. Dare had also looted about $400,000, making the total amount chargeable to them nearly $1,200,000, a staggering sum in the 1890s (Collins’ mansion at First and Kalmia had cost him $17,000). The Union concluded that ‘What has become of this vast sum of money is not known and probably never will be. Mr. Collins is dead and Mr. Dare is enjoying a secluded life in some obscure spot in Italy. Neither are in a position to explain, and probably would not if they could’.

The affairs of the defunct bank were unwound in dozens of legal actions over the next decade. A final auction of the bank’s assets was held in 1899; notes and other securities with a face value of over a million dollars were sold for $3350. San Diegans were occasionally reminded of the California National Bank fiasco when news of D. D. Dare filtered back from Europe; in 1894 he was said to be a portrait painter in Athens, Greece; in 1914 he applied to have his indictments withdrawn so that he could return to his beloved California, but his request was denied; in 1922 he was reported to be in Constantinople, Turkey, supporting himself selling prayer rugs. His indictments finally were dismissed in 1926, but by then he was thought to have died in Greece.

According to the San Diego Union, these reports called to mind a remarkable theory which was current in San Diego at that excited time and which received some credence; that President Collins, who was supposed to have killed himself after his arrest at the Brewster Hotel had actually escaped and joined Dare in Europe. A plaster cast was said to have been given to an undertaker who was ‘in on the deal’ and that this was buried as Collins’ body.  Whatever lies in his grave, John W. Collins’ memory is preserved along with the Petrel victims on their monument at Mount Hope.