Mary Stoddard Patchen was born in Ohio in 1838 and was teaching at the high school in Carlinville, Illinois, when she married fellow teacher Edward Snyder in 1869. Mr. Snyder had been an officer in the Austrian army before immigrating to America and serving in the Union army during the Civil War. In 1870 Mr. Snyder became a professor of German and military science at the University of Illinois at Champaign, the Snyders’ home for the next 25 years. For many of these years they spent their summer vacations at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where Mrs. Snyder developed an interest in botany and especially in the aquatic species that she found in and around the lake. As her interest in aquatic plants grew the Snyders’ vacation travels extended to the seacoast, where she began collecting specimens of marine algae, then known as sea mosses (and now as seaweed). She arranged her specimens in an organized collection, or herbarium, which eventually grew to include hundreds of species.
When poor health compelled Prof. Snyder to take a leave of absence in 1894 the Snyders traveled to California, where they hoped his health would benefit from the milder climate. While visiting the San Diego area in September they stayed at the Hotel del Coronado and Mrs. Snyder explored tide pools and beaches from Coronado to La Jolla in search of sea mosses. Pleased with the San Diego area they purchased a lot on Prospect Street overlooking Seal Rock in La Jolla and also a larger plot of land in Pacific Beach.
When they returned to Illinois in September 1895 Prof. Snyder found that his health had not improved enough to resume his teaching duties at the University. Instead, the Snyders spent much of the winter of 1895-96 back in California where Mary Snyder collected specimens along the coast from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz. In June 1896 the Champaign Daily Gazette reported that Prof. Snyder had retired and that he and Mrs. Snyder had left for Pacific Beach, Cal., their new home, where he owned a small fruit farm and would devote much of his time to its care. In California, the Los Angeles Times also noted their arrival and added that Mrs. Snyder was a botanist of national reputation who made a special study of algae and marine vegetation. In September they moved into a two-story cottage built on their Pacific Beach property, a home that is still standing today at 1976 Hornblend Street.
In 1896 Pacific Beach was a small settlement clustered around the campus of the San Diego College of Letters, which opened there in 1888 but closed in 1891. Women of the former college community led by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, a world-renowned poet, had started the Pacific Beach Reading Club in 1895 and Mrs. Snyder became an active member, succeeding Mrs. Thorpe as president in 1898. She also started and served as president of a Shakespeare club. In addition to these cultural activities Mrs. Snyder spent plenty of time at the beach collecting sea mosses; from 1897 to 1902 she collected more than 150 specimens from Pacific Beach alone, plus over 40 from False (Mission) Bay.
Although many types of marine vegetation washed ashore on the beaches or grew in the marshes near her home in Pacific Beach, the rocky coastline around La Jolla provided an even greater variety, particularly in the deeper waters that were only exposed during low tides. Mrs. Snyder made frequent collecting trips there, collecting nearly 450 specimens between 1897 and 1902, including 150 in 1898 alone. To accommodate her frequent expeditions to La Jolla the Snyders had a cottage built on their lot there in 1901. During unusually low tides in November 1901 the San Diego Evening Tribune reported that Prof. Snyder and wife were at their La Jolla cottage and that Mrs. Snyder had enjoyed every day of the Thanksgiving holiday at low tide; ‘The rocks hold secret treasures for her only to be discovered at extremely low tide’.
Many residents of La Jolla were also collectors of sea mosses and shells and some made the short trip to Pacific Beach to consult with Mrs. Snyder and view her collections. Miss Ellen Browning Scripps, a La Jolla resident since 1896 who went on to establish and support many of La Jolla enduring institutions, often visited the Snyders; according to a diary entry from 1898 she and her sister Virginia Scripps spent an hour at the Snyders ‘looking at Mrs. S.’s collection of algae’. Virginia had her own collection (she wrote in a poem ‘Many days have I spent on the seashore/Gathering sea mosses and shells galore’) and another entry in Ellen’s diary noted that Mrs. Snyder came to their home for lunch and ‘gave names to Jenny’s collection of sea mosses’.
After many years spent collecting and studying sea mosses Mary Snyder was an acknowledged authority on marine algae. In 1902 she was the featured speaker at a meeting of the San Diego Natural History Society headed by Dr. Fred Baker where, according to the San Diego Union, she presented an interesting paper on ‘sea weeds’ and exhibited a large and beautiful collection of these plants ‘collected by herself’. She explained that there were three types of sea weeds; green, olive-brown and red, with the colors associated with the depths at which they grow. Green weeds grow near the high tide line, olive-brown near the low tide line, and the more delicate red weeds in deeper water. Most marine algae are of the olive-brown type, larger and coarser, including the Macrocystis pyrifera or kelp, that ‘stretches in broad fields, miles in length, just off our coast’ and is ‘thrown in heaps upon our beaches’. Mrs. Snyder added that there were about 3500 known species of sea weeds, 600 found on our American coasts and about 250 on our Pacific coast, and of these 70 have been collected in the vicinity of San Diego (the reading was followed by an examination of the exhibits and led to an animated and interesting discussion).
In 1903 Dr. Baker invited Dr. William Ritter of the University of California’s Department of Zoology to San Diego for his summer marine biology research activities, offering a site for a laboratory (the boathouse at the Hotel del Coronado) with operating expenses to be funded by subscriptions raised from private citizens. One of the citizens Dr. Baker approached for a contribution was the wealthy newspaper publisher E. W. Scripps, Ellen and Virginia’s brother, who not only contributed a substantial sum but also suggested that he and Ellen would be interested in supporting a permanent biological research station in San Diego. A meeting in September 1903 established the Marine Biological Association of San Diego and Mrs. Edward Snyder was one of the charter members (along with E.W., Ellen and Virginia Scripps).
September 1903 was also the month that Prof. Edward Snyder died, and Mrs. Snyder soon sold their Pacific Beach home and moved to the cottage in La Jolla (following Rose Hartwick Thorpe and her husband, who had moved from Pacific Beach to La Jolla in 1901). At that time residences in La Jolla were identified with names instead of numbers and Mrs. Snyder’s cottage on Prospect Street was called the Corallina (Corallina is a genus of marine algae well represented in Mrs. Snyder’s herbarium collections). In November 1903 she purchased two lots between Fay Avenue and the alley now called Bishops Lane, just across Prospect from her residence, which included an existing cottage that dated to 1894. This cottage became known as Amphiroa Cottage (Amphiroa is also a genus of marine algae) and was rented to tenants until Mrs. Snyder moved there herself in 1910. In April 1904 Mrs. Snyder also purchased lots at the east corner of Prospect and Cuvier streets where she built a rental cottage named the Ceramium after another genus of marine algae. Other named residences in La Jolla included the Thorpes’ home Curfew Cottage, named for Mrs. Thorpe’s famous poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight (where Mrs. Snyder went for Christmas dinner in 1904) and the Scripps sisters’ mansion South Molton Villa, named for the street in London where Miss Ellen had grown up (and where Mrs. Snyder had lunch and named Miss Virginia’s sea mosses).
La Jolla had been the source of more than half of the specimens represented in Mrs. Snyder’s herbarium but after her move there she added few additional specimens to her collections (perhaps because there were few new species to be found). Instead, she turned her attention to mounting and arranging her specimens of sea moss into artistic displays. One such display won a gold medal at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904 and another won gold at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905. Her collections were also credited with boosting tourism to La Jolla. In March 1904 the Tribune reported that increasing numbers of tourists were visiting, particularly during low tides, and that the gathering of sea moss and shells was becoming ‘more and more a fad with sojourners’. Tourists shown collections of pressed algae prepared by Mrs. Snyder were inspired to make collections of their very own. Mrs. Snyder also led collecting trips for other collectors; in January 1905 the Union reported that Mrs. Snyder and the Misses Scripps had driven to False Bay and had a highly successful search for specimens.
After a year living in La Jolla Mrs. Snyder traveled to Texas in early 1905 to be with her mother and sister, returning after her mother died in November 1905. On her return she was ‘warmly welcomed back’ into La Jolla social life by a circle of friends including Mrs. Olivia Mudgett, Capt. and Mrs. A. D. Griffin and the extended Mills family; Madame Ellen Mills, Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Mills, her son and daughter-in-law, and their daughter Miss Ellen. These families were all relatives from Maine (Mrs. Mudgett and Mrs. A. P. Mills were sisters and Mrs. Griffin was their cousin) and they had been among the first settlers in La Jolla. Mrs. Snyder joined these families at Kennebec Lodge, the Mills’ home, for Thanksgiving dinner and Mrs. Mudgett hosted the same group at her home, Villa Waldo, for Christmas (Villa Waldo, named for her home county in Maine, is still standing on Drury Lane).
Mrs. Snyder had also joined the La Jolla Woman’s Club and in March 1906 she was elected president, serving until 1908 (Ellen Browning Scripps was elected vice-president; Mrs. Mudgett was treasurer). In April the papers reported that Mesdames Snyder, Mudgett and Thorpe, the Misses Scripps and other members of the Woman’s Club went by tally-ho to Pacific Beach to attend the county federation of Women’s clubs (a tally-ho was a large open coach usually drawn by four horses). Mrs. Snyder was also a member of the Social Club, where in March 1906 the once-president of the Pacific Beach Shakespeare Club led a group of ladies in the trial scene from The Merchant of Venice (she was Lorenzo, Mrs. Mudgett was Antonio, Mrs. Thorpe was Shylock and Miss Mills was Gratiano).
The Marine Biological Association of San Diego had hosted Dr. Ritter and his summer research projects in Coronado in 1904 but for 1905 they arranged for a research station to be built at the Cove in La Jolla. A subscription by La Jolla residents raised nearly $1000 to build the station (Mr. Thorpe gave $25, Mrs. Mudgett $15, Mrs. Mills and Mrs. Snyder each gave $10), and scientists from Berkeley and other institutions came to La Jolla to work there. During one visit in 1906 Dr. and Mrs. Ritter were entertained by Mrs. Snyder at the Ceramium and spent the afternoon delightfully examining her beautiful collection of sea mosses. In his history of the Marine Biological Station Dr. Ritter wrote that in addition to laboratory rooms the building included a public aquarium-museum with a fair exhibit of preserved specimens, including a collection of mounted specimens of the local sea-weeds, the gift of Mrs. Snyder, a resident of La Jolla. The biological station remained at the cove until 1912 when, after additional contributions from E.W. and Ellen Scripps, a new research facility that became the Scripps Institution of Oceanography was built at La Jolla Shores.
Since her return from her mother’s home in Texas in 1905 Mrs. Snyder had been living in her original La Jolla cottage, the Corallina, to which she reportedly added a room in May 1907. The Union’s weekly account of social life in La Jolla in 1907 noted that Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Mills and Mrs. Mudgett were dinner guests of Mrs. Snyder at the Corallina and the Ladies’ Aid of the Union church had another pleasant social at the Corallina, home of Mrs. Edward Snyder (delicious cocoa and cake were served by the hostess). In 1908 Mrs. Snyder sold the Corallina and moved to the Ceramium Cottage at Prospect and Cuvier before traveling to Texas again in 1909 to spend another year with her sister. After her return in November 1910 she also sold Ceramium Cottage to Dr. Edward and Eliza Howard. In 1914 the entire block east of Prospect and Cuvier was cleared to become the La Jolla Recreation Center (funded by Ellen Browning Scripps) and the Howards moved the cottage to property they owned at 830 Kline Street where it is still standing, a City of San Diego Historic Landmark with a plaque identifying it as ‘Geranium Cottage’. Mrs. Snyder then moved to her Fay Street property, Amphiroa Cottage. While repairing and enlarging Amphiroa Cottage she built an herbarium for her ‘splendid collection of sea mosses and for arranging and mounting new specimens’, according to the Union.
Mary Snyder moved one more time, although this time her house may have moved with her. When she purchased another pair of lots on the east side of Fay near the intersection with Kline Street in 1912 (from Charles Norris) the lots were vacant; city lot books showed no ‘value of improvements’. In 1914 and thereafter the lot books showed an improvement assessed at $160 on these lots, and also showed no value of improvements on the lots where Amphiroa Cottage had been, and which had been assessed at $250 a year earlier. This may have been because Amphiroa cottage, her home since 1910 (or at least a major portion of it) had been moved down the street, a fairly common practice in La Jolla at the time. Fay Street became an avenue in 1913 and La Jolla had adopted street addresses so her new home was listed at 7725 Fay Avenue. She sold the then-vacant lots on Fay near Prospect in 1914.
Mary Stoddard Snyder lived the rest of her life, until 1926, at 7725 Fay. She remained active in the Woman’s Club; a meeting in 1916 was ‘in the hands of’ Mrs. Mudgett and Mrs. Snyder and featured Dr. Ritter speaking about ‘Science vs. Nature’. Those years were also spent supplying more preserved specimens of sea mosses to the herbaria of prestigious institutions around the country, including the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and a number of universities, particularly the University of California at Berkeley. Her own herbarium was given to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is now housed at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Many of these institutions have made images of their collections available online and they can be accessed via the Macroalgal Herbarium Consortium portal. The home at 7725 Fay Avenue, where many of these specimens were arranged and mounted, was destroyed by fire in 1954.
When Pacific Beach was founded in 1887 its founders recognized that development of their new suburb would depend on reliable transportation to and from downtown San Diego. They formed the San Diego and Pacific Beach Railway Company and received a franchise from the San Diego city council granting them a right of way around the northeast corner of Mission Bay (then called False Bay) from a ‘point on the Pacific Ocean Beach’ to Old Town. At Old Town it would connect with the San Diego & Old Town Street Railroad, which began service between Old Town and a depot at the corner of Broadway and Kettner Boulevard (then D and Arctic streets) in October 1887. These two railroads would be consolidated to form the San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railway in April 1888.
The railway’s route in Pacific Beach was laid out in the original Pacific Beach subdivision map of October 1887, which shows the right of way following Grand Avenue from a depot near the beach to what is now Mission Bay Drive at the far eastern side of the community, where it turned south toward Old Town. Grand Avenue was made wider than other streets in Pacific Beach, 125 feet rather than 80 feet, to accommodate the railroad (the diagonal section of Grand Avenue on the 1887 map east of Eleventh Street, now Lamont, has since been reclassified as extensions of Balboa and Garnet avenues and Grand extended east of Lamont over what was then Ivy Avenue). The route over Balboa and Garnet avenues was necessary at the time to circumvent the Pacific Beach Driving Park, an oval racetrack with a one-mile course, which was also being built in 1887 north of Mission Bay and east of Rose Creek.
Construction of the Pacific Beach railroad began at Morena in December 1887 and progressed north and west around the racetrack as far as Lamont Street by January 1888. At Morena a temporary interchange was built to connect with the California Southern Railroad, a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway that ran along the east side of Mission Bay linking San Diego to its transcontinental railway system. The interchange allowed trains to run over the California Southern tracks from its station downtown, switch over to the newly laid Pacific Beach railroad track at Morena and continue on to Lamont and Grand. On January 28, 1888, two trains brought an estimated 2500 spectators there to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone for the first building constructed in Pacific Beach, the San Diego College of Letters at Lamont and Garnet (then College) Avenue, where Pacific Plaza is located today.
Over the next few months the rails were extended west on Grand to a depot at the beach and south from Morena toward Old Town parallel to and west of the California Southern tracks, crossing the San Diego River over a newly built bridge. South of the river the Pacific Beach line passed to the east side of the California Southern tracks over a grade crossing and continued into Old Town, where it joined the existing line that connected Old Town to the San Diego depot at Broadway and Kettner. Through trains began running between the railroad’s San Diego and Pacific Beach depots on April 29, 1888.
The Old Town railroad had begun service in 1887 with a new steam ‘dummy’ locomotive, which became the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railway No. 1 when the two railroads were consolidated in 1888 (dummy locomotives had an outer housing that hid much of their running gear so as not to frighten people and horses on street railways). This locomotive was joined by a pair of larger 24-ton dummies from the Baldwin Locomotive Works (Nos. 2 and 3) and passenger coaches ‘elegantly finished in hard woods’ before the railroad began service to and from Pacific Beach. Most of the trains were short, just a combination passenger/express car and a passenger coach or two in addition to the engine. Initially there were six round trips daily, with the first train leaving Pacific Beach at 6 AM and the last train returning at 9 PM, although the time card promised that on Sundays trains would run from San Diego to Pacific Beach hourly from 8 AM to 6 PM. The round trip fare was 25 cents.
After departure from the downtown depot and stops at Old Town and Morena, the first stop in Pacific Beach was the driving park (racetrack), followed by stops for Rose Canyon and the asbestos works. The asbestos works, located about where Soledad Mountain Road intersects Garnet Avenue today, produced asbestos boiler coatings and asbestos paint and depended on the railroad for delivery of raw materials from a mine near Elsinore and for shipping finished goods, mostly to the port of San Diego. The asbestos works closed and the stop was removed from the railroad’s timetable in 1892.
The next stop was the college station at Lamont Street, serving the College of Letters two blocks to the north. The college was the principal cultural and economic activity in Pacific Beach from its opening in 1888 until it closed in 1891. Although many students and faculty lived on campus or elsewhere in Pacific Beach others commuted from San Diego, and the railroad also brought crowds from San Diego for ‘elocution contests’ and other activities and ceremonies at the college. When the second college building, Stough Hall, was opened in January 1890 a special train carried several carloads of people from the city. The San Diego Union reported that the college buildings were brilliantly lighted and the avenue from the cars to the buildings illuminated with rows of Chinese lanterns on either side.
Near today’s Bayard Street at the western end of Grand the tracks turned south into the depot grounds, which included an engine house where locomotives could be parked and maintained. The equipment and crews were based at the depot grounds where the trains began and ended their daily runs, and crew members and their families lived in a row of houses on Reed Avenue adjacent to the depot grounds. A hotel and pavilion were built overlooking the beach near the end of the line as an attraction for passengers. During the summer of 1888 the railroad promoted band concerts featuring the Red Hussar Band on Sundays at the pavilion, where sports including surf bathing could also be indulged in.
With two new Baldwin locomotives in service the general manager of the Pacific Beach railway claimed that the line could carry 20,000 passengers each day, but even on summer Sundays with the Red Hussar Band playing at the pavilion actual ridership was far less. The original schedule of six trains daily and hourly departures on Sundays was steadily cut back, to five trains daily and 8 on Sunday in September 1888, five daily and Sunday in May 1889, and four in October 1889. After August 1890 the timetable showed only three trains daily; the first train left Pacific Beach at 7:30 and the last train returned at 6. The round-trip fare was still 25¢.
The San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railway’s time cards also noted that a stage to La Jolla met the morning train and returned in time to connect with the evening train at Pacific Beach. However, La Jolla residents wanted a railroad connection of their own and in 1893 the railway’s owners obtained a franchise to extend the line from Pacific Beach to La Jolla. The extension ran from Grand Avenue in Pacific Beach north along what is now Mission Boulevard to about Wilbur Street, where it turned toward the northwest and followed a route that is now La Jolla Boulevard, La Jolla Hermosa Avenue and Electric Avenue in La Jolla. Between today’s Bonair Street and Sea Lane the right of way crossed residential blocks, then continued over Cuvier to Prospect Street. Construction began in March 1894 and was completed in May.
At a ceremony on May 15 attended by a large crowd that had ridden excursion trains from the city, Mrs. Emma Harris, a guest at the La Jolla hotel, was invited to drive the last spike ‘which lay glittering like pure gold on the last tie with a silver sledge nearby’. The San Diego Union reported that ‘contrary to tradition’ she did not miss the mark and drove the spike to its last resting place while the assembly cheered and the band played. A month after the last spike ceremony the line was extended another 1400 feet along Prospect Street where a shed was put up to serve as a depot.
The new San Diego, Pacific Beach & La Jolla Railway timetable continued to list three trains daily, including Sunday, with morning, mid-day and late-afternoon departures. Since the railroad’s light dummy engines were not well suited to the longer distance and running time and the steeper grades of the new route one of the Baldwin dummies, No. 2, was exchanged with the Coronado Railroad for a more capable ‘saddle tank’ locomotive that had once operated on the New York elevated railroad. The new locomotive was also given the number 2 and both the new No. 2 and No. 3, the line’s other Baldwin dummy, were re-lettered S.D., P.B. & L.J. Ry. Engine No. 1, the dummy inherited from the Old Town railway, was retired and kept in the engine house as a back-up.
In Pacific Beach the college had closed in 1891 and the community adapted by becoming a center of lemon cultivation. Most of the lemon ranches were located in the vicinity of the former college station at Lamont and Grand, which was also close to the community’s stores, churches and school. In 1898 the hotel and pavilion were also moved from their original locations near the foot of Grand Avenue to this central area. In its new location at the corner of Hornblend and Morrell streets the pavilion was adjacent to the railway line, which then ran on Balboa Avenue. The pavilion building was converted to a lemon packing facility which cured and shipped carloads of lemons from a siding connected to the railway line.
In 1899 the Pacific Beach and La Jolla railroad was sold to E. S. Babcock, who also owned the San Diego, Cuyamaca & Eastern Railway which served Lemon Grove, La Mesa, El Cajon and Lakeside from a depot at the foot of Tenth Street in San Diego (following the route of today’s Orange Line trolley). In 1904 Babcock began construction of an electric street railway to connect the San Diego depots of his two railroads. The line ran from the depot of the Pacific Beach and La Jolla line at the foot of C Street (it had been moved a block north from Broadway), along C and Sixth streets to L Street (where it passed the National City & Otay Railway’s downtown depot, now the 207 Bar at Hard Rock Hotel), then over what is now the ‘Gaslamp Diagonal’ to the Cuyamaca depot at Tenth and Commercial. When this line opened in 1905 electric streetcars met trains at each depot and traveled through the downtown area to the other depots, where trains would be held for the cars’ arrival. Passengers could also board the electric cars at central locations downtown and transfer to steam trains at the depots.
When the electric cars appeared on the C and Sixth street line they were lettered ‘Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway’, and a notice appeared in the San Diego Union announcing the ‘Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway – Electric cars along C and Sixth streets connect with all incoming and out-bound trains on the N.C. & O. Ry., S.D.C. & E. Ry and S.D., P.B. & L.J. Ry. Day or night’. In 1906 Babcock officially incorporated the Los Angeles and San Diego Beach Railway Company, stating its intention to build a railroad connecting Los Angeles and La Jolla and to acquire the San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach, the San Diego, Pacific Beach & La Jolla and the National City & Otay steam railroads to make a line stretching from Los Angeles to Tijuana. The new company did acquire the Pacific Beach and the La Jolla railroad companies (which had never actually been merged) and they were absorbed along with the C and Sixth street electric line. The Otay railroad was never acquired and the line was never extended north of La Jolla but from then on the railroad between San Diego and La Jolla via Pacific Beach was officially the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway, although it was generally known as the La Jolla line.
The new Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway updated its schedule to add two round trips daily, beginning and ending at La Jolla where the rolling stock and trainmen were then based. Two round trips, one in the morning and the other the last run of the day, were mixed trains that carried freight in addition to passengers. The mixed trains included a passenger/express car and even freight cars in addition to a passenger coach, and their schedules overlapped with the passenger trains, making it necessary to operate a separate train with a second engine and crew. The passenger-only trains were scheduled for a 40-minute run between San Diego and La Jolla. On Sundays only the three passenger trains operated, as before. The new schedule also continued an extra ‘theater train’ on Saturday night, introduced in November 1903, which left La Jolla at 7:10 PM and returned from San Diego at 11:10 PM.
In addition to its new name and schedule, the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway also undertook an upgrade of its motive power in 1906. The Baldwin dummy which had been S.D., P.B. & L.J. Ry. No. 3 was rebuilt, with its dummy housing cut back into a cab; it became L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 1. The other original Baldwin dummy, which had been traded to the Coronado Railroad in 1894 and rebuilt there as a tender engine, was reacquired and became L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 2 (the saddle tank former New York Elevated engine it had been traded for and had become the second S.D., P.B. & L.J. Ry No. 2, was disposed of).
Another Baldwin locomotive, an older tender engine named ‘Captain Jadwin’, was also transferred from the Coronado Railroad (E. S. Babcock owned the Coronado Railroad too) and became L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 3. The coal-burning steam locomotives were also converted to burn fuel oil at about this time.
The Pacific Beach railroad’s right of way originally entered Pacific Beach from the east over what are now Mission Bay Drive and Garnet and Balboa avenues in order to avoid a race track at the northeast corner of Mission Bay. By 1906 the race track had been abandoned and the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway proposed to shorten its route and eliminate the sharp curve around the race track by realigning the right of way across the former race track property following the route of today’s Grand Avenue (then called Ivy Avenue). The proposal was approved and work began at a point south of the former race track in January 1907. The ‘Captain Jadwin’, L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 3, was used to haul the work train.
In La Jolla the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway laid tracks on Silverado Street from its right of way on Prospect Street to Ivanhoe Avenue and established a new depot at the corner of Silverado and Ivanhoe in 1907. The line was then extended on Silverado, north on Exchange Place and west on Prospect where it joined the original line near the site of the old La Jolla depot at Prospect and Fay, forming a loop.
Further south, the railroad acquired the two blocks on either side of Rushville Street between railroad’s right of way and Draper Avenue (then Orange Street). The city closed that block of Rushville Street and the railroad used the property for an engine house and a ‘wye’, tracks that entered the engine house from the main line in either direction and allowed engines to turn around by backing out in the other direction.
The construction projects in 1907 had improved certain sections of the line but in many places trains were operating over tracks originally laid twenty years earlier and not necessarily in the best condition. On January 16, 1908 the 1:55 train from the San Diego depot was steaming through Middletown ‘at a fair rate of speed’ when the former Baldwin dummy that had been rebuilt as L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 1 derailed and turned over on its side. The engineer, Thomas Robertson, was pinned in the engine’s cab and scalded to death by steam and the fireman, Thomas Fitzgerald, was also badly burned and died 10 days later. The passenger cars remained upright on the tracks and no passengers were injured. The railroad blamed the accident on ‘spreading of the rails’, saying that the spikes that held one of the rails had come loose and the rail had shifted. The original 35-pound rails were in the process of being replaced by heavier 60-pound rails but that work had not yet occurred at the site of the accident.
In the week following the accident nearly 200 residents of Pacific Beach and La Jolla signed a petition asking the city council to investigate the ‘conditions and methods’ of the railroad since their ‘comforts and conveniences’ and even their lives were at risk when ‘forced to use’ the railroad. The petition claimed that railroad was in a ‘frightfully dangerous condition’; many of the ties were rotten and spikes could be extracted with the fingers. The engines and cars were old and small, out of date and without the safety equipment the law required. The petition added that ‘the convenience or wishes of the citizens are in no way considered’ as to train service or the time table and the trains were ‘too few in number and are run at inconvenient hours’. The council agreed to an inspection trip over the line after which a majority concluded that the statements in the petition were exaggerated and the line was safe for travel. One council member dissented, claiming that the railroad had used the time since the wreck to cover up its worst deficiencies.
In an effort to modernize its old and small and out of date equipment a new McKeen gasoline motor car was purchased from the Union Pacific shops in Omaha in April 1908. The McKeen car was powered by a 200 horsepower six-cylinder gasoline engine mounted transversely behind the engineer in the front of the car. It was 55 feet long with a sharp ‘wind splitter’ nose and round windows resembling portholes. An identical McKeen car had been delivered to Babcock’s Cuyamaca railroad a month earlier and had debuted by taking a party of dignitaries on a ride over the Cuyamaca line to its end at the Foster station then back and through the city to the La Jolla line and on to La Jolla for lunch. The San Diego Union reported that the car worked in ‘splendid form’ throughout the entire trip and was the forerunner of a large number which would quickly follow since it had been clearly demonstrated that it is most practical (this car, named ‘Cuyamaca’, was recently rediscovered and brought to Ramona where it is being restored).
In a ‘Notice to the Public’ the La Jolla railroad announced that its new Union Pacific Gasoline Motor Car ‘La Jolla’ would begin operating between the ‘central loop’ in San Diego and La Jolla on Monday, April 20, 1908, making three round trips per day. The motor car would depart from the Brewster Hotel, corner of Fourth and C streets downtown, at 8:00 and 10:00 AM and 2:30 PM and return from the Cabrillo Hotel in La Jolla at 9:00 AM and 1:00 and 5:15 PM.
The central loop had been added to the C and Sixth street line, running on F Street from Sixth to Fourth and on Fourth from F to C, where the Brewster Hotel stood at the corner of Fourth and C. From Fourth Street outside the Brewster the motor cars would turn west onto C Street, arriving at the depot at the foot of C five minutes later, then continuing to Pacific Beach and La Jolla. On their return they would turn east from the depot onto C street, then south on Sixth, west on F, and north on Fourth to the Brewster.
In La Jolla the motor cars ran over the Silverado Street loop, east on Silverado to Exchange Place then west on Prospect, stopping in front of the Hotel Cabrillo across from Herschel Avenue. The loops at either end of the motor cars’ runs were necessary because the motor cars were ‘single ended’ and could only be driven in one direction. They did not have a reverse gear but could be backed up if necessary by stopping the engine, adjusting the camshaft and then restarting the engine in reverse.
The railroad’s notice to the public added that the three daily round trips by steam trains from the terminal depots would continue as at present (at the time the railroad’s franchise did not allow steam engines to run over downtown streets). The timetable showed steam trains leaving the La Jolla depot at Silverado Street and Ivanhoe Avenue for the San Diego depot at the foot of C Street at 7:15 and 10:45 AM and 4:15 PM daily (plus 7:15 PM Saturdays) and returning at 9:00 AM and 12:30 and 5:30 PM daily (and 11:15 PM Saturdays). The steam engines could be driven in either direction and at the end of their runs they could uncouple from their trains, pass around them on a second track, couple to the other end of the train and head off in the other direction without turning around.
In December 1908 the railroad announced that due to the great popularity of the La Jolla line since the introduction of the new gasoline motor car it was opening an ‘uptown ticket office’ with a waiting room at the corner of Fourth and C streets, where most passengers boarded the car for its trip to Pacific Beach or La Jolla.
A second McKeen car, said to be capable of faster speeds and of negotiating steeper grades, was received in April 1909. According to the San Diego Union, it was ordered on account of increasing traffic over the line and to prepare for Sunday and summer travel. Both motor cars were painted ‘a rich Tuscan red’ and became known as ‘red devils’, or ‘submarines’ or ‘torpedoes’ because of their porthole-like windows. An ad in the Union advertising ‘Torpedo Flyers’ to La Jolla announced that steam trains would not operate on the La Jolla railway on Sundays. There would be eight gasoline motor cars each way and two of these trips each way (at 9:30 and 11:30 from San Diego and 3:00 and 6:15 from La Jolla) were ‘Flyers’; only 30 minutes between the Brewster Hotel, Fourth and C, and Cabrillo Hotel, La Jolla with no stops en route. The fare was 50 cents round trip.
A year later the timetable still showed four motor cars arriving and departing from Fourth and C daily. Four steam trains arrived and departed from the depot at the foot of C, plus the Saturday night theater train. The steam trains still did not run at all on Sundays, when they were replaced by four additional round trips by motor cars. After June 19, 1910, the steam trains also began departing from Fourth and C with four round trips daily, except Sundays, apparently due to a change in the railway’s franchise agreement. In addition to the steam trains there were five daily round trips by the gasoline cars, plus a late-night run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and three additional cars on Sundays when the steam trains did not run at all. In June 1912 the timetable was expanded to ten departures daily and Sundays, plus the late train on Saturday nights. Four of the trains were steam trains (three on Sundays) and the others gasoline motor cars. The same schedule with minor variations continued into 1913 and 1914.
The increased traffic on the La Jolla line in these years was due in large part to the growing number of residents served by the line. The 1910 United States census had counted about 1000 residents in Pacific Beach and La Jolla combined, up from about 300 in 1900, and the 1920 census would count about 600 in Pacific Beach and 900 in La Jolla. The railroad encouraged this growth with advertisements in the San Diego Union.
La Jolla was also growing in popularity as a tourist destination, and the railway did its part with advertisements promoting ‘the most beautiful spot in the vicinity of San Diego’.
Although the number of potential passengers kept rising during these years, the number who had the choice of a new and more convenient way to reach the beaches was growing at an even faster pace. The first automobile arrived in San Diego In 1900 and in 1903 there were still only about twenty cars on the streets (including two Cadillac runabouts in Pacific Beach). In 1910 the number of automobile registrations in San Diego was estimated at 750 and by 1915 it had risen to about 3000, about one for every 18 residents. The main highway from San Diego to the north passed through Pacific Beach and La Jolla, paralleling the La Jolla railroad, and by 1919 it would be fully paved. The growing number and improved quality of automobiles accompanied by expansion of the city’s road system eventually made cars the first choice for travel to Pacific Beach and La Jolla. ‘Those who do not go in their own machines can take the 2:30 La Jolla car from Fourth and C streets’ was the advice of the San Diego Floral Association for a tour of the gardens of Miss Kate Sessions in Pacific Beach in 1915. By 1920 more than 12,000 automobiles would be in use by San Diego’s 75,000 residents.
The growing number of automobiles on public streets also presented conflicts with the La Jolla line’s right of way in those streets. In 1913 the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce filed a complaint with the city clerk asking that the railroad be compelled to cease stopping its cars on the street in such a manner as to hold up traffic and make the operation of automobiles dangerous. The operation of automobiles was particularly dangerous at railroad crossings; five people were killed and three injured in 1916 when a Los Angeles – San Diego automobile stage was hit by a northbound La Jolla train at Glendol, where the coast highway on La Jolla Boulevard crossed the tracks and became Turquoise Street in Pacific Beach. That collision was blamed on the undue speed and negligence of the driver of the automobile, who was among the fatalities, but in other cases drivers successfully sued the railway for damages resulting from collisions between cars and trains.
The railway’s acquisition of the McKeen cars in 1908 and 1909 had been an effort to upgrade and modernize its antiquated steam-powered equipment but the gasoline-powered motor cars turned out to be a poor choice for the La Jolla line. As their aerodynamic shape suggested they were designed for speed; they were geared for 90 miles per hour and the first car actually averaged 60 MPH under its own power when delivered to San Diego from Omaha. In San Diego, the cars would be operated at much lower speeds over a rough roadbed with many sharp turns, including miles on city streets (even the non-stop ‘Torpedo Flyers’ took 30 minutes for the 15-mile trip between San Diego and La Jolla, an average of 30 MPH). The La Jolla line also included steep grades, particularly the run from near sea level at the foot of Grand Avenue to over 100 feet at Bird Rock which averaged nearly 2%. The gear ratios were lowered before the cars were put into service but over time the slow speeds, steep grades and frequent starts and stops put excessive strain on their running gear, particularly their clutches. Within two months of the arrival of the first car in 1908 the San Diego Union reported that it was out of commission several days for clutch repairs. According to San Diego railway historian Richard V. Dodge the McKeen cars’ clutches had to be ‘pulled out’ every three weeks.
Ever since the first McKeen car debuted in 1908 the railroad’s time cards had noted which trains were steam trains and which were motor cars. A new time card on August 29, 1914, did not make that distinction and there was no further mention of the cars in the railroad’s time cards or in news stories about the railroad. Richard Dodge explained that the motor cars ‘lasted to about 1914’ and were ‘disposed of about 1916’. The railroad had acquired another steam locomotive about 1912, a 2-4-4 built in 1889 which became L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 4, and it assumed some of the gasoline cars’ former workload. Another steam locomotive, built in 1881 and acquired in 1915, became L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 15 and also saw service on the line. The steam locomotives required maintenance as well but according to R. P. Middlebrook in ‘High Iron to La Jolla’, their crews could often keep them running with simple repairs using the metal from Prince Albert tobacco tins and baling wire.
In November 1916 E. S. Babcock announced that the La Jolla Railway would deploy a new fleet of gasoline motor cars intended to meet jitney bus competition. The new cars would be essentially automobiles designed to run on rails and would be ready within the next few months. The steam trains would not be abandoned but would be run at times of heavy loads.
The new type of gasoline motor car was constructed by the Ort Iron Works in San Diego. It was built on a Mack truck chassis with a coach body and could carry 30 people at a speed of 35 miles per hour, enough to maintain a fast schedule between San Diego and La Jolla. A trial trip of the ‘made in San Diego’ motor car in April 1917 carried a party of businessmen to La Jolla as guests of the Ort Iron Works, an event that was predicted to foreshadow the establishment in San Diego of the car-building industry. The car made the trip to the ‘cave suburb’ in 33 minutes and there was ‘an evident absence of disagreeable vibration from the engine’. It was soon put into service as L.A. & S.D.B. Ry. No. 51. However, the predicted car-building industry was never established and No. 51 was the only gasoline motor car of its type seen in San Diego.
In October 1917 the Saturday night train to La Jolla pulled by engine No. 15 was accidentally switched off the main line onto the ‘wye’ and into the engine house at Rushville Street where it ran into the No. 51 motor car and drove it through the back wall. No passengers were injured but the front of the motor car was crushed and both No. 15 and No. 51 were removed from service for repairs. K. Fritz Schumacher was a Pacific Beach resident who depended on the railway to arrive in San Diego in time for his first class at San Diego High School. He reported that after the incident that sidelined both No. 15 and No. 51, and since engine No. 2 was undergoing a major maintenance operation, the railroad pressed No. 4 into service in spite of its sad state of disrepair and that he was tardy for several days.
The La Jolla line’s route from its San Diego depot to Old Town was east of the Santa Fe tracks, but just north of Old Town it crossed over the Santa Fe tracks and continued across the San Diego River toward Morena on a route west of the Santa Fe. The crossing outside of Old Town was a grade crossing and the Santa Fe had the right of way; the La Jolla train was supposed to stop and proceed only when there was no traffic on the Santa Fe line. On June 30, 1917, engine No. 4 (running backwards) was pulling a combination passenger/express car and an ordinary passenger car southbound to San Diego when it failed to stop at the crossing and was struck by a southbound Santa Fe freight train. Apparently No. 4’s brakes had failed and the crew was unable to bring it to a complete stop before it entered the crossing, but they were credited with stopping it within the crossing so that the Santa Fe engine struck the mostly empty baggage half of the combination car and not the passenger sections or the engine. The only injury was to a girl who was getting off at the upcoming Old Town stop and was standing near the door, but her injury was serious and she ended up losing a leg. The papers pointed out that the accident could have been much worse; one of the boxcars in the Santa Fe train was full of dynamite
In August 1917 the state railroad commission gave the La Jolla railway permission to increase fares and reduce service to three trains in each direction on weekdays and four northbound and five southbound on Sundays. The changes were blamed on increased competition from privately owned automobiles, although jitneys were not considered an active item of competition at that time. The commission also told the railway that some other cheaper method of transportation must be substituted for the steam trains that the line still depended on for much of its service. Engine No. 1, the rebuilt Baldwin dummy that had derailed and turned over killing its crew in 1908 had been scrapped earlier in 1917 but the railway was still using one of the original Baldwin dummies from 1888, rebuilt as a tender engine and numbered No. 2, the ‘Captain Jadwin’, built in 1880 and acquired in 1906 (No. 3), engine No. 4, built in 1889 and acquired about 1912, and No. 15, built in 1881 and acquired in 1915. The equipment roster was further reduced when engine No. 2’s tender derailed and turned over at Bird Rock while pulling a northbound train in reverse with the tender leading. That tender was replaced by the tender from engine No. 3, the ‘Captain Jadwin’, and engine No. 3 was then sold for scrap.
In 1917 the federal government nationalized the railroad industry to ease the congestion and general dysfunction that resulted from numerous competing railroad companies attempting to work together to support the war effort during World War I. To clear the rails for freight service, particularly to ports on the east coast, the United States Railroad Administration required railroads to raise fares and eliminate discounts to discourage passengers and reduce the number of passenger trains. Although the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway attempted to secure exemptions from this policy it was required to cancel round trip fares and increase the one-way fare by 10 percent in July 1918.
Continuing to lose money and with its equipment unreliable and ridership in decline the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway company filed an application with the state railroad commission in September 1918 for permission to discontinue service and dismantle and dispose of its property. The San Diego Union quoted E. S. Babcock as confirming that he was going to ‘scrap’ the railroad and sell the material to pay the debts of the company: ‘The road has cost me a great amount of money and I can no longer carry the burden’. The Union referred to a summary of the matter issued by the railroad commission in which the railroad stated that notwithstanding good service the traffic had steadily diminished and that this was due in great measure to the advent of the privately-owned automobile and more recently to the operation of a public stage line. The commission added that the railroad and equipment were old and in poor condition.
The railroad commission postponed its decision to allow the people of La Jolla time to formulate a plan for substitute service, with the provision that the La Jolla chamber of commerce would guarantee any deficit in the line’s operation. The plan for substitute service envisioned extending an existing electric line on Mission Boulevard in Mission Beach, the Bay Shore Railroad, from its terminus at Redondo Court to Grand Avenue and from there over the former La Jolla line right of way to La Jolla. The Bay Shore line, completed in 1915, connected with the Point Loma Railroad in Ocean Beach which provided electric service from downtown San Diego.
In December 1918, however, with no funds on hand to pay operating expenses, service was ‘altogether discontinued’ between San Diego and La Jolla. Most of the railroad’s locomotives and rolling stock had been sold for scrap earlier in 1918 and the railroad’s last working locomotive, No. 2, the original Baldwin dummy rebuilt as a tender engine by the Coronado Railroad, had broken down again. According to the report in the San Diego Union, the railway company had hired an auto stage over the last few months whenever the engine broke down but that even that expedient had become financially so burdensome that it had to be discontinued.
The application to discontinue service and dismantle and dispose of property was approved In January 1919 and the dismantling and disposition of the railroad was soon under way. The San Diego Union reported in November 1919 that six hundred tons of steel, part of the equipment of the disbanded La Jolla railroad, would be loaded aboard the steamship Colorado Springs to be shipped to Japan. The last working locomotive, Engine No. 2, was sold to a lumber company in the Los Angeles area.
The proposal to extend the Bay Shore electric line to La Jolla never happened but in 1923 the San Diego Electric Railroad built a new fast streetcar line from downtown to Mission Beach, continuing along Mission Boulevard to Grand and along the La Jolla line right of way as far as Bird Rock. At about Via del Norte the new electric line departed from the original right of way and turned toward the northeast, meeting Fay Avenue and continuing on Fay to a terminal at Prospect Street near to the location of the first La Jolla depot. This line also eventually succumbed to automobile traffic and was abandoned in 1940. By 1949 the entire system of electric railways in and around San Diego was gone.
Automobile traffic has continued to grow and has outpaced the expansion of roads and highways, leading to traffic congestion and gridlock. Additionally, emissions from automobiles, most of which are powered by gasoline engines, have been shown to be a major cause of air pollution and a major contributor to global climate change. A light rail system begun in the 1980s was intended to provide alternatives to automobile traffic in some areas around San Diego. One of these routes, the Orange Line between downtown San Diego and El Cajon, follows the route of the San Diego & Cuyamaca Eastern for much of its distance. The latest addition to this light rail system, opened in 2021, extends the Blue Line from downtown San Diego and Old Town to Pacific Beach and La Jolla, the same destinations reached by the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway and its predecessors. But while the route from Old Town parallels the old La Jolla line along the east side of Mission Bay with stops at Morena and Balboa Avenue the remainder of the route is entirely different, continuing north through Rose Canyon to a terminus near the University of California campus. The Balboa stop is miles from the beach at the eastern edge of the Pacific Beach and the university area is even further from Prospect and Silverado streets and the caves of La Jolla. The rail line that actually did ‘reach the beaches’ has been gone for over a century and is only remembered by the unusual width and alignment of certain streets that were once its right of way.
In 1887 a group of San Diego businessmen acquired most of the property north of Mission Bay (then called False Bay) and founded a community they christened Pacific Beach. Their Pacific Beach Company’s original subdivision map platted the entire area into residential blocks separated by streets (running north and south) and avenues (running east and west), with the widest avenue, Grand, also the route of a railway between downtown San Diego and a depot near the beach. The founders also set aside space for a college campus on what is now Garnet (then College) Avenue, between Jewell and Lamont (then 9th and 11th) streets, which they hoped would attract a nucleus of refined and cultured residents.
The San Diego College of Letters opened in 1888 and college students and their families were some of the first residents of Pacific Beach. Among the students were Edward and Theodore Barnes, Mary Cogswell, Evangeline and Mabel Rowe and Lulo Thorpe. The Barnes brothers’ parents, Franklin and Phoebe, moved to Pacific Beach in 1889 and bought several lots at the northwest corner of Lamont and Emerald (Vermont) streets, across Emerald from the campus, where they built a house. Dr. Thomas Cogswell was a dentist with a practice in downtown San Diego. He and his wife Elizabeth lived at the northwest corner of today’s Jewell and Diamond (Alabama) streets, a short distance from the college. Mary Rowe, mother of the Rowe sisters, had recently returned from India after her husband, a missionary there, died of typhoid. The Rowes lived in a house on the ocean front at the foot of Garnet. Lulo Thorpe’s mother was the then-famous poet Rose Hartwick Thorpe who had come to Pacific Beach to help establish the college. Lulo’s father, E. C. Thorpe, was a carpenter and building contractor.
As an inducement to locate in Pacific Beach the founders had endowed the college with a number of city lots to be sold to finance its construction and administration. However, 1888 turned out to be the end of San Diego’s ‘great boom’ and despite several auctions held on the college campus few lots were sold. Unable to pay the architect’s construction bill the college closed in 1891 and most of the faculty and students moved away. With the departure of many residents and downturn in the residential real estate market the Pacific Beach Company reoriented its sales toward larger plots of land suitable for agrarian uses. An amended subdivision map was drawn up which eliminated many of the streets and avenues north of Diamond Street and south of Reed Avenue and transformed the former city blocks in these areas into ‘acre lots’ of about 10 acres. The amended map was recorded in January 1892 as map 697 (the numbered streets and state-themed avenues were renamed in 1900 to avoid conflicts with other numbered and state-themed streets in the city).
Writing for the San Diego Union in 1896, E. C. Thorpe recalled that by 1891 only three or four families remained from the college community but that the tract had then been placed upon the market as acreage property and in a few weeks a force of workmen were clearing the first hundred acres preparatory to planting lemon orchards — ‘Rabbits and rattlesnakes were driven back to mesa and canyon and the sunny southern slopes were soon clothed in fragrant lemon foliage’. The acre lots were sold for $100 an acre and one of the first to be sold was purchased by Franklin Barnes. Map 697 had incorporated his 8 lots at the corner of Lamont and Emerald into a larger acre lot 64, 9.3 acres enclosed by Lamont, Emerald, Jewell and Diamond streets, and in January 1892 he acquired the entire acre lot for $930. Mary Rowe bought acre lot 49, 8.6 acres west of Lamont Street between Diamond and Chalcedony (Idaho) streets, in April 1892 for $860. In 1893 she had her house moved from the ocean front to a location on her lemon ranch later to become Missouri Street. The Cogswells also acquired property for a lemon ranch, purchasing the western half of acre lot 48, 5.45 acres across Jewell Street from their home, for $545.
Altogether about a dozen purchases of acre lots on the ‘sunny slopes’ north of the college campus were recorded in the first half of 1892. Ida Snyder acquired acre lot 20, north of Beryl (Georgia) and east of where Lamont runs today (streets did not extend north of Beryl on Map 697). According to the Union Miss Snyder, of Omaha, immediately made arrangements to have her property put out to lemons. A contiguous group of 3 acre lots, lots 33, 34 and 50, which met at Chalcedony and Lamont streets, were sold to R. C. Wilson and G. M. D. Bowers from Tennessee in February. The Union reported that Wilson and Bowers, who had been business partners in Tennessee, were having 4,000 feet of water pipe laid over their thirty acre tract and that the property was to be put into lemons in the next few weeks. They also built houses on their properties, the Bowers family on acre lot 34, west of Lamont Street in 1892 and the Wilsons on lot 33, east of Lamont, in 1893. Wilson and Bowers also later purchased acre lot 51, north of Diamond and west of Noyes (13th) streets. Acre lots 19, 35, 36, 47 and the east half of acre lot 48, all north of Diamond Street, were also sold in the first half of 1892.
South of Reed Avenue, acre lot 61 was acquired in April 1892 by C. H. Raiter, a banker from Minnesota who had spent the winter in Pacific Beach. Mr. Raiter returned to Minnesota but left instructions to have his ten-acre tract put equally into lemons and oranges and to reserve a good building site. The property was to be piped, fenced and broken and planted as soon as possible. The Raiters never did build on their ranch but did add the adjoining acre lot 62 in 1894.
The acre lots were located in what were then undeveloped outlying areas of Pacific Beach but much of the land in more central areas of the community was also undeveloped and some city blocks in these areas were also turned into lemon ranches. The Thorpes purchased block 167, across Lamont Street from the Barnes ranch, in February 1892 for $466 or $150 an acre. Sterling and Nancy Honeycutt bought lot 205, across Lamont from the college buildings and the four blocks around the intersection of Hornblend and Kendall streets in 1893 for a lemon ranch. J. L. Holliday acquired a pair of adjacent blocks between Garnet Avenue and Ingraham (then Broadway), Emerald and Jewell streets, blocks 183 and 202, and set them to lemons in 1895. The Holliday lemon ranch was sold to Nathan Manning in 1898.
E. C. Thorpe reported from Pacific Beach in 1894 that ‘Lemons do nicely here, and Pacific Beach expects much from its future lemon culture’. He noted that Pacific Beach had a great diversity of soil and that the sandy soil nearer the bay was not considered as valuable as the heavier soil on higher lands where the trees make the best growth and require less water. In March 1894 Frank Marshall of Kansas City bought two ten-acre lots in these higher lands, paying $2150 or $150 an acre for acre lots 30 and 53, 8.6 acres each between Diamond and Beryl and east of Olney (14th) Street. According to the San Diego Union he had plowed, piped and planted 1400 lemon trees and a hedge of Monterey cypress would be set out all around his land as a windbreak. He had returned to Kansas City but would come back in the fall with his brother and each would build a handsome residence. In his absence the ranch would be managed by Edward Barnes.
Mr. Marshall did not come back in the fall of 1894 but did return in June 1895 and built a handsome residence on acre lot 30 where he lived with his wife May. His brother, T. B. Marshall, finally arrived in Pacific Beach in January 1895 and in April moved into a handsome residence on acre lot 53 that the Union’s correspondent called the ‘finest in our colony’. Frank Marshall’s brother-in-law Victor Hinkle also followed in December 1895 — Carrie Hinkle was May Marshall’s sister; the couples had been married on the same day in 1889. In February 1896 the Hinkles purchased acre lot 36, 10.2 acres lying between Chalcedony, Ingraham, Beryl and Jewell streets, paying Alzora Haight $2000 or nearly $200 an acre for what was then a developed lemon ranch. Although the Haights had owned acre lot 36 since 1892 they had ‘camped’ on the property rather than building a house and the Hinkles had another fine residence built there in 1896.
In 1895 the Wilson and Bowers families decided to move back to Tennessee and put the four acre lots of their lemon ranch up for sale. The eastern 3.5 acres of lot 51 had been sold for $500 in 1894 but between September and November of 1895 they sold lot 33 to Ozora Stearns and lot 34 to William Davis for $5500 each, lot 50 to Lewis and Elizabeth Coffeen for $3000 and the western five acres of lot 51 to B. F. Colvin for $1000 (lots 33 and 34 each came with houses while lots 50 and 51 were unimproved). The Coffeens had a house built on acre lot 50 and had moved in by December but when they were compelled to return east for business reasons in 1897 their 10 acres in bearing lemons with water under pressure and a 6 room house was sold to Maj. William and Henrietta Hall.
The Franklin Barnes family lived in a house at Lamont and Emerald streets, at the southeast corner of their lemon ranch in acre lot 64. In 1895 their son Edward built another house at the southwest corner of lot 64, the corner of Jewell and Emerald, which he named El Nido (the nest). Also in 1895, E. C. Thorpe and his family moved into the house he built on block 167, across Lamont from the Barnes and named Rosemere Cottage for his wife Rose Hartwick Thorpe. In July 1895 the Thorpes’ daughter Lulo and Edward Barnes were married at Rosemere and moved the two blocks west to El Nido. In 1896 ownership of El Nido and the west half of acre lot 64, 4.5 acres, was transferred to Edward and Lulo Barnes.
Also in 1896, Edward Barnes built the first lemon curing house in Pacific Beach. Tree-ripened lemons tended to be too large and were graded down by commercial buyers. Better grades and prices could be obtained by picking the lemons before they were fully grown, and still green, then ‘curing’ them for 30 – 60 days until they reached a lemon-yellow color. Cured lemons not only had a more acceptable and uniform appearance but also thinner rinds and better keeping qualities. In January 1897 the San Diego Union reported that Mr. Barnes had picked 72 boxes of lemons in December alone from 280 4-year-old trees and that for the year his yield had been 1,200 boxes, netting $1 per box (a box held about 40 pounds of lemons).
In 1888 the Pacific Beach Company had built a hotel and dance pavilion near the railroad depot at the foot of Grand Avenue but neither had been very successful. In 1896 they were sold to Sterling Honeycutt with the provision that they be moved to property he had purchased in block 239, the south side of Hornblend between Lamont and Morrell streets and adjacent to his lemon ranch. The move was completed in early 1897; the hotel was set down on the southeast corner of Hornblend and Lamont streets and the pavilion on the southwest corner of Hornblend and Morrell. At the time the railroad between Pacific Beach and downtown San Diego ran over Grand Avenue from the depot near the beach to Lamont Street, where it turned toward the northeast on what is now Balboa Avenue, passing close to the new location of the pavilion (the raised ‘island’ in the center of these streets was once the railroad right of way). Mr. Honeycutt and other lemon ranchers including Franklin Barnes and Frank Marshall turned the pavilion into a lemon curing and packing house and the railroad added a siding where boxcars could be parked while being loaded with boxes of lemons. On August 13, 1897, the Evening Tribune reported that Pacific Beach reached an important event in its history when the first full carload of lemons loaded in Pacific Beach was shipped east, directly to Duluth. Later in 1897 Honeycutt sold the property, with the ‘most commodious packing and curing house in the county’, to Barnes and Marshall. Edward Barnes was placed in charge of packing and shipping and initially shipped from 75 to 100 boxes of lemons weekly.
In February 1898 Franklin Barnes reported that there were about 25,000 lemon trees in bearing and that during 1897 he had picked 1,400 boxes from 600 trees and was then picking from the same trees 200 boxes per month. The leading varieties were Lisbon, Villa Franca and Eureka and about 7,000 boxes were shipped in the last year. Mr. Barnes was also a featured speaker when the County Horticultural Society met in October 1898 at Stough Hall, a former college building and then the principal meeting place in Pacific Beach (the front of the stage had been very prettily decorated with festoons of lemons). He told the delegates that his expenses for cultivation and water had averaged $200 a year for five years and that the orchard had paid over $1000 the previous year.
Many participants in the Pacific Beach lemon industry were women. Mary Rowe, Martha Dunn Corey and Ida Snyder had been among the first purchasers of acre lots in 1892. The San Diego Union noted in 1897 that Mrs. Rowe’s ranch had been developed from the raw condition to one now valued at $9000 and that the ladies of Pacific Beach were justly proud of their ranches. William Davis, who purchased the lemon ranch on acre lot 34 in 1895, was a mining engineer who spent much of his time at the Arizona mines leaving the ranch in the hands of his sister Louise. The Union reported in June 1896 that Miss Davis had shipped 84 boxes of choice lemons from Ondawa ranch (many ranchers in Pacific Beach gave their ranches names). Ozora Stearns had purchased the ranch in acre lot 33 in 1895 but he died in 1896 leaving it to his widow Sarah. Their eldest daughter married in 1897 and her husband John Esden took over operation of the lemon ranch, making improvements including what the Union called an ‘up-to-date curing house’. J. D. Esden & Co. became one of the largest lemon producers in Pacific Beach, shipping carloads of lemons in 1898. When acre lot 33 was sold again in 1899 the buyer was also a woman, Carrie Belser Linck, and her son Charles Belser assumed management of the ranch and the curing and packing operation.
Maj. William Hall, who had acquired the lemon ranch in acre lot 50 in 1897, was the author of the San Diego Union’s New Year’s Day report from Pacific Beach in 1900. According to Maj. Hall about three hundred acres of lemon groves from three to seven years old and from 2 ½ to 10 acres were clustered at the center of this beautiful spot, dotted here and there with fine residences with well kept yards, beautiful with every variety of flowers and in bloom all year round. The Pacific Beach lemon groves were not only attractive but productive; during the past year thirty carloads of lemons (and two of oranges) had been raised and shipped (a carload was about 600 boxes, or twelve tons of lemons). A few months later, in July 1900, Maj. Hall profited by selling a portion of his investment in this beautiful spot, the north half of acre lot 50, ‘with 12 rows of trees running east and west’, to Alfred and Margaret Roxburgh for $2500. After a few years living in houses on neighboring lemon ranches the Roxburghs built a home on their own ranch in 1904, described by the Evening Tribune as both substantial and artistic looking, being built largely of stone.
An enumerator for the United States census visited Pacific Beach in June 1900 and counted a total of 54 dwellings and 185 residents. For the ‘head of the family’ in each of these dwellings the ‘occupation, trade or profession’ column listed twelve as ‘Lemon Rancher’ (or ‘L. Rancher’) and two more as ‘L. Packer and Rancher’ (F. W. and E. Y. Barnes). Lemon rancher Francis Manning was listed as ‘Carpenter and Rancher’ and E. C. Thorpe was a ‘Contractor and Rancher’. Dentist Thomas Cogswell and Dr. Martha Dunn Corey were both listed as ‘Physician’, but both also owned lemon ranches. Some family heads listed as ‘Rancher’ (Gridley), ‘Farmer’ (Williams) or ‘Farming’ (Hodges) and some with no occupation listed (Conover) were also actually lemon growers. Two other heads were listed as working in packing houses. Other family members and lodgers in these dwellings included a packing house laborer and farm laborers and farm help, some of whom presumably labored or helped on lemon ranches. Altogether at least 23 of the 54 households counted in the 1900 census in Pacific Beach were involved in the lemon business.
1900 may have been the lemon industry’s best year in Pacific Beach. Reports from Pacific Beach in the Evening Tribune invariably described the activities of lemon ranchers and packers in superlative terms. Belser and Co. lemon packers were doing a land office business, shipping cars east at the rate of two a week. F. W. Barnes and Son shipped two carloads of lemons one week. The price of lemons has reached a point where growers will soon be wearing diamonds and saying ‘ither and nither’. However, some growers apparently were not as convinced about the future of the lemon business. The Snyder lemon orchard was for sale at less than half cost, Maj. Hall had sold half of his ranch to the Roxburghs and Sterling Honeycutt sold one of his five-acre lemon ranches to Mr. McConnell. In December 1900 Frank Marshall sold his ranch in acre lot 30 and also his half interest in the packing house at the former pavilion to R. M. Baker.
Mr. Baker continued his acquisitions of lemon properties in 1901. In January he bought out Franklin Barnes’ half interest to become sole owner of the packing house (Barnes had been elected to the California state assembly and took office on January 1). In March 1901 the news was that the packing house had been running full handed since it changed ownership and was handling lemons by the ton as the lemon trees were bearing wonderfully; a dozen carloads were packed waiting for cars. Mr. Baker also bought the other Marshall lemon ranch on acre lot 53 and the southern half of Maj. Hall’s ranch in acre lot 50.
Although the lemon trees were ‘bearing wonderfully’ the Tribune also noted that the price of lemons stayed in the depth because of cold weather in the east and importation of foreign lemons which, in the words of its correspondent, were ‘loaded with the germs of bubonic plague and delirium tremens’. In July they were selling for 2¢ a pound, which would be about 80¢ for a 40 pound box, down from $1 a box in 1896. The turnover of the ownership in lemon ranches continued into 1902 as the Raiters sold their ranch in acre lots 61 and 62 in April and the Gridley five-acre lemon ranch on the east half of acre lot 48 was sold to ‘eastern people’ for $5500 in July. Still, the Baker packing house was shipping two cars a week and the Tribune added that a class in physical culture had been started that would get the muscles in fine shape for picking lemons. One grower was trying out a new market, paying $5 a box freight in advance to ship lemons to the Klondike. The papers speculated that he would need to get a good-sized nugget for every lemon shipped. Edward Barnes was trying out a new crop, putting out several thousand tomato plants on the old Snyder ranch on the hill.
The packing house was still running full-handed in 1903 and the February and March crop of lemons were said to be simply immense; Mr. Baker had picked from his lower ten-acre ranch 1600 boxes at 40 pounds a box or 64,000 pounds of lemons, which the Union called the record picking off a ten-acre ranch so far (Baker’s lower ranch, presumably meaning in elevation, was acre lot 53). Recent rains had made the fishing in False (Mission) Bay very good and ‘that attraction was keeping anglers busy when not employed in the orchards’. Still, ‘lemon prices not all that could be wished for’ and in November 1903 Mr. Baker sold the packing house to Sterling Honeycutt. The new packing house firm, Honeycutt & Pike, was doing business at the Honeycutt Hotel building and had shipped a carload of lemons to Kansas City.
The lemon business that had sustained Pacific Beach for the decade after the college failed in 1891 continued to decrease after 1903. Markets for lemons were mostly in the East where lemons from foreign sources, particularly Sicily, could often be delivered at lower cost and undercut growers on the west coast. In Pacific Beach the diminished profits from lemon cultivation also coincided with a resurgence of residential development, providing an incentive for lemon ranchers to turn their acreage property back into building lots or to sell it to real estate operators. One major operator, Folsom Bros. Co., had acquired much of Pacific Beach in 1903 and implemented improvements like grading streets and pouring concrete sidewalks to stimulate sales to potential home buyers. Folsom Bros. also purchased and refurbished the college and reopened it as a resort hotel, the Hotel Balboa. There were persistent rumors that the steam railroad would be upgraded to a fast electric line, improving access to downtown San Diego (in 1907 the route was shortened and straightened to run over today’s Grand instead of Balboa Avenue east of Lamont Street, but it was never electrified).
Sterling Honeycutt was one lemon rancher who made a successful transition into the real estate business. His lemon ranch had been located on the four city blocks around the intersection of Hornblend and Kendall streets. In 1901 he sold block 216, north of Hornblend and west of Kendall, and by 1904 several houses had been built on the north side of Hornblend Street in this block. In 1903 Honeycutt also sold block 238, south of Hornblend and east of Kendall, to William Pike and Pike built his home on the south side of Hornblend. In 1904 Honeycutt sold Pike block 237, south of Hornblend and west of Kendall, and also sold several lots in block 215, north of Hornblend and east of Kendall, where more houses were built along Hornblend. In less than five years Hornblend Street went from lemon ranch to the first residential neighborhood in Pacific Beach, and some of these first homes can still be seen. In 1905 Pike sold the western quarter of block 237 to Charles Boesch and in 1906 Boesch built the house at the southwest corner of his property, Grand Avenue and Jewell Street, that is still standing and was restored in 2021.
Honeycutt’s brother-in-law W. P. Parmenter and the Parmenters’ sons-in-law Charles and Frank McCrary moved to Pacific Beach in 1903 and were also involved in making former lemon ranches into residential homesites. In December 1903 Frank McCrary purchased Edward and Lulo Barnes’ lemon ranch and their home, El Nido, on the west half of acre lot 64. Edward Barnes had opened a store at the corner of Grand Avenue and Lamont Street and had transitioned from the lemon business to storekeeping; his family had moved into the Thorpes’ home on block 167 after the Thorpes moved to La Jolla where E. C. Thorpe was busy building houses (in 1906 the Edward Barnes family moved again, leaving Pacific Beach for 4th and Upas streets in San Diego where Assemblyman Franklin Barnes had moved the previous year).
Parmenter and Charles McCrary also acquired block 213, the lemon ranch of John Berkebile between Garnet Avenue and Noyes, Hornblend and Morrell streets. Parmenter sold the north half to Madie Arnott Barr, another major Pacific Beach real estate operator, and McCrary sold the south half to H. J. Breese, who in 1904 built the home still standing at the northeast corner of Morrell and Hornblend (in the 1920s this property became the site of H. K. W. Kumm’s passion fruit ranch). Also in 1904, Parmenter and Frank McCrary purchased acre lot 20, formerly the Snyder lemon ranch, northeast of Lamont and Beryl streets. They passed it on to Honeycutt who in 1906 had it subdivided, returning it to its original configuration as blocks 53 and 66 of Pacific Beach. In 1907 Andrew and Ella MacFarland bought corner lots in block 66, at Lamont and Beryl streets, and built the classical revival home still there today.
Former lemon ranches on acre lots 35 and 34 were also re-subdivided into city blocks with their original block numbers. The Scott brothers were from England and since 1895 had grown lemons on acre lot 35, between Chalcedony, Jewell, Beryl and Kendall streets (they also had a lemon ranch in Chula Vista) and they subdivided it as blocks 89 and 106 of Pacific Beach (and Kendall and Law streets) in 1904. Acre lot 34 had been part of WIlson and Bowers’ original lemon ranch and had since been owned by the Davis, Jowett and Boycott families and, since 1903 the Mannys. On New Year’s Day in 1907 an advertisement appeared in the San Diego Union for an elegant Pacific Beach residence and also lots in the choicest residential location of Pacific Beach, with fine fruit trees and water on each lot, all in acre lot 34. The entire acre lot was purchased four days later by Robert Ravenscroft and in October 1907 Ravenscroft had it subdivided as blocks 90 and 105 of Pacific Beach (and an 80-foot strip between them for Law Street). After Mary Rowe sold her lemon ranch on acre lot 49 to John and Julia Hauser in 1903 the Hausers also subdivided it into two blocks identical to what had appeared on the original 1887 Pacific Beach map. The street between the two blocks was even derived from the original map’s Missouri Avenue. However, their subdivision was officially recorded in 1904 as Hausers Subdivision of Acre Lot 49.
Other acre lots were not subdivided but instead were sold off piecemeal as homesites. In 1906 Sterling Honeycutt bought the east half of acre lot 48, excepting the southeastern corner where E. C. Thorpe had built a ranch house for Orrin and Fannie Gridley in 1896. The Gridleys had left in 1902 and their five-acre lemon ranch had since been owned by J. W. Stump. Strips of land were reserved and dedicated to the city for Missouri Street and two alleys and the remainder divided into parcels of various sizes for building lots. The southeast corner lot and house was offered for sale in 1907 for $4000. That house stood at 1790 Diamond Street (next door to where I grew up) until it was demolished in 1968.
Most of acre lot 50 was also never subdivided and lots there are still described in terms like the east 50 feet of the west 150 feet of the south 135 feet of acre lot 50. A strip of land 52 feet wide between the northern and southern portions of the lot was granted to the city in 1916 for an extension of Missouri Street. The portion on the south side of Chalcedony Street was subdivided as Picard Terrace in 1950.
In 1904 Estes and Margaret Layman, from Des Moines, Iowa, paid $15,000 for the lemon ranch in acre lot 33 (and changed its name to Seniomsed, Des Moines spelled backwards). This ranch had always been one of the most productive in Pacific Beach and the Laymans continued that legacy, at least for a few more years. In 1906 the Union reported that Mrs. Layman was ‘busy as a bee in a tar barrel’, picking, packing and shipping a carload of lemons (to Des Moines). However, that carload of lemons may have been the last shipped from Pacific Beach, and later that year the landmark pavilion building which had been the main lemon packing plant since 1897 was closed. Many of the lemon ranchers were Methodists and their congregation had outgrown the ‘little chapel’ then in use. Sterling Honeycutt was a founding member of the Methodist church and he also owned the packing plant, which had been experiencing a decline in business. In August 1906 he donated the building and the five lots surrounding it to the church under the condition that $2000 should be raised to cover the necessary alterations. By September the news was that the great building known for so long as the packing house was rapidly assuming the graceful lines and sober colors of a church. The handsome new structure was dedicated in February 1907.
Transition of the former lemon ranches into housing developments occurred over many decades and was not complete until the 1950s, and a few continued with agrarian activities in intervening years. Victor Hinkle turned acre lot 36 into a general farm and also specialized in beekeeping. The former ranch houses in acre lots 33 and 50 were rented to Japanese families who operated truck farms on the fertile land there. Others were subdivided when Pacific Beach experienced periods of population growth in the 1920s and again in the 1940s. Kendrick’s subdivision of acre lot 47 occurred in 1925, and Pacific Pines on acre lots 61 and 62 and C. M. Doty’s Addition on acre lot 19 were subdivided in 1926. Portions of acre lot 36 became Chalcedony Terrace and Chalcedony Terrace Addition in 1947, although the portion that actually fronts on Chalcedony was not included and lots there are still described as portions of acre lot 36. 1947 was also the year that acre lot 33 became part of the Lamont Terrace development. In 1941 most of Pacific Beach east of Olney Street, including the former Marshall and Baker ranches in acre lots 30 and 53, was expropriated by the federal government for the Bayview Terrace housing project. Most of this property remains under government ownership, now known as the Admiral Hartman Community.
In 1910 the census enumerator again made the rounds of Pacific Beach. This time there were more than twice as many residents counted but none mentioned lemons in their occupation, trade or industry, or in the general nature of their industry or business. Instead, the pendulum had swung decidedly from lemon ranching toward residential development. Ten residents were described as real estate agents, including Sterling Honeycutt, eleven listed contractor, carpenter or stonemason as their trade, and building or houses as the general nature of their business, and another five were concrete or cement workers in the ‘street’ business. Of the few former lemon ranchers still living on their ranches Victor Hinkle was listed as a farmer and E. H. Layman as ‘own income’.
The 1910 census was held in April; just a few months later, in November 1910, Capt. Thomas A. Davis leased the Hotel Balboa and turned the former college campus back into an educational institution, this time as a military academy. Beginning with 13 cadets and himself as the only instructor Capt. Davis’ San Diego Army and Navy Academy grew steadily. In 1922 he expanded the campus into the former lemon ranches in acre lot 64 to the north and blocks 183 and 202 to the west for athletic fields and a parade ground. The former homes of the Franklin and Edward Barnes families were put to use as residences for academy staff. In 1924 Davis’ brother John also purchased the former Thorpe home across Lamont Street in block 167 and the Davis’ mother lived there into the 1950s. The academy, later called Brown Military Academy, also survived into the 1950s until it too declined and was turned into a shopping center.
The lemon trees and packing plant have been gone for over a century but there are still signs of the lemon era to be found in Pacific Beach. On what was once Wilson and Bowers’ lemon ranch around the corner of Chalcedony and Lamont streets the Bowers’ original house on acre lot 34, built in 1892, is still standing at 1860 Law Street (although it was moved from its original location on the other side of Law in 1912). In acre lot 50, also once part of the Wilson and Bowers ranch, the house built by the Coffeens in 1895 remains at 1932 Diamond and the Roxburghs’ home from 1904 is on the alley at 4775 Lamont. When acre lot 33 was cleared in 1947 to make way for the Lamont Terrace development the only thing spared from the former Wilson ranch house there was the Moreton Bay fig tree still growing between 1904 and 1922 Law. A Moreton Bay fig spared by developers of the Bayview Terrace (1941) and Capehart (1960) housing projects is also the only sign of Frank Marshall’s ranch in acre lot 30, now the corner of Chalcedony and Donaldson Drive. A palm tree between apartments at 1828-1840½ Missouri once stood in front of Mrs. Rowe’s ranch house in acre lot 49. And the house built by the Hinkles on acre lot 36 in 1896 was moved in 1926 across Ingraham Street to where it now stands at 1576 Law Street.
The lemon era in Pacific Beach is also recalled in less tangible forms. In 1895 a group of women including Rose Hartwick Thorpe, Phoebe Barnes and Elizabeth Cogswell formed the Pacific Beach Reading Club. The club was initially led by Mrs. Thorpe and met at the homes of club members, most of which were lemon ranches at the time. After Sterling Honeycutt sold a portion of his lemon ranch to William Pike and Mr. Pike sold the western quarter of his portion to Charles Boesch, Mr. Pike and Mr. Boesch, whose wives were both Reading Club members, donated the two lots on Hornblend Street where their properties met for a clubhouse. Workers donated free labor, Mr. Pike, the former lemon packer, supervised construction, and the clubhouse had its formal ‘housewarming’ in October 1911. Club members had always been women and it became known as the Pacific Beach Woman’s Club, a name that was officially adopted in 1929. The club is still active, although the lemon-yellow clubhouse at 1721 Hornblend was sold in 2021, and the heritage of its lemon-ranching founders is commemorated in its lemon-themed website.
Pacific Beach grew dramatically during the twentieth century and nowhere was that growth more apparent than along Garnet Avenue, the community’s main street. Development had taken off during the war years of the 1940s and by the late 1950s Garnet was lined with commercial establishments ranging from shops, bars and gas stations to supermarkets, department stores and banks. These establishments identified themselves and advertised their businesses with signs, some painted on the sides of buildings but others mounted on roofs or projecting over sidewalks and other public property, many of them illuminated at night. The increasing number, size and brightness of signs had an increasingly negative effect on the community’s aesthetics, eventually generating resistance among residents.
The Pacific Plaza Shopping Center was built in 1960 on the former campus of Brown Military Academy on the north side of Garnet between Jewell and Lamont streets. One of the outlets in the center was a J. J. Newberry junior department store which was crowned with a large three-faced sign featuring the Newberry logo on a white background which was brilliantly illuminated at night. The store opened in February 1961 and the sign immediately provoked outrage among nearby residents. Within a month a petition signed by 173 Pacific Beach residents was submitted to the city council protesting its brilliance, which one councilman agreed was the brightest he had seen anywhere (my home at the time was a block away, facing the sign, and was among those most affected). However, the city planning director informed the council that the city had no control over signs in commercial zones. He said he would study the factors involved in the brilliance of a sign and report to the council, perhaps with a recommendation for some type of control. For its part, J. J. Newberry apparently recognized the negative public relations impact of its sign and the white background was soon turned off, leaving only the blue logo to be seen at night (which was still very large and offensive to nearby residents).
The Newberry sign was a particularly glaring example but sign pollution continued to blight Garnet Avenue and other commercial districts in San Diego for years, generating periodic complaints from citizen’s groups and occasional action by the city. After the Clairemont Town Council complained about ‘sign clutter’ and ‘visual pollution’ on a section of Morena Boulevard the San Diego City Council voted in 1971 to impose restrictions on the height and size of signs in that area. The San Diego Union noted at the time that similar zoning rules had been in effect in La Jolla for years. The Clairemont council had also called for a citywide sign ordinance and in 1973 the San Diego City Council did adopt an ordinance to regulate the number, size and other characteristics of what were called ‘on-premises signs’ in all commercial and industrial zones.
The 1973 ordinance established the legal framework for the regulation of on-premises signs. It presented a set of standards and controls designed to ‘optimize communication between the citizen and his environment’, to facilitate the ‘protection not only of the public, but the aesthetic character of the City’, and to ‘ensure the availability to the business community of adequate quality on-premises signs’. The ordinance imposed limits on the number and size of signs and required all signs to have a city permit. New or modified signs would need a building permit conforming to the new requirements; existing signs which already met the requirements could obtain a use permit. Signs that did not conform to the new requirements would be declared ‘public nuisances’ and abated ‘as prescribed by law’. Importantly, a fee based on the area of the sign would be assessed for each permit, and permits had to be renewed, and an additional fee paid, every two years.
The ordinance specified that a business having frontage on a public right-of-way of 250 feet or less would be entitled to one freestanding ground sign. The height and permitted area of ground signs would depend on the right-of-way’s width and the traffic speed allowed (although on Garnet Avenue most buildings extended all the way to their property line at the public sidewalk, leaving no space for a ground sign). Signs would be allowed on the walls of buildings visible from a public right-of-way but the permitted area of wall signs depended on the length of frontage on the right-of-way and the right-of-way’s width, and also on whether or not the premise had other ground, roof or projecting signs. Roof signs were permitted instead of, but not in addition to, ground or projecting signs if no reasonable alternative sign location existed. If permitted, roof signs would also be limited in height and area depending on the width and traffic speed of the adjoining public right-of-way. Any one premise with frontage on a public right-of-way would be permitted one projecting sign along that right-of-way instead of, but not in addition to, a ground and roof sign. The area of the projecting sign would depend on the width and traffic speed of the public right-of-way and also the frontage of the premise on that right-of-way. The maximum projection over the public right-of-way was also limited to no more than five feet or two-thirds of the width of the sidewalk, whichever was less. About 21,000 sign owners were expected to require permits for about 42,000 signs throughout San Diego.
The council passed the sign ordinance in April 1973 but it faced resistance from business owners opposed to the new regulations, and especially to the fees. According to the San Diego Union some merchants ‘lit up’ with ‘neon-like indignation’ when they learned what their fees would be and pledged to work for the recall of councilmen who voted for the sign law. For example, the Union noted that Pacific Honda at 1277 Garnet Ave. was billed $3,139 for two signs. The United Business Commission filed suit and enforcement of the ordinance was delayed for several years until an appellate court ruled that the sign fee was a ‘valid exercise of the city’s police power’ in March 1979. The city council also compromised with the business group by amending the ordinance to reduce fees for permit renewal and to allow non-conforming signs to remain until 1980.
Apparently some combination of the restrictions and fees on signs, and perhaps increased community resistance to sign pollution, have had an effect and in the decades after the 1970s the aesthetics of the city’s commercial districts have improved considerably, particularly along Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach.
Pacific Beach was expected to be an academic community when it was founded in 1887. A four-block campus in the center of the community, now the site of the Pacific Plaza shopping center, was set aside and granted to the San Diego College of Letters. The college opened in September 1888 and in its first year enrolled over 100 students. Collegiate students had to be at least 14 years old and meet stringent requirements for admission, particularly proficiency in Latin, but the college also included a preparatory course for younger students or students not meeting the admission requirements. The students were both male and female, some as young as 8. The college did attract residents to the new community. According to the 1889 San Diego city directory, 13 of the 37 residents listed for Pacific Beach were associated with the college. The college directory showed that about a quarter of the students were Pacific Beach residents, many of them the children or relatives of faculty members.
However the College of Letters closed after two years, and many in the college community moved away. Some of the faculty went on to careers in the San Diego school district. Harr Wagner, a professor and one of the founders of the college, became superintendent of schools in 1891 and F. P. Davidson, another college founder and professor, was principal at the Russ high school downtown from 1890 until he resigned to become superintendent of schools in 1898. Other college faculty and a number of former students became teachers in the school system. With the college no longer an option, Pacific Beach children of high school age could attend the Russ school, taking the train downtown from a station at Grand Avenue and Lamont Street. Grade school children attended school at a one-room public schoolhouse built in 1888 at the northeast corner of Hornblend and Everts streets (now a parking lot behind Crunch Fitness). In 1892 there were 22 students at the Pacific Beach schoolhouse and their teacher was Miss Eliza Lundegreen.
After the college closed the principal economic activity in Pacific Beach became lemon ranching. Most of the ranches were concentrated in the area around the college campus, the social and business center of the community. The former college buildings were used for community meetings and dances, and stores, businesses, the station and the Presbyterian church were all just a few blocks away. In 1895 Pacific Beach residents petitioned the school board to also move the school to this more central location. A site was acquired on Garnet Avenue west of Jewell Street and the church, and the schoolhouse was moved there in 1896. The Pacific Beach schoolhouse was still just one room with one teacher, who taught all grades. In 1898 the teacher was Miss Lu Jennings, who received a salary of $72.50 per month. In 1901 Miss Jennings transferred to the University Heights school and Miss Edith Phillips was appointed to the Pacific Beach school. The fact that these teachers were all ‘misses’ was no coincidence; it was the stated policy of the school district to only hire unmarried women, apparently because wives were assumed to be provided for by their husbands. A meeting of the board in 1902 adopted the following resolution:
Resolved, that no married woman shall be employed as a teacher of the public schools of San Diego unless it shall be proved to the satisfaction of the board that said teacher is the support of the family, or that other good and sufficient reason exists that in the judgement of the board makes such an appointment advisable.
At the turn of the twentieth century Pacific Beach was still a lightly populated agricultural community and in 1902 only 25 students were attending the Pacific Beach school. However, lemon ranching was in decline and in 1903 most of the property in Pacific Beach was purchased by Folsom Bros. Co., real estate operators who believed that the future of Pacific Beach was in residential development. Folsom Bros. began a campaign of civic improvements, grading, ‘curbing’ and ‘sidewalking’ streets to make the area more attractive to homebuyers. Lots were sold, houses were built, and families moved in, and by 1906 attendance at the Pacific Beach school had increased to 40. A principal who also taught 5th and 6th grade was added to the faculty, but residents complained that crowding two teachers and all grades and classes into one small room was unfair to teachers, scholars and parents. In the summer of 1906 a large south wing containing two rooms was added to the original schoolhouse and finished ‘with paint outside and plaster within’. The San Diego Union reported that the enlarged schoolhouse would accommodate 150 children and was an improvement long needed by the rapidly increasing population. The improvements were none too soon; by 1907 attendance had increased to 50 pupils. However, attendance at the Pacific Beach school actually went down at the beginning of the 1908 school year. The Union speculated that the less-than-expected attendance was because the ‘vaccination question’ had not been settled; some parents would not send their children to public schools if vaccination was required and were waiting to find out.
In 1903 Folsom Bros. Co. also acquired the college campus property and after renovating the former college buildings opened as the Hotel Balboa in 1905. However the hotel was also unsuccessful and in 1910 Folsom Bros. leased the property to Capt. Thomas A. Davis, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, who founded a military academy on the site, initially with 13 cadets and himself as the only instructor. The San Diego Army and Navy Academy was only for ‘manly boys’ and originally included only grade school subjects, but within two years enrollment had increased to over 70, the faculty had grown to 6 and the curriculum extended to high school subjects. By 1918 the academy had continued to grow and was recognized as ‘by far the liveliest institution of the community, and at the same time Pacific Beach’s most substantial asset’, according to the Union. Although some local boys attended the academy, most of the cadets were from elsewhere and boarded in wooden cottages built on the campus. In 1921 Capt. Davis attempted to move the academy to Point Loma, adjacent to the new Navy and Marine Corps training centers, but when this effort failed he purchased the college campus property that he had been leasing and beginning in 1923 also acquired most of the two blocks on the north side of the campus and the two blocks on the west side.
The surrounding community had also been growing, partly due to the academy’s positive economic impact, and although some local boys attended the academy the public school became increasingly crowded; attendance for the 1922 school year was 116 students. The school district had purchased the block between Emerald, Diamond, Ingraham and Haines streets, a few blocks from the existing school, in 1921, and in 1922 announced plans for a new school on the site. A school building with six classrooms and an auditorium was built on the north side of Emerald Street, just west of Ingraham Street in time for the 1923 school year. Five teachers were assigned to the new Pacific Beach school; a principal, who also taught 7th and 8th grades, and teachers for 5th and 6th, 3rd and 4th, 2nd and 1st grade. The original schoolhouse, which had stood next to the Presbyterian Church from 1896 to 1923, was moved to the campus of the Army and Navy Academy where it was enlarged and turned into the academy’s junior school.
Paving of the coast highway through Pacific Beach along Garnet Avenue and Cass Street in 1919, completion of a fast electric streetcar line between downtown and La Jolla on Mission Boulevard in 1924 and a new entertainment and business district around Crystal Pier in 1926 contributed to a growth in the population of Pacific Beach during the 1920s, and a corresponding increase in the number of school-age students. Faced with another shortage of classrooms the school board in 1928 purchased a 9-acre site west of Fanuel between Turquoise and Tourmaline streets. The board announced that it would begin construction of a junior high school on the site as soon as the ‘estimated and probable’ enrollment reached 200 pupils, although they expected that total enrollment in September 1930 would be only 176. At a board meeting in April 1930 40 Pacific Beach residents led by Neil Nettleship, promoter of Crystal Pier, appeared at a board meeting and presented a list of 209 children who they said would be eligible to attend the school by the next February. The board was apparently persuaded and in May voted to advertise for bids for the construction of a $55,000 junior high school.
The Pacific Beach junior high school opened on February 1, 1931 with Dr. J. R. Nichols, who had been vice principal of the La Jolla junior and senior high school, as principal. Two months later Dr. Nichols was suspended without pay for three days as penalty for ‘boxing the ears’ of a student on the school grounds. The board of education noted that corporal punishment was not itself contrary to board rules but that Dr. Nichols had ‘acted in haste and without due regard to controlled action’. Apologies all around had satisfactorily concluded the incident.
Consolidated Aircraft moved to San Diego in 1935 and in the runup to World War II established a complex of manufacturing plants near the San Diego airport to build military aircraft. Tens of thousands of people moved to San Diego to work in these plants, creating a serious housing shortage. In 1941 the federal government acquired a number of tracts within commuting distance of the plants for temporary housing projects, including one in the eastern part of Pacific Beach. The Bayview Terrace project included over 1000 ‘demountable’ plywood homes and other facilities, including an elementary school. The Bayview Terrace elementary school opened in April 1942 with 270 students, who had previously been attending the Pacific Beach elementary school under crowded conditions that required double sessions. The school was built and owned by the federal government but leased to the city board of education and operated as a public school. The temporary homes for defense workers were removed in the 1950s and replaced by homes for military families, now the Admiral Hartman Community. The Bayview Terrace school, also built of plywood, was condemned by the fire department and rebuilt in the 1950s.
The number of defense workers in San Diego continued to grow during the war and the buildup of military forces in the San Diego area further contributed to population growth. Pacific Beach was a short distance from the aircraft plants and military facilities around San Diego Bay and had an abundance of vacant land, much of it already improved with paved streets and sidewalks and utilities like water and gas. The federal government added two more temporary housing projects in Pacific Beach during the war. Los Altos Terrace, with 428 housing units, was built in 1942 on the blocks surrounding the junior high school on Tourmaline Street, and the Cyane project, with 232 units, was built in 1944 in Fortuna Park between Pacific Beach Drive and Crown Point. Commercial developers also stepped in to meet the increasing demand for housing, particularly in improved subdivisions like Crown Point, North Shore Highlands and Braemar. But although these housing developments led to a huge increase in the population of Pacific Beach, including school-age children, wartime budget restrictions did not allow for further expansion of the school system.
The war ended in 1945 and in 1946 one of the first new schools to be authorized in San Diego was an elementary school in southern Pacific Beach, near the hundreds of new homes of the Cyane housing project and the Crown Point subdivision. A four-block area between Pacific Beach Drive, Fortuna Avenue and Ingraham and Jewell streets was purchased for $36,000 and Crown Point Elementary school opened for 525 boys and girls in January 1948. The San Diego Union reported that San Diego’s first post-war school relieved serious overcrowding at Pacific Beach Elementary, but that increased school enrollment in the area had already outstripped its facilities and two grades destined for Crown Point would remain at the Pacific Beach elementary school. Within a month of its opening the board of education approved an addition to the new school, practically doubling its size, and predicted that another elementary school would soon be needed for the Pacific Beach area if school enrollment there kept expanding. 1948 was also the year when St. Brigid Church and Academy was dedicated. A generation of Catholic children attended this private school on Cass and Diamond streets before it closed in 1971.
Over the summer of 1950 the school district accommodated the growing school-aged population in Pacific Beach by adding classrooms and other facilities, and by switching the functions of the existing Pacific Beach elementary and junior high schools. The campus of what had been the elementary school was doubled in size with the acquisition of the block between Emerald and Felspar streets west of Ingraham (and the closing of Emerald in that block). A new physical education building, assembly/cafeteria building and additional classrooms were built for what would become the junior high school there. An assembly/cafeteria building was also added to the former junior high school, which was then reopened as the elementary school. The board explained that placing a larger junior high school near the center of the community and smaller elementary schools in more outlying areas was in line with ‘up-to-date planning’ in which elementary schools serve a smaller section of the community so younger children will not have so far to walk or ride to school. In fact most children from the Los Altos Terrace project would only have to walk a block or two to the elementary school and children from North Shore Highlands only a few blocks further.
The population of Pacific Beach continued to grow in the 1950s and another school in the southwestern part of Pacific Beach was opened in 1953 on the site of a former trailer park on Cass Street between Thomas and Reed avenues and next to the Braemar subdivision. Martha Farnum Elementary was built for $337,450, financed by the federal government under the ‘defense impact area’ program, and initially served 400 students. The school was named for the first woman to hold a top administrative position in the San Diego school district. Martha Farnum had been the assistant superintendent in charge of elementary education and when she died the year before, while still in her 40s, the school board announced that a school would be named in her honor. 1953 was also the year that a new high school was opened south of Grand Avenue and west of Rose Creek, built on fill dredged from Mission Bay while transforming the natural marshland in the northwest corner of the bay into De Anza Cove and Point. Mission Bay High School also benefitted from federal ‘defense impact area’ funds.
In 1956 the last new public school to be built in Pacific Beach opened at the northeastern corner of the community, on Beryl Street north of Noyes Street. The site was then undeveloped land at the base of the Mt. Soledad foothills and there was nothing but more undeveloped land north or east of the school. Kate Sessions Elementary was named for horticulturist Kate Sessions, best known as the ‘mother of Balboa Park’, who had established a nursery operation and made her home in Pacific Beach not far from where the school was built. 499 students were present when it opened (including me).
While population growth in Pacific Beach had spurred construction of public schools, it had a negative impact on the military academy. In the late 1920s a number of large reinforced-concrete dormitories had been built to accommodate a corps of cadets that had grown to over 400, but the depression of the 1930s had reduced enrollment and, unable to repay the building costs, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy was sold to John Brown College in 1937 and renamed Brown Military Academy. In the 1950s the Brown organization announced that the academy was increasingly being ‘hemmed in’ by the community’s growth and ‘retention of the campus for school purposes would not be wise financially in view of land’s increased commercial value’. The campus was sold for over a million dollars to an investment company and Brown Military Academy relocated to Glendora. Most of the academy buildings, including the original College of Letters buildings, were demolished and the Pacific Plaza shopping center built on the site. The concrete dormitories remained standing, abandoned and heavily vandalized, until they were torn down in 1965.
The population of Pacific Beach continued to grow as single-family homes gave way to multi-unit condominiums and apartments and as residential developments moved into previously undeveloped areas such as the Mt. Soledad foothills. However, many of the new residents were college students or young adults without children and school attendance actually went down. At the same time, newer communities like Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch were being developed and attracting families with school-age children. The school board decided to close one of the under-utilized schools in the southern part of Pacific Beach and lease the property to fund school construction elsewhere. Since the Crown Point school had a larger campus and could better accommodate future expansion if needed, the board decided to close the Martha Farnum school in 1983. The school was razed and is now the site of the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library. Other Pacific Beach schools have remained but many of their students come from outside the community. Since 2008 the Crown Point school, now known as Crown Point Junior Music Academy, has attracted students through a music magnet program. The Bayview Terrace school was converted to a Mandarin language magnet school in 2013 and is now called Barnard Elementary. Mission Bay High School also responded to declining enrollment by busing students in from other areas.
No new schools have been built in Pacific Beach for over 60 years, but existing schools have undergone additions, reconstruction and upgrades. The school building originally constructed in 1923 as the elementary school and switched to a junior high school in 1950 did not meet state earthquake safety standards and was reconstructed in 1976. And the campus, now Pacific Beach Middle School, is currently (2020) in the midst of a ‘whole site modernization’ project in which the two-story classroom buildings built in 1950 are being torn down and replaced.
Pacific Beach lies on a coastal plain at the foot of Mount Soledad, which rises toward a summit north of the community. The area receives an average of about ten inches of rain a year, most of it coming during winter storms that can drop a large volume of water in a short period of time. In its natural state, even heavy rainfall was absorbed in the relatively flat plains region, although the extreme southwest corner along the shore of Mission Bay is barely above sea level and drains very slowly. In this area, where the Catamaran Resort is now, rainwater remained at or near the surface and an early settler developed a spring to water a flock of sheep. There are also other locations where natural ‘sinks’ or depressions in the otherwise level plain could collect rainwater and become seasonal ponds or marshes. Rain falling on Mount Soledad ran off into canyons: Tourmaline Canyon, near the northwest corner of the community, runs into the ocean and the canyon now followed by Soledad Mountain Road drains into Rose Creek and then Mission Bay, but Bone Canyon, above Vickie Drive, and the canyon between Kate Sessions Park and Kate Sessions school, above lower Academy Street, both empty into areas that have become populated.
In the first decades after its founding in 1887 Pacific Beach was a rural community covered with fields and orchards that largely benefited from the winter rains. The San Diego Union reported in February 1903 that ‘the glorious rains have put everything in the best of shape: the hay fields are looking fine, and the orchards have had a soaking way down deep’. As time went on houses and roads replaced hay fields and orchards, and for these new uses of the land glorious rains could instead leave things in worse shape. In 1901 Fred T. Scripps built a palatial home on the shoreline of Mission Bay in the same low area where the sheep herder had his spring. In January 1916 a series of winter storms that caused devastating floods all over southern California also drenched Pacific Beach. The Union reported that Scripps’ home was practically surrounded by water left by the storm and city employees were sent out to help drain the pool.
The canyon above today’s Academy Street once sustained a seasonal stream that in winter months flowed south along what became Noyes Street toward Mission Bay. In 1900 the Evening Tribune described the area along Noyes between Diamond Street and Garnet Avenue as ‘rich bottom land’ and reported that a local farmer was setting out 4000 strawberry plants. But in 1926, after houses had replaced strawberries along Garnet, property owners petitioned the city council to take some action to prevent water draining down Noyes from forming a ‘small lake’ at the intersection of Noyes and Garnet. They suggested that a closed conduit be constructed along Noyes to care for the flood waters. The Manager of Operation recommended that the City Engineer be instructed to prepare plans for paving Noyes between Garnet and Diamond to take care of the storm waters. Neither of these ideas was implemented at the time.
The war effort of the 1940s led to enormous growth in the population of Pacific Beach, accompanied by increased homebuilding and street improvement, some of which took place in areas prone to flooding. The area around Thomas and Reed avenues between Ingraham and Jewell streets is in one of the natural depressions which earlier owners had drained by digging a ditch westward across Ingraham. The ditch interfered with development of nearby property and in 1941 the city council awarded a contract for what was apparently the first underground storm drain in Pacific Beach, under Reed Avenue between Ingraham and Haines streets. The ditch was then filled in and by 1950 these blocks were lined with houses. This storm drain was later extended to Mission Bay at the foot of Fanuel Street and up Ingraham to Garnet Avenue.
A storm drain also made development possible in a section of northwest Pacific Beach, near where Tourmaline Canyon enters the ocean. The original railroad line between Pacific Beach and La Jolla had crossed this canyon over a bridge but when the line was upgraded to a fast streetcar line in the 1920s the bridge was replaced by a solid dirt embankment over a concrete culvert. The canyon originally continued east for another block or so, between the embankment, now La Jolla Boulevard, and Turquoise Street, but in 1952 the city laid a storm drain in this section of the canyon and in the years since it has been filled in. In its place is a row of houses and the Barrier Reef condominiums along a new block of Sapphire Street.
As streets were paved and houses built on formerly absorptive land, stormwater runoff became an increasing problem in Pacific Beach, particularly in the ‘rich bottom land’ in the vicinity of Noyes Street. In 1953 the city council came up with a plan for a storm drain system that would empty into Mission Bay at the foot of Olney Street. The drain would run under Olney between the bay and Grand Avenue and under Grand between Olney and Kendall street. A branch would run under Noyes Street between Grand and Diamond Street and from there one branch would run west to Lamont and another would run north to Academy Street and under Academy to Beryl. Half of this project was to be funded by the city under a 1952 storm drain bond issue, but half was to be funded by the owners of over 1000 lots in an assessment district bordering the route of the proposed drain.
When the council met to consider this storm drain project a large group of property owners appeared to protest the project. Most of the complaints were about the boundaries of the assessment district, with owners of property at higher levels complaining that only the owners lower down whose property was affected by stormwater would see any benefit from their assessment payments. Other protesters contended that underground storm drains were not needed at all. Richmond Jackson, who owned a home on Noyes overlooking Academy Street, suggested that the drainage problem could be solved with settling basins, which could also be used for fishing. Any runoff could be contained in surface drains within paved streets. Academy Street, below his house, had been paved a few years earlier and Jackson claimed that it had been successful at draining stormwater in that area. Faced with a survey indicating that 90% of affected property owners opposed it, the council abandoned this ambitious storm drain project in March 1954. Instead the city used its own funds to build a storm drain on Grand Avenue and Olney Street draining into Mission Bay. The city also acquired easements and built a storm drain under two blocks between Morrell and Noyes streets and Grand and Reed avenues, a particularly low area in these ‘bottom lands’ with a history of flooding, and connected it to the Olney drain.
In 1955 a city council proposal to pave and otherwise improve Noyes from Reed to Beryl streets included construction of a storm drain between Grand Avenue and Diamond Street. Again there were protests; the people below wanted the drain, the people above did not. However, this time the council overruled the protests and the street improvements, including the storm drain, were made in 1956. In the years since, as development continued in the foothills above Pacific Beach, this storm drain has been extended up Academy Street and Edgeworth Road to beyond Kate Sessions Park, effectively solving the drainage problems originating from this canyon.
Increased runoff due to development also increased the drainage problems in the low-lying areas of southwestern Pacific Beach, periodically flooding the area around Mission Boulevard and Pacific Beach Drive. In 1953 the existing sewage pumping station there was upgraded to also handle storm water. After a major storm in January 1964 flooded the area once again, city manager Tom Fletcher told the San Diego Union that ‘ponding’ began at the Mission Boulevard-Pacific Beach Drive intersection after storms of any magnitude, and spread to Oliver Avenue, which is about the same elevation. When the ponding reached a depth of about two feet excess water also ran south on Mission Boulevard, placing a load on the drains there. However, he announced that a project included in the city’s capital outlay program for the year would double the capacity of the drainage system. This storm drain project ran up Dawes Street from Mission Bay and along Grand, Fanuel and Felspar as far as the corner of Gresham and Emerald streets. Over the next few years storm drains were also added under Missouri, Loring and Sapphire streets, leading to the ocean.
Pacific Beach has continued to grow, and storm drains along Soledad Mountain Road and Vickie Drive were among those added to handle increased runoff as development expanded onto Mount Soledad. In addition to mitigating flooding, some of these large concrete tubes turned out to have other unanticipated uses, at least during the dry season. Members of a Facebook group for Pacific Beach old-timers responded to the question ‘Who explored the underground storm drains of PB?’ with claims to have not only explored but to have ridden skateboards and Flexies, some with flashlights taped on them for headlights, through the drains. Some recalled riding from the end of Vickie Drive to Tourmaline Beach or skateboarding to Mission Bay. In the wet season, though, the storm drain system is meant to keep Pacific Beach dry and it has generally been effective, although storms of any magnitude still cause ponding in the area where sheep once drank from natural springs and city workers had to bail out Fred Scripps’ home.
Like the rest of the world, San Diego is suffering from the coronavirus pandemic which arrived in North America in early 2020. Once infected with the highly contagious virus, some people may have mild or even no symptoms while others experience severe respiratory distress which may develop into pneumonia and, particularly for the elderly and those with existing health issues, death. As yet there is no vaccine or cure and the only defense against its continued spread is ‘social distancing’. In San Diego and elsewhere this has taken the form of increasingly restrictive orders to prevent gatherings and require people to remain separated by at least six feet. Schools were closed, sports events were cancelled, restaurants and other gathering places were shut down. Only businesses deemed essential remain open, with employees required to wear face masks. People are supposed to stay home, and to wear a mask if they do leave home for essential activities. As of mid-April 2020, social distancing seems to be slowing the rate of infections but at the cost of massive disruption to the economy and to people’s lives. The current coronavirus pandemic and the official response to it is not entirely unprecedented, however. In 1918 the Spanish influenza epidemic entered the United States from Europe and eventually spread to San Diego, where thousands of people were infected and hundreds died. Then, as now, there was no cure for the disease and health authorities resorted to social distancing measures to control it.
The Evening Tribune first reported in mid-September 1918 that extensive epidemics of influenza had occurred at several army camps on the east coast and might be expected to appear in other camps soon. A few days later, an editorial in the San Diego Union noted that Spanish influenza had assumed epidemic proportions of virulent character in Europe and along the eastern coast of the United States, where it was prevalent in military training camps, but had not appeared anywhere in the west except for eleven cases from an army camp in the state of Washington. The Union quoted from a letter sent to a San Diego woman by her brother, a doctor in Berne, Switzerland, where there were 10,000 sick out of a population of 100,000. According to the doctor, the first precaution was to avoid infection by forbidding all assemblies, including theatres, concerts, churches and street crowds. Everyone should converse with their neighbor at a distance (the doctor added that kissing was almost unknown, indulged only by recklessly frivolous persons). The Union added that San Diego’s board of health had received ample warning and were taking every precaution in local camps and communities.
In the fall of 1918 the world was at war, with an alliance led by the British empire and France fighting imperial Germany on the western front in France and Belgium. The United States had entered the war on the side of Britain and France in 1917 and large numbers of troops were trained in camps around the country, including in and around San Diego, before being sent overseas, where they played a major role in bringing World War I to an end on November 11. In San Diego, the navy had taken over Balboa Park for one of these training camps, and since influenza seemed to spread through the movement of recruits through camps the first local precaution against influenza was to place the naval training camp in Balboa Park under a strict quarantine. The quarantine imposed on September 25 would be kept in place until all danger of an epidemic had passed. No civilians would be permitted to enter the grounds and sentries were posted at all the park gates. Although a number of suspected cases had been placed in isolation wards, officers initially declared that no actual cases had been discovered among the 5000 men in camp.
The San Diego area was also the site of a huge new army base; Camp Kearny had been set up in the summer of 1917 as a National Guard training center at a then-remote site that has since become Camp Elliott and the Miramar air station. By September 1918 over 30,000 troops were stationed at the camp, at a time when the civilian population of San Diego was about 75,000. In late September the Union reported that the strictest sort of a watch was being maintained at that camp for anything looking like the Spanish influenza, but that nothing which could be identified as such had appeared. No camp quarantine had been established and the medical authorities were loath to resort to one. On October 9, however, a quarantine was established as a precautionary measure, directing no officer, enlisted man or civilian to leave the camp. The camp still had no cases of Spanish influenza of its own but two cases were brought there by soldiers arriving from an eastern camp where it had been prevalent. They were placed in quarantine and others had had no communications with them.
A partial embargo was also imposed on Fort Rosecrans, the coast artillery base on Point Loma. Officers and men were forbidden to go to Los Angeles or attend theatres or other public gatherings in San Diego. The embargo would be extended to a real quarantine if the ‘menace’ approached any further from the north. Meanwhile, the funeral for the first San Diegan to die of Spanish influenza was held on October 1. Dr. Gordon Courtenay had been commissioned a lieutenant in the navy and had been assigned as chief surgeon on a warship, but the night before his ship was to sail he was suddenly taken ill. He had contracted the disease from ‘bluejackets’ he had been treating in Boston and died in Brooklyn on September 20.
The city board of health issued a bulletin on October 2 stating that the present pandemic seemed to exhibit an unusual virulence and that the gravity of the situation on the eastern seaboard had prompted the board to adopt all measures at their command for its control on this coast. Accordingly, under section 2979 of the political code, influenza was made reportable and all physicians must report cases to the health department immediately. Although no influenza cases had yet been noted in the San Diego newspapers, the board of health moved on October 12 to forbid all public gatherings in San Diego by closing theatres, moving picture shows, schools, dance halls, churches and bath houses. The school board, theatre managers and ministers were said to be in support of the plan and no violations of the order were expected. It was believed that by preventing large bodies of people from congregating indoors all danger of the spread of influenza would soon be eliminated. The order did not affect saloons; the health office stated that ‘men do not congregate in saloons in large numbers’ and the order was to ‘discourage or prevent large gatherings, such as was held last night in the interest of the anti-single tax measure’. A request to hold outdoor church services in Balboa Park was also turned down and the state convention of the Elks in San Diego was cancelled.
By October 14 the health board restrictions were extended to prohibit public funerals; hereafter all burials would be private. High school football games were cancelled for two weeks. Fort Rosecrans and the navy flying school on North Island were put under quarantine. By then 63 cases of influenza, but only one death, had been reported to health authorities, who were optimistic that they would clean up the scourge and schools could reopen the next week. The optimism seemed misplaced, however. The next day’s report was that there had been three deaths and a total of 103 cases, which the Tribune noted were mostly of Mexicans or ‘people of small means’ who were apparently ignorant of the symptoms and made no effort to secure proper treatment. The health department also ordered reading rooms of the public library system to close. Libraries would remain open for books to be issued and returned but all windows in the library buildings would be open and every book returned from a household where a case of influenza had existed would be thoroughly fumigated before putting it back in circulation. The restrictions in place on crowding had one interesting side effect; the Tribune noted that October 16 was the greatest opening day for duck hunting in many years as the influenza quarantine bans about everything other than the healthful field sports.
On October 16 the Tribune reported that only 22 cases had been reported against 26 the day before and that the authorities now believed that the tide had turned and that within a very short time the malady would pass to such an extent that the quarantine could be lifted. However, further precautions were being taken including closing the public market where farmers sold their wares and requiring masks on employees of large stores. The next day, as the influenza situation did not improve, more drastic regulations were imposed. Every server to the public, including clerks, waiters and waitresses, barbers, and bartenders, must wear the gauze face mask. Spectators would be excluded from trials. 56 new cases and 2 deaths were reported, including 4 cases from the navy training camp at Balboa Park. With 212 cases and 10 deaths so far, new regulations were laid down by the board; gatherings of a purely social nature, such as bridge parties, were ‘absolutely taboo’.
As the number of influenza cases grew, existing medical facilities were overwhelmed, and on October 19 it was reported that the Fremont school in Old Town was being made into a temporary receiving hospital. Desks were being removed and the rooms were being overhauled under the direction of the Red Cross. The new hospital would be for receiving and treating influenza patients and would have a capacity of 80 beds. It would be operated under the direction of E. Chartres-Martin, city health officer, assisted by a corps of volunteer physicians and surgeons. When the Fremont hospital opened on October 21 the Tribune reported that it would be designated an isolation hospital and that all influenza cases were to be isolated and treated there with a view to preventing further spread. Meanwhile, the health board reported that the number of new cases had been ‘almost stationary’ over the last several days, with daily totals in the 40s, which suggested that the outbreak would soon be curbed. Still, the board would take steps to strictly enforce precautions to prevent further spread of the malady, particularly the wearing of face masks would be insisted on and enforced, in spite of criticism.
The face mask order took effect on October 26, 1918, and required every individual in any office or place of business where he or she came into contact with the public to wear a gauze face mask. However, with 55 new cases and four deaths, the progress of the disease showed no signs of let-up and the health board urged citizens to continue to take every precaution to combat the disease. One of the new cases was the city health officer, Dr. Chartres-Martin, although his attack was considered mild and he was considerably improved by October 28. When the health department made public figures on October 30 showing 61 new cases of Spanish influenza, the increase was laid almost entirely to growing laxity in the use of the gauze masks. The department warned that unless every preventive measure was carried out, including wearing masks, no effort could be made to lift the quarantine at the different army camps. At Camp Kearny, 36 new cases of influenza were counted, as well as 21 cases of pneumonia and four deaths. There were 750 cases in the base hospital and the total number of influenza cases in camp since the epidemic began was 3242. There had been a total of 50 deaths.
The influenza epidemic continued its spread both at Camp Kearny and in San Diego in the first week of November. In camp on November 9 50 new influenza cases were taken to the base hospital and there were six deaths, making a total of 3404 cases and 64 deaths. In San Diego on November 12 there were 57 new cases and one death. However, Dr. Chartres-Martin did not consider the sudden rise in the number of cases to indicate that the influenza had returned to the epidemic state; ‘On the contrary, that stage has passed and we have now to deal with cases of mild form which will soon be cleared up’. The quarantine which had closed theatres, churches and schools was set to be lifted on November 18 and Dr. Chartres-Martin maintained that the situation did not warrant its extension. Public schools would remain closed, however, since state law apparently prohibited opening any public schools unless all were opened and the Fremont school was still being used as a hospital from which the 40 or more patients could not be moved. Health authorities had begun fitting and furnishing the office and bottling building of the recently closed Mission Brewery as an isolation hospital for 100 influenza patients and when the building was ready patients at the Fremont school would be moved and schools could be reopened.
Although regulations intended to prevent crowding were still in effect on November 11, news of the armistice ending World War I brought out the largest crowds ever seen in San Diego to that time. According to the San Diego Union, men, women and children, hundreds of them in scant attire, rushed from their homes breathlessly to read the tidings that victory had rewarded the Allied arms. Celebrations continued through the long, exquisite day and far into the night as humanity poured into the streets in innumerable streams, lighted by faces radiant with happiness long deferred. Thousands of homes gave forth their precious occupants, who gravitated to the business section. Aged and stooped men and women and dignified professional men strode the sidewalks shoulder to shoulder with men who wore marks of hard toil. In the afternoon the crowds lined the curbs to cheer units of army, navy and marines marching down Broadway in a hastily organized parade. An official parade was scheduled for November 15 and the Evening Tribune noted the although the flu had prevented other big mass meetings it would not affect this celebratory parade and carnival. However, an accompanying sports carnival was postponed until the Thanksgiving holiday ‘when the flu bans shall be lifted’.
The ‘flu bans’ were lifted on November 18 and by November 23 the local papers were reporting that San Diego was facing the worst week since the outbreak of the disease in early October, with 61 new cases and 4 deaths reported in each of the previous two days and 91 new cases and three deaths the day before that. The authorities did not offer an explanation for the increases but the Union noted that in some circles it was believed due to the termination of the quarantine and in others to several days of rainy weather the previous week. With 70 more new cases and three deaths the next day the authorities suggested that the increases may have been partly explained by the fact that doctors had only recently been making complete reports. Perhaps it would have seemed unpatriotic to suggest that the victory parades could have contributed to the surge of new cases after November 11.
That the epidemic had taken a ‘somewhat alarming course’ was borne out by figures made public November 26, which showed 73 new cases and three deaths the day before, a Monday, and a total of 115 over the preceding weekend. In the six days between November 19 and 25 there were 27 deaths while total deaths from October 31 to November 18 had only been 24. The disease was also spreading geographically, having left the bayfront and the ‘Mexican quarter’, and was breaking out in the ‘better residential sections’. The cases were also of a more serious form than those previously encountered. The idea was advanced that the situation might justify drastic corrective measures; a revival of the quarantine had been hinted at unofficially. Dr. Chartres-Martin said he would urgently request all churches which used the sacramental cup to dispense with it in their services for the present. Meanwhile the health department had practically vacated the Fremont school in favor of the new emergency isolation ward at the old Mission Brewery.
With influenza conditions having taken such a serious turn, plans to reopen the public schools were abandoned. By November 30, with conditions continuing to deteriorate, the health board announced that the quarantine, lifted less than two weeks earlier, would be put into effect again, affecting theatres, churches and other places where crowds gather. When theatre owners announced that they would refuse to comply, and questioned the health board’s authority to enforce the order, the city council met and passed a city ordinance to establish a quarantine, although it didn’t go into effect until December 6 and was limited to four days. Meanwhile, at Camp Kearny, the influenza situation appeared to have stabilized at about 50 new cases a day despite the general liberty granted during the week of Thanksgiving when thousands of soldiers, practically the entire command, mingled with the populace at Los Angeles and San Diego. The new cases were said to be mild and no changes were contemplated in quarantine regulations.
The reintroduction of the quarantine in San Diego on December 6 went smoothly; even the Theatrical Managers Association had a change of heart and voted to lend the health department every assistance in stamping out the epidemic, even offering the services of one man from each theatre each day to assist the board. Most stores were closed and the business district was almost deserted. The San Diego Union reported that there were many minor violations but no arrests, although the police announced that they would not be so lenient in the future. That future soon arrived, with the Tribune reporting on December 9 that the one place in San Diego that had drawn crowds despite the influenza epidemic was police court. The judge entertained representatives from practically every walk of life – ‘Chinese, merchants, white men and women, negroes, the rich, the poor, druggists, trash collectors, chauffeurs, clerks, all sorts’ – and sent them away $5 poorer in most cases and ‘with an abiding desire to live up in the future to every single influenza law’. The judge handled about 100 of the 300 arrests and the ‘court coin box’ was enriched by about $500. According to the Tribune the outstanding feature of the campaign against those who refused to wear masks was that those individuals were fast disappearing. Mask wearing had become ‘almost general’ among those who entered stores or did business with the public.
When the strict quarantine measures introduced on December 6 expired after December 9 the council adopted a new ordinance effective for another nine days making the wearing of the gauze mask obligatory in all places but the home. The mask should be made from at least four ply surgical gauze, or six ply cheese cloth, or preferably, from at least three ply butter cloth. A person was permitted to remove the mask when eating or if it would render the wearer physically unable to perform his occupation, or while receiving the sacrament. By December 11 the Union reported that San Diegans had faced the ordeal of the gauze mask and grinned and bore it. Whither one looked he saw masks which concealed all vestige of visage but smiling, twinkling eyes. Men, women and little children, even the newsboys running through the streets ‘wore ‘em’. Even the councilmen at city hall were at their desks, masked. On December 12 the news was of an abrupt drop of 64 in the new cases, to 115 yesterday from 179 the day before, the lowest total in 10 days. Authorities were unwilling to say if the sudden drop was due to the enforced wearing of gauze masks or was a product of the recent four-day ban on all business, but it was expected that churches would remain closed.
Over the next few days the number of new cases was substantially lower, in the 20s, and health authorities ventured to say that the epidemic in San Diego was on its last legs. Only two deaths were reported. The emergency hospitals were not so crowded. The authorities were not prepared to say whether the universal wearing of masks was responsible; bright sunshine weather might also have been a factor. At Camp Kearny the influenza conditions also showed continued improvement, with only 11 new cases and one death reported on December 12. The Sunshine and Kearny theatres at the camp would be permitted to reopen, the only exception to the regular order being that patrons must wear gauze masks. By December 16 the Tribune reported that authorities were of the opinion that the decrease in cases and fatalities which began with the adoption of the universal gauze mask ordinance had continued. Only 13 cases had been reported the day before, including two admitted to the old Mission Brewery. Each day showed a wonderful improvement of the situation and led health officials to believe that the epidemic may be entirely stamped out. The continuation of the most rigid precautions, however, was urged. On December 18 only 29 new cases were reported, which the Union claimed was the smallest for any one week day since the outbreak of the epidemic in San Diego. The number of cases was a decrease of 150 compared with December 10, when the universal wearing of the face masks was made compulsory, there being 173 cases that day. Although the face mask ordinance was due to expire on December 18 the council extended if for another week, to December 24.
In the final weeks of 1918 influenza cases in San Diego continued to decline. New cases on December 19 numbered 21, the lowest figure in weeks. Better still, 10 of the cases were in houses where the disease already existed, evidence that it was not spreading except where there had been direct exposure. The wearing of masks since that method of precaution was adopted was given full credit. On December 20 only 9 cases were reported in San Diego. In Camp Kearny, only four cases were reported, and one death. The last previous date on which this low number was reached was October 10. The total since September 25, when the scourge began, was 4654 cases and 145 deaths at the camp.
By December 27 the news was even better. In San Diego only one new case of influenza was reported, making six cases since Christmas eve. For the last five days only 25 cases had been reported, equaling the total number of cases for one day on December 17, when the decline began, and by December 30 the health board was anticipating an early end of the epidemic. On January 1, 1919, the Union claimed that influenza nearly made an exit for the New Year, with only eight new cases and no deaths reported on New Year’s Eve. Schools would reopen on January 6. On January 2 Camp Kearny reported that after a ‘flare-up’ on December 31 new cases fell from 13 that day to five, and one death, the first in nine days.
Influenza did not make an exit for the new year; new cases of influenza, and deaths, continued to be reported in the first weeks of 1919. On January 7, 12 new cases were reported, nearly all young persons, under 40 years old. There had been 12 deaths in the year so far, an average of 2 a day. Readers in San Diego were also informed of notable cases outside of their city. Walter Johnson, pitcher for the Washington Senators (and future Baseball Hall of Famer), had been seriously ill for two weeks with the influenza but was recovering rapidly at his farm in Kansas. Mary Pickford, noted film star, was suffering from Spanish influenza but was also considerably improved, although still confined to her bed at home with two nurses in attendance. The Evening Tribune also claimed that although there had been 20 new cases and three deaths over the last few days, San Diego was favored in mildness of the epidemic compared to Los Angeles, where there were 600 to 700 new cases reported daily. Every effort was being made to prevent importations of flu cases from that city. By January 12, with 24 new cases, four fewer that the previous day, and two deaths, the Union reported that with further improvements being shown in the influenza situation the board of health had made no further effort to adopt another face mask ordinance nor did it order the schools closed.
The influenza epidemic in and around San Diego affected local affairs beyond theatres, churches and schools. San Diego’s highly anticipated direct rail connection to the east, the San Diego & Arizona Railway, had been under construction since 1907 and by the end of 1918 the work had reached its final and most challenging phase, blasting tunnels out of solid rock in Carrizo Gorge in eastern San Diego County. However, work camps in the gorge proved to be ideal incubators for influenza and 215 cases and 28 deaths had been reported among the crew of about 350 men, seriously impacting construction work. By the middle of January 1919, however, the railroad was able to report that influenza had been eradicated in the gorge and labor conditions had become more settled. Excellent progress was reported on tunnel work and everything seemed favorable for completion of the line (a ceremonial golden spike was driven in Carrizo Gorge to complete the line in November 1919). In sports, the San Diego High School football team advanced to the league championship game because six players on the Pomona team, which had earlier beaten the ‘Hilltoppers’, were ‘out of the game’ with influenza and Pomona was forced to forfeit its final game against Fullerton (Fullerton went on to beat San Diego in the championship game).
By the end of January 1919 the Union was reporting that influenza was at a low ebb, only about five new cases a day, better than at any time since the disease first broke out in this city. Each day saw fewer cases and the authorities predicted that the disease would entirely disappear soon. No deaths had been reported in a week. While conditions were slightly improved in Los Angeles they were still bad, around 100 a day. At Camp Kearny, the number of new cases was also the lowest since the epidemic began; only about one a day. It had also been weeks since any deaths were reported at the camp.
The influenza situation continued to improve in February. On February 6 the Union reported that the hospitals were nearly empty and there were few ‘quarantines’; homes where influenza had been reported and the residents were forbidden to leave. On the 9th, Camp Kearny reported that there had been two days which ‘scored zeroes in the three columns in the base hospital report devoted to influenza, pneumonia and death from either of these’, and two consecutive days on which not a single new case of influenza was reported. In fact Camp Kearny had reported only seven new influenza cases, one pneumonia case and one death during the first half of the month. By the middle of the month influenza was also regarded as a ‘dead issue’ by San Diego health authorities; only one case being reported over the last several days. At the end of February there was a report of five new cases, the first in several days, but they appeared in only two families (the report in the Tribune included the families’ names and addresses).
Reporting on the influenza epidemic all but disappeared from local papers after February 1919. While there were still a few new cases they were described as mild and even fewer deaths were reported. By April the only news was the accounting of costs for the recent Spanish influenza epidemic; more than $20,000, due the American Red Cross for operation of the Fremont and Mission Brewery emergency hospitals, most of which was provided by the United States government for caring for sailors at the isolation hospitals.
Spanish influenza had probably arrived in San Diego by October 1918 and by the middle of that month its spread had prompted quarantines of Camp Kearny and other military camps in the area and the closing of schools, churches, theatres and other activities where people gathered in San Diego. Employees of businesses that served the public were required to wear face masks. Churches and theatres, but not schools, were reopened in mid-November when the levels of new cases had seemed to level off, but in early December a renewed rise in cases prompted a four-day total business shutdown followed by a three-week period when all residents were required to wear masks outside the home. Possibly as a result, the number of new cases began to subside around Christmas and schools were reopened in early January 1919. By mid-March the disease had essentially disappeared. It is estimated that nearly 5000 people were infected with the virus in San Diego and 366 deaths were blamed on it.
A few relics of the epidemic still exist in San Diego. Fremont Elementary school, on Congress Street in Old Town, reopened in 1919 and remained active until 2001, although most of the original school was torn down and rebuilt in 1948. It is now a school district training center, although like most other schools and offices it has presumably been closed again during the 2020 pandemic. The Mission Brewery, which had opened in 1913 but closed earlier in 1918 and was used as an isolation hospital for flu patients, reopened as a plant for producing agar from kelp in the early 1920s and operated intermittently until 1987. Now the Mission Brewery Plaza, it is still standing at West Washington and Hancock streets in Middletown and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Last month the Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum staged a reenactment of what was considered the greatest event in the history of San Diego when it took place a century ago. On November 15, 1919, in a remote desert canyon, J. D. Spreckels, founder and president of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad, drove the golden spike that symbolized completion of a new rail line linking San Diego with the Imperial Valley and points east. Speakers impersonating the dignitaries who spoke at the original ceremony emphasized the difficulties involved in building the line, which had already become known as the ‘impossible railroad’, and praised Spreckels for his determination in leading the effort that finally overcame the many challenges – for doing the impossible.
Work on the SD & A had begun in 1907 but a number of difficulties, principally the challenging terrain along the planned route, had stretched construction out for over twelve years. The most challenging section of the route was in Carrizo Gorge, north of Jacumba, where for 11 miles the SD & A right-of-way was blasted out of a sheer canyon wall, requiring 17 tunnels totaling 2 ½ miles in length and 14 wood trestle bridges. In November 1919 construction crews laying track from both ends of Carrizo Gorge finally came together and Spreckels and a trainload of the city’s leading citizens congregated there to celebrate his triumph by driving in the last spike. However, the 2019 reenactment of this historic occasion did not occur at Carrizo Gorge, which has been closed to passenger rail service for nearly 70 years, but instead at a railway museum in Campo where railroad enthusiasts can still ride in vintage coaches with SD & A lettering over the few miles of the route that are still open. The audience was well aware that the reenactors’ tributes to Spreckels for doing the impossible were ironic, and that the railroad turned out to be impossible after all.
Passenger service over the new railroad line was inaugurated on December 1, 1919, but after only six weeks, in January 1920, the San Diego Union (which was also owned by Spreckels) reported that a rock slide, not large enough to do any ‘real damage’ but just large enough to prevent temporarily the passage of trains, occurred on the SD & A in Carrizo Gorge. The landslide was just west of Tunnel No. 13 and the railway stated that this particular point had been questionable for some time and dynamiting had been considered, so the slide actually relieved the company of this trouble. The Evening Tribune (also owned by Spreckels) added that although nature had ‘saved the powder’ the line was still blocked and passengers on the westbound train No. 3 and eastbound train No. 4, which had arrived at opposite ends of the slide, had to be ‘transported’ around the slide to the other train, which then reversed course and took them on to their destinations. Despite this inconvenience, the railway company emphasized that the track through Carrizo Gorge was becoming more settled each day and was in a very satisfactory condition, and there should be no trouble from this time on. This optimistic assessment was reinforced a month later, in February 1920, when the Union reported that rainfall in the mountain regions was heavy enough in Carrizo Gorge to put the new roadbed to the test that had been awaited by railroad officers. The many precipitous water courses that the rails passed over flowed strongly during the storm but since the many tunnels, cuts and trestles successfully withstood the forces of the first big storm no future trouble of any kind was looked for.
Future trouble occurred anyway, and it was of the kind that did cause real damage. The Union reported in May 1920 that a slide on the side of a mountain over tunnel No. 7 in Carrizo Gorge would probably put the San Diego & Arizona railway out of commission temporarily; although the tunnel was open and trains could be operated through it that was not considered advisable until the part that had given way was removed, which would require several days. Arrangements had been made to transfer passengers between Campo and El Centro by automobile. According to the railway this was the only tunnel through the gorge that had given trouble of any consequence. Two days later, however, the report was that a rift in the rock formation had caused a shift of a huge mass of rock and earth bearing down on the west end of tunnel No. 7. A section of the mountainside 590 feet long, 200 feet high and 200 feet wide at the west portal of the tunnel was unstable and was sliding downhill, crushing 128 feet of the tunnel and 480 feet of track leading to the tunnel. Blasting would be required to break down practically the entire side of the mountain. This would close down the line for a period of five weeks and cost the company approximately $250,000 but, on the plus side, would make impossible any recurrence of the trouble and make the tunnel absolutely safe for all time. A big steam shovel with a force of about 100 men was already at work on the west end of slide. Another shovel with its crew, based a few miles west of the slide, had started a roundabout trip of about 430 miles via Colton and El Centro in order to reach the east end of the slide.
Blasting off the side of the mountain required miners to sink three shafts 25 to 35 feet deep near the top of the slide and oil-drilling rigs to drill six holes 50 to 60 feet deep near the roadbed. These were filled with 50 to 60 tons of black powder and dynamite and in early June J. D. Spreckels himself made the trip to Carrizo Gorge by special train to throw the switch setting off the blast. According to the Evening Tribune, there followed a heavy roar with a concussion that rocked the ground. Vast clouds of dust were sent skyward and thousands of tons of rocks and boulders went hurtling and bounding into the canyon below. Good results were obtained, although not entirely up to expectations, and no accidents of any kind were recorded. A film crew was on hand when the big blast occurred and a few weeks later citizens of San Diego were able to watch it on the big screen; the ad in the Union read ‘Blown Up! A Whole Mountain to Make Carriso Gorge Safe on the S. D. & A. Railroad. See the Big Blast at the Cabrillo. Now — This Week.
However, debris from the Big Blast and a subsequent shot still had to be cleared away and the tunnel rebuilt and two months later the railroad reported that progress had been much slower than expected. Four steam shovels were working two full shifts and the obstruction had been cleared up to approximately 100 feet from the tunnel portal. The railroad predicted that the line should be handling traffic by the end of August and denied a statement in the Los Angeles Examiner that the blasts had been a complete fiasco since the many tons of earth and rock thrown clear of the roadbed had reduced the material to be handled by the steam shovels. The end of August came and went and in October the railroad announced that although the slide had been cleared and the roadbed widened it would still be necessary to drive 166 feet of new tunnel to connect with the present tunnel, possibly by mid-November. When the line did reopen on Thanksgiving Day after being closed for seven months an editorial in the Union declared that every possibility of future delay by reason of similar obstruction had been permanently removed and henceforward San Diego would serve as the Pacific terminal of a direct transcontinental railway.
Actually, other possibilities for delays still existed and in August 1921, less than a year later, the line was closed for several days after heavy and sudden rain hit the western side of Imperial Valley. The terrific downpour had caused 20 washouts along a stretch of about nine miles there leaving a much weakened roadbed in its path. After another storm in December 1921 good progress was reported on repairs to the SD & A roadbed at washed-out points between Tijuana and Carrizo Gorge, although several more days would be required to open the line to through traffic. Through service was restored early in January 1922 but trains were required to travel slowly over three of the washouts so the train making a connection with the Golden State at Yuma would have to leave San Diego an hour earlier than regularly scheduled (at Yuma a sleeper car from the SD & A train was switched to the Southern Pacific’s Los Angeles to Chicago Golden State Limited so that a passenger could go all the way from San Diego to Chicago in the same car). Closures of several days also occurred in December 1926 at the edge of Imperial Valley, February 1927 between San Diego and Tijuana, and September 1929, when 11 miles of track in Carrizo Gorge and 18 miles in the desert approach to the gorge had to be repaired after a cloudburst.
1932 turned out to be an even worse year for the SD & A. In January a fire was discovered in Tunnel No. 3, located south of the Mexican border between Tecate and Campo. Heavy smoke and heat from the flames prevented fire crews from entering and the railroad announced that all traffic would be diverted through Los Angeles until the fire burned itself out, possibly after several days. When the fire had burned out and the tunnel cooled crews began removing debris and installing new timbers, around 1,500,000 board feet of redwood, which had arrived by ship from Northern California. One shipment of nearly 1,000,000 feet from Fort Bragg, including huge squared balks of redwood, four-by-sixes and planking, was unloaded at Pier 1 in San Diego and taken to the tunnel on 50 flat cars. Tunnel No. 3 had originally been 1296 feet long but a section near the east end had collapsed as a result of the fire, ‘daylighting’ that section and dividing the tunnel into two sections, to be named Tunnels No. 3 and 3 ½. Crews finished retimbering the tunnels at the beginning of March 1932 and service was resumed after six weeks and an estimated cost of $100,000, not counting loss of revenue.
In late March 1932, three weeks after the line was reopened at Tunnel No. 3, a slide apparently due to heavy mountain rains blocked the line of the SD & A at the east portal of Tunnel No. 15 in Carrizo Gorge and traffic was again rerouted through Los Angeles. Although the initial report was that the trouble was temporary and service would soon be resumed, the mountain continued to slide and it became apparent that Tunnel No. 15 could not be repaired and the tracks would have to be realigned around it. The realignment would include a new, shorter Tunnel No. 15 and a curved trestle bridge 633 feet long and 185 feet above the canyon floor. The trestle was also built of redwood and is said by some to be the largest curved wood trestle in the world. It is certainly spectacular and has since become a symbol of the SD & A line.
Construction work on the Tunnel No. 15 realignment was completed and the line reopened in early July. However, in October 1932 the railroad experienced another tunnel fire, this time in Tunnel No. 7 in Carrizo Gorge, the same tunnel that had caused problems in 1920. Again there was no possibility of fighting the fire and instead both entrances to the tunnel were sealed in an effort to snuff it out, and traffic was rerouted through Los Angeles. Once the fire had burned out and the tunnel cooled enough for inspection, railroad officials determined that it too was beyond repair and would have to be abandoned. The roadbed was realigned in a series of sharp curves 2200 feet long that bypassed the abandoned tunnel and the line reopened in January 1933 after having been closed for more than half of 1932.
J. D. Spreckels had founded and initially owned the SD & A but had required financial support from the Southern Pacific railroad for its construction. In 1916 the Southern Pacific recovered a portion of this outlay by taking a half-interest in the SD & A. Spreckels died in 1926 and in 1932 his estate’s remaining half-interest was also acquired by the Southern Pacific. While wholly owned by the Southern Pacific, the railroad was operated as a separate unit and renamed the San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway, or SD & AE. The sale was finalized in February 1933 and the SD & AE operated relatively successfully for a number of years thereafter, particularly during the war years of the early 1940s when there was a heavy flow of materiel and military personnel to the port and military bases around San Diego. However, more people were driving cars and more and better highways were being built, including US Route 80 which duplicated the route of the SD & AE between San Diego, the Imperial Valley and the east. Commercial aviation was also improving and attracting growing numbers of passengers. In the years after the end of the war in 1945 traffic on the SD & AE declined and in 1952 passenger service was abandoned.
Freight service continued, although not without incident, especially in Carrizo Gorge, where the rough road and sharp curves made the line prone to derailments. One particularly memorable derailment occurred in May 1965 and closed the line for several days. According to the San Diego Union, one car loaded with wine from New York state was destroyed to prevent looting and two truck trailers with 72,000 cans of beer slid from a flat car 600 feet into Carrizo Gorge (in the following months 24 persons were apprehended in quest of free beer).
In September 1976 tropical storm Kathleen drenched San Diego’s east county and the Union reported that a torrent of water ripped through Carrizo Gorge to destroy portions of three bridges supporting the SD & AE railway. Two trains had been turned back and it would be at least two weeks before rail service was restored. In fact service was not restored until December 1982, over six years later. In the meantime the Southern Pacific sold the railway to San Diego’s Metropolitan Transit Development Board which wanted the SD & AE’s suburban rights of way for the light rail system that became the San Diego Trolley. One of the conditions of sale was that the Southern Pacific had to restore the line to service, but just a week after service was restored another storm dropped 2 inches of rain on the desert approach to Carrizo Gorge near Ocotillo and blocked the route again with tons of rocks and landslides. Six months after that damage was cleared a brush fire in June 1983 burned two trestles and threatened a tunnel in Carrizo Gorge. Although the tunnel did not sustain serious damage, the trestles were destroyed. Fires in tunnels No. 16 in 1986 and No. 8 in 1988 further damaged the line in Carrizo Gorge and Tunnel No. 3 in Mexico caught fire again in 1999. This damage was eventually patched up (Tunnel No. 3 was ‘daylighted’) and the line was open for occasional freight service between 2004 and 2008, but it is now inactive except for the short excursions around Campo. The ‘impossible railroad’ still has its boosters, however, and J. D. Spreckels would have been proud to hear one of the speakers at the centennial celebration declare that the line would be open again next year.
A recent front-page article in the San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted San Diego’s difficulties in accommodating a new form of personal transportation. In February 2018 hundreds of electric scooters appeared on downtown streets. A rider could activate a scooter using a smart-phone app, ride it to work or a restaurant, and leave it on the street where it could be activated by another rider. The city initially welcomed this ‘micro-mobility’ option as a way to get people out of their cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but as the numbers grew so did what the U-T called a ‘wild west’ scooter environment, primarily speeding and riding on sidewalks, annoying and endangering pedestrians. The city eventually responded by passing regulations that included a requirement that scooters have a ‘no sidewalk’ warning sticker and the smart-phone apps have a warning about the city prohibition against riding on sidewalks. The scooters were also supposed to include ‘geofencing’ technology that automatically limits speeds in certain areas. The U-T reported that since the regulations were put into effect in July nearly 500 tickets have been written for scooter violations, most for riding on sidewalks.
This sudden surge of two-wheeled vehicles on city streets, and sidewalks, recalls an earlier era when the streets and sidewalks were invaded by ‘wheelmen’, riders of ‘wheels’, or bicycles. Advertisements for bicycles had appeared in the San Diego Union as early as 1884 and in 1891 an item in the Union’s Local Intelligence column noted that about twenty wheelmen were out on a tour last evening, gliding swiftly and silently along the streets. By 1893 there were three businesses listed under Bicycles in the San Diego city directory and enough bicycles were on the streets that the Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance regulating their use. Ordinance 227 made it unlawful to ride a bicycle on any public sidewalks or to ride after dark without a lantern or light attached to the front of the bicycle. Also in 1893, a Wheelmen’s Club was started in San Diego with plans for at least 70 wheelmen to decorate their wheels and participate in a lantern parade on the evening of Memorial Day.
The growing number of bicycles on the streets also prompted other policy changes by city officials. In the 1890s the streets were unpaved and were also traveled by horse-drawn conveyances and pedestrians. During the dry season the horse-drawn traffic stirred up dust which the city attempted to control by sprinkling the streets with water from the bay. While wet streets were of little concern to horses and buggies or wagons they were not ideal for bicycles and in 1895 the street superintendent ordered the street sprinklers to leave dry the centers of D Street (now Broadway) from Fourth Street to the bay as well as Fourth Street from A to Ivy and Fifth Street from A to the bay for the accommodation of wheelmen.
However, bicycles could also be ridden faster than pedestrians or other vehicles on the streets in the 1890s, and were perceived by some to be dangerous. A column in the Union in 1895 noted that an ordinance being proposed for San Francisco would limit the speed of wheelmen to six miles an hour at intersections and from riding ‘immoderately, carelessly or negligently’, and with a strict prohibition of ‘scorching’. The Union suggested that some features of this ordinance, particularly the prohibition on scorching, might be adopted with advantage in San Diego and that a rule requiring wheelmen to slow down to six miles an hour at crossings would also meet general approval. However, no speed limits on bicycles were adopted in San Diego. Instead the existing bicycle ordinance was amended in 1896 by dropping the requirement for a light or lantern after dark while retaining the prohibition against riding on sidewalks.
Scorching continued to be a subject of concern, however, and in an 1897 article about the ‘Scorching Nuisance’ the Union insisted that it was high time San Diego had an ordinance against scorching, especially as it was practiced in the crowded business streets. The evil had become an actual menace to pedestrians; within the past day or two several so-called ‘accidents’ had occurred through the recklessness of wheelmen, who had no more right to traverse the streets at high rates of speed than had teamsters or occupants of any kind of vehicles drawn by horses. In some respects, the scorching wheelman was actually more dangerous than a runaway team or rapidly driven wagon, which gave warning by the noise they made, while the bicycle rider commonly gave no sign of his approach.
There is a class of wheelmen who seem to take pride in riding at high rate of speed through crowded streets, trusting to their skill to avoid breaking their own bones or imperiling the lives of pedestrians. If the foolish wheelmen themselves were the only sufferers, the general public would not care much. But it is the unfortunate pedestrian that usually gets the bruises. This evil has reached such proportions that it is time severe measures were taken to put an end to it.
The Union article added that wheelmen as a rule were not given to scorching on the streets but were outspoken in condemnation of this foolhardy practice and it would confer a favor on the entire community if they would exert their influence toward passage of a proper ordinance on the subject and seeing that it was properly enforced.
Although the city never passed a proper ordinance on the subject of scorching, bicycle riding continued to be governed by the 1896 ordinance prohibiting riding on sidewalks and the police occasionally conducted operations to enforce this ordinance. In 1902 the Union complained that the police were again arresting wheelmen for riding on sidewalks, this time in what were then the ‘suburbs’ (Logan Avenue) where there were scarcely any pedestrians (the Union contended that the officers went to the suburbs to pick up a few ‘innocents’ in order to scare the real offenders). In September 1903 the Union reported that the latest victim of the activity of the police looking to the suppression of the habit of riding bicycles on sidewalks was a newspaper carrier who had been under the impression that carriers were specially privileged. Unfortunately, he had been delivering in the same neighborhood where another wheelman had collided with and knocked over an old lady while riding on the sidewalk, prompting a show of force by the police.
The Wheelmen’s Club had become an important advocacy group for the rights of bicyclists and in November 1899 it held a meeting ‘to take a united stand to remedy the rank injustice to the riders of wheels who had been victimized by police officers enforcing the ordinance prohibiting bicycle riding on sidewalks’. The wheelmen did not object to the ordinance itself but, according to the Union, they had just cause for complaint against the condition of the streets which in places made it necessary to infringe on the sidewalks. If the streets were in proper condition there would be less necessity for wheelmen to take to the sidewalks for their own safety. The Union added that there were hundreds of wheelmen and they were entitled to some consideration; they were thoroughly in earnest in this matter and threatened to carry it into politics if they could get no relief. A letter to the editor a few weeks later claimed that there were about 2,000 bicycles in San Diego and most were used for business and not pleasure or exercise; ‘You see about 2 bicycles for every buggy or wagon’. This writer’s complaint was that the sidewalk ordinance applied to the whole city, most of which didn’t even have sidewalks or improved streets and very little traffic. He suggested creation of a district downtown where it would make sense to restrict riding on sidewalks and to eliminate the restrictions in other remote places, like Sorrento Valley.
While the papers tended to be sympathetic to wheelmen’s use of the sidewalks, at least when the streets were muddy, scorching was still universally condemned. A 1903 column in the Union claimed that while accidents – collisions between wheelmen and vehicles or pedestrians – were not an everyday occurrence they were still sufficiently frequent to make plain the need of an ordinance to minimize the danger. Youngsters could be seen flying through the more crowded streets just missing collision with a vehicle and the next moment giving some citizen on foot a narrow escape. There was no municipal regulation to prevent the most harebrained, reckless boys from riding through the streets at a pace that makes life and limb precarious to pedestrians. The bicycle menace should be done away with. San Diego had outgrown the times where bicycle riders could scorch through the streets. The city should have a proper bicycle ordinance forbidding high rates of speed.
The city never did pass a proper speed limit ordinance for bicycles but the sidewalk prohibition remained on the books, and was enforced, for years. In 1907 two men appeared in police court and stated that they would plead that while technically guilty they had a ‘moral right’ to ride on the walk of Sixteenth Street for the reason that the street was torn up for paving purposes. In January 1910, after the police arrested two men for riding on the sidewalks, the Evening Tribune explained that the Superintendent of Police was determined to put a stop to men, boys and young women riding bicycles on sidewalks when the streets were not muddy. The Tribune explained that there was no objection to wheelmen using the sidewalks in inclement weather, provided that they shared equally with pedestrians, but there was no excuse when the unpaved streets were not muddy, as was the condition on this occasion.
Scorching and riding on the sidewalk weren’t the only sources of accidents attributed to bicycles. The Union reported in 1903 that a horse and light buggy were standing in front of a store when it was frightened by a bicycle which had been insecurely stood up in a rack near the curb and had fallen over. Fortunately, the only occupant of the buggy, a lady, got the horse under control within a block, showing much skill and coolness. According to the Union, the same cause was responsible for another runaway on Fourth Street a little earlier, and the construction of some of the racks about town with bars placed too wide apart made it practically impossible to securely stand up a wheel in them.
No-one knows how today’s ‘wild west’ scooter situation will turn out but ‘scorching’ and the ‘bicycle menace’ in San Diego’s actual wild west days faded away after D. C. Collier purchased San Diego’s first automobile in February 1900 and ‘wheelmen’ increasingly became ‘automobilists’. Back in 1893, when the ‘wheel’ had appeared be the future of personal transportation, San Diego’s wheelmen had organized a Wheelmen’s Club to celebrate and promote their mutual interest. In the new century, with the automobile age on the horizon, it had become more of a social club, one of the fastest growing in the city. In 1903 members of the Wheelmen’s Club acknowledged the changing circumstances and voted to change their name to the Cabrillo Club.
In early 1903 O. M. Schmidt and A. J. Dula filed subdivision maps for the Fortuna Park and Second Fortuna Park additions south of what became Pacific Beach Drive and commissioned Dula’s brothers-in-law Murtrie and Wilbur Folsom as sales agent for the new tract. The Folsom Brothers’ ads in the Evening Tribune described Fortuna Park as a beautiful home spot, destined to be one of San Diego’s best suburbs, and where a $25 lot was likely to quadruple in value in a few months. They then embarked on a marketing expedition to the Arizona Territory where they expected to find eager buyers for summer homes surrounded by the cool waters of Mission Bay. There they sold dozens of lots to buyers in places like Morenci, Prescott, Douglas, and Bisbee, which is where they sold lots 39 and 40 in block 2 of Second Fortuna Park to O. W. Cotton for $40.
Oscar W. Cotton had been born in San Francisco in 1882 and was working at his first job in Bisbee, making $70 a month. He was apparently so impressed with the Folsom brothers’ sales pitch that he not only purchased lots for himself but also became their agent, selling Fortuna Park lots to other residents of the Arizona back country. In July 1903 Cotton came to San Diego to see for himself the properties he had bought, and had represented to others, and decided to stay and join the Folsom Brothers firm. In November 1903 Folsom Brothers significantly expanded their interests, acquiring O. J. Stough’s holdings of almost the entire territory of Pacific Beach. An ad in the San Diego Union a month later announced that the company would make improvements, including the erection of many sightly residences, that would make it the most attractive suburb of San Diego and insure its rapid development.
Work on the sightly residences was soon underway; the Tribune reported in December 1903 that the new concrete dwelling on Broadway near Sunset Avenue now being erected by Folsom Brothers was fast nearing completion and foundations had been laid by the same firm for the erection of four other structures, work upon which would be commenced within a few days (Broadway is now Ingraham Street and Sunset is Fortuna Avenue). In January 1904 the Tribune reported that Mark Folsom, their father, had laid the foundations for a handsome dwelling at the corner of Broadway and Thomas Avenue. The building would be constructed of concrete cement, elaborately finished on the exterior and surrounded by spacious lawns.
In February, the handsome office building of Folsom Brothers which was being erected at the corner of Broadway and Grand Avenue was fast nearing completion and would be ready for occupancy within a few weeks. This building was also of concrete cement and very attractive in its architectural design. Although the main part of the office would be devoted wholly to the business of selling building sites in Pacific Beach, there would also be a department to be used as the headquarters of the architect who would superintend the building operations of the firm.
The business of selling building sites in Pacific Beach was a good one for Folsom Brothers in 1904; the Evening Tribune reported that on occasion no less than five teams might be seen conveying prospective buyers through the suburb and along the famous ocean strand. Anticipating further growth in its real estate business the company filed articles of incorporation in August 1904. Murtrie Folsom became president and Wilbur Folsom vice-president of the new Folsom Bros. Co. and O. W. Cotton was named secretary and treasurer. The construction side of the business was also promising and in September the Pacific Beach Construction Company was incorporated with the Folsom brothers and Cotton as directors. A Folsom Bros. Co. ad in the Union explained that the construction company was organized primarily for the upbuilding of Pacific Beach property. It would manufacture and deal in all kinds of building materials, including the most modern and practical style of cement blocks, and would build houses of this and other materials. It was listed in the 1905 San Diego City Directory as Folsom Bros. Co. Building Department, alabastine stone and building material, at the same address as Folsom Bros. Co. Real Estate.
The next few years were busy ones for the Folsom Bros. Co. building department. The San Diego Union reported in October 1904 that developments of the past week in building improvements in Pacific Beach had surpassed those of any like period since Folsom Bros. Co. started their immense and comprehensive plans of development. The foundations and framework of no less than ten structures in various stages of completion could be found within a radius of only two blocks from the Pacific Beach Hotel. Some were store buildings and some residences and nearly all either in whole or in part being constructed of the patent cement-concrete building blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co.
The Pacific Beach Hotel was at the center of the community at the time, the corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets, where the Patio restaurant is now (the hotel building later became the Folsom Bros. Co. sales office). The new store buildings included the ‘handsome two-story edifice’ of McCrary and Parmenter at the southwest corner of Grand Avenue and Lamont Street, a block south of the hotel, which ‘threw open its doors’ in January 1905 and which was constructed ‘in whole’ of concrete blocks. (this store, ‘the largest in the suburb’ in its day, became Ravenscroft’s grocery in 1913 and was later the Full Gospel Temple before being demolished in the 1950s). The residences in various stages of completion in 1904 included a number on Hornblend Street within two blocks of the hotel, some of which are still standing, including the home built for H. J. Breese at the northeast corner of Hornblend and Morrell (later the passion fruit ranch of Dr. H. K. W. Kumm) and the homes built for Anna Boulet and Ansel Lane (now the Baldwin Academy) on the north side of Hornblend between Jewell and Kendall streets. Outside of the central two-block radius, the Union reported that the magnificent home of James Haskins on Diamond Avenue, fast nearing completion in December 1905, was constructed partly of the concrete blocks manufactured by Folsom Bros. Co.
In 1906 O. W. Cotton was the author of a piece in the San Diego Union that promoted Folsom Bros. Co. as an establishment that had grown from three employees to having a payroll that included from fifty to sixty names. Their alabastine stone plant, a factory for the manufacture of artificial stone (concrete building blocks), had grown from a little experimental block yard in Pacific Beach employing four people to a third of a block downtown employing thirty people that furnished building materials for nearly every structure built in San Diego. And this was just the beginning of what they planned to accomplish.
In a memoir published in 1962 Cotton later explained that the experimental yard had actually been the engine house of the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla railroad near the foot of Grand Avenue, where Folsom Bros. had attempted to make concrete blocks from beach sand. It turned out that beach sand is too fine-grained to bind into blocks and the plant was moved away from the free source of this raw material to the downtown site where the blocks were made of coarser river sand. Even with better quality products, however, the venture was not profitable and the company soon got out of the concrete block business to concentrate instead on lot sales.
In December 1906 Folsom Bros. Co. announced a new ‘opening sale’ of 250 Pacific Beach lots beginning on January 1, 1907. Their ad in the Union explained that the company had just inaugurated a policy of improvement and development and homebuilding. The improvement and development would include grading permanent streets and boulevards and paving sidewalks. The homebuilding would be accomplished by the Pacific Building Company, which would be opening for business on January 1, 1907, and would build houses costing from $1,500 to $10,000 at Pacific Beach upon easy monthly payments about equaling rent (the lots themselves were another $250). Other Folsom Bros. Co. ads emphasized that the Pacific Building Company, an allied company, would build houses ‘for purchasers of lots from us’.
The Pacific Building Company had been incorporated in December 1906 with Cotton heading the list of five founding directors and stockholders and serving as president and general manager. The company would be allied with Folsom Bros. Co. and initially shared the same office at 1015 5th Street but the Folsom brothers were not included as directors or even stockholders of the new company. In early 1907 the report of building permits in the San Diego Union generally included at least one for Pacific Building Company in Pacific Beach or Fortuna Park. One week in April the building permits report in the Evening Tribune listed four permits for the company to be erected in Pacific Beach; two frame dwellings valued at $1800 each, one frame cottage, also $1800, and a cement cottage at $2800. In May the Union reported permits for two one-story frame cottages at Pacific Beach, one valued at $2600 and the other $2300, a two-story residence at $5000 and a cottage at $2300.
In June 1907, a report on developments in Pacific Beach mentioned that the Pacific Building Company was erecting a six-room house in Fortuna Park for Mr. DeHart and also a large cottage for Mr. Mott (actually Macht) on Missouri Avenue. It had just completed a large cottage for Mr. J. M. Asher, Jr., and a smaller one, and was then finishing a large house on Diamond Avenue. In July the Union listed two more houses started by the Pacific Building Company and credited the reorganization of Folsom Bros. Co. at the beginning of the year with generating so much activity that the arrival of freight cars full of lumber in the suburb was commonplace (the freight cars would have arrived at the West Coast Lumber Company siding off the La Jolla railroad line on Grand just east of Lamont, where the 7-11 is now).
Mr. DeHart’s home in Fortuna Park is no longer there but three houses built in 1907 in the 1100 block of Missouri, including the home built for Mr. Macht, arestillstanding . Other homes built by the Pacific Building Company also remain today in Pacific Beach. A building permit was issued in June 1907 for the one-story frame building on Reed Avenue between Lamont and Morrell streets to cost $1700 that still stands at the southwest corner of Reed and Morrell. In October 1907 the Pacific Building Company started work on the much larger house at Lamont and Beryl streets for the MacFarlands valued at $3500-$4000.
The large house that Pacific Building Company was finishing on Diamond Avenue in 1907 was intended for Cotton himself. In June the Union reported that Mr. and Mrs. O. W. Cotton had returned from a wedding journey to Yosemite, and that Mrs. Cotton, who had been Miss Violet Savage, would be remembered as one of the ‘charming members of the younger set in Los Angeles’. They were staying at the Hotel Robinson to await completion of their attractive cottage at Pacific Beach. That attractive cottage is also still there, at 1132 Diamond Street. While living in Pacific Beach Mrs. Cotton was noted for her musical talent; a former concert pianist, she entertained guests at Mrs. Haskins annual holiday reception for members of the Pacific Beach Reading Club. ‘The appreciative audience demanded many recalls and Mrs. O. W. Cotton continued to give rare pleasure to the parting guests to the very last’.
In 1907 Pacific Building Company and Folsom Bros. Co. shared an office and O. W. Cotton was a director and officer of both companies but in February 1908 the Evening Tribune reported that Cotton had disposed of his interest in Folsom Bros. Co. to devote his entire time to managing the Pacific Building Company, where he was president and general manager. W. W. Whitson, president of the Hillcrest Company, bought out Cotton’s interest in Folsom Bros. Co. and was installed as first vice-president and treasurer (Murtrie Folsom remained as president and Wilbur Folsom was moved to second vice-president and secretary). In a 1984 interview with the San Diego Union, Cotton’s son John claimed that there had been a ‘falling out’; the Folsoms wanted to build houses out of concrete and his father thought that was pure folly. Whatever the reasons, separation from Folsom Bros. Co. allowed Pacific Building Company to expand its home construction business beyond Folsom Bros. Co.’s base in Pacific Beach.
The Cottons also moved from Pacific Beach, selling their Diamond Street home to G. H. Robinson, a Folsom Bros. Co. salesman, in 1908. According to the Union, Mr. Robinson had been married in Los Angeles and had bought for his bride the beautiful home on Diamond formerly owned by O. W. Cotton. The Cottons first moved to Hillcrest, where they bought a lot from Whitson and had another home built by Pacific Building Company valued at $4000. In 1912 they moved again; the Union reported that among the many handsome homes recently completed in South Park was a beautiful two-story residence erected by the Pacific Building Company for O. W. Cotton, president of the corporation which had erected 532 buildings to date.
Most of these homes and the hundreds more built over the ensuing years were in the fast-growing communities served by streetcar lines radiating from San Diego. One such ‘streetcar suburb’ was the company’s Tract No. 4, built in 1910 at the end of the line that once ran out Imperial Avenue (then called M Street) and at the time just outside of the city limits (which then ended at Boundary Street). Most of the homes built by Pacific Building Company in Tract No. 4, or Sierra Vista, can still be seen in the Mountain View district of San Diego. Other tracts of inexpensive homes were developed in Normal Heights and East San Diego, also then outside the city limits along the streetcar lines on Adams and University avenues (at the time homes like these could be purchased for less than $1500; in 2019 one built in 1911 on the 30th Street streetcar line in South Park was the San Diego Union-Tribune’s example of what could be bought today for San Diego’s median home price, $560,000). Pacific Building Company also continued to build larger custom residences throughout the city, including the showplace home for Charles Norris on Collingwood Drive in Pacific Beach in 1913.
O. W. Cotton had started his real estate career with Folsom Bros. Co. and then departed to concentrate entirely on construction, but in 1926 he decided to get out of the building business and back into subdivision sales and general real estate practice. Readers of the real estate pages in the local papers in June 1926 would have seen an announcement that the Pacific Building Company was marketing a magnificent tract stretching from the hilltops overlooking La Jolla right down to the water’s edge but could not hit on a name to do it justice and were offering a $100 reward for a suitable name. A week later the Pacific Building Company announced a winner; the tract would be known as Monte Costa. The next week’s Evening Tribune carried an ad for Monte Costa, but it was attributed to ‘O. W. Cotton, Successor to Pacific Building Company’, and by the end of 1926 ads for Monte Costa were by ‘O. W. Cotton Real Estate’ (the tract was actually the Bird Rock subdivision and the new name never caught on). In November 1926 Pacific Building Company underwent voluntary dissolution but as late as 1930 the San Diego city directory still had a listing for ‘Pacific Building Company O. W. Cotton Successor’ (and an entry for ‘O. W. Cotton Successor to Pacific Building Company’ at the same address).
O. W. Cotton continued to be one of San Diego’s best known real estate personalities for decades. In 1946 he was joined by his sons John and William as partners in O. W. Cotton Co., later Cotton Management Co. and Cotton Co. He died in 1975 at the age of 93. Hundreds of homes built by his Pacific Building Company are still standing in San Diego’s former streetcar suburbs and even in Pacific Beach, where the company commenced operations with three houses in 1907.
Looking back at what used to be . . . mostly in San Diego and especially Pacific Beach.