Tag Archives: College of Letters

PB’s Lemon Era 1892-1906

The Pacific Beach lemon packing plant, about 1900. The names of lemon ranchers C. F. Belser and S. Honeycutt (and Honeycutt’s initials, SH) can be seen on some of the boxes (San Diego History Center photo #89_17221)

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.

Original 1887 map of Pacific Beach

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.

Phoebe and Franklin Barnes at home with the college buildings behind them and Mission Bay and Point Loma in the distance

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).

Map 697 – Filed January 1892

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.

Lemon ranches in blocks 216 (left) and 202 (right) are at opposite corners of Garnet Avenue and Jewell Street about 1904 in this photo from the college buildings. The community’s church and schoolhouse (with bell tower) are just beyond the intersection. (San Diego History Center #266)

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.

The Marshall lemon ranch in acre lots 53 and 30, seen from the east (San Diego History Center photo #283)

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.

The Hinkle house, now at 1576 Law Street

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.

Edward and Lulo Barnes home in acre lot 64 – El Nido

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.

The packing plant in the former dance pavilion building is the large structure in the center of this photo. The large structure on the right is the hotel building. Left of the packing plant is the Honeycutt home at the corner of Garnet and Lamont with his former lemon orchard in blocks 205 (left) and 215 (right) on either side. Taken from the college building about 1904 (SDHC #23535)

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.

Location of Pacific Beach lemon ranches in 1900. 2-digit numbers represent acre lots and 3-digit numbers are city blocks.

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, Kendall, Beryl and Lamont 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.

The former Gridley ranch house on acre lot 48 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.

Aerial view of Pacific Beach about 1938. The locations of former lemon ranches in acre lots (red) and city blocks (blue) are outlined. Arrows point to ranch houses still standing at the time. The former college campus was then occupied by Brown Military Academy. Houses line Hornblend Street, foreground, also a former lemon ranch (San Diego History Center photo #83:14603-1)

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.

 

A Hot and Stormy Scene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eunice Stacey Sprecher
Stockton, May 6th.

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

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

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

Stockton Oct. 11, 1889

Mr. C. S. Sprecher:-

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

Eunice A. Sprecher
257 Washington St.
Stockton
Cal.

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

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

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

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

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

Hauser’s Subdivision in PB

Aerial photo showing Hauser’s subdivision (and military academy barracks) in the 1930s  (from San Diego History Center photo 83:14603-1)

In October 1889 the San Diego Union reported that Mrs. Mary E. Rowe and her charming daughters Miss Mabel and Eva were stopping at the Horton House hotel downtown. The Rowes were on their way to Pacific Beach, where the girls, then in their mid-teens, would become students at the San Diego College of Letters. Pacific Beach had been founded in 1887 and was not even two years old at the time. The college, which the founders hoped would become the nucleus of a refined and cultured community, had opened in 1888 and was beginning its second year. It was located on what was then College (now Garnet) Avenue where the Pacific Plaza shopping center is today.

The Rowe family had spent years in India, where Mrs. Rowe’s husband served as a missionary and where Evangeline (Eva) and her younger sister Nellore (Nellie) and brother Percy had been born. They returned to the United States after Rev. Rowe died of typhoid, and once in Pacific Beach acquired a home on the ocean front at the foot of College (the site that was later Maynard’s bar and is now the See the Sea condominiums). In the summer of 1890 the college newspaper reported that the students were enjoying their vacations in ‘divers and sundry ways’, including an evening passed pleasantly telling ghost stories at Mrs. Rowe’s ‘cottage by the sea’, with Misses Mabel and Evangeline doing the honors.

However, the college’s second year turned out to be its last. Its financial position had deteriorated and many in the administration and faculty resigned over the summer. The college did begin the fall term in September 1890 but it never reopened after the Christmas holidays. After the collapse of the college many of the people it had attracted to Pacific Beach moved on, but some remained and were instrumental in relaunching Pacific Beach as a center of lemon cultivation. One who remained was E. C. Thorpe, whose daughter Lulo had also been a student (and whose wife, Rose Hartwick Thorpe, was famous as the author of the poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight). Mr. Thorpe remembered those times in an article for the San Diego Union in 1896:

At the close of the college as an institution of learning in 1890 many of those to whom this had been the attraction moved away, and the following year but three or four families remained in the college settlement. In the fall of 1891 the tract was 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.

Among those families from the former college settlement that settled on the sunny southern slopes and became lemon ranchers was the Rowe family. As Thorpe had recalled, an amended map of Pacific Beach was filed in 1892 that re-subdivided most of Pacific Beach north of what is now Diamond Street (and south of Reed Avenue) into ‘acre lots’ of about 10 acres. In April 1892 Mrs. Rowe purchased one of these acre lots, Lot 49, containing 8 6/10 acres, for $860 or $100 an acre. Acre Lot 49 was located between what are now Diamond and Chalcedony streets and west of Lamont. Mrs. Rowe also apparently had her ‘cottage by the sea’ moved onto her new property; the $400 improvement assessed on her lots in block 226 in 1893 was no longer there in 1894 but there was a $400 improvement assessed on Acre Lot 49.

The ’sunny slopes’ north of the college campus turned out to be ideal for lemon cultivation and the lemon ranches established there flourished. The Union reported in 1895 that Mrs. Rowe was daily improving her place (and also that the society of her daughters was much sought after on account of their charming qualities). A Horticultural Notes column in 1897 included the note that Mrs. Mary E. Rowe had a ranch that from the raw condition had been developed to one now valued at $9,000; ‘The ladies of Pacific Beach are justly proud of their ranches’. In 1900 the report from the Union was that Percy Rowe was in charge of the ranch and had recently done much to improve its condition; ‘It is no little task for a lad to tackle a ranch which needs so much renervation, but pluck and industry generally win’ (Percy would have been about 20 at the time).

The Rowe girls had come to Pacific Beach for an education and after the college closed they continued their studies in the public schools. The only high school in San Diego at the time was the Russ School downtown (now San Diego High), and students from Pacific Beach could take the train from the station at the corner of Lamont Street and Grand Avenue, a few blocks from the Rowe ranch. Evangeline Rowe appeared in the second row in a photo of the Russ School graduating class of 1894. After graduation Mabel and Evangeline Rowe went to Los Angeles to further their educations. Evangeline attended the College of Medicine at the University of Southern California where she met and married Dr. Charles Caven. Evangeline Rowe Caven graduated with a medical degree in 1898 and the couple briefly returned to Pacific Beach before moving back to Los Angeles, then on to Bisbee in the Arizona Territory.

In 1898 the Jowett family had purchased the lemon ranch on Acre Lot 34, which lay across Chalcedony Street on the north side of the Rowes’ ranch. The Jowetts also had children of about the same ages as the Rowes and the neighborhood kids often got together. On one occasion the Union reported that a wagon-load of sea moss with its surface bristling with young people from Pacific Beach had arrived and had dinner on the rocks at La Jolla, after which a musical program was rendered at the pavilion, followed by dancing. The party returned home at a late hour; those present included the Misses Nellore Rowe and Ruth Jowett and Messrs Percy Rowe and Oliver Jowett. Although Mabel Rowe was missing from this particular party (she was studying in Los Angeles), she did return home on occasion and apparently became acquainted with Oliver Jowett. They were married in Los Angeles in 1900, although they later divorced and ‘O. J.’ remarried in 1909.

Nellore Rowe graduated from the Russ School in 1898, was certified as a kindergarten teacher in 1899, and was teaching school in National City in 1900. She later moved to Bisbee, where her sister Evangeline was practicing medicine, and in 1908 married William Gohring, superintendent of mines for the Calumet and Arizona Mining Company. The Gohrings moved to Phoenix in 1918, where he was an executive of the Arizona Copper Company.

The Cavens came back to San Diego in 1910, living in a house on Quince Street at the western end of the Quince Street footbridge (which had been finished in 1907). When the Panama-California Exposition opened in Balboa Park in 1915 Dr. Charles Caven was appointed the official physician and while there he made the news as perhaps the first opioid overdose victim in San Diego history. According to the Evening Tribune he was found in a semi-conscious condition in a garden near the California Building and taken to the Exposition hospital where he died of what the attending physicians determined to be an overdose of morphine (friends said he had no reason to be taking morphine and they believed he took it by mistake). Evangeline remained in San Diego and in 1919 joined a group of doctors, nurses and child welfare workers who traveled to Serbia to assist orphans from World War I. She eventually returned to San Diego where she purchased property overlooking a canyon at the corner of Brant and Upas streets and lived in the home now known as the Evangeline Caven bungalow. She later moved to Los Angeles where she lived with her sister Mabel.

Back in Pacific Beach, Mary E. Rowe had sold Acre Lot 49 with her home and lemon ranch in July 1903 to John and Julia Hauser. By 1903 the lemon era had run its course and real estate developers hoping to sell residential lots were converting acre lots back into the residential blocks originally laid out in the Pacific Beach subdivision map of 1887.  F. T. Scripps, for example, had created the Ocean Front subdivision between Mission Boulevard (then Allison Street), Diamond, Chalcedony and Cass streets from Acre Lots 43 and 44 in 1903. The Hausers also followed this model, drawing up a map for Hauser’s Subdivision of Acre Lot 49 that divided the 8.6 acre lot into two blocks of 40 lots each, separated by Missouri Street (like in the original 1887 map). The city council accepted the Hauser’s subdivision map and the dedication of its streets and alleys for public use at the end of September 1904.

A couple of weeks after Hauser’s subdivision had been accepted by the city an ad appeared in the Evening Tribune for a Big Bargain, house and ten lots $2500 or whole block of 40 lots for $5000; apply to owner, John Hauser.  Apparently this ad produced an offer and he sold all of block 1, which included the Rowe ranch house, to John S. Hoagland. In 1906 Hoagland sold lots 31-34, where the ranch house was located, as well as lots 7-10, across the alley from the house and fronting on Chalcedony Street, to D. C. Shively. The Hausers continued to own block 2 and in 1906 they built a home for themselves on the northeast corner, in lots 17-20.

In 1910 the Hausers sold their home to Sterling Honeycutt, a prominent Pacific Beach real estate operator, and moved away from the subdivision. At the same time they sold lots 21-24, at the southeast corner of block 2, fronting on Diamond Street, to Kate Woodman (Mrs. Woodman already owned the block across Diamond Street, the eastern half of Acre Lot 64). However, the rest of the property in block 2 remained in the Hauser name for many years after that. Julia Hauser died in 1937 and in 1939 John Hauser married Martha Smiley. When he died in 1947, Martha Hauser assumed ownership and was still selling lots into the 1950s.

Sterling Honeycutt had also purchased the property with the Rowes’ former ranch house from D. C. Shively in 1910 and in 1911 he sold it to Emma Wood. Between 1917 and 1937 the house served as the parsonage for the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, occupied by Rev. J. William Millar until 1927 and then by Rev. William McCoy. In 1912 Honeycutt also sold the Hauser’s former home in block 2, which changed hands several more times before being acquired in 1922 by H. A. Hodge. D. C. Shively continued to own the lots on Chalcedony Street and he built a home there in 1910. This property, with the only other house in the subdivision to this time, was sold to E. R. Rounds in 1924 and Shively moved into another home he had built in the adjoining Acre Lot 48, a home that is still standing at 1782 Missouri.

Capt. Thomas Davis had founded the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in 1910 on the former college campus, located a block south of Hauser’s subdivision between Garnet Avenue and Emerald Street. The academy grew and in 1923 he extended the campus a block north by acquiring the eastern portion of Acre Lot 64, between Emerald and Diamond, from Kate Woodman. Also in 1923, a new elementary school was built for Pacific Beach at the corner of Emerald and Ingraham streets and Capt. Davis had the former wooden schoolhouse moved from Garnet Avenue to a site on the expanded campus near the corner of Emerald and Lamont streets, where it became the academy’s junior school. Davis hired Lt. E. H. Mohan to be principal of the junior school and in 1927 Lt. Mohan purchased lots 33-36 in block 2 of Hauser’s subdivision from the Hausers and built a Spanish revival home there on Diamond Street, across from his junior school. These houses, the Mohan home, the former Hauser home, the Rowe ranch house and the home built by D. C. Shively on Chalcedony street remained the only structures in Hauser’s subdivision throughout the 1930s.

In 1940 there were still only the four homes in Hauser’s subdivision, but Pacific Beach was on the verge of a population explosion brought about by Consolidated Aircraft’s move to San Diego in 1935 and the military buildup during World War II. In 1941 the federal government expropriated most of Pacific Beach east of Olney Street to build a housing project for defense workers made up of temporary ‘demountable’ homes (this land has never been returned to private ownership and is now the Admiral Hartman Community for military families). In other areas of Pacific Beach, like Hauser’s subdivision, only three blocks away from that housing project, private developers also began building homes for defense workers and military personnel. 14 new homes were built in Hauser’s subdivision in 1941, 5 on Chalcedony, 5 on the north side of Missouri and 4 on Lamont. In 1947 five more homes were built on Missouri Street, four of them on the south side. However, there were still no homes on Diamond Street other than the Mohan home.

My family arrived in Pacific Beach in 1947 and were living at the De Luxe trailer park on Cass Street. In 1950 my parents and the family in the trailer next door went looking for more permanent homes and found what they were looking for in Hauser’s subdivision of Acre Lot 49. They bought adjoining lots at the southwest corner of block 2, on Diamond Street, where they had homes built and continued to live as neighbors. Our home was on lots 39 and 40, theirs was on lots 37 and 38. The deeds were granted by Martha H. Hauser, and Mrs. Hauser also included an easement over lot 6 for a water pipe to the main in Missouri Street until the city got around to installing one in Diamond Street. My grandmother later bought the neighbor’s house. Both houses are still standing, although both have been renovated over the years.

By 1955 Hauser’s subdivision was built out, mostly with 2-and-3 bedroom homes on double lots but also a few duplexes on single lots. The Rowes’ former ranch house still stood at 1828 Missouri and I remember it was the polling station for the neighborhood in the early 1950s. It finally met its end in 1957 and the Hausers’ former home was also razed in 1965, both replaced by multi-unit apartments. The Mohan’s Spanish-style house on Diamond Street lasted until the late 1970s before it was torn down and replaced by a town home. Today, most of the first generation of detached homes built during the 1940s and 1950s have also been supplanted by apartment complexes or town homes. The only sign of the past remaining in Hauser’s subdivision is a large palm tree standing alone in front of the apartment buildings at 1828 and 1840 ½ Missouri Street, a tree that once stood in the front yard of the Rowes’ ranch house when it stood alone in Acre Lot 49.

Google Maps satellite view of Hauser’s subdivision today

Springtime in PB

Vacant lots and other undeveloped spots around Pacific Beach have turned a brilliant shade of green after a series of winter storms blew ashore in January. In 2019 these undeveloped spots are few and far between and the greenery is only apparent in isolated islands between streets, sidewalks and houses.  It makes you wonder what it would have looked like before all the development occurred.

Actually, news reports from those early days did comment on the natural beauty of Pacific Beach after winter and spring rains. In January 1888 the only development in Pacific Beach was a hastily-constructed railway line built along what became Balboa Avenue. The line had been completed as far as Lamont Street in time to deliver more than 2500 people from San Diego to a hillside a couple of blocks north for the laying of the corner-stone of the San Diego College of Letters, the first substantial building in the month-old community. No one could have wished for a better January day, according to the San Diego Union; clouds were threatening rain in the morning but before the second train-load of excursionists reached Pacific Beach the sun had broken through the clouds and the green grass contributed to a sublime scene at the college campus. The San Diego Daily Bee added that the new campus was a lovely spot on a verdant slope. One of the speakers at the corner-stone ceremony also described the spring-like verdure, with the whole scene bathed in perennial sunshine. The college opened in September of 1888 but was not a success and closed in early 1891. The buildings remained, however, and were reopened in 1905 as the Hotel Balboa. A color (or colorized) post card from that time still shows a sublime scene of spring-like verdure bathed in sunshine (in 2019 the site is a parking lot at Pacific Plaza II).

When the college closed most of the academic community moved away but some remained and found the verdant slope surrounding the campus to be ideal for lemon cultivation. Several hundred acres were planted and in March 1895 a report in the Union stated that the lemon trees never looked finer nor made better growth. In other parts of Pacific Beach the fertile soil and winter rains combined to produce crops of grain and hay; the report in May 1895 was that hundreds of acres of grain were being harvested and the yield was good. The hillsides above the fields and orchards also benefited from the rain; the Union reported in February 1897 that ‘the hills and valleys hereabouts are clad in the most attractive emerald’.

Not every year was so ideal. In November 1897 men and teams and plows were said to be at work from daylight until dark getting ready to put in the seed for next year’s hay crop but in March 1898 the news was that although these grain-fields still looked green the need of rain was becoming very urgent. By August less than an inch of additional rain had fallen and the Union reported that the water situation was becoming serious. The ranches nearest the hillside were the greatest sufferers; the lemon ranches were irrigated but there was not enough water to supply the ranches at higher elevations. The Union’s Pacific Beach correspondent added that it was hoped that the experience of August 1873 would be repeated, when 1.95 inches of rain fell. However no rain did fall that August and only another quarter of an inch fell over the next three months.

1899 seemed destined to perpetuate the drought conditions in Pacific Beach. In March the news was that the seriousness of the water situation overshadowed every other topic. The service had been very insufficient for several days and the higher levels were feeling the situation very keenly. However in early May a delightful shower freshened the grass and trees wonderfully and a connection with a well in Rose Canyon had improved the water service. Showers in October were very welcome; the air was clear and beautiful and everyone seemed happy, not because a sufficient amount had fallen but because of the promise of more. By November 1899 the fields and hillsides were taking on the bountiful green so dear to all lovers of nature and O. J. Stough had nearly finished seeding 1200 acres to hay around the Beach.

Winter rains greeted the arrival of the twentieth century; the report from Pacific Beach in January 1900 was that the grain fields were beautiful and farmers said the prospects were never better. By March the grain was looking well since the rain and Pacific Beach ranches were a very pretty sight, the rich dark green of the orange trees mingled with the shades of the fruit from lightest green to deep yellow, contrasted with the pink and white of the peach blossoms. In April the ranches were busy picking lemons and the mowing machines were busy cutting O. J. Stough’s hay.

Although the young grain was looking well and pasture was good early in March 1901 another rain was ‘about due’. Apparently it did arrive on or around March 21, the date of the spring equinox. The report from Pacific Beach was that the ‘equinoctial’ rain was much needed and brought the grain along in fine shape (the correspondent added that arrangements should be made to have an equinox twice a month the whole year). The weather continued to be uncooperative, however. Most of the hay on the beach had been cut by mid-April 1901 but the Evening Tribune reported in late April that after holding off when it could have done the most good, a storm came ‘just in time to catch the new hay in the cocks so the farmers will have to fork it all over’ (ideally farmers ‘make hay while the sun shines’). The hay balers were back at work by the end of May and a quantity of hay was baled and shipped out.

The beneficial effects of winter rains became a common theme in the news from Pacific Beach in the new century. In January 1902 the Tribune reported that all the rain had soaked into the ground, which showed how very dry the earth must have been, but the hills had begun to show green and the lemon trees were looking well and were bearing heavily, with the promise of good price in the near future. A year later, in April 1903, the Union reported that recent rains had made fishing in False Bay (Mission Bay) very good, which kept the anglers busy when not employed in the orchards. The hay was all cut and most of it cured and the orchards were laden with bloom, not only with orange and lemon blossoms but with peach, pear and plum. Although 1903 and 1904 were relatively dry years, 1905 had the second highest annual rainfall ever recorded to that time in San Diego, over 16 inches. In June the Union reported that never had old Soledad been more lovely, with his mantle of variegated green and yellow, the tones of which vary with every hour of the day. The low-lying mesas between La Jolla and San Diego took on a more brilliant coat of red as many varieties of ice plant neared maturity and mingled with the long blooming sunshine flower.

O. J. Stough sold his holdings of over half the territory of Pacific Beach to Folsom Bros. Co. in November 1903. While Stough had plowed and seeded hundreds of acres of his land in the fall to harvest grain and cut hay in the spring, Folsom Bros. Co. was a real estate company that hoped to convert this undeveloped acreage into residential lots. By 1907 they were grading streets and pouring concrete sidewalks, and a subsidiary, Pacific Building Company, was incorporated to build homes for new lot owners. Lemon ranching had also gone into decline as eastern markets were increasingly supplied with lemons from across the Atlantic, particularly from Sicily, and some former lemon ranchers re-subdivided their land into residential lots. As more streets and sidewalks were paved and more houses built, fewer sublime scenes of variegated green were to be seen after winter rains (although the Union reported in 1908 that the people of Pacific Beach had been given a treat from Mother Nature in the fields of wild flowers that cover the hills back of the residence section).

The springtime displays continued to be noted for a few more years in the San Diego Union’s annual New Year’s day report of suburban communities. The Union wrote in 1918 that after the rainy season, which occurred in the winter months, the hills and every available spot in Pacific Beach were ablaze with wild flowers and all vegetation sprang into marvelous growth. No one could do justice to the advantages of living in this particular spot of Southern California. In 1922 the report was that the town occupied a site that might have been chosen by the gods. The setting was that of a beautiful picture in which no form of natural beauty had been omitted. To the north and east were green hills. ‘In such environs abide health and beauty. Hebe herself must have made this her dwelling place.’ (Hebe was the goddess of youth, and cupbearer for the gods and goddesses, serving their nectar and ambrosia).

Population growth and a new surge of residential development and street improvement following the war years of the 1940s eliminated most of the remaining open ground in central Pacific Beach, but for a while there were still green hills to the north and east in the springtime. When Kate Sessions Elementary School was opened at that corner of the community in 1956 this former student can remember a field of yellow mustard extending up the slope to a saddleback on the ridge. The development of Pacifica and Wesley Palms in 1960 replaced the green hills to the east, and the natural look of the hills to the north also disappeared as development continued up the slope of Mount Soledad. But even today, verdure can appear in undeveloped spots following winter rains; the San Diego Union-Tribune commented that the grass along local freeways had turned ‘greener than an Irish meadow’ after heavy rains in February 2019.

PB’s Hotel Balboa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O. J. Stough Owned PB

Oliver J. Stough never lived in Pacific Beach, but at the turn of the twentieth century he actually owned most of it. He had acquired property in what was then an undeveloped area from a defunct railroad company and sold it to the group of investors who became the Pacific Beach Company. The company combined Stough’s former holdings with their own to create the Pacific Beach subdivision in 1887. Stough later joined these investors and eventually became the majority owner of the Pacific Beach Company. The company was dissolved in 1898 and its Pacific Beach real estate was distributed to the stockholders, primarily Stough. When he sold to Folsom Bros. Co. in 1903 the San Diego Union reported that ‘Pacific Beach has changed owners’.

O. J. Stough was a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1828, and a veteran of the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. In 1868 he purchased land that became a part of the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, co-founded by Stough in 1872 (there is still a Stough Street and Stough Park in Hinsdale). In the 1880s Stough began spending parts of his year in San Diego, where he also acquired large property holdings. Among his purchases in San Diego were Pueblo Lots 1773, 1775, 1784, 1789, 1792, 1794, 1796, and 1799, over 1000 acres north of what was then called False Bay, now Mission Bay. This property, which covered about half of what is now Pacific Beach, as well as parts of Bird Rock and Mount Soledad, had been part of a subsidy granted by the city to the Texas and Pacific Railroad Company to encourage it to build a railroad connecting San Diego directly to the east. Although the railroad was never built, the company kept the land and passed it to a successor, the Los Angeles and San Diego Railroad Company. That company sold its rights in these pueblo lots to Milton Santee, and Santee assigned the rights to Stough in January 1887. Stough then sold the southwest quarter of Pueblo Lot 1794 to Charles Collins and a one-quarter interest in the remaining property to O. S. Hubbell.

pueblolots2

Collins and Hubbell were among the group of investors who established the Pacific Beach Company in July 1887, and in September 1887 they transferred the property they had acquired from Stough to their new company. Stough also sold his remaining three-quarters interest in Pueblo Lots 1789, 1792, 1794 (minus the southwest quarter), 1796 and 1799, 706 acres, to the company for $300,000. In October 1887 City Engineer H. K. Wheeler drew up a map for the Pacific Beach Subdivision which included this property along with the Pacific Beach Company’s other holdings north of False Bay. An opening sale of lots for the new subdivision was held in December 1887.

The centerpiece of the new community of Pacific Beach was to be the San Diego College of Letters, with a four-block campus on College Avenue (now Garnet) where the Pacific Plaza shopping center is located today. The cornerstone was laid for a college building in January 1888 and classes began in September, but financial problems prevented the college from starting other buildings planned for the site. However, in August 1889 the Union announced that arrangements had been made for erection of a central hall and recitation rooms; ‘the bills are to be sent to O. J. Stough, who has generously come to the front in providing for the needs of this institution’. Construction began in September and in January 1890 Stough Hall, ‘a neat and substantial brick edifice’, was opened with a program of music and speech making. In addition to its educational purposes, Stough Hall was used for elocution contests, lectures and the college commencement exercises attended by trainloads of San Diego citizens.

Financial problems continued at the college, however, and the college company was forced to sell bonds backed by mortgages on its campus and other real estate assets. Most of these bonds were then purchased by O. J. Stough, but despite his support the college still failed in early 1891 and the college campus property was auctioned by the sheriff at the court house door to pay off the college’s accumulated debts. Stough reacquired the campus property from the successful bidder in July 1892 but since the property was still security for the college’s mortgage bonds, which were in default on their interest payments, another sheriff’s sale was ordered to satisfy the bondholders (primarily Stough himself). An auction in August 1894 was cancelled when the successful bidders failed to complete the sale, claiming a technicality, but after the state supreme court affirmed the original order of sale a final auction was held in April 1896. The college campus was acquired by a community group dedicated to restoring a college on the site, but this effort went nowhere and the proposed college never opened.

O. J. Stough had not been one of the original directors or stockholders of the Pacific Beach Company at its creation in 1887 but by the time the company filed for dissolution in 1898 he owned over 60% of its shares (the First National Bank of San Diego held most of the rest). In 1898 the company still owned most of the property in Pacific Beach and as part of its dissolution this property was divided among the stockholders in proportion to their respective interests, with Stough receiving the lion’s share: 41 acre lots, 20 whole blocks and over 50 partial blocks. Although Stough did not live in Pacific Beach (his home was on Fourth Street between Hawthorn and Ivy) he did put his property in Pacific Beach to use; the Union reported in 1899 that O. J. Stough had rented a house and installed a foreman preparatory to beginning the fall plowing and sowing of 1200 acres to hay.

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Pacific Beach property distributed to O. J. Stough after the dissolution of the Pacific Beach Company in 1898. Stough later sold most of this property to Folsom Bros. Co.

In November 1903 the San Diego Union announced that ‘Pacific Beach has changed owners’; ownership of the larger portion of land had passed from O. J. Stough to the firm of Folsom Bros. The Union article explained that Mr. Stough had been the owner of over seven-tenths of the unimproved property at the charmingly situated suburb and the sale included the whole of his interest, about a hundred blocks or four thousand lots, the whole amounting to nearly 660 acres at Pacific Beach. The Union went on to explain that the deal was already closed and the papers in escrow but that the transfer would not take place until the next year. In fact, the transfer was not finalized until December 1906, over three years later, but by 1907 O. J. Stough’s involvement in Pacific Beach had ended. Where Stough had been content to cut hay on his Pacific Beach property, Folsom Bros. Co. began an improvement program which included grading streets and installing curbs, sidewalks and water mains in hopes of attracting residential buyers.

Stough Hall, built in 1889 for the San Diego College of Letters, had become the community’s primary gathering place for ‘entertainments’, dances and other events that were regularly described in the San Diego Union’s Pacific Beach column. In 1894 a good program was rendered at the young people’s entertainment; cake and lemonade were served. In 1895 the ‘Red and White’ cream festival under the auspices of the Ladies Aid Society was a most enjoyable entertainment. A very enjoyable entertainment was given on Friday night by the Endeavor Society in 1896 and in 1897 a mass meeting was held at Stough Hall to consider raising money to purchase the college property to present to the state for a normal school. The County Horticultural Society met at Stough Hall in 1898 and heard local lemon rancher F. W. Barnes describe his experiences; ‘How we handle our lemons’.  Stough Hall was beautifully decorated and dancing was indulged in at Miss Eugenia Johnson’s eighteenth birthday in 1902.

In 1904 Folsom Bros. Co. also acquired the college campus and developed the buildings, including Stough Hall, into a resort that they called the Hotel Balboa. However, the hotel was not a success and in 1911 the buildings became the nucleus of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, which in 1937 became Brown Military Academy. When Brown Military Academy moved in 1958 one of the first buildings torn down to make room for the Pacific Plaza shopping center was Stough Hall, the last reminder of O. J. Stough in Pacific Beach (although some say that Oliver Avenue was named in his honor).

Hotel Balboa about 1906. Stough Hall is on the left and the original college building on the right.
Hotel Balboa about 1906. Stough Hall is on the left and the original college building on the right.

College of Letters in PB

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

An announcement in the San Diego Union on Saturday, January 28, 1888, invited citizens to attend the laying of the cornerstone of the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach. Speakers at the ceremony would include the celebrated poet Joaquin Miller, the ‘Poet of the Sierras’, and a free lunch was promised. Trains would leave the downtown depot at 9 and 10 o’clock A. M. and return at 1 and 3 P.M. Fare for adults was 50 cents, children 25 cents.

The college was intended to be the centerpiece of the new community planned for the area north of Mission Bay and east of the Pacific Ocean, and was to be built on a four-block campus now occupied by the Pacific Plaza shopping center on Garnet Avenue between Jewell and Lamont streets. At the time, Pacific Beach was almost entirely undeveloped; the Pacific Beach Company had been incorporated in July 1887, a subdivision map was drawn up in October and the opening sale of lots had been held in December 1887, just a few weeks before the cornerstone ceremony was to take place (the platform built for the ceremony may have been the largest structure around at the time). The railroad from San Diego was still under construction and passengers attending the cornerstone ceremony in January 1888 would actually have traveled over the rails of the California Southern mainline railway from downtown to Morena, where they would have switched over to a portion of the Pacific Beach line which continued from there to the vicinity of the college campus (the railway from downtown San Diego to a depot near the beach at the foot of Grand Avenue was finally completed in April 1888).

According to the Union about 2500 people traveled to Pacific Beach to witness the laying of the college cornerstone, and the green grass and the sublime scene from the college campus made the occasion a most interesting one. One of the speakers described the scene as a ‘hilltop with its slopes stretching down to the placid bay and out to the roiling sea, while in the distance, but in full view, lies the busy city and the harbor filled with ships, and beyond the majestic sweep of the mountains, some green with spring-like verdure, and others white with snow’.

When Joaquin Miller stepped to the front of the platform to read the poem he had composed for the occasion he was greeted with an ovation ‘that could not but have gratified the gifted man of verse and sentiment’. The sentiments in Mr. Miller’s verses included:

We lift this lighthouse by the sea,
The west-most sea, the west-most shore,
To guide man’s ship of destiny
When Scylla and Charybdis roar;
To teach him strength, to proudly teach
God’s grandeur, by Pacific Beach.

(Scylla and Charybdis were a pair of mythological sea monsters on opposite sides of a narrow strait, menacing seafarers forced to sail between them)

There were other orations, music by the City Guard band and an address by the president of the college company which concluded with the promise that San Diego College would become ‘a scientific and literary light-house, guiding the people of the city and the world into the golden harbor of wealth, culture, character and happiness’. The cornerstone was then loaded with copies of local newspapers, copies of the poems and addresses delivered on the occasion, coins, and a copy of the Bible. It was then lowered into place with the words ‘we lay the cornerstone of San Diego College – unsectarian but not un-Christian – her faith the faith of Christendom – her hope the hope of the civilized Christian world.’

The San Diego College of Letters was the brainchild of Harr Wagner, publisher of the Golden Era magazine which Wagner had moved from San Francisco to San Diego in 1887. He believed that San Diego was destined to become a great city and that the city was the right size to support a college, ‘not a small insignificant institute, but an institution that will compare favorably with the noted colleges of America’. In August 1887 Wagner and two other alumni of his alma mater, Wittenberg College, in Springfield, Ohio, formed the San Diego College Company ‘to erect and construct buildings to be used for colleges, universities, and in connection therewith to carry on, control and maintain colleges and universities’. Wagner’s partners in the college company were C. S. Sprecher and F. P. Davidson (who was married to Sprecher’s sister Ella). C. S. (and Ella) Sprecher’s father Samuel Sprecher had served as president of Wittenberg from 1849 to 1874 and played a major role in establishing it as a successful educational institution (Wittenberg University still exists in Springfield). Hoping to repeat this success in Pacific Beach, the partners recruited the elder Sprecher to serve as president of their new college.

The college company also came to an agreement with O. S. Hubbell, one of the founders of the Pacific Beach Company, to include the college in plans for their new town site. Accordingly, the original Pacific Beach subdivision map featured a four-block college campus near the center of the community (on College, now Garnet, Avenue). The company contracted with James W. Reid, architect of the Hotel del Coronado, to design and supervise construction of the college buildings, and following the cornerstone ceremony construction proceeded through the spring and summer of 1888.

The September/October edition of the Golden Era contained the announcement that the college would begin its educational work on September 20, 1888. It would be undenominational and would admit both sexes to all the advantages of the curriculum. One of the advantages both sexes could enjoy was the opportunity for out-door drill, summer and winter, due to the evenness of the climate. The exercise would be ‘healthful and invigorating’ and the young ladies would be allowed to form their own military company.

A Bachelor of Arts degree would be conferred on students who completed the Classical course after four years of study. Applicants for the Classical course would have to be at least 14 years of age and would be examined in Latin, Greek (or its equivalent), mathematics, history, geography, English and physiology. There would also be Scientific and Literary courses leading to comparable degrees, and for which modern languages could be substituted for Greek. Latin would be optional after the sophomore year, but students were expected to able to read the classics (in their original languages) with literary pleasure, as repositories of history and literature. Students younger than 14 or not meeting the requirements for admission could enter a Preparatory course, designed to prepare them to enter the freshman class but also to provide a course of study that was complete and practical in itself. The academic year would consist of three terms of 13 weeks each with each term’s tuition set at $16.50 for Preparatory students and $22.00 for Classical, Scientific and Literary students. Resident students would also pay $97.50 for board and room rent, and an extra fee of $10.00 was added for music, $3.00 for voice culture and elocution, and $5.00 for painting.

San Diego College of Letters, 1888, with students in their military uniforms.
San Diego College of Letters, 1888. The young ladies and young men are in their separate military companies wearing their military uniforms. (San Diego History Center #9800)

The San Diego College of Letters did open on September 20, 1888 with 37 students, and enrollment increased to 104 for the second term in January 1889. The Annual Catalogue for the 1888-1889 collegiate year included a list of the students’ names and home towns which showed that 23 of the 104 students were residents of Pacific Beach, 45 were from other areas of San Diego, 12 from Coronado and 10 from other parts of San Diego County. Only 8 students were from out of state, including two from Lower California. Judging by their names (Bessie, Hattie, Emma, etc.) 46 of the students were young ladies and 57 were young men (e.g., Horace, Edgar, Cyrus).

In addition to the grant of the college campus property, the Pacific Beach Company had given the college company hundreds of residential lots throughout the community as an endowment to secure its financial future. However, San Diego’s ‘Great Boom’ which had followed the completion of a transcontinental railroad link in 1885 and the influx of thousands of potential settlers collapsed in 1888, causing a sharp decline in the population and a corresponding lack of demand for residential real estate. The college attempted to generate interest in its lots by holding auctions where choice residence and villa sites would be sold to the highest bidder. Potential buyers were also treated to lunch, which could be roasted ox, ‘carved and served to the hungry throng’, or a fish fry. Three auctions were held in February and March of 1889 which drew large crowds but apparently few bidders. Instead, to relieve its immediate debt and other obligations, the college mortgaged much of its real estate. The financial outlook deteriorated further in April 1889 when James W. Reid sued the college company for what he claimed was owed for the design and supervision of construction of the college building.

Still, when the first academic year came to an end in June 1889 the mood at the college was upbeat. The final edition of the College Rambler, the student newspaper, included an editorial ‘to you fellow students whose years work is so nearly ended, it extends congratulations if your record has been good, its sympathy, if ill. You, like it, have been making history. You as pioneer students have helped to found a College; to rear an institution of higher learning here in this bright Sunland’. The keynote speaker at the college commencement ceremony added that it did not task the imagination to predict that the time was not far distant when San Diego College of Letters would take rank among the leading institution of learning in the country.

The second academic year opened in September 1889 with a few additions to the faculty and many of the same students. A new college building was opened in January 1890, financed by and named for Oliver J. Stough, a real estate investor with interests in Pacific Beach. Stough Hall became the popular venue for students’ elocution contests and musical recitals, watched by citizens who arrived in special trains from downtown San Diego. Closing exercises for the college’s second academic year were held in Stough Hall in June 1890.

During the summer of 1890 a number of changes were made in the administration and corporate structure of the college. The San Diego Union reported that the original partners in the college company, Harr Wagner, C. S. Sprecher and F. P. Davidson, transferred their interests in the company to ‘eastern parties’. Wagner and Sprecher both resigned from the faculty to devote their full attention to the Golden Era. Davidson remained at the college in a caretaker role, representing the new ownership, which was expected to lift the burdensome debt from the young but vigorous institution.

When classes resumed for the fall term in September 1890 about 50 students were enrolled, the majority from Pacific Beach or elsewhere in San Diego. In December the San Diego Union reported that the term had closed and all but two or three students from the East had dispersed to their homes for the holidays. If the students did return for the second term in January 1891 they did not remain for long. In March 1891 the Union reported that Captain and Mrs. Woods had moved in and taken charge of the College of Letters and added that Mrs. Woods had been a teacher there for some time and the college would be in good hands. There was no explanation for why this was necessary and no further news from the college for the remainder of what would have been the academic year. Although the San Diego Union reported in August 1891 that a Prof. Vinton Busby from Indiana State University would accept the presidency of the college and had arrived in town to make final arrangements, these arrangements apparently fell through and the San Diego College of Letters in Pacific Beach never reopened.

James W. Reid’s lawsuit over the debt he was owed for design and construction of the first college building had been decided in Reid’s favor in March 1891 and with no other assets available to satisfy the judgement the court ordered the sheriff to seize the college company’s real estate. The college campus property was subsequently auctioned at the court house door on three separate occasions over the next five years before being acquired in 1898 by Rev. William L. Johnston of the Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church, as trustee for Pacific Beach College, an organization of residents determined to reestablish an institution of learning there. Some alterations were made to the college buildings, including a tower on Stough Hall, but no progress was made toward reestablishing the college. Instead, the campus was used for various purposes including a Y.M.C.A. summer camp. In 1901 it was described as the College Inn, with W. Johnston as secretary and manager, and local news items occasionally commented on its guests (‘Mr. and Mrs. Sewel of Los Angeles spent last week at the College Inn’). Stough Hall became the center for dances and other gatherings in Pacific Beach.

In 1903 Folsom Bros. Co., a real estate developer which had recently acquired the Fortuna Park subdivisions south of what is now Pacific Beach Drive, purchased most of the rest of Pacific Beach from O. J. Stough (the Union headline read ‘Pacific Beach Has Changed Owners’) and began a program of improvement and development to enhance the value of their investment. In April 1904 they also leased the college campus (with option to buy) from W. L. Johnston and announced plans to develop the former college buildings into a first class resort. While this development was underway they held a contest to choose a name for their new resort. The name chosen (for which the lucky winner received a $100 lot in Pacific Beach or $100 in gold) was Hotel Balboa. Folsom Bros. exercised their option to buy the property in 1905 and over the next few years alterations and repairs were said to have added greatly to its attractions. In 1907 the hotel grounds were landscaped and the surrounding streets graded, ‘sidewalked’ and lined with palms trees (some of which are still growing). However, despite the efforts of Folsom Bros. Co., the Hotel Balboa also was not a success.

In 1910 Capt. Thomas A. Davis leased the buildings and grounds and started the San Diego Army and Navy Academy with 13 students and himself as the only instructor. Unlike its previous occupants, the military academy thrived and grew over the years. Davis purchased the property in 1921 and eventually added a number of larger buildings which surrounded and dwarfed the original college buildings. During the depression of the early 1930s the academy, like the college before it, was unable to repay the costs of its building program and was acquired by John Brown Schools and renamed Brown Military Academy. In the 1950s Pacific Beach growth encroached on the academy and in 1958 it moved to a new location in Glendora.

The new owners of the college campus property proceeded with plans to convert it into a shopping center and in August 1958 the San Diego Union reported that workmen razing one of the buildings on the site had found a baking soda tin in its cornerstone containing papers dating to 1887, including San Diego newspapers and a Pacific Beach subdivision map.

Pacific Beach, 1916

A century ago, in 1916, Pacific Beach was a sparsely populated suburb of San Diego; the 1916 San Diego City Directory listed about 150 residences in the community, including those in outlying areas like Mission Bay Park, American Park, Venice Park, Soledad Terrace and the Fortuna Park subdivisions. The community’s center, the location of offices, stores, churches, the post office, schoolhouse, etc., was the area around Lamont Street, between Grand and Garnet Avenues. It was noted as the home of San Diego Army and Navy Academy, founded in 1910 on the former campus of San Diego College of Letters and now the site of Pacific Plaza.

Pacific Beach was connected to the city by a railroad line that ran along the entire length of Grand Avenue with stations at Lamont Street and at the ocean front, where it turned north toward La Jolla. Although officially named the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway, the railroad actually terminated in La Jolla and was generally known as the La Jolla line. A time card from January 1916 showed ten trains a day in each direction, four in the morning and six in the afternoon, with an extra round-trip on Saturday evenings. Pacific Beach was also connected to the city by a water main and natural gas pipeline and electric power and telephone lines.

La Jolla Railway train on right-of-way along today’s Grand Avenue near Mission Bay High School, 1914 (San Diego History Center, #91:18564-1666)

According to the January 1, 1916, San Diego Union, in its annual New Year’s Day overview of suburban communities, the situation and surrounding conditions of Pacific Beach were perfect for those who wished for a home within easy reach of the city, near the ocean and on the bay, who can have all the comforts and conveniences of the city together with the freedom of country life. Ironically, the situation and surrounding conditions changed dramatically in the first few weeks of 1916, and while residents could still enjoy the freedom of country life, the comforts and conveniences of the city, eight miles away, were temporarily out of reach.

Charles Hatfield was a self-styled rainmaker who had approached the Common Council with an offer to fill the recently completed but still mostly empty Morena Reservoir in San Diego’s backcountry for a payment of $10,000. The city accepted his offer and in early January he began releasing his secret concoction of vapors into the air above the reservoir. On January 14 it began to rain and by January 17 the rain had become a deluge, not just around Morena Dam but all over Southern California. Although Hatfield’s chemicals could never actually have influenced the weather patterns which occurred over a wide area in the following weeks, the epic floods that resulted were inevitably attributed to Hatfield’s activities (although the rains did fill Morena Reservoir, Hatfield was never paid, in part to distance the city from responsibility for damage caused by the flooding).

Among the creeks and rivers that flooded during the first week of the Hatfield storm was the San Diego River, which drained a large section of the county through Mission Valley and at that time emptied into Mission Bay. The La Jolla railroad line crossed the river on a bridge near Old Town, which also carried the water main to Pacific Beach and La Jolla. A three-year-old concrete bridge a few hundred yards upstream carried the highway from San Diego to the north via Pacific Beach and La Jolla, as well as the gas and electric lines to these suburbs. The Santa Fe railroad line to Los Angeles also crossed the river on a bridge next to the La Jolla line.

As the river rose and threatened these bridges, City Manager of Operation Lockwood had local reservoirs in Pacific Beach and La Jolla filled to their limits and then shut down the water pipeline. Although the La Jolla railway bridge was still standing on January 19, eight of its bents or pilings were reported down and the water main had broken. However, skies were clearing, the river was receding and the Santa Fe and highway bridges across the San Diego River at Old Town were believed saved. Manager Lockwood began replacing the lost pipeline to restore water service to the beach communities.

In Pacific Beach, both the railroad line and the road to the north also crossed Rose Creek and both of these bridges over this normally placid stream had also washed out. Wagon and automobile traffic to Pacific Beach was diverted to the recently completed bridge across the mouth of Mission Bay, between Ocean Beach and Mission Beach. The Evening Tribune also reported a bad washout near Fred Scripps’ place at the foot of Bayard Street. By January 22 this pond of water, which practically surrounded the Scripps home, had been drained and Manager Lockwood declared that highway traffic between San Diego and Del Mar was normal.

On January 24 another storm system arrived (Morena Reservoir had not yet filled and Hatfield was still at work) and with the rivers still high and the ground still saturated from the rains of the previous week the damage was even more severe. The highway bridge across the San Diego River at Old Town was washed away on January 27, breaking the four-inch high pressure gas supply line to Pacific Beach and La Jolla. Gangs of repair men were put to work laying pipe through Mission Beach for a temporary connection and limited gas service was available on January 28. Electric power and telephone service was also cut off and not restored for several days.

The Santa Fe railway bridge across the San Diego River had also washed away within a couple of hours of the highway bridge on January 27. The Santa Fe and La Jolla lines were essentially parallel to each other from downtown San Diego to Morena, at which point the local line turned west into Pacific Beach. With both of their bridges over the San Diego River gone, the two railroads reached a deal in which the La Jolla line lent the Santa Fe a pair of pile drivers to help rebuild the Santa Fe’s bridge and the Santa Fe agreed to allow the La Jolla line to use its tracks from San Diego to Morena over the rebuilt bridge until the La Jolla line was able to rebuild its own bridge.

A replacement for the Santa Fe bridge was ready and limited rail service to Pacific Beach and La Jolla was resumed on February 11 using the Santa Fe tracks from the downtown station to Morena. In the meantime, the Tribune reported that several young women attending high school in San Diego had been forced to take up residence in San Diego and San Diego boys attending the Army and Navy Academy in Pacific Beach could not attend school. The Santa Fe had suffered damage in several other locations along its line and it did not complete those repairs and resume operations into San Diego until a week later. The La Jolla line resumed operation over its own tracks and under its normal schedule on March 1 (the pilings which supported its rebuilt bridge over the San Diego River are still visible today). A wooden trestle replacement for the concrete highway bridge swept away in the floods opened in April. Also in April, a new 10-inch water main to Pacific Beach and La Jolla was laid across the river on the Santa Fe bridge.

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The San Diego River today, with pilings from the 1916 La Jolla Railway bridge in the foreground and bridges for the main rail line to Los Angeles, formerly the Santa Fe, and the San Diego trolley in the background.

While attention had been focused on restoring connections to the city, much was still going on in Pacific Beach and its environs in early 1916. A road had been built from the north end of Lamont Street to the summit of Mount Soledad and in April the Evening Tribune announced that it would be ‘dedicated, or christened, or something of that sort’ by the San Diego Floral Association, in a ceremony led by Kate Sessions. Five Torrey pines and three Mt. Diablo big cone pines, grown from seed and donated by Miss Sessions, were planted at the summit. The view from the top was said to be well worth the trip. Later, in June, the Common Council determined that the city owned the summit of Mount Soledad and voted to set it aside as a city park, but did not decide on a name. A Union columnist quipped that the city fathers were puzzled whether to call it after a former mayor or a well-known movie picture star; ‘What possible ground is there for indecision in the matter’. The council also did not provide any funds for improvements at that time. The name and status of the summit of Mount Soledad and its subsequent ‘improvement’ with a memorial cross has still not been resolved a century later.

The San Diego Army and Navy Academy, founded in 1910 with Captain Thomas A. Davis as the only instructor and an initial class of just 13 students, held its 1916 graduation exercises in June at which six students received diplomas. Opening exercises for the fall term were held on September 18 and an ad in the Evening Tribune cordially invited the public to attend; ‘The La Jolla Line car, leaving the Fourth street office at 2:15 will arrive at the Academy in time for exercises’. The ad introduced the faculty, which in addition to Davis included heads of the departments of Sciences, Mathematics and Ancient Languages, English, and Modern Languages, and a Professor of Military Science and Tactics who doubled as the Commandant of Cadets. There was also an Assistant Commandant, a Substitute in English Department, Instructor of Primary Department and a Housemother. The entire enrollment ‘up to Saturday’, totaling 62 boys, was listed by name along with their home towns.

Another important event on the academy calendar was Founder’s Day, November 23, the date the academy had been founded in 1910. The celebration in 1916 included an afternoon athletic meet and an evening banquet for students, faculty and outside friends, with Capt. Davis as toastmaster. The banquet menu (iced celery, ripe olives, pineapple salad, roast turkey with cranberries and oyster dressing, asparagus tips, drawn butter, snowed potatoes, mince and pumpkin pies) was detailed in the Tribune. Opening and graduation exercises and Founder’s Day celebrations at the academy continued to be annual events and grew in size and importance as the academy expanded over the coming decades. San Diego Army and Navy Academy failed during the depression and in 1937 became Brown Military Academy, which Davis returned to lead until his retirement in 1954. Brown Military Academy remained on the site until 1958 and many of the former academy buildings stood until 1965.

Another event which affected Pacific Beach in 1916 was the opening of an electric rail line to Mission Beach and the establishment of the Mission Beach Tent City. The Bay Shore Railroad had been incorporated in 1914 with plans to build a bridge across the inlet of Mission Bay to connect the new subdivision of Mission Beach with San Diego’s trolley system via Point Loma and Ocean Beach. The bridge had been built in 1915, and in fact had been the only route by which automobile traffic could reach Pacific Beach from the city when the highway bridge at Old Town had washed out in January. Work on the rail line began in March 1916 and by June it had been completed between Ocean Beach and Redondo Court in north Mission Beach. In north Mission Beach, work began on a Tent City, ‘a brand new, spick and span, thoroughly modern city of tents and fine bungalows; a veritable Dream City by the sea’, complete with a bath house, dressing rooms, and a shallow pool for the little folks. The developer was Josephus M. Asher, Jr., a Pacific Beach resident and local real estate operator, who agreed to develop a tent city, including streets, wooden curbs and sidewalks, a bath house, pools and a pier in exchange for title to the site. An informal opening of the Tent City and inauguration of the trolley service occurred on July 15 (final completion and a formal opening of the Tent City occurred in the summer of 1917).

In October the Union reported that United States Army ‘birdmen’ attached to the signal corps aviation school at North Island had made 5815 flights for a total time aloft of 2760 hours and a distance of about 165,000 miles so far during 1916, with only one minor mishap. Cross-country flights had been made to Pacific Beach and La Jolla, and as far away as Encinitas, and landings were made at each place. Two new 135 horsepower steel battleplanes capable of a speed of 80 miles an hour carrying a pilot and a bomb thrower were currently being assembled. The landings at Pacific Beach had been on 75 acres of land adjoining Mission Bay where the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation proposed establishing a testing plant and training station to facilitate delivery of aeroplanes ordered for the signal corps school. The bay would also have offered an admirable place for the teaching of seaplane students, but the proposed testing and training station was never built.

Also in October, the La Jolla railway applied to the state railway commission for permission to reduce service and increase fares. According to president E. S. Babcock the railroad had been operating at a loss for years because of the general depression and the growing number of private automobiles. This application was eventually dismissed, but it foreshadowed an application to discontinue rail service which was granted in 1919, after which the line was shut down and the rails torn up. Portions of the right-of-way between Grand Avenue and La Jolla, and the Bayshore Railroad in Mission Beach, were later incorporated into an electric rail line that ran from San Diego through Mission Beach and Pacific Beach to La Jolla between 1924 and 1940.

In 2016, meteorologists are suggesting that history may repeat itself; that ‘el niño’ conditions in the Pacific Ocean may produce storms to compare with Hatfield’s a century ago. If so, the rain will fall in a far different situation and surrounding conditions in Pacific Beach, where the comforts and conveniences of the city remain but the country life is gone forever.

Army and Navy Academy

Army Navy Academy

Army and Navy Academy, a private military school for seventh to twelfth grade boys in Carlsbad, traces its history back over 100 years. According to a historical timeline provided on the academy’s website, that history began when Captain Thomas A. Davis founded the San Diego Army and Navy Academy with thirteen students in 1910. The timeline also notes that Capt. Davis founded his school not in Carlsbad but in Pacific Beach, at the old Balboa Hotel. So, what historical threads tie a modern school in Carlsbad to an old hotel in Pacific Beach?

In 1910 the Hotel Balboa (not Balboa Hotel) was the latest occupant of the former campus of the San Diego College of Letters, built to be the primary attraction of the new Pacific Beach subdivision established in 1887. The cornerstone of the college had been laid with great ceremony in January 1888, just weeks after lots in Pacific Beach were first put on sale, and the college opened with 37 students in September 1888. The college building was a large wooden structure designed and built by James W. Reid, architect of the recently completed Hotel del Coronado. However, the college was unable to repay construction costs and when Reid sued, and won, it was closed and the property, including the college building, was sold at auction at the courthouse door in 1891.

Over the next decade the college campus in Pacific Beach changed hands several more times and was used for such purposes as a Y. M. C. A. camp and summer school and, in 1901, as a hotel, the College Inn. In 1904, Folsom Bros. Co. first leased then bought the college campus intending to convert it into a first-class resort. Folsom Bros. renovated the buildings, improved the landscaping and sponsored a contest to name their new property. The winner received a $100 lot in PB or $100 in gold for suggesting Hotel Balboa. However, the Hotel Balboa also did not live up to expectations and Folsom Bros. sought other uses for the property. In 1909 a portion was subleased to the Pacific Beach Country Club.

Captain Thomas Alderson Davis had served in Puerto Rico as an officer in the 6th Volunteer Infantry during the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1907 he had established a military school in El Paso but in 1910 he visited San Diego, liked what he saw, and decided to stay. He leased the Hotel Balboa and on November 23, 1910, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy began classes there with a group of 13 cadets and with Capt. Davis as the only instructor. The academy grew rapidly; by the end of its second year it had added courses and faculty and claimed to have 73 students. Growth in attendance was accompanied by increased status; in 1914 the academy was recognized by the war department as a Class A school, which entitled it to the detail of a retired army officer to serve on the faculty at the army’s expense.

In 1921, after ten years in its rented quarters in Pacific Beach, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy announced that it was purchasing the Point Loma Golf and Country Club next to the new Navy and Marine Corps training centers on San Diego Bay. Capt. Davis explained that he expected proximity to these military training facilities would be of benefit to his cadets, particularly those interested in naval training. However, the move to Point Loma never happened; Capt. Davis was unable to obtain the terms he wanted for the Point Loma property and instead purchased the property the academy had been leasing in Pacific Beach. In 1923 Capt. Davis also purchased two blocks on the north side of the campus and in 1925 two more blocks on the west side.

Most of the cadets attending the San Diego Army and Navy Academy were residential students who lived on campus during the academic year. They had been accommodated in the original college buildings and then, as enrollment increased, in wooden cottages built elsewhere on the grounds. When enrollment continued to increase during the 1920s, passing 200 in 1924, these accommodations also became insufficient and the academy initiated a more ambitious building program. A mess hall capable of seating 300 was built in 1924, an auditorium and infirmary in 1927, and a three-story reinforced concrete dormitory in 1928. A swimming pool and four-story concrete dormitory were added in early 1930 as attendance grew to more than 400. In anticipation of continued growth, another pair of four-story dormitories were completed by the end of 1930. These rows of large concrete dormitories and the other new structures on the college campus site dwarfed the original college buildings and dominated the skyline of Pacific Beach for decades.

However, the San Diego Army and Navy Academy suffered along with the rest of the country as the Great Depression took hold in the early 1930s. Enrollment of cadets declined to under 200 and the academy found itself unable to repay the costs of its building program. In 1930 the academy received the first of a series of loans from the Security Trust & Savings Bank of San Diego, secured by a deed of trust to the college campus property, and in 1932 all the ‘furniture, furnishings and equipment of every kind and character’ belonging to the academy were mortgaged to the bank (including the knives, forks and spoons in the dining room and the band drum major’s baton). When the academy fell behind in repayment of these obligations, and was even unable to pay taxes on the property, the bank declared it in default and in 1936 announced its intention to sell the property.

In August 1936, the San Diego Union carried a special announcement from Col. Davis (he had received an honorary ‘Kentucky Colonel’ commission from the governor of Kentucky in the 1920s), founder and for 25 years president of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, that he and his brother, Maj. John L. Davis, Jr., vice president and commandant, had resigned their positions and would no longer be associated with the academy in any way. He could be contacted care of Davis Military Academy in Carlsbad. An article in the same paper added that the Davis Military Academy had leased the Red Apple Inn in Carlsbad and that school would open in September, 1936.

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The Davises were joined in Carlsbad by several other members of the administration and faculty from the Pacific Beach academy, including Charles Bain, Raymond Ede, Samuel Peterson and Maj. William Atkinson and his wife Virginia. Many of these original staff members later rose to high positions at the new school, including two future presidents, and several buildings on the campus are named in their honor.

At the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in Pacific Beach, an active-duty army officer who had been professor of military science and tactics took over as commandant. The academy retained its high rating and recognition by the war and navy departments, meaning that graduates were entitled to admission to the military academies at West Point and Annapolis. 150 students had enrolled for the academic year beginning in September 1936 and 20 of the original 30 faculty members would return.

The academy did begin classes in September 1936 but in March 1937 the property in Pacific Beach was sold to the John E. Brown College Company, which announced that it would be renamed Brown Military Academy. The change in name and ownership was apparently popular on the Pacific Beach campus; the 1937 graduating class voted unanimously to be graduated from Brown Military Academy and to have its insignia on their rings. Col. and Maj. Davis consented to the sale with the stipulation that they would be allowed to transfer the name, San Diego Army and Navy Academy, to their new school in Carlsbad.

In December 1938, a little over two years after founding the Davis Military Academy in Carlsbad and a year after it had reacquired the San Diego Army and Navy Academy brand, Col. Davis resigned and returned to his former school in Pacific Beach as assistant to the president of John Brown Schools. He was named president of Brown Military Academy in February 1940, resuming his role, after a brief interruption, as head of the first military academy he had established in San Diego. Maj. Davis took his place as president of the San Diego Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad.

Col. Davis retired from Brown Military Academy in 1954 and in February 1958 John Brown Schools announced that the academy would relocate to Glendora to make way for commercial development of its Pacific Beach campus. Most of the 475 cadets and 90 faculty were expected to make the move, although some faculty joined former headmaster Louis Bitterlin in opening San Diego Military Academy in Solana Beach (San Diego Military Academy closed in 1977 and the site, on Academy Drive, is now Santa Fe Christian Schools).

In June 1958 Col. Davis, then 84 years old, was honorary reviewing officer at the final commencement exercise at Brown Military Academy in Pacific Beach, where he had founded San Diego Army and Navy Academy 48 years earlier. Shortly thereafter, many of the academy buildings, including the former Hotel Balboa, were demolished and replaced with a shopping center, Pacific Plaza, which opened in 1960. A plaque outside the Great Buffet restaurant in Pacific Plaza commemorates the ‘West Point of the West’ which formerly occupied the site.

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The large concrete dormitories remained standing until 1965 when they too were demolished and replaced with an apartment complex, now the Plaza condominiums, in 1970. The Brown Military Academy campus in Glendora was itself was closed in 1968.

End of Browns

Today the Army and Navy Academy in Carlsbad is still located on the site where Col. Thomas A. Davis established Davis Military Academy in 1936 in the former Red Apple Inn. In 1937 it assumed the name of the academy Col. Davis had first founded in 1910 in Pacific Beach but dropped the ‘San Diego’ from its name in 1943, the same year that Maj. Atkinson, the former bandleader at the Pacific Beach academy, began a 30-year tenure as president. In 1948 Army and Navy Academy also began a building program which has never really stopped. The latest addition to the campus is a new sports center, opened in 2013, where a sign reminds passers-by that it all began over a century ago.

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Pacific Beach Hotel

The Pacific Beach Hotel was built in 1888 at the foot of Grand Avenue, a location near the beach and the terminus of the railroad from San Diego. Along with a nearby dance pavilion it was expected to be one of the main attractions of the new suburb. In 1897 it was moved from its original location to what had since become the center of the community, Lamont and Hornblend streets, and for another quarter century served first as a hotel then as the offices of the succession of real estate companies that hoped to benefit from the community’s growth. When it burned down in 1931 it had been vacant for years and was considered a haunted house by local residents.

The heart of Pacific Beach from Wheeler's map. The 'Avenues' south of Grand Avenue are named for early PB land speculators including Thomas, Reed, Gassen and Hubbell (Thomas and Reed Streets survive to this day). This map also shows Missouri Avenue (Street), the only surviving 'state' street name in the PB grid.

In 1887 a ‘syndicate of millionaires’ acquired most of the property in the undeveloped area north of Mission Bay (then called False Bay), christened their new tract Pacific Beach, and incorporated themselves as the Pacific Beach Company. These developers also built a railroad line that ran from downtown to the ocean front in Pacific Beach over what are now Garnet, Balboa and Grand avenues. At about where Second (now Bayard) Street intersects Grand the railroad line curved south to a passenger depot and maintenance facility at the end of the line. In 1888 the Pacific Beach Company built a hotel, the Hotel del Pacific, on Block A along this curve, the site of the present-day Starbucks on the southeast corner of Grand and Mission.

News from Pacific Beach during the late 1880s and early 1890s suggested that the hotel was not initially a success. In November 1889 a Special Notice in the San Diego Union, ‘Removed to 872 Sixth St. The remnant of furniture from Pacific Beach Hotel, cheap’, implied a clearance sale. By September 1890 the hotel had apparently dropped the Hotel del Pacific name and was under new management; the Union ran an ad for ‘Pacific Beach Hotel, new management–reasonable rates. Choice rooms, with lovely ocean view; excellent meals. Special rates made to parties and families. Picnics supplied on short notice. Magnificent beach; fine surf bathing; bath house in connection; free use of pavilion. Round trip by motor from San Diego, 25 cents. For rates and further information address Pacific Beach Hotel, San Diego, Cal. Telephone 198’.

There may also have been difficulties with vendors or contractors; the Union’s Local Intelligence column in March 1891 reported that the argument to set aside the order for sheriff’s sale in the case of the Southern California Lumber Company vs. the Pacific Beach Hotel was continued before Judge Torrance (a sheriff’s sale was a public auction of real property at the courthouse door to satisfy a judgement against the property owner). Not all of the news was discouraging, though; the Union reported in February 1892 that the Pacific Beach Hotel was full. In February 1893 the Pacific Beach railway advertised Sunday excursions to Pacific Beach for 25 cents, round trip. Luncheon could be had at the Pacific Beach Hotel for 25 cents.

In 1894 the Pacific Beach railway was extended to La Jolla, which had its own hotel among other attractions, and the added competition may have diminished the appeal of the Pacific Beach Hotel. In October 1894 the Pacific Beach Notes column in the Union noted that the Robertsons had moved into the hotel building, wording which suggested an extended stay and a possible change in the hotel’s purpose (Thomas Robertson was an engineer for the Pacific Beach Railway; he was killed, ‘literally cooked alive’, in a 1908 train wreck). A state committee considering sites for a normal school in February 1895 was offered the former San Diego College of Letters buildings and its 16 acres of land in Pacific Beach and also the Pacific Beach Hotel and pavilion.

By December 1896 the hotel had apparently become such a liability that the Pacific Beach Company reached an agreement with Sterling Honeycutt to take it off their hands. The company granted Honeycutt the north half of Block 239 of Pacific Beach and required him to move the hotel building situated in Block A and the building known as the pavilion located on Block 261 to this new location within six months. The new property, the south side of Hornblend between Lamont and Morrell streets, was over a mile inland and near the College railway stop at Lamont and Grand Avenue. The price was $2000.

hotel

The move was completed within the allotted time with the hotel building placed upon the northwest corner of the block, the southeast corner of Lamont and Hornblend, and the pavilion on the northeast corner of the block, the southwest corner of Hornblend and Morrell. The San Diego Union reported in February 1897 that three carpenters and several masons and plasterers were working on the Hotel del Pacific, and it would soon be ready for the painters (the old name was still faintly visible on the porch roof in photos taken at the new site). It was apparently ready for business by the end of the year and ads appeared in the Union in October 1897 for ‘Business Chances; the Pacific Beach Hotel, 20 rooms, with all heavy furniture, to rent on reasonable terms. Address S. Honeycutt, Pacific Beach, Cal’. In November the Union reported that Mr. Honeycutt had rented the hotel to a Mr. Hurd. Another series of ads then announced that the Pacific Beach Hotel was open for guests; ‘large sunny rooms, most pleasant dining room in the county. Everything new, and best of attention shown to our guests’.

However, even in its new location the Pacific Beach Hotel was apparently not a very good ‘business chance’. It was listed in the Union again in May 1898: ‘For rent—The Pacific Beach Hotel, modern building containing fifteen rooms completely furnished; one of the nicest seaside hotels near San Diego; motor railroad stops in front of the hotel. A good chance for a nice family. References required’. In July 1899 Pacific Beach Notes in the Union noted that the hotel had been opened by Messr. Gregg and their mother, Mrs. Greenwood, arrangements with Mr. Rowen not being consummated. For his part, Mr. Honeycutt granted an undivided half of his interests in Block 239, ‘including the building known as the Pacific Beach Hotel and furniture’, to Mrs. Honeycutt in 1899.

Business did improve when a Y.M.C.A Summer Camp was held at the college in August 1899 and the hotel and college buildings were filled with summer school students. Business also apparently picked up in the winter; in February 1900 Pacific Beach Notes noted that the hotel was full of visitors from the East and in September 1900 many eastern people were said to have engaged rooms for the coming winter.

In November 1903 the San Diego Union reported that a big Pacific Beach hotel building formerly owned by Sterling Honeycutt has been sold to purchasers represented by Folsom Bros., the well-known real estate men, who would not say who the purchasers were but promised big improvements. The purchasers turned out to be the Folsom brothers themselves and the improvements may not have been that extensive; a month later the news was that the new hotel owned by Folsom Bros. was expected to be opened to the public before the expiration of the present week. Mrs. M. I. King, well known in San Diego as a first class hotel manager, would be in charge. The Pacific Beach Hotel did open and was listed in the 1904 and 1905 San Diego City Directory, with Mrs. M. I. King as manager.

However, Folsom Bros. Co. still felt the need for a modern, attractive and at the same time reasonably priced resort hotel to accommodate their clients from the north and east. In 1904 they leased and a year later completed the purchase of the campus and buildings of the former San Diego College of Letters, a block northwest of the Pacific Beach Hotel on the north side of Garnet. Folsom Bros. Secretary O. W. Cotton explained to the Union in 1906 that the company then remodeled and rebuilt these buildings from top to bottom, named the place Hotel Balboa, and had one of the most delightful year around hotels on the coast, which was rapidly becoming one of the most popular.

With a modern, attractive, delightful and popular hotel only a block away Folsom Bros. Co. had no need for a second hotel in the vicinity and instead took over the former hotel building for their offices. When Lamont Street was graded in 1907, the Union reported that work on curbs and sidewalks would commence in a few weeks, starting at the railway depot at Lamont and Grand and continuing up Lamont past the general offices of the Folsom Bros. Co. and to Hotel Balboa.

The Folsom brothers retired from active management of Folsom Bros. Co. in 1910 and in 1911 the company was renamed the San Diego Beach Company, which San Diego City Directories listed at ‘Lamont cor Hornblend’ and later at 4437 Lamont, Pacific Beach. San Diego Beach Company notices for stockholders meetings and assessment (and delinquent) notices for stockholders posted in the Evening Tribune listed the company’s address as 4437 Lamont as late as 1921. After the San Diego Beach Company moved its office downtown later in 1921 the building was apparently abandoned, although in 1928 the Evening Tribune carried a story about an Easter outing given by the Dixie Riding Academy of Pacific Beach, 4437 Lamont Street.

Magner White, then a reporter for the San Diego Sun, had received the 1924 Pulitzer Prize for a story about an eclipse of the sun. In 1930, writing for the Evening Tribune, White wrote about a ‘foray’ into an old deserted dwelling at Pacific Beach: ‘A house vacant more than two years immediately becomes a “haunted” house—and in Pacific Beach, on Lamont avenue, there’s one, a 20-room, high-windowed, high-ceilinged frame structure, that has been vacant more than five times two years.’ It had once been a hotel but ‘aloof and deserted and weed-bordered’ it had since been gathering the traditions of a “haunted” house; children wouldn’t go into it, mysterious lights were seen in upper rooms, doors slammed mysteriously and broken panes rattled and sometimes fell out. Nevertheless, accompanied by two squealing, giggling little girls, his party decided to investigate.

There was a health department notice on the front door warning that the place was unfit for human habitation until brought up to date with plumbing (although there wasn’t any sign of plumbing, even in the kitchen). There were long half-inch pipes hanging from the ceiling which curled up to end in spigot-like fixtures, plainly gas pipes indicating that the place had once been lighted with gas. Old letters and other papers dating back more than 20 years were scattered over one of the floors, including O. W. Cotton’s June 1907 pay stub from Folsom Bros. Co. (for $150). They paused at the top landing and an old door chose that moment to fall off its hinges. White admitted that he jumped, and the little girls squealed. In the attic they found the source of the mysterious lights; candles discarded by hoboes who had been sleeping there. There were also old cans and more than two dozen empty whiskey bottles. When they opened the door to one room that probably had been closed for months if not years a jar of canned fruit in the room exploded, possibly due to the sudden admission of fresh air. The little girls ran back downstairs and the rest of them decided it was time to get out.

White had noted that a story such as this always brought out the facts and that within a few days someone was bound to write in, and indeed a few days later he reported that M. W. Folsom had written him with some interesting facts. The huge “haunted house” frame building in Pacific Beach was the building known at first as the Pacific Beach Hotel and that was later used as the general offices of his company, Folsom Bros. Co. Except for the Hotel Coronado, it was San Diego’s first beach-front hotel, built at the end of Grand Avenue, and later moved to its present site.

A little over a year after Magner White’s story, on December 3, 1931, the San Diego Union reported that fire of unknown origin had destroyed the Old Pacific Beach Hotel building, corner of Lamont and Hornblend streets, Pacific Beach. The fire was discovered at 10:30 the previous night and firemen were still fighting the blaze in the morning. The hotel, a historic landmark in Pacific Beach, was built more than 40 years ago. It was three stories high, had been vacant for several years, and was last occupied by the local telephone company. More than 35 cadets from the San Diego Army and Navy Academy had arrived at the scene of the blaze first and had prevented the flames from spreading to nearby buildings. They used a fire hose from the academy and made connection to the street hydrant (the Academy had been founded in 1910 in the former Hotel Balboa buildings). The next day the Union reported that the fire marshal believed that the fire was incendiary, based on two previous attempts set fire to the structure on June 21, but that this belief had not been substantiated by evidence. The building was admittedly a fire trap.

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The site of the former hotel, real estate office and haunted house is now occupied by the Patio on Lamont Street restaurant. Ornate bike racks have replaced the paved walkways which once led from the curb to the entrance doors facing Lamont. The towering palm trees along Lamont Street that were planted nearly a century ago in front of the Folsom Bros. Co. office are all that remain today of this historic Pacific Beach landmark.

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