Tag Archives: Pacific Beach Company

PB’s Founders

Signature page from Articles of Incorporation of the Pacific Beach Company, July 1887

In July 1887 the San Diego Union reported on a Great Enterprise, a New City About to be Built at False Bay by a Syndicate of Millionaires. Articles of incorporated had been filed at the county clerk’s office for the Pacific Beach Company, to be allied with the San Diego and Pacific Beach Railroad Company incorporated a few days earlier. The Union listed the principals of the Beach company as R. A. Thomas, J. R. Thomas, O. S. Hubbell, D. C. Reed, each of whom had subscribed $100,000, and D. P. Hale, Thomas E. Metcalf, W. W. Thomas, G. B. Hensley and Charles Collins, who had subscribed between $25,000 and $50,000 each. The subscribers to the railroad were the same.

According to the Union, the articles of incorporation showed little or nothing of the intentions of the company and the magnitude of the undertaking was only ascertained by conversation with the incorporators. It was learned from one of the gentlemen that the syndicate had obtained by purchase 1,663 acres of land fronting on False Bay for the purpose of laying out a town. The town would be christened Pacific Beach and the railroad would connect it to downtown San Diego. Behind these two corporations, ‘going hand in hand, so to speak’, was a College Company which intended to build and conduct an educational institution second to none in the United States on land near the center of Pacific Beach.

Original map of Pacific Beach, subdivided for the Pacific Beach Company by H. K. Wheeler, City Engineer, October 1887

The layout of the new town was established in October 1887 when City Engineer H. K. Wheeler produced a map of the Pacific Beach subdivision. A broad thoroughfare named Grand Avenue traversed the community from its western limit at the Pacific Ocean to its eastern edge near Rose Creek and would also serve as the right of way for the railroad between downtown San Diego and a depot near the beach. Other avenues (running east and west) and streets (north and south) divided the community into rectangular blocks. The streets were numbered, from First on the west to Seventeenth on the east, with a somewhat wider street named Broadway between Eighth and Ninth streets. The avenues north of Grand were named for states, except for College Avenue, where the college was to be built. South of Grand, the avenues were named after participants in the great enterprise; Thomas, Reed, Hubbell, Hensley, Metcalf, Hale and Collins. A. C. Platt, Hensley’s real estate partner, and A. G. Gassen and James Poiser, area landowners allied with the Pacific Beach Company, also had avenues named for them.

An opening sale of lots was held on December 12, 1887, and the Union reported the next morning that it was, all things considered, the most successful in the history of San Diego real estate transactions. According to the Union the Pacific Beach Company did not resort to the usual methods of ‘booming’ the sale and, notwithstanding the fact that no band was in attendance and there were no free carriages and no free lunch, over $200,000 worth of lots were disposed of. The buyers were all legitimate investors and many of them signified an intention of improving their lots. Many persons had been viewing the ground in the last few weeks and without doubt all purchasers bought intelligently. College Avenue was the favorite street with purchasers since there was no doubt that it would be the main business street.

The opening sale of lots in Pacific Beach took place at the height of San Diego’s ‘great boom’ of 1886-1888, when thousands of people arriving in town over the newly completed transcontinental railroad connection had set off a real estate bonanza. Unfortunately for the Pacific Beach Company, and for those intelligent and legitimate investors in Pacific Beach building lots, the boom faded in early 1888 and the market for residential real estate collapsed. The Pacific Beach Company responded by shrinking the community and eliminating many of the streets and avenues outside of a central area between Alabama and Reed avenues, converting them into agricultural ‘acre lots’.

Map 697, the amended map of the Pacific Beach subdivision, filed January 1892

An amended subdivision map filed in 1892 no longer included the avenues south of Thomas and Reed, erasing those named for the other Pacific Beach Company officials. Thomas and Reed avenues remained, however, even after every other street and avenue (except Grand) was renamed in 1900 in order to prevent duplication of street names throughout San Diego. Broadway became Ingraham Street, the numbered streets were renamed for statesmen, in alphabetical order, and the state-themed avenues north of Grand were renamed for gemstones, also in alphabetical order from Agate to Hornblend (Alabama Avenue became Diamond Street). College Avenue, north of Grand and no longer the site of the college (it closed in 1891), was also renamed for a gemstone and as predicted has become the main business street in Pacific Beach, Garnet Avenue.

With their names removed from the map most of PB’s founders have faded from memory, and while some residents are aware that Reed and Thomas avenues were named for people in their community’s past their histories are also little known. So who were these founders, what were their backgrounds, and what happened to them in the decades following the founding of Pacific Beach?

D. C. Reed

David C. Reed was born in New York but had been a resident of San Diego since about 1870, just a few years after what is now downtown San Diego was established by Alonzo Horton in 1867. Daily ads for D. C. Reed, attorney and real estate dealer, appeared in the San Diego Union beginning in 1872. In 1873 the Union reported the marriage of D. C. Reed and Juliet Guiou, both of San Diego, and in 1874 the news was that plans were complete for an elegant cottage residence for D. C. Reed, Esq., to be erected on D Street (now Broadway). He took an interest in politics and in 1875 became secretary of the Republican County Committee and ran as the Republican candidate for district attorney. In 1879 he was a candidate for lieutenant governor and in 1884 he was the delegate from the Sixth Congressional District to the Republican National Convention in Chicago (the party nominated James Blaine, who was defeated by Grover Cleveland in the presidential election).

Reed’s business interests also expanded. In 1876 he became an insurance agent, the local representative for the Firemen’s Fund and others, and by 1880 he no longer represented himself as an attorney. He ran daily ads in the San Diego Union; a Union Local Brevities column in 1881 noted that readers would observe that there was a live Real Estate man named D. C. Reed in these parts who believed in printer’s ink and advertised by the column (his ad in that issue of the Union indeed did take up an entire column). In 1885 the completion of a transcontinental railway link to San Diego and the arrival of thousands of newcomers from the east created new opportunities for real estate operators like Reed. He and T. J. Daley purchased Pueblo Lot 1159 in what is now Logan Heights and in 1885 subdivided a portion of it as Reed & Daley’s Addition. In 1886 Reed and O. S. Hubbell subdivided Reed & Hubbell’s Addition in Pueblo Lots 1162 and 1163, now part of Barrio Logan between 26th and 30th streets, Marcy Avenue and NASSCO. Reed and Hubbell were also involved in suburban real estate, Reed as president and Hubbell as secretary of the San Marcos Land Company in 1887, before both became directors of the Pacific Beach Company later in the year. Also in 1887, Reed and Aaron Pauly built the three-story Reed-Pauly building at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and E Street. The Reed-Pauly building, later the Leland Hotel, is still standing, although without its original bay windows.

In the 1890s Reed again became active in politics, taking the side of the San Diego Flume Company, which delivered water from Lake Cuyamaca, against a plan backed by John D. Spreckels and E. S. Babcock to supply the city with water from a proposed Morena Dam on Cottonwood Creek. As a result, the Spreckels-owned San Diego Union campaigned against Reed and his Municipal Ownership Club when he ran for mayor of San Diego in 1896, labeling him Demon C. Reed, and endorsing his opponent. Reed won anyway and served a single term as mayor from 1897 to 1899.

Former Mayor D. C. Reed

In 1902 Reed was involved in a controversy involving Katherine Tingley’s Theosophical Institute on Point Loma. The Theosophists had recruited a group of children from Cuba to be educated at the institute but after the Los Angeles Times published articles criticizing conditions there the children were detained on arrival at Ellis Island pending an investigation. D. C. Reed became a member of the investigating committee and after concluding that the criticism was unwarranted he was sent to New York to escort the children to San Diego (Madame Tingley later sued the Times for libel and won). He also returned to the Pacific Beach real estate market, creating Reed’s Ocean Front Addition, a subdivision of the southeast 40 acres of Pueblo Lot 1783 between Bayard, Turquoise and Loring streets and a line about halfway between Dawes and Everts, in 1904.

In June 1919 D. C. Reed placed a final real estate ad in the San Diego Union, taking up nearly an entire page. ‘Read what one of San Diego’s most successful real estate merchants has to say’, he began. He continued that in years past his advertisements had been read by thousands because they were ‘snappy’ and offered good bargains, then presented his ‘best offer’, his own beautiful home and adjacent income property for sale. ‘I am 72 years of age, and I have quit. I am quitting the game I love – real estate’. Ever the Republican politician he blamed the poor real estate market at the time on ‘a democratic school teacher as president; one who desires to be dictator of the whole world’ (the president in 1919 was Woodrow Wilson). However, he predicted that things would improve now that we were ‘finally about to realize the sniffing of a little railroad smoke’ (the San Diego and Arizona Railroad was completed in November 1919). The ad described a beautiful modern home with 9 large rooms, complete in every detail, automatic hot water heater, bath room, two toilets, furnace, new garage with cement floor, everything in first class condition, and situated on an elevation possessing a most charming view. There was even a large painting of Yosemite Valley for which $1000 had been refused, but now the home, including the valuable painting, and the two-story four-flat and garage on the adjoining lot, were offered for sale at $25,000 (the ad claimed that $50,000 had been refused in 1913). Later in 1919 the Union reported that D. C. Reed, veteran real estate man and former mayor, had sold his fine residence at First and Elm streets for $20,000, but that he was not going to leave the city.

That prediction proved to be inaccurate. On the same day that D. C. Reed’s ad appeared in the Union the paper also reported that his daughter Mrs. Vida Reed Stone and her husband were now in charge of a music school in the foothills near Hollywood. Mrs. Ethel Reed Stanton, another daughter, was also an instructor there. The sisters each had homes on Glen Green Street in Hollywood, and after selling his home in San Diego Reed apparently joined them; the 1921 Los Angeles city directory listed David C. Reed at an address on N. Beachwood Drive, a few blocks away (Beachwood is directly below the Hollywood sign, although the sign, then reading “Hollywoodland’, wasn’t erected until 1923). This move might have been foreshadowed by an October 1920 report in the Los Angeles Times that Ethel Stanton had filed a petition to be appointed guardian of the estate of her father, a former mayor of San Diego, claiming that he had been mentally infirm for the past three years and was not competent to transact his business affairs. According to the Times the estate was valued at $140,000 and included property in San Diego and Los Angeles. D. C. Reed died in Los Angeles in July 1928 but his funeral was held in San Diego and he is buried at Mount Hope cemetery.

R. A., J. R., and W. W. Thomas

Thomas Avenue in Pacific Beach commemorates three brothers who were among its founders. Richard A., John R. and William W. Thomas were born in Wisconsin where their father Edward, an immigrant from England, was a farmer. By 1880 R. A. and J. R. Thomas had moved to Kansas where they became lumber merchants. In 1883 they were in San Diego and on the occasion of the completion of the new building of the First National Bank in February 1884 the San Diego Union wrote that a short account of the enterprise of the Messrs. Thomas and associates was in order. The short account was that the bank was organized in June 1883 with R. A. and J. R. Thomas, recent arrivals from Kansas, and a local capitalist Jacob Gruendike among the directors. Gruendike was elected president and R. A. Thomas vice president, and another Thomas brother, C. E. (Charles), was made cashier. R. A. Thomas later became president, and then vice president again, before the Thomas brother left to pursue other interests in the late 1880s. Gruendike and R. A. and J. R. Thomas were also directors and officers of the San Diego Lumber Company.

One other interest the Thomas brothers pursued was real estate. Jacob Gruendike had acquired the Rancho Rincon del Diablo, which covered over 12,000 acres around where Escondido is now located, and in 1885 R. A., J. R., C. E. and W. W. (William) Thomas joined Gruendike and others, including D. P. Hale and Thomas Metcalf, in forming the Escondido Land and Town Company to develop the property. A fifth Thomas brother, G. V. (George), a lumber merchant, was also associated with the Escondido company, although not an officer or director. W. W. Thomas was named superintendent and the company laid out the town of Escondido, built a hotel, and began selling lots in 1886. The Thomases were also involved in founding the neighboring North County town of San Marcos. An advertisement in the San Diego Union from September 1887 announcing that the San Marcos Land Company have now on sale lots in the new town of San Marcos was signed by J. R. Thomas, Secretary. Incorporation of the Pacific Beach Company and the Pacific Beach railroad and the opening sale of lots in Pacific Beach took place later in 1887.

Profits from their banking and real estate activities allowed the Thomas brothers to live in some of the city’s finest residences. The Union reported in 1887 that J. R. Thomas of the Escondido Land and Town Company was building a residence at Fifth and Maple streets that would be one of the handsomest buildings in that beautiful section of the city. It would cost $10,000 and be surmounted by a turret observatory (the Thomas house is no longer there but was comparable to the Britt – Scripps house still standing next door, at Fourth and Maple, built in the same year and with the same assessed value, and also with a turret observatory). In 1893 R. A. Thomas traded 300 acres of land in Escondido for the home of Henry Timken, the wealthy inventor of the Timken roller bearing, and moved in with his family. The Timken Mansion, at First and Laurel streets, is still standing and is another fine example of Victorian residential architecture in San Diego.

During the 1890s the Thomas brothers’ interests transitioned again, from San Diego real estate to the hardware business, and then to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Herald reported in 1896 that articles of incorporation had been filed for the Consolidated Hardware Company; the directors included R. A., J. R. and W. W. Thomas, and Edward Beven (R. A. Thomas’ brother-in-law). The 1897 Los Angeles city directory had a listing for Thomas Bros., R. A. Thomas, prest.; J. R. Thomas, vice-prest. and mgr.; W. W. Thomas, secy., hardware, 230 S. Spring Street. John R. and William W. Thomas had Los Angeles addresses but Richard A. Thomas was listed as resident in San Diego, where he had remained and served as chairman of the chamber of commerce in 1898.

In San Diego, the Union reported in 1899 that R. A. Thomas, ex-president of the chamber of commerce, had traded his fine residence property at First and Laurel for a property with three houses owned by Col. A. G. Gassen at Eleventh and E streets. Both properties were valued at $20,000. The Union explained that Mr. Thomas had become interested in the mining business at Jerome, Arizona, and found it more convenient to reside in Los Angeles, where he would remove with his family. His fine residence could not be rented to advantage but the three houses at Eleventh and E brought in a good revenue. Col. Gassen had been living in the clubhouse at the Pacific Beach race-track but would take possession of the Thomas residence as soon as possible (another avenue on the original Pacific Beach map was named for Gassen).

In Los Angeles, the other Thomas brothers and Thomas Metcalf, who had also moved to Los Angeles in 1898, followed R. A. Thomas into the mining business. The 1901 Los Angeles directory showed John R. Thomas as president of the California Oil Co., Wm. W. Thomas as secretary of the Black Hills Copper Co., and Richard A. Thomas as president and Thomas Metcalf vice president of the Mingus Mountain Copper Co. (Mingus Mountain is a peak in the Black Hills, where Jerome is located). Their Jerome mining ventures were apparently unsuccessful, however, and in 1902 the Los Angeles Times reported that R. A., J. R. and W. W. Thomas, and Thomas Metcalf, were incorporators of the Choix Consolidated Mining Company, with mines in Sinaloa and Chihuahua, Mexico (Choix was a copper mining town in Sinaloa). In 1903 the city directory listed Thomas Brothers & Metcalf, R. A. Thomas president, Thomas Metcalf vice president, J. R. Thomas secretary and W. W. Thomas treasurer, investments, at an address on South Broadway in Los Angeles. The company remained listed at that address for decades, although its business changed from ‘investments’ to ‘mines and mining’ in 1908.

Thomas Metcalf died in 1911, after which Thomas Brothers & Metcalf ceased to exist and the South Broadway address became the office of Choix Consolidated Mining, R. A. Thomas president and J. R. Thomas secretary, until R. A. Thomas’ death in 1918. The South Broadway office then became the headquarters of El Fuerte Mining and Smelting Company, J. R. Thomas Secretary, which later merged with the Choix Consolidated company (the Fuerte River is near Choix in Sinaloa). W. W. Thomas also shared the office and was involved with mining, mostly in British Columbia, until his death in 1926. J. R. Thomas remained with the El Fuerte mining company until he also died, in 1929, the last of the founders of Pacific Beach.

O. S. Hubbell

Oren Sage (O. S.) Hubbell was born in 1858 in Iowa but his family had relocated to San Diego by 1874 and his father, Charles, was cashier at the Bank of San Diego. The 1880 census listed O. S. Hubbell as a ‘clerk in bank’ and by 1885 he had become assistant cashier of the First National Bank, the bank where the Thomas brothers were officers and directors. He joined D. C. Reed in subdividing Reed & Hubbell’s addition in what is now Logan Heights in 1886 and in 1887 became a director of the San Marcos Land Company, of which D. C. Reed was president. In addition to his participation in the Pacific Beach Company he was also involved with the Morena Company and the El Cajon Valley Company, developers of Lakeside, in 1887. Hubbell is credited with leading the negotiations with the San Diego College Company that resulted in the Pacific Beach Company granting four blocks in the center of Pacific Beach for a college campus. San Diego’s first college, the San Diego College of Letters, was built there and opened in September 1888. Although the college closed in 1891 the campus was reopened in 1910 as the San Diego Army and Navy Academy, later Brown Military Academy, before finally closing and being dismantled in 1959. The former campus is now the site of Pacific Plaza shopping center.

Like many of his associates in the real estate business, O. S. Hubbell exhibited his apparent success with an opulent home on a prominent view lot. In his case the property was at the corner of 7th and Ash streets downtown, the apex of what was then called Nob Hill. The home was said to have cost $92,000 to build, an astounding sum in 1888, and was ‘not excelled for comfort and elegance by any home in Southern California’. However, Hubbell had financed his holdings with debt and in the ‘bust’ that followed the great boom of 1886-1888 found himself unable to repay his obligations, including to the bank where he had been an officer. In early 1889 the First National Bank succeeded in obtaining a verdict from O. S. Hubbell for over $10,000 and in November of that year he ‘made over’ all of his holdings, estimated at $200,000 and including the Nob Hill mansion, to L. S. McLure, an officer of that bank, apparently to repay debts. By 1890 he was the defendant in a number of foreclosure cases in the San Diego superior court.

In October 1890 the Jacksonville (Alabama) Republican reported that Mr. O. S. Hubbell, of San Diego, Cal, had located in Jacksonville to participate in the prosperity of the town. The Republican added that Mr. Hubbell was formerly Secretary of the Coronado Beach Land Company, which built the celebrated Coronado hotel (Hubbell had been a director and officer of a number of land companies in the San Diego area, but not the Coronado Beach Company, which had built the Hotel del Coronado). The Jacksonville paper later reported that O. S. Hubbell had put up a corrugated iron building in town to serve as a real estate office. However, by 1892 the Hubbells had moved on again; the Jacksonville paper carried a legal notice to the effect that O. S. Hubbell and his wife Kate were defendants in a case but were thought to be non-residents and to reside in Chicago. His legal issues also continued in San Diego; in June 1893 he filed a petition for discharge as an insolvent debtor and was discharged from insolvency in July, although cases against Hubbell, ‘an insolvent debtor’, continued at least until 1903.

Also in 1893 his former San Diego home changed hands again. According to the San Diego Union, the magnificent residence at Seventh and Ash streets, built by Oren Hubbell, was sold to Mrs. U. S. Grant, Jr. for $25,000. U. S. Grant Jr. was the son of the former Union general and president, who had moved to San Diego and become a major player in the real estate industry. The U. S. Grant Hotel, built in 1910 and still standing on Broadway between 3rd and 4th avenues, was one of his real estate ventures. U. S. Grant Jr. lived at the former Hubbell home until 1915, after which it was turned into a rooming house, the Grant Terrace, an attractive room for adults with two meals, close in, exclusive surroundings, 718 Ash. In 1926 the property was sold to make room for a new hotel. Thirty rooms of good furniture, ‘much better than will be found in the average rooming house’, including antiques that had ‘been in the Grant family for ages’, were sold at auction. The house itself was to be ‘wrecked’ and the wrecking company advertised that the house was built at tremendous expense and only the highest grade materials obtainable were used in its construction. This well-seasoned, beautiful material would be available at much less than new low grade materials – sale starts Monday morning. With the house cleared from the site construction began on the El Cortez Hotel, completed in 1927 and still standing on what is now known as Cortez Hill.

Meanwhile, O. S. Hubbell had moved from Alabama to the Chicago area where he worked as an insurance agent. By 1910 he had moved again, this time to Portland, Oregon, where he was listed as a real estate dealer. He died in Portland in 1921.

D. P. Hale

There is no Hale Avenue in Pacific Beach today but there is one in Escondido, where Daniel P. Hale, one of PB’s founders, later became general manager of the Escondido Land and Town Company. D. P. Hale came to San Diego from Sioux City, Iowa, where he was president of the Sioux City Vinegar and Pickling Works. In February 1886 the San Diego Union reported that D. P. Hale had been elected secretary and treasurer (and Thomas E. Metcalf had been elected vice president) of the San Diego Savings Bank which was about to open in San Diego. The Union added that these gentlemen were among the ‘new blood that has in the recent past been infused into our business circles’, were ‘gentlemen of large business experience, thorough training and acute minds’, had ‘made honorable records in the communities from whence they came’ and would no doubt sustain those records in San Diego. There is no record that the savings bank ever did open, however, and instead Hale purchased an interest in an established real estate partnership as San Diego’s great real estate boom got underway. In 1887 he was one of the original partners of the Pacific Beach Company, subscribing $25,000 in paid-up capital for 250 shares.

One of the company’s early accomplishments had been attracting the San Diego College of Letters to build on a campus granted by the company in Pacific Beach. When the college opened in 1888 Hale’s daughters Della and Libba joined fellow founder D. C. Reed’s sons Bert and Oliver in its inaugural class, where Della assisted with the college paper The Rambler. Over time D. P. Hale became more involved with land companies in north San Diego County where he (along with Metcalf and the Thomas brothers) had been among the founders of the Escondido Land and Town Company in 1886. Hale served as vice president and general manager of both the San Marcos and Escondido land companies before his death in 1900.

Thomas Metcalf

Thomas E. Metcalf, originally from Delaware, had joined D. P. Hale in the 1886 savings bank venture and was later involved with Hale, Reed and the Thomas brothers in the Escondido and San Marcos as well as Pacific Beach companies. He was also a director of the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railway Company, which built and operated the railroad link between San Diego and Pacific Beach. In 1897 he joined Jacob Gruendike in forming the La Costa Land and Town Company on property they owned around the La Costa station on the railroad line between Leucadia (then called Merle) and Carlsbad in San Diego’s North County. Although the station already served as a shipping point for the area’s farmers Metcalf and Gruendike also promoted the area as a promising oilfield and attempted to develop a salt production facility at the lagoon there. T. E. Metcalf remained president of the La Costa company even after moving to Los Angeles in 1898, where he again joined the Thomas brothers as Thomas Brothers & Metcalf, an investment and mining company. He died at his home in the Ocean Park section of Los Angeles in 1911. His obituary in the Los Angeles Times described him as one of the founders of Escondido and later of Pacific Beach who had moved to Los Angeles and taken an active interest in copper operations in Mexico and Arizona, in which he was a partner of the Thomas brothers.

George B. Hensley

George B. Hensley was a ‘delegate elect’ in the 1882 Republican primary election, representing the Monument precinct where he was deputy collector of customs at the Mexican border. In 1883 the Union reported that Mr. Henley and family had moved into town and taken up residence in the Switzer house in the east part of the city. In 1884 he was a ‘searcher of records’ at the courthouse and in 1885 was a founder and became secretary of the Building and Loan Association. An ad in the Union in 1886 said that Hensley & Platt, real estate, loan and insurance agents, had $10,000 to loan on real estate (in the original Pacific Beach subdivision map Platt Avenue was between Hensley and Metcalf avenues). In May 1888, a few months after lots in Pacific Beach first went on sale, Reed & Hensley, Managers, invited readers to buy a home at Pacific Beach, overlooking ocean, bay, San Diego and Coronado, and send your children to college, the only one now being built in Southern California and ready for occupancy September 1, 1888. In addition to his real estate interests, George Hensley was an incorporator and later superintendent of the cable railway that ran along Sixth and Fourth streets between the bay and Mission Cliff Gardens in University Heights in 1890 and 1891. Hensley was named receiver of the bankrupt cable railway in 1892. When he died in 1893 the San Diego Union wrote that he had been prominent in public affairs for years and was universally esteemed.

Charles Collins

When fellow Pacific Beach founder Charles Collins also died in 1893 the Union noted that he had been a notable character in the Missouri Valley from 1861 until his arrival in San Diego eight years earlier, a leader in the movement that opened the Black Hills of Dakota to settlement. A native of Ireland, Collins wrote and published directories for towns and mining districts in Colorado and Nevada in the early 1860s before moving to the Midwest, where he published newspapers as well as city directories in towns such as St. Joseph, Leavenworth and Omaha. In 1870 he was in Sioux City, Iowa, across the Missouri River from the Dakota Territory, where as publisher of the Weekly Times he promoted Sioux City as a base for the exploration and exploitation of Dakota’s Black Hills. In 1872 he formed the Black Hills Mining and Exploring Association to organize and outfit parties of pioneers prospecting for rumored deposits of gold there, but since the Black Hills were then part of the Great Sioux Reservation the army initially enforced treaty provisions by turning back or arresting trespassers. Collins and others continued their agitation and in 1874 a reconnaissance expedition under the command of Col. George Custer did enter the hills and confirmed the existence of gold. The government then attempted to acquire the mining region from the Indians but the Indians resisted and left their reservations. Another expedition led by Custer to force them to return encountered a large camp of hostile Indians at the Little Bighorn River in June 1876 and a battalion of the Seventh U. S. Cavalry including Custer himself were massacred.

The Indians were eventually rounded up and returned to new reservations and the Black Hills were opened to mining. Collins joined the settlers there, publishing another newspaper, the Black Hills Champion, in Central City, but after a few more years, according to an article in South Dakota Magazine, ‘Charlie Collins’ left for California, ‘where it is said that he made a fortune in real estate ventures before fading into the cobwebs of history’. Those real estate ventures included about 100 acres north of False Bay in San Diego which Collins acquired beginning in 1885, and which were presumably part of his subscription of $25,000 in paid-up capitol for 250 shares of Pacific Beach Company stock in 1887. This property was in the southwest section of what became Pacific Beach and in 1888 he regained a portion of it, Block 264, known as the Collins place and later the site of the De Luxe Trailer Court, Martha Farnum Elementary School and the Earl and Birdie Taylor Pacific Beach Branch Library. After Charles Collins died in 1893 his wife Annie continued to deal in real estate around Pacific Beach, including acreage in the foothills above Pacific Beach which she sold to Kate Sessions in 1912 and which Miss Sessions subdivided as Soledad Terrace in 1913.

When the Pacific Beach Company voted to dissolve in 1898 D. C. Reed was the only one of its founders whose name appeared on the dissolution petition submitted to the superior court. The company still owned a large amount of real estate in Pacific Beach and it was distributed to the current stockholders in proportion to their respective interests. The list of these stockholders submitted to the court did not include any of the founders, even Reed. A vast majority of the company’s stock, about 61%, was then owned by Oliver J. Stough and another 31% was held by the First National Bank of San Diego, the bank once associated with the Thomases. Six more individuals, none of them original stockholders of the company, divided the remaining 7-8%. When the company’s unsold property was finally distributed Stough ended up with over half of the property in Pacific Beach. It is thought that Oliver Avenue, the avenue south of Thomas and Reed, is named for him.

Grand Avenue, Pacific Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

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 Drive

Pacific Beach Drive at Kendall Street

The Pacific Beach Company’s original subdivision map from October 1887 divided the area between the Pacific Ocean and Rose Creek and between Mission Bay and the Mount Soledad foothills into rectangular blocks separated by east-west avenues and north-south streets. Grand Avenue ran through the center of Pacific Beach and was also the right of way of the San Diego & Pacific Beach Railroad. South of Grand, the avenues were named after officials of the Pacific Beach Company; D. C. Reed, J. R. Thomas, etc. The avenue south of Reed, now Oliver, was named for A. G. Gassen and the avenue south of Gassen was named for O. S. Hubbell. Like most of the other avenues and streets on the original map, Hubbell Avenue was 80 feet wide and perfectly straight from one side of the community to the other. Most avenues and streets in Pacific Beach still are, but not the former Hubbell Avenue. It was wiped off the map of Pacific Beach along with everything south of it after only a few years, and although the subdivisions which grew up around its former route generally provided for a comparable roadway, the sections in different tracts did not necessarily line up, resulting in the odd alignment of the street that is now Pacific Beach Drive.


The Pacific Beach Company’s opening sale was held in December 1887 and one of the first purchases was Block 295 ‘being bounded on the north by Gassen Street, on the South by Hubbell Street, on the East by an Alley, and on the West by the Ocean Boulevard’ (by Matilda O’Neil for $2000 gold coin of the United States of America). However, most purchasers preferred more central locations closer to Grand Avenue and only one other deed was recorded for property along Hubbell Avenue (for lots 1-10 of Block 313, east of today’s Olney Street, then at the mouth of Rose Creek).

When San Diego’s ‘great boom’ collapsed in the Spring of 1888 thousands of would-be purchasers of residential lots left the area, and the community’s prospects were further diminished when the San Diego College of Letters closed in 1891. The Pacific Beach Company decided to market its tract as an agricultural district and in 1892 recorded a new subdivision map, Map 697. Map 697 retained the residential block structure and the streets and avenues in the central portion of Pacific Beach, generally the area between Reed Avenue and Alabama Avenue, now Diamond Street, but converted most of the area north of Alabama into acreage property, ‘acre lots’ of about 10 acres each. Many of the avenues and the streets that had extended into this acreage property were also gone from Map 697.

Map 697, Recorded January 1892

South of Reed Avenue the changes to the map were even more extensive. San Diego had inherited the lands of the Mexican Pueblo of San Diego and these pueblo lands had been platted into pueblo lots. Pueblo Lots 1800, 1801, 1802 and 1803 covered land in what are now Crown Point and Mission Beach. These pueblo lots had been included in the original 1887 map of the Pacific Beach subdivision but were not included in Map 697, except for a few parcels in Pueblo Lot 1803 northwest of Mission Bay. The northern boundary of Pueblo Lots 1800 and 1801 coincided with the north side of Hubbell Avenue, so the streets, avenues and lots south of Hubbell Avenue, including Hubbell Avenue itself, disappeared from the map of Pacific Beach. The area between Reed Avenue and the northern boundary of Pueblo Lots 1799, 1800 and 1801 was mostly reconfigured into acre lots of about 10 acres, also eliminating Gassen Avenue. Pueblo Lot 1799, east of Pueblo Lot 1800 and north of Mission Bay was retained in Map 697 and reconfigured into acre lots of about 13 acres. In the northern portion of Pueblo Lot 1803, Block 389 was retained and two new acre lots, 70 and 71, were created.

The acre lots created by Map 697 in 1892 proved popular and many were purchased and put to use as lemon ranches, contributing to a period of relative prosperity in Pacific Beach lasting more than 10 years. One of the first lemon ranches was established on Acre Lot 61, south of Reed and west of Lamont, purchased in 1892 by O. H. Raiter and extended in 1894 to the adjoining Acre Lot 62 on the west.

The Pacific Beach Company was dissolved in October 1898 and the remaining unsold property distributed to its shareholders, but in November 1898 the trustees purchased the northern 61 feet of Pueblo Lot 1800, effectively adding 61 feet to the southern edge of the community in this area. On the same day that this deed was recorded, another deed granted Eliza Turner a five-acre parcel south of the 61-foot strip, the northwest corner of the remainder of Pueblo Lot 1800. In 1902 A. J. Dula and O. M. Schmidt purchased the eastern half of Pueblo Lot 1800, less the 61-foot strip on the northern boundary and the five-acre parcel at the northwest corner of the remainder, and subdivided it as Fortuna Park Addition. In 1903 they purchased the western half of the pueblo lot, less the 61-foot strip on the north and about six acres in the southwest corner, and subdivided it as Second Fortuna Park Addition. The subdivision maps for Fortuna Park and Second Fortuna Park both included an 80-foot-wide street along their northern boundaries named Pacific Avenue.

East of Fortuna Park, and within the adjoining Pueblo Lot 1799, Venice Park was subdivided in 1906 from Acre Lots 72 and 73. North of Venice Park, in Pueblo Lot 1796, Map 922 had subdivided Acre Lots 57, 58, 59 and 60 in 1904. The Venice Park and Map 922 subdivisions were divided by a street that was also called Pacific Avenue, but this section of  Pacific Avenue was separated from the Fortuna Park section by the 660-foot width of the five-acre tract. These two sections of Pacific Avenue also were not aligned with each other; the eastern portion extended 12 feet north (Map 922) and 60 feet south (Venice Park) of the pueblo lot line and the portion in the Fortuna Park additions to the west extended from 61 to 141 feet south of the pueblo lot line. In 1909 the five-acre parcel was purchased by Sterling Honeycutt and subdivided as Sterling Park, but although the map of Sterling Park referenced the sections of Pacific Avenue to the west and the east it did not set aside space for a connection between them.

In 1899 Fred T. Scripps had purchased property in the northern portion of Pueblo Lot 1803, including Acre Lot 71, for his bayside mansion Braemar Manor. In 1903 he acquired adjoining property, including Acre Lots 69 and 70, which extended his holdings north to Reed Avenue and east to Dawes Street, and in 1907 filed a map for the Braemar subdivision. The map of Braemar included a street named Pacific Avenue, 60 feet wide, along the northern boundary of Pueblo Lot 1803. The 1925 Southern Title Guaranty Company’s Subdivision of the adjoining Pueblo Lot 1801 also included a 60-foot-wide street named Pacific Avenue along its northern boundary, which connected with the Pacific Avenue in Braemar and effectively extended the street a half-mile to the east. However, at Frontera Street (now Riviera Drive) the eastern side of the Southern Title Co. subdivision met the western side of Second Fortuna Park, where Pacific Avenue ran 61 feet south of the pueblo lot line. The 61-foot difference in the alignment of these two sections of the former Pacific Avenue explains the bend in Pacific Beach Drive at Riviera Drive today.


Acre Lots 61 and 62, where the Raiters had started one of the first lemon ranches in 1892, was located north of Fortuna Park and Sterling Park and separated from them by the same 61-foot strip of Pueblo Lot 1800. In 1926 these two acre lots and the 61-foot strip south of them were subdivided as Pacific Pines. The map of Pacific Pines created four blocks surrounded by Jewell and Lamont streets, Reed Avenue, and a new section of Pacific Avenue, connecting the sections west and east of Sterling Park. The Pacific Pines section of Pacific Avenue included all of the 61-foot strip south of the pueblo lot line and also, between Lamont and Kendall streets, an additional 20 feet of the former Acre Lot 61, north of the pueblo lot line. In the block between Kendall and Jewell streets, the sections of Pacific Avenue in Fortuna Park and Pacific Pines were contiguous, creating a street over 140 feet wide. The developers announced that it would be divided into two roadways with a park in the center, a configuration that exists to this day. The streets of Pacific Pines, including Pacific Avenue, were among the first in Pacific Beach to be paved, in 1927.

Harris & Wearn

When travel by automobile became possible in the first years of the twentieth century the main route between San Diego and Los Angeles and the north passed through Pacific Beach, along Garnet Avenue and Cass Street. In 1915 a bridge over the inlet to Mission Bay opened an alternate route between San Diego and Pacific Beach through Mission Beach, connecting Mission Boulevard to Cass Street via Pacific Avenue and making these two blocks of Pacific Avenue an important link in the coast highway. The route through Mission Beach, including the sections on Pacific Avenue and Cass Street, was paved in 1924.

Highway traffic continued to increase, however, and in 1930 the city opened a new route through Rose Canyon. By 1935 this new ‘gateway to the north’ had been widened, straightened and paved from downtown to the city limits at Del Mar and the city decided that it should be called Pacific Highway. To avoid confusion with the existing Pacific Avenue in Pacific Beach the city council passed an ordinance in April 1935 that changed ‘all those portions of Pacific Avenue’ (and some previously unnamed segments) to Braemar Avenue. In June 1935 the new route to the north became Pacific Highway and Braemar Avenue, formerly Pacific Avenue and originally Hubbell Avenue, was renamed Pacific Beach Drive.

Pacific Avenue

Early PB Water Supply

When the Pacific Beach Company was formed in 1887 one of the tasks the founders assigned themselves in developing the new community was to ‘construct water works, reservoirs, [and] lay down mains and water pipe’. In the days leading up to the opening sale of lots at Pacific Beach in December 1887, their advertisements emphasized that arrangements had been made to give Pacific Beach a ‘splendid water system’, and that ‘men were already at work laying the pipe from the city water works’. When they cut prices in half a few months later to revive lot sales (San Diego’s ‘great boom’ collapsed in the spring of 1888), they also assured potential purchasers of an ‘abundant supply of city water’ and other substantial improvements.

The city water that was piped to Pacific Beach in 1888 was provided by the San Diego Water Company from wells beneath the San Diego River in Mission Valley. Construction was also underway on a 35-mile wooden flume which would reach up the river to Boulder Creek and deliver a flow of mountain water to the city water system. The completion of the flume was marked by a gala celebration and parade in San Diego on Washington’s Birthday, February 22, 1889.

This additional water became particularly important for Pacific Beach when the community turned to agriculture, especially lemon cultivation, after the failure of its original centerpiece, the San Diego College of Letters, in 1891. In March 1892 the San Diego Union’s Local Intelligence column noted that a Mr. Bowers, who had come west last fall from Tennessee, had purchased a thirty-acre tract at Pacific Beach and was having 4,000 feet of water pipe laid over his land. The property was to be put in lemons during the next few weeks. In April, C. H. Raiter, a Minnesota banker who had spent the previous winter in Pacific Beach, sent instructions to have a ten-acre tract in PB piped, fenced and broken. In July, George Hensley, secretary of the Pacific Beach Company, claimed that much of the new water available to San Diego was going to waste and proposed giving anyone planting an orchard of at least five acres free water for the next year. He reported that the 170 acres lately planted in Pacific Beach were making a fine growth.

The lemon ranches in Pacific Beach were concentrated between what are now Ingraham and Noyes streets and extended from Pacific Beach Drive uphill to north of Beryl Street (the Bowers ranch bordered Beryl, the Raiter ranch PB Drive). The lower ranches began at an elevation of about 50 feet while the upper ranches were at nearly 200 feet above sea level. The Pacific Beach Company built a reservoir at an elevation of about 300 feet and in August 1893 asked for permission to connect with the city water system. The reservoir, located in the foothills near Los Altos Road, is still used to store water for Pacific Beach.

Although the flume was often represented as a new source of water for San Diego, in fact both the wells in Mission Valley and the flume from Boulder Creek were ultimately dependent on rainfall in the San Diego River watershed. In 1894 the San Diego region experienced a drought which dried up the river and its tributary creeks and drained the relatively shallow Cuyamaca reservoir, which held the flume company’s reserves. With flume deliveries cut back the water company was unable to maintain consistent supplies of water to more remote areas, including Pacific Beach. In October 1894 the Union’s Pacific Beach Notes column reported that the reservoir was dry and those living in the higher lands were out of water a good part of the time. In this instance the rains did return; a storm in the middle of January 1895 caused flooding all over the county. In Pacific Beach, Rose Creek was reported to be a roaring river, the country around the race track east of the creek was a vast lake and the tracks of the Pacific Beach railroad were nowhere to be seen.

The flume was built of redwood and open to the sky and the essence of the wet wood apparently infused the pure mountain water on its 35-mile ride to the city. In June 1896 Pacific Beach Notes noted that some citizens were buying Coronado water because of the ‘rare old peculiar odor of flume water’. Worse than the odor, some believed that the water was unhealthy. The Union reported in September 1896 that a worker on Mrs. Rowe’s ranch in Pacific Beach had typhoid fever caused, it is said, by drinking too much flume water. The water was cheap, however. In July 1897, Maj. W. D. Hall told the Union that he did not pay so much for water for his entire 10 acres as for enough, in Phoenix, Arizona, to water an acre and a half. He used it so plentifully that his trees were kept free from scale.

Drought returned in 1898; a June Pacific Beach Notes column reported that the ranchers near the hillside had been absolutely without water the past two days. Although the Union’s correspondent hoped this was only a temporary scarcity, the report in August was that the water situation was becoming serious. The ranches nearest the hillside were the greatest sufferers. Again, the correspondent held out hope that ‘that the experience of August, 1873, will be repeated, when, according to the Union, 1.95 inches of rain fell’. History did not repeat itself in this case; in November the news was that water on the higher levels was at a premium. ‘Weeks go by without any water at all, that being used for domestic purposes being hauled in tanks’.

The 1898 drought was not relieved by a January storm either, and in March 1899 the Union’s Local Intelligence column reported that F. W. Barnes of Pacific Beach was tired of waiting for the San Diego Water company to furnish water, and was putting in a well; ‘If he gets water, William D. Hall will at once put in a well, and others at the Beach will probably do the same. The seriousness of the water situation overshadows every other topic. For several days past the service has been very insufficient, the higher levels feeling the situation very keenly’. There is no indication that Barnes ever got water, though, or that others at the Beach did the same.

Although a delightful shower freshened the grass and trees wonderfully in May 1899, wells were sunk in Rose Canyon and a pumping plant put in with the hope of insuring a good supply of water during the coming summer. Connection was made with the Rose Canyon well in June and the water service was said to have improved. The president and an engineer from the San Diego Water Company visited Pacific Beach in July with a view to making an ‘equal distribution of water’. They concluded that if the reservoir could be filled and an extra check valve installed for the higher ranches, it would solve all the difficulties.

The water shortages also caused lemon ranchers to take other conservation measures. Pacific Beach Notes noted in December 1899 that many ranchers were cutting out their cypress hedges, as it had been proved they do more harm than good, and enough water cannot be given them to satisfy their thirst. ‘They will take all you give them and rob the lemon trees as well. It is a pity as a cypress is a thing of beauty’.

The water company’s improvements apparently did have a beneficial effect and an Evening Tribune Pacific Beach Notes column in March 1900 reported that everybody in Pacific Beach was grateful to the water company for carrying them through the drought. In September 1900 the Tribune reported that the water service had been very good on the beach that summer; ‘when we remember that this is our third dry year that is a good deal to say that water has been of the very best quality and has been furnished in abundance’.

In 1901 the holdings of the San Diego Water Company within the city limits were purchased by the city and water distribution became the responsibility of the city water department. This reorganization did not include any new sources of water, however, and the water supply to relatively remote sections like Pacific Beach remained unreliable. The Evening Tribune reported in June 1902 that the water service on the Beach had been very poor that summer. Sterling Honeycutt had become the latest resident to try his luck with a well and in October the news was that his well had struck salt water and then, at 215 feet, indications of oil. This had led to much excitement but in the end neither oil nor fresh water in sufficient quantities were found.

Water shortages in Pacific Beach were compounded by a deteriorating water distribution infrastructure. The superintendent of the city water system reported in January 1903 that the mains in many places had ‘outlived their usefulness’, especially if laid in salt, alkali or adobe soil. He particularly called attention to the Pacific Beach pipeline and announced that he had ordered 5000 feet of cast iron pipe to replace portions of kalamein pipe that were giving trouble and causing the loss of millions of gallons of water (kalamein was an alloy coating for iron pipes). A letter to the editor of the Evening Tribune in March by a Pacific Beach resident described the condition of a water main that supplied some of the upper ranches at Pacific Beach. The main was about 500 yards long and during the past seven years had often experienced two or three breaks in one week. About 25 yards of the main was simply covered with a string of rubber bands and clamps. The writer claimed that during the past two years out of a total of 230 acres of bearing orchard at Pacific Beach, 60 acres had been cut down or abandoned, largely on account of the difficulty and expense of procuring an adequate supply of water.

The new cast iron section of the Pacific Beach pipeline was completed and connected in May of 1903 and concern about the water supply subsided. ‘Abundant water is now assured’ reported the Tribune correspondent, but the water that came through the new pipes ‘is very much in the nature of ink on account of the tar in the pipes’. It was not unwholesome to drink on that account, but was ‘unsatisfactory just now to wash with’.

The Pacific Beach Company had been dissolved in 1898 and its remaining holdings, the property it had been unable to sell, distributed to its shareholders. However, the five-acre site of the Pacific Beach reservoir had not been included in this distribution and the trustees of the defunct company finally sold the site, and the reservoir, to the city for $2000 in 1906.

Most of the other unsold property was acquired by Folsom Bros. Co. and this company initiated an ambitious effort to market Pacific Beach to prospective purchasers by developing or improving the community before offering lots for sale. The improvements would include grading streets, putting in curbs and sidewalks, and laying water mains. In January 1907 the Union reported much improvement going on in Pacific Beach; miles and miles of water pipe laid and streets graded by Folsom Bros. Co. By June Folsom Bros. Co. ads highlighted its improvements; sidewalks are being laid on block after block, avenues of fine palms are being planted. New water mains are being laid to tap each section as it is developed.

By August 1909 nearly a mile of cement sidewalk and curbing has been laid in Pacific Beach. Over two miles of street grading has been completed. The water supply has been increased. A concrete storage reservoir had been completed (presumably meaning that the Pacific Beach reservoir had been lined with concrete).

In 1912 horticulturist Kate Sessions and her brother Frank bought the western portion of Pueblo Lot 1785, 74 acres, as additional growing fields for their expanding nursery operations. Frank Sessions also leased the eastern 86 acres of the pueblo lot from the city. Pueblo Lot 1785 is in the foothills above Pacific Beach and adjoins the Pacific Beach reservoir site; the eastern portion is now Kate Sessions Park. Since much of this land was above the level of the existing reservoir, Frank Sessions dug another reservoir at the highest point on his land, above today’s Soledad Way, where he could store water to irrigate the growing fields below. In January 1913 he received a permit from the city to build a pumping plant on the city reservoir site to pump water further uphill to his reservoir. The Sessions’ reservoir was also eventually deeded to the city, in 1918 (the site is now a private home and tennis court).

The water situation in Pacific Beach stabilized, but for some the memory of drought and shortages remained. In September of 1913 the San Diego Union described a palatial home being built in Pacific Beach for C. C. Norris. The home, still standing on Collingwood Drive, is only a short distance from the Pacific Beach reservoir and not far below its elevation, and Norris apparently was well aware of the history of water shortages at the higher elevations of Pacific Beach. Among the details provided of the home’s interior (birch doors . . . old colonial type stairs with spiral newel post composed of a spindel balustrade . . . large tile mantle of unique design) the basement included a cistern with pump to furnish the house with rain water.

Over the ensuing century the San Diego region has expanded its water supply to keep pace with population growth, at first from a system of dams on local rivers, then by importing water from the Colorado River and Northern California, and most recently by desalinating sea water, so even though the past few years have seen a return of drought conditions like in the 1890s, the residences built on what were once the upper lemon ranches in Pacific Beach are not out of water a good part of the time, at least not yet.

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 (2022 note; Starbucks has been replaced by Presotea).

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.


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.


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.




North Shore Highlands


The Mexican Pueblo of San Diego covered the territory between National City and Del Mar west of the line of Interstate 805 (the land east of 805 had belonged to Mission San Diego). When San Diego became an American city in 1846 it assumed ownership of these pueblo lands and they were surveyed and platted into pueblo lots, typically a half-mile square and 160 acres. Some of these pueblo lots were sold to individuals; in 1867 Alonzo Horton famously bought six pueblo lots on which he established Horton’s Addition, now the heart of downtown San Diego. The city also offered pueblo lands as inducements to companies that proposed to end San Diego’s isolation by building railroads to the east. These lands were intended not only for the actual rights-of-way and for stations and shops, but also as subsidies to be used by the railroad companies as they saw fit.

The offer of thousands of acres of pueblo lands to the San Diego and Gila Southern Pacific and Atlantic in 1854 and the Texas and Pacific in 1873 did not result in any actual rail-building. In 1880 the city tried again, offering the land it was able to recover from the Texas and Pacific to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Among the pueblo lots offered as subsidies were several in the area that would become Pacific Beach, including Pueblo Lot 1791, a half-mile square centered around today’s Gresham and Chalcedony Streets, and Pueblo Lot 1795, centered around Jewell Street and Grand Avenue. A subsidiary of the Santa Fe, the California Southern Railroad, did actually initiate construction of a railway which eventually connected to the Santa Fe and the east. When this railway met its initial construction milestones, in 1882, the property, including Pueblo Lots 1791 and 1795, was deeded to its real estate subsidiary, the San Diego Land and Town Company.

When the Pacific Beach Company was formed in 1887 it acquired Pueblo Lot 1795 from the Land and Town Company and the area within its boundaries became the central portion of the new Pacific Beach subdivision, including most of the College Campus (now Pacific Plaza). However, the Pacific Beach Company did not acquire the adjoining Pueblo Lot 1791, and it was left conspicuously blank in the first recorded subdivision map, Map 697, in 1892.

Map 697, Recorded January 1892
Map 697, Recorded January 1892

In 1893 the Pacific Beach Company did buy most of the eastern half of the pueblo lot and it was incorporated into the Pacific Beach subdivision in Map 791, recorded in 1894.

Map 791, recorded December 1894
Map 791, Recorded December 1894

The remaining portion of Pueblo Lot 1791, the west half and the north three-quarters of the north half of the north-east quarter (i.e., the west half and the north 3/16 of the east half), or about 95 of the original 160 acres, was acquired by Abel H. Frost in 1896 for $3500.

Frost arrived in San Diego in 1896 from Michigan, where he had been in the lumber business. In San Diego he joined forces with a niece and nephew and incorporated the A. H. Frost Company to manage his growing real estate empire. Frost also became a director and eventually president of the Folsom Bros. Co., which owned most of the property in Pacific Beach at the time, and when the Folsom brothers retired in 1910 he renamed it the San Diego Beach Company. While his San Diego Beach Company actively developed and promoted its properties in Pacific Beach, his A. H. Frost Company did nothing to promote the Frost tract in Pueblo Lot 1791, and it remained undeveloped for over 25 years (although about two acres at the eastern edge, that portion east of a northerly projection of Ingraham Street, was split off and included with other Frost property in the Congress Heights Addition, between Ingraham, Loring, Kendall and Beryl Streets, in 1914).

In 1923 the A. H. Frost Company sold the property in Pueblo Lot 1791 to the Southern Trust and Commerce Bank, and the portion south of Diamond Street was included in a new Congress Heights No. 2 subdivision. In 1925, the Southern Trust and Commerce Bank transferred both the original Congress Heights and Congress Heights No. 2 subdivisions (minus the few lots already sold) and the remaining undeveloped portion of the Frost tract north of Diamond to the Union Trust Company. This undeveloped portion, from Everts to Gresham between Diamond to Beryl Streets and from Everts to a northerly projection of Ingraham Street between Beryl and Loring, was subdivided in 1926 as North Shore Highlands. Actually, the boundary of Pueblo Lot 1791 lies about 75 feet west of Everts Street, so the row of lots along the west side of Everts is also within the North Shore Highlands subdivision. East of Foothill Boulevard, the western portion of Monmouth Drive and the area south of the Loring Street hill are also included in the subdivision.

When the first unit of North Shore Highlands went on sale in December 1926, the announcement in the San Diego Union highlighted the fact that A. H. Frost had held the property intact for 25 years, ‘refusing to have it spoiled by marketing it at the wrong time or cut up’, and as a result it was a ‘choice, highly improved property in the heart of fast-growing San Diego Beach, without a clutter of old homes on it’. The ‘beautiful sea-view district’ had an ‘inimitable panoramic view’, illustrated by a panoramic photo showing Pacific Beach, Crown Point and Mission Bay, apparently from the top of Loring Street hill (despite the fact that only a few lots were located in the foothills and most were on the coastal plain with little if any view). An ad offered this ‘choicest, most scenic residential property’ for only $940 to $1250, but warned that these present low opening prices would soon be a thing of the past.

The announcement of the opening sale also described a $200,000 improvement program to begin at once, consisting of paved streets, sidewalks and curbs, gas, water, electricity, sewers, ornamental lights and other features. Within a few months the Common Council of the city of San Diego passed a resolution of intention to grade and pave the streets with a Portland cement concrete pavement, and to construct cement sidewalks, curbs, culverts and sewer mains, cast iron water mains and an ornamental lighting system. The lighting system was to consist of reinforced concrete lighting posts, globes, refractors, lamps, and pot heads, along with cables and other appurtenances. The improvements were to be paid for by serial bonds, to be repaid at 7 percent interest by charges upon an improvement district which included all the property lying within North Shore Highlands.

By mid-1927 the promised improvements were well under way, according to George M. Hawley in the Evening Tribune. The Hawley organization had taken an exclusive contract for the promotion and sale of the North Shore Highlands tract and their July 23 ad in the Tribune followed a familiar script when they invited the public to a good luncheon and concert at their big tent at Diamond and Fanuel Streets, but also added a contemporary flourish; free airplane trips over the north shore district in a Ryan monoplane, ‘same type as carried Lindbergh over the Atlantic’ (Charles Lindbergh’s famous solo flight from New York to Paris in the ‘Spirit of St. Louis’, a San Diego-built Ryan monoplane, had occurred two months earlier, in May 1927).

The promoters of North Shore Highlands had envisioned a ‘new high-class residential subdivision’ with large lots and ‘race and building restrictions that would make it highly desirable’. The lots were large; the standard lot was 50 feet wide rather than the 25-foot width of most lots in Pacific Beach, and lots in the foothills area and on the strip along the west side of Everts Street were even larger. Race restrictions meant that the lot could never become the property of, or even be occupied by, ‘any person other than of the Caucasian race’ (unless they were a servant or employee of a Caucasian occupant). Among the building restrictions were requirements that the property could only be used for a single, private, residential purpose, the residence erected on the premises would be limited to one story and could not cost less than $4000, no common shingled roofs would be permitted, and no pepper, eucalyptus or cypress trees could ever be planted (black acacia could be planted, but only between the cement walk and the curb).

While the promoters proclaimed that these restrictions made North Shore Highlands highly desirable, and the introduction of the San Diego Electric Railway line to La Jolla via Mission Beach and Pacific Beach in 1924 had improved access to San Diego, potential purchasers were apparently not impressed; of the more than 300 lots in the subdivision only six had been purchased, and only three residences built, by 1930 (and the owner of one of these lots and residences was one of the promoters).

In addition to high purchase prices and the added costs of the building restrictions, purchasers of property in an improvement district like North Shore Highlands were required to pay an annual assessment to service the improvement bonds, and under the Mattoon Act of 1925 would also be responsible for a share of the assessments of any residents of the district who defaulted (two lots in North Shore Highlands were foreclosed and offered for sale by the city for non-payment of the improvement bond). The negative effect that the great depression of the 1930s had on the real estate market must have also impacted sales. Only ten residences could be counted in an aerial photo from 1935, after the tract had been on sale for more than eight years, and the 1937 San Diego city directory listed only ten addresses on its streets.

The completion of the causeway across Mission Bay to Crown Point in 1931 further reduced travel time to San Diego, the Mattoon Act was repealed in 1933 and the economy began recovering from the great depression in the mid-1930s. In 1937 a new promotional campaign by E. G. Anderson Co., developers of Crown Point, announced the ‘opening’ of North Shore Highlands, ‘prices from $500 . . . all improvements in and paid for . . . no bonds, no assessments’. The E. G. Anderson company also offered to build a ‘distinctive dwelling’ on a purchaser’s lot. Lot sales in North Shore Highlands began to respond; in the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Missouri Street the number of homes listed in the San Diego city directory increased from 1 in 1937 to 3 in 1938, 6 in 1939 and 8 in 1940.

The Consolidated Aircraft Corporation had relocated to San Diego in 1935 and in 1940, in anticipation of World War II, greatly expanded its San Diego manufacturing facilities to produce thousands of B-24 Liberator bombers. Tens of thousands of new workers migrated to San Diego to staff the factories, and all these new aircraft workers needed a place to live. The federal government responded to the acute housing shortage by building entire communities of temporary housing, including the Los Altos Terrace housing project just across Loring Street from North Shore Highlands. Commercial real estate developers followed suit by building inexpensive ‘standard built’ homes in existing housing tracts like North Shore Highlands.

Model standard-built homes in the 1300 block of Missouri today.
The original model standard built homes in the 1300 block of Missouri today.

Newspaper ads in 1941 invited the public to inspect standard built homes by Convers and Donahoe in the 1300 blocks of Missouri, Chalcedony and Law streets; ‘we have not tried to create something new but have incorporated in the floor plan the last word in conservative living. Ten homes completed or under construction’. The ad for Little Castles, Inc., reported continuous and increasing demand for well built homes in the Highlands of beautiful Pacific Beach; ‘Two-bedroom homes ranging from $3295 to $3895, turn-key job – no extras. A minimum down payment, balance like rent. Offices at 1311 Chalcedony St’.

Sales of standard built homes within North Shore Highlands exploded; the San Diego city directory showed that the number of homes in the 1200 and 1300 blocks of Missouri Street increased from 8 in 1940 to 28 in 1942. The comparable blocks on Chalcedony and Law streets each had one home in 1940 but there were 21 homes on Chalcedony and 16 on Law in 1942 (7 of these 65 homes were listed as vacant in 1942, presumably completed but not yet sold). By 1945 the number of homes on these streets had grown to 30, 24 and 22, well over half of the 40 lots on each street, and none were vacant. Similar growth occurred throughout the subdivision, at least outside of the foothills area where the steep terrain made construction of inexpensive homes impractical, and by 1950 these areas had been built out. And with zoning regulations still favoring single-family residences many of these standard built homes from the 1940s are still standing.

North Shore Highlands has a unique history and followed a separate development path from the rest of Pacific Beach, but what really sets it apart from the surrounding neighborhoods today are the ornamental street lights which still line the streets and even extend along Fanuel Street to Garnet Avenue and along Loring Street to Cass Street (at the time the lights were installed the highway between San Diego and Los Angeles ran through Pacific Beach along Garnet and Cass; Fanuel and Loring would have been the main access routes to this highway). Although the lights have been removed from Foothill Boulevard they can still be seen all the way up Loring Street hill and on Monmouth Drive. Ironically, while the ornamental street lights were installed in the 1920s to mark North Shore Highlands as a high-class residential community, they were not actually turned on until 1944, when the community had been largely settled by ordinary people in ‘standard built’ homes.


PB’s Creation Myth

Many people trying to find information about Pacific Beach today would probably start with an internet search and find themselves looking at the Wikipedia page for ‘Pacific Beach, San Diego’. In the ‘History’ section they would learn that Pacific Beach was developed during the boom years of 1886-1888 by D. C. Reed, A. G. Gassen, Charles W. Pauley, R. A. Thomas, and O. S. Hubbell, and that it was Hubbell who ‘cleared away the grainfields, pitched a tent, mapped out the lots, hired an auctioneer and started to work’. This description of PB’s origin is also repeated verbatim in the websites of dozens of other organizations and businesses with some connection to Pacific Beach. However, while it is true that Pacific Beach was established during San Diego’s boom years and the individuals listed were among PB’s developers, this colorful account of its creation is mostly a myth.

The Wikipedia article cites Zelma Bays Locker’s 1976 Journal of San Diego History paper Whatever Happened to Izard Street? Pacific Beach and its Street Names as the source for this information, and the first problem with the Wikipedia account appears to be simply a misunderstanding of Mrs. Locker’s grammar. She never said ‘it was Hubbell’; what she said was ‘Promoters of the new subdivision were D. C. Reed, A. G. Gassen, Charles W. Pauley, R. A. Thomas and O. S. Hubbell, who “cleared away the grainfields, pitched a tent, mapped out the lots, hired an auctioneer and started to work.”’ While this sentence could have been phrased more clearly, it does seem that Mrs. Locker intended to attribute those development activities to the entire group of promoters, not to Hubbell alone. Nothing else in the historical record suggests that Hubbell had a preeminent role in the early development of Pacific Beach.

A more serious problem is that most of the activities attributed to the promoters (or Hubbell) never actually happened. The quotation about clearing the grainfields, pitching a tent, etc. came from a story by M. V. Depew that had appeared in the San Diego Sun in 1931, more than 40 years earlier. That article was about the race track that once stood on the east side of Rose Creek, where the ruins of the grandstand and the stables were still to be found ‘almost hidden by the rank vegetation of two score years’. According to Depew, it had been more than 40 years since clods flew from the hoofs of horses but nature with all her weapons of obliteration had been unable to wipe out the traces of those halcyon days. In those days, land companies were formed, maps were made and auctioneers pitched their tents on the sites. Brass bands, wind-whipped flags and flowery advertising led to frenzied days of untold profit, and ‘in this period Pacific Beach was born’. Reed, Gassen, Pauley, Thomas and Hubbell formed the Pacific Beach Company and, in the now-familiar words from Wikipedia, started to work.

Pacific Beach may have been born in the halcyon days when auctioneers pitched tents, but reports from those days indicate that its birth didn’t exactly follow this script. The Pacific Beach Company was incorporated in July 1887, originally by Reed, R. A. Thomas, and Hubbell, but also J. R. and W. W. Thomas, D. P. Hale, Thos. E. Metcalf, Chas. Collins and Geo. B. Hensley, later joined by Gassen and Pauley. The Pacific Beach Company did have a map drawn up by City Engineer H. K. Wheeler, in October 1887, laying out streets and avenues, blocks and lots. However, the lots were not sold at auction; on the contrary, the Pacific Beach Company announced that lots would be placed on sale December 12, 1887, and that the first man in line at their office at 8 o’clock Monday would have first choice of lots (Bancroft & Co., real estate agents, actually had a relay of men hold the first place in line after the office closed Saturday night, guaranteeing their clients that they could secure them any lot in Pacific Beach).

According to the December 13, 1887, San Diego Union, the opening sale of Pacific Beach lots was the most successful in the history of San Diego real estate transactions, all things considered. There was a large crowd of purchasers and the Pacific Beach Company did not resort to the usual methods of ‘booming’ the sale; there was no band in attendance, no free carriages and no free lunch. The property was sold in the same manner that all other business is transacted, on the recognized principle of ‘first come, first served’.

So, O. S. Hubbell may have pitched a tent but he didn’t map out the lots; that was done by City Engineer H. K. Wheeler. He may have hired an auctioneer but the opening sale was held at the Pacific Beach Company’s office downtown and purchasers were allowed to buy their choice of lots ‘first come, first served’.  There was no brass band or free lunch, and no mention of wind-whipped flags, flowery advertising or other signs of the frenzied days of untold profits that were supposed to have characterized the period when Pacific Beach was born.

And what about the grain fields? The San Diego Union reported in December 1887 that grading on the route of the Pacific Beach railroad from Morena to the beach (along Balboa and Grand Avenues) was progressing rapidly, that excavation for the planned college had been finished and brickwork begun, and that men were at work laying pipe from the city water works.  However, there was nothing in the Union to suggest that the rest of the tract had been cleared or otherwise prepared for development.

If anything was done to the grain fields in 1887 the effects were short-lived, and Pacific Beach continued to produce large crops of grain and hay for decades. For example, in April 1892 the Union reported that two mowing machines were started in a fine 100-acre barley field at Pacific Beach. The crop was very thick, tall and well headed out and would be cured for hay. The news in May 1895 was that hundreds of acres of grain were being harvested in Pacific Beach and the yield was good. Pacific Beach ranchers shipped $3,000 worth of produce, principally grain, to San Francisco on the steamer Santa Rosa in July 1897, according to the Evening Tribune. In November 1897 the Tribune noted that men and teams and plows were at work from daylight until dark putting in seed for next year’s hay crop. In 1899 the report was that O. J. Stough had nearly finished seeding 1200 acres to hay around the Beach (1200 acres is nearly 2 square miles; practically the entire area of Pacific Beach). In 1900 ‘The grain fields are beautiful and farmers say the prospects were never better’.

So, the Pacific Beach creation story turns out to be somewhat less dramatic than what is portrayed in Wikipedia, but just as historic. And as an interesting footnote, Wikipedia’s own creation story turns out to have a connection with Pacific Beach, and with Pacific Beach history. In 2001 the founders of Wikipedia worked at an office at the corner of Lamont and Hornblend Streets and they came up with the idea for an online encyclopedia with collaborative editing over dinner at Mama Mia’s restaurant, on Balboa Avenue between Lamont and Morrell. That restaurant building dates from about 1889, one of the first houses built in Pacific Beach and one of the oldest, if not the oldest, still standing. It was originally the home of PB pioneers Henry and Fannie Gleason.


Original 1887 PB Map

The San Diego History Center library in Balboa Park is a rich source of historical information, not only original documents from the early days of San Diego and a huge collection of historical photographs but also a knowledgeable staff. One day I asked their map expert if she knew about a map of the Cloverdale subdivision by H. K. Wheeler from the 1880s. She didn’t, but a few minutes later she returned and said that H. K. Wheeler had ‘rung a bell’ and would I be interested in another map by H. K. Wheeler, this one of the Pacific Beach subdivision from 1887. What she showed me was a large (18 X 20-inch) photocopy of a much larger (9 X 10-foot) map which she said was rolled up and stored on top of a shelf in the storage area behind her desk. I had seen early maps of the Pacific Beach subdivision, including the map that was generally considered the original PB subdivision map (Map 697, recorded in January, 1892), but this map was significantly different and seemed like it could be a kind of ‘missing link’ in Pacific Beach history.

Wheeler PB Map 5
Central portion of 1887 subdivision map of Pacific Beach by H. K. Wheeler. (SDHC #1669)

The most striking feature of the 1887 Wheeler map is how similar it is to what Pacific Beach has become in the intervening century. The entire area from the ocean to about Rose Creek and from the tips of Mission Beach and Crown Point to the Mt. Soledad foothills was divided into a grid of city blocks by north-south ‘streets’ and east-west ‘avenues’, most of which exist today and some of which have even kept their original names (Grand, Thomas and Reed Avenues). There was even a four-block area in the center of the community that was then set aside for a College Campus and which today is the Pacific Plaza shopping center. There were over 400 city blocks, most of them in the same location as they are today and many with the same block numbers.

In the 1887 Wheeler map the north-south streets were numbered, from First Street (nearest the ocean) to Seventeenth Street (near Rose Creek), with a somewhat wider street named Broadway (now Ingraham) between Eighth and Ninth. The east-west avenues included the much wider Grand Avenue, which was also to be the right-of-way for a railway to San Diego. Avenues north of Grand were named for states, except for College (now Garnet) Avenue, which ran by the College Campus. South of Grand the avenues were named for officials of the Pacific Beach Company and other local real estate operators; Thomas, Reed, Gassen, Hubbell, Hensley, Platt, Metcalf, Hale, Collins and Poiser.

In the 1892 map, however, the grid of city blocks was limited to a central slice of Pacific Beach, between Reed Avenue and Alabama Avenue (now Diamond Street). The streets and avenues in this area were the same as on the original 1887 map, and with the same names, but the newer map reclassified most of the area between today’s Diamond and Loring Streets, and between Reed Avenue and what became Pacific Beach Drive, as rural ‘acre lots’ of about 10 acres. Most of the streets did not continue into these rural areas and many of avenues that had appeared on the original map in these areas had been eliminated. Most of the area north of Loring and south of PB Drive was no longer included on the map at all. The 1892 map retained about 125 of the original 400-plus city blocks platted in the 1887 map, while adding about 75 new acre lots.

Map 697, Recorded January 1892
Map 697, Recorded January 1892

The Spring 1976 issue of the Journal of San Diego History contained a paper by Zelma Bays Locker titled Whatever Happened to Izard Street? Pacific Beach and its Street Names. From 1954 to 1967 Mrs. Locker had been the librarian in charge of the downtown San Diego Library’s California Room, a repository of local and regional historical archives, and after her retirement from the library she served as a director of the San Diego Historical Society, which became the San Diego History Center. She also lived on Yarmouth Court in Mission Beach, on the ‘outskirts’ of Pacific Beach, so she was well qualified to write an academic article on Pacific Beach history.

Mrs. Locker’s article was primarily about the street names that exist in Pacific Beach today, particularly the alphabetical series of north-south streets (Bayard, Cass, Dawes, etc.; Allison Street, the first in the series, has since been renamed Mission Boulevard). In 1900 the city of San Diego decided that all street names had to be unique, and since there were many other communities of San Diego with numbered streets or streets named for states, those in Pacific Beach would have to be renamed. She was unable to find any historical record of how the streets were renamed and her own research led her to conclude that the only underlying theme for these names was that they were all statesmen who would have been familiar to the public in 1900 (even though some of the names were misspelled, e.g., Everts Street was apparently named for William Evarts and Fanuel for Peter Fanueil). The street between Haines and Jewell, originally Broadway, was renamed Izard Street in 1900 after a revolutionary war patriot, but the phonetics of this name did not ‘set well’ with residents and eventually it was changed to Ingraham.

Grand Avenue and the avenues named for Thomas and Reed were apparently unique within the city in 1900 and were not renamed, but the avenues on the 1892 map north of Grand were renamed, again in an alphabetical sequence, for gemstones or minerals, from Agate to Hornblend (again with misspellings; Felspar Street for Feldspar and Hornblend for Hornblende). When the ‘acreage country’ north of Diamond was re-subdivided again in the early 1900s, restoring the avenues that had existed on the original 1887 map between what had become Agate, Beryl, Chalcedony and Diamond, these ‘new’ avenues could not be incorporated into the alphabetical gemstone sequence. Some, like Turquoise, Tourmaline and Sapphire were named for gemstones anyway, but out of sequence. Mrs. Locker could not account for the names of others, such as Law, Wilbur and Loring, or for Missouri Street, which she called a ‘real puzzler’. She wrote that it was not on the ‘original 1887 map’ and was first named in Hauser’s Subdivision in 1904 (actually it had been named in F. T. Scripps’ Ocean Front subdivision in 1903). She added that there had been a Missouri Street in University Heights since 1888 but that it was now 32nd Street.

Missouri Street was a puzzler for Mrs. Locker because she was unaware of the actual original 1887 subdivision map by H. K. Wheeler, the ‘missing link’ in PB’s historical record. She wrote in her article that the first subdivision map of Pacific Beach was platted and the land put on the market in October 1887 by the Pacific Beach Company, but curiously enough, the original map was not filed with the County Recorder until January 2, 1892, a fact which would have a later bearing on some street names. Actually, the first subdivision map was platted in October 1887 (although lots were not put on the market until December) but the map that was filed on January 2, 1892, Map 697, was not the original but an amended map of a smaller and more rural subdivision. The original 1887 map did include a Missouri Avenue, between Alabama and Idaho Avenue (now Chalcedony Street). Missouri Avenue was deleted from the 1892 map to make way for a row of acre lots, including Acre Lot 49, between Alabama and Idaho. John and Julia Hauser purchased Acre Lot 49 in 1903 and in 1904 they filed a plat of Hauser’s Subdivision of Acre Lot 49 which basically returned it to the configuration on the original 1887 map; two city blocks separated by a street named Missouri (apparently, the Missouri Street in University Heights had already been renamed and no longer represented a conflict at that point).

Map of Hauser's Subdivision
Map of Hauser’s Subdivision

Although it may be true that the 1887 Wheeler map itself was never recorded, over a hundred deeds to Pacific Beach property were recorded prior to 1892 and some of these deeds include legal descriptions which could only have been derived from the original Wheeler map. For example, Matilda O’Neil was granted a deed in April 1888 for Block 295, between Gassen and Hubbell Avenues. Gassen and Hubbell Avenues appeared on the original Wheeler map but neither were still listed on the 1892 map. F. W. Barnes bought lots 21-28 of Block 166 in March 1889; Block 166 was shown on the original Wheeler map but not on the 1892 revision where it had been incorporated into Acre Lot 64 (Barnes then bought all of Acre Lot 64 in 1892). Other deeds from this period include specific references to the ‘official map of Pacific Beach, made by H. K. Wheeler, 1887’, or similar terms. On the other hand, no acre lots were sold prior to 1892. Acre lots did not exist on the original subdivision map and first appeared on the revised Map 697. Thirteen acre lots were sold in just a few months after Map 697 was recorded.

The 18 X 20-inch black-and-white copy of the original 1887 Pacific Beach subdivision map by H. K. Wheeler at the History Center had markings on it which suggested that the original had been used to keep track of or to display the extent of lot sales. The map was extremely detailed; each of the city blocks showed the individual lots on that block and some of these lots were ‘marked out’, presumably indicating that they had been sold and were no longer available (some of the ‘marked-out’ lots were also apparently pasted over, perhaps indicating that the sale had fallen through and they were again available). The marked-out lots generally corresponded to lots for which deeds had been recorded in the County Recorder’s office.

Eventually, the History Center library staff let me see the original map; they lifted it down from its shelf and laid it out on one of tables in the library. The map was in two halves, each of them five feet wide and nine feet long and rolled up together. When unrolled each completely covered one of the large library tables. At this scale each city block was over 1 ½ inch wide and nearly 3 ½ inches long. Within the blocks, what had appeared to be black markings on the black-and-white copy turned out to be either red or blue, with red predominating in the west half and blue in the east half. According to library protocol I wasn’t allowed to photograph the map, but I was able to write down most of the block numbers with red or blue marks and later found that the blue lots generally matched lots endowed by the Pacific Beach Company to the San Diego College Company, to be sold by the college to raise funds for operations (these lots didn’t sell well and the college closed after a few years). The red lots matched lots purchased by private buyers. There actually were small pieces of paper pasted over a few of the lots, apparently to ‘erase’ the markings beneath them if a sale fell through.

The History Center card catalog entry for the photocopy (M1669) indicates that the original map was stored in the archives but not cataloged because of its ‘unmanageable’ size, and that the photocopy was supplied in 1987 by Mr. John Fry of Pacific Beach, who obtained permission to make the copy (John Fry is the long-time president of the Pacific Beach Historical Society). When I asked John about the map he could only recall trucking something up to Kearny Mesa where they put it on a wall and took a picture of it, so the provenance of the map and its accession to the History Center in Balboa Park remains a mystery. A photo in the center’s photo collection of the Pacific Beach Company’s downtown office in 1888 includes a large map of Pacific Beach, but the details of that map do not match the 1887 Wheeler map.

Outside the Pacific Beach Company office, 1888.
Outside the Pacific Beach Company office, 1888. (SDHC #3797)

One thing that does seem certain is that Zelma Bays Locker, despite her years at the California Room and the Historical Society, never saw the actual original 1887 Pacific Beach subdivision map by H. K. Wheeler.