Tag Archives: Pacific Beach Company

A Distinguished Address

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1889Map

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4275 Cass Street

4275 Cass Street, now the Earl & Birdie Taylor Library
4275 Cass Street, the Earl & Birdie Taylor Library

4275 Cass Street is now the address of the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library. My wife remembers 4275 Cass as the address of her school, Martha Farnum Elementary. My Dad tells me that 4275 Cass was my first home address, when we lived at the De Luxe Trailer Park.

This address actually represents the entire block, surrounded by Thomas and Reed Avenues and Cass and Dawes Streets, and before its uses as library, school and trailer park the block had been known as the Collins place. Charles Collins had been a newspaperman in Sioux City, located on the Missouri River in western Iowa. In 1870 Sioux City was on the frontier, a center for trade with the Great Sioux Reservation further up the Missouri. Collins believed that Sioux City was the natural gateway to that region and would prosper if the Indians could be pushed out and the territory opened to whites, particularly the Black Hills, which were rumored to contain gold.

In 1872 Charles Collins began a campaign in his Sioux City Weekly Times to attract gold seekers to the Black Hills, and he organized parties of explorers to travel there from Sioux City. Initially the army prevented these parties from trespassing on the reservation, but ultimately it gave in to the continuous agitation promoted by Collins. In 1874 George Custer led a reconnaissance mission to the Black Hills and returned with confirmation of the presence of gold. The government attempted to negotiate with the Indians to purchase the hills, but the Indians were unwilling to sell. Tensions mounted, Indians left their reservations, the army set out to find them and force them back, and when they eventually met, at the Little Bighorn River in June 1876, the Indians annihilated a battalion of the Seventh Cavalry under Col. Custer. It is no exaggeration to say that Charles Collins set the stage for that epic battle.

The Indians were eventually returned to diminished reservations, the Black Hills were opened to mining, and Collins moved to Deadwood in the mining district where he continued to publish newspapers and, in 1878, a History and Directory of the Black Hills. After a few more years, his biography notes, he moved on again, to California, where he reportedly made a fortune in real estate ‘no doubt by using the same promotional and persuasive methods he had used in promoting the Black Hills’.

Since there were no rumors of gold on Mount Soledad it is unlikely that Charles Collins actually used the same methods as he did in the Black Hills when he joined J. R. and R. A. Thomas, D. C. Reed and others to form the Pacific Beach Company in 1887. This ‘syndicate of millionaires’ already owned considerable property in the area; Collins, for example, had acquired 20 acres in 1885 and later added another 40 acres. The Pacific Beach Company purchased most of the remaining property in the area, christened the community Pacific Beach, drew up a subdivision map and offered lots for sale in December 1887.

The Pacific Beach subdivision map divided the area into residential blocks separated by east-west avenues and north-south streets. Some of the avenues were named for principals of the Pacific Beach Company, including Thomas, Reed and Collins (Collins Avenue has disappeared but was about where Roosevelt Avenue in Crown Point is now). The blocks were numbered; the block between Thomas and Reed Avenues and the streets that became Cass and Dawes was Block 264. Block 264 was within the area of Collins’ original holdings and in 1888 he bought it back from the Pacific Beach Company and apparently built a cottage.

In 1891 the San Diego Union reported that Captain C. C. DeRudio, on leave from the Seventh Cavalry, had moved his family to Pacific Beach to test its many merits as a residence quarter. The DeRudios had leased the Collins cottage, which occupied a tract near both Mission Bay and the ocean (then-Lieutenant Charles Camilus DeRudio had survived the Little Bighorn battle, having spent two days concealed in bushes while surrounded by Indians). Capt. DeRudio spent his time in Pacific Beach experimenting with gardening to ascertain what will grow so near the ocean before returning to his regiment at Fort Sill. It may have been Capt. DeRudio’s agricultural experimentation that left Block 264 surrounded by eucalyptus trees, which made it stand out in early aerial photos and which were still prominent in the 1940s.

When Charles Collins died in 1893 the Union noted that he had been a leader in the pioneer movement that opened the Black Hills of Dakota to settlement, and that he owned considerable real estate in and around San Diego.  Ownership of Block 264 passed to his widow Annie and in 1900 it was acquired by Lida Clarkson who, a few months later, passed it on to her sister and brother-in-law M. J. and C. G. Akerman. Over the next few years Block 264 changed hands several more times until in 1904 the north half was sold to Mrs. Anna Byford Leonard and Miss Josephine Wells, and in 1905 the south half was sold to Miss Wells and her sister Ada.

Mrs. Anna Byford Leonard was an ardent Theosophist who lived at the international Theosophical headquarters at Lomaland on Point Loma. Before coming to San Diego she had been the first woman sanitary inspector in Chicago, in 1889, and is credited with improving the lives of children by initiating enforcement of the eight-hour work day for children under 14. The Wells sisters were pioneer San Diego business women who came to San Diego about 1894 and owned and operated a tourist home at Sixth Ave and Broadway. Josephine Wells died in 1913 but Ada continued to own the south half of Block 264 and a half-interest in the north half, and Mrs. Leonard the other half-interest in the north half, until the 1920s.

Earl Taylor and his wife Birdie came to Pacific Beach in 1923 with their son Vernon and daughter Erma and soon became involved with the local real estate community. An October 1923 article in the San Diego Union reported that Taylor was one of a group of former mid-westerners who had acquired 120 acres in the heart of Pacific Beach and planned a new high-class subdivision with ‘race and building restrictions which would make it highly desirable’ (this tract became the Congress Heights No. 2 and North Shore Highlands subdivisions, and also included the existing Congress Heights subdivision minus the six lots that had already been sold).

The Union article also reported that Taylor had bought more than 100 lots between Cass Street and the ocean, most fronting on Garnet Avenue, which Taylor planned to turn into the Pacific Beach business district. In 1923 the main Coast Highway between San Diego and Los Angeles passed along the east side of Mission Bay, then west on Garnet Avenue to Cass. An alternative route, also paved, ran around the other side of the bay to the bridge between Ocean Beach and South Mission Beach, then along Mission Boulevard to Pacific Avenue (now PB Drive), east to Cass, and north to Garnet (Mission Boulevard did not continue through Pacific Beach and was not paved north of Pacific). From the intersection of these two routes at Garnet and Cass, the Coast Highway continued north on Cass to Turquoise Street, then west on Turquoise, where it became La Jolla Boulevard and continued north through La Jolla, Torrey Pines, Del Mar and other coast cities to the north.

Earl Taylor estimated that 25,000 people passed through Pacific Beach daily in 6000 automobiles and 70 ‘auto stages’ and that these thousands would observe the developments of this beautiful locality, particularly the business district he was planning along Garnet from Cass to the ocean. He began developing the business center of what he called New Pacific Beach beginning with the two-story Dunaway Pharmacy building, still standing at the northwest corner of Garnet and Cass.

The 1923 Union article on Pacific Beach development had also mentioned other improvements planned for the area, including an auto camp to occupy a full bock near ocean and bay. Dewitt and Kizzie Martin, also recent arrivals from the mid-west, had apparently anticipated the potential value of property passed by thousands of automobiles daily. Block 264 was vacant, it fronted on the western branch of the coastal highway and was only a few blocks south of its intersection with the eastern branch at Garnet and Cass. In 1924 the Martins bought both halves from Miss Wells and Mrs. Leonard and began developing the Mission Bay Auto Camp at 4275 Cass.

Over the next few years the Martins, and his father James, developed their auto camp into more than just an overnight stop for passing automobiles but also a destination for what today would be called ‘snowbirds’. In the winter of 1928 the Union reported that Martin ‘rounded up’ the visitors stopping at his camp and took them to the Mission Beach bathhouse and beach where they enjoyed the warm mid-winter sun and sparkling water, in sharp contrast to the plight of the friends and relatives they had left behind in the grip of King Winter (Mr. and Mrs. Earl Taylor were mentioned as hosts on one such party from the Martin Auto Camp, where dancing was enjoyed and refreshments served).

In July 1928 an ad for ‘income property’ appeared in the San Diego Union:

AUTO CAMP FOR SALE, AS GOING CONCERN

A whole block, 40 lots; only 2 blocks from ocean, 1 ½ blocks from bay. Boating, fishing and bathing the year around. Located in the city limits of San Diego; 270-foot frontage on main highway between La Jolla and San Diego. 33 buildings, 29 rentals, 1, 2 and 3-room cabins; gas, electric lights, large lobby, store and lunch counter, gas station; cabins all newly furnished. One of the newest and finest sanitary systems in any camp in San Diego county. Many large trees; ½ of property vacant. Camp needs more cabins. Property all newly fenced. Doing better than $2000 per month. This property is one of the best camp locations between Los Angeles and San Diego. And anyone who can adapt themselves to this kind of business, can obtain increased returns. Buildings insured for $15,000; taxes, $660. Price $45,000, $7500 to $10000 cash, balance arranged to suit. Owner might consider partner, or leasing property. Owner, 4275 Cass blvd, Pacific Beach.

In subsequent years the auto camp at 4275 Cass went through a series of owners and names before being sold in 1938 to E. J. Ellis, who also owned the De Luxe Trailer Park in Cathedral City. The Union reported that the new De Luxe Trailer Park 2, 4275 Cass Blvd, Pacific Beach, proved the increasing interest and investment in trailers. The property consisted of an entire city block and was surrounded by eucalyptus trees.

The De Luxe Trailer Park was still in operation in 1947 when my parents moved from Iowa City to San Diego, where my Dad was to begin a career at the Naval Electronics Laboratory on Point Loma. They had lived in a trailer in Iowa and hired a neighbor to tow it to San Diego while they followed in their car. When they arrived in San Diego they found the De Luxe, where their trailer was assigned a space in the northeast corner.

On March 1, 1948, the Union reported that the calculations of Julius Caesar’s astonomers, made in 49 BC, had affected the lives of 15 babies born the previous day in seven San Diego area hospitals. According to the Union, these leap year arrivals, ten boys and five girls, would technically have to wait until 1952 to mark their first birthdays. Among the parents of these leap year babies were John C. and Mary Webster of 4275 Cass St., a son, in Mercy Hospital.

John C. Webster (and son) at the De Luxe Trailer Park, 4275 Cass Street, in 1948. The trailers and eucalyptus trees are long gone but the house across Dawes Street is still there.
John C. Webster (and me) at the De Luxe Trailer Park, 4275 Cass Street, in 1948.
The trailers and eucalyptus trees are long gone but the house across Dawes Street is still there.
The trailers, the wall and the eucalyptus trees at 4275 Cass are long gone but the house with the chimney across Dawes Street is still there.

Later in 1948 the Union reported that the sale of De Luxe Trailer Park at 4275 Cass St., Pacific Beach, for $100,000 plus, had been announced. Kenny Ellis, who operated the park for 11 years, had sold the park to R. J. Bragg. The Union noted that the park embraced an entire city block.

Martha Farnum attended Coronado High School, acted in school plays and was guard on the girls’ basketball team which lost to Anaheim in the Southern California championship game in 1923. She graduated from San Diego State College in 1928 and taught school in Oakland before returning to the San Diego school system, where she taught in a number of schools before becoming principal of the Ocean Beach and Logan elementary schools. In 1934 she was put in charge of a special project to make textbooks more relevant to students. She became curriculum coordinator, then director of elementary school education and finally assistant superintendent of city schools, in charge of elementary education. When she died in 1952, while still in her 40s, the Board of Education announced that she would be honored with a school named after her.

The opportunity to name a new school would not be long in coming. San Diego had experienced tremendous growth during World War II, particularly among defense workers and military personnel, many of whom had settled in Pacific Beach. The post-war ‘baby boom’ added even more to the numbers of school-aged children. My wife’s parents, for example, had worked at Consolidated Aircraft in San Diego during the war, building bombers, and after the war they moved to Reed Avenue in Pacific Beach where their two daughters were nearing school age in the 1950s.

The federal government had built Bayview Terrace Elementary school as part of a public housing project for defense workers in 1941 and Crown Point Elementary had been built in 1946, the first school built in San Diego after the war. Still, it was apparent that more schools would be needed to keep pace with the growth in the school-aged population. The Union wrote in 1950 that enrollment of city school children had increased 50% in the past decade and school officials predicted it would almost double the 1940 count by 1954.

In 1950 San Diego voters passed a $11 million bond issue to fund a building program which included plans for a new elementary school in the Crown Point-Pacific Beach area. In 1951 the Board of Education applied for federal funds for school projects in parts of the city most heavily impacted by the war effort, including a new elementary school in southwestern Pacific Beach. In 1952 the San Diego Union reported that residents in that trailer court on Cass St. near Garnet St. had been asked to find another spot to park their trailers. The entire block had been purchased by the Unified School District, which planned to build a school there.

On November 30, 1953, four hundred Pacific Beach children and their teachers moved into the new Martha Farnum Elementary School at 4275 Cass Street (my wife was one of the new kindergartners, after starting the school year at Crown Point). The Union reported that the school was federally financed under the defense impact area program and was built for $337,450. It would relieve crowded conditions in other PB elementary schools.

Martha Farnum Elementary represented the latest trends in school constructions; classrooms were built back-to-back with sheltered outdoor walkways, eliminating noisy interior corridors. It included 16 classrooms, an administrative and health unit and a cafeteria-auditorium. The new school was dedicated in April 1954 and presented with a portrait of Miss Farnum as part of its dedication ceremony. The Union noted that she was the first woman to hold a top administrative position in the local school district.

Martha Farnum Elementary had been built in the 1950s with federal impact money to address a serious overcrowding situation in Pacific Beach elementary schools. By the 1980s, even though the Pacific Beach area continued to grow by expanding up the slopes of Mount Soledad and the population density increased when single-family homes were replaced with apartments and condominiums, the population of school-aged children in PB had actually gone into decline. At the same time, new communities of San Diego like Mira Mesa and Scripps Ranch required schools, and California’s Proposition 13, passed in 1978, severely restricted property taxes necessary to fund school districts.

The San Diego school district proposed a plan to close schools with declining enrollments and then lease the properties, using the proceeds to fund new school construction elsewhere. Local committees in Pacific Beach, Point Loma and La Jolla were given the task of deciding which schools in their areas to close. In Pacific Beach, the choice was between Martha Farnum or Crown Point. The committee decided that Crown Point occupied a larger area and could be expanded if necessary in the future, so Martha Farnum was selected for closure (despite further population growth, the population of school-aged children in Pacific Beach has continued to decline and Bayview Terrace was also closed as a community elementary school in 2013).

Martha Farnum Elementary was closed after the 1983 school year and in the summer of 1983 the school district offered it for lease. The property apparently was leased, but the proposal to build apartments and condominiums on the property was unpopular with Pacific Beach residents and that development was blocked. In 1987 an alternative proposal to use the site for parkland and a library was negotiated by the school district and the city, but the city manager removed the funds necessary to purchase the site from the city budget in the interest of economy.

In 1988 the Union reported that city school trustees had approved an agreement to sell Farnum Elementary School to the city, which planned to convert it into a library and a park. The agreement involved cash, land improvement and property worth roughly $3.3 million. The Union explained that city and school officials had negotiated for years over the fate of Farnum until donors appeared, who turned out to be Erma O’Brien and her brother Vernon Taylor, who wanted the library and park to be a monument to their father Earl Taylor. After years of design and construction, the Earl and Birdie Taylor – Pacific Beach Branch Library opened to rave reviews in May 1997.

Earl & Birdie Taylor Library, 4275 Cass Street

 

PB Depot Neighborhood

Doyle house - one of the originals
Doyle house – one of the originals

The real estate promoters who formed the Pacific Beach Company in 1887 knew that their prospective community would require a railroad line to downtown San Diego. They formed the San Diego and Pacific Beach Railroad and built a line which extended the existing San Diego and Old Town Railroad north and then west around False (Mission) Bay to the beach. Trains were running by April 1888 and in July the two lines merged to become the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach Railroad.

The railway line ran through Pacific Beach on what are now Balboa and Grand Avenues and terminated near the foot of Grand, where it turned south into the ‘depot grounds’. The SD, OT & PB RR built a large engine house (a ’round house’ except that it wasn’t round) at the end of the line in the depot grounds, about where today’s Mission Boulevard and Oliver Avenue would intersect. Between this final bend in the line and the beach the Pacific Beach Company built a hotel and a dance pavilion, the hotel just south of Grand and east of Mission and the pavilion west of Mission between Thomas and Reed Avenues.

The railroad not only provided transportation for Pacific Beach residents but it also employed a sizable proportion of these residents; six of the 37 residences listed for Pacific Beach in Montieth’s Directory of San Diego and Vicinity for 1889-90 were railroad employees. The railroad employees lived in Pacific Beach because the daily service began and ended there; the first train in the morning left Pacific Beach for San Diego at 6 A.M. and the last train left San Diego for Pacific Beach at 6:25 P.M.

Three of these railroad employees purchased lots in Block 262, adjacent to the depot grounds on the north side of Reed Avenue west of what is now Bayard Street. Lots 22 and 23, nearest to Bayard, were acquired by Thomas F. Fitzgerald in 1891 and a house assessed at $200 had been built there by 1893. He sold the property in 1900 but continued to work for the railroad. In 1908 he was the fireman on a locomotive that derailed and overturned near Winder Street in San Diego. The engineer was killed by the escaping steam, ‘literally cooked alive’ according to the papers, and Fitzgerald was ‘hurled head foremost into a clump of cactus’ and also severely burned. He was taken to a sanitarium and treated but died ten days later. This was the only fatal accident in the railroad’s history.

Frank H. Woodworth lived next door, on lots 24 and 25, although he also owned property across the alley fronting on Thomas Avenue. His home on Reed was assessed at $150 in 1893. Woodworth was described as the ‘popular’ conductor of the Pacific Beach railroad, and when he planned an eastern trip with his family in 1901 the Evening Tribune noted that he had been ‘navigating’ the train for thirteen years and deserved a vacation. His wife was an active member of the Pacific Beach Reading Club, the woman’s group founded by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, and often hosted meetings at their home. In 1898 the Woodworths moved their house across the alley to their lots on Thomas, which ‘greatly improved the appearance of the place’ in the words of the San Diego Union. In 1900, after the birth of their third daughter, they moved to a larger home in Pacific Beach, a former college dormitory at Lamont and Hornblend Streets.

Locomotive engineer E. C. Doyle owned lots 26 and 27, adjoining the Woodworth’s on the west, and also with a home assessed at $150. Doyle left the Pacific Beach line about 1895 and went to work for the San Diego, Cuyamaca and Eastern Railway where he again established a residence at the end of that line, in Foster, north of Lakeside. The SDC&E never continued on to Cuyamaca, much less the East, but the route is now used by the San Diego Trolley line to El Cajon and Santee. Then and now the line also runs through Mt. Hope Cemetery and when Doyle’s wife Ada died in 1899 her funeral services were scheduled for ‘the arrival of the afternoon train from Foster Station’.

Ada Doyle's grave at Mt. Hope Cemetery, with red San Diego Trolley, following route of SDC&E, passing in background.
Ada Doyle’s grave at Mt. Hope Cemetery, with red San Diego Trolley, following route of SDC&E, passing in background.

Homes on adjoining properties are universal in Pacific Beach today but were unusual in the 1890s and stood out on a 1891 map:

Employees
Pacific Beach, 1891, showing route of the railroad and the depot neighborhood, lower left. The row of employee homes is circled.

The hotel and pavilion were removed from their beachside locations in 1896, literally lifted up and pulled along Grand Avenue to new locations north of Grand and east of Lamont. In its new location at Hornblend and Morrell the pavilion served as a lemon curing and packing house, the largest in the county, during the height of the Pacific Beach lemon era. In 1907, with the lemon business in decline, it was remodeled and used as a Methodist church. It was finally torn down about 1922.

The hotel, at Lamont and Hornblend, became the offices of the Folsom Bros. Co., later the San Diego Beach Company, which owned much of Pacific Beach after acquiring O. J. Stough’s share of the unsold properties of the Pacific Beach Company in 1903. The hotel building burned down in 1931. The fire marshal believed the blaze was set, citing two other attempts to burn the structure earlier in the year. More than 35 cadets from the nearby San Diego Army and Navy Academy aided firemen fighting the blaze. The house on the north side of Hornblend, across from the hotel, the same house that the Woodworths had moved into in 1900, had also burned down a few months earlier under suspicious circumstances.

The railroad itself was scrapped in 1919, although much of the right-of-way along the coast became the route of the San Diego Electric Railway interurban line to La Jolla via Mission Beach and Pacific Beach in 1924. The electric line was discontinued in 1940 and also scrapped.

Reed Avenue west of Bayard is now lined with houses, duplexes and apartment buildings like the rest of Pacific Beach, but one of these houses, 854 Reed, Doyle’s home, is an actual survivor from those early days when railroad employees lived next to the depot grounds at the end of the line in Pacific Beach.

Edward Crosier carved this inscription into the sidewalk in front of his home at 852 Reed, next to the Doyle house, built in 1912.
Edward Crosier carved this inscription into the sidewalk in front of the home at 852 Reed, next to the Doyle house, that he built in 1912.