San Diego Reader history

1. Chicago Reader

Sometime in 1970-71 Bob Roth, a friend of Jim Holman’s from Carleton College (MN) who was going to grad school in political science at the University of Chicago, got interested in starting a weekly paper in Chicago like Boston After Dark.

Bob McCamant, Tom Yoder, Tom Rehwaldt, and Roth brought out the first issue of the Chicago Reader in early October, 1971. Holman got out of the Navy at the end of October and joined them. Holman tried selling ads for two months. He got the idea of starting a similar paper in San Diego. After a job in South America, Holman visited Chicago, and out of loyalty the Chicago Reader principals agreed to let him use the name in San Diego.

2. Mission Beach, La Jolla, Kettner Boulevard years 1972-76

Holman recruited writers from UCSD — Kathleen Woodward (ex-wife of Washington Post’s Bob Woodward), Jonathan Saville (professor of literature), Duncan Shepherd (visual arts grad student under Manny Farber), Alan Pesin (also Farber protege); Jane Weisman (features) from San Diego State; Ted Burke and Steve Esmedina (pop music) from Mesa College. Alex Farnsley, a Mission Beach friend, volunteered to help with layout and paste-up. The first ad salesman was Terry Barack.

The first issue of the San Diego Reader, on October 4, 1972, was 12 pages. Its 20,000 circulation was distributed to eateries, shops, college campuses, and Navy bases.

For some months the layout and phone calls done from Holman’s Mission Beach apartment, then Farnsley’s apartment, then from the garage of a house on Nautilus Street in La Jolla owned by TV sportscaster Jerry Gross.

Some notable writers: Jeff Weinstein, who wrote on food, went on to become the food reviewer for the NY Village Voice. Connie Bruck, who lived near the Reader garage in La Jolla, had studied at Columbia Journalism School; she wrote features stories for the paper in the early and mid-'70s and later became a New Yorker staff writer.

The Reader stumbled along with Holman borrowing beyond the original $5000 loan from United California Bank, until his debt was $20K.

In late 1974 Howie Rosen came to San Diego from Cincinnati on a motorcycle, discovered the Reader, and began selling ads, helping with paste-up, and set up a system where college students delivered papers and sold ads.

By October 1975 the Reader started to break even. Holman sold a duplex in Mission Beach and paid off the debt.

Also in late 1974 the Reader moved from La Jolla to a loft at 780 Kettner Boulevard, downtown San Diego in a two-story building called O’Sullivan Square.

3. Jim Mullin era 1976-1986

In late 1975 the Reader moved its offices to 780 State Street, also in downtown. Jim Mullin, who had won first prize in a Reader writing contest, went to work as features editor. The system of free classified ads and free distribution spread to Boston After Dark, the Village Voice, and the Phoenix New Times. The New Times would eventually buy the Village Voice and become a large chain of alternative papers.

4. Judith Moore era 1986-2006

In 1985, Judith Moore, a Berkeley writer, was brought to San Diego to write feature stories for the Reader. In 1986, Moore began to take on the role of senior editor. Moore also began to write a weekly interview with renowned writers. Many of these writers Moore invited to come to San Diego and write feature stories. Included in this visiting writers group were Alexander Theroux, Richard Meltzer, Stephen Dobyns, Tom Lux, David Lehman.

5. Ernie Grimm era 2006-present

After a two-year struggle with cancer, Moore died in 2006. Moore had discovered two young writers, Ernie Grimm and Matt Lickona, right out of college in 1995, and they began writing feature stories. After Moore’s death Grimm took over the job as features and news editor. Lickona took on several regular columns, Blog Diego, and shared the film review duties with Scott Marks, after the original critic, Duncan Shepherd, retired in 2010.

6. Photos past and present of Reader building Golden Hill

Exterior of the Reader building in Golden Hill today

The building's site in the early 1940s

Exterior of the building in 1992

The original 1000-seat auditorium is now Reader sales and conference room

Beginning construction

The Reader renovation took longer than the original 6-month build in 1947-1948!

During Reader construction

Reader moves in March, 2013

Reception area

Sales floor