Norman remembers Julian as a “Wild West town," with apple orchards, a famous rodeo, and unique pioneer characters.
Skip Harvey sits patiently on the porch of his Julian antique shop, adjacent to his motel He offers his visitor an orange while they wail for the rush of people to converge on his town’s Gold Rush Days. He’s a quiet man, with a bushy mustache and subtle humor. People approach his shop slowly, wandering in to browse among the many items, or to buy a carton of eggs fresh from his own hens.
In 1976 a general plan was approved, including a provision which maintains the exteriors of Main Street buildings can't be newer than 1913.
Harvey may be a relative newcomer to Julian, settling here in 1969, but he qualifies as a town historian; even the knowledgeable museum greeter points to him as an excellent source for insight into this mountain community. He spent several years researching Julian’s history because, he says. “If you live somewhere I think you ought to know its past.”
When questioned about Julian. Harvey is often slow to answer, his impressions and judgments guarded for fear of being misconstrued. He agrees to be an unofficial guide for his town—discussing past and present—only if others are consulted as well, especially the older residents. He advises a long walk alone first, to become acquainted with the town and some of its people, and confides that he too would be interested in learning other reactions to the questions he will answer.
“Most people don’t like to see the tourists come up, but that’s how they make their money."
Meanwhile, the early arrivals line up close to the center of town, eager for the day’s festivities to begin. Someone asks directions to a restroom and is greeted with a knowing smile from Harvey. Julian is not a nice place to be stranded if you require a public restroom. There is only one, open part-time.
“We’ve got all kinds of people here—teachers, telephone workers, and a lot of others. Can you imagine getting everyone together and deciding where a head should go?"
“During Apple Days they always bring in portable heads," says Harvey. “I tried to get some heads open all week long: the one at the museum is only open on weekends. But the women’s club runs the museum and they were against opening it for the entire week, so my plan ended right there."
“Julian has turned into curiosityville."
“There’s a Chevron station on the corner,” explains a tall man who looks to be the size and strength of Paul Bunyan. He speaks from behind the counter of a friend’s store. “All the townspeople use that gas station head, which makes it hard for the customers to get in. Julian doesn’t have many restrooms." He glances at his friend and they share a laugh. “We’ve got all kinds of people here—teachers, telephone workers, and a lot of others. Can you imagine getting everyone together and deciding where a head should go? It just couldn’t work."
One proposed item that most disagree with is the bypass by a special road designed to create a better flow of traffic, without stops in Julian.
The restroom problem, though far from being a crisis, is significant, for it is a symbol of the dilemma which hangs over this village. The stereotype often mentioned —that a small community is of one mind and purpose— doesn’t seem to work.
“Julian is changing all the time," says the Paul Bunyan character. “There’s a drastic difference of opinion among individuals in this town on almost any subject, and it seems to depend on how many years you’ve been here.”
“And the papers rarely print the truth about the back country," says his friend. “So people down in the city don’t know much about Julian. I’ve actually had some people come up here and want to know how the Indians live in their tepees as if they were running around with a lot of turkey feathers."
Julian, they say, is misunderstood and misused by those who don’t know its real nature. The politicians have control of the town; those distant people in San Diego, the flatlanders. The huge man waves his hand toward the west. “It’s San Diego County who is in charge here."
As they talk about their town, there is a suggestion of concern hidden beneath the anecdotes. Finally, they offer advice. It’s somehow close to a warning. “Get the whole story, don’t just talk to a few real estate people and store owners.” There is, they intimate, much more to this town and its future than apple cider and tourists. They seem about to reveal the skeletons in Julian's closets.
“No, I don’t want to give my name," says the store owner. “Didn’t you ever hear of retribution? The world is full of it.” And they both laugh.
Julian is a town caught between the covers of an historical romance. There is a rich history here, full of colorful characters and deeds. But today there is a strange and uneasy blending: Victorian architecture and time-' honored traditions flush with the vagaries of modern culture. But for those who make the mountains their home, the attractions outweigh the problems. They’re here for the clean air, the blue sky, the slower pace, and the people themselves. However, it’s those other things that have them worried: the 25,000 travelers who pass down Main Street each year, bringing with them both the needed tourist dollars and the unwanted burdens of congestion; the uncertainly about growth; the frustration of being governed largely by flatlanders. Julian's residents, though, are far from tackling their growing fist of community issues with a unified voice. If anything, the rugged individualism which helped build this town is proving stronger than ever.
In 1869 the Bailey brothers (Drury, Frank, and J.O.) and cousins Mike and Webb Julian arrived from San Bernardino on their way to Arizona. While intending to stop only long enough to rest, Drury was struck by the mountains' beauty and eventually homesteaded the northern end of the valley. He named his plot and the town “Julian" in honor of cousin Mike because, he is reported to have said, “Mike was better looking" than any Bailey. It was during this time that gold was first discovered in the surrounding areas and the stampede was on.
The town developed in three stages, the first being the crude tent city, formed during the initial gold strike. The second phase offered more substantial construction when it appeared the gold veins would last a while; the building was still functional rather than ornamental. The final stage was a display of wealth, such as the Victorian-style Hoskins House, complete with carriage house.
During these years, Julian was at least a four-day trip from San Diego, even for the fastest of team drivers. The trip from Old Town to Foster (above Lakeside, now covered by San Vicente Dam) was one day; up the Mussey Grade to Nuevo (now Ramona) took another day; the climb from Nuevo to Santa Ysabel took the third day; and the last steep seven miles completed the trip.
According to local mountain political history, which a few skeptics consider merely folklore, in 1873 Julian rivaled San Diego in population, and the people attempted— through election—to have the county seat moved there. Supposedly, the vote was so close that the town would have won except that a few residents celebrated early and with such enthusiasm that they forgot to vote. It was Julian’s last stab at cityhood. The once-booming, self-sufficient gold town was forced to think of the future. They didn’t particularly like being dependent on the flatlands, but that’s the way it was.
And now, over 100 years later, the essential question is still one of growth. Though the town has expanded at a snail’s pace in the past, it has nevertheless been an alarming rate to the residents. They were accustomed to knowing everyone in town, sharing a small community, counting on each other.
But on any weekend, Julian swarms with strangers, tourists here to enjoy the town's rustic beauty, hike the miles of mountain trails, and eat tons of apple pie. Tourism has profoundly changed the face of Julian. Steve Ballinger, owner of the Julian Hotel, says it's a sensitive issue, a “double-edged knife.”
“Most people don’t like to see the tourists come up, but that’s how they make their money. Without 'em, this town would just shrivel up and die.” It all depends on your needs, he says. If you’re retired and live down the road, you aren't looking forward to a tourist weekend. But if you own a diner, store, or the hotel, you’re nothing without the visitors from down in the valley. But Mabel Carson, the museum guide, shakes her head, distressed that the value of tourism should be brought into question. “No, I don’t think people here mind the tourists.” she says. “As long as they don't break down the vines and plants when they hike around. As a whole, I don't think the Julian people resent the tourists.”
Many of the tourists, however, like what they see, and in the last decade more and more have been settling in the mountains. The rapid development of certain areas led a few Julian residents to take a closer look at what was happening around them. In 1970, after much thought and discussion, a planning committee was initiated, led by Dick Zerbe, from Julian’s chamber of commerce. The original objectives included in the discussions were general land uses, specific land uses, traffic circulation systems, resources and pollution problems, and aesthetics.
At the committee’s inception the major goal was to retain and extend Julian's “mountain-agricultural-residential character.” It appeared then that everything would revolve around this point. They knew that it would be some time before the county approved the plan, and indeed, it wasn't until December, 1976 that the general plan was approved by the board of supervisors. Zerbe says the delay was caused by people fearing restrictions, much preplanning, and the fact the county was spread thin in such matters.
Of special interest to Julian residents is the 14 acres covered in the proposal’s special townsite section—the town and its immediate area, which includes 23 historically significant buildings. One provision, certain to stir controversy, maintains the exteriors of Main Street buildings so that nothing can be newer than 1913.
Dave, a self-described “Okie from Muskogee” and Main Street bench lounger, says, “There’s two sides to the town: some want to develop and some want to turn it into a ghost town. There are still others who want to just improve it some. I want improvement. But I’m not really in the middle of the road. I never walk down the middle of the road when there’s a sidewalk.”
Skip Harvey, himself a member of the planning committee for some time, is slightly skeptical of some results, but remains hopeful.
“I listened to a lot of people as a committee member and I think there’s really only a few who want it to grow like other country towns. A lot of them want it to remain as it is. Sure, some would probably like to see tall skyscrapers and glass buildings. Maybe that’s what old Bailey wanted. Who knows? I only want it to grow as far as the resources will allow us.”
The limitations of resources—water, sanitation facilities, the environment —are not widely appreciated, he feels.
“Growth shouldn’t really be limited by a plan, but by need. The way it is now... I don’t consider that limited. There are still 46 square miles to be developed. We’ve only got 1,500 people, and you can still move here if you want. There’s no real provision to limit people coming here. We’ll just all find out one summer by running out of water. The real limiting factor is that we don't know how much water we do have, and we should find out.”
Julian has an underground water supply, four or five wells, each about 400 feet deep. A dry season means that the wells are replenished at a reduced rate. The Blalock report, a 1971 water study by a county planning staff member, noted that “cheap water for vast development will probably never be a reality for the Julian townsite area.”
And the county has been alarmed, Harvey says, that Julian could pollute the San Diego River by leaking sewage into the river. Recently, a bond issue was passed to implement a 30,000 gallon sewage treatment plant. Until the facility is completed, which could be up to two years, a building moratorium is in effect. But Harvey feels now that the sewage plant is a reality, the supervisors would consider limited construction.
One proposed item that most disagree with is the bypass by a special road designed to create a better flow of traffic, w ithout stops in Julian. There has been increased opposition to this and Harvey, for one. considers it useless.
“No one is being forced to come to this area. It’s not really like they’re going out of their way. People come here because they want to stop. So. I don’t see much purpose in the bypass idea.”
The bypass proposal, along with the Townsite plan is up for final approval in June. So everyone waits, expecting the worst but believing their isolated community deserves the best.
Today, besides the planning committee, which deals only with the growth issue, there is no governing body or formal local power in Julian—no mayor, no recognized leader. A handful of spokesmen seem to direct Julian’s course: Zerbe, the realtors, Harvey, a vocal store keeper.
From an outsider's view', it seems that it there had been a single leader the town might have been mobilized into action long ago, and possibly be ahead in growth matters instead of mired in the ongoing and debilitating debate. Though there is no organized opposition to the planning committee’s intent, there are frequent mutterings here and there about the range of its proposals.
Ballinger believes, as do many other Julian residents, that there is simply no need for an organized governing body, and that the county isn’t really as pushy as some say; that a certain balance will be realized.
“We don’t have a town council and we probably don’t need one. If we need a new sign for the museum, the chamber of commerce could go to the Lion's Club and ask them. We could never elect a town council in Julian, there’s too many differing ideas. It wouldn't work.
“Anyway, in a small town like this there’s nothing that can't be done by the people.
“I had never thought about it myself, before coming here,” says Ballinger. “But things can operate and function without needing Big Brother to look after us. And the people have expressed themselves and their needs. Look, the county gave us a brand new ambulance after the people argued for it. But it isn't the residents who get the most use out of it. Every weekend there are several accidents in the mountains; tourists use our ambulance more than we do.”
The old-timers look out from their scratchy windows and grumble -sometimes good naturedly, sometimes not—about the changes they’ve seen sweep through their modest town.
On the corner of “A” and Farmer Streets is a red house with a window view from which the occupants have seen much of Julian's life pass before them. Annie Grand. 81, has lived in the Julian or surrounding area since she was ten. Two visitors have stopped by. Annie's son Norman, 62, and Ralph Spicer, who has lived in Julian since 1946.
Norman, who “punched cows from Borrego to Agua Caliente,” lived here in his early years, before moving to San Diego. He returns to Julian most weekends to visit friends and family. Alternately smoking his pipe and demonstrating a series of grins and frowns, Norman quickly explains that the written treatments of Julian have never been much more than “bullshit.”
They sit around the kitchen table, swapping the old tales, gently arguing over certain points.
“What about people like my father and grandfather who lived here before all this nonsense, when it was cattle, apples, and bootlegging and rustling?” asks Norman. “The whole thing has changed. There’s a new generation of people; they’re not natives. There were big, self-sufficient ranchers then, not like now with these newcomers who want publicity. They’re out to exploit Julian.”
Ralph interrupts. “I came here in ’46 as a newcomer. The town was originally a small working community, everybody had something to do. There were few strangers. Now it seems that 95 percent of the people are strangers in flux. Years ago, if we wanted to go to San Diego we’d leave our door unlocked. Now, we have to get a house sitter to look after it.”
Norman remembers Julian as a “Wild West town," with apple orchards, a famous rodeo, and unique pioneer characters who did something to build the town. They view their history' as a special gift to be passed on with care.
They continue grumbling about the newcomers, the nonnatives. But this wears thin. Ralph himself isn’t a native. Still, he says the newcomers he resents most are those who come into town, try to change the community, and when this is done, “they leave us holding the bag.”
Says Annie, “When we first came here we thought it would be a boom town, then it quieted down. I knew everybody around, but not anymore. You see, we like to say things haven’t changed, but they have."
“Another thing,” says Ralph. “Julian has turned into curiosityville. There are some 20 giftshops. We used to have four service stations with two or three doing repair. Now there are only two, so where’s the growth of the basic business? The two or three restaurants aren’t worth a damn. We used to have a bus line into San Diego, but it was stopped 20 years ago. Why? Because of all the cars. The town has gone from a basic working community to a tourist town."
“That’s what it is," Norman agrees, “'that’s all this place is.”
The skeleton in Julian’s closet is that it has no backbone of its own, no financial base to free it from the dependence on gawking flatlanders. Without the tourists from San Diego and elsewhere, Julian could not survive.
Norman shakes hands and starts for his San Diego home. The door closes as a new crop of tourists begin their walk down Main Street. Annie and Ralph continue telling each other the familiar, tired stories of yesterday.