In the predawn stillness of December 25, 1899, an earthquake awoke most of the 17,700 residents of the city of San Diego. When it ended, people estimated that the undulations had lasted 12 seconds. Eastern tourists who had flocked to the city's hotels for the holidays "were terrified...and rushed from their rooms in fright," one newspaper reported the next day. Later that morning, word spread that the violent jolting had damaged the tower of city hall, on the southwest corner of Third and D streets, but this proved inaccurate. In fact, no buildings suffered any harm, nor did the locals give much thought to the disturbance.
In her diary entry for the 25th, Charlotte Baker (the lady doctor) made note of the afternoon football game between the Los Angeles and San Diego high schools at Bay View Park. But she said nothing about the temblor. up in the tiny outpost of La Jolla, Anson Mills, another faithful diarist, described the high points of his Christmas: visiting with neighbors after the morning's church service, dining with a large group of friends, listening to selections on the phonograph in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Scripps, playing parlor games at his sister-in-law’s. Only as an afterthought did he mention the quake.
A few days later, the San Diego Union speculated on its cause. “Is it the pressure of gases? Of electrical forces? Of steam generated by the internal fires of the earth, the result of volcanic action, or the effect of great masses of matter sloughing off from the super-incumbent earth and falling into the vast depths of the fiery liquid below?” Whatever the scientific explanation proved to be, readers were assured that the San Diego region “is not in the world’s seismic territory.” Unlike Italy (“where the wealthy and nobility of Europe pass their winters”) San Diego “has but few of these visitors [earthquakes] and they are not destructive.”
This was the voice of optimism. In 1899, white people had lived in San Diego for only 130 years. Furthermore, those established here in 1899 had experienced some severe shaking. The quake that struck in 1892 had cracked many buildings and knocked the plaster out of many ceilings, as people poured into the streets in panic. But any suggestion that potentially devastating earthquakes were a fixture of local life was taboo. The chamber of commerce, the fledgling tourism industry, local realtors, and newspapers — all these voices were joined in chorus to lure more settlers here.
During the days between Christmas and New Year’s in 1899, a week punctuated by welcome rain, you could find signs that the town at last was recovering from the disaster of 11 years earlier. A scan of local real estate ads might still remind you of the collapse that had followed the wild boom of 1886 to 1888. (D.C. Reed’s column in the San Diego Union the day after Christmas, for example, mentions two 100-foot-square lots on the southeast corner of Hawthorne and Albatross that had sold for $10,000 in 1887 and were now being offered for $1500.) But some land was changing hands, and new structures were being erected. During 1899, the city had granted permits for an estimated $225,000 of construction. The Henry W. Putnams’ mansion at Fifth and Maple had cost $12,000.
There were other signs of an economic upturn. Furniture dealers on Sixth Street were reporting brisk sales of more and higher-quality items than they’d sold during the boom years. M.A. Luce, the postmaster, thought the Christmas mail crush had never been heavier. “The receipts of the post office will show that we have a bigger boom on at present without knowing it, than we had twelve years ago when we thought we had something,” he told one newspaper reporter. Holiday business at the Wells Fargo & Co. express office was “simply enormous,” he said, with “great wagon loads of packages taken to the uptown office of the company after each incoming train…all of the company’s delivery wagons have been kept bustling.”
If you were caught in the grip of the last winter of the 1800s in Kentucky or Maine or Illinois, and you had heard something about San Diego, you might be tempted to seek your fortune in this far southwestern corner of the country. Maybe the boasts about the salubrious climate have reached you or the claim that San Diego’s inhabitants live longer than anyone else in America. Say you believe the boosterism and bid farewell to your relatives, what will you find at the end of your journey?
How will you get there? Not by plane, of course. Although the world’s first controlled flight in a glider has taken place (flown by aviation pioneer John J. Montgomery out on San Diego’s Otay Mesa in 1883) and Orville and Wilbur Wright are consumed with the dream of making powered flight a reality, the two North Carolina bicycle mechanics won’t succeed until 1903. Commercial planes to transport passengers across America’s great distances are decades in the future.
Nor can you drive. Everyone has heard about the new self-propelled mechanical carriages, first exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair. About 8000 have been manufactured, but no roads have yet been built for them across the West. No one will dare to make a transcontinental automobile crossing until 1903. No car has yet been seen on the streets of San Diego. The lawyer D.C. Collier is about to order one of those French motorized contraptions, and for months, the sight of an automobile will be enough to cause pandemonium.
The first car won’t make the trip from Los Angeles to San Diego until this coming April. An L.A. artist named Oliver Lippincott will be the driver, and when he pulls up to the poorhouse in Mission Valley to take on some water for his machine, a few of the crippled old men will spread the word about the extraordinary mechanical visitor. All the inmates of the place will surround it, exclaiming in surprise and astonishment, and one old man, more venturesome than the rest, will inadvertently open the throttle valve. The automobile will start up and begin turning round in a circle, mowing down some old men and paralyzing others with terror. Afterward, Mr. Lippincott will be quoted in the newspaper saying it was the funniest sight he ever saw and that “a good picture of the affair would make any person rich.”
If you’re coming from the East Coast, you might travel by ship. But Congress is still only talking about building a canal across Nicaragua. So you would have to make that disagreeable passage over land or go the long way around the Horn. Sea passage from Philadelphia can take more than five months.
Instead, you’ll almost certainly take the train. The Santa Fe is advertising “entirely new and luxurious equipment” on its California Limited route. Four days a week, trains leave New York City, chugging west through Chicago, Kansas City, Denver, Los Angeles, completing the journey — when things go well — in less than four and a half days. First-class tickets from Chicago to San Diego cost $70; tourist class ones are $50. San Diego’s Grand Union Depot, an imposing Victorian presence with a massive central tower, impresses everyone who stands before it. Seeing its exuberant parapets, you might never guess at all the heartache folks in these parts have suffered because of the railroads.
As long ago as 1846, talk began of building a direct transcontinental line here. San Diego possessed the only great natural harbor south of San Francisco. In 1854, a company had been formed to build the “San Diego and Gila Southern Pacific and Atlantic Railroad” to the mouth of the Gila River and further connections eastward. But the Civil War had erupted before any construction took place.
When the war ended, the Union victory assured that the first franchise for a transcontinental line would follow a northerly route, and the Central and Union Pacific lines completed the link between San Francisco and the East on May 10, 1869. Despite continuing talk of a southern rail route along the 32nd parallel, savvy San Diegans soon began to realize that Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker collectively had every reason to stop such a line from terminating here. Without direct rail connections, San Diego would pose no threat to the port of San Francisco and the Central Pacific’s monopoly over the Pacific trade. Moreover, Los Angeles, though it lacked a harbor, lusted for the rail business and enjoyed the good fortune of being closest to the San Gorgonio Pass, the best of the five routes over the Southern California mountains. After several twists of fate and politics, San Diego lost the competition with its neighbor to the north when the Southern Pacific agreed to bring a line to L.A. that would connect with the East through Yuma.
Though discouraged by this turn of events, the San Diegans hadn’t given up. They’d looked instead to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which by the late 1870s was building a line from the east across Arizona, approaching the California border at “The Needles.” In that progress, San Diego County residents had seen another opportunity, and they’d lobbied intensively for the Santa Fe to make San Diego or National City its western terminus. The Santa Fe had finally agreed to build a terminal in National City and create a “California Southern” rail link from there to San Bernardino. Between December 20, 1880, when ground was broken, and September 13, 1883, when the first train from San Diego pulled into San Bernardino, high hopes in San Diego soared. But in the spring of 1884, less than six months after the track was completed, torrential rains in the wake of the Krakatoa eruption wrought disaster throughout Southern California. On the California Southern line, flooding washed away big stretches of the track laid down through Temecula Canyon. The roiling waters ripped out telegraph poles and wrested whole bridges from their moorings, carrying the debris far out to sea.
It was an omen, but people refused to see it as such. Instead, they rebuilt the track and by late 1885 it joined the Santa Fe’s lines to the east. The day the first eastbound train puffed out of town, San Diegans paraded to the sound of brass bands down Fifth Street, which “looked like a grand avenue of flags.” It cost $150 to make the trip to the Missouri Valley. But within a year, the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific had begun to battle for passengers, using the rail fares as their weapons. By March of 1887, the Missouri–Southern California rate had dropped to $12. And it would fall still further — bottoming out at $1 before rising again to $25. The cheap tickets drew the hordes that fueled the Great Boom.
If, in preparation for your move to San Diego, you want to know more about what that frenzy was like, you might read Millionaires of a Day, the book written in 1890 by Mr. Theodore Van Dyke. He lived here in the spring of 1887, when “The streets were everywhere crowded, gold clinked on every hand, and imaginary millionaires by the score rode around the streets in shining new buggies with fast horses, or bustled about the banks and real-estate offices with checkbooks sticking from their outside breast pockets.” By that summer, he writes, “fully five sixths of the buyers were buying, not for use, but to sell at an advance to some one else in a few days or weeks. And…nearly all sales were upon contract, with only one fourth or one third paid in cash.”
Even today, the memory of the boom haunts people. Overnight it made the town unrecognizable, and it made some individuals rich beyond their dreams. But when the speculative frenzy abated in the early months of 1888, real estate prices crashed. The subsequent loss of both wealth and dreams was so abrupt folks couldn’t believe it had happened. By 1889, more than half the 35,000 souls who had stampeded into town had fled, and the Santa Fe Railroad had announced that it was shifting its operational base to San Bernardino. In 1891, floods destroyed the track through Temecula Canyon again. Today, in 1899, no one talks of rebuilding it.
Instead incoming travelers must change trains in Los Angeles. Many are tempted to stay and seek their fortunes there. Not much bigger than San Diego in 1870, Los Angeles now counts more than 100,000 inhabitants. Some of them feel such a bitter rivalry with San Diego that they’ve scared off would-be visitors at the L.A. train station with tales of drinking-water shortages and other horrors. If San Diego remains your goal, however, the “Surf Line” will take you southward.
The Lay of the Land
You’ll cross the county line about 60 miles south of L.A.’s Union Station. In the years when the California Southern was being built and in the boom years that followed, small communities sprang into existence all over San Diego County. Many disappeared after the crash, but people are scratching out a living in a number of hamlets. The Surf Line chugs through some of them — Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar. Far more striking is the vastness of the passing landscape on which humans have as yet made no mark. The county is smaller now than it was just six years ago, in 1893, when the northern third was sliced off to create Riverside County. Still, what remains is bigger than Connecticut, Delaware, and Rhode Island combined. The county stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the state of Arizona.
The commercial, if not the geographical, heart of the place is the area people call “new” San Diego — to distinguish it from the Old Town near the huge central river valley. That early settlement lacked a good connection with the harbor, and about 30 years ago the disadvantages of the site finally overcame 100 years of inertia. Most of the Anglos relocated, building new residences within the neat grid of streets laid out on a shelf of land bounded by San Diego Bay on the west and the south. The train depot stands near the western boundary of that grid, at the foot of D Street. A half-mile due east of it lies San Diego’s most important thoroughfare.
That’s Fifth Street, the locus of amazing changes over the past 20 years. In 1879, low clapboard buildings with false fronts in the Western style stretched along both sides of the byway. Sections of plank sidewalks provided intermittent respite from the dust and mud; wooden awnings offered pedestrians scant protection from the sun.
By 1885, multistory brick structures began to appear amidst the low wooden jumble, and today Fifth Street is an architectural parade of eye-catching constructions. On the northwest corner of Fifth and H, the Italianate Backesto Block has just been completed. Loring’s Schneider Building, the Louis Bank of Commerce, and the First National Bank were built in the Baroque Revival style, while the Nesbith-Greely Building hints at a Romanesque muse. Amidst the eclectic Victoriana, a discerning eye might detect the influence of the new Chicago school of architectural thinking in the Marstons’ handsome department store (erected three years ago on the corner of Fifth and C).
After the sun has set, even on moonless nights, Fifth Street glows. Admirers of gaslight had a fixture installed in 1885 at the southeast corner of Fifth and F, but for outdoor lighting, that technology never really caught on. The Jenney Electric Company of Indianapolis won a contract in 1886 to erect six electric-carbon arc lamps on 110-foot towers in the center of town. Electrical street lighting has now been extended over a 29-mile network; a worker climbs to the dizzying top of each tower to change the burned-out arc rods every day. Most of the businesses in the downtown core have been connected by wire to the San Diego Gas and Electric Light Company’s generator. It produces electricity daily from sundown to midnight (though the streetlights are turned off when the moon is full).
Even the signs downtown are being transformed by the new technology. Just this week, the San Diego Union reported that a “mechanical sign with changeable lights, so much in vogue in NY and Chicago” has been erected “for Herman Fritz of the People’s Hall, Fourth and F. It is undoubtedly the most artistic affair of the kind in Southern California,” the article states, adding, “You will be delighted to see it operate…nightly until 10 p.m.” In the daylight hours, conventional advertisements scream for attention the length of Fifth Street. By 1887 so many had appeared that the city council banned all those that blocked curbs and sidewalks or hung from walls. But legions of announcements painted on walls still vie for the attention of anyone strolling past the commerce.
The act of strolling has gotten easier since the founding of New Town. Fifth Street between C and L streets was the first stretch of road in San Diego to be paved (in 1889) and the city’s first gutters were assembled then along Fifth from granite bricks quarried in Santee. Today, asphalt covers the city’s principal business streets — some seven miles in all. More than twice that length of cement sidewalks have been laid. The material can be used here (the newspaper will tell you) “owing to the constant absence of frost…” The sidewalks’ clean, white surfaces “have taught many of the residents of the city lessons of neatness and pride.…”
Maybe so, but others could use more instruction. Maintaining the streets and roads is still, for the most part, an individual responsibility, borne by those who live along them. Cleanup is sketchy, and the fetid rot of horse and mule manure pervades New San Diego. Roving dogs leave their droppings too. Some of the human feces and urine now flows through sewer lines into the bay. People voted for the bonds to pay for the system in 1886, and today they boast that 45 miles of sewer pipe have been installed. But on a windless, busy day in summer, a stew of odors assails anyone walking down Fifth Street: cigar smoke and heavy perfumes that don’t always mask the reek of human and animal sweat, the stench of burning garbage, the smells of meat frying in the boardinghouses and restaurants.
The Criminal World
Cesspools — both literal and moral — can still be found in the Stingaree. That’s the name people give to the 12 blocks bounded by First and Fifth, H (later Market) and K. Because one of the first wharves built on the bay (in 1869) was located at the foot of Fifth, some of the buildings in the area rank among the oldest in the New Town. From the earliest years, saloons operated here, and with the commencement of the Boom, the number of drinking establishments exploded. Gamblers, prostitutes, and other criminals joined the incoming throng, and the Stingaree drew them like a magnet. By 1888, observers were counting 120 bawdy houses and more than 70 bars within the tiny enclave. Some 350 women were selling sex, earning anywhere from $3 to $37.50 per week.
When the boom ended, some left, but many remained. Today people compare San Diego’s red-light district to the Barbary Coast in San Francisco. No decent woman sets foot there (though people do whisper about the “all-purpose” girls who live on Fifth Street and work as sales clerks and office workers during the week, then bring in extra money by prostituting themselves on the weekends). Sometimes the prettiest and most expensive women can be seen driving through the town in carriages rented by their madams, flaunting themselves and even leaving calling cards at the homes of potential clients. But for the most part, the whores don’t venture north of H Street. Messenger boys on bicycles bring them items they’ve ordered from the stores, as well as liquor and even food on trays from nearby restaurants.
Besides the trade in sex, the Stingaree today offers men a dizzying choice of smoke-filled gambling rooms and rat-infested opium dens, cheap flophouses, and raucous bars with names like the Old Tub of Blood. Customers don’t worry about the police intruding. There’s no law against smoking opium or listening to a floozy mangle a tune while you get drunk. Laws do prohibit houses of prostitution, bookmaking, dice, lotteries, and the like, but the authorities look the other way.
For one thing, the police think it’s better to confine the town’s commercial vice to a small area, rather than allowing it to diffuse through the general population, where it would be harder to oversee. For another, the department is shorthanded. Almost as soon as it was founded (10 years ago), its leaders began protesting that they needed more men. Today the force consists of 14 fellows, including the new chief (a former sheriff who also helped to found the San Diego Union 30 years ago). They all wear blue wool uniforms, dark pith helmets, and mustaches. From a block away, you can see the shiny gold buttons that hold their jackets closed and the seven-pointed silver stars pinned to their chests.
The little department is responsible for enforcing the law within both old and new San Diego. They ride the streetcars, working round-the-clock shifts. Some of the work is trivial. Roughly a third of the children in town ignore the compulsory education law and don’t attend school. Some get into trouble, drinking or finding mischief, like the 14-year-old who fell down the elevator shaft at the Hotel del Coronado this week. According to the Union, he and the Japanese elevator boy were joking around when the young passenger realized he had passed his landing. He then grabbed the cable, swung open the door, and announced that he would jump, whereupon he fell to the bottom of the shaft. He was, “wonderful to say, not even unconscious…though severely shaken and stunned.” He is expected to recover after a few days of soreness.
The local police also keep an eye on hoboes, though to tell you the truth, people think the authorities aren’t doing this enough. The current grand jury is even talking about establishing a chain gang for vagrants. The hoboes seem to invade the residential portions of the city in relays, pestering people for food and sometimes pilfering from empty houses. Downtown they hold up pedestrians with appeals for aid that are often neither needed nor deserved.
Such behavior contrasts sharply with that of the average citizen. Many San Diego residents are so honest that if they find something, they advertise in one of the newspapers to try to reunite the object with its rightful owner. “Found — An opera glass handle on First st. near Ash,” read one such notice this week. “Found — Man’s watch,” announced another.
At the same time, the murder rate is high, and brutal assaults do occur. Chinese secret societies that run many of the opium, gambling, and prostitution-slavery rackets account for some of the violence. Last July, for example, two tongs reconfigured their territories within the Stingaree. As a result, one of the two ordered a cook named Quon Long Yung to quit his job at the Mercantile Restaurant, to be replaced by a member of the other tong. Although Quon got another job as a servant, he resented his replacement at the restaurant enough to attack him one day with an iron bar and brass knuckles on Third Street. The man almost died, and Quon was tried for assault with a deadly weapon. (Since his tong controlled the court interpreter, a second interpreter had to be hired to verify the translation.) Convicted, Quon was sentenced to 60 days of jail time, including the time he spent confined before the trial.
White men, rather than Chinese, Negro, or Indian ones, commit the majority of the murders. They kill out of jealousy or injured honor. Not long ago, for instance, Albert J. Foss shot and killed Manuel Bellina, the Mexican-American rancher who held the mortgage on Foss’s mother’s 80-acre ranch up in San Luis Rey. At the subsequent trial, Foss claimed that on the night of the shooting, he heard his dogs bark and called out a challenge before concluding that an intruder had come to molest his mother. Mrs. Foss scoffed at this, asserting that her son hated Bellina, who had been in the habit of visiting her every night. Nonetheless, the all-Anglo jury acquitted the son.
The city’s 1899–1900 business directory lists five separate weapons dealers (more than the number of furniture stores). Handguns cost as little as $2. A top-grade shotgun can be had for $18. Men grab their weapons and kill for amusement or out of pique. Last spring a Russian sailor walked into Daniel Cavanaugh’s bar in the Stingaree, had a drink, and complained that he’d been shortchanged. Before the bar owner could react, the sailor shot him through the head. (The sailor has since been sent to San Quentin for life.)
Fire, Water, and Earth
Although the police may ignore the Stingaree’s vice traffic, they do respond to violent outbursts there. So does the fire department. San Diego firemen have battled 38 conflagrations this year, many of them within the red-light district, where oil heaters frequently explode, igniting the close-set wooden buildings.
The city now employs ten full-time firefighters and one chief engineer who oversees a network of alarm boxes that extends all the way out to 29th Street. The boxes consist of two components, a small iron enclosure and a larger compartment. To call in an alarm, you have to break the glass door of the smaller box and take out the key inside. You use it to open the door of the large box. There’s a hook on the inside that you pull down as far as possible and then release. If you put your ear to the box, you can hear the machinery working.
Sometimes newcomers to the city notice how dry the land is and wonder if there’s water enough to put out a fire (let alone meet the needs of a growing populace). In this regard, things look bright. It’s true you can’t live off the rainfall. Barely six inches have fallen this past year. That’s below average, but San Diego almost never gets a lot of rain. Folks have put their minds and muscles to the task of conserving every drop that does fall. In the 1870s, the San Diego Water Company began drawing water from both the San Diego River and artesian wells and piping it to the city’s first water hydrants (on Fifth) and to a reservoir on the corner of Fifth and Hawthorne. Lots of folks also had private wells driven by windmills, and some made a business of selling what they pumped by the bucket (five cents) or barrel (a quarter).
As the city’s population increased in the 1880s, however, water supplies that once had seemed limitless began to appear inadequate. On the heels of this realization has come a period of dam construction that has to rank among the most ambitious anywhere on earth. The first milestones were the completion of the Sweetwater and Cuyamaca reservoirs. The dam built to create the former is 90 feet tall — the highest in the nation when it was completed. It supplies the water for National City and the new development known as Chula Vista. When the flow began in April of 1888, more than 3000 people rejoiced at a Water Festival. But that celebration paled in comparison with the events that marked the first delivery from the Cuyamaca Reservoir. To transport that water westward, the developers built a 35-mile-long flume. Almost nine million feet of lumber went into the making of it. Six feet wide and 16 inches deep, this structure runs over the mountains and through five tunnels, the longest one 1850 feet. To support it over the low points, 315 trestles were constructed. For the opening day, assorted dignitaries were transported out to the mountains, where they climbed into glass-bottomed boats and raced for several miles down the water-filled chute. Downtown, thousands of people assembled to watch a parade and wait for the jet spray that announced the arrival of the water.
Admiration for the Cuyamaca water has cooled quite a bit since then. The recent drought all but emptied the reservoir, and even when the water has flowed, people complain that it often tastes slimy. Nonetheless, dam-building in other parts of the backcountry has given everyone high expectations for the future. Three massive structures have reached completion in the past four years: one in Escondido’s Bear Valley, one in La Mesa, and a third in Lower Otay, 18 miles southeast of San Diego. The Lower Otay Dam stands 130 feet tall and is almost 400 feet thick. The engineers say that even the strongest earthquake couldn’t threaten it.
Furthermore, the Southern California Mountain Water Company (owned by Elisha Babcock, who built the majestic Hotel del Coronado, and John D. Spreckels, one of the San Francisco sugar barons) has begun building two more awe-inspiring structures — the Barrett Dam, 35 miles east of the city just below the junction of Pine and Cottonwood creeks, and Morena Dam, eight miles beyond Barrett. When water from these begins flowing through the pipelines, county residents will enjoy dominion over the drainage of more than 550 square miles. According to the promoters, that’s enough to irrigate 100,000 acres of land, in addition to supplying the needs of all the city and town dwellers. And if ever it proves insufficient, still more dams could be built to tap the runoff of twice the area currently being exploited.
Even now, the landscape is being transformed. Before the development of the New Town, it was “brown and barren, not a tree or green thing to be seen. A most desolate-looking landscape,” as one newcomer later recalled. Winter rains coaxed some wildflowers out of hiding every spring, but beyond that the rainfall supported only tough scrubby brush. With the arrival of reliable water supplies, however, the townsfolk began to experiment, and they learned that all manner of tropical plants — bougainvillea, poinsettia, oleander, hibiscus, citrus, and more — flourish in the sun-drenched climate.
In 1885, the town also acquired a rich horticultural resource in the form of a 26-year-old woman named Kate Sessions. A native of San Francisco, Miss Sessions first came to San Diego to work as a schoolteacher, but the botanical experiments unfolding all around her caught her eye and captured her imagination. In 1885 some local Poway fruit growers invited her to become their partner in running San Diego’s only nursery (then being offered for sale by its founder). She agreed.
Since then, Miss Sessions has approached her enterprise with extraordinary energy and ingenuity. She’s sent back East for plants such as the South Carolina yellow jasmine and has grown it and other specimens with remarkable success. She’s made it her mission to scout beyond this continent for intriguing flora and has imported everything from Australian eucalyptus trees to Spanish cork oaks to blue agapanthus from South Africa.
Eight years ago, the city council gave her permission to use 30 acres on the southwest corner of Sixth and Upas streets “for the purpose of establishing and developing an experimental nursery and garden” there. The property lies within a huge (1400-acre) parcel of land that was reserved back in 1870 for a “City Park.” At the time, any Easterner would have snickered at the sight of the acreage. Scarcely enough grew on it to support the colonies of wild rabbits. Not until 1889 were the first trees planted (near Sixth and Laurel streets) by the Ladies’ Annex of the Chamber of Commerce. The following year, a large grove of eucalyptus saplings also was established in the northeast corner of the park. But vast areas remained a dusty wasteland when Miss Sessions moved there.
Since then, amazing changes have started taking shape. Near her office, flower fields now extend down into the canyon. As part of her agreement with the city, Miss Sessions promised to plant and care for 100 “choice and varied sorts of trees” within the park every year, and she pledged to give an additional 300 trees “in crocks or boxes to be used by the city in park, street, plaza or school ground planting.” She has filled and exceeded those promises so amply there’s talk the city will soon begin giving trees away to residents and developers willing to install them along the streets.
Should this transpire, there’s sure to be a big demand for them. People here have a passion for growing things, and the climate makes it easy to do. The town now counts five other florists in addition to Miss Sessions. Still few weddings take place without some contributions from her fields, and few married couples build a house without consulting her about the landscaping.
You might wonder how she — and other San Diegans — make their way around the county. They have many options.
The city’s earliest public transit took the form of horse-drawn buses that differed little from the stagecoaches that brought early settlers here. The San Diego Street Car Company offered the first major improvement over this. Founded more than 13 years ago, it ran small wooden cars over lightweight rails. Two horses pulled each streetcar and its load of up to 22 customers. Riders sat on fixed wooden benches and took in the views of the town through red-and-white curtains. Initial service ran along Fifth Street from the bay up to Fir Street; eventually the line reached as far east as Thirty-First Street and National Avenue.
The horses soon had competition from the electric company. The first electric street railway in the western United States began here on November 19, 1887, running cars from downtown to the Old Town along Arctic Street (to be known one day as Kettner). In 1890, San Diego residents also began to travel over cable cars. From a turntable at Sixth and L streets, the eye-catching maroon-and-white cars whizzed up Sixth to C Street, then traveled west on C to Fourth, then headed north to Spruce, where the powerhouse and a second turntable had been built. Late in 1892, the line was extended to the intersection of Park and Adams Avenues, near the site of a recreation park called Mission Cliffs Gardens.
The park, which was built by the cable-car company, is still open, but you can’t reach it by cable car anymore. When the California National Bank failed, the cable-car company went bankrupt, and its final day of service was on October 15, 1892. Parkgoers had to take a combination of electric and horse-drawn streetcars after that. The same year the cable cars stopped running, Mr. Spreckels bought the city’s streetcar system and began electrifying all the cars, completing the transformation a few years ago. Today, San Diego boasts about 15 miles of electric railway.
People also move around the county on an extensive network of steam-powered interurban railroad lines. The San Diego, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla Railway, for example, makes the round-trip passage between downtown and La Jolla three times daily; if all goes well, the journey takes between 45 minutes and an hour (half the time it takes to make the trip by horse and buggy). Separate railways run to Tia Juana (via National City and Chula Vista), out beyond Lakeside (via La Mesa and El Cajon), and to Coronado (via the Silver Strand). You can get to Coronado on a ferry that has operated for more than a dozen years. Point Loma Land and Town Company steamers also provide regular service from downtown San Diego to Roseville, La Playa, and Ballast Point.
Of course muscles — human and equine — still provide motive power. People walk to many destinations or ride bicycles, which are sold, new and old, by a dozen downtown shops. Although the horse-drawn streetcars may be gone, folks still rely on horses, too, as transportation. In the city directory, you’ll find a dozen blacksmiths, three carriage dealers, three carriage manufacturers, nine harness shops, three hack and transfer companies, and 16 livery stables. Distinguished horsemanship is commonplace. Just the other day, for instance, two sailors from the visiting battleship Iowa who were riding near India and H streets made a clever capture of a runaway animal. The horse, a large bay, was in imminent danger of smashing up the buggy attached to it, but the sailors managed to halt the panicked animal and prevent any damage.
Riders often aren’t that fortunate. Consider what happened to John J. Gay a few years ago. Mr. Gay had secured a rig from the Diamond Carriage Company and finished his business quite late in the evening. He drove by the Diamond stables and hired a driver to bring the horses and buggy back to the stables after he reached his home on upper Fifth Street. The horse and the two men were trotting along briskly when the animal struck a pile of lumber left in the street by construction workers. The resulting spill damaged the buggy, injured the horse and driver, and broke Mr. Gay’s arm.
The carriage company sued Mr. Gay, and Mr. Gay sued the owner of the building under construction. Only this week did the lawsuits reach a settlement “satisfactory to all parties concerned.” Many accidents have an even grimmer end. In January, Mrs. J.P. Christensen, the 54-year-old wife of the well-known cement contractor, was out driving in her buggy with her son when a bicycle spooked her animal. While trying to bring it under control, Mrs. Christensen stood up and was thrown out and smashed her head on the ground. She died shortly afterward in her home; such stories are common.
Despite its remote location, San Diego today has better access to developments in the outside world than one might expect. That hasn’t always been the case. Before the founding of the New Town, news made its way here only via word of mouth or in U.S. Mail sacks borne by ships and local express companies.
In 1870, however, the Western Union Company announced that it would bring in a telegraph line if the citizens of the town would guarantee the company $8000 in business within three years. Although 23 firms and individuals agreed to pay for subscriptions, their pledges didn’t add up to the requisite amount until Alonzo Horton stepped in. Father Horton is now an old and impoverished gentleman (though his mind remains sharp and his health and spirits good). Back in 1870, however, he was San Diego’s undisputed business leader, having bought all of New Town (in 1867) and then resold it (at a huge profit) to the folks whom he persuaded to move there from the Old Town and other parts. Horton pledged $5000 to Western Union (in return for receiving a cut of the San Diego telegraph business for three years). The telegraph poles went up, and the first message was wired from San Diego at 10:45 a.m. on August 20, 1870. Composed by Horton, it read, “San Diego sends greetings to San Francisco. Our telegraph is completed today, and we rejoice to be in direct contact with the rest of the world.…”
The Western Union’s office is located at 1416 F Street, and you can send wires at many other locations. The San Diego Union also gets reports from the Associated Press on its own special telegraph line. Mr. Spreckels (who still lives in San Francisco, despite his investments in San Diego) bought the Union nine years ago, and today he comes in for some sharp criticism as well as lively competition from three other dailies: the evening Sun and Tribune and the Vidette (a morning paper like the Union).
The daily newspapers all have telephones, of course. The first public demonstration of that remarkable invention was given here in late 1877, and the San Diego Telephone Company began operating four and a half years later, with 31 initial subscribers. Today, 1200 people subscribe, and there are three exchanges, “Black,” “Red,” and “Main” (e.g., the number of Levi’s Hack & Transfer is 171 Black; Moore’s parcel delivery business is Red 1592). To place a call, you take the receiver off its hook and through the speaker tell the operator whom you want to reach. Fisher, Ward, and Pomeroy include some of the numbers in their 1899–1900 San Diego City and County Directory.
It’s worth picking up a copy of that directory if, like so many Americans, you think a boardinghouse might suit you. Amongst the business listings, the current edition includes almost 100 San Diego lodging establishments, and their prices are reasonable. You can get a furnished room in a central location for 25 to 50 cents a day — less if you’re staying for longer. The Prescott House charges between $1 and $1.50 per week for its “elegantly furnished rooms,” and that’s typical for San Diego. Besides the big commercial institutions, many families take in boarders to earn extra income.
Some boardinghouses provide at least one big meal a day. Some lodgers do their own cooking. But San Diego restaurants also provide economical chow. You can expect to pay 5 cents for a bowl of soup, a cup of coffee, or a pie. Chops or a plain steak (with potatoes, bread, and butter) usually cost a dime, and a tenderloin steak will set you back 15 cents. Five or six dollars will buy a single man all his meals for a week.
As for families, consider the experience recounted in The Golden Era, the well-known literary magazine published here between 1887 and 1895 (when it folded). An article about “Cheap Living in Southern California” written by Harr Wagner, the editor and publisher, makes the case that life in San Diego is no more expensive than that back East. Wagner offers “the record of a family of five” as a case in point. The family consisted of a husband and wife and three children aged 6, 8, and 12. When they moved here, they rented a four-room house in a respectable neighborhood for $15 per month (water cost an additional $2.25). They sold their furniture in the East for $200 and used the money to furnish the house with “everything that was absolutely necessary” — nice ingrain carpet (for 60 cents a yard), a stove ($12.90), an “antique, imitation oak bed room set” ($24), a bed lounge ($15), “and other things in proportion,” Wagner tells us. The father found a job as a track hand on the railroad for $2 per day, 26 days a month. (Jobs requiring more skill or education of course pay more. San Diego teachers, for example, earn $72.50 a month for ten months of the year. The county hospital superintendent makes $100 a month.)
Wagner continues that at the end of a month, after paying for water, groceries, meat, vegetables, coal, clothing, incidentals, and rent, the family had $5 left over. The father invested this in a building association and with $200 that he had saved in the East, he purchased a cheap residential lot. “The climate was so perfect and his health so good that at the end of three months he secured a loan of $600 on his building shares and erected a nice four-room cottage and now saves his rent each month, less the sum of $8, which he pays to the association. His lot is constantly increasing in value; his children are growing up around him; his wife is happy and contented, while he goes to his daily toil satisfied that $2 per day in Southern California is better than $1.50 [the man’s old salary back East] in the land of cheap living.”
As for buying property within the central city, an acre of land is averaging $200 to $300 these days. Prices for homes have climbed a bit from their low ten years ago (right after the crash), when the average price fell to just $1330. Now you’re more apt to have to pay between $2000 and $2500, though it’s hard to generalize, there’s such a range. During the Boom, remarkable mansions were built that have since gone on the market. One is the Villa Montezuma, created for Jesse Shepard, the world-famous concert pianist. In 1887, two wealthy ranchers named John and William High wanted to bring more culture to this area so they offered to build Shepard the house of his dreams if he would leave Europe and move to San Diego. Shepard’s dream home wound up costing them $26,000 to build and furnish, and anyone who sees the place can understand why the expense was so exorbitant. A three-story, 6000-square-foot Queen Anne, it’s topped with a fantastic array of chimneys, towers, and weather vanes that hint at the presence of a flamboyant spirit within. Shepard believed that art demanded originality, so no fireplace, no window, no door handle appears in more than one location in the mansion. He commissioned the John Mallon Company of San Francisco to make stained glass windows that will take the breath away from visitors 100 years from now, so rich and vibrant are their colors. Despite the villa’s glories, however, Shepard was struggling to launch a literary career, and in 1889 he moved back to Europe to do that. Since then the Villa has changed hands several times. A doctor just bought it for only $10,000.
More modest real-estate “snaps” can be found for a fraction of that amount. One broker this week is advertising a three-room cottage in Golden Hill (a fashionable neighborhood just east of the downtown area) on a 50- by 100-foot lot with “fruit enough to keep a small family” for just $650. Another is offering a five-room cottage on Orange Avenue near the Hotel del Coronado for $1500.
A few local homeowners have begun to equip their homes with hot water heaters plumbed to various appliances. E.W. Scripps, the newspaper magnate, for example, has installed Turkish showers and baths at his 400-acre Miramar Ranch. But the majority of San Diego residents clean themselves the way most Americans do. They keep a wash bowl and a pitcher in their bedchamber, and they sponge themselves off over a strip of oilcloth. Some families also have a tin or wooden tub they can set up in the kitchen, but for a thorough soaking, they turn to more than a half-dozen local bathhouses. The best of these offer a fantastic array of fixtures for cleaning and diversion. Patrons at Los Banos, which opened just two years ago at the foot of D Street, can change their clothes in 135 dressing rooms, then choose between 25 porcelain tubs, various showers, one cement tub, and a Russian-style steam bath. They can also frolic in a 95- by 55-foot saltwater pool equipped with a slide, trapeze, springboards, and rings. A balcony built around the pool accommodates spectators, and the building also contains two bowling alleys, as well as a laundry with an electric centrifugal wringer and a steam drying room with a capacity for drying 500 suits an hour.
Residential kitchens in this town vary widely, depending on the grandness of the dwelling. Most middle- and upper-class homes have an icebox, and two companies in San Diego deliver ice. Union Ice imports its frozen product, advertised as “far superior to chemical ice,” all the way from Lake Tahoe.
Although the local mountains do grow wintry in appearance every year, the snowless winters and balmy weather in San Diego can lead outsiders to assume that folks here don’t need to heat their dwellings. The truth is that a damp chill can invade your bones at certain times of the year. On winter nights, the temperature can drop to the 40s, so San Diego merchants sell all manner of heating appliances. Walter Williams, for example, this week is advertising stoves “for the kitchen, parlor, bedroom, store, shops, church, hall, lodge room, or any place that a stove is burning any kind of fuel, as coal, wood, oil, gas, straw, paper, trash or any other old thing.” Sam Ingle is touting a new oil heater called “The Erie,” which he says is absolutely smokeless and odorless. But he’ll also be happy to sell you the latest wood heater (“The Boss”).
People use coal stoves too, despite the dirt and work that they generate. (The School of Housekeeping in Boston this past year did a study of this subject and came up with some interesting conclusions. The researchers found that if you run a modern coal stove for six days, during that time you will spend at least 20 minutes sifting ashes, 24 minutes preparing the fires, 1 hour and 48 minutes tending the fires, 30 minutes emptying ashes, 15 minutes bringing in the coal, and 2 hours and 9 minutes blacking the stove to keep it from rusting. They didn’t consider the additional time required during spring and fall cleanings to remove the coal dust.)
Many sources of dust torment the housewives of San Diego; most women spend hours every week struggling to banish the grit and other dirt tracked in to their domains. The new hand-pushed carpet sweepers such as those made by the Bissell Company have started to ease this job a bit, and a couple of local businesses are now steam-cleaning carpets. The advances, however, have hardly been sufficient to liberate most women, who also shoulder the responsibility for cooking and baking and garbage disposal and laundry (unless they hire it out) and window washing and airing out the feather beds and gardening and on and on — the list of quotidian chores can seem endless. On top of the housework, the act of procuring goods seems to consume more time than ever.
Paradoxically, it’s never been easier to buy things. People have more money, and the quantity of goods for sale seems to have exploded — not to mention the variety of ways in which they can be bought. This is true all over America, and San Diego’s no exception.
It’s hard to think of any item you can’t get here. You can buy an Angelus player piano from George Birkel (on Fourth Street), who boasts that he’ll sell any piano made for as low a price as that offered by any other piano dealer in the country. You can secure insurance from almost two dozen local agents. You can find racy, rubber-tired go-carts (five dollars apiece at Chadbourne’s furniture store), and gas lamps for your bicycle or carriage from Nolan and Tibbals (the cycle mechanics), who point out in their advertisement that “Besides the satisfaction of knowing where you are, [a gas lamp] may save you an accident and broken bones.”
If you need teeth, Dr. Simms will make you a set for $7. In the next block, Boyd’s China Store is selling champagne and wine glasses for anywhere from 40 cents to $24.50 per dozen. A little farther down the street, Chong Hoy’s curio shop is stuffed with Japanese vases, ivory jewel cases, silk handkerchiefs, sandalwood fans, Chinese dolls, Mexican hand-carved leather goods, and more. Here and elsewhere, you’ll also find firecrackers, black powder, roman candles, and other pyrotechnical supplies for the New Year’s Eve festivities. Should you manage to think of something that seems to be missing from the shelves of local merchants, you can count on procuring it from one of the mail-order catalogs. Sears Roebuck’s “Big Book” now weighs four pounds.
Most folks buy their groceries closer to home, of course. As yet, none of the big national food stores such as A&P or Kroger’s has opened an outlet in San Diego, a fact that some think is a blessing. Instead, around 75 independent grocers do business here. A few require cash, but most extend the usual credit. Many have stocked up on delicacies for the holidays. Hamilton’s (at 933 Fifth) is advertising finnan haddies this week, as well as Jordan almonds, junket tablets, French peas, tinned clam juice, and Bent’s water crackers. Forbes & Schultz has laid in some oak leaf butter. Vincent & Sellors is advertising Eastern sweet pickles (25 cents a quart), snowflake oysters (two cans for a quarter), and prepared pumpkin (10 cents a package).
Prices of staples are far more reasonable, of course. Four pounds of top-grade rice can be had for 25 cents, and sugar runs about a nickel a pound. You can buy a dozen roasting chickens for $3.50 to $4, and a three-pound can of peaches, pears, gooseberries, apples, apricots, blackberries, or plums will cost you 15 cents.
As for fresh produce, Chinese peddlers sell a lot of it. That wasn’t the case just ten years ago. Then the Chinese dominated San Diego’s fishing industry, supplying most of the fresh fish (mainly barracuda, mullet, sheepshead, and abalone) and also drying much of what they caught on large racks next to the bay and exporting it. Too many white people resented them, however, so laws were passed that drove the Orientals from the water. Since then, dozens of them have started growing carrots, beets, turnips, spinach, peas, beans, parsley, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, corn, radishes, cucumbers, pepper, and other crops. They load the day’s harvest into buckets suspended from yokes fitted over their shoulders and neck. Walking from door to door, they also sell housewives 10-cent tickets for the daily lotteries held in the Stingaree. (You pick ten characters, and if seven out of the ten are right, you win $18. For eight out of ten, the prize is $80, and if you select all ten, there’s a $2000 jackpot.)
More than 100 local Chinese also work in laundries, and some run stores and restaurants. A couple are tailors, but white people overwhelmingly dominate San Diego’s clothing business. A dozen and a half ladies have a listing under “Dressmakers” in the city directory, and almost that many are hatmakers. More than 30 independent shoemakers have a listing.
Nowadays more and more folks buy their clothing and footwear ready-made. Most items fit well enough, and the prices can be irresistible. This week, for instance, Lesinsky’s is offering men’s suits for only $7.95 apiece. Marston’s is advertising new women’s silk skirts (“very handsome…cut in the latest shape and trimmed with accordion pleating or pinked ruffles”) in deep blue, cerise, purple, and changeable green for $10 to $14.
Marston’s falls into a category all its own. It’s to San Diego what Wanamaker’s is to Philadelphia or Marshal Field’s to Chicago — the grandest and most successful department store in town (in fact, the only one here). It came into being as a humble dry goods store at Fifth and F but has enjoyed steady growth since then. Three years ago, the Marston family erected a four-story, steel-framed building (the city’s first) on the corner of Fifth and C, a site so far uptown that it defied common business sense. But customers have jammed through the doors and exclaimed at what they’ve seen from the opening day onward. Daylight streams through a glass dome that sits atop the central light well. At night, a circle of incandescent lights around the dome casts a brilliant glow on the ecru walls and white Orford cedar trim. Displays of merchandise catch the eye, and the store’s modern system for transporting cash adds a futuristic flourish to the scene. The little cash boxes dart on cables from every part of the building to the cashier’s desk and back to their starting points. A second-floor reception room furnished with thick carpeting, mirrors, pictures, a mantel, and inviting chairs provides a place for ladies to rest and chat. Today, no one calls the store “Marston’s Folly” anymore. If you visit no other commercial emporium in town, you must see this one.
The Local Economy
A number of industries generate the dollars to support San Diego’s growing consumer activity. Farming is the biggest. As noted earlier, an astonishing variety of plants grow here, and many have proven profitable for those who raise them. Lemons and oranges constitute the two biggest export crops at the moment. In fact, San Diego now produces more lemons than any other county in the United States. Over 400,000 trees, including Eurekas, Villa Francas, and Lisbons, have been planted on as many as 10,000 acres throughout the county. These produced 469 steamer and rail-car loads of lemons during this past year. An additional 350 carloads of Valencia and navel oranges also traveled from San Diego to consumers nationwide.
Raisin grapes have become another important crop, and hay, alfalfa, oats, barley, wheat, and corn fields yield well here. San Diego County nurserymen have begun cultivating apples, limes, olives, guavas, grapefruit, loquats, peaches, pears, apricots, nectarines, prunes, plums, figs, quinces, pomegranates, persimmons, pecans, almonds, English walnuts, and other grape varieties. Not all the current agricultural experiments are edible. Mr. Kroenert, who’s been raising tobacco for the past three years on land at 39th and R streets, raves about the quality of the leaves his plants have produced; he’s predicting that San Diego will soon pose a threat to Cuba. Already local cigar makers are producing 5- to 15-cent stogies from them. In the new subdivision of Minneapolis Beach, 35 miles north of San Diego, some former Minnesota residents are equally optimistic about the potential for a local silk industry. They’ve imported both the worms and the mulberry trees to nurture them. Samples of the threads will be sent to the huge exposition in Paris this coming year.
In the rocky hills of the backcountry, cattle are already providing a good living to any number of ranchers. Around 1886, two stockmen began breeding thoroughbred Herefords to the existing Mexican and Texas varieties. The Herefords proved so impressive that today at least three-quarters of the county’s herds have the white faces of the breed. Despite the last two very dry years, the cattle appear to be thriving, with two-year-old steers fetching nearly $40 each. The animals range over a vast area including Smith Mountain, Warner Ranch, Mesa Grande, and Ballena in the north. On the coast, Santa Margarita ships thousands of head of beef every year. In the southeast, Campo boasts the richest grass valleys in the county.
A very different sort of ranching can be observed on Coronado, three blocks north of the grand hotel. W.H. Bentley has husbanded a large flock of ostriches on some land there, and he invites visitors to enjoy the antics of the comical animal. He sells ostrich eggs and plumes, along with the beautiful creations that can be made with both. No one eats the birds’ meat. That can’t be said for the sea life teeming in the waters off San Diego. Portuguese and Italians have taken the place of the Chinese fishermen, and they’re now not only selling their catch to local markets, but packing fresh fish and lobsters in ice and sending them via Wells Fargo to destinations as far away as Kansas City.
Along with the animal and vegetable riches of San Diego County, people have been exploiting the mineral bounty for almost 30 years. A Negro rancher named Fred Coleman found the first placer gold in the eastern mountains early in 1870, and subsequent strikes kicked off a minor gold rush. By the mid-’70s, millions of dollars of the yellow metal had been extracted from the rocky environs of Julian, though many of the veins proved shallow and difficult to extract.
By 1875 mines were closing in quick succession, but a number of gold miners have continued to wrest a living from the rocky mountains, and prospecting in San Diego appears to be enjoying a resurgence. One of the local assayers, Col. Robbins, reports last week receiving more than 30 separate ore samples suspected to contain not only gold but also silver, copper, lead, zinc, manganese, and/or tellurium. These samples came from all over the county as well as from Lower California.
Apart from the precious metals, rumors of oil fields in the North County are circulating, and the gem mines of the Mesa Grande District have already proven themselves a field of opportunity. Men are digging out gem-quality tourmaline, along with beryl, garnets, pale rose kunzite, topaz, and fine transparent crystals. The reigning Chinese empress in particular is said to have a ravenous appetite for tourmaline, and shipments from the port of San Diego to her palaces have begun.
So many other marvels have passed through the port the past 12 months they’ve prompted the customs collector, W.W. Bowers, to declare the dawn of a new era. He’s saying that the 21st of January, 1899, will enjoy a permanent place in future history books. On that day, the steamship Belgian King entered the harbor laden with cargo from China and Japan. The arrival of the boat, which was operated by the California and Oriental Steamship Company, marked the opening of a new commercial route that has since brought nine other large steamships here from the Orient. That traffic, moreover, represents only a small part of the port’s total activity. Some 108 sailing vessels and 218 steamers have entered San Diego’s harbor during the past 12 months. This week ships are due from Hamburg, London, Hong Kong, and other parts.
Mr. Bowers says that in this past November alone, imports, exports, and duties recorded at the customhouse totaled $618,523, compared to $444,000 for all 12 months of 1895. For the past 11 months, he says, long trains of railroad cars bearing many of the imports have been rolling out of San Diego bound for New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Detroit, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. “I am fully aware,” Mr. Bowers noted in a recent report, “that the mere fact of being located upon a commercial thoroughfare along which passes an untold amount of traffic signifies little or nothing to any place, no more than it does to the farmer who lives between stations. Whether one or fifty trains pass by his farm each day he is neither the richer or poorer for it. But it is of immense importance to that point upon the route where all trains stop and all ships come to anchor, and all the traffic that passes either way, all freight and all passengers, must be transferred from ship to car, or car to ship. Such places become points of distribution, and at such places cities grow, always; there are no exceptions. At such a point is San Diego situated.”
Besides the commercial traffic, another cause of the increased activity in the bay has been the United States government. Two years ago, when the war with Spain began, the Navy ordered the U.S.S. Pinta to use San Diego as a permanent base. The warship, a 550-ton gunboat armed with a Gatling gun and two cannon, still makes her home here and other Navy vessels often join her. The Marblehead and the Philadelphia, both cruisers, are in port, and the battleship Iowa has been anchored outside the harbor this week. As a result, more sailors have been swarming the streets of the city than have been seen in many months.
There’s reason to believe still more will join them in the future. For the past two years, the U.S. Army has been fortifying the harbor entrance. When completed, the $1.5 million defenses should make San Diego Bay as secure from attack as any port in the world. Six ten-inch rifled cannons are being installed in concrete emplacements that will cover the main channel entrance. Sixteen additional 12-inch mortars will sit atop Point Loma, while two swivel-station rifles will help guard the extreme tip of the beach. Plans also call for placing 16 more 12-inch mortars on a 50-acre site south of the Hotel del Coronado. A torpedo casement on Ballast Point and a system of remote-controlled mines will further augment the defenses.
Although the present bloody battles in the Philippines lie a great distance from San Diego, sometimes the presence of war seems much nearer. On Christmas Eve, 27 members of the state militia’s B Company staged a practice shoot in Pacific Beach. They fired at life-size silhouette figures made of steel frames covered with cloth and paper. Ten were lying down, ten kneeling, and ten standing. Out of 324 bullets fired by the Company B members, 141 hit their targets.
A comprehensive list of all the ways San Diegans are making a living would be too long for inclusion here. The public schools employ close to 80 teachers, plus there’s also a new state teacher’s college and several private schools. Undertakers and clerks and bricklayers can be found in San Diego. Barbers trim the men’s mustaches, bakers produce the breads and pastries, and more than 70 members of the bar represent the disputatious. Two industries, however, merit a bit more extended discussion.
Before the arrival of the California Southern 16 years ago, travel to San Diego was an ordeal. The trains changed that; the journey itself became a source of pleasure, an adventure. Middle-class Americans began indulging in holiday travel for the first time ever. Given San Diego’s dependably mild climate, local residents needed only to spread the word about the city in order to begin attracting tourists and their dollars.
Many individuals have responded to that challenge. Two early promoters were Elisha Babcock and Hampton L. Story. A prosperous engineer and railroad investor from Indiana, Babcock came to San Diego seeking a cure for his tuberculosis. Once here, he and Story, a Chicago piano manufacturer, rowed across the bay one day and discovered that the sandy peninsula facing the New Town was teeming with jackrabbit, cottontail, and quail. While hunting there in the summer of 1885, Babcock had a vision: A grand resort hotel could take shape on the site, one the equal of anything being constructed in England or on the eastern seaboard.
San Diego at that time already boasted two first-class hostelries. Alonzo Horton had opened the first one with great fanfare in 1870. Situated in the center of the New Town, it faced a half-block park that Horton had dedicated to the enjoyment of the townspeople, as well as his hotel guests. The two-and-a-half-story, brick Horton House offered occupants such luxuries as electric bells for summoning help from the main desk and spring mattresses stuffed with “the best curled hair.” The town’s first true resort hotel, the Florence, built in 1884, was set on a knoll at Third and Fir streets (a solid mile from the center of town). Guests who arrived for the opening imagined themselves to be in a Spanish hacienda, one with a central courtyard enclosed within gracious wings and commanding superlative views of the city, bay, and peninsula. Every room featured a black-and-white marble fireplace, and double walls buffered every occupant from his neighbors; dogs, parrots, and similar nuisances were prohibited. Rates were $2.50 to $3 per day, $14 to $20 a week.
Babcock and Story nonetheless dreamed of creating something even grander, and they came up with a scheme for financing it. In December of 1885 they bought the entire peninsula (some 4185 acres) for $110,000, and they immediately began directing teams of mules and men to clear the brush and level the ground. They also formed a financial syndicate, the Coronado Beach Company, and they launched a national promotional campaign. As a result, a number of Eastern newspapers began reporting daily San Diego temperatures. Rand-McNally published a pamphlet extolling the benefits of life in Coronado. Interested investors were urged to come and buy land next to where the soon-to-be-world-famous hotel would arise.
The first auction of the lots took place on November 13 and 14, 1886. Roughly half the population of San Diego (some 6000 people) showed up for it, and hundreds put down money. This and subsequent sales earned the syndicate almost $2.2 million, and groundbreaking for the hotel took place just 59 days after the first land sale. Over the next 12 months, the building site exploded with frantic activity; at times the work went on around the clock. Unskilled Chinese workers toiled beside master carpenters and other craftsmen recruited from San Francisco and Oakland. Furniture began arriving in November of 1887, followed the next month by expert cooks, waiters, doormen, housekeepers, and other personnel imported from big cities back East. On February 1, 1888, less than 13 months after the first shovel was driven into the earth, sojourners began arriving.
The massive structure that greeted those guests had cost well over a million dollars to construct and equip. It offered every convenience: electric lighting, modern bathrooms with flush toilets (73 for the 399 bedrooms), telephones and even a telegraph office, safes built into the wall of every room. The building’s piece de resistance was the gigantic pillar-free dining room, topped with a sugar pine ceiling that had been hand-fitted without a single nail.
Over the years since then, the Hotel del Coronado has continued to add improvement after improvement. Hot and cold saltwater swimming pools have been built, and a steam-heating plant was installed two years ago. Mr. Babcock and Mr. Story have sold their interest in the hotel to Mr. Spreckels, but Mr. Babcock just acquired the ownership of the Brewster, another of San Diego’s finest hotels.
Built at the corner of Fourth and C in the same year that the Hotel del Coronado opened, the Brewster boasts the most lavish bridal chambers in the state, as well as fire escapes, incandescent lighting, and steam heat in the halls. Yet another top-notch downtown hotel is the eye-catching St. James; tin plates nailed to the exterior of its top three stories make them glitter like a ballroom globe. Even the venerable Horton House has added enticements over the years. A stuffed golden eagle (shot in Linda Vista a few years ago) has been mounted in the lobby, and two diamonds have been embedded in its entryway — a curiosity and an emblem of the luxury within. Meanwhile, Ulysses S. Grant Jr. two months ago purchased the Florence Hotel, whose service and accommodations continue to enjoy a lustrous reputation.
The first-class hotels compete aggressively for both short- and long-term guests. At both the train and steamship depots, you’ll see runners touting the virtues of their employers to the new arrivals. Not for only the tourists, but also for San Diego’s residents, the local first-class hotels serve as the setting for this town’s most important social functions. Banquets, gala balls, and holiday programs unfold in them, and local citizens may be found relaxing in their bars, billiard parlors, and reading rooms.
Health and Healers
The health-enhancing benefits of San Diego’s climate have drawn both tourists and permanent settlers. Irving Gill, the up-and-coming architect, moved here six years ago for that reason, and among San Diego business leaders who arrived seeking healthier lives for themselves or their families you’d have to count not only Mr. Babcock, but also Mr. Grant, Mr. Scripps, Joseph Jessup (the jeweler), and others.
People talk of local Indians who have lived to extreme old age. They cite mortuary statistics showing that San Diego has the lowest death rate of any city its size in America. “The equability and salubrity of our climate is especially genial to children, to the enervated, and aged people,” Dr. D. Gochenauer states in a special report on health published this week in the San Diego Union. “Children are rarely heard to cry here, nor are they as peevish, cross, and quarrelsome as are the children who live in less comfortable climates.”
Some think the local spring waters possess curative powers (and water has been bottled and sold with that assurance). Others, such as Dr. Peter C. Remondino, believe that the warm, dry air heals tubercular lungs. A native of Italy, Dr. Remondino immigrated as a youth to Minnesota and later served in both the U.S. and French armies. After he contracted malaria, he undertook an exhaustive study of climate and its impact on health. His investigation convinced him to move to San Diego, and today he’s an evangelist for medical climatology in general and San Diego in particular. “I have known chests to gain three to four inches in circumference and two to three inches in expansion in the course of eighteen months’ residence in the San Diego bay region, and that too, in the cases of persons who were pulmonary invalids on arrival,” he has stated.
The paradoxical result of such claims is that the city is full of sick people. “It is doubtful if there can be found elsewhere a population more extensively contaminated with the tendency to pulmonary disease,” two physicians were reporting almost 20 years ago in The Pacific Medical Journal. In this “hospital of one-lungers,” an extensive industry has sprung up to tend to those who are ailing.
More than a dozen druggists do a brisk business throughout the streets of the New Town, and the newspapers are stuffed with notices extolling miraculous pharmaceutical agents. Dr. Shiloh’s Cough and Consumption Cure (available from Strahlmann’s pharmacy) “is beyond question the most successful Cough Medicine ever known to science,” a typical ad states. “Its wonderful success in the cure of Consumption is without a parallel in the history of medicine.” Dr. E.C. West’s Nerve and Brain Treatment is said to cure weak memory, dizziness, wakefulness, fits, hysteria, evil dreams, lack of confidence, nervousness, lassitude, youthful errors, or excessive use of tobacco, opium, or liquor, “which leads to misery, consumption, insanity, and death.” (Advertisements recommend the “extra strength” version for impotency, loss of power, lost manhood, sterility, or barrenness.) Dr. R.V. Pierce’s medicine banishes the pain of childbirth and “has cured more cases of female complaint than all other medicines for women combined.”
When intensive care is required, city residents can turn to a half dozen hospitals and sanitariums. Almost 100 physicians live and do business here. Furthermore, San Diego has become a mecca for odder approaches to restoring wellness. Dr. Lady Lenore, for example, who describes herself as a “noted magnetic healer and diagnostician,” has just opened parlors “for the treatment of both mind and body” in the Allyn Block on the southwest corner of Fifth and E streets. She claims to be “gifted with the power to heal by the laying on of hands, and…the power to see the cause of the disease.” Dr. Low Luke, an “eminent Chinese physician,” dispenses curative herbs from his office on F Street. Mrs. R.B. McKlustry, an “electric needle specialist,” offers “the only known method of destroying superfluous hair and moles.” (She also sells a face bleach.)
Some of the town’s mainstream medical practitioners, too, have shown a willingness to experiment. Charlotte Baker, who served as president of the San Diego Medical Society a few years ago, routinely uses hypnosis in her practice to relieve pain. Of course Dr. Charlotte’s gender also makes her something of a path breaker. (Two years before she graduated from the University of Michigan’s medical school, the 1880 census counted only 2432 women physicians in the entire country.) But Dr. Charlotte and her husband Fred (an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist) in other ways are typical. After moving here 12 years ago, they set up offices on the corner of Fifth and C streets, living with their young son and daughter and running their medical practices from there for ten years. Two years ago they bought just under an acre of land on Point Loma, across the bay. They’ve built a two-story house (the first in that area), and now they sail from it to their office in the New Town. On an average day, they each might see five or six patients, but misfortune, contagion, and happenstance can more than double that workload. Dr. Charlotte, for instance, once made 11 house calls, in addition to tending to three patients in her office, in the course of a hectic day.
At other times the hours spin out, long and languid. For all its dreams of bustling industry, San Diego still lags behind the hurrying pace of America’s great metropolises. People get to know each other here, and the local newspapers help them keep track of each other’s doings. If you were reading the papers closely this week, for example, you’d learn that Sam Nickson has gone to Los Angeles to spend the holidays with his parents. You’d find the latest news of Miss Clara Ingle of Coronado (who’s been abroad for several months) dispatched in a letter from Egypt, where she was hoping to proceed to Bethlehem. You’d note that the Western Union telegraph office was holding an undelivered telegram for Mrs. H. Head, and you’d probably shake your head and wonder where she was (or perhaps you’d already know). You certainly would refrain from asking Alex Bjornson (“as hundreds have already done”) what was the matter with his face. The Hotel del Coronado host broke his nose while making a backward spring off the diving board the other day, and he’s feeling a bit embarrassed by the way he looks.
Myriad activities bring folks together to exchange news face-to-face. Worshipping tops the list. At no time of the week will you find greater traffic — pedestrian and horseback — than on Sunday mornings. Almost 40 religious groups run the gamut from the Anglo Israelites to the Unitarians. Some of the congregations have built beautiful specimens of architecture, equipped with all the conveniences necessary for carrying on the numerous departments of modern church work. Other worshippers make do with less. Holy Rollers gather in tents, writhing on the ground and sometimes ripping off their clothes in their ecstasies. Revival services draw enthusiastic crowds; one is taking place this week every night in the American Volunteers armory on Fourth Street.
Many San Diegans also seem attracted to Spiritualism. It’s not hard to find a séance being given by a visiting medium or scheduled as a weekly curiosity. James Russell can tell you about one that used to be held at a boardinghouse in Old Town. Marvels such as rapping on the table, voices from the dead, and sand being changed into sugar held participants spellbound, until Russell (who was constable at the time), crawled under the house and discovered one night that the Mexican woman who ran the place was using a little Indian girl to carry out the tricks.
Physical, as well as spiritual, diversions abound. A coterie of fans turns out to watch the local baseball team, which is enjoying some success. The San Diegos just defeated the Los Angeles Athletics at a game held Christmas Eve at Bay View Park. (Some say baseball attendance in Southern California has suffered since the San Bernardino team ended a game by walking off the field in protest of a disputed call. This almost happened here on Christmas Eve, but the San Diego players finally consented to return to the field.)
Football, too, has been gaining adherents. At 3 p.m. on Christmas Day, 1600 spectators paid a quarter each to enter the Bay View Park gates (and ten cents more if they wanted grandstand seats) to watch 11 lads from San Diego’s Russ High School battle the Los Angeles High School players for the championship. The game could have turned out better; San Diego lost, and people grumbled about all the stops made after rushes to give winded or injured players time to recover. However, another engagement two days after Christmas between Russ’s second-string players and a team composed of sailors from the Philadelphia gave the local fans more reason to smile. “The naval team was composed of good material, but the men showed the lack of training,” one newspaper recounted the next day. “The team was organized only three weeks ago, and yesterday’s game was the first played by them on shore. Their practice has been confined to the decks of the Philadelphia, and there is not much room there for making end runs and punts.” As a consequence, the high school boys beat the sailors 14 to 0.
Some folks swim in the bay. You’ll see hundreds jump off the steamship wharf on New Year’s Day, an annual stunt that seems to amuse both young and old. People row year-round, and they’ve formed several active rowing clubs. The oarsmen also have been joined by a yachting group that has begun organizing regattas. Other folks devote their energies to extracting the ample bounty hidden within the local waters. Anson Mills, for example, plucked more than 20 abalone from the shores of La Jolla the other day. The fish catch from the Hotel del Coronado’s new stone jetty for the day after Christmas included 342 pounds of halibut, 371 pounds of rock cod, 290 pounds of smelt, and three jewfish weighing 150, 145, and 160 pounds, respectively.
Coronado seems to lure athletes and sportsmen of all sorts. Regular water polo games take place at the bathhouse; the season opens this week with a match between teams from Coronado and San Diego. Duck hunters use the hotel as a base for forays out to Otay Mesa. All the social events in town have distracted them this week, but the nine men who went out on Saturday bagged 302 birds. On the hotel’s golf course, the only one in the state with grass greens, a nine-link ladies’ tournament was held the morning after Christmas. The gentlemen played over 18 holes that afternoon, and afterward, refreshments were served at the clubhouse.
Some of the sporting associations have turned into social clubs. When five bicycling enthusiasts got together eight years ago to start the San Diego Wheelmen, who could have predicted they would build a facility that would one day compete with the Stingaree? But such has been the case. The Wheelmen’s quarters now include a comfortable parlor equipped with a fine piano. Oil paintings and steel engravings cover the walls. A warm, well-lighted reading room contains a full assortment of daily newspapers, reviews, and periodicals, illustrated weekly newspapers, and more than 200 volumes of literature, including “not a single volume that a mother would hesitate to place in the hands of her son.”
The second floor contains a large billiard room equipped with two billiard and two pool tables. “There is also a comfortable card room where the members of advanced years may be seen daily playing their favorite game of whist,” one recent visitor noted. “The best features of the institution are, however, that no beverages or tobacco in any form can be obtained on the premises and that gambling in any form results in the expulsion of the member at fault. As respectable young men of 21 years old, and over, are eligible for membership, one may frequently see the octogenarian and the young together at either billiards or cards, the result being that of stimulating the one and restraining the other.”
The Wheelmen’s club costs one dollar to join; dues are 50 cents a month. Ladies — accompanied by a member between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. — may inspect the premises. If that facility lacks appeal, the Cuyamaca Club might beckon. A “Landmarks Club of California” and a “Pastime Gun Club” are other alternatives, and every week, Elks and Foresters and Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows and Masons and Maccabees and Native Sons of the Golden West and Workmen and Woodmen meet for ceremonies that range from brief to baroque. A sociable San Diego gentleman might hardly ever be home.
Yet the home, too, has become a source of diverse amusements. In their free hours, San Diegans play such games as charades, bridge, euchre, chess, checkers, dominoes, Twenty Questions, croquet, and lawn tennis with friends and family members. They perfect new tunes on those pianos they’ve bought from Mr. Birkel. Women and their daughters bend over their needlework, and whole families get caught up in doing crafts. Woodburning is popular. They make forays to the local beaches to gather seashells and mosses; then they turn them into art works. They take a more passive pleasure in looking at Underwood & Underwood stereographic slides that bring the world’s wonders — in three dimensions — to the privacy of their parlors.
They read. Bestsellers (historical novels such as Winston Churchill’s Richard Carvel and Paul Leicester Ford’s Janice Meredith, as well as inspirational works such as Charles Sheldon’s In His Steps) are available from a half dozen stationery stores. For classic works of literature, people can turn to the local public library, open every day of the week. Its 15,000 volumes occupy makeshift quarters in the Keating Building at the moment, but San Diego book lovers soon will have something to boast about. Last June the third Mrs. Horton (young Lydia) wrote to Andrew Carnegie and told him about the poor state of affairs here. The steel magnate replied that he would give the town $50,000 for a library — the first of his bibliophilic endowments west of the Mississippi. San Diego officials have pledged to maintain the facility and provide a site. They’ve just settled upon the south half of the block facing E Street between Eighth and Ninth.
Other cultural wellsprings are already a reality. Although Jesse Shepard has left town, the Amphion Club was organized in 1893 “to stimulate a higher degree of musical education among its members and also to elevate the musical taste of the community.” Last year, the members began importing concert artists to perform on local stages. Up in La Jolla, Miss Anna Held (a former governess for the Grant family) has established her Green Dragon Colony as a refuge for artists, actors, musicians, and writers. Perhaps the most amazing development has been the arrival of Katherine Tingley, the head of the American Theosophical Society. After General John J. Fremont confirmed her dream about the building of “a white city in a golden land by the sundown sea,” Madame Tingley in 1896 had her agents buy 130 acres on Point Loma. Workers laid the first cornerstone for the School for the Revival of Lost Mysteries of Antiquity the next year. Since then the Point Loma site has become the international headquarters for the new International Brotherhood & Theosophical Society and buildings such as a beautiful Greek theater have begun to take shape.
Closer to the heart of San Diego, the Fisher Opera House opens its doors nightly. Built eight years ago of steel and brick, the Fisher has been called “the handsomest theater in America.” Its Romanesque lines dominate the east side of Fourth Street between B and C. The ivory-and-gold-toned interior holds 1400 red velvet seats; red carpeting from Brussels covers the floor. Crystal chandeliers provide lighting for the audience. Everything from opera to Shakespearean tragedy to minstrel shows has illuminated its stage.
This past week, the W.R. Dailey stock company has been performing there. On Christmas Day, they staged a matinee production of The New South, followed by Esmeralda. Ticket sellers had to turn patrons away for the evening show; every seat was filled. People even crowded into the upper tier of boxes, something that hasn’t happened for several months. (A seat there or in one of the loges costs 50 cents versus 10 to 30 cents for one of the regular seats.)
Throughout the rest of this week, May Nannary, Darrell Vinton, and the other members of the company have been drawing respectable-sized audiences to A Model Husband (Tuesday), Hamlet (Wednesday), Shaugraun (Thursday), and The New Magdalene (Friday). On New Year’s Eve, a matinee performance of Hazel Kirke will be given, followed by an evening production of Current Cash. Something special has been announced for January 1: a rare revival of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. “Settings of great proportion” have been promised, and the great star triumvirate of Louis James, Kathryn Kidder, and Charles B. Hanford will play the leading roles. (Tickets for this Wagenhals & Kemper production will range from 25 cents to $1.50.)
The Coming New Year
People in San Diego have been bickering about the significance of this year’s conclusion. Some see it as momentous. Eugene Capps (the young attorney) and Mary Hudson have scheduled their wedding to begin just before midnight on the 31st. The Rev. John L. Pitner, pastor of the First Methodist Church, will conduct the ceremony in the parlors of the Bon Ton (the D Street boardinghouse where Eugene lives). Only the families will attend, but masses of roses, cala lilies, and smilax will make the room look like something out of a dream. Eugene and Mary plan to exchange their vows under a bell of roses, and afterward they’ll boast that their wedding spanned two centuries.
But most folks would argue the point with them. The majority holds that the end of the 1800s doesn’t signal the start of the 20th Century. “This is not a new century any more than 100 cents is more than a dollar” is the way one of the newspapers has put it. “The second dollar does not begin until the 100-cent mark is past.”
So you won’t find any “end-of-the-century” sales this week. None of the newspapers are looking back over the past 100 years. If the organized merriment has been more plentiful than usual, if the children running through the streets seem wilder, no one’s explaining this as the manifestation of a historic turning point.
The holiday traditions, the excitement generated by the visiting sailors, seem explanation enough. Townsfolk have organized all manner of children’s parties on Christmas and in the days that have followed. Almost 300 youngsters attended the one at the Hotel del Coronado. Led by Mr. Bjornson, they entered the ballroom from the main parlor just as the orchestra struck up a march. “They circled about the brilliant tree, happy and glad, with beaming eyes and expectant faces,” the Union reported. “Halting in front of the stage, they sang their Christmas greeting, after which the Rev. Dr. Perkins of Louisville, Ky., spoke briefly upon the day and its significance.” After another song, the children greeted Santa Claus, who passed out boxes of bon-bons, along with “hundreds and hundreds” of toys that had been hung from the tree.
Accounts of these events have appeared in the newspapers, along with mention of Miss Mouser’s Friday night tamale party, Miss Watkins’s crokinole party, Miss Wiard’s afternoon card party, and other gatherings. A more formal assembly drew almost 300 adults to the Florence Hotel on the evening of the 30th. Some of the visiting naval officers attended (in full dress uniform), while any lady who had a new gown donned it for the occasion. Red and green bunting entwined with poinsettias and Christmas berries stretched from the ballroom entrance to the hotel sun parlors, where supper was served at midnight amidst palms, garlands of smilax, and clusters of the Christmas berries.
All week long, the gasoline schooner Elliot has been carrying townsfolk out to the visiting naval ships (charging 50 cents for the round-trip passage from the Santa Fe wharf). Once aboard, people have been snapping photos with their new Kodak Brownies. For Christmas, some of the sailors stayed on board the Philadelphia and staged competitions that included a greased pole walk, pie-eating, a tug-of-war, an obstacle race, a coin scramble, hurdle races, and jumping. But hundreds of their uniformed comrades spread out on shore leave. Twenty-eight of them hired a tally-ho and took it to El Cajon, where the townspeople served them a turkey dinner. Other sailors attended the afternoon football game or the evening performance at the Fisher Opera House. On Christmas afternoon, the Philadelphia’s Marine band gave an open-air concert at the Hotel del Coronado.
The band will play again there at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The program will include the “Nigger Fracasee” march, a selection from the third act of Wagner’s Lohengrin, a sextette from Donizetti’s Lucia, and other pieces. In San Diego, the Company B band will entertain merrymakers throughout the evening.
At midnight, some people will be in church. St. Paul’s, the Episcopal church, has scheduled a service, and the First Methodists have announced a watch meeting. To the amazement of local Catholics, Pope Leo XIII has given permission for a High Mass to be celebrated — the first time a midnight mass has been allowed on New Year’s Eve in centuries. (Although the Holy Father has made it clear that the new century will not begin until a year from now, he has proclaimed 1900 to be a year of jubilee and called for the special service to usher it in.)
For the occasion, a special choir, accompanied by an orchestra, will sing one of Gounod’s masses. But the worshippers will have to struggle to keep their attention on the music inside St. Joseph’s Cathedral. At the stroke of 12, a cacophony of steam whistles, firecrackers, bombs, tinhorns, and other noisemakers will mix with the sounds of the militia band and the voices of well-wishers. In all the excitement, someone will turn in a fire alarm at Fourth and Beech streets, but the firemen will find nothing amiss there and return to their headquarters. Among the merrymakers, some will ask each other if they felt the aftershock that occurred at 1:10 in the afternoon. It was strong enough to make the upper stories of houses sway. But like the quake last week, it won’t strike most people as being a portent.