C. Arnholt Smith

C. Arnholt Smith was the biggest player in the old boys’ network that ran San Diego between the 1930s and the early 1970s. The financier and industrialist rose from working-class roots in North Park to control the U.S. National Bank, with almost $1 billion in deposits, and the $200 million Westgate California corporate conglomerate that included National Steel and Shipbuilding, the Yellow Cab Company in major cities in California, an airline, a tuna fleet, canneries, ranches, the Kona Kai Club on Shelter Island, the San Diego Padres, and vast real estate holdings. He built one of the first modem skyscrapers downtown, and his Westgate Plaza hotel was recognized in the 1960s as one of the finest hostelries in the world.

Confidante of presidents, governors, mayors, and district attorneys, Smith held political influence unmatchable today. The San Diego Union once declared him “Mr. San Diego of the Century.” But in the early 1970s, Smith’s empire collapsed. He eventually spent a year in jail on grand theft and tax evasion charges, and his holdings were liquidated in a fire sale frenzy.

Smith collaborated on four feature stories (including two cover stories about himself) for the Reader before his death in June, 1996.

Articles by C. Arnholt Smith

Best Reader stories from 1992

Underground papers, Clinton McKinnon, Michael Reagan, Windansea, I spied on Tom Metzger, Frontier housing, AIDS up close, La Mesa prison, Walter Keane, Michael Reagan, C.A. Smith, Bataan Death March

Notes from Underground San Diego's Free Press (later renamed the Street Journal) was defunct by the end of 1970; the San Diego Door came and went with the Nixon Presidency, 1968 to August 1974.The O.B. ...

What do you do when you lose at Del Mar? If your name is Smith or Alessio, you build your own racetrack.

C. Arnholt Smith builds San Luis Rey Downs

John Alessio came up with the idea that we ought to build a new track and really create the basic necessities for a real fine operation that would be run in addition to Del Mar.

Joe Brennan, San Diego's let's-get-it-done harbormaster

He built San Diego's bay, 1918-1948

He gave us a very favorable lease, a good thing for the San Diego Harbor. He was helping to create a good tenant, which National Steel became. He did the same with Convair, Solar, and Rohr.

C. Arnholt Smith, part two

The decline of a western tycoon

Kroc got on the phone and in a very high-pitched voice he said, “Mommy, I bought us a baseball team today.” There was a long silence, but I imagine what she said to him.

C. Arnholt Smith, in his own words – part 1

Mr. San Diego still rolling at 93

I don’t know why we expanded like this. I guess I’m a damn fool and like to work and create things. We had to have jobs, industry. San Diego wasn’t like Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Steel.