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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

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. ...

December 29, 2019
What do you do when you lose at Del Mar? If your name is Smith or Alessio, you build your own racetrack.

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 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.

May 7, 1992
C. Arnholt Smith, part two

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.

March 26, 1992
C. Arnholt Smith, in his own words – part 1

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.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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