Our museums and archives are temporarily closed to support the effort to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

William Kettner (1864-1930)

williamkettnerWilliam Kettner was born on November 20, 1864 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and moved with his parents to Minnesota in 1873 and settled in St. Paul. He left school at age 13 when his father died and he went to work. He came to California in the boom of the 1880’s at the age of 21 and followed several pursuits in different places, including washing dishes, a mining scheme in Julian, hotel manager in Santa Ana, advertising manager of the Santa Ana Free Press, and driving a horse car in San Diego. In 1893, he married Ida B. Griffs in Visalia, California, and entered the real estate business and later insurance sales in Visalia. He was divorced from Ida in 1904, and married Marion Morgan in 1905, in Visalia, where they lived for the next two years.

In 1907 he established an insurance business in San Diego, and became an active and popular member of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. He also engaged in real estate and banking. When the Navy’s “Great White Fleet” visited here in 1908, he headed the program to welcome the fleet, which had to anchor off Coronado because San Diego Bay was too shallow for battleships.

Kettner, a Democrat, was elected to Congress in 1912 and served as a Congressman for eight years. He held important assignments on the Rivers & Harbors and Naval Affairs Committees. His first achievement there was to secure a federal appropriation for dredging San Diego Bay, so that deep-draft ships could enter it. The dredged materials created valuable lands along the shore of North Island and the area west of the Santa Fe Depot. He also obtained funds to build the Naval Fuel Station on Point Loma, the Naval Radio Station out near College Grove, and to add facilities at the Naval Station on 28th Street and Naval Air Station on North Island.

Kettner befriended Franklin D. Roosevelt, Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who visited San Diego during the 1915 Exposition and awarded many grants to San Diego after he became president.

Kettner played key roles in securing for San Diego the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Naval Training Center, and Naval Hospital. In each case there was big competition from other cities on the Pacific Coast; shrewd, aggressive politics by Kettner and many other civic leaders was necessary to win these contests. Kettner garnered support from Southern congressmen and thwarted the ambitions of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

By the time he retired in 1921, Kettner had secured what was to become the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, Naval Supply Depot (now the Broadway Complex) and the Naval Station San Diego at 32nd Street. In the decades since Kettner’s time, the Armed Forces have often been the largest employer in the County. He had as much influence as any other man on what San Diego is like today.

After he died at age 65 in San Diego, November 11, 1930, Arctic Street was renamed Kettner Boulevard in his honor.

Return to Biography.