Timeline of San Diego History: 1900-1929

City of San Diego population is 17,700. San Diego County population is 35,090.

Katherine Tingley moves the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society to 132 acres on Point Loma, where she established the Raja-Yoga School, built the first open-air Greek Theater in America, and formed youth and adult symphony orchestras.

John D. Spreckels opens Tent City, just south of the Hotel del Coronado. Spreckels, now owner of the Del, closes the hotel for renovations from June to December of 1900, and guests are put up in tents on the beach. The tents remain and Tent City becomes a popular summer resort until it is finally closed in 1939.

Panama Canal construction is authorized in Congress.

By decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Indian inhabitants of Cupa, San Felipe and nearby villages around Warner Springs are evicted and removed to lands near the Pala Reservation.

October, 1902
At his own expense, George Marston travels East to hire a worthy landscape architect for the commission of designing San Diego’s 1400 acre park, known then as City Park. Two months later, at Marston’s invitation, Samuel Parsons, Jr., arrives in San Diego to study the park lands.

University of California Zoology Professor William E. Ritter, supported by Ellen Browning Scripps, her brother E.W. Scripps and Homer Peters, form the Marine Biological Association of San Diego, later to become the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Madam Ida Bailey opens up her own fancy parlor house, the Canary Cottage, at 530 4th Avenue. In the pale yellow house set behind a white picket fence, she and her girls “entertain” downtown’s well-groomed gentlemen with fat wallets, including the mayor and the chief of police.

George White and Anna Gunn Marston move into their nearly completed home at the northwest corner of Balboa Park. This wonderful Arts and Crafts mansion, designed by Hebbard and Gill, is now open to the public.

Sixty people are killed by a boiler explosion on gunship Bennington in San Diego harbor.

The Salton Sea is formed between 1905 and 1907, when the Colorado River breaks out of a canal dug to carry irrigation water to the Imperial Valley, pouring into the ancient, dry Salton Basin seabed that was most recently occupied by Lake Cahuilla until about 300 years ago.

April 18, 1906
Great Earthquake of 8.25 magnitude hits San Francisco. Seven hundred persons die in one of the greatest earthquakes ever to hit California. Damage increased perhaps tenfold by raging fires. Total damage estimated at over $500 million.

Following the earthquake, John D. Spreckels decides to leave San Francisco and moves permanently to San Diego. Spreckels and local businessmen form corporation to build San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railroad. Construction begins on $18 million railway line to Yuma, partly through Baja California.

Development of Presidio Park begins; Marston, Spreckels, Scripps and other investors begin buying Presidio property to preserve as a park.

Imperial County secession leaves San Diego with its present county boundaries.

April 14, 1908
U.S. Navy’s Great White Fleet makes San Diego its first U.S. stop on a worldwide tour, bringing more than 16,000 sailors into San Diego Harbor on 16 battleships, 7 destroyers and 4 auxiliary ships.

May 9, 1908
Race car driver Barney Oldfield establishes new world record for a mile in Lakeside: 51 4/5 seconds.

William E. Smythe founds the Little Landers colony (which later becomes San Ysidro) on 550 acres of land in the Tia Juana River Valley, with the dream of establishing the first of many utopian farm communities across the nation.

July 9, 1909 
G. Aubrey Davidson, founder of the Southern Trust and Commerce Bank and president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, proposes that San Diego should stage an exposition in 1915 to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal.

City of San Diego population is 39,578. San Diego County population is 61,665.

October 15, 1910
U.S. Grant Hotel opens downtown on former site of Horton House. On the same evening, Horton Plaza reopens with fountain designed by Irving J. Gill and his brother Louis.

November 1, 1910
Park Commissioners give “City Park” the new name “Balboa Park”. California State Legislature ratifies their decision, March 24, 1911, in the same piece of legislation which authorizes the use of the park for an exposition.

Jan 26, 1911
Glenn Hammond Curtiss makes world’s first successful seaplane flight from waters off Spanish Bight, a mile-ling stretch between North Island and Coronado (now filled in). Curtiss starts a flying school on Coronado’s North Island, inviting the Army and Navy to send officers for free instruction as pilots. North Island Aviation Camp is established by the Army Signal Corps. One of its students, Lt. Theodore G. Ellyson, USN, becomes Naval Aviator Number 1.

July 19, 1911
Panama-California Exposition groundbreaking ceremonies begin with a military mass in a Balboa Park canyon.

Francisco Madero’s revolution breaks out on mainland of Mexico. Emma Goldman, the anarchist whose speeches incited the assassination of President McKinley, speaks to 200 in Germania Hall. Magonista radicals, supported and joined by American members of the I.W.W. (Wobblies), capture Mexicali on January 29; Tecate on March 12, holding it for a few days; led by Jack Mosby, a deserter from the U.S. Marines, and later by Caryl Ap Rys Price, Welsh soldier of fortune, they briefly occupy Tijuana from May 10 until routed by Mexican Federalists on June 22.

Construction begins in Balboa Park for the Panama-California Exposition. The Administration Building is the first to go up—begun on November 6, 1911 and completed in March 1912.

The American Film Manufacturing Company (known as “The Flying A Company”), with Director Allan Dwan, begins making films in La Mesa, eventually making over 100 films.

Navy establishes a base on North Island, with three airplanes and three fliers. On Thanksgiving Day, 1912, the Army Signal Corps establishes Rockwell Field with an aviation school on North Island.

March 10, 1912
International Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) protest downtown, drawing a crowd of nearly 5000 people. The fight for “free speech” ends in May when Emma Goldman leaves town and Ben Reitman is tarred and feathered.

Spruce Street’s suspension bridge, between Front and Brant, was built to give residents access to the streetcars running along Fourth. The only suspension bridge still standing in the city was designed by Edwin M. Capps, City Engineer and later Mayor of San Diego.

William Kettner (1864-1930) is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from California 11th District, 1913-1921.

August 23, 1912
Spreckels Theatre opens with 1915 seats (the year of the coming Exposition). It is the first modern commercial playhouse west of the Mississippi. “Bought and Paid For” was imported directly from Broadway for the occasion.

Broadway Pier is constructed with a $1.7 million bond issued by the city.

During the “Carnival Cabrillo”, held from September 24 to September 27, a cross made of tiles from an abandoned Spanish fort, is placed on Presidio Hill where it remains today.

Cabrillo Bridge opens on April 12, 1914. The first car is driven across with Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, G. Aubrey Davidson, and Mayor Charles F. O’Neall as passengers.

Santa Fe Depot construction begins June 15, replacing the earlier Grand Union Depot. It did not open until March 18, 1915 due to a dispute over the closure of B Street.

Marine Barracks is established as a model Marine camp on the Exposition grounds in Balboa Park by Col. Joseph Pendleton while the status of a permanent base is debated by the federal government. The Marine 4th Regiment, stationed on North Island, had been sent to San Diego in 1910 due to the Mexican Revolution. Marines move from Balboa Park to the new Dutch Flats installation in 1921.

John D. Spreckels presents the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park to the people of San Diego. Spreckels also hires Dr. Humphrey J. Stewart, a distinguished organist and composer, to give daily concerts throughout 1915. These concerts continued, at the expense of the Spreckels interests, until September 1, 1929.

December 31, 1914
At midnight, President Woodrow Wilson presses a Western Union telegraph key in Washington, D.C. which turns on lights and touches off a display of fireworks to open the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.

Panama-California Exposition opens Jan 1st. Bertram Goodhue’s Spanish Colonial architecture forever defines Balboa Park.

May 31, 1915
Balboa Stadium opens adjacent to San Diego High School. With a capacity of 23,000, it is the largest municipal stadium in the nation at the time.

January, 1916 
Unusually heavy rains cause severe flooding in San Diego, washing out all but two of the city’s 112 bridges and breaking the Lower Otay Dam. Twenty people drown as the Tia Juana River Valley floods and leaves 135 Little Landers settlers homeless. “Rainmaker” Charles Hatfield gets all the credit and the blame, but never gets paid the $10,000 city fathers had promised him.

Dr. Harry Wegeforth brings the San Diego Zoo into being when animals imported for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition are quarantined and not allowed to leave. He’s reported to have exclaimed to brother Paul, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a zoo.” He put a notice in the newspaper, asking for support.

January 27, 1917
U.S. Navy opens the most powerful radio station in the Western Hemisphere at Chollas Heights.

Banker Louis J. Wilde defeats George W. Marston in “Smokestacks vs. Geraniums” mayoral campaign.

World War I prompts San Diego military buildup. Camp Kearny is established, named in honor of Gen. Stephen Kearny who led the Army of the West to San Diego in 1846. It costs $4.5 million to build and is closed in 1920.

U.S. Marine Base and Naval Hospital approved; government purchases North Island, its Rockwell Field shared by the Army and Navy until 1939.

“Spanish influenza” strikes, killing 368 people in San Diego. Over 600,000 Americans will die from the pandemic, over 20 million people worldwide.

Prohibition makes Tijuana a boom town as thousands of Americans cross the border to drink and gamble at the race tracks.

United States Navy decides to make San Diego Bay home base for the Pacific Fleet.

San Diego & Arizona Railroad is finally completed. John D. Spreckels drives the final golden spike. A thousand spectators observe. After thirteen years of labor (and $17,000,000) San Diego achieves a direct link with the East. The railway never achieves commercial success, automobiles and trucks providing competition; it is eventually washed out by a flash flood and abandoned in 1976.

City of San Diego population reaches 74,361. San Diego County population is 112,248.

San Diego’s Pacific Marine Construction company launches two concrete ships, the Cuyamaca and the San Pasqual. Begun during WWI but completed after the war ended, both ships serve as oil tankers. See Journal of San Diego History, Vol. 41, Spring 1995.

Naval Hospital opens.

Lilian Rice, graduate of U.C. (Berkeley) School of Architecture, begins planning Rancho Santa Fe for the architectural firm of Richard Requa and Herbert Jackson.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot opens. Naval Training Center on Point Loma is commissioned, manned by just 10 officers. Proposed in 1916 by William Kettner, it had gained support of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of Navy, when he visited San Diego during the Panama-California Exposition.

Creole Palace, “Harlem of the West”, opens at Hotel Douglas, popular jazz spot into 1950s, demolished in 1985.

California Western begins as Balboa Law College, the first law school in San Diego.

July 4, 1925
Mission Beach Amusement Center (now Belmont Park) opens. The Giant Dipper roller coaster is a popular attraction.

November 25, 1925
Southern California Counties Building burns down, just prior to the holding of a Fireman’s Ball. This was one of the major 1915 Exposition Buildings in Balboa Park. It was replaced by the Natural History Museum.

George W. Marston purchases land on Presidio hill to preserve the historic site of California’s birthplace.

February 27, 1927
The Fine Arts Gallery in Balboa Park, designed by William Templeton Johnson and funded by Appleton Bridges, is dedicated & opens to the public. It is now the San Diego Museum of Art.

May 9, 1927
Charles Lindbergh departs from Rockwell field, North Island, Coronado, in the Spirit of St. Louis, a custom M-1 monoplane built in San Diego by Ryan Airlines. Lindbergh completes his historic solo nonstop flight from New York to Paris May 20-21.

April 11, 1927 
Nino Marcelli conducts the inaugural concert of San Diego’s Civic Symphony Orchestra (which he had organized) at Spreckels Theatre.

El Cortez Hotel opens as San Diego’s “finest” furnished apartment-hotel.

Agua Caliente (hotel, casino, spa) opens in Tijuana (golf course and racetrack open in 1928).

The iron ship Star of India, built on the Isle of Man in 1863, is towed to San Diego but remains in disrepair for the next 30 years.

Lindbergh Field, San Diego’s municipal airport, is dedicated.

December 13, 1928
San Diego Historical Society is incorporated, with George White Marston as its founder and first president.

Presidio Park opens, through the generosity of George W. Marston. On July 16th, the park is expanded to 40 acres, and the Serra museum is dedicated and given as a gift to the city.

The 2,400-seat Fox Theatre opens during the heyday of the silver screen era, with a cost of $1.8 million; now home of the San Diego Symphony as Copley Symphony Hall.