City of the Dream, 1940-1970
CHAPTER ONE: War – And the Shape of Things to Come
At the beginning of the great rush to Southern California the spirit of the “White City” was still very much alive. The World Columbian Exposition on the lake front in Chicago, just before the turn of the Century, with its canals and lagoons and buildings that shone in the sun like marble, had inspired the belief that man could shape the character and destiny of the cities in which he lived, and that disorder, congestion and decay were not inevitable.
Southern California was a kindly though fragile land and long before the Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands, its development had exceeded the capacity of its natural environment. And the impact of war – as well as the auto – would dramatically alter the course of its cities. But the idea of a “City Beautiful” would persist.
The Spaniards who arrived in the late 1700’s had understood both the climate and the country, which were so similar to their own land. They were able to deal with it on its own terms and established an economy based on a pastoral way of life. They could succeed in this without doing violence to a natural environment which could support only a very limited number of people who had no assurance of unlimited survival.
It did not take Americans long, however, to find the key that could change the environment. That was water. It opened the gate to everything that happened to Southern California. The resource of water which the Americans first tapped’ and which was unknown to the Spanish and Mexican settlers, was a store of underground water which had been collecting for millenia in sediments beneath the valleys. Here was water to supply the markets of the nation with the oranges, the grapes, and the out-of-season vegetables, and to water growing herds of milk cows. Besides, there was enough water to embark Los Angeles on the path of industrial success.
Southern California became one of the choice areas of the earth. To the natural advantages of a near-ideal climate, inspiring mountain ranges and a picturesque coastline, there had been added the thousands of square miles of palm trees and eucalyptus, decorative planting collected from all the continents and a system of highways unmatched in America. To move to California, by which was almost always meant Southern California, became the dream of millions of Americans across the land and for thousands of other people in Europe as well as in Japan and China. Southern California had become a phenomenon of progress and geography which was like nothing else anywhere.
In the decade of the 1920’s, a million and a half people poured into Southern California. Most of them located in the Los Angeles area. That is where the jobs were. San Diego long since had lost out in the race to become the metropolis of the Pacific Coast. Its mountains to the west had not yielded to the railroads and to the south were the barren lands of Baja California.
Its future would be different from that of its great neighbor to the north.
But San Diego’s pioneer merchant, George W. Marston now reaching ninety years of age, was proud of the Civic Center which had risen on the waterfront and of other improvements such as Harbor Drive which reflected the suggestions made by the city planner from New England, John Nolen, whom he had brought to San Diego.
Marston had arrived in 1870, only three years after “Father” Alonzo Horton had laid out the site of much of the present downtown and summoned into existence a City distinct from the old settlement huddled around the Mexican Plaza in Old Town. Horton later recalled his first impression: “I thought San Diego must be heaven on earth, if it all was as fine as that. It seemed the best spot for building a city I ever saw.” Marston wrote, early in 1941, before war came:
“The present development of the City of San Diego is more nearly like what Horton and his associates dreamed of than at any other period in our history. Even as a village San Diego had great expectations and they are now being fulfilled. I count it a great privilege to have seen the City grow from 2,000 to 200,000 and I am more specially happy in the fine development of the waterfront.”
In a losing campaign for mayor, Marston once stated that “I have been criticized for advocating the ‘City Beautiful’ idea, and I hereby plead guilty. I am for the ‘City Beautiful.’ I’m for it because it pays in dollars and cents. I believe in a ‘City Beautiful’ because we want more than selling real estate; we want comfort for our citizens.”
The banker, Louis Wilde, represented another point of view, and said “Mr. Marston has been talking the ‘City Beautiful’ ever since I came here, and he has not managed to keep the streets clean.” The struggle for the “City Beautiful” would be a long and often disappointing one.
Los Angeles became the first metropolitan area shaped by and for the users of the automobile. Autos permitted workers to live in garden communities far from their places of employment.. Southern Californians were not constrained to build their homes along available street car lines. The results were the construction of towns and cities whose shopping areas, instead of being dense clusters in the manner of Eastern and European cities, spread out in lines many miles long and only two blocks wide, such as along Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Curbsides provided ample parking. Though much smaller, San Diego was being influenced in the same manner, to serve the auto, and had its University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard which stretched for miles and were edged with small stores.
But all of the coastal Southern California ground water was being used more rapidly than it could be replaced and new sources had become necessary not only for growth but perhaps for mere survival. Without more water there could be no more homes built nor any more groves planted. Los Angeles reached 240 miles north and across the Sierra Nevada to tap the runoff from the high snows, and then began building another aqueduct eastward across the Coast Range and the desert to the Colorado River. San Diego was building more dams and creating reservoirs to capture and store uncertain surface runoff and had filed its own claim to a share of the water of the Colorado. An engineering study in 1937 indicated that San Diego would not need the Colorado River water perhaps before 1970 if local sources were adequately developed. Otherwise, the metropolitan area, if agriculture continued to develop, might need additional water, and from the Colorado, sometime between 1950 and 1960. But the report did not foresee that the population of the City could exceed a half million until sometime between 1990 and the year 2000.
Even the Great Depression did not appreciably slow a Westward movement San Diego, because of the availability of land along its protected bay and a temperate climate, became the location of numerous naval stations and developing aviation facilities, among them, Consolidated Aircraft Corp., which had moved west from Buffalo, New York, with large hopes and airplane designs adaptable to mass production. San Diego had not become a dominant industrial center and trading center, a promotional dream long since diminished by reality, and thus had not experienced the effects of the depression as severely as many other cities.
Before production for the spreading war in Europe, an educational system had begun to accept a philosophy that America was coming to the end of a road: the last frontier had been conquered, the tide of Westward discovery and settlement would be turning back on itself, and opportunity for individual enterprise would be diminishing. War would change everything, and the subsequent contributions of science and technology in the opening of vast new production and employment opportunities – a new Age of Discovery – could not be envisioned at the time. In this new age, San Diego would play a significant role.
In 1940 the population of Los Angeles City was more than a million and a half San Diego’s exceeded 200,000 and was expected to rise soon by at least 25,000. Both cities were beginning to feel the effects of the war in Europe and the determination of the national Administration to make the United States the arsenal of democracy. War goods poured across the sea in an effort to save England from defeat by the Axis powers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt set a production goal of 60,000 military planes in 1941 and 125,000 the following year. This meant producing a plane every eight minutes in 1941 and one every four minutes in 1942. San Diego’s aircraft plants began a frantic expansion program. A $2,500,000 addition to the Consolidated plant was dedicated and it was then announced that the company’s backlog of orders had reached $132,000,000.
Military forces were expanded, bases enlarged and new ones were rising almost overnight. The industrial development longed for by so many had arrived, though it was in restricted technical fields and not in consumer products.
A $15,000,000 Federal housing program in San Diego, approved by the President, was designed to create dwelling equivalent to a town of 30,000, and construction would call for 6,000 more skilled workmen. City laws were relaxed and private homes opened for rentals. In addition, the Navy was spending $3,000,000 on its own housing program.
By the beginning of 1941, San Diego’s population growth was estimated to have exceeded 30,000 and by mid Summer the City was expected to absorb 45,000 more residents in addition to 16,000 military and naval personnel. Consolidated Aircraft had 16,500 employees and expected to hire 15,500 more by 1942. The smaller Ryan, Solar and Rohr production plants employed 3,400 workers and expected to hire 3,800 more. The San Diego Chamber of Commerce stressed the necessity of erecting 15,000 more dwelling units.
The Summer came and went, with occasional war scares, blackout tests and the practice mounting of aircraft guns atop the Consolidated plant which was turning out of a bombing plane almost daily, to be delivered to the Army Air Corps or flown across the Atlantic for the British. Other long-range planes were being delivered to the United States Navy.
On one occasion, the Navy picked up a rumor that a Japanese-manned private airplane was to lift off an airstrip somewhere in Southern California and crash with a load of explosives on warships in the port. Naval vessels were ordered out of the harbor. Nothing happened. However, the City’s leading businessmen had formed a Civil Defense Council, with Lawrence Klauber as chairman. The Navy assigned Lieutenant Commander Max L. Black to serve as executive director.
Four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Consolidated Aircraft disclosed the largest employment program in the City’s history, which would bring 10,000 more workers and their dependents, mostly from the Midwest and the South, into San Diego within five weeks.
Two days later, while Japanese envoys presumably were negotiating for an agreement with the United States regarding the Far East, newspapers were publishing details of what was described as secret plans for the United States to raise an army of 10,000,000 men and an expeditionary force of 5,000,000. On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, San Diegans read in their morning newspaper an article which comfortably insisted that the Japanese air force was limited to 5,000 planes and that there was a critical lack of experienced and capable pilots. But another news story disclosed that units of the Army Air Corps were being marshalled for a six-day test of San Diego’s air defense capabilities.
War came on as peaceful a Sunday as San Diegans had enjoyed in many months. There was a warm Winter sun and thousands of persons were attending church services. Only a few persons in the Nation’s capital knew of the belated warning of war dispatched to commanders in the Pacific, which, however, arrived by regular cable in Honolulu and was delivered too late to military headquarters.
A few minutes before noon in San Diego, those who had their radios turned on in their homes, or businesses, or in places of recreation, were stunned to hear that Pearl Harbor had been attacked and ships of the Pacific Fleet bombed. Some people on downtown streets were alerted by a sound truck but most of them had no information until newspaper extras appeared. Sailors and other military men hurried back to their ships or posts. The president of Consolidated Aircraft, Major Reuben H. Fleet, sent a message to President Roosevelt advising him that “we are on the job and at your command, sir.” San Diego’s Mayor, Percy J. Benbough, announced that “we are ready and awaiting orders. Firemen and policemen have been ordered to stand by.” Within two hours after the strike at Pearl Harbor, orders had been issued bringing 1,200 men and women volunteers into action as enemy aircraft spotters. Protection plans were invoked for the water, telephone and power systems. Traffic was diverted from the vicinity of war production plants. The Civil Defense Council began the recruiting of 12,000 volunteers. A steel net was placed across the entrance to the harbor.
The office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Diego acknowledged that it had a file of all alien Japanese in the County. Other reports placed the number of residents of Japanese descent at about 2,000, most of them associated with farming, with about 200 additional families believed to be farming between Tijuana and Mexicali in Baja California. They had turned to farming some of the poorest lands, or bottom lands subject to flooding, and over the years had prospered and were supplying a significant part of California’s produce.
The news of war seemed to come as a shock to Japanese in San Diego County, as it did to most people. Many born in Japan chose to remain silent and remote. Others hesitated in answers as to their reactions. A few younger people on the streets merely smiled enigmatically. Those born in California, however, were largely willing to express their loyalty to the only land they had known. San Diegans generally with only limited experience and contact with Japanese were uncertain and many were apprehensive.
There was little general knowledge about Japanese residents. They had not been judged as rivals by most people, with the possible exception of some agricultural interests, but as a detached group living alongside of them and as yet out of the mainstream of American life. International travel was only for the few in those days and the little knowledge most San Diegans had of Japanese ways was in part from a legacy of two Expositions. That was the Japanese tea garden in Balboa Park. There were stepping stones, stone lanterns, pools, an arched bridge over a winding waterway and symbols of fish promising happy experiences. This seemed to offer a baffling contrast between charm and violence.
Newspaper reporters sought significance in attitudes and reactions. In a Buddhist temple which also served as a Japanese language school reporters found stacks of books and notices in the Japanese language. On a wall hung a large framed print of a Japanese aircraft carrier, with the flag of the Rising Sun flying at its stern and airplanes rising in flight from its deck. At a long table Japanese girls and women were silently engaged in the art of flower arranging. But at San Diego State College, a Japanese born in California and president of the college men’s glee club, proclaimed that “I am an American – as America goes, I go.” Other students of Japanese descent who were members of the Japanese House of Pacific Relations took unequivocal stands as Americans in thought and action. The President of the San Diego chapter of the Japanese-American Citizens League said that send-off parties had been given for about twenty of their young men who already had joined the armed forces. Within three days 200 members of the Japanese-American Citizens League pledged to support the United States with their lives. The San Diego Union editorially advised restraint, warning:
“It must be kept in mind that thousands of citizens of Japanese ancestry are loyal Americans and it is hoped there will be no witch-hunting directed against these people. They are no more responsible for the activities of the Japanese Government than are any of us and deplore the treachery of Japan as strongly as we do.”
The San Diego Union was sure that competent authorities had the situation well in hand. Events moved swiftly. The Congress declared war on Germany and Italy as well as Japan. In San Francisco the headquarters of the Sixth Army, which embraced all West Coast Army commands, announced that war plans had gone into effect. Large units of Coast Artillery men who had trained at Camp Callan on pueblo, or city-owned, land on Torrey Pines mesa in San Diego, already had been deployed to man coastal defenses as far north as Alaska. San Diego’s coast defenses at Fort Rosecrans on Point Loma had been heavily reinforced with larger guns, which, however, could not be used against air attacks launched from distant aircraft carriers. The Eleventh Naval District Headquarters assumed command of coordinated efforts of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps for the protection of San Diego. Anti-aircraft guns were manned at the Naval Air Station on North Island and aircraft patrolled far out to sea. Cavalry units from Camp Lockett near Campo moved out to assigned posts protecting the Barrett, Otay and Morena reservoirs which were near the International border.
At the outbreak of war, San Diego was the Navy’s mightiest naval air base and grouped around the shore of San Diego Bay were more than 600 government buildings representing an investment in buildings and equipment of more than $50,000,000. Thirty-two thousand Navy men called San Diego home. The Naval Air Station on North Island was the base for 400 fighting, scouting, bombing and torpedo planes and was the repair base and operating base for the aircraft carriers Lexington, Saratoga, Ranger, Yorktown, Enterprise and Wasp, all of which had escaped the disaster at Pearl Harbor. In the area were the Naval Hospital, Marine Corps Base, Naval Training Station, Destroyer Base, Naval Air Station, Naval Fuel Depot, Naval Supply Depot and radio stations. A development program, before the bombs fell, had been estimated at more than $29,000,000.
However, response to the emergency was uncertain and at times erratic. The war in Europe had occupied most of the attention of the Administration and the military commanders and little had been done to physically prepare for war in the Pacific. While bases were being expanded, the coast was as wide open as Hawaii, or more so. In 1940 in the Eleventh Naval District, headquartered at San Diego but embracing a large area of the Southwest, there were only ten officers above the rank of lieutenant junior grade on the staff of the Commandant who were not either retired or in the Naval Reserve and summoned back to duty.
The United States had not been without knowledge of Japanese military ambitions, though not of all its actual plans, as the Navy had broken the Japanese most secret code late in 1940. It also was in 1940 that the U.S. Pacific Fleet was permanently based at Pearl Harbor and a line of defense marked out from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to Pago Pago in the South Seas. Five years before that, however, Japan and Germany had agreed to exchange espionage information about the United States, and as a result, a Naval Intelligence officer reported Japanese were using radios in Guaymas, Mexico, on the Gulf of California, and at the tip of Baja California, to monitor maneuvers of the Pacific Fleet. The Japanese Navy assumed that the seizure of outposts along the American Ocean defense line, and the destruction of the Pacific Fleet, would force the power of the United States back to the mainland, where other thrusts could pin down its fighting units while Southwest Asia was brought under domination.
Intelligence services had not been unaware of Japanese espionage in the Islands and the identity of some of the agents. Ever since the American acquisition of the Islands the arrival of Japanese immigrants had provided a cover for slipping in espionage agents. By the time a decision had been reached to try and eliminate the Pacific Fleet, two systems were in operation. One was based in the consulate in Honolulu and depended on any information that could be obtained from hundreds of possible informants among the immigrants. Little information of value was produced, however, as the knowledge necessary to the Japanese Navy was readily available to anyone. Another system employed about a dozen secret agents directed by naval officers attached to the consulate. In this group was a Japanese-American taxi driver and a German drifter. This relatively small group easily gathered all the information necessary for a striking force on the positions of warships in the harbor, the range of aerial surveys, the most favorable time for an attack, and the information was sent to Tokyo by radio. Secret agents also were planted in cable company offices to read routine Fleet personnel messages.
Naval Intelligence considered San Diego the hub of Japanese espionage on the West Coast. Somewhat the same espionage system was used on the West Coast as in the Islands, with consulates as the main listening posts among Japanese immigrants. In addition, Japanese were aboard many fishing boats and visiting language students actually were officers in the Imperial Navy who coordinated all information on strategic West Coast defenses and sent them to the Embassy in Washington for dispatch to Tokyo. Their activities, however, were generally known to Naval Intelligence and to a certain extent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was a deadly game of espionage and counter-espionage.
Although plans had been prepared for a war against Japan long before the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even though these plans were predicated on the assumption that the enemy would attack without a formal declaration of war, the Eleventh Naval District at San Diego was considered in a poor state of preparedness. The plans had been theoretical; there were neither the facilities nor funds to carry into effect the plans so laboriously made. The commandant of the District, Rear Admiral Charles A. Blakely, was in the Naval Hospital recuperating from a mild heart attack. On December 7, ammunition and ordnance depots were non-existent in the District, although the Naval Ammunition Depot at Fallbrook was nearing completion. There was insufficient housing for both civilian and military personnel. Only in the placing of nets and booms for closing the harbor entrance had there been thorough preparedness.
A blackout of the community was attempted the first night, December 7. There had been no real preparation and results were feeble. The lights at Consair continued to glow. When asked why, an official said “we’re building airplanes – we haven’t got time to play games.” Under a threat of having a squad of Marines pull its power switches, Consair finally went dark. Tijuana, however, was blacked out quickly – the military merely pulled the power company switches.
Japanese carriers could have launched an attack on San Diego and the entire West Coast with impunity. The Army Air Force had only forty-five up-to-date fighter planes, ten heavy bombers and seventy-five medium bombers with which to defend the coast. The airplanes lacked proper equipment, bombs and ammunition. For detection, there were only six radar stations, the equipment was still crude, and there were no experienced operators.
The first day passed and by the second day discrimination in industry had come to an end. A class of women welders donned mechanic smocks and eye protectors and began training at San Diego’s public Vocational School. Women had been refused entrance to mechanical classes for two years. Rosie the Riveter had arrived.
The first effective blackout was put into effect at midnight, December 8. It was described thusly in The San Diego Union:
“Soft enveloping darkness, broken only here and there by the dimmed lights of an automobile or a slowly moving street car, brought the war – grim, real and challenging – to San Diego’s doorstep last night. Exactly at midnight, while most of the City slept, all street lights, neon signs and big building lights suddenly were shut off as San Diego got its first taste of modern war’s most fearsome experience – an air raid alarm.”
The blackout followed hours of alerts concerning reports of enemy aircraft approaching the San Francisco area. Radio stations were restricted to brief announcements of blackout instructions and promptly at midnight all street lights were switched off as a signal to turn off all home and office lights. The blackout lasted until daylight. Reports of Japanese aircraft carriers off the coast of the mainland persisted and on the night of December 10 another blackout was signaled, this time embracing Southern California from Bakersfield south to the Mexican border and reaching as far inland as Las Vegas and Boulder City in Nevada. The blackout lasted about three hours and many San Diegans, caught away from home in the early evening hours by the sudden dousing of lights and warning blasts from gas company steam whistles, drove slowly homeward through silent and darkened streets. Thousands of workers were evacuated from the Consolidated Aircraft plant. Residents shuttered their windows with cloth or dark paper. Another limited alarm, called just before dawn two days later by the Fourth Interceptor Command, was attributed to vague reports of enemy airplanes over Point Loma.
In none of the situations were enemy planes actually identified. But the possibility of attack was there and the City of San Diego began a survey of buildings suitable for air raid shelters. The Navy augmented its patrol of the coast by chartering ten tuna clippers from the San Diego fleet for temporary duty. A San Diego-based airplane sighted an enemy submarine eight miles south of San Clemente island, which was sixty miles west and slightly north of San Diego. The plane was from the Army Air Corps and assigned to assist the Navy in patrolling at sea. The sky was overcast with a ceiling of 2,000 feet. A large submarine appeared on the water’s surface and the plane moved in to release its bombs. The attack was never made and the submarine slipped quietly beneath the choppy waves and disappeared. Air Corps regulations had stipulated that bombs had to be released from a height of 5,000 feet to avoid the possibility of damage to the aircraft.
The disaster at Pearl Harbor had not been fully revealed to the American people. Eighteen ships had been sunk or seriously damaged, including eight of the battleships which had been considered the backbone of the Pacific Fleet But the nature of war was changing, and the aircraft carriers had been in the open sea.
Assigned to take command in the Pacific and of the decimated fleet was Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. To give himself time to consider plans and alternatives, he crossed the country by train and was met at Los Angeles by E. Robert Anderson, a commander in the Naval Reserve and Public Information Officer for the Eleventh Naval District. Nimitz was delivered to San Diego in Mayor Benbough’s official sedan, which had been borrowed for the occasion, and private license plates substituted for official ones. From the Naval Air Station on North Island, he was flown to Pearl Harbor.
The day after Pearl Harbor, a National Guard unit from San Luis Obispo had moved into Balboa Park. Within a week the Navy brought about the removal of the Army and converted the park and its buildings, with one exception, into extensions of the Naval Hospital and Naval Training Station, for a Corpsman School and a Receiving Station. Later, the Army returned with units of its Air Defense Wing and the Women’s Army Corps, among others.
Twice during those early days Japanese submarines lay within deck gun range of San Diego. Nine of Japan’s most modern and powerful submarines had been dispatched across the Pacific to take positions by Christmas evening off the West Coast’s important cities, with orders to shell radio and navigational stations. That same evening, however, before a shot was fired, new orders were received withdrawing them from attacks on land, for the time being, evidently in fear of counter-measures and the necessity of preserving the submarines for more important targets, especially shipping. Instead of firing their guns, the crew of one submarine off the Golden Gate listened to Christmas evening music broadcast by San Francisco radio stations. Two months later a lone Japanese submarine made a landfall at San Diego, after crossing the Pacific, but again no attack was undertaken. Instead the submarine proceeded northward to the Santa Barbara Channel, where it lobbed twenty-four shells onto shore at Goleta, near Santa Barbara. The shells did little damage but were the first to fall on American national soil since the war with Mexico almost a century before.
The first ship to be sunk off the coast was the oil tanker Emidio while it was returning in ballast from Seattle. It was shelled and torpedoed off Cape Mendocino on December 20, with a loss of six lives. Two more commercial ships were sunk in the same month, four others damaged and three others brought under attack. One of the ships attacked was the lumber carrier Samoa, out of Aberdeen, Washington, which was not damaged and made her way successfully to the San Diego Harbor. Other submarines shelled Fort Stevens in Oregon and Estevan Point in British Columbia. None of the attacking submarines were sunk in the eastern Pacific. In the United States no one was certain about Japan, and the fact that submarines were able to operate off the coast gave rise to fears of large-scale attacks by planes from aircraft carriers, as at Pearl Harbor, or even an attempt at invasion.
The 9,200 aliens who had been registered in the County in 1940 crowded the Post Office to acquire necessary identification cards; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched homes of aliens residing in Coronado which were within easy sighting of naval ships and bases. Subsequently all aliens were asked to voluntarily remove themselves from the vicinity of the waterfront. In the month following the attack on Pearl Harbor all the City and most of the County were declared prohibited areas by the Army, from which any or all persons could be excluded. Curfew regulations stipulated that aliens could not travel more than five miles from their homes except to places of employment. Of the people of German and Italian descent only a relatively few were detained or forced to leave the area. Of the latter, the most prominent was the resident manager of Hotel del Coronado, an Italian who had entertained many high-ranking American naval officers. Those forcibly removed as dangerous aliens and placed in confinement totaled seventy one, and of them thirty-five were of Japanese ancestry.
Fears and suspicions were rife through the streets. The attack on Pearl Harbor obviously had been carried out by Japanese pilots with knowledge of the exact berthing or anchoring position of all United States warships in the harbor. What spying or mapping might have been done in San Diego, with its heavy concentration of military bases, ships and aircraft production plants, was not publicly known. There had been visitors from Japan. The Japanese who had migrated to this country had been barely assimilated, kept to themselves and often spoke only faltering English. The Nisei, or American-born Japanese, averaged only fifteen years in age. But most of them seemed to realize that the effect of the war on their lives was just beginning to unfold, just as it was unfolding for all San Diegans.
San Diego for decades had been a City with a large proportion of retired or elderly people. In 1930 the median age was estimated at almost thirty-three years. In 1940, with the median age of the national population placed at twenty-nine years, the average age of San Diegans, because of the influx of industrial workers, dropped under thirty-two years.
Though it had risen from the first White settlement on the Pacific Coast, with the early Spanish expeditions composed largely of people of dominant Mexican-Indian blood, its Mexican-American population was proportionately the lowest of any of the major cities of the Pacific Coast. Work in canneries and fields was not as available in San Diego as in Los Angeles.
Mexican-Americans, though their ancestors had been the founders of California, had never been influential in the affairs of the State or its large cities since the American conquest had brought to an end the Days of the Dons and the great rancho period. Most of them had been submerged quickly but had lived somewhat in harmony with their successors. It was not until World War II that Mexican-Americans began to become a factor in California, and this was due to heavy migrations, illegal or otherwise, from Mexico of a people who were fleeing their homeland in search of work and opportunity and had no real relationship with the old Californians of a bygone generation. The continuing infusion of cultural aspects from the homeland protected their language and customs and tended to make them a people apart. Assimilation would be slow and difficult Few of them would remember that people of their blood long before them had once dominated San Diego and most of a great portion of California. But changing political attitudes would remind them of all of this.
The proportion of Blacks had remained low, too, at about two percent of the population, for somewhat the same reasons. Major Fleet, president of Consolidated Aircraft, had complained upon moving his plant to San Diego from Buffalo, that “there aren’t any mechanics out here; only just a bunch of berry pickers.” But assembly lines reduced the requirements for production skills. At Consolidated Aircraft the age of the average beginner was placed at less than twenty-one years, and in another twelve months 20,000 more workers under the age of twenty one were expected to be hired and work for the first time in their lives. A second plant, financed by the Army Air Corps, for the production of parts for Consolidated planes, was being built on the tidelands north of the existing plant.
The housing situation had become acute and the City Manager, Walter Cooper, warned that it would become worse by Summer. Because houses couldn’t be built fast enough, the Government had brought in about 650 trailers and connected them to City utilities. The estimates of new industrial workers, and number of the military, who would need housing, had been raised to more than 60,000.
Though the submarine threat somewhat dissipated, California’s coast was long and exposed and the sea was considered a roadway for the same aircraft carriers that had taken the opening of war to the Hawaiian Islands. Another blackout was signaled in Southern California, and anti-aircraft fire was heard and searchlights sliced the skies over Los Angeles in an incident never fully explained. The only enemy plane to actually fly over the American West Coast was launched by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Oregon. It twice futilely attempted to set forest fires.
At San Diego, private bomb shelters were built and food, tents and clothing were stacked in autos for quick flights to the interior; store-bought fire-fighting equipment was stored in homes; schools conducted air raid drills; first aid classes were held and wardens stood guard over communications. The National Anthem was sung in theaters and at church services. On February 16, Navy officials called a meeting of tuna fishermen, who wanted to volunteer, and informed them that all boats suitable for service were to be taken into the Navy. More than 600 fishermen volunteered for service with their boats. Before the end of the month, fifty large tuna clippers were at sea to patrol against anticipated submarine attacks on the Panama Canal or as assigned to carry supplies between mid-Pacific islands.
The impact of the war in the Pacific soon began to shake people’s confidence, especially when it was finally made public that 2,729 had been killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor, not just the several hundred that had been first announced. Rumors of what might actually have happened to the entire Pacific Fleet were fed by gossip brought to the mainland by evacuees from Hawaii. Stories also circulated that Japanese residents there had marked huge arrows in cane fields pointed toward military targets, that trucks had been used to block emergency roads, and that commercial fishermen had furnished supplies and gasoline to lurking Japanese submarines. In San Diego signs appeared everywhere: “Don’t Gossip – the Enemy is Listening.”
The City was considered safe from attack by land from the north because of the existence of the Army’s Camp Callan on Torrey Pines and from the east by the mountains. To the south were the lands of Baja California with few roads. Only by sea could a blow be struck. The Coronado Islands were considered to be shields behind which enemy ships could approach the harbor by night to bombard installations or land a raiding force. The deep crevice in the ocean known as the La Jolla Canyon was considered an underwater passage available to submarines approaching from the northwest The Coast Artillery mounted defensive guns at the Consolidated Aircraft plant but these units were relieved later by anti-aircraft forces from Texas and Georgia. Other guns were mounted along the southern beaches from Coronado to Imperial Beach. Anti-aircraft gun placements were dug into the hillsides of Point Loma and La Jolla Shores and concealed from view. Beaches were patrolled to thwart the landing of saboteurs.
Fear of the unknown or unexpected fanned anew a resentment against Japanese which had lingered from the anti-Oriental attitudes which had in the past permeated many groups, particularly patriotic and farming organizations. The caution advised editorially by The San Diego Union vanished. On January 20, 1942, The Union, referring to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, stated editorially:
“The treachery … has been made a matter of record … it has created a doubt in the minds of many persons in this country as to how far the Japanese who live here and are American citizens can be trusted.”
Reluctance to move against the Japanese was still evident, however, in the action of the San Diego City Council. Instead of adopting a formal resolution it forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation a report by one of its members, Fred W. Simpson, declaring that the presence of the Japanese was inimical to the best interests of the area. The City Council of National City demanded that Japanese be moved a hundred miles inland. The Councils of Chula Vista and La Mesa, however, refused to act. But anti-Japanese sentiments continued to mount. Action then was demanded by the League of California Cities and the California Association of Boards of Supervisors, the Congressional delegation on the West Coast, and a State Legislative Committee headed by Assemblyman Jack B. Tenney. The Board of Supervisors of San Diego County insisted that Japanese in Hawaii had aided the attackers and no one in California could distinguish between a loyal and a disloyal Japanese.
After a period of apparent indecision, the Attorney General of California, Earl Warren, a nominal Republican, made the rounds of all interested Federal agencies “trying to get some relief from this situation.” In testimony before a Congressional committee holding hearings on the possibility of evacuation, Warren stated:
“Many of our people in other parts of the country are of the opinion that because we have had no sabotage and no fifth-column activities in this state since the beginning of the war, that means that none have been planned for us. But I take the view that that is the most ominous sign in our whole situation. It convinces me more than perhaps any other factor that the sabotage we are to get, the fifth-column activities, are timed just like Pearl Harbor was timed. … If there were sporadic sabotage at this time … the people of California or the Federal authorities would be on the alert to such an extent that they could not possibly have any real fifth-column activities when M-day comes.”
General John L. DeWitt, military commander of the West Coast, said there was evidence that Japanese on the mainland already had been in radio communication with enemy ships. This was denied by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, the director of the Federal Communications Commission acknowledged that personnel and equipment on the West Coast were inadequate to assure detection of radio communications. Though the government of California at the beginning of war was a liberally-oriented one, no prominent voices were raised against evacuation. The Governor, Culbert L. Olson, a Democrat elected as a progressive, was certain that the Japanese would not report subversive activities of their own people because, he said, they had not done so as yet.
As February drew to a sad close, with more and more reports of defeats of the forces of the United States in the Pacific, a group of leaders of the Japanese-American Citizens League approved relocation and issued the following statement:
“We are preparing our people to move without bitterness. We only jeopardize this country or our own people by trying to insist on staying or even by pursuing our legal rights as citizens.”
The decision to re-locate them, however, was a military one. President Roosevelt signed an order authorizing the Secretary of War to establish military areas and to exclude from them, with no declaration of martial law, any or all persons. On March 1, General DeWitt proceeded to establish Military Area No. 1 and exclude all people of Japanese descent, both alien and citizen, but they were to remove themselves voluntarily. The Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco was selected to assist Japanese in liquidating their possessions. By the end of the month, voluntary evacuation was abandoned in the face of refusal of many Japanese to leave and the reluctance of governors of Western states to accept their presence.
On April 1, almost four months after Pearl Harbor, a Civilian Exclusion Order announced that all Japanese aliens and citizens living south of the San Dieguito River would be removed. Within six days 306 family groups composed of 1,150 Japan-born Isei and American-born Nisei left San Diego by train, on April 7, bound for the Santa Anita racetrack near Los Angeles and then to be distributed to relocation centers in the interior. They were allowed to take only what they could carry in the way of daily necessities. About a month later a final group of Japanese from the North County boarded a train at Oceanside and left for Parker, Arizona. The special train carried 425 men, women and children, completing the evacuations. The total of evacuees from San Diego County was 1,919.
Carey McWilliams, then a State official and long-time spokesman for liberal causes, contended that in the long run the Japanese “will probably profit by this painful and distressing experience.” Down through the years the defenders of Warren and McWilliams and other liberals who participated in bringing about the evacuation would argue that they acted in the interests of the Japanese themselves. A Japanese-American would argue the same way. He was S.I. Hayakawa, who came to California from the Midwest in 1950 and became president of San Francisco State University and then a United States Senator. He would write that if the war in the Pacific had gone against America, there would have been widespread anger and frustration and at best people would have beaten the Japanese in the streets, and at worst, they might have descended in mobs on Japanese communities, burning homes and killing people as had been done generations earlier with the Chinese.
The number of those evacuated throughout the state was 110,000, of which 70,000 were American citizens. As no general attack on the mainland took place, the question of loyalty was never put to a test, and allegations of sabotage in the Hawaiian Islands turned out to be false. Arguments against the evacuation centered on the fact that no such action had been found necessary in the Hawaiian Islands, where 35,000 Japanese were aliens and 124,000 others were American-born citizens, out of a total of 425,000 residents. But the Japanese had become so much a part of the economy of the Islands that to move them would have seriously crippled vital wartime functions.
The situation in Hawaii was investigated by the Institute of Pacific Relations and it concluded that it would have been manifestly impractical to transport 160,000 persons over 2,000 miles of water to isolated wartime camps on the mainland, and the Japanese were needed on the Islands as they constituted more than a third of all gainfully employed persons, including a half of all craftsmen, small farmers and fishermen, and operated a half of the retail food stores and restaurants.
The Hawaiian Islands were placed under martial law, all aliens considered dangerous removed, while others were free to come and go within certain limitations regarding travel and conduct. Japanese women laid away their kimonos, and commercial fishing ended.
Not all was peaceful, or fate accepted, in the internment camps in the United States. But by Thanksgiving leaders of the Japanese-American Citizens League were to send a telegram to President Roosevelt asking that their members be allowed to fight, and expressing the fear that relocation might become permanent and they would be confined like Indians on reservations.
While United States Cavalry patrolled the border and guarded nearby reservoirs, concern arose over the possibility of enemy use of airfields or bays of Baja California. Though Mexico had not declared war on Japan, the two naval bases and five airfields of Baja California were placed at the service of the United States, and a former president, General Lazaro Cardenas, was recalled from retirement to command the Pacific Zone. Troops in Baja California were reinforced, two battalions of 1,500 soldiers moving from Sonora through San Diego, by train, to Tijuana.
Early in January Presidents Roosevelt and Manuel Avila Camacho of Mexico had set up a United States-Mexico Defense Board and soon afterward Mexican aircraft began daily patrols from Cedros Island northward and Mexican gunboats aided in protecting minefields along the coast. Japanese farmers were moved inland from the coastal area.
After a conference in San Diego, on cooperation in defense, attended by General Cardenas, controls were placed on fishing activities in the Gulf of California and the Pacific Coast north of Mazatlan. Soldiers and volunteer militia were assigned to construct telephone and telegraph lines and roads in the peninsula.
Mexico’s caution about entering the war vanished when two government-owned oil tankers were torpedoed in the Gulf of Mexico. On June 1, Mexico would join the United States in war against Germany, Italy and Japan.
The war seemed to erase all that was left of the troubled feelings that had existed along the United States border with Mexico as a result of the revolution which began in 1911. At one time 20,000 American soldiers patrolled the border from San Diego to Calexico and the Pacific Fleet stood by off Southern California. Tijuana was brought under attack by radicals, who were aided by United States citizens, but they were defeated by Mexican Army regulars. Later, United States forces directly intervened in Mexico by sea, to seize Vera Cruz, and by land from Texas. To Mexicans who never forgot that California and much of the Far West once belonged to them, the new actions were considered humiliating.
A National Guard regiment and artillery unit from Los Angeles were ordered to Calexico to guard the Colorado River water supply for Imperial Valley, which had to be diverted, at the time, through Mexican territory. What happened was recalled by a San Diegan, Lou Urquhart, then a lieutenant with the Guard. The governor of Baja California, Esteban Cantu, and Colonel Abelardo Rodriguez, later to become a governor and then a President of Mexico, posted crews with machine guns near Mexicali and opposite the Guard positions, presumably to resist any intervention. At a warning by Captain James G. Harbord, that he would use his artillery, Cantu and Rodriguez dismantled the gun emplacements and the chance of a direct clash was averted.
The era of cooperation between Mexico and the United States, initiated with Pearl Harbor, was extended into Baja California at the initiative of Commander Anderson, Public Information Officer of the Eleventh Naval District. General DeWitt, commanding the Western Frontier, would meet in Tijuana with his counterpart, General Juan Felipe Rico Islas, General de Division, Army of the Republic of Mexico. Mexican army officers would be treated at the Naval Hospital and Mexican fliers would train at the Naval Air Station. Contact would continue on an official and social basis, the latter through an organization known as “Mosqueteros de la Frontera” which attracted Army officers of Mexico and Navy and Marine Corps officers of the United States. Rodriguez later would maintain a second home in San Diego.
The Pacific Coast became one long defense line based in San Diego. In the City, factories engaged in war production were on 24-hour schedules and cafes and theaters never closed. Streets were thronging with people coming and going at all hours of the night. Youths were drafted or volunteered, and disappeared into armed forces being distributed almost around the world. Other youths appeared in sailors’ uniforms, serious and uncommunicative, survivors of the early losses in encounters at sea. Barrage balloons floated up on cables to entangle any invading aircraft.
Forgotten were the old arguments of “geraniums vs. smokestacks,” or whether the City should commit itself to seek industry at the expense of emphasizing its advantages for the attraction of tourists to enjoy the Winter climate and retired people who would buy the lands and homes which for generations had been a principal source of wealth. A staggering problem was rushing upon San Diego. The City might in the foreseeable future run out of water.
Return to Books.
CITY OF THE DREAM
Ch. 1 War – And the Shape of Things to Come
Ch. 2 Water – The Real Key to a City’s Survival
Ch. 3 Peace – The Shock of a Transformation
Ch. 4 The City – The End of One Civic Dream
Ch. 5 A Fiesta – Re-Living the Days of the Dons
Ch. 6 Cotton – The Promise of the Ships to Come
Ch. 7 The Price – Changes in the Land and the Sea
Ch. 8 The Auto – The Rise of Shopping Centers
Ch. 9 The Hopes – Tourists, a Bay, and the Park
Ch. 10 Downtown – The Tall Buildings Rise Again
Ch. 11 200 Years – What Kind of a City Was It Now?
Ch. 12 The Future – Renewing the ‘City Beautiful’