City of the Dream, 1940-1970
CHAPTER ELEVEN: 200 Years – What Kind of a City Was It Now?
The 200th anniversary of the founding of San Diego was approaching. By 1969 two centuries would have passed since the establishment on Presidio Hill of the first White settlement on the Pacific Coast.
For almost a hundred years of that time San Diego had lingered in isolation while great cities rose on the Pacific Coast. Now its day — if greatness is measured by size — was at hand. In population it was beginning to challenge San Francisco. The population figures were somewhat deceptive, however, as San Francisco, limiting itself in area to only forty-five square miles, was the Queen City of a Bay area which would exceed three million people.
Los Angeles seemed to be beyond reach, however. It had acquired the railroads and the shipping lines, and with untold wealth in oil, had become one of the most populous cities of the continent and dominated a metropolitan area of between six and seven million persons. The longing to be like Los Angeles had faded, though, even among the most ardent promoters. But they still wanted San Diego to be a City to be reckoned with.
By 1965, San Diego was the sixteenth largest City in the United States with a population approaching 640,000. Annexations were proceeding swiftly and regularly. The City now encompassed more than 305 square miles. A hundred years before it had contained only about seventy-four square miles; in 1960, 240 square miles.
Its residents were growing younger, in average age. The proportion of retired people was declining, and a newer generation of settlers represented families with children. The average age of the population in 1960 was about twenty-seven years compared to nearly thirty-three in 1930. It was even lower in the County.
The minority population, while rising, was not yet a significant political factor. Mexican-Americans in 1960 constituted only six and six-tenths percent of the total population; Blacks almost at the same at six percent. The percentage of Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles was ten and a half percent.
City government was convinced that growth could be guided in an acceptable and desired manner by annexing territory to the north and subject to subdividing and the founding of new communities. Control to the south and east was blocked by the existence of other incorporated cities. The “City Beautiful” was still the dream.
The use of urban renewal to rehabilitate a city intrigued San Diegans, Inc., and a group of them accompanied by City officials and other interested parties inspected work under way in San Francisco and Sacramento.
In San Francisco they viewed where private land was taken by a redevelopment agency, for developers, cleared of structures, and converted with private funds for apartment houses, buildings, town houses, and high-rise office buildings. People would reside near where they had to work.
In Sacramento, of particular interest, was the design and development of the Capitol Mall, with public and private buildings, and restoration of an historical zone known as Old Sacramento.
Not as ambitious as the projects of San Francisco and even Sacramento, the Community Concourse, as the new Civic Center became known, was dedicated on September 16, 1964. The Convention Hall, Exhibit Hall and parking garage were opened for business; the City Administration Building was to be ready in December and the 3,000-seat Civic Theater in January.
However, Guilford Whitney, chairman of the Community Concourse Advisory Board, called the center “the most conveniently located on the Pacific Coast and one of the most beautiful.” Morley Golden, chairman for the celebration, said that now “the sky is the limit.” Mayor Curran was a bit more restrained, asserting that while the buildings represented a lot of determination, they also represented a lot of consternation.
Compromise had limited the challenge of the Community Concourse. Its buildings were rather tightly assembled, with only a limited plaza for open space and there were no lagoons nor parkways. They did not rise spectacularly above downtown, nor could they be seen from a distance. But they represented a beginning — the assembling of public buildings considered necessary to the economic and cultural revival of downtown. And the forty-year struggle to obtain a Convention Hall at least seemed to have ended.
The new Administration Building, however, faced southward, looking down Second Avenue toward an economic wasteland of old buildings, which while not representing decay in the same degree of the older cities of the East, were out of the mainstream of progress. No modern buildings now were rising in the area below Broadway. The City was steadily moving northward, as it had for a long time, retreating from the bay.
Conservatism dominated San Diego’s political thinking and urban renewal was not the most welcome alternative to taxpayer financing of any downtown rehabilitation. There was a heavy concentration of military personnel, both active and retired, as well as many pensioners from the Midwest. Conservative ideology was brought to bear on the voters by the quiet yet persuasive James S. Copley, through his San Diego Union. Republican Richard M. Nixon long had had a political base in San Diego County.
In 1960 San Diego County had cast a majority vote for Nixon for President, though he lost to Democrat Senator John F. Kennedy. Two years later San Diegans again backed Nixon, this time for Governor, though he lost to the incumbent, Edmund G. Brown. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson succeeded to the Presidency. In 1964 Johnson was opposed by Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, a San Diego neighbor from Arizona and frequent visitor at William S. Kellogg’s La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club. Johnson won in a nationwide landslide but in San Diego County it was Goldwater who led the ticket.
Though Senator Goldwater had been considered military-minded in international affairs, it was under President Johnson that the United States’ commitment to South Vietnam began to expand into actual warfare. By 1963 there were more than 15,000 American servicemen in South Vietnam, as “advisors.” Within a year major military commitments were being made and they would have a direct effect on the fortunes of San Diego.
In 1964 the Port District won approval of the voters of all the five communities on the bay for bond issues providing almost five and a half million dollars for a new passenger terminal for Lindbergh Field, along Harbor Drive. This time Federal Aviation Agency officials gave their blessings to Lindbergh Field. They said it could be used for all jet-type aircraft of the foreseeable future. There also was a million and a half for improvements for the new Harbor Island and almost four million for the first-phase construction of the Twenty-Fourth Street Marine Terminal. Taxpayers were promised that the bonds would be paid for out of port income and would not necessitate additional taxes. There could be only more jobs, more income, more tourists, more cargo, more industry and more prosperity, without cost.
Again there was heard talk of another Exposition, as there had been when Fiesta del Pacifico had been abandoned in 1960. This time the idea was put forward by officials of the 1968 California World’s Fair which originally had intended to place one in Long Beach, with the sanction of the Bureau of International Expositions. The centerpiece would be a 50,000-seat stadium on Fiesta Island in Mission Bay. Clyde Vandenberg, who had been involved in the Exposition of 1935-36, and Loren W. McCannon presented on behalf of the organization a research report forecasting 34,000,000 visitors for two Exposition sessions of 184 days each. But little public enthusiasm was evident. The growing problem of South Vietnam was disturbing in a City so dominated by military establishments.
The years of 1964 and 1965 witnessed a boom in the County arising in large part from the opening of vast new lands by the construction of modern highways and freeways. The auto provided access to one area and another with ease and swiftness. And now water was assured with the existence of the two aqueducts and the promise of the Feather River project.
George Scott had carried out his promise of meeting the challenge of the invasion of the County by Los Angeles mercantile interests and his Walker Scott store was the principal structure in the Escondido Village shopping center. Rancho Bernardo, one of the last of the old Mexican ranchos to be subdivided, was beginning its development along Highway 395 toward a goal of a community of 40,000 residents. Then there was Irvin Kahn’s Los Penasquitos development along the same highway. Farther north, and facing the San Baquitas Lagoon, was Rancho La Costa being created with money primarily from interests in Las Vegas. Lake San Marcos was attracting retired people from around the nation.
The North County was becoming an invitingly shining country, attracting businesses and industries and homemakers who had few ties to San Diego’s central city. While the City had a population of almost 640,000 in the 1964-65 period, the County as a whole had soared to more than 1,200,000.
In the North County, Escondido in twenty-five years had grown from about 4,500 to almost 25,000 population. Oceanside had increased from about 4,600 to 33,800. Carlsbad, which had become a city by 1950, had grown since that time from about 4,400 to 12,350. Vista had emerged as a community of nearly 20,000.
To the east of San Diego City, in just the same period of time, twenty-five years, La Mesa had grown from 4,000 to more than 35,000; El Cajon from about 1,500 to almost 43,000. To the south, National City was now 36,000 compared to 10,000 in 1940. Chula Vista had expanded from about 5,000 to almost 54,000. Though Coronado had remained somewhat isolated from the pressure of accessibility, still it had grown from 7,000 to about 20,000.
The unincorporated areas were absorbing a heavy influx of new residents. There were more than 250,000 persons now living in rural areas which had no central governments. Industries of the newer and higher technology were not dependent on the inflow of heavy materials and had no need to locate near railroad tracks or waterfronts.
As the population of the County increased, San Diego was entitled to additional Congressional representation. First, it shared a Congressman with Orange County, even more politically conservative than was San Diego County. When it was entitled to a third Congressional representative, a politically-inspired redistricting created a new Congressional District in the southern part of the County, assuring the election of a Democrat in 1962. He was Lionel Van Deerlin, who had failed in a previous effort to replace Republican Bob Wilson. Van Deerlin was a radio and television broadcaster of an independent mind.
One of the programs advocated by Van Deerlin in his first campaign was the connecting of San Diego and Coronado with a bridge, as an economic benefit to the entire South Bay.
Venerable Hotel del Coronado had been purchased in 1960 by John Alessio who liked to recall that as a boy earning his own way he had shined the shoes of a banker, C. Arnholt Smith. From this acquaintance he had been enabled to enter the banking business in Tijuana and acquire control of the Agua Caliente race track. A fortune was spent on renovating the old hotel structure which once had attracted the Winter visitors of the luxury class and had been a pride of the late John D. Spreckels.
As far back as 1926 the Spreckels companies had prepared plans for a bridge across the bay, but nothing came of them. Time and again down the years similar efforts had been made by other companies, and in 1935 the City Council of Coronado even had initiated a plan for a bridge and then abandoned it because of objections by the Navy. The bay was shallow and it was feared that collapse or destruction of the bridge could block off the southern part of the harbor.
In the 1950’s all over California ferry boats had given way to bridges, but the San Diego and Coronado Ferry Company, now nearing eighty years of age, still dominated the bay and was carrying more than 3,000,000 vehicles a year. Feasibility studies by the State had been initiated as early as 1955 through legislative action of State Senator Fred Kraft of San Diego. In 1962, the State Department of Public Works insisted that “progress will sooner or later require that the existing facility for crossing San Diego Bay be replaced by a more modern highway structure.”
Alessio approached the City Council of Coronado in the belief that his plan for a bridge to bring Hotel del Coronado into the world of conventions was not only feasible but desirable, and that Coronado should prepare with a set of stringent zoning laws to control its future as a community of quality. A community plebiscite, which was not binding on any state action, had gone against the proposal for a bridge in 1958. Four years later the City Council rejected the idea by a three-to-two vote.
Alessio said he gave up, sold the hotel to Larry Lawrence and his associates, and the sale included lands on which it had been proposed to erect a high-rise addition to the hotel as well as a group of apartment buildings. Lawrence would carry on the struggle for the bridge.
The issue came to a head in 1964. A State feasibility study had concluded a four-lane bridge could be erected at less cost than a two-lane tube could be laid under the bay. It perhaps was politically fortunate that a member of the California Toll Bridge Authority was the governor, Edmund G. Brown, a Democrat, who had received support from both alessio and Lawrence. The San Diego City Council maintained a neutral position.
While Coronado was a quiet community, there were more than 5,000 civilian workers at the Naval Air Station who required daily transportation by ferry and could be considered supporters of a bridge crossing.
The opposition was led by a retired Rear Admiral, Dwight Johnson, who told a Toll Bridge Authority hearing that “we want to develop without excessive interference. Geographically we stand in the way of no one … why try to induce traffic through here?” A rebuttal was offered by another retired Navy officer who said that “living in the past may be a soothing pill to deny us the benefits that lie before us . … We did retire the Pony Express despite its romantic heritage.”
The question whether the Navy would accept a bridge revolved around interpretations of what high Navy officers had actually said about a bridge. The Toll Bridge Authority accepted the explanation that the Navy would not object to a bridge as long as design and location did not interfere with ship and aircraft operations in the bay. Representative Wilson warned, however, that “if a bridge is built I can say flatly San Diego will live to regret it to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars” in presumed losses of Naval installations.
The Army Corps of Engineers approved a bridge. The California Toll Bridge Authority voted to build it, with revenue bonds, which meant that the ferry company would have to be purchased and put out of business. So Coronado, which had found itself bound to a Port District it did not want to join, now was to be tied to San Diego City, and many residents feared it would be swept up into a flood of growth with its burdens of congestion and high taxes.
After two years of study by the City Planning Department, and after a year and a half of review and revision by a Citizens’ Committee, the City of San Diego’s new General Plan was ready for printing and distribution. Times had changed, and, too, there was a new Mayor in the City Hall. The Plan faced an uncertain and unhappy future, chiefly over one issue: urban renewal. The Citizens’ Committee report stated:
“The spread of deterioration and blight in our cities is so enormous a problem that it appears to yield to successful solution only upon total mobilization of the resources available to the community and a concerted pressing of the attack. The program for conducting such an unremitting, comprehensive battle … is known as urban renewal.”
That was like touching a match to the dynamite of San Diego conservatism. Though the Evening Tribune was a sister newspaper to The San Diego Union, with the same ownership, it largely avoided partisan politics. The issue this time was not a partisan one and the Evening Tribune thundered in an editorial:
“Mayor Frank Curran could never have been more right than when he observed the Citizens’ Advisory Committee on the General Plan had handed the City Council an awful big package of problems . … People who believe in freedom, who believe in property rights, who believe that government is the servant and not the master of citizens, will be instantly alert … if you do not want City Hall to rule every condition under which you live and work in San Diego, you must protest now.”
The Plan was generally considered to be the handiwork of the Planning Department more than that of the Citizens’ Committee and it left to City officials determination of the “public interest” in the application of urban renewal programs which could take property from one owner and transfer it to another for the public’s “beneficial use” as defined by the United States Supreme Court.
The Chamber of Commerce, though not taking any position on the question of urban renewal, had some second thoughts about the Plan as written. Its president, William E. Quirk, a utility company executive, suggested to the Council that the responsibility for determining the “public interest” should not be an arbitrary decision of City officials but be shared with responsible citizens. The Evening Tribune also suggested the Plan would be more palatable to voters if the reference to urban renewal were removed.
The statement on the “public interest” was altered to accommodate the Chamber’s suggestion as to public participation. The recommendation on urban renewal was weakened from “utilization” of appropriate private, municipal, state and federal resources, to the “exploration” of “all appropriated means, both public and private, for this purpose.”
Acting on the theory that the Plan was merely a guide and not a mandate, the City Council, on the favorable recommendation of the Planning Commission, adopted the Plan in 1965. Describing it as “socialism,” a Citizens’ Protective League, led by an insuranceman, M. J. Montroy, immediately began circulating referendum petitions to force a public vote on the Council’s action.
The Citizens’ Committee, through Dr. Leiffer, fought back:
“A small band of willful citizens … intend to grind to a halt the development of the City … they are seeking to turn us back to the 19th Century.”
Sufficient signatures were obtained for a referendum, and the Plan went before the voters in September of 1965 and was defeated, 66,223 to 39,516. The voters evidently weren’t happy with events transpiring at City Hall and again denied pay raises to the City Council members and the Mayor. A General Plan was dead for a year, when it could legally be brought up again.
In reality San Diego had little control over the events which were now shaping its future. The rush to Southern California was on again. Many of those arriving in San Diego were better educated than those who had flooded in for wartime work. There were not many now alive who recalled the prophecies of the 1930’s when so many had seen the United States as conquering its last Frontier, and the future would have to be one of turning inward and of reduced hopes. Science and knowledge had opened the door to a Frontier few had foreseen in its full splendor.
The Economic Development Corporation, which had been organized to encourage the location of industry in San Diego, reported that in 1966 there were 6,000 scientists and 70,000 semi-professional and skilled workers who existed in San Diego because of its expanding educational system. Education employed almost 30,000 persons, almost as many as when the aircraft industry was at its peace-time height and the dominant economic factor in the community.
The Chamber of Commerce could count sixty-three firms engaged in business related to maritime activities, other than shipbuilding, and they employed 3,000 people, twice the number of 1960. The National Steel & Shipbuilding Company had become the largest Western shipbuilder with a backlog of $315,000,000.
Fifty or more firms had moved to San Diego to be near the coast, the Naval Electronics Laboratory and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The electronics industry accounted for 12,500 jobs. Convair divisions, too, were on the rise once again, with 12,350 employees. Its missile divisions had perfected the Centaur to add to the Atlas missile, the workhorse of the space program. Rohr Aircraft had almost 10,000 employees; General Atomic had nearly 2,000 working primarily on advanced nuclear power systems and Ryan aircraft had a backlog of $110,000,000.
There was no dependence on a mass-consumer type of industry as in Detroit and similar cities. Smokestacks? Whatever had become of the old argument of “smokestacks vs. geraniums?”
Though businesses were expanding into larger ones, ninety percent of the companies in the County still had less than a hundred employees. But in five years, according to Dallas J. Clark, president of the Economic Development Corporation, 750 companies had added about 17,000 jobs.
The Veterans Administration was building a huge hospital in proximity to the University of California Medical School at San Diego, The National Cash Register Company in the Spring would begin clearing 114 acres at Rancho Bernardo’s industrial park for a large data processing systems production plant.
There were now eleven universities and senior and junior colleges in the County, where ten decades before only three of them had existed in any semblance to their 1965 form. San Diego State College, under the leadership of its president, Malcolm H. Love, was granting masters’ degrees across the board. It had 18,000 students, a building program of $25,000,000 and an expected enrollment of 28,000 by 1975. It was a university almost in fact, if not in name, and far removed from the little school for the training of teachers. The University of California branch at Torrey Pines now had 2,258 students and was assembling a faculty and scientists few institutions could match. On the same Torrey Pines mesa, on twelve acres of pueblo land originally owned by the City, soon would rise the Salk Institute for Biological Studies sponsored by a National Foundation formed originally to combat infantile paralysis. It expected to attract scores of scientists dedicated to the study of life. California Western had 1,300 students and the University of San Diego, 1,541.
Robert H. Biron, vice president for business and finance for the University of California at San Diego, and before that an executive of Convair, said that in time the university was certain to have the same dollar impact on the community as Convair once had.
The lowering age level and the arrival since the war of a new wave of settlers from the East as well as the Midwest fired an enthusiasm for professional sports so common to older cities.
With a professional football team, the San Diego Chargers, already playing in San Diego, and the prospects of a major league baseball team rising with the growth in population, a multi-purpose sports stadium was proposed and quickly accepted.
In 1963 the City Council had authorized City Manager Fletcher to study all City-owned properties on which a stadium might be erected, and named Paul Carter, president of the Greater San Diego Sports Association, to lead a feasibility study of a 45,000- to 50,000-seat stadium, costing, it was hoped, between fifteen and twenty millions.
The Mayor, however, was disappointed in the association’s slow progress. The architectural and engineering firm of Frank L. Hope & Associates was ultimately named to select a site and present a plan. Though Barron Hilton, owner of the Chargers, had been enthusiastic about a “floating” stadium in Mission Bay, the architectural firm selected a site in Mission Valley for a stadium that would have to cost $27,600,000. Fletcher was ordered to buy the site.
Voters were assured by the City and Albert Harutunian, Jr., who was to become chairman of a Stadium Authority, that there would be no cost to the taxpayers if, as anticipated, major league baseball came to San Diego. The vote in November of 1965 was overwhelmingly in favor of a public stadium.
In 1967 C. Arnholt Smith, owner of the Pacific Coast League baseball team, the Padres, formally moved to acquire a National League franchise and invited E. J. “Buzzie” Bavasi, a Los Angeles baseball executive, to become a partner and president of the San Diego club. The National League owners voted in 1968 to expand into San Diego, and the cost for a franchise, for a team to be started from scratch, was to be $10,000,000. In a few years the price had risen from $4,000,000 to $10,000,000. Smith hesitated, then agreed.
In the same year, Barron Hilton sold the control of the Chargers to Eugene Klein and Samuel Schulman, of Los Angeles, engaged in the theatrical business, for $10,000,000, but they would remain in San Diego with the new stadium as their “home.”
The almost unprecedented wave of professional sports brought San Diego another sports center, the International Sports Arena, in November of 1966. It was designed for seating 13,500 for hockey and 16,000 for other sporting and public events. The cost was $6,500,000, but this time, though erected on City-owned land in the Midway-Frontier area, the money came from private venture capital through a non-profit Stadium Lease Co., which, in turn, granted operating rights. The first rights went to a company formed by Robert Breitbard, one of the original arena promoters, who already had a franchise for a professional hockey team and within a year would add a professional basketball team.
Evidently not daunted by the prospective cost to him of bringing major league baseball to San Diego, though his financial entanglements would take him deeper and deeper into troubled waters, Smith in 1966 announced he would build the first new major downtown hotel in San Diego in thirty-nine years. Plans were changed and re-changed, and in 1967 it was announced there would be two hotels, the Westgate Plaza, to become a luxury hotel and the other the Executive Hotel, to serve the Convention Center. Further changes were made and progress was slow. The twenty-five story Westgate Plaza would open four and a half years after the first plans had been drawn. Furnishings and art from around the world went into the Westgate Plaza, and though it was to win acclaim as one of the world’s finest hotels, the price that could be asked for rooms could never produce the income to pay the costs.
Political power in a conservative-minded San Diego was being exercised in a significant way by Smith, one of the largest California contributors to the Republican Party, who, however, did not neglect “deserving” Democrats. The Westgate Plaza Hotel had been allowed to intrude onto a public street for an entrance to its lower parking area, but those who complained of political influence were answered by pointing to a cross street overpass walk for the El Cortez Hotel complex; the City Hall itself, which straddled the same street on which appeared the Smith hotel’s main entrance; and the entrances for the City’s own Concourse parking garage.
The chairman of the Republican Party in San Diego, and an executive of various Smith enterprises, Leslie Gerhres, a retired rear admiral and a hero of World War II, said that evident animosity toward “men at the top” in the belief they were in politics only for personal gain, and to control office holders, was incomprehensible to him.
Downtown, as an attraction for shoppers and visitors, however, was suffering. The end of the San Diego Athletic Club founded in 1928 signified the urbanization of San Diego. Housed in a handsome multi-storied building at Sixth Avenue and A Street, it had been experiencing a decline in night-time uses for many years, even under the promotional efforts of its manager, MacArthur Gorton, who had originally built the Valencia Hotel in La Jolla. But a club of its size could not exist on a luncheon business. In 1964 the corporate members sold the building to California Western University of Point Loma, for a downtown campus. In a few years it would be re-sold for an office building.
The Cuyamaca Club, the oldest incorporated club in California, had experienced similar difficulties and its charter was transferred to C. Arnholt Smith. He would sustain it as a club centered in his new office building. The University Club, totally supported by its members, sought to turn the tide of events and succeeded in financing a new home at Seventh Avenue and A Street, but it, too, would find the path a stormy one.
The spirit of downtown was sustained by tall buildings in which people would work in the daytime and abandon at night. The final end of the old Marston store came as hundreds of citizens in 1969 watched the destruction of the building which once had marked the splendor of downtown shopping. The site had been sold and the store closed by the Broadway-Hale Company. The Marston building would suffer a final humiliation of being replaced by a parking garage for another skyscraper rising just behind it. The new building would house the Union Bank of California and San Diego offices of the Pacific Telephone Company.
Another site for a Broadway-Hale store would be in a $50,000,000 shopping center being built in Mission Valley, encompassing, in part, the site of the old Westgate ball park. Fashion Valley would be called the largest single building project in the history of the City, a joint venture of the Westgate-California Realty Company and the Ernest W. Hahn Company.
The City Council had quickly granted a commercial zone variance. The center would open in 1969. Already San Diego was one of the bright spots in the nation in shopping center sales. Before 1960, the County had had three regional shopping centers; by the end of 1969 it would have nine.
Also gone from the scene was the ornate Commonwealth building with its Orpheum Theater, at C Street and Fifth Avenue. It was replaced with a new home for San Diego’s oldest bank, the First National, which was dedicated in January of 1966. The bone-white building rose twenty-five stories, an imposing home far removed from the days when the First National was the principal bank for the Spreckels’ interests in San Diego. But it was still a local bank, largely locally-owned and locally controlled. Its chairman and chief executive officer was Anderson Borthwick, who had begun his career as a bank messenger at $10 a month.
Mergers with out-of-town banks had been resisted; but the invasion of northern financial power continued. The Union Bank arrived in 1965; the Bank of California in 1968. The power of decision as to San Diego’s future would be diffused. San Diego’s other important local bank, the San Diego Trust & Savings Bank, led by Thomas W. Sefton, passed its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1964 and proudly advertised that “all our decisions are made in San Diego County.”
San Diego now was among the “have” cities. Public enthusiasm was high. A whole series of bond issues, to improve and expand parks, for public service facilities, for flood control and new sewers, won easy approval in November of 1966. Bonds in huge amounts were voted for water storage and distribution by the San Diego County Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District. Public schools received $22,500,000 for new construction.
The widening circle of new communities and subdivisions, however, had created problems not foreseen at the end of the war, when the last of the electric street cars were retired and buses substituted in order to reach flexibility in transportation. Buses, it was reasoned, could follow growth. Such had not been the case. The San Diego Transit System had met with increasing financial problems and had been gradually reducing service. Crosstown bus service was impractical in many cases because of the broken nature of the terrain of San Diego County. Workers would rather drive their own autos than go by circuitous routes between their homes and places of work.
It became a question of public ownership or no bus service at all. In 1966 the voters approved a charter amending permitting public operation of the bus system. A year later a Federal grant was obtained to pay half the cost of establishing the service. San Diego voters provided the balance of the approximate $8,000,000 cost and the City began operating the transit system through a non-profit agency on July 1, 1967.
San Diego’s bus situation, however, was not unique. All over the country local, private transportation was giving way to public service. Workers no longer were concentrated in central areas and industries had followed them to the suburbs.
Meeting for the first time in the First National’s new tower, January of 1966, San Diegans, Inc. looked back over-the years of its existence since 1959, and raised the question of where the City now found itself. Hamilton Marston, its president, said they had found the core of the City good, what with the new Community Concourse and the new office buildings. But the rest of the downtown district, embraced by what was known as Horton’s Addition, with its small blocks, with no alleys, and with many small absentee ownerships, had imposed almost impossible problems of assembling land for commercial, industrial, residential and institutional developments. Single improvements were threatened with becoming lonely outposts in a desert of obsolescence. Marston said:
“Our climate, location, site and scenery are more precious now than in Horton’s Day, for there is less space in the world and more people wanting it. We have hundreds of acres, gone to seed and lying fallow, beside a great harbor and in the heart of a growing community, surrounded by the densest and most diverse population, backed by hills with splendid views and ringed by Point Loma and Coronado, the hub of private and public transport and centered by the vital core of governmental, commercial and cultural life of the City and our new convention activities. … Must this area, except the core, continue to decline in value and utility? … Ours is a common problem of cities.”
His solution lay with urban renewal.
In the absence of any General Plan, communities and neighborhoods within the City had been encouraged to form their own councils by which they could contribute to planning for the future. The City’s General Plan, after the required lapse of time, was brought up again. Before it was presented to the voters once more, however, references to urban renewal were restricted by a new City Ordinance to its uses for public facilities.
The San Diego Union now embraced the Plan:
“The Plan is not a product of a concealed band of social plotters but of your neighbors — good neighbors. The General Plan merely sets down new guidelines by which business and industry and residents can continue to live together in a well-ordered and beautifully developed community. “Do we want to abandon all that? Are we now by our vote going to say we are willing to turn the community over to the promoters, the speculators and the exploiters?”
“No,” said The San Diego Union. At the suggestion of Mayor Curran, however, the name of the General Plan was changed to “Progress Guide and General Plan, to avoid any inferences of inflexibility. Both Federal and State regulations required General Plans in order to qualify for some categories of financial assistance.
A saturation advertising and promotion campaign was waged on behalf of a Plan, now reduced in scope and promise, and it won a voter approval by a four-to-three margin, in November of 1967.
Events were moving swiftly in the late 1960’s. The San Diego Zoo was fifty years old in 1966 and insisted it now maintained the world’s largest collection of wild animals, with a total of 5,011 specimens of 1,664 species and subspecies. This included 879 mammals, 3,022 birds, and 1,110 reptiles.
In the early 1960’s there came a realization that if the Zoo continued its acquisitions, more space would be needed. In 1962 Clayburn LaForce, Farm Manager for San Diego City, suggested the use of City-owned land in San Pasqual Valley. The land had been acquired at the time when the City considered the impounding of additional runoff water in the San Dieguito River, a move later abandoned.
While the Zoological Society originally had envisioned only a small addition, the philosophy of maintaining zoos was changing. A San Pasqual Study Committee with Norman Roberts as chairman was named in 1966 and the final concept of a Wild Animal Park as the “zoo of the future” was brought to head under the leadership of Anderson Borthwick as Zoo president. The first animals arrived in San Pasqual Valley in 1969.
Frank Curran was re-elected Mayor, by a two-to-one margin over Allen Hitch in 1967, and Councilmen again were denied pay raises, for the fourth time in four years. The new passenger terminal was dedicated at Lindbergh Field, and the Navy’s last seaplane made its final flight from San Diego Bay. Devastating brush fires swept over vast areas of San Diego’s backcountry.
In 1968, Richard M. Nixon was elected President of the United States. More funds were voted for additional airport and harbor improvements. In 1969, voters refused to increase the power and authority of the Mayor and rejected nomination and election of Councilmen by districts, instead of nomination by district and election City-wide. Voters also began rejecting school bond issues by which old structures would be replaced with earthquake-proof buildings.
Some of the old names were beginning to disappear from the scene, or from active roles in industries they had helped raise from bare ground. But the time for the collapse of the empires of Smith and others, who had built in a fever of unrestricted ambition during the soaring 1960’s, was not yet at hand.
- Claude Ryan, one of aviation’s pioneers, had seen his control of Ryan Aeronautical slipping away, after it had ventured into public financing, and in 1968 it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Teledyne, Inc., of Los Angeles. Robert C. Jackson was elevated to chairman of the Ryan board and Frank Gard Jameson became president of Teledyne Ryan.
Frederick H. Rohr, an immigrant’s son whose, techniques revolutionized the airframe-aerospace industry during over a period of forty-one years, died in 1965 at the age of sixty-nine. The former Mayor, Charles C. Dail, who had left his mark on so many of San Diego’s civic problems as well as achievements, died in 1968 at the age of fifty-nine.
Solar Aircraft, which had begun life as a manufacturer of gliders, long since had been taken from its founder, Edmund T. Price, and with Herbert Kunzel as its new head, had become a division of International Harvester and was succeeding in expanding sales of its gas turbine engines. Price, who had come to San Diego from New Bedford, Massachusetts, died while in London in 1968. He was seventy-three.
Bishop Buddy, the first Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, who had inspired the rise of the University of San Diego, died in 1966. He was succeeded by the Most Rev. Francis J. Furey. Ewart W. Goodwin, a native son, died in 1967 at the relatively young age of fifty-nine. Guilford Whitney, who had been born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and founded a variety store that could not successfully be expanded into a chain, died in 1968 at the age of eighty.
John Bate, who had dreamed the great dreams about the harbor, was forced to announce his “retirement” as Port Director, presumably because of illness. He had guided the formation of the Unified Port District, but had not foreseen that the Commissioners in many situations would choose to represent the communities from which they came more than the port as a whole as envisioned by Bate. Sometimes, however, they did not.
But an area of disagreement had widened and Bate left to become honored in retirement as “Mr. San Diego Bay.” Don L. Nay, Bate’s assistant, was named as Port Director. Though the cities surrounding the bay had surrendered their tidelands to the new District, they could maintain a control on what would be done with them through appointments of the Commissioners. Thus the idea of a separate unified port under a central direction was not fully realized. Even San Diego City struggled to impose its will on the District.
Bate always would believe that had he been able to force the creation of a separate Board of Commissioners elected by the people, he might have retained a more direct control over bay development.
The concept of the bay as an industrial base was coming under attack, however. At a hearing on the General Plan, which embraced the future possibilities of the harbor, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and a civic beautification group, Citizens Coordinate, charged that under the Plan the beauty and recreational possibilities of the bay as a whole could be sacrificed to industrial development and high-rise apartments. Roy Drew, president of the architects, said:
“The San Diego Harbor is the one great and unique natural resource of the San Diego metropolitan area … and its function as a shipping port should not be allowed to overcome the harbor as a natural center of the recreational, social, cultural and residential environment of an otherwise sprawling metropolis.”
Telltale signs were beginning to appear. During Bate’s administration, port tonnage grew from 50,000 tons a year to its all-time high of 1,121,000 tons in 1966. This figure was not to be matched again in the next few years, despite an increase in coast-wide shipping. Los Angeles was becoming an ever-greater center of distribution.
The waterfront of downtown San Diego, no longer needed for commerce, was sought for tourist interests. Robert M. Golden, now directing his father’s construction company, and his associates proposed a $35,000,000 “total concept” development. His plan was rejected by Port Commissioners who, instead, granted a long-term lease to Earl Gagosian’s Royal Inns of America for a hotel complex. The new Harbor Island had its first tenant and tall hotels were in prospect. A park along the Lindbergh Field side of the harbor was completed and dedicated in 1968 as Spanish Landing Park.
In 1969, the Port District eliminated its traffic and marketing departments and Bate broke his silence and said the action “may well be the beginning of a giant leap backward and San Diego may become a `landlord port’ more concerned with property management than the development of shipping.” Nay denied the departments were being abolished entirely but would be expanded and their functions reinstated as proved necessary. The port had prospered, however, and had gone off the tax rolls in 1968. But the port would soon be faced with the prospect that it could be cheaper to unload a ship at the port of Los Angeles, and truck goods to San Diego, than to make a separate call at San Diego.
Bay communities would begin to lose some of their interest in having their tidelands converted into industrial parks. Why did San Diego City have to have all those yachts and marinas and hotels?
When the Bartholomew grand plan for Balboa Park was being drawn up, and being considered by the Planning Commission and the City Council, all were aware that two new wings were to be added to the Fine Arts Gallery and that they would replace two of the original 1915 Exposition buildings of Spanish-Colonial architecture.
One of the wings would be built for the gallery through private donations and funds from the City’s Accelerated Public Works Program. The other would be built by the Timken estate and designed to house a collection of old masters valued at about two million dollars and owned by the estate of the Putnam sisters. Foundations granting the money, and administering the estates, were dominated by the banker, Allen J. Sutherland, and the attorney, Walter Ames.
It had been a Timken — Mrs. Appleton Bridges — who with her husband, had built the existing Fine Arts Gallery as a gift for the City. The Putnam sisters were brought to San Diego in 1913, from New England, by their father, and two of the three, Amy and Annie, became collectors of art and benefactors of the Fine Arts Society. None of them married. The last of the three died in 1962.
The architectural design of the proposed Timken gallery drew protests from those who had envisioned building replacements as closely following the tradition of Spanish-Colonial architecture of the 1915 Exposition as they presumed had been implied in the Bartholomew report. Its design was a classic one, and inside and out it had Travertine marble with bronze trim.
While the new wings were considered, by themselves, as architecturally excellent, and perfect for art display, the conception of Spanish architecture had proved to be a broad one. The City Council, under pressure from civic groups, approved the designs as required under the Bartholomew plan.
The West wing of the gallery — with its James S. Copley auditorium — did not meet with the same resistance though its design left the Spanish-Colonial enthusiasts dissatisfied. Now, with the Natural History Museum building there were four versions of Spanish architecture grouped together in the park. Park Commissioners then postponed the erection of additional arcades along the Prado, which would have partially concealed the two new wings, and instead voted to use the money to build four more public tennis courts at Morley Field. James Britton, who wrote about artistic and civic endeavors in San Diego, described the Prado as “the boulevard of broken dreams.”
Not all San Diegans were defenders of the decaying Spanish-Colonial buildings and believed, as did their creator, Bertram G. Goodhue, that they should have been torn down with the close of the first Exposition, as mere “fantasies” of a dream city. Philip L. Gildred, president of the Fine Arts Society, wanted the three structures of the Fine Arts complex to dominate the central park in a setting of green, open spaces.
A group quickly formed to resist the introduction of any additional architectural styles and to assure the replacement of deteriorated buildings with ones of Spanish-Colonial design. It was named the Committee of 100 and was led by Mrs. Frank, or Bea, Evenson. The committee centered its attention on the next building to be logically removed or replaced, the Food and Beverage building, an L-shaped structure facing the Prado and the Natural History Museum.
A replacement was designed by the architect, Richard G. Wheeler, with Samuel Wood Hamill as consultant, and the issue of its construction was taken directly to the people. A faithful — as far as possible — reproduction was promised, with most of the ornate adornments to be re-cast and re-placed on the new structure. A $3,500,000 bond issue was placed on the ballot by City Council action and was approved by the voters on November 7, 1968.
Ever since the struggle to restore the vitality of downtown, and to bring the people back once again, had been begun, various pedestrian Malls had been discussed, planned, and rejected. Once the Downtown Association had envisioned many tree-lined streets closed to the auto, with sidewalk cafes, flower carts, and uniformed information boys.
By 1969, plans for a Mall had been reduced to five blocks on C Street and two blocks on Fifth Avenue, to touch on Broadway. Evan V. Jones, president of San Diegans, Inc., told the City Council that in 6,000 cities downtown areas had been doomed by the failure of civic leaders to take necessary action. The suggested Mall would be a charge upon benefitting property owners and a design was ordered by the City Council in 1970 — thirteen years after a Mall had been first proposed and studied.
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’