City of the Dream, 1940-1970

CHAPTER TWELVE: The Future – Renewing the ‘City Beautiful’

Though the tax burden of supporting two great parks, one a cultural as well as a recreational center, and the other an aquatic park — and they still had not been completed — was considerable, San Diego was looking to a future in the general nation-wide rising concern over the “quality of life.”

Hotels and motels were locating in Mission Valley or in San Diego Bay where marinas and clubs beckoned to yachting en­thusiasts from the entire Southwest. Visitors had become a $356,000,000 business by the end of 1968. They came seeking what San Diegans already had.

The great hopes for Mission Bay had not yet been all ful­filled though its reputation as a vacation playground was spread­ing. On Perez Cove, an oceanarium known as Sea World opened in 1964, with lagoons, a sea grotto building, porpoise and whale training tanks, a tropical island, dining patio and Japanese vil­lage. The disappointment left by the Del Webb organization when it had failed to build a high-rise hotel on its choice high­way site had been forgotten by 1968. The low-level hotel com­plex had been sold to an investor who in turn leased the property to the Hilton Hotels. The longed-for high-rise appeared in 1968. Additions to other existing hotels also would soar above the bay, as had been desired. And an inn for the “working man” and his family was begun in 1968. There were not as many ho­tels or yacht clubs, perhaps, as had been hoped for, and there were no shaded walks or grand bay and ocean connections.

In Southern California, where once the concentration of build­ing had been eastward, now available coastal lands were being swept up by builders and speculators, and a pressure was increasing for adjustments to preserve their availability for more public uses. In San Diego, efforts to save many canyons, for parks or open spaces, would be made; and attempts would be considered to block the invasion of the ocean and erosion at Sunset Cliffs.

Some of the man-made changes in the balances of nature were being set right. Years of experimentation found the an­swer to what had seemed the certain disappearance of the kelp beds off Point Loma. To replace the effect of the vanished sea otters, which once fed on them, sea urchins were brought under control by the spreading of quicklime in the kelp beds. Urchins deserted the areas of growth but in time found new sources of food in the drifting kelp from the harvesting. Even the sea ot­ters soon began to re-appear on the California coast.

Some of the bird life that once frequented Mission Bay was returning, to rest and feed in the long flood control channel which partly filled and then partly emptied through tidal action. But the springs from which they had once obtained fresh water had long since disappeared from the area north of Mission Bay.

The restrictions of the metropolitan sewer system had not been as effective in controlling development as some might have anticipated. Outlying subdivisions arose with their own sewage disposal systems that in many cases would plague the City. Sub­divisions were being thrown up without adequate provisions for public services, particularly schools, and taxpayers in other areas were being asked to help pay the bills.

While its appearance had not been as insidious as in the Los Angeles basin, smog, the price of growth, was becoming a con­cern, and efforts to reduce it, or at least halt its spread, after years of indecision and dispute, began in earnest in 1968.

In the world of advancement which had not been foreseen by so many educators in the days of the Great Depression was a nuclear power generating plant at San Onofre, placed in op­eration in 1967 by the San Diego Gas & Electric Company and the Southern California Edison Company. The San Diego Gas & Electric Company itself moved uptown in 1968, into a high­ rise of its own in the 100 block on Ash Street, not far from the old Cedar Street area, and at night it appeared as a beacon in a blaze of lights. The lights of El Cortez Hotel, high on the hill, which had once beckoned to ships approaching by sea, now were merely faint stars in a new sky of progress.

General Atomic had become property of a major oil company. Those who had seen the possibility of a clothing industry ris­ing in San Diego, because of its position as a port for the trans­shipment of cotton, would have been pleased to note that 3,200 persons were engaged in manufacturing clothing in 1968.

There were 12,000 engaged in agriculture. But government was the biggest employer — 73,300 were employed in Federal, State and local jobs, including those as civilian workers at mili­tary installations. In all manufacturing there were 58,000. By the close of 1968, there were 402,300 on widely diversified pay­rolls in the County, and there were twenty-six specifically-­zoned industrial parks and areas. The number of unemployed had declined to less than four percent.

Retired citizens were estimated at 108,000, many of them former military personnel who had remembered the shining city and had returned to spend the rest of their lives. There were far more horses in the County than in the days when they provided the primary source of locomotion. Here there was still room to live and ride, and most areas of the County were accessible by new freeways and highways.

Fourteen miles of new freeways had been built in 1968, raising the total freeway mileage to 170. The goal for 1980 was set at 527 miles. A Federally-supported highway program was re­casting the principal State system into Interstate freeways. Highway 80 was becoming Interstate 8, a wide and sweeping roadway over to the mountains to the Imperial Valley, and east from there, long after the time San Diegans had considered its improvement vital to its future commerce.

No longer a community whose fate rested with a single source of income, the City’s economy had in fact, in the words of econ­omist Irvine W. Reynolds, president of Copley International Corporation, been growing for forty years at a pace faster than the Gross National Product, despite a period adjustment in the early 1960’s. “San Diego’s economy is probably better diversi­fied today than seventy-five percent of the other important cities around the country.”

However, more and more economic and financial, as well as political power, was being diffused with the advent of corpor­ate interests with headquarters elsewhere.

In a sense San Diego once again felt it was a “branch line” town, at the end of the corporate line, as it had been in the days of the dominance of the railroads. But many businesses and industries were expanding outward from San Diego. C. Arnholt Smith’s United States National Bank began reversing the trend of banking, picking up branches northward, beyond San Diego County. His far-flung interests now concerned taxi cab compa­nies in many cities as well as farming operations in California’s Central Valley, and he had complex financial ties into the Mid­west.

A post-war generation, too, was beginning to take over. Rob­ert O. Peterson had led in expanding a fast-food and family-­type restaurant chain across the country. In 1967 he hired San Diego’s City Manager, Thomas Fletcher. Fletcher was suc­ceeded by Walter H. Hahn who had been an assistant for three and a half years. But the waning of the power of the City Man­ager was accelerating as political pressures in the City mounted.

At the time the First National Bank was also expanding out of the County, and renamed the Southern California First Na­tional, effective working control was purchased by a group led by Peterson, which had sold the fast-food chain. Anderson Borthwick bowed out of San Diego’s oldest banking institution which once had been the stronghold of John D. Spreckels.

The TraveLodge motel chain started by Scott King had al­most 400 establishments across the country, by 1967. Earl Gago­sian was expanding his own chain of Royal Inns; George Scott was still moving department stores northward, now to Palm Springs. Newly-born San Diego financial conglomerates were reaching out for distant investments.

The racial wounds of World War II had been forgotten. By 1969 there were 7,500 Japanese-Americans in San Diego Coun­ty, 5,500 more than in 1940, and there was a Sister-City rela­tionship between San Diego and Yokohama. On the tip of Shelter Island was a gift from Yokohama, a huge replica of a Buddhist bell. It was called a Bell of Friendship from Japan. To Yokohama went a full-size replica of the Donal Hord statue, Guardian of the Waters, which stood on the bayside of the Coun­ty Administration building.

An ethnic diversity embraced more than 150,000 residents. By 1970, Mexican-Americans would number 88,600, more than twelve percent of the population. Blacks would total 53,000, still less than eight percent, but they were becoming a political factor. The Reverend George W. Smith sat on the Board of Education.

San Diegans, whose fondness for civic slogans had enlivened the years of promotional efforts with “Heaven-on-Earth” back in the Thirties, and then with “Air Capital of the West” and “Educational Center of the Southwest,” now felt they had some reasons for justifying their boasts. Seven air carriers served San Diego and in 1969 it was expected that the City would have direct service to Hawaii and thus become a “Gateway to the Pacific.” San Diego even could boast of its own airline, Pacif­ic Southwest, which under Floyd Andrews had been expanding into the nation’s largest intra-state airline.

There were also those who referred to San Diego as a “City of Champions.” Nine San Diego athletes had won gold medals over the years in the international Olympic Games. In the 1950’s, Maureen Connolly had become the world’s greatest woman ten­nis player and Florence Chadwick had swum the English Chan­nel four times.

And with sixty-five golf courses in the County, San Diego of­ten was referred to in civic promotional efforts as “Golfland, USA.” Now, surely, there was civic pride in assurance that San Diego truly had become a “City in Motion.”

Though observance of California’s 200th birthday was to be a statewide celebration, San Diegans, or those who recalled the successes of the Old Expositions — and overlooked the prob­lems of Fiesta del Pacifico — felt that 1969 belonged to them. After all, California had had its “birth” at San Diego, on Pre­sidio Hill.

In 1964, Assemblyman James Mills had introduced a resolu­tion in the Legislature for a State study of the possibilities of creating a State Historical Park at Old Town, with a view to­ward having some restoration work completed by the 200th anniversary. Mills’ interest in Old Town came from his experi­ence, before election to public office, as director of the San Diego Historical Society and the Junipero Serra Museum on Presidio Hill.

This action was the first step toward finally resolving dis­putes between land owners, and between the City and property owners, which had existed ever since the Eliot Plan first sug­gested the possibilities of Old Town as an historic park, for preservation as well as for tourism.

Agreements on courses to follow had been difficult to reach. But by 1964, Old Town had begun to revive, with the ascending interest of persons who did not reside or own property directly in Old Town. One of the first restorations by private contri­butions was that of the first home of The San Diego Union, and it was offered as a gift to the park of James S. Copley. Legler Benbough, son of the former Mayor, bought the historic Estu­dillo House, erroneously labeled over the years as Ramona’s Marriage Place, and it, too, would be a gift to the State. County Supervisors restored the Whaley House of the early American period. New restaurants and a motel moved into the area.

C. Arnholt Smith and a group of associates had tried to save a building known as Casa de Lopez, one of Old Town’s historic residences, which had been in the path of the new Crosstown freeway. But its crumbling adobe walls were too fragile to be moved, and a replica had to be built in a new location.

Not so enthusiastic about State restoration of the historic as­pects of Old Town was a former Democrat State Senator from San Diego and now Administrator of the State Resources Agency. He was Hugo Fisher and he was convinced that resto­ration should be a local project, though it would have to be di­rected primarily by the City and County. It could not flourish, he said, as a “honky-tonk operation for rooking tourists.”

As a result of Mills’ action, the State Board of Park Commis­sioners in 1965 singled out nineteen structures that could be restored. Support came from San Diego’s City Council, the Board of Supervisors, the Chamber of Commerce, and even property owners who were represented before the State Park Board by Douglas Giddings, chairman of San Diego’s own Park Commissioners. The State Commissioners agreed to approve diversion of $3,500,000 in statewide park and recreation bonds for acquisition of Old Town as a historic park as well as for ac­quisition of Torrey Pines park lands.

San Diegans were ready to proceed. A Shelter Island restau­rant operator, Tom Ham, was named to lead a large committee to plan for San Diego’s participation in the 200th celebration and he announced that for this, Old Town was a “must.” In 1966, the State Legislature voted in favor of appropriating $2,500,000 to begin land acquisitions, and the City instituted some archi­tectural control over the area surrounding Old Town, but it wasn’t until the following year that funds were made available..

Mills, a Democrat, was now a State Senator, but Republicans controlled the State government. Appeals had to be made to a new Governor, Ronald Reagan, but finally the State Public Works Board made an appropriation to begin actual purchases, and the State Park Commission declared eighteen acres in Old Town as a State Historical Park.

By 1969, ninety percent of the land had been purchased, but nothing much could be done about extensive restorations in time for the 200th celebration. That did not phase San Diego’s 200th Anniversary organization, which with Hugh A. Hall as director, threw up hasty improvisations in an effort to recap­ture some of the atmosphere of Old Spain, Mexico, and early California. Craftsmen were to be imported from Mexico to make the wares and gifts that still connected 1969 with the moods and life of 1769. When the celebration began, Charles Cordell was president.

The celebration was to last the entire year, with opening ceremonies on January 1. Public events were listed for every day of the year, not just at Old Town but all over the City. The big day would be July 16, 1969, the time when Father Junipero Serra raised the first cross in 1769 to mark the founding of California’s first mission and settlement.

In the Spring of the same year, major league baseball came to San Diego, on the night of April 8, and the San Diego-Coronado Bay bridge opened at midnight of August 2. National League membership had taken the City into a new era. While San Diego sought to recall its ties to one past, the opening of the two-mile long bridge cut one of the last links with another past, a nostalgic Victorian one. The California Toll Bridge Authority purchased and retired the five ferries to remove a competing service across the bay, and the last ferry made its run at midnight of the day the bridge was opened to traffic. Ferries had connected Coro­nado with San Diego for eighty-three years.

The bridge itself, designed by Robert Mosher of La Jolla, swept across the bay to a height of 200 feet above the water, in a long and graceful arch, a blue ribbon in the sky.

Several thousand persons gathered on Presidio Hill on July 16 to observe the ceremonies marking the 200th anniversary of the founding of Western civilization on the West Coast.

It had taken Father Junipero Serra three months to ride his mule 600 miles up from Loreto, on the Gulf coast of Baja Cali­fornia, to San Diego. The day before the ceremony, three astro­nauts had been launched into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and were on their way to walk on the moon. They would travel a half million miles in eight days in an inspiring achieve­ment of a space program that in a way had its inception in a small corner of the Convair plant about twenty-five years before. A million visitors had been expected during the year. There was considerable disappointment over Spain’s failure to par­ticipate in a major way though it did award medals to Mayor Curran, Charles Cordell, the celebration president, and Philip L. Gildred, a commissioner-general. However, there was a dele­gation to the Bicentennial from Spain’s Island of Mallorca, the birthplace of Father Serra. Portugal, whose son in the 1500’s had been the first White explorer to enter the Port of San Diego, sent Vice Admiral Armando de Roboedo, its Chief of Naval Op­erations, to present another medal to the Mayor who accepted it on behalf of the City.

When the year had ended, and the show had closed, taxpayers learned it had cost them a million dollars and there were some of them who wondered, once again, if it all had been worth it. Expenditures by visitors rose in 1969 to more than $408,000,000, up from the more than $356,000,000 of the year before. But the increase from 1967 to 1968 had been almost as much, without a celebration.

Though nothing permanent had been left behind to mark the Bicentennial of the founding of the settlement on Presidio Hill and of California itself, the celebration had crystalized the ef­forts to restore Old Town to a semblance of its appearance when it was a Mexican town that had succeeded Spain’s original set­tlement on Presidio Hill.

Though the City was approaching a population of 700,000, and all civic plans may not have materialized as had been an­ticipated, nor had all the ships and the trains arrived as so many had expected, or longed for, the future still beckoned to those who believed they could shape events to their desires.

To the hundreds of thousands, however, who had come seek­ing a new way of life, a “City Beautiful” was still represented by climate and space, and the riches of variety. They did not always remember, or even know, that it had been the dreamers who raised a town out of the dust, who broke hard ground and planted the groves and gardens, who brought the water, who set aside a great park in the heart of a town struggling for life, and envisioned the future of Mission Bay.

The experience of passing history was revealing that the grouping of public buildings, and towering downtown struc­tures, did not necessarily create the “City Beautiful,” and civic centers, unless integrated with the daily activities of the peo­ple, could become, as had happened in so many other cities, architectural backyards.

The comparison that John Nolen had offered, of a San Diego re-constituted in the manner of European cities, with broad streets and wide plazas for “open” city living, was captured in a way in the more spacious shopping centers. There was freedom from the pressures of traffic, rows of attractive shops and restaurants and sidewalk cafes, bookstores, and benches for relaxation, and shaded walkways, and even film houses. They were little “cities” isolated from each other, and so were those who used them.

But as John Nolen, the city planner, had done so long ago, a new generation of San Diegans, with a new concept of the “City Beautiful,” would look again at the bay but, instead of facing the City only toward the west, would face it also toward the south, and bring back to life a section that time had passed by. Then the people, the stores and the restaurants would surely come back.

When the plans for the World’s Columbian Exposition and its new “White City” were being considered, Daniel Burnham had summoned to his architectural offices in Chicago what was described as “the greatest meeting of artists since the Fifteenth Century.” Burnham had a slogan: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

When the Exposition plans were shown to a Chicago banker, Lyman J. Gage, a former Secretary of the U.S. of the Treasury, who later was to become a resident of Point Loma in San Diego, he greeted them with disbelief: “Oh, gentlemen, this is a dream. You have my good wishes. I hope the dream can be realized.”