City of the Dream, 1940-1970
CHAPTER THREE: Peace – The Shock of a Transformation
The approach of the end of the war had turned the thoughts of many San Diegans back to the great plans of the past. Interest in them was revived by the possible necessity of undertaking civic improvements long delayed or still in the realm of visionary concepts.
But at the same time there was ferment in the community over the future as to whether it had been wise to place emphasis on “geraniums” as against “smokestacks,” that is, on recreation and tourists as against commerce and industry, or even if progress, as defined by frontier standards, should be left to chance, or even whether growth should be discouraged as desired by so many retired persons who had sought out the little City by the bay for its natural beauty and serenity.
But those who had a larger economic stake in the community, its growth and subsequent commercial rewards, the attraction of tourists and conventions seemed to hold the solution to progress, especially if the end of the war brought about an anticipated drastic decline in aviation manufacturing and related industries which had expanded so dramatically since 1940.
San Diego had no basic resources, other than agriculture and fishing, on which to enter the consumer market. Not long after the turn of the Century, the city planner from New England, John Nolen, had described the kind of a city San Diego could be, if its people wanted it. By nature, he contended, San Diego was a play City:
“The scenery is varied and exquisitely beautiful. The great, broad quiet mesas, the picturesque canyons, the bold line of the distant mountains, the wide hard ocean beaches, the great Bay, its beauty crowned by the islands of Coronado; the caves and coves of La Jolla, the unique Torrey Pines, the lovely Mission Valley — these are but some of the features of the landscape that should be looked upon as precious assets to be preserved and enhanced….”
He could see a “City Beautiful” centered on the bay and connected with Balboa Park by a Prado a block wide and beautified with trees, flowers, terraces and splashing fountains. Public buildings would be in the central City grouped around a plaza also connected with the bay by another tree-lined avenue.
Many San Diegans were never to forget, though nothing much came of it at the time. It was too much to expect of a struggling City with a population of about 33,000.
After the passage of about eighteen years, Nolen was summoned to San Diego again, under the urging of the merchant George W. Marston, and produced another plan for civic development, and with the City approaching a population of 150,000.
This time Nolen proposed grouping public buildings on the waterfront, instead of around a downtown central plaza; the completion of a broad avenue around the harbor to the tip of Point Loma, and the division of the waterfront and bay into commercial and recreational areas. While he abandoned the concept of a single broad Prado connecting the bay and Balboa Park, he suggested there could be several attractive and narrower connecting parkways.
While he did recommend historical restorations in Old Town, he did not envision possibilities in Mission Bay and believed that the San Diego metropolitan area should expand southward along the broad flat lands leading to the International border, rather than northward where he thought the topography was unsuitable. The coastal land was broken by deep cuts and valleys and La Jolla clung to an almost secluded shoreline area. But this was in the days before the great earth-moving machinery developed during World War II.
A City Council, appreciative but not necessarily enthusiastic, adopted the new plan in 1928, not as a program to which the City was committed, but as a guide for the future.
During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, San Diego had seized the opportunity to begin work on some aspects of the Nolen Plan, with Federal financing, and a City and County Administration building had risen on the waterfront, the first, it was anticipated, of a line of public buildings facing the bay and the sea, in the manner of a number of European and Latin American cities.
However, the positioning of other public buildings, and the opposition of interests on the bay more concerned over commerce than recreation, stirred controversies which left the City and County Administration building standing by itself, a lonely monument to public indecision.
Though Nolen had not expressed any interest in Mission Bay, except for a view highway, a suggestion that it could be developed into an aquatic park had been made as far back as 1902, before Nolen ever arrived in San Diego, by the County’s Horticultural Commissioner, George P. Hall, who had made a study for the Chamber of Commerce on the need for more public parks. Mission Bay had been neglected and even damaged by the concentration on the development of San Diego Bay as the commercial port of entry.
An estuary of the Pacific Ocean, Mission Bay in the early 1940’s was a shallow, protected body of water of 2,600 acres, with a shoreline of approximately eleven miles. When the tide was low, only a small portion of the bay was usable even for small boats.
Historically, over great periods of time, silt carried by flood waters of the San Diego River had created two bays where one once had existed, by the filling in of the water area between Old Town and Point Loma. Then the river had changed its course alternately over the centuries, sometimes flowing into San Diego Bay, sometimes into Mission Bay.
The depositing of silt into San Diego Bay became a threat to future development and in 1853 the Army Corps of Engineers under Lieutenant George Derby erected the first dike, to divert the flow of the river permanently into Mission Bay and thus save San Diego Bay. This effort failed within two years. In 1875 Congress appropriated funds to try again, and a long levee was completed two years later, and this time, it held. But the silting up of Mission Bay accelerated. In succeeding years the interest in doing something about saving Mission Bay, from being converted from a still partially usable body of water into a mud flat, persisted.
It wasn’t until 1925, however, that the potential of the Mission Beach area as a resort area was beginning to be accepted. The Spreckels interests had acquired much of the strip between Mission Bay and the ocean, and built a $4,000,000 amusement center. John D. Spreckels foresaw a “Venice of America,” but with his death a year later his heirs and business associates began disposing of his properties. The Amusement Center was given to the City of San Diego.
Jurisdiction over the bay itself, however, rested with the State of California, and in 1929 the Legislature designated it as one of the State’s seventy-two parks. In 1930 the City prepared a suggested master plan for development of the bay and though no immediate action was taken, interest persisted and the plan was modified from time to time.
The advisability of a definite development policy was stressed in 1935 by William H. Harper, a member of the State Planning Board. In 1940, Frank Seifert of San Diego, an Army Air Corps major, proposed that instead of thinking of all the mud flats area for recreational use, San Diego should consider the south side as the site for a new international airport.
Seifert was a former Councilman who had been recalled to military service, but he appeared before the City Council as a private citizen. He foresaw limitations on the use of Lindbergh Field, with the advent of larger and heavier passenger airplanes, and said an airport with mile-long runways could be developed by dredging the west side of Mission Bay and using the sand to fill in the southern marshes. The response was enthusiastic for a time but nothing came of the proposal, and the airport issue was to remain a City problem for at least another generation.
The principal figure in the future of Mission Bay, however, was Glenn C. Rick, the City’s Planning Director, who had submitted the first suggested plan of development in 1935. With the advent of World War II, and with knowledge of the economic situation that might confront San Diego at its close, with the heavy loss of industrial payrolls, Rick, Mayor Knox and other San Diegans in official and civic life believed that recreation facilities and attraction of tourists could help assure a future of growth and prosperity. In April of 1945, with the winding down of the war, the State Legislature was induced to transfer 2,600 acres of Mission Bay tidelands to the City. In that same month, the voters of San Diego approved a $2,000,000 bond issue for Mission Bay, to begin work on a land and water recreational area. The City also pledged $1,500,000 from capital outlay funds.
Mayor Knox asked twenty civic organizations to designate representatives for an advisory board for Mission Bay, and sent Rick on a trip along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to inspect similar areas for ideas for development. Rick also conferred with the Army Corps of Engineers on assuming responsibility for changing the course of the San Diego River, to empty directly into the Pacific Ocean instead of into Mission Bay.
The concept of Mission Bay was different from that which would be held later. In a sketch prepared to introduce the voters to what Mission Bay could become in the years ahead, there were no hotels or motels shown but there was a small airplane landing strip and a ball park. The drawing also included a golf course, aquarium, nursery, a marine stadium, bathhouse and stables and bridle paths. There was room on shore and water for large and small yachts, rowing, sailing and power boat courses, and swimming and picnic areas. A research report to the Chamber of Commerce went even further and proposed Mission Bay as a site for professional football and baseball, for hotels and skating rinks, and perhaps even a Farmers’ Market.
In his support of the Mission Bay project, Mayor Knox said its potential was superior to that of Newport Harbor, seventy miles to the north, which was serving Los Angeles:
“This is a post-war project for which the groundwork should be started now. The sooner it is begun, the sooner San Diegans, and the unnumbered thousands of visitors attracted when peace comes, will be able to enjoy it ….”
A large block of land in the southeast area of Mission Bay, on both sides of what became Midway Drive, was held by Roscoe E. Hazard, the highway building contractor, who with two partners had purchased 500 acres in the early 1920’s. The founder of Grossmont, William G. Gross, had traveled the world and had assured Hazard he, too, believed that Mission Bay someday would become the “Venice of America.” It was Mayor Knox who approached Hazard about selling the land to the City; it was done, at a price of $300 an acre, the same figure at which it had been purchased so long before. Though some pieces were selling for $6,000 an acre, most of the land was marsh land and tax delinquent, and acquired by the City through condemnation proceedings.
The enthusiasm for recreational development was not shared by all. Harry Woodhead, president of Convair, warned that it could be foolhardy for San Diego to revert to its pre-war dependence on the Navy and tourism, and compared its situation to that of Western “Ghost Towns” which had placed dependence on narrow groups and undependable resources.
“For San Diego,” he told the Chamber of Commerce, “is in reality two communities — a haven of rest and a City of opportunity.” He urged greater efforts on industrial programs and said as for Convair it was in the airplane business to stay and that it was producing for today and designing for tomorrow and San Diego owed also an obligation to provide opportunities for its youth. He was telling San Diegans, once again, that they could have it both ways, “geraniums” as well as “smokestacks,” and learn to live with it in harmony. Industry was in San Diego to stay — and it represented the new technology, not the industrialism based on coal or ore or oil, or in close proximity to them.
But before the bay could be used it had to be saved. A program of development proposed the creation of a wide flood channel to divert the San Diego River directly into the ocean, near the mouth of Mission Bay, and thus avert further silting up of the bay. Subsequent steps called for dredging of the entrance, construction of protecting rock jetties, dredging of a harbor for ocean-going craft and further dredging to accommodate perhaps 6,000 small boats; to use sand from dredging to fill in 1,000 acres of marsh land to create new beaches and recreational areas.
Arguments of just how this was to be accomplished, and how to divide the bay between recreational-minded users and boating enthusiasts, was to continue for years. But the City went to Congress for endorsement of the recommendations of the United States Army Corps of Engineers for dredging operations based on flood control and navigational provisions of laws of the land.
For almost as many years as there had been interest in developing Mission Bay, Old Town had been the subject of concern, with its ancient and historic structures slowly crumbling away. George W. Marston had purchased the old site of the first settlement in California on Presidio Hill, and had converted it into a park which he presented to the City, along with a museum building. Nolen’s interest in Old Town was echoed by Glenn Rick, the Planning Director, and the Planning Commission. Before the war had ended, a planning consultant, Charles H. Eliot, had been hired and he came up with a suggested program of preservation, and the merchant, George A. Scott, became chairman of a Chamber of Commerce committee which threw its support behind the Eliot plan, as it became known. The Eliot plan would have safeguarded historic sites as living museums; encouraged the construction of buildings in the style of Early California; developed crafts and home industries of that period in order to create a “colorful atmosphere of restaurants, theaters, dance, fiestas, etc., which would attract tourists, and at the same time recognize the cultural contribution of Early California – Spanish-Mexican backgrounds to San Diego, to California, and to the nation.” He suggested this could be accomplished through the cooperation of the City, the San Diego History Center, and private groups and church organizations.
The war in Europe came to an official end on May 8, 1945. President Truman ordered atomic bombs dropped on Japan in August, and San Diego turned to concern over its future as another V-Day, in the Pacific, approached. The end had been foreseen, economically, some time before by the National Administration. Convair’s work force had been reduced to less than 14,000. By the end of the war, nearly forty percent of the workers at Convair were women. Two years before, when the bombing fleets were being rushed off the assembly lines, Convair had had 44,000 employees. Convair hoped to stabilize its work force at about 10,000, when readjustments were completed. Rohr Aircraft, specializing in aircraft components, had reduced its work force of 9,500 to less than 2,900, and thought through mergers it might manufacture refrigerators and washing machines as well as aircraft parts. Solar Aircraft was certain it had a future in aviation in continuing to build its heat-resistant exhaust manifold systems.
With the beginning of the war Ryan aircraft became a producer of parts for the Convair B-24 and the PYB, under military pressure, and it was not until 1942 that Ryan received a secret contract to develop the first Navy fighter with a jet engine. The Fireball came off the line in 1944, jet-pushed and propeller-driven, capable of flying on either engine. In December of 1943 came an order for one hundred Fireballs; 600 more were ordered subsequently. The end came before the new Ryan Fireball fighter for the Navy could get into action. Employment dropped drastically, from 8,500 to 1,200. Search for new business to keep the company alive led Ryan into a short-lived manufacturing of metal burial caskets.
The most hard-hit shipyard was considered to be the Concrete Ship Constructors, at National City, which had employed 1,700 persons in turning out landing craft which no longer would be needed. There were possibilities in the construction of new and larger tuna fishing boats, or reconverting those which had been on wartime duty.
In all, perhaps 30,000 more jobs were expected to evaporate with the end of hostilities. At the time, San Diego had no way of knowing the future of the many military establishments in the area, as to which ones might merely be reduced and which ones eliminated. One thing was certain, the sea of white caps which had flowed through the City’s streets would remain for some time, as the Navy returned thousands of men to San Diego for demobilization.
The business leaders of San Diego considered that the stakes were high — a more stabilized and yet prosperous City for those who remained, or a City brought to a state of economic collapse. In the Chamber of Commerce offices, its president, Hance H. Cleland, and its general manager, Douglas Campbell, early in the war had poured over statistics and had come up with a publication that warned San Diego businessmen they were entering a game which had to be played with gold chips. If they wanted the new industrial capacity used in a beneficial way, and assure jobs for all who wanted them, San Diego would have to attract new industry and new commerce.
Japan signed the articles of surrender on September 12. The war was over. Only a few persons in the aviation industry could see the beginning of a new age of jet aircraft that could span the nation in a few hours. Almost nobody had any knowledge of a scientific team which in a corner of the huge Convair plant was working on a government contract to determine if the missiles which the Germans had introduced as buzz bombs or the rockets which had been developed in the United States, could be designed to travel 5,000 miles.
The end of the war, however, did not immediately bring about as great a depression locally as had been feared. Though by 1946 employment in aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturing had declined to less than 8,000, payrolls in industry as a whole dropped only about a third from the war-time high of $311,000,000. Population in the City actually rose by more than 42,000, to 362,000, though the total in the County declined almost 80,000 from the 1945 high of 635,000. The Chamber of Commerce estimated that some 50,000 war workers and their families were replaced by returning veterans and servicemen, and thousands of women who had been in mass production lines had returned to household duties.
Ships of war which had multiplied were being withdrawn toward the continent and San Diego was a natural home port of the future. Memories of the war were to linger in a reserve fleet which never went to sea. This was the so-called mothball fleet consisting of 175 warships tied up at the Naval Station, covered with preservatives against weather, a sleeping fleet awaiting another call to the defense of the nation. Air power had become dominant in war and here were the flying fields and the protected harbor and repair and training facilities.
Though thousands of wartime housing units had been constructed, many of them of a temporary nature, suitable housing was still in demand. Real estate sales and the value of building permits were higher than they were in any of the prior three years. The doubling up of families in cramped quarters was coming to an end. Thousands of unmarried workers who had been imported to work in defense plants simply left for their old homes. A high proportion of the families living in the permanent units of the Linda Vista housing project elected to buy their homes and remain. The big Camp Callan on Torrey Pines mesa was torn down and the lumber diverted to San Diego to build more homes. Almost 5,500 living units were reclassified from “temporary” to “permanent” by the Federal government so they could be moved and re-sited in County areas where building codes were not restrictive, or even into Mexico. Navy demountable housing was in time strengthened and much of it retained.
Controls were lifted gradually and often spasmodically, and with the scarcity of consumer goods that had marked the war years, the savings of years quickly found their way into the marketplace. San Diego train and airplane passenger totals did not decline though bus and street car traffic dropped twenty-seven percent. But by the late September of 1945 the number of unemployed rose to 17,600. By January of a new year it would reach nearly 25,000. The nature of the slow decline was evident in the statistics. Military payrolls were once as high as $288,000,000. By 1946 they were down to $105,000,000. In the aviation industry payrolls declined from almost $90,000,000 to $22,763,000 in one year. But they would start up again in 1947. Unemployment reached a high of 30,000 by May of 1946. Home construction was absorbing many former wartime workers but the full effects of the end of the great war would not be felt in some areas for several more years.
Vessels of the tuna fleet returned from wartime duty. Seven had been lost in the Pacific war. The use of clippers by the Navy had begun to ease up in 1944 and the construction of seven larger vessels, of either wood, or steel, was resumed in six San Diego shipyards and in a number of smaller ones. Many of the returning clippers were equipped with radar. Depth finder sounders and direction finders and refrigeration had been vastly improved.
The vessels that had stayed home had kept the tuna industry at a high capacity. Demand for tuna, as a substitute for meat, had risen under wartime pressures and the promotional efforts of the armed services. By 1951, five fish canneries in San Diego were employing 3,000 persons and an estimated 2,700 fishermen manned more than 700 vessels of varying sizes. Of these, 210 were big tuna clippers ranging in cost up to a half million dollars. Amphibious planes, based in southern waters, were added to scout for schools of tuna. In 1925 the earlier tuna boats could bring in a catch of 100 tons; twenty years later, a single boat could bring as much as 500 tons.
The impetus this gave to the economy of San Diego was important at a time of stress. But trouble for the fishing industry was rising in the same country which had drawn the tuna fleet into action — Japan.
The fear of a deep economic recession in San Diego was nothing compared to a situation which had not been anticipated, one which had been thought solved, and that was assurance of an adequate supply of water. The end of the war found the Navy cutting back on emergency projects which it had undertaken under the compulsion of war. On October 6, 1945, the Navy abandoned its financial support of the San Diego Aqueduct to bring Colorado River water to San Diego by way of the Metropolitan system. Rainfall had been above normal for several years but supplies in storage had continued to decline alarmingly, and there were indications by 1945 that the rains were letting up.
A delegation of officials from the City and the San Diego County Water Authority rushed to Washington by airplane and negotiated a contract with the Navy by which San Diego agreed to reimburse the Navy, if it continued the project, at the rate of $500,000 a year, without interest charges. In the delegation were Charles C. Dail, Vice Mayor; G. E. Arnold, Assistant City Manager; Fred D. Pyle, City Hydraulic Engineer; Fred A. Heilbron, Chairman, and J. L. Burkholder, General Manager and Chief Engineer of the San Diego County Water Authority.
In telephone conversations with Mayor Knox, who in turn conferred with City Councilmen and civic leaders, the agreement was reached to continue as suggested by the Navy. City Manager Fred A. Rhodes and City Attorney Jean F. DuPaul soon afterward went to Washington and a contract was signed by Rhodes on October 17, 1945. At every step San Diegans had the support of the Commandant of the Eleventh Naval District, Vice Admiral J. B. Oldendorf. The overall cost of the project was put at $14,180,000.
One of the recommendations of the President’s committee had been that the San Diego County Water Authority press for membership in the Metropolitan Water District from which it had to receive water for the San Diego Aqueduct. On April 19, 1946, the Authority agreed to annexation terms stipulated by the Metropolitan District, which merged the water rights of San Diego City and County with those of the Metropolitan District, and for payment of $13,045,000 over a period of thirty years as the Authority’s pro rata share of the original cost of the Metropolitan’s aqueduct from the Colorado River. In turn, the District agreed to reimburse the Authority for half the cost of the San Diego Aqueduct and to operate and maintain its northern section. The terms of annexation were approved by City and County voters on November 5, 1946, and the San Diego County Water Authority became the fifteenth agency of the Metropolitan District.
At the same election voters approved a $2,000,000 bond issue to construct aqueduct extensions to various member communities or irrigation districts. However, the City of Coronado and the Ramona Irrigation District withdrew from the Authority. Coronado believed it had sufficient supplies already and the Ramona District feared excessive costs in lifting the water high enough for it to be used in its area.
A second threat to completion of the aqueduct came early in the following year, in 1947, when the Comptroller General of the United States questioned the legality of the project under the War Powers Act. The Navy supported Mayor Knox and Heilbron in taking the project to Congress for approval, with the aid of California’s senators, Sheridan Downey and William F. Knowland. A Senate committee held hearings, then passed legislation authorizing the construction, confirming all steps that had been taken and ratifying the City-Navy contract.
The winding down of the vast operations in the Pacific was slow and many San Diegans in places of authority believed that the City had not yet felt the full impact of the end of the war. The San Diego of 1946 was a far different community from the one of 1940 which had been by-passed by the industrial revolution that had reached the West Coast. The Winters were still warm and the Summers cool, but the tempo of life had changed perceptibly. Its racial balance also had begun to shift. Its Black population more than doubled, from two percent to four and half percent; the number of residents with Mexican-Spanish surnames had risen from three and one-tenth percent to four and six-tenths percent.
The tourist trade, which had virtually disappeared during the war, had become a $30,000,000 annual industry in 1946, and there was a realization that San Diego should continue the efforts that had begun with the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935 and 1936. This time it could be Mission Bay. Mission Bay had popular support; Old Town did not. Mission Bay promised not merely a playground, or a monument, but a source of revenue in the promotion of a tourist industry, in the building of hotels and boating facilities, and the creation of many new jobs. The concept of a “City Beautiful” was another matter.
The virtual abandonment of the tidelands for expansion of a Civic Center came as the result of Harbor Department pressure which it insisted rested on the conditions under which the State granted jurisdiction of them to the City. The Harbor Commission had become more and more determined, especially seeing what happened to the port during the war, that waterfront lands should be reserved for improvements consistent with development of commerce, navigation and fishing.
“Commerce” was stretched to include recreation and tourist-oriented development and activities. At the time, available waterfront lands were limited and vanishing. The jurisdiction of the Harbor Department extended only to the City limits of San Diego, to the edge of National City. The Navy had laid claim to vast acreages below Market Street and on the shore-side of Point Loma. Then there was the airport and the industrial plants of Convair, Ryan and Solar; and, in addition, a baseball park had been built during the Great Depression, with Federal Works Progress Administration help, at the foot of Broadway, and areas to its north, and south of the Civic Center were being used to stack lumber for San Diego’s home-building expansion. The Harbor Department insisted new commercial piers were needed and the fishing fleet should have its own protected harbor area.
Old dreams die hard, and many San Diegans had not forgotten the future that might have been had the harbor lived up to the promises that had been forecast for it. A newspaperman who later was to become president of the American President Lines, George Killion, once wrote:
“San Diego today stands on the edge of a new epoch that may result, if all the dreams and plans come true, in the creation of a magnificent ‘City Beautiful,’ and the permanent establishment of the Harbor of the Sun as a world port, which in time may surpass all other American ports, with the possible exception of New York….”
That had been many years before, and still the City waited for the ships to come, hopes based on the rise of industrialism in the West. However, the same conditions had brought about a reduced tonnage to the West Coast, and seen the erection of large warehouses in the Los Angeles harbor area which had begun to shape a distribution center for all of Southern California. If ships were to unload at San Diego, there had to be cargoes to pick up for other port delivery elsewhere. That this tonnage could be developed from throughout the Southwest had remained a constant expectation.
The Harbor Commission opposed the addition of a State Building to the originally-planned Civic Center, now consisting only of the City-County Administration building. The City Council had concurred and turned its attention to a search for a new site for public buildings.
Even the use of Balboa Park as a Civic Center was considered. After all, wouldn’t it be in the spirit of the “White City” which had placed so much emphasis on the beauty of buildings and park-like settings? At the urging of the Park Commission, Frederick Law Olmsted, the noted landscape architect, whose Massachusetts firm had been involved in some of the early planning for the 1915 Exposition, was retained by the City Manager to examine the possibilities of using the park as a City center. His decision was entirely negative. The Commission wanted to retain him to draw a master plan for the future of the park, but funds were not made available.
The City Planning Director came up with a Mall which, however, would be moved northward from the original street designed by John Nolen, to Cedar Street, so its base would be at the City-County Administration building on the waterfront. Full blocks on each side of Cedar Street would have to be purchased out of tax revenues or out of proceeds of bond issues. The beginning, however, was to be a modest one, the purchase of blocks only for the placing of the four local public buildings deemed necessary at the time. The purchase of other sites up Cedar Street would depend on the growth of the City and its needs.
The first of the proposed buildings were to be a new City Library, a School Administration Center, a Hall of justice to replace the old Courthouse, a Convention Hall, and a hoped-for State Building. At first, only ten public buildings were foreseen; later, some supporters even talked of twenty structures.
Support for Cedar Street came from the Planning Commission headed by Philip L. Gildred who urged the City Council to take the issue to the voters. A vote in the Council came on May 14, 1946. The post-war period, after the immediate release of pent-up buying power, was indicating deep economic troubles ahead nationally. A Convention Hall had seemed to hold an answer in the search for new sources of local income.
The Mayor was full of doubts on proceeding with the Cedar Street plan at the time, contending that it was not an issue of City planning but of City financing. San Diego, he said, had the highest unemployment ratio in the United States and “was in for a blow,” and a Convention Hall should not be delayed until a Mall was financially feasible.
“Were you ever in the position,” the Mayor asked Gildred, “of hiring an architect and then not having enough money to build the building he designed? That is our position with the Planning Commission.”
Councilman Charles B. Wincote did not believe the Mall buildings could be erected on land not already owned by the City, for twenty years. Councilman Ernest J. Boud moved that the Cedar Street plan be placed on the next ballot. Councilmen Gerald C. Crary and Paul Hartley voted with him. Councilmen Wincote, Charles C. Dail and Walter Austin voted “no.” The Mayor did not vote, explaining he would not want to break a tie to put the issue on the ballot.
The issue went back to the Planning Commission, but the pressure for a Convention Hall kept the Cedar Street issue alive. Late one night, Mayor Knox changed his mind and announced he would put Cedar Street to a vote of the people. City Manager Rhodes presented a shortened version, to extend from the City-County building up Cedar only to Third Avenue, a matter of ten blocks, instead of all the way to connect with Balboa Park. Knox joined other Councilmen, some new to the City Council, in support of Cedar Street
While the dispute over Cedar Street raged, and the fate of a “City Beautiful” was said to be hanging in the balance, George White Marston, who had been instrumental in bringing John Nolen to San Diego so many years before, and had continually fought for “carnations over smokestacks,” died on May 31, 1946 at the age of ninety-five. A period of mourning was declared in a mayoral proclamation, and a moment of silence was observed in the City at the hour of the funeral in respect of the memory of San Diego’s “first citizen.”
Through the Winter and Spring mass meetings were held in many sections of the City. The Chamber of Commerce and the Central Labor Council endorsed Cedar Street. Charles T. Leigh, chairman of a Cedar Street Development Committee, said it was unlikely the Navy would ever buy the City and County Administration building, as had been suggested, and thus it could remain the anchor for placing of a public building.
The vote on Cedar Street did not come until April 15, 1947, though economic fears were still besetting the community. But at the same time the City Council placed a second issue on the ballot, and that called for a decision on whether the voters would prefer to have public buildings located in Balboa Park. While waterfront commercial interests and speculators in land contributed money to those opposed to Cedar Street, the times were uncertain and jobs were more important to many voters than grandiose plans for grouping of public buildings which most certainly would bring about an increase in taxes.
Laying aside any concern he might have had on the timing of the issue, Knox took to the radio to urge public acceptance of Cedar Street. “The grouping of public buildings on Cedar Street will cost you, the taxpayers, less than at any other location ever proposed by anybody at any time.” He cited the support of City officials, the Library, Planning and Park Commissions, consulting engineers, the Senior and Junior Chambers of Commerce, organized labor, and the town’s three newspapers.
In an oblique reference to the lack of enthusiasm for the plan by the County Board of Supervisors, Knox said the proposed Hall of justice could be built near the existing Civic Center, as far as the City was concerned, as that was the prerogative of the Supervisors.
The vocal opposition was led by George W. Fisher, an attorney and National Guard officer, who said he was opposed to both the Cedar Street and Balboa Park locations. “There is only one issue to be decided…and that is whether private property shall be needlessly condemned and removed from the tax rolls, thus permanently increasing our taxes.” A “Save Balboa Park” campaign against locating the buildings in the park was described by Fisher as an elaborate and deceptive smokescreen to confuse the voter and conceal the real issue.
The people sent Cedar Street down to defeat with thousands of votes to spare, and also rejected the idea of using park land for public buildings. The latter vote was by a five-to-one margin. The State of California subsequently said that had Cedar Street won the area would have been considered for a new million dollar State building in San Diego but now the best site available would be selected.
“We face a tremendous problem in location of public buildings as a result of this election,” Councilman Ernest J. Boud said. As far as Knox was concerned, Cedar Street was a dead issue and there would be no further consideration of it as long as he remained in office. But Cedar Street would come up again.
The aqueduct, seventy-one miles in length, was placed in service in late November of 1947, and dedicated on December 11. The first drop of water for San Diego may have fallen as rain in the Green River Valley of Wyoming and have come down the mighty Colorado River, been impounded behind Boulder Dam, then let down to Parker Dam, and from there drawn off by the Metropolitan Water District and driven across the desert and pumped through the coastal mountains to Southern California. At the west end of the San Jacinto tunnel, San Diego drew the water of survival and delivered it by gravity flow to, first, San Vicente reservoir, from where it could be let down into the City’s distribution system.
Transversing some of the most rugged country in Southern California, the aqueduct included seven tunnels, all in San Diego County, which totaled four and four-tenths miles and ranging in length from 500 feet to 5,850 feet. Except for one and three-quarters miles of steel forty-eight-inch pipe, the aqueduct was reinforced concrete pipe from forty-eight to ninety-six inches in diameter. The tunnels were concrete-lined to a diameter of six feet.
At a dinner meeting celebrating the completion, Ewart W. Goodwin, chairman of the San Diego-Colorado River Association, expressed the City’s thanks to the Navy and Federal officials who had joined hands in what amounted to the “saving” of San Diego. Rear Admiral John J. Manning, Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks, said that while the Navy occupied ten percent of the area of San Diego it used more than forty percent of its water supply:
“Of the many post-war jobs under the Bureau of Yards and Docks none had more potential hazards than this one. None had a tighter financial structure. Many times in the early days we despaired of making our finances cover the job to its completion.”
The first water arrived just in time to avert rationing. But San Diego was a city still living on borrowed time. Goodwin warned that pending in Congress were projects proposed by other states which would drain off water from the Colorado which had been committed to Southern California. The San Diego-Colorado River Association had been formed to protect San Diego County’s share of “the last waterhole of the West.” And another period of drought was well advanced. In the six years, from 1945 to 1951, annual rainfall fell more than two and a half inches below normal.
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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’