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City of the Dream, 1940-1970

CHAPTER SIX: Cotton – The Promise of the Ships to Come

For a time in the 1950’s it appeared that those who had envisioned the Port of San Diego as the trading heart of the Southwest, and sought to reserve waterfront lands for commerce instead of public buildings, might have been right after all.

Cotton was the promise. It had been shipped through the port ever since 1900. Cotton from Arizona and the Imperial Valley had trickled out to foreign ports, though never in amounts sufficient to bring about a balance between exports and imports.

That is, until the 1950’s. Many circumstances effected a change in cotton production and shipment from the interior. Completion of Boulder Dam and the All-American Canal had stabilized a flow of water through an intricate system of irrigation canals throughout the Imperial Valley. Regulating reservoirs on the lower Colorado delivered water on a dependable basis to the Mexicali Valley, from where it also could be lifted to the Sonora plateau. Water and desert heat produced abundant crops; the cotton proved to be superior to much grown elsewhere; the world market demand, and price, were rising, and United States subsidies were available.

The staff of the port under John Bate was quick to take advantage of an outpouring of “white gold.” Here was a crop that could be moved from the Imperial Valley to the Port of San Diego by the little San Diego & Arizona Railroad. There were no Mexican ports available and the cotton from Mexicali Valley could be moved by truck to the first port of call, San Diego. True, the mountain barrier between Imperial Valley and the port had not yet been conquered by a new highway and there were four crests of more than 4,000 feet each which taxed the strength and maintenance of loaded trucks. But the route to San Diego was shorter than the one to Los Angeles, and there was less waiting for shipment, less warehouse costs, and faster loading.

In 1939 the first cotton from Calexico destined for shipment through the Panama Canal was delivered at the port by the San Diego & Arizona Railroad. In 1935, cotton was moving out for Liverpool. Three years later 6,000 bales went to Europe. In 1953, $1,540,000 worth of cotton went to Japan. A year later cotton was moving across the waterfront for England, Belgium, France and Germany, as well as for Japan, and the year’s shipments exceeded 100,000 bales. Late in the year the first cotton from Mexicali arrived, for the 1955 season. In 1955 there were nearly 150,000 bales and San Diego was leading the port of Los Angeles in the shipment of cotton. Another year saw the first cotton arrive from Sonora.

In February of 1955 at one time there were 60,000 bales awaiting shipment, piled on vacant land next to the Civic Center and on the west side of the Lane Field baseball park. There were 140 more carloads waiting in South Bay freight yards. More thousands of bales were backed up on the highways or in the valleys.

The sheer immensity of the cotton flood inspired many San Diegans to foresee San Diego as becoming, not just a point of shipment, but a cotton processing center. A group of local businessmen was organized to look into the possibilities, and the chairman, Charles W. Blumenschein, asked:

“A market for the product is right here on the West Coast. California fashions are setting the pace in industry. So why shouldn’t we process the cotton in California and save the terrific transportation costs?”

The idea was exciting. Anderson Borthwick, the banker and chairman of the Harbor Commission, announced a port improvement program to double cotton handling facilities, including the replacing of the old shed on the B Street Pier and the development of the existing small pier at the foot of Tenth Avenue. In April of 1955 San Diegans by a vote of three to one approved a bond issue of $9,699,000 to finance construction of the first phase of a new earth-filled Tenth Avenue terminal which could load or unload eight ships simultaneously. There would have to be sheds and cranes and railroad connections.

There would be enough revenue from the port to satisfy the bond obligations. Revenues from the terminals alone had risen from about $31,000 in 1948 to more than $215,000 in 1956. The number of ships calling to unload or load cargoes had risen from eighty-six to 201 in the same period of time.

Hopes ran high. But San Diego had been through this once before. This time it was cotton, last time it was the opening of the Panama Canal. Port enthusiasts had been certain that the completion of the canal would vastly increase the amount of shipping between the East and West coasts, and that San Diego, with an almost landlock harbor and being the first port of call on the Pacific Coast of the United States, would at last come into its own and merchants and citizens would benefit immensely in an economic way.

But the canal had merely shortened the journey and the ships had gone right on by, to the ports of Los Angeles and San Francisco, where railroads and much larger production areas, and industrialization, had made exchanges of cargoes more certain. But now San Diego, too, had huge shipments waiting to be picked up for the Far East and Europe, and ships did not have to leave with empty holds.

The possibilities of the bay were not limited to commerce. The scarcity of tidelands had brought about the end of an idea of a waterfront lined with beautiful buildings, but the conviction that San Diego’s tourist and convention business had to be in a large measure water-oriented, persisted.

John Bate had a solution. Recreation and vacation activities could be assigned to new land which could be created through dredging. U. S. Government dredging of the harbor channel, for navigation purposes, already had created Shelter Island in the lee of Point Loma. By 1953 the Harbor Department itself had spent $700,000 in reclamation and improvements on the island and in additional dredging of yacht and commercial boat anchorages.

Motels and restaurants available to the public were begun, under leases to private individuals. Confronted, though with a proposed Harbor Department lease for a private club on the island, Mayor John D. Butler and City Councilmen displayed reluctance to be in a position of granting use of public lands for what Charles C. Dail, then a Councilman, described as a “class privilege.”

Douglas R. Giddings, speaking for himself as an officer of the C. Arnholt Smith interests, assured Councilmen that the club to be known as the Kona Kai would not only be available to local yachtsmen and for recreational purposes, but would carry out the wishes of California and Arizona yachtsmen in providing a permanent home port as well as mooring facilities for some of the world’s largest pleasure crafts. Mission Bay, at that time not anywhere near ready for large yachts, was looked upon more as a small boat and recreational park. Councilmen approved a twenty-five-year lease for Giddings and Smith.

Through the post-war years tuna fishing and canning had helped in a large way to sustain the economy of San Diego and assure the importance of the Port. It was estimated in 1950 that it would have taken a train of 1,500 boxcars twelve miles long to transport the tuna canned at San Diego. More than 200 white-hulled clippers ranged as far south as the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Peru, and for the choice albacore the going price was as high as $500 a ton. Clippers had a range of up to 15,000 miles which was equal to a round trip to Japan, and they could remain at sea as long as four or five months.

Though spotting of schools of tuna often was done with the aid of a small airplane or a helicopter, and while some boats were costing up to a half million dollars each, actual fishing was still being done in a time-honored way. Fishermen stood on the platform at the stern of the boat, with bamboo fishing poles and lines, hooking tuna attracted by live bait thrown from the boat by a crewman known as a “chummer.” Strong arms were required to pull in the large struggling fish and a dexterous twist of the wrist and arm was necessary to cause the tuna to be unhooked while still sailing through the air and onto the deck.

While perhaps twenty percent of the annual catch was being taken by nets, purse seining was a laborious effort and considered risky in the fast-moving currents and sudden storms in the region of the Galapagos Islands. Nets up to forty to sixty feet in depth and perhaps 600 feet long were spread out around a school of tuna and then the weighted lower edges of the net, or seine, were gathered together by hand in the fashion of a purse. The tuna was slowly crowded into a small area, and then scooped out with other small basket-like nets. Porpoise which traveled with the schools were also trapped in the nets and caused great damage. They generally were taken, killed and tossed overboard. Hook-and-line fishermen contended that this practice broke up schools of tuna.

The growth of shipbuilding in San Diego almost paralleled that of the fishing industry. In 1951 there were six major shipyards and a number of smaller ones engaged in the construction of small naval vessels as well as steel and wooden-hulled tuna clippers. The principal yards were the Campbell Machine Company, headed by Dave and George Campbell; Harbor Boat and Yacht Company, owned by Arne Strom and Haldor Dahl; Martinolich Shipbuilding Company, founded and directed by Antony C. Martinolich; Rask Boatbuilding Company, in Coronado, operated by Peter Rask; the San Diego Marine Construction Company, a division of Oakley J. Hall’s Star & Crescent Company, and the National Steel and Shipbuilding Corporation directed by C. Arnholt Smith. Smith already was becoming an important factor in the development of San Diego through control of the United States National Bank and other enterprises being put together with unusual secretiveness. In time he would create an empire that would rival that of the great John D. Spreckels, and change the face of the City.

But the fishing boom was running into trouble. As early as 1948 about nine million pounds of tuna frozen or canned in Japan and other foreign countries entered the United States market. By 1950 imports rose to fifty-six million pounds; three years later, imports were 123 million pounds. The Japanese were undercutting the San Diego price by at least $20 a ton; the number of clippers began to decline, some being withdrawn and others lost at sea not replaced. Tuna fishermen demanded that Congress place a set quota on imports, and their wives paraded in protest.

In 1954 Americans consumed twelve million cases of tuna. Of this total, 1,600,000 cases came from Japan with the tuna packed in brine. Frozen tuna from Japan filled 2,600,000 other cases processed and canned in American canneries. Canneries insisted that if they did not accept and can frozen tuna from Japan, the Japanese would can all the tuna they could catch, ship it across the ocean and destroy the United States fish canning industry.

Competition was strong and growing, there were continuing losses of boats at sea due to poor navigation and lack of safety precautions. Heavy investments were required for larger and larger boats for longer and longer voyages. There were fears that the tuna was beginning to thin out along the coast of the Americas, necessitating the opening of even more far-distant fishing areas which would require the building of processing and canning plants nearer the sources of supply. For a good part of the decade the tuna industry was to labor in troubles. That is, until early in 1956, when the 120-foot Anthony M. was reequipped with a power block and six nylon nets and proceeded to Latin American waters. She returned to San Pedro thirty-nine days later, with a successful catch. The magazine Pacific Fisherman described the power block and nylon nets as being the salvation of the industry.

While San Diegans pondered the future of the City, the curtain was beginning to lift on a new era, one which, as predicted by General McNarney, would reveal things as then undreamed of.

In 1956 Convair announced it would build a $40,000,000 plant, with a million square feet of space, to produce a ballistic missile named the Atlas, which could carry an atomic warhead and span the oceans in thirty minutes. The quiet work of James R. Dempsey, the project manager; William H. Patterson, an aerodynamist, and Karel J. Bossart had produced what was described as the “ultimate weapon.” Development of the missile, according to Edgar V. Murphree, special assistant for missiles to Defense Secretary Charles E. Wilson, had moved faster than anticipated. The plant was to rise on Kearny Mesa east of Highway 395, on pueblo lands purchased from the City for $782,962. The City was moving north, or so it appeared.

On Palomar Mountain, a peak of more than 6,000 feet in height, in northern San Diego County, man was peering through the Hale telescope deep into a billion light years of space. Way back in 1928 Dr. George Ellery Hale had written an article about the possibility of a 200-inch telescope, or one even larger. Soon afterward the Rockefeller Foundation in New York agreed to assume the $6,000,000 cost of a 200-inch telescope, and responsibility for its design and construction was placed with the California Institute of Technology.

The growing problem of a vast sea of lights in the Los Angeles area turned the search for a site for the new telescope to San Diego County and Palomar Mountain. The decision to locate there was made in 1934. The 200-inch reflecting mirror for the telescope was cast of pyrex glass in Corning, New York, and after a year of cooling, it was delivered across country to Pasadena, where grinding, accurate to a millionth of an inch, halted during the war, was completed in the Spring of 1947. Over a route where some roads had to be widened and bridges strengthened, the mirror was hauled up Palomar Mountain. It was placed in operation in a huge observatory complex in 1948.

Not long after the Most Reverend Charles F. Buddy had become the Bishop of the new Catholic Diocese of San Diego, which in actuality took in a large area of Southern California, he walked across the mesa overlooking Mission Valley and told himself that here could rise the great center of learning which he had dreamed of founding. That was in 1937. He described his plan to the Reverend Mother Hill of the Religious Order of the Sacred Heart, in San Francisco, which had a long record of achievement in the fields in schools and colleges on six continents. >From there came his first financial encouragement. By 1949 the first buildings of Spanish Renaissance architecture began to rise on the mesa, to become the first privately-supported university in San Diego, and open to all students regardless of religious affiliation.

A private university was taking form on the grounds of the old Theosophical Society high on Point Loma. California Western University was an outgrowth of Balboa College, originally situated in the downtown area, and which in 1950 had been granted a zone variance to re-locate on Point Loma on land sweeping down to the sea and providing one of the world’s finest views. Dwight E. Stanford was succeeded as president by Robert M. Griffin.

In 1952 Balboa was reorganized to become California Western University, with Admiral Frederick C. Sherman, U. S. N., ret., as chairman of a Board of Trustees. Serving with him were George A. Scott, John Cranston, Ewart W. Goodwin, Kenneth S. Imel, Herbert Kunzel, Edmund G. Price, Hayden S. Sears, Donald E. Smith, Harold B. Starkey and Robert J. Sullivan.

In June of 1952, Dr. William Rust, formerly head of religious education and an associate professor of religion at the University of Denver, was named executive dean. In November, with the retirement of Griffin, Rust became president. Rust announced that the University would be formed into three colleges, Business, Liberal Arts and a Community College. Its future course as an institution was set in the path originally taken by the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. It was accepted as a Methodist-supported institution by the Southern California Methodist Conference.

There were expectations that many new buildings on the campus would bear the name of those who donated the money to build them.

In the 1950’s the Board of Regents of the University of California was expanding the university system to accommodate sons and daughters of the millions of new residents who had settled in the Golden State. On December 16, 1955, John Jay Hopkins, the chairman of Convair and General Dynamics Corporation, came out from New York to appear before a meeting of the regents in Los Angeles.

In the university’s expansion into San Diego, he urged the location there of a scientific and technical campus in the La Jolla area, and if this were done his company would provide a grant of a million dollars and also would build in the same area its own research center at a cost of perhaps $10,000,000.

His plea was supported by a committee from San Diego which included Captain Henry S. Bernstein, director of the Naval Electronics Laboratory on Point Loma; Dr. Edward C. Creutz, formerly of the Carnegie Technical Institute and then with General Dynamics; O. W. Campbell, San Diego’s City Manager; James Archer and Robert H. Biron, a vice president of Convair, who were members of a Chamber of Commerce University of California Committee, and James S. Copley, publisher of The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune.

The suggested institution was described by Hopkins as “a practical ivory tower” which could team up with the activities of the world-famous Scripps Institution of Oceanography and be important to the state as well as internationally.

“The success of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may depend on moves of this type. It would not conflict with the present activities at San Diego State College as it would operate in the higher areas of science and technology. We feel a great new era of change is at hand, both social and economic. Maybe our project will help unlock secrets of knowledge as rapidly as possible.”

The concept seemed to have been accepted. On July 10,1956, Hopkins dedicated a site on Torrey Pines, a gift of pueblo land voted by the people for a new atomic research center and remarked afterward that “there will be discoveries here that will amaze the world.”

San Diegans had envisioned something akin to the California or Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But there were repeated efforts to convert the proposed branch into a general campus. Resistance to the original idea had risen in the University system, especially at University of California at Los Angeles, but Dr. Roger Revelle, director of the University’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, advanced compelling arguments to retain the graduate school emphasis.

It was not until August of 1957 that the Board of Regents reaffirmed the original concept, in part, that the La Jolla campus would emphasize science and technology, but at the same time would provide such undergraduate instruction as was considered essential to support the graduate program.

The new plan envisioned the need for at least a thousand acres and the necessity of perhaps serving as many as 10,000 students by 1970. As a result there would be, too, casual surveys of sites other than the Torrey Pines area.

With universities ranging from San Diego State College, the Catholic-financed University of San Diego, the assurance of a high-level branch of the University of California, and now with a private but church-supported university which, it was hoped, could grow into another University of Southern California, San Diego was being advertised by its ambitious promoters as the “Educational Center of the Southwest.”

John Jay Hopkins did not live to see either his atomic laboratory completed or construction begun on the university. He had been a Wall Street lawyer who late in his career put together an atomic age industrial empire that had produced the world’s first atomic-powered submarine and was producing the nation’s first ballistic missile in a new plant at San Diego. He died on May 3, 1957, at the age of sixty-three. Frank Pace, Jr., former Secretary of the Army, assumed direction of General Dynamics. Bernard F. “Sandy” Coggan was promoted to a vice president as well as general manager of Convair-San Diego in 1957, at the age of thirty-eight.

The hope of a Civic Theater would not die. Russ auditorium was bleak and lacking in parking areas. Women leaders of the community took up the challenge and proposed a $3,500,000 bond issue to construct a theater in Balboa Park, just east of Park Boulevard, in the central park area. It would have 3,000 seats and provide for parking for 1,500 cars on two levels, with access from Park Boulevard, Laurel Street and the Florida Canyon road, and elevators would deliver people to proper seat levels. Though women civic leaders rallied their friends and supporters, the voting was light and they failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority. A Civic Theater for plays and concerts was not necessarily a great public enthusiasm.

In the Fall of the same year, the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1, and sent it spinning around the Globe in one and a half hours. That was on October 4, 1957. On November 3, the Russians launched another and much larger satellite which carried a live creature, a dog, into space. The United States had yet to successfully launch its first missile. Feverish reaction swept over the country and engulfed San Diego.