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City of the Dream, 1940-1970

CHAPTER NINE: The Hopes – Tourists, a Bay, and the Park

There were still many people in San Diego who had been nurtured on the idea of the “City Beautiful” as had been so inspiringly described long before by the city planner from Boston, John Nolen. And hadn’t the United States Supreme Court upheld this as a right?

They firmly believed that they somehow could control events, could summon form and beauty into the disorder of population shifts and municipal growth. They had envisioned a City ris­ing on the bay which could provide, as no other American city, with the possible exception of San Francisco, a spirit of living.

But the breakup of the City by residential sprawl and the de­centralization brought about by the auto and shopping centers threatened to leave the downtown section of San Diego only a limited commercial and financial center.

There still could be a shining City. Mission Bay was an aquatic park which in time could be unmatched anywhere. Balboa Park with its Zoo, the grandeur of trees and plantings, and grand mu­seums, was also an unfinished business but it had more appeal, so San Diegans believed, than Central Park in New York City. Most of the people who had come to San Diego City after World War II accepted most of this; but they did not accept any conten­tion that the good life meant the preservation of downtown land values or an obligation to crowd into an urban center in the man­ner of the cities which so many of them had fled.

They came for the climate and the freedom of space. But the dream of Old San Diego had never died. The pioneer spirit of the West still flickered in San Diego and other towns and cities of the Pacific Coast region. It had been less than a hundred years since Alonzo Horton, from New York State by way of Wis­consin and San Francisco, had summoned the modern City of San Diego into being. A restlessness was still there and personal and civic achievements were often wrapped in high purposes or the drama of history. The pursuit of water, for example. In its booklet of 1962, titled “Water for People,” the Metropolitan Water District stated:

“Southern California is a section of the Earth where more people have come to live, and work and play, in a region far removed from adequate water supplies than has been true in any region at any time in recorded history. The Babylonians, the Carthaginians and the Romans built great aqueduct systems for the importation of water to their cities. In the light of engineering and construction developments as of their ages, the works they built and oper­ated remain as wonders of the world. But these people traveled relatively short distances to their water sources. Here in Southern California we are bringing water from outside water sources through aqueducts 300 miles long. Even now we are looking to new water sources in Northern California more than 500 miles distant.”

This meant, of course, transporting the excess waters of North­ern California to Southern California, through an elaborate canal system running through the Central Valleys of California. The water would be collected near Sacramento, from, among other rivers, the Feather River, in what was described as the world’s largest construction program, the California State Water Project. San Diego’s share would be distributed through the Metropolitan system.

In this program, Councilman George Kerrigan was San Di­ego’s representative with the Feather River Association. The voters of the State approved the issuance of $1,750,000,000 in bonds, to finance the project, and the voters in San Diego reg­istered approval by a margin of better than four to one. The cam­paign for the bonds was led in San Diego by Councilman Frank Curran and Stacey Sullivan, a lawyer, and the margin in San Diego was enough to offset a loss in San Francisco and a poor showing in Los Angeles.

San Diegans were not to be allowed to forget that central Bal­boa Park had been summoned into being, as a reality, through an Exposition by which a City of less than 40,000 population had challenged the great metropolitan areas for the world’s atten­tion. While Mission Bay was on everybody’s mind as it moved toward full development, Balboa Park to many San Diegans rep­resented the beauty and heart of any shining City.

The movement to study Balboa Park and its future was ini­tiated by the Chamber of Commerce in a letter to the City Coun­cil, in May of 1956. The City Council subsequently named a Citizens’ Committee whose general chairman was Dr. Douglas McElfresh. Robert Frazee and Arthur F. Butler were vice chair­men. The chairman of its most important subcommittee, on buildings, was Samuel Wood Hamill, the architect. It was he who wrote the summary:

“The preservation for over forty years of many of the 1915 Exposition Buildings despite the fact that they were originally constructed of wood frame and stucco as `temporary buildings’ for a one-year life expectancy in­dicates the reverenced place these structures hold in the admiration and affection of San Diegans and visitors from all over the world. When one re­views the impermanent nature of certain of these structures and the fact that many of them have no known practical use for extended periods of their existence, we have proof beyond a doubt that their outstanding beauty has endowed them with a degree of permanence not inherent in their structure . … The greatest tribute therefore which we can pay to this center of civic culture, will be to initiate and with perseverance carry on a continuing pro­gram of development in Balboa Park, which will insure that as each old struc­ture passes into memory that it be replaced with buildings and/or gardens of commensurate beauty, blended into the inspired design concept of the original group of 1915 Exposition buildings and gardens … it is our profound duty, therefore, that we pass intact to the future, Balboa Park, this transcend­ant work of the hands of men, some of whom have passed on and some of whom are still present in our day.”

The committee listed only a limited number of buildings as permanent though it detailed the uses to which all were being put and which, in many cases, could be continued for some time into the future. In the Prado area only the structures of the Cali­fornia Quadrangle, the newer buildings of the Fine Arts Gallery and the Natural History Museum, and the Botanical building, were listed as permanent. In the Palisades area, only the Federal building was so considered.

The committee, acknowledging that its study was incomplete because of its limited resources, concluded that a detailed mas­ter plan was essential to preserve the present useful buildings and the architectural pattern.

The “capture” of Balboa Park for commercially-related inter­ests was a possibility never far removed. In 1959 there was a new move to convert the unused Ford Building of the 1935 Exposi­tion into a Convention Hall. Its primary virtue was that it would be half-way between the hotel interests downtown and those in Mission Valley. Support for a publicly-financed Convention Hall had been rejected by the voters time and again, and a re­consideration of the use of the Ford Building was proposed by Robert O. Peterson as president of the San Diego Convention and Tourist Bureau. A decision, however, was put aside pending a study of the uses and future of Balboa Park and its structures. The City Council commissioned a St. Louis planning firm, Har­land Bartholomew & Associates to shape a master plan for the park.

There had been talk also of putting a Convention Hall in Mis­sion Bay Park, but this would have required asking the taxpay­ers to finance construction of a building — an action they had so persistently refused, though there was general acceptance of the fact that tourist business was necessary to help pay for im­provements in the park.

Development was proceeding slowly at Mission Bay. But, it was true that Balboa Park, after ninety years, was still an unfin­ished business with a large area to the east lying in its native state. And Mission Bay Park was almost four times the size of Balboa Park.

Caution in granting leases arrived after De Anza Point was leased for a trailer camp. It had been envisioned that trailers would use the camp for short visits, as was desired. Failure to specify a time limitation resulted in the placing of mobile homes for “the duration.”

The first to move into a prominent recreational-commercial position on the bay, in 1953, however, was William D. Evans, a young San Diegan, who began with the building of fifty rental units, a restaurant and cocktail lounge, which he named the Bahia. Additions were made in each of four years, from 1955 through 1958, when he proposed another 200-unit hotel on pri­vate leased land on the northern shoreline, in Pacific Beach, a plan approved by the City Planning Commission.

While the rush of investors into the park had not materialized as had been expected, at the time the taxpayers had been sold on approving additional funding for development, the City was concerned in going beyond the Master Plan for the bay itself and adopting some guidelines for the structures certain to arise eventually.

In 1959, City Manager Bean recommended to the City Coun­cil that the Community Facilities Planners of Pasadena be re­tained to study the park and make recommendations as to what should be done for the future. Their report found that the pri­mary drawback of the park was its flatness. “The water is flat. The elevation of surrounding lands and islands is only five to twelve feet above water level.” The major exception was Crown Point:

“The fine, curving forms of islands and shorelines on the Master Plan lead one to expect comparable contoured curves in the skyline profiles of those land forms. What a disappointment to discover that such profiles are not planned and that the islands are merely flat shapes a few feet above the water.”

What should be done regarding the bay was presented in some detail, and, they stated, that like many other large recreation facilities, Mission Bay Park would be a partnership between public and private enterprise. While the leased sites were only seven percent of the total land area, they were described as the key to the character, spirit, and quality of the entire park:

“On these sites will be the park’s largest buildings, its most bustling ac­tivity, the most people. If each of the many small parcels which comprise this critical acreage were subject to strictly independent private decisions as to physical development, the result would be chaos. Three hundred acres of un­controlled whimsey in building styles, signs, parking and landscape patterns could produce in Mission Bay Park a visual disaster which would down­grade the entire park. Neighboring Mission Beach is a convenient example of the urban anarchy which could threaten Mission Bay Park.”

They suggested landscaped walkways through Mission Beach, connecting the bay with the ocean; if highways were to be built through the park, and the report hoped they would not be built, they should be elevated, permitting local park roads, pedestrian and bicycle paths to flow underneath them. There should be con­tinuity between land and water by a meandering promenade zone, paralleling the top of the riprap or edge of the beach, de­signed more for sitting and watching than for walking. All hous­ing should be raised at least one-story above the ground, to im­prove the view of the water. Canals, basins, fountains, pools, lagoons should be developed throughout the land portion and leased areas; and the type of materials and color of all structures be rigidly controlled so that they “fit gracefully into the environ­ment.”

Though they believed the park should capture some of the flavor of the world’s waterfronts, they agreed the City so far had resisted temptations to re-create Italian fishing villages, Paris quays and South Seas beaches which might lead to movie set designs or self-conscious quaintness.

A vision of the park, as it might appear in the future, was pre­sented to staid members of the City Council. Mission Bay Aquatic Park was described as 4,000 acres of land and water, with thirty-one miles of shoreline dredged out from a marshy duck pond to offer recreation for three million people annually in the year 2000. The 12,000 boats which would call Mission Bay home port would provide a quiet panorama of sails. There would be a mighty spectacle of power boats and an impressive array of yachts, as well as a playful covey of paddleboats. Those millions of people would fish from piers for the afternoon or board a commercial vessel for a deep-sea fishing weekend. They would swim, hike, ride, picnic, play, explore, watch. They would stay in fancy and less fancy hotels, cottages, trailers, tents, and would eat at chowder bars or elegant restaurants. They could lie on the beach and watch sand castles under construction or wan­der about and watch fishing and boats and tides and the plants and animals who liked the edge of the water.

This all was very alluring, particularly for those who might still be imbued with some of the old pioneering spirit of sum­moning greatness, but might have been heavy going for those who were practical enough to believe they might be gone from the scene by the time this all could be accomplished in the year 2000. Their view of Mission Bay was of their time, and their use.

In 1960, on the recommendation of the Planning Director, Harry Haelsig, the City Council voted to make the report its “basic controlling guide” in the development of Mission Bay particularly in reference to the control, not necessarily of de­sign, but of materials, textures and colors to assure a harmoni­ous relationship.

Plans were the order of the day. Some of them, as has been suggested, came from the lingering pioneering spirit of personal achievement which had been able to influence the rising new cities of the West. Others perhaps were the result of a new pro­fessionalism in City Government and the characteristics of the City Manager system.

Though a professional study of Balboa Park had been sug­gested by a former City Manager, O. W. Campbell, he also had been held responsible for a neglect of the park. It remained for his successor, George Bean, to recommend the employment of Harland Bartholomew & Associates of St. Louis, Missouri, to make a thorough study in the spirit of the report of the Citizens’ Committee and prepare a master plan for the future of the park.

In a preliminary report late in 1959, the St. Louis firm recom­mended the removal or replacement of thirteen buildings left over from two Expositions, and this immediately built up a polit­ical and emotional resistance from those who had learned to love the park and its aging structures.

A final report, however, in 1960, somewhat tempered the re­sistance by describing the park more as people wanted to hear about it:

“A park is first of all scenery and Balboa Park possesses some of the most majestic scenery of any municipal park in the United States . … Buildings are incidental to a park, usually provided only to a minimum possible extent . … Yet in the charming structures of the 1915 Exposition, San Diego has enjoyed a remarkable civic asset.”

But, the Park “has become neglected — almost the orphan of San Diego.” Ninety years before the State Legislature had pledged that “these lands are to be held in trust forever … for the purposes of a free and public park… and for no other or dif­ferent purposes.” The report lamented the loss of park lands for three freeways. New York, Chicago and San Francisco had suc­cessfully resisted the intrusion of freeways in their great civic parks and the National Municipal League cited Balboa Park as an example where a City had succumbed to nibbling encroach­ment. By 1960, almost a fourth of the park had been granted away for various uses, three schools, city streets, Naval Hospital, freeways, and for non-profit groups.

To preserve the park from further encroachments, Bartholo­mew & Associates said that the greatest financial return to the people would come only from using Balboa Park as a park, and prohibiting its uses for conventions, trade shows, schools, free­ways and City offices.

Emphasis was to be placed on enhancing the museum, fine arts, theatrical, historical, scientific, zoological, garden and pic­nic complexes of the park. To set up these complexes, it was rec­ommended that certain existing buildings be removed, some of them to be replaced.

Buildings to be removed and replaced would include all of the temporary Spanish-Colonial structures remaining from the 1915 Exposition but “the essential character of the Prado area … should be maintained in perpetuity by the careful and sym­pathetic design of each new structure that is to replace one of the old temporary buildings.”

This went to the heart of the worries of many San Diegans. Two of the main buildings from the 1915 Exposition had been long gone from the scene, and replaced by the newer Fine Arts Gallery and the Natural History Museum. Now, two other Span­ish-Colonial style buildings, on the Prado and flanking the Fine Arts Gallery, were scheduled for demolition to make way for two new wings of the gallery.

These were known at the time as the Medical Arts Building and the American Legion Building, both in poor states of pres­ervation and standing unused. The style for their replacements had now been suggested. How this would be carried out was an­other matter.

The Bartholomew report then would have the City proceed in removing the last four Spanish-Colonial buildings of the orig­inal Exposition. These included the House of Hospitality and the House of Charm on the opposite corners of the Prado plaza. Both were listed for early replacement. The two other Spanish-­Colonial buildings to be removed, and later replaced, were the Electric Building on the south side of the Prado and the huge Food and Beverage Building on the north side of the Prado and also facing on the east the Natural History Museum.

The permanent buildings in the California quadrangle would become a theatrical arts center and new quarters would be pro­vided for the Museum of Man. A new Youth Cultural Center and a Museum of Science and Industry were recommended. The Spreckels Organ Pavilion would be retained, with repairs, as would the Spanish Village. The Old Globe Theater would be rebuilt in the same style.

Of particular interest to the future was the recommendation for replacement of the graceful arcades over the Prado walk­ways, and the addition of new ones along the front of the new wings of the Fine Arts Gallery, and another along the walk of the site of the Electric Building, while awaiting its replacement, which would connect with the new planetarium then being planned for the east end of the Prado area. It was stressed the arcades should be in the existing style.

In the newer Palisades area of the 1935 Exposition, to the south and below the Organ Pavilion, the report recommended that only the Balboa Park Bowl, the Federal Building and a com­plex of cottages for the House of Pacific Relations be retained. The site of the circular Ford Building would be converted into a park providing an overview of the City and an interchange for the new crosstown freeway. Its conversion to a Convention Hall seemed to be written off.

All of the buildings in the Palisades area, with the exception of the Ford Building, were in use at the time and the recom­mendations and protests against such a drastic action were many.

But, the report concluded that the temporary buildings in the Prado and most of those of the Palisades had outlived their use­fulness as “evidence of termite infestation and dry rot was found in all the Palisades area buildings.” Many of these buildings as well as those in the Prado area were held to seriously violate building code requirements and “can be maintained in a fair state of repair only at a very high cost.”

Once before there had been a recommendation for removal of all the temporary Spanish-Colonial buildings, due to their general state of decay, with no replacements suggested, how­ever, and this had raised a storm of civic protest. This occurred during the Great Depression, when money was scarce, but the newspapers, the Chamber of Commerce and hundreds of citi­zens joined together to raise enough money to assure Federal emergency financial assistance for preservation work. The build­ings received another new lease on life during the second Ex­position.

Carrying out of the Bartholomew plan over the suggested pe­riod of fifteen years, it was estimated, would cost more than $21,000,000. There were other suggestions also, relating to the rerouting of traffic, separation of pedestrian and vehicle traf­fic, more areas for parking and picnic grounds, and more facili­ties for older persons.

The San Diego Union cautioned its readers:

“The Bartholomew plan is not something that should be taken on an all-­or-nothing basis. Rather it should be a guide . … Adoption of the report as a whole, as a master plan, would mean ultimately the rejection of the entire program. The need of a guide, however, has been evident, if only because of the long neglect of the park and its development that has characterized City regimes over the past twenty years. Buildings have been allowed to deterior­ate and changes made without long-range objectives.”

Many public hearings were held by the Planning Commission, the Park and Recreation Commission, and the City Council, and with some access and traffic modifications presented by City Planning Director Harry Haelsig, the plan was adopted in Sep­tember of 1961. Councilman Ivor de Kirby wanted the honor of making the motion for adoption as he had been a member of the original Citizens’ Committee which had recommended that a master plan be prepared.

Not all San Diegans were pleased with the Master Plan, with its suggested traffic rerouting, and more particularly with the displacement of the Spanish-Colonial buildings with their or­nate decorations. They feared the Prado as millions of people from around the world had come to know it, would be gone for­ever.

Balboa Park and Mission Bay were not isolated programs in the general planning for San Diego. The Park and Recreation Department staff had also worked out another master plan call­ing for four other metropolitan parks, five district parks, five scenic parks, nine shoreline areas, five parkways, thirty-eight community parks, ten plazas and a scenic drive.

Too, voters surrendered pueblo lands represented by the Tor­rey Pines Park to the State of California, for preservation of the rare trees, and laid out two golf courses on public lands on the same mesa. Open space and recreation — a lure of San Diego.

The grandest challenge of all, it seemed, however, was in the port. The ambitions of the director, John Bate, had met frustra­tions in the matter of commercial expansion: there was only so much waterfront within the jurisdiction of the City. The shore from National City to Coronado was as tempting as an unclaimed gold field.

Various suggestions were being heard regarding the unifying of political and economic jurisdictions over the bay, when San Diego City made its first move toward additional waterfront land. San Diego had a stake in the unincorporated lands of the South Bay by virtue of its purchase of the Otay River water sys­tem which had continued to supply residents of the area. Dur­ing a shortage, San Diego had delivered water from the Colo­rado River and had been rebuked by the Metropolitan District for distributing it beyond the district borders.

And hadn’t even Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he was Presi­dent of the United States, suggested that a second opening be cut for the bay, across the Silver Strand, which would open the South Bay to maritime and industrial development?

A group of citizens of the South Bay petitioned for annexation to the City of San Diego, but as their land was not contiguous to San Diego’s border, a way had to be found to form a direct land connection. Annexation of a corridor down the bay past National City and Chula Vista by the City Council was the an­swer.

As there were conflicting claims to land under the bay, a com­promise was reached. Coronado agreed to let San Diego have a 600-foot wide corridor in exchange for Glorietta Bay, which was within the original line of San Diego’s Spanish pueblo grant ex­tending from the tip of Point Loma across the Silver Strand to National City. Later, San Diego surrendered half the corridor to National City, under a threat of legal action. Annexation was completed by City Council action in 1955.

In 1956 San Diego moved to annex a large area of the South Bay but met resistance from the population of Imperial Beach. When Imperial Beach was incorporated as a separate-city, San Diego tried again, with the hope of annexing twenty-two and a half square miles of territory surrounding the City of Imperial Beach on three sides and reaching clear to the International Border.

Chula Vista was joined by Imperial Beach in seeking to pre­vent the annexation by challenging the legality of the corridor, but the filing of suits was not sanctioned in 1958 by the State’s Attorney General, Edmund G. Brown, as required by court de­cision. South Bay voters approved annexation to San Diego on July 16, 1957. Thus the stage was set for the grand gesture.

Back when the port of Ensenada had begun cutting into San Diego shipments of cotton grown in Mexicali, there were uncom­fortable accusations that public money had been wasted in build­ing the Tenth Avenue Terminal. The San Diego Magazine asked the port director, John Bate, if the terminal would turn out to be a so-called “white elephant.” Bate was ready:

“Within one year after the Tenth Avenue Terminal is 100 percent operable, it will be completely inadequate to handle cargoes that will be forced through it. If that is what a white elephant is then I presume we need a whole herd of them.”

In 1960, when the ‘terminal had been in operation for a year and a half, it was estimated that 500 ships would call at the port compared to 259 only two years before. In one day there were eight ships alongside the Tenth Avenue Terminal and five of them flew foreign flags. That the port was becoming a gateway to the Southwest seemed to be evident in that sixty percent of the cargo moving across the quays came from 500 to 1,500 miles away. Revenues had multiplied more than a dozen times since 1948.

What was the future of the port, and what part would the rival communities on the bay, National City, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and Coronado play in it?

Under their new president, Chris A. Larsen, the Harbor Com­missioners retained a New York consulting and research firm to look into the future, and in the Fall of 1962 they told the Com­missioners, and Bate, what they wanted to hear.

A world-wide trade boom could send more than 2,500 ships a year to San Diego by 1980. They would stream down the bay in a growing parade of colorful commerce, their holds full of oil and gas, glass and steel, myriad products from the jute mills of India to the plywood plants of South Korea. More than $50,000,000 a year alone would be left at San Diego by vessels calling at the port.

In accomplishing this, however, there were some things San Diego had to do. It had to provide 100,000 more industrial jobs by 1980 and 370,000 altogether for a population that would in­crease by a million persons within eighteen years.

Thus it was spelled out that a community, in this case, San Diego, had a responsibility to provide employment for all those who wanted to come and live in its beneficent climate.

The report stated that to meet the challenge of population, jobs and income it had to look toward its port:

“An expanded San Diego Bay port complex and adjacent industrial areas can eventually provide employment for 70,000 to 100,000 people . … Only a small part of the port can be achieved without the development of the ex­tensive tidelands areas yet outside the present port’s jurisdiction. In brief … a great port cannot be achieved without full utilization of the entire har­bor ….”

This not only depended on bringing the tidelands under a sin­gle jurisdiction, but upon the port getting a substantial share of goods already flowing through other West Coast ports, and shar­ing in the normal increases of the export and import trade. Up­on unloading their cargoes at San Diego, ships could be leaving with their holds full of additional products resulting from the industrialization of the tidelands, from vegetable oil processing plants, coffee roasters, plywood finishing factories, furni­ture plants, steel fabricators and other industries whose raw ma­terial or finished products depended on seaborne trade.

Thus again San Diego — and its neighbors, National City and Chula Vista — heard that after all that “smokestacks” could be symbols of progress. Now there was a way to the future in the port, even as its business leaders had seen a way to the future in the City.