The Glory Years, 1865-1899
CHAPTER THIRTEEN: When the Games Went All Night
The two years that began in 1886 and ended in 1888 were the most gaudy, wicked and exciting in San Diego’s history. The boomers and gamblers had followed the speculators to San Diego and now came the entertainers and the criminals. It was San Francisco of the Gold Rush all over again. The town even acquired its writers, poets and musicians, who gathered around the magazine The Golden Era which James Harrison Wagner brought to San Diego in 1887 from the Mother Lode Country where it had once flourished with such grand contributors as Mark Twain and Bret Harte.
The extravagances of the Victorian age flowed with the language by which a golden land was sold and resold, from one person to another, and back again. The most eloquent of these super-salesmen of yesteryear was Thomas L. Fitch, known as Col. Tom Fitch, a former New York lawyer who played various roles in the West, as an editor, orator, and promoter, and earned a dubious distinction of being portrayed as one of the characters in Mark Twain’s Roughing It. He wrote most if not all of the promotion literature for the real estate firm of Howard & Lyons which was republished in a souvenir booklet.
As far as the advertising writers were concerned, in two or three years there would be no more prosperous city in America than San Diego, with five trunk railroad lines centering on the shores of the bay; with four lines of ocean steamships coming and going from her wharves; and with 50,000 persons dwelling within its confines.
Words were sharpened into spears as San Diego and Los Angeles vied in the rate of growth and fought each other for the privilege of trimming the newcomers, and Col. Fitch joined in this struggle with ability and relish. In one of the advertisements in the souvenir booklet, Fitch challenged the contention of Los Angeles–and even San Francisco–that San Diego had no backcountry worthy of mentioning. It read:
“ “No backcountry at San Diego,”–sneers Los Angeles squatting among her sloughs and fearful that the scepter of empire may be speedily snatched from her fever-flushed hands.
“ “No backcountry at San Diego,”–sneers San Francisco gathering tolls upon highways she never built, watching with anxious eyes her dwindling commerce.
“ “No backcountry at San Diego,” –squeek the little towns that fancy there will be no feast for them except in the crumbs that fall from Los Angeles’ table cloth …” “
Fitch proclaimed that the resources of San Diego County, let alone the advantages of climate, were sufficient to attract a population of 1,000,000 persons, but this was considered an obvious literary license. In contrast, he wrote:
“Los Angeles is part of our backcountry. Flea-infested in summer, mired in winter, roasted at noon day, chilled at night, unsewered, typhoid-afflicted, pneumoniated Los Angeles.”
As for backcountry, he insisted that San Diego’s also included Ventura and San Bernardino Counties as well as Tia Juana; and in addition, it had a “front country,” which took in Japan, China, Australia and the west coast of Mexico and Central America, though perhaps they weren’t exactly contiguous.
Los Angeles was a subject of which San Diego never tired, and the citizenry became thoroughly aroused over the attempts of northern real estate promoters to “steal” the name of “Ramona” for their own subdivisions. “Ramona” had become a byword in the East. In another promotional article in the souvenir booklet, Fitch wrote of Ramona, though perhaps somewhat irreverently:
“Only a few years ago that interesting squaw was wandering up and down San Diego County with never a corner lot she could call her own, and only the sheep-shearing, horse-nipping, sad-eyed son of the soil, to wit: “Allesandro,” for company. Now under the inspiration of Helen Hunt Jackson’s genius, every enterprising land speculator who is lying in wait for the soft and sentimental side of a Boston tenderfoot rushes to name a creek or a town, or a street “Ramona.” We do not complain of this, but we think that Los Angeles real estate sharps who are trying to carve sanitariums out of fog banks ought to keep their predatory hands at home.”
With Los Angeles properly rebuked and put in its place, the promotional writers turned their attention back to their own wares, the beauties of San Diego, and their efforts achieved a flowering unequaled in Southern California before or since. Of Oceanside, the Howard & Lyons’ “Special No. 1” began with a flourish of rhyme that read, “This is the place I long have sought, and mourning because I found it not.” Oceanside, it was said, had plenty of room for 10,000 to 15,000 persons:
“Go to Oceanside next Saturday week and take with you all the cash you can raise and buy at auction, and keep buying until your money and credit are both exhausted. It will not be possible for you to make a mistake …
“If you buy to hold you will be able to put up a cottage from the front windows of which you can behold a panorama of sea and shore, of cloud palaces and white-winged ships such as can be seen nowhere else in this land.”
There was but one other place as salubrious as Oceanside in the world, it was stated, and that was the little city on the Mediterranean at the foot of the Alps, called Mentone, which Sam Cox had immortalized in his Search for Winter Sunbeams. While lots in Mentone cost 50,000 francs, lots in Oceanside could be purchased for only $5000!
The memories of Spain, which had influenced events and formed traditions in California for three centuries, had long been forgotten. Italy was the magic country, in popular imagination. Roseville, the town along the base of Point Loma, which Louis Rose had struggled to develop for so many years, now was considered certain to be the terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad–if it ever built into San Diego. In an article in The Golden Era magazine, on the joys of buying and residing in Roseville, the author was carried away by scenes of bay and city:
“From the townsite of Roseville the gaze goes beyond the three inlets or reaches from the bay, and we rest our eyes on the city that already hugs the hill in so compact a way, with a certain newness about it, to be sure, and a deal of character of its own, and yet betraying a form and a suggestion of the Bay and City of Naples, with Table Mountain, far away in Mexico, and San Miguel a little to the left, the two standing instead of Vesuvius, the dust in lieu of the smoke from the crater, and the adjacent mountains lying back in sullen grandeur like those frowning over Naples … “Is this the busy nineteenth century in America, or the seventeenth in Italy? Is the reality a dream, or the dream a reality?” “
The promoters of Pacific Beach had one thing their rivals lacked, a real poet. He was Joaquin Miller, the “Poet of the Sierras.” Miller came to San Diego at the behest of the publisher of The Golden Era. For a time he was enthused about San Diego and planned to buy land for permanent residence. While in San Diego he wrote Perfumed Nights and San Diego, and for the dedication of the area’s first institution of higher learning, the San Diego College of Letters at Pacific Beach, which had been started by Wagner and other friends, he composed The Larger College to express the higher cultural sentiments which all believed surely must lie somewhere within the eager immigrants and land buyers. A second institution of higher learning, the College of Fine Arts of the University of Southern California, was projected for University Heights, the subdivision above the northern boundary of Balboa Park. If all the schemes had materialized, San Diego most certainly would have been the educational center of the Southwest. Daniel Choate, a native of Maine who came to California during the Gold Rush, was the principal promoter behind the College Hill Loan Association which laid out the subdivision of 1600 acres north of the city park. Every other block was donated to the Methodist Episcopal Church and the first $200,000 realized from the sale of these blocks was to be used for building the college. It was to be a branch of the University of Southern California which at that time was supported by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
San Diego also acquired Rose Hartwick Thorpe, who at the age of sixteen had written the poem Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight. By the time she arrived in San Diego from Litchfield, Michigan, with her ailing husband, Edmund Carson Thorpe, its fame had preceded her. Poetry about San Diego sprouted with editions of The Golden Era. Rose Hartwick Thorpe composed The Little White Lady of La Jolla and Madge Morris, wife of Harr Wagner, the publisher, wrote At San Diego Bay. Helen Hunt Jackson died before the boom got under way, though she had written about San Diego for several magazines. In The Youths Companion she expressed enchantment with San Diego where “one views scenes of beauty and promise rarely equaled in the world.”
Benjamin C. Truman, who had assisted in the establishment of the Butterfield Stage route in 1858, and had been a newspaper correspondent during the Civil War, came to San Diego to serve as editor of the Bulletin in the civic fight over the city’s tidelands, and later became chief publicist for the Southern Pacific Railway Company and the author of a number of books, including Homes and Happiness in the Golden State of California and Semi-Tropical California. One of the most unusual persons was a physician, Dr. Peter C. Remondino, who was intensely interested in the climate and its effect on health. He wrote extensively on various subjects and engaged in many business enterprises. A native of Torino, Italy, he came to the United States with his father on the ship that brought the Italian marble for the Capitol in Washington. They settled in Minnesota, where he learned to speak Sioux and French, and after serving in the Civil War as a physician and surgeon, he was commissioned in the French Army in 1870 and 1871. Upon returning to Minnesota he found the climate incompatible with the malarial fever he had contracted, and after studying the science of climate, selected San Diego as his home. He was fond of comparing Southern California with the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and wrote that “to the north of Oceanside on the Temecula Canyon route in the Santa Rosa Mountains the scenery reminds one of the upper valley of the Po in Northern Italy, in its valleys, and of the Tyrolese Alps, in its mountains.” He assured one and all that in Southern California it was “never necessary to close the houses, either to exclude the heat of summer or the cold of winter.” While Dr. Remondino favored the higher inland country lying between Alpine, at 1800 feet elevation, and the Cuyamaca Valley, at 4500 feet, the promoters of a subdivision in the coastal belt which they named Glen-Barnham, seven miles east of Encinitas, asked, “What is the matter with Glen-Barnham? Nothing. This is God’s own arrangement for the consumptive, the dyspeptic and the broken-down.”
The most celebrated person, at least locally, of the cultural infiltration was Benjamin Henry Jesse Francis Shepard, who was known as Jesse Shepard, a tall, ascetic-appearing musician with a handle-bar moustache and long, tapering fingers who, before he was induced to come to San Diego at the age of thirty-eight, had played the piano before the crowned heads of Europe and the Czar of Russia. He was a native of England and though he studied literature under Alexandre Dumas, he became a concert pianist without having taken a lesson in music.
In San Diego he built a home with stained-glass windows, known as the “Villa Montezuma,” at 1925 K Street, which was financed by his admirers and in which he gave intimate private concerts for the town’s leading citizens. As he was interested in spiritualism and mysticism, his concerts were presented in an atmosphere of dramatic lighting, in which he would appear out of the dark, play in the light of a single lamp, and then, as the music ended, the light would go out. When it came on again, he would be standing by the piano to make his bows. San Diego loved it.
Newspapers and periodicals sprang up as if by magic. San Diego had three daily newspapers; the monthly magazine, The Golden Era; a scientific monthly magazine, West American Scientist; and a general monthly magazine, San Diego Magazine. Outside the city, in the area now embracing San Diego, Imperial and Riverside Counties, soon appeared sixteen newspapers including ones at Coronado, Pacific Beach, National City, Oceanside, Escondido, Carlsbad, Fallbrook, Encinitas, Otay, San Marcos and Julian. It was an articulate as well as a flowery age.
Reports of persons being cured of many illnesses by drinking natural spring waters gained wide circulation. The “Fountain of Youth” that had eluded Ponce de Leon in Florida perhaps was in Southern California all the time! The noted writer Charles Dudley Warner, who had christened Southern California as “Our Italy,” in his articles in Harper’s Magazine described the long life of the Indians of San Diego County. He reported that Fr. Ubach knew a number of Indians who had been employed in the building of the San Diego Mission in 1769-71, and that there were Indians living at the village of Capitan Grande whose age he estimated at more than 135 years. A Dr. Edward Palmer, once associated with the Agricultural Department of the Smithsonian Institute, was quoted as saying he knew a squaw estimated to be 126 years of age whom he once saw put six watermelons in a basket and carry them for two miles. Dr. Remondino told Warner that Philip Crosthwaite, who had lived in San Diego since 1843, knew an old man who had been breaking horses when Don Antonio Serrano was an infant. Don Antonio himself was now ninety-three years of age, and riding his horse with grace and vigor, and yet the man who held him on a knee as a child was still alive and active enough to also mount and canter a horse. W. A. Winder, of San Diego, reported that thirty-five years before he had visited a house in which aged Indians were cared for:
“There were half a dozen who had reached an extreme age. Some were unable to move, their bony frame being seemingly anchylosed. They were old, wrinkled, and blear-eyed; their skin was hanging in leathery folds about their withered limbs; some had hair as white as snow, and had seen some seven score of years; others, still able to crawl, but so aged as to be unable to stand, went slowly about on their hands and knees, their limbs being attenuated and withered. The organs of special sense had in many nearly lost all activity some generations back. Some had lost the use of their limbs for more than a decade or generation …”
The elixir of life was thought to be in the climate or the water, or both, and Warner was certain that many white people in the United States could prolong life by moving to Southern California. In 1887 Capt. Charles Fitzallen had brought his steamship Challenger, out of Cardiff, Wales, into port with the crew suffering severely from scurvy, the ailment of the sea. Upon the advice of Dr. Remondino, Capt. Fitzallen turned his ship over to another officer and became a sheep herder on the Jamacha Rancho lying along the south side of Sweetwater River in southern San Diego County. His recovery was swift, and attributing it to the water from mineral springs in the area which had been recommended by Dr. Remondino, he and a traveling salesman, Alfred Huntington Isham, began bottling the water and selling it internationally as “Isham’s California Waters of Life” or as the “Original California Waters.”
The character of the town was changing under the impact of its invasion, and a young newspaperman, Walter Gifford Smith, the city editor of the San Diego Sun, in his little book on the History of San Diego, published in 1892, wrote:
“Naturally, a population drawn together from the adventurous classes of the world, imbued as it was with excitement and far from conventional trammels, contained and developed a store of profligacy and vice, much of which found its way into official, business, and social life. Gambling was open and flagrant; games of chance were carried on at the curbstones; painted women paraded the town in carriages and sent out engraved cards summoning men to their receptions and “high teas.” The desecration of Sunday was complete, with all drinking and gambling houses open, and with picnics, excursions, fiestas and bullfights … Theft, murder, incendiarism, carousals, fights, highway robbery and licentiousness gave to the passing show in boomtide San Diego many of the characteristics of the frontier camp. Society retired to cover before the invasion of questionable people, and what came to be known as “society” in the newspapers, was, with honorable exceptions here and there, a spectacle of vulgar display and the arrogant parade of reputations which, in Eastern states, had secured for their owners the opportunity and the need of “going West.” “
One of the enterprising operators of gambling places was Wyatt Earp, the famed marshall of the Western plains. He was undergoing some legal embarrassment at the time, having been indicted for murder in Arizona in the shooting of the men who had slain his brother. He had fled to El Paso, Texas, and attracted by the reports of the boom sweeping Southern California, had come to San Diego, where with his wife he invested in business and speculative property and opened three gambling halls. One was on Fourth Street between Broadway and E Street and fronting on Horton’s Plaza; another in the 800 block on Sixth Street, next to the Hotel St. James; and the third on the north side of E Street, near Sixth. He conducted twenty-one different games of faro, blackjack, poker, keno, and other lesser known games of chance.
Little mention of him is to be found in contemporary newspaper files, perhaps out of respect to his difficulties with the law. The San Diego city directory of 1888-89 lists him as “capitalist.” He refereed a prize fight which was the feature of a day-long Sunday fiesta, with cockfights, bullfights and a lassoing contest across the border below the town of Tia Juana.
Civic corruption kept pace with the boom. In January of 1888 Police Chief Joseph Coyne was indicted by the Grand Jury for violating the election laws. The San Diego Union accused the president of the Board of Trustees, W. J. Hunsaker, who generally was referred to as “mayor,” of failing to supervise the police department and that as a lawyer he was representing criminals and gamblers; and Judge C. F. Monroe of using the police court for private business and collecting fees in justice cases. Ephraim W. Morse and George W. Marston, the merchant and a new member of the Board of Trustees elected on a reorganization ticket in 1887 when San Diego became a city of the fourth class, led a fight to increase the license fees of saloons, which numbered at least 100, from $600 to $1800, in the hopes of forcing many of them out of business. Mayor Hunsaker vetoed the move.
In an editorial which resulted in a boycott of the newspaper by many elements in the town, The San Diego Union stated:
“The professional criminals from all along the coast are flocking to San Diego attracted to this paradise of such characters… and the novel experience of being enabled to carry on their usually dangerous avocation without perilous interruption … Houses in the most crowded part of the city are broken into and burglarized; men are pounded into insensibility and their pockets rifled on the most public streets; life and property become every day more insecure …”
The police arrested a Los Angeles man as he was setting up a San Diego headquarters for a ring of child pickpockets under the direction of a female “Fagin” known as “Mother Nelson.” When the Santa Fe passenger train was halted at Oceanside because of the wreck of a freight train, thugs went through the cars and ransacked all of the passengers’ baggage. Armed robbers herded eighteen sailors behind boxcars and took their money.
Guns were again carried openly on the streets and were still a necessity in the lonelier areas of the backcountry. Three persons died in one fight in a little, high-walled, well-watered valley isolated from the main courses of travel. It was the eastern area of what is known as Moosa Canyon, eighteen miles inland from Oceanside. Levi P. Stone, a bee rancher who had claimed 180 acres in the canyon, went East on a visit and when he returned he found his ranch had been “jumped” by squatters, Mrs. Elizabeth Going, her son, Percy, four in-laws and two small children. Stone obtained an eviction notice and with a posse of five men that included a constable, a deputy constable, a special deputy, Stone’s brother and a rancher, headed for Moosa Canyon.
The date was January 18, 1888. A row ensued and Mrs. Going appeared in the doorway of the shack with an old musket. The accounts differ on how the shooting began, but those killed were Percy Going, John McConahay, a son of Mrs. Going by a previous marriage, and Mrs. Jennie Burnham, a married step-daughter. Constable A. H. Breedlove, leader of the posse, was wounded in the face and hand, and Stockton Reed, the rancher with the posse, was wounded so seriously he died a day later.
Testimony at the coroner’s inquest into what happened at the lonely ranch was conflicting. Constable Breedlove ordered Reed and George L. Morris, the special deputy, to restrain Mrs. Going’s son, Percy, while he attempted to disarm her and take “Peg-leg Johnny” McConahay into custody. A general scuffle ensued and McConahay snatched a pistol from Breedlove’s pocket and shot Reed. Morris and the Stone brothers, who were unarmed, fled from the scene. Perhaps a dozen shots were subsequently fired. Mrs. Burnham was found to have been shot three times; Percy, who was only sixteen years of age, twice; and McConahay, three times. At the inquest Mrs. Going and Annie McConahay swore that Deputy Constable Arch Freeman had shot all three from behind a tree trunk.
After some deliberation, it was decided that although the Goings were bad citizens, Levi Stone in the first place had had no title to the land on which the gun fight took place, and the Goings had as much right to it as he did; the writ of ejection had been issued without legal authority, and the Goings had a right to resist its enforcement. The posse was adjudged the “first aggressor.” Nothing more came of the case, however.
While Fifth Street was the center of gambling and dance halls, Third Street, at about I Street, was the heart of the “Stingaree” district and its more than 100 houses employed an estimated 350 women. The similarity of gambling houses and dance halls in this section of San Diego’s downtown area with those of the Wild West was very marked. A graphic description of one dance hall in the “Stingaree” district was provided by a sleuth hired by The San Diego Union. This particular hall, when he visited it, was crowded with at least 400 persons, many of them “callow youth and balding rakes,” who sat around drinking beer and listening “to the alleged music of an alleged orchestra and feasting their eyes on the alleged charms of stage `daisies.’ ” There was a stage at one end of the long hall and on the other side there was a long row of “private boxes” in the shape of a balcony from which “the gaudy women, scantily dressed, display themselves on the railings … and wave their handkerchiefs at the crowd below.”
Strolling the town among the gamblers and the sporting women, and yet retaining a dignity they did not seem to have, was Pablo, an Indian chief. Pablo wore a plug hat several sizes too small perched atop his head and around which was a bright red band with the letters “Big Chief.” His coat had gaudy epaulets, a row of homemade tin medals and a wide sash of many colors. Very popular with all the Indians of the county, he was much respected by San Diego authorities.
There was a steady procession of road shows, touring actor troupes, circuses and minstrel shows through San Diego. Most of them played from three days to a week at either Leach’s Opera House or the Louis Opera House. Nearly all of them drew full audiences. Minstrel shows were most popular with the citizenry while Indians flocked in from miles around to ensure good audiences for the circuses. But the thespian event that crowned the boom-days’ theater in San Diego was on May 4 and 5 of 1888. Jersey Lily Langtry came to town.
As the California Southern’s Cannonball rolled into the city, a huge crowd turned out at the depot at the foot of D Street hoping to catch a glimpse of the famed beauty, but they were disappointed. The train stopped and Miss Langtry’s repertoire company climbed down with the other passengers, but “The Lily” remained hidden in her own private car with the curtains drawn. The San Diego Union’s reporter fared no better when he followed her car to the Twenty-second Street railroad yards in quest of an interview. She first appeared that night on the Louis Opera House stage, playing the lead in a drama called A Wife’s Peril. It was a smash hit. San Diego’s social register turned out in full plumage and such was the demand for seating that the management moved the orchestra to one side and sold the space to seat the elite. The San Diego Union’s critique on the drama held that “The Lily’s” dramatic talents and beautiful costumes were comparable to her legendary beauty.
In time the rowdy element broke out of the confines of lower downtown, and The San Diego Union, continuing its campaign for reform, stated:
“The bawdy houses have begun to infiltrate every part of town, in residential … areas and in business districts. The evil does not hide itself nor shun publicity. It obtrudes its hateful presence in the public thoroughfares and walks abroad in the open light of day. The police need no guide to enable them to arrest the inmates of the vilest dens of “Stingaree.” No officer can walk his beat in that quarter without seeing enough to warrant him making arrests. The growth of the evil has gone on through the sufferance of the authorities and it is high time the law was enforced …”
Under the pressure of an aroused citizenship and the reorganization ticket, and after being threatened with prosecution, the mayor and police chief finally got into action and began closing down some of the more obnoxious of the hundred or so gambling rooms and dance halls. One of the last of the gambling rooms shut down was in the Horton House.
Though the peak of the boom had been reached, no one was aware of it. Coronado land sales paced all the others. In midsummer of 1887, 2834 lots had been sold for $1,787,303 and a large newspaper advertisement warned that there were only 700 lots left. A special train left Chicago on December 7 with an operating staff of 324 for Hotel del Coronado. Without doubt the high point of the boom was the partial opening of the still uncompleted hotel on January 29, 1888. Prominent figures from the Pacific Coast and Eastern business and financial centers registered for the occasion. Though it had been built largely with unskilled Chinese labor, and additional rooms had been added as the work progressed, it was to become known around the world for its architecture and spaciousness. It was sometime, however, before the main dining room, or Crown Room, was opened. The San Diego Union described it as follows:
“This vast and elegant room, with its wealth of appointments is a rare sight, especially under the brilliant incandescent lights that illuminate it. The polished floors, over which an army of trained servants noiselessly glide, the high inlaid ceilings, the snowy linen and the glitter of the silverware and glass, combine to make a most charming picture. The room may have its equal, but it certainly is not surpassed anywhere.”
Towns were still springing up everywhere as the year of 1888 approached. The statistics of 1887 recorded an increase in property values in one year from $4,582,213 to $13,182,171, and the number of business firms and professional men from 340 to 975. Hundreds of new arrivals had been sleeping in tents rented for $1 a night and in sheds and barns, but now 2000 lodging rooms had been completed and 2500 more were under construction. Fifteen lodging houses alone would contain 1100 rooms. A realty firm proclaimed that “in fact we may say that San Diego has a population of 150,000 people, only they are not all here yet.” The National City Record reported somewhat sarcastically:
“At the present date there are only nine cities laid out about the south end of the bay. They are as follows, in their order: Otay, Tia Juana, South San Diego, South Coronado, Coronado Heights, Pacific Park, International City, and “Head of the Bay”… and this has not been a good season for towns, either.”
One of the last to be subdivided in this period was Chula Vista, south of National City, where W. G. Dickinson, a professional planner and business manager for the San Diego Land and Town Company, planned a “suburbia” not unlike those of ninety years later, with fruit farms of from two to ten acres each with individual homes costing not less than $2000.
As the Christmas and New Year holidays came and went, and civic conditions began to improve, real estate sales began to decline. The San Diego Union dismissed this as unimportant and said that it had:
“… caused needless uneasiness among weak-kneed people … and that … no man with common sense-blessed with judgment superior to that of an idiot-can traverse this city and witness the astonishing extent of permanent improvement … and conclude that San Diego’s prosperity is not anchored to a firm and lasting foundation … The boom has settled among us to stay.”
How could anything go wrong? San Diego City now had a population of at least 35,000, and at times it seemed that more than 50,000 persons roamed its streets and crowded into its hotels, rooming houses and places of entertainment. Lack of a certain water supply was the only thing that could hold back the development of San Diego and the fulfillment of all the hopes of the faithful. For more than half a century the waters of the winter runoffs had wasted into the sea, and no attempts had been made to conserve them for the long and harrowing dry periods. In 1816 the Franciscan padres had completed a small dam across the San Diego River in narrow Mission Gorge, to store water and regulate its flow to the fields of the San Diego Mission in Mission Valley. The works had long since been abandoned, and the tiles of the marvelous aqueduct system stolen for other construction purposes.
In March of 1888 the San Diego Land and Town Company, the subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railroad, completed the building of Sweetwater Dam, eight miles upstream on the Sweetwater River, to supply water for National City and the new subdivision of Chula Vista. The site was at a point where the river valley suddenly is tightly pinched together by rock walls before widening again into a natural basin. At ninety feet, the dam was said to be the highest in the United States and held back waters which Rufus Porter, the newspaper correspondent, reported had run so strong in 1874 that he could hear the roar three miles away. It was constructed of stone heavily impregnated with iron and which weighed 200 pounds per cubic foot. The stone was quarried a mile downstream and imbedded in cement shipped from Belgium.
The completion of the dam in March was followed by a celebration on April 19, when the first water in the reservoir was turned into the mains. More than 3000 persons took part in a Water Festival at National City and most of them arrived by train, either over the National City and Otay Railroad or on the initial trips over the Coronado Belt Line. The City Guard Band played and there were many speeches expressing confidence and allaying doubts. For Frank Kimball it was the high moment of the long struggle which had taken so many years out of his life and had sapped his strength and absorbed much of his land and wealth.
In the Cuyamaca Mountains the San Diego Flume Company had completed the building of its earth-fill dam about thirty-five feet high on Boulder Creek, a tributary of the San Diego River, where it emerged from the wooded valley which contained the Laguna que se Seca, known to the Indians as the lake that dries up. Below, another small reservoir was constructed to divert the released waters of Cuyamaca into the wooden flume being laid on spindly trestles down the mountain sides to assure the future of San Diego. Babcock and his Coronado company had begun the building of another dam on the Otay River, to serve Coronado and other regions south and east of the bay, but the work had been quietly brought to a halt.
The Santa Fe completed its “Surf Line” between Santa Ana and Oceanside on August 12, 1888, reducing the railroad distance from San Diego to Los Angeles to 127 miles. The implication of this move, however, was beginning to be realized. Trains were being dispatched from San Bernardino instead of National City and large shops and buildings were being erected in San Bernardino. On May 3 a fire started in San Diego and in two days it burned over the entire business block bounded by F and G Streets and Fifth and Sixth Streets, with losses estimated at between $150,000 and $200,000. It was more exciting than foreboding. But the country was running out of land speculators and the winter tourists were going elsewhere. Investors became wary and banks more cautious. By the late Spring of 1888 it all suddenly ended. Thomas J. Hayes, who had been selling real estate, he recalled later, until he got tired of taking in the money, told the story as follows:
“I remember one day we had a big rain, and after it was over I went downtown. The streets that had been jammed with people as is the case in the streets of Chicago or some other big city, seemed to lack something. The bottom had dropped out of the big boom. From whence the boom came I do not know, and I have never been able to learn to my complete satisfaction. It stopped more suddenly by far than it came. It reversed motion and went down like a chunk of sawed-off wood.”
Return to Books.
THE GLORY YEARS
Ch. 1 It All Began With Father Horton
Ch. 2 Move Over, San Francisco!
Ch. 3 The Train That Never Came
Ch. 4 The Mountain That Spouted Gold
Ch. 5 The Panic That Broke the Bubble
Ch. 6 The Great Tidelands Robbery
Ch. 7 The Day the Town Went Wild
Ch. 8 Why Not Sell the Climate?
Ch. 9 The Big Gun Fight at Campo
Ch. 10 The Discontented Seventies
Ch. 11 The Train That Finally Came
Ch. 12 A Boom Nobody Would Believe
Ch. 13 When the Games Ran All Night
Ch. 14 Our ‘Innocent’ Lambs Are Sheared
Ch. 15 The Town That Wouldn’t Give Up