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Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919

CHAPTER FIVE: The Auto Challenges the Train and Shapes the City

Automobiles by 1906 had broken out of the protected confines of city streets and were bumping over dirt roads that had felt the wooden wheels of Spanish carretas and of armed frontier stages. The auto was now a definite challenge to other methods of transportation and it was beginning to be recognized that good roads as well as railroads were essential to progress.

California’s first Motor Vehicle Act had been adopted in the previous year and the first chauffeur’s license, or Badge No. 1, was issued on May 4 to John D. Spreckels who listed himself as the proprietor of the old San Francisco Call. He was the proud possessor of a White Steamer. The first person in San Diego to obtain a vehicle license was Clyde Adair, who gave his address as 506 E Street and to whom Badge No. 232 was issued for the operation of a Rambler. The City Directory of 1905 gave his occupation as a machinist and the next year as an “automobile operator.”

On January 13, 1906, the Los Angeles Times announced that there would be an endurance run from Los Angeles to Coronado:

“The…”smart set” of motoring is expected to go in for the San Diego run with both feet…the scenery is most picturesque; the mountain driving beautiful in the extreme. It is a trip well worth popularizing.”

Both El Camino Real, the original trail linking the Franciscan missions of California, and the usual coastal stage route between Los Angeles and San Diego were by-passed in favor of an inland route because the rivers when they reached the coast were wide and in wet seasons often impassable, and there were many tidal lagoons that might require detouring. It followed generally the historic Butterfield route from Los Angeles to Monrovia, Pomona, Corona, Elsinore and Temecula, and then went up and over the lower western flank of the Agua Tibia Mountains and down to Pala on the San Luis Rey River, a twelve-mile stretch which was considered the worst of the 180-mile journey, though “any good touring car ought to be able to make it, if properly handled.”

Two days were allotted and the maximum speed limit was set at twenty miles an hour. A stop of thirty minutes was allowed at Temecula for water and one of five minutes at Pala for water for three consecutive grades that lay ahead. From Pala to Valley Center, a distance of twenty-eight miles, motorists were warned that they must cross the San Luis Rey River, two shallow fords, some sand, and go up a grade into Keys Canyon, over another grade into Castro Canyon, past the schoolhouse and over a third grade to Valley Center.

From Valley Center it was ten miles to Escondido, across the valley and up a short grade to a summit and then “carefully down the five-mile grade to Escondido Valley, then several miles of fine road into the grounds of the Escondido Hotel on the hill.”

From Escondido the autos were to follow the familiar wagon road from Escondido over rolling hill country to Bernardo store, then along the stage road to Poway Pass, across the mesa to Murray Canyon and down into Mission Valley, and from there up what was called the hospital grade — which a half century later became part of the Cabrillo Freeway — to University Heights, down Fifth Street to D, or Broadway, and past the Courthouse and to the ferry, and along Orange Avenue to Hotel del Coronado.

It began on January 25 and by 5 o’clock the next evening twenty-two of the thirty cars had arrived in Coronado, and The San Diego Union was jubilant about its high promise:

“No one was injured on the run of 180 miles; no serious damage to the machines resulted, and all the contestants were unanimously of the opinion that the run would prove to be one of the most successful ever held, and far-reaching in its effects.”

The next day the same cars, along with many others from San Diego, participated in the first annual automobile race meet at the Coronado Country Club, with more than 1000 persons in attendance. First honors went to an Apperson car driven by one W.S. Hook.

Soon afterward, William M. Garland of the Southern California Automobile Club asked the Board of Supervisors of San Diego County to begin construction of a more direct highway connection with Los Angeles, and The San Diego Union commented that the letter indicated “three thousands of automobilists will be glad to pay tribute to San Diego if the coast road between this city and Los Angeles, regarded by many as the most beautiful drive in the world, can be graded and otherwise improved.”

In Los Angeles the president of the Chamber of Commerce declared that next to bringing Owens River water to Los Angeles, as was then being undertaken, the road project to San Diego was the most important enterprise for Southern California.

By May auto racing had taken its place alongside horse racing and a fine speedway was under construction around the lake at Lakeside, where Barney Oldfield was to speed a mile in fifty-nine and one-half seconds. The new owner of the Lakeside Inn, J.H. Gay, was projecting a miniature Venice, with canals connecting the lake and the hotel. The touring season was in full swing and all roads with the exception of the one down the coast were reported in good condition.

The sun was at last rising on the future of San Diego after all those disappointing years, or so it seemed, and building construction in 1906 was double that of the previous year. Among the new buildings started or planned in addition to the U.S. Grant Hotel, were the Spreckels brothers’ Union Building between Second and Third Streets on D, or Broadway; the Scripps Building at Sixth and C Streets, built by Frederick T. Scripps, half-brother of the publisher; and the L.J. Wilde Block at Second and D Streets. Though the coaling station had not been completed, the Navy had put into commission in 1906 a wireless station on Point Loma and now was looking over the San Diego area for a second and larger wireless station for fleet communications. Torpedo boats were using the harbor as a port of refuge and capital ships were conducting exercises off the coast. And on September 7 the city turned out to welcome the arrival of the first raft of logs towed down by sea from Oregon for the new Benson Lumber Company sawmill, a practice that was to continue for many years.

The disputes over water began to fade, and faced with a difficult situation of supply with the rapid growth of the community and the failure of the voters to approve development of the El Cajon Valley pumping project, the City Council, over the veto of Mayor Sehon, accepted an offer of the Southern California Mountain Water Company to supply 7,776,000 gallons a day at the low price of four cents per 1000 gallons, to be delivered from the Otay system through the Chollas reservoir. With the signing of the agreement the Spreckels company was to resume construction on Morena dam and the Cottonwood Creek system. San Diego’s use of water from the wooden Cuyamaca flume came to an end, and the flume company went into bankruptcy and was taken over and operated at a loss by British bond holders. In the opinion of San Diegans, the water problem had been settled and there was enough for a city of 400,000 persons.

The Chamber of Commerce began to urge the construction of a public highway from San Diego to Yuma as well as to Los Angeles, and the obtaining of a naval training station, and for this, it was emphasized, it would be necessary in the future to elect a congressman directly from San Diego. The San Diego Union stated editorially:

“San Diego’s population has nearly doubled in five years. The city is rising on the crest of the wave of prosperity, a wave that holds out every promise of landing San Diego in a position to which its numerous advantages give it every right of title, that of one of the largest ports in the world.”

In spite of the growth and developing prosperity, the political situation continued to be intense, with Republicans throughout the state as well as in San Diego County defending themselves against charges of corporate domination and political corruption and pleading for party loyalty in a time of restless movements toward new alignments.

Socialists were claiming that they would receive a million votes in the national election of that year, and in a talk in the downtown Plaza, F.M. Elliott and Harry M. McKee, Socialist candidates for state senator and county clerk, respectively, warned that two years before socialism had been pronounced as a foreign importation that would never gain a foothold in the United States, but “it has gained not only a foothold, but a handhold and a tailhold.”

A big tent erected at Fifth and B Streets was the site of political debates in which C.A. Barlow, Democratic candidate for Congress, charged that the Southern Pacific had held back development of San Diego, while Sen. George C. Perkins declared that charges of corporate influence being used on James N. Gillett, Republican candidate for governor, and the choice of Harriman, the railroad magnate, were an insult to the intelligence of voters.

An editorial in The San Diego Union pleading for Republican unity, argued:

“A great deal is being said about the advantage of nonpartisan action, freedom from party bondage, etc., and the effort is made to create the impression that old-fashioned loyalty to party and ticket is a thing of the past…It is perhaps unnecessary to note that this sort of talk is especially loud in places like San Diego County, where the Democracy, or that part of it which has not gone over to socialism, is so completely in the minority that its only hope of saving something from the coming wreck is through Republican votes cast for Democrats or professed “Independents.” “

Republican ranks held in California to elect Gillett as governor. He received approximately 125,000 votes; Theodore A. Bell, Democrat candidate, 117,000; William H. Langdon, the Independent candidate, 45,000; and Austin Lewis, the Socialist candidate, 16,000. The reform campaign evidently had a long way to go. Prosperity also had taken the edge off the anti-corporation issue in San Diego County and the normal Republican majority made itself felt, with Gillett receiving 3621 votes; Bell, 2469; Langdon, 564; and Lewis, 974. Leroy A. Wright led the county Republican ticket, for state senator, though he had to beat the Socialist candidate to do it, and S.C. Smith of Bakersfield easily was re-elected to Congress.

For William E. Smythe, politics were over. Having failed to get elected to office or to effect public ownership of irrigation in the Imperial Valley, he retired to selling real estate and then turned his attention to writing another book. He invaded the lair of his old enemy, The San Diego Union and Evening Tribune, and with the permission of the general manager, James D. MacMullen, used the offices and newspaper files to write the first detailed History of San Diego that preserved the memoirs and experiences of the early pioneers and settlers.

Before the year had run its course San Diegans at last received the news for which they and their pioneer fathers had been waiting for more than half a century. The Spreckels interests announced on December 14 that they would build the railroad from San Diego to Yuma. There was no mention of Harriman, nor of the Southern Pacific. The incorporators of the San Diego & Arizona Railway Company, with a capital of $6,000,000, were listed as John D., A.B. and J.D. Spreckels Jr., William Clayton, and H. L. Titus, an attorney, with the latter three holding only one share each. In a statement, U.S. Grant, Jr., said:

“This is only the beginning of good times for San Diego. The thing had to come to pass for which every loyal San Diegan has hoped and prayed since Father Horton’s prophetic vision first rested upon the most beautiful bay in the world, and at last men saw the fair and mighty city, which he then dreamed of as a present and imminent possibility.”

Mayor Sehon, who had opposed the Spreckels interests, added his congratulations. The Chamber of Commerce passed a resolution, introduced by Fred Jewell, one of the promoters of another railroad building scheme, which extended appreciation to John D. Spreckels and urged everyone to help bring about the railroad’s realization. Real estate prices immediately advanced twenty-five percent. Banks began receiving money by telegraph from other parts of the country, and large investors from Los Angeles were reported to be on the way, with their pockets bulging with cash.

A confident John D. Spreckels began building a $100,000 home in Coronado as well as a public library. Ed Fletcher, as agent for the South Coast Land Company, was laying out a new subdivision at Del Mar, a little to the north of the original settlement, with a large resort hotel first known as the Stratford Inn, and he induced E.W. Scripps to join with his firm in constructing a roadway from San Diego to Del Mar, which would also serve Miramar where the newspaper owner had his estate.

The section from La Jolla to Del Mar was graded up from the beach and along the winding cliffside to the Torrey Pines mesa and through the rare trees and twisted down to the ocean at Los Peñasquitos Creek, which had to be bridged. The stage route that had followed the mission trail from Rose Canyon through Sorrento Valley and back of Del Mar was at last abandoned.

The city was spreading eastward beyond its original pueblo boundaries, and a settlement which was to become a separate town, East San Diego, was rising on the broad mesa which was known as City Heights and had a post office designation as Teralta dating from the boom days of the late 1880’s. Just beyond it was the interior valley of La Mesa, with a subdivision started in 1906 by S.C. Grable, where a drier climate was appealing to those afflicted with asthma and sinus troubles.

Roads were in everybody’s thoughts. The Chamber of Commerce formed a committee for roads and boulevards, with Charles Kelly, livery stable owner, as chairman, and with such prominent members as George W. Marston, E.W. Scripps, A.G. Spalding, the sporting goods manufacturer who now made his home in San Diego where his wife was active with the Theosophists on Point Loma, and William Clayton, representing the Spreckels companies. They recommended and the voters approved a $75,000 bond issue to be spent under the direction of the Chamber committee, for improving roads to La Jolla, Point Loma, Mission Valley, Mission Hills and National City.

Four men from Long Beach made the first auto trip to Imperial Valley, and it required three days to cross the desert from Banning to Imperial Junction. From Brawley, they returned by way of San Diego, negotiating the grade through Devil’s Canyon along the main wagon road which still was not in much better condition than it was during the early immigrant days.

The interest of Imperial Valley in San Diego had long since faded, and in the summer of 1907 residents signed petitions to form a separate county and presented them to the Board of Supervisors on July 5. They gave as their reasons that the county was divided by a high range of mountains and it was a great hardship for them to be compelled to come to San Diego on all county, public and legal business, and that San Diego was a maritime city while the valley towns were purely agricultural.

On the following day, the supervisors fixed the boundary lines for the new county and set the date of August 6 for an election. It was estimated that the population of the new county would be 6940 and that of San Diego County about 50,000.

The vote which created Imperial County and also saw the selection of El Centro as the county seat, was a light one, as at the time of registration half the voters had gone to San Diego City to escape the heat. San Diego County lost more than 4000 square miles of territory. San Diego County and Imperial County parted in a friendly manner. Most of the business and finance of the valley already was going to Los Angeles, and it might be long years before the railroad was built between San Diego and Yuma.

But San Diego was to be a great city, no doubt about that, and the manner in which it was to grow occupied the attention of many of its leading citizens. In a talk before a combined meeting of the Art Association and the Chamber of Commerce, Marston suggested that the Plaza be enlarged and converted into a civic center, with public buildings to be grouped around it, and that D Street be made into a handsome avenue to connect the Plaza with an open square and a pleasure pier on the waterfront.

With the landscaping of the city park under way, and the example of San Francisco’s rebuilding after its disastrous earthquake before them, the Chamber’s Civic Improvement Committee, with Julius Wangenheim as chairman, reached across the country to bring a noted planner and landscape architect, John Nolen, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to San Diego, to make a study and submit recommendations on what San Diego should do. It was largely financed by Marston. Other members of the committee were George Cooke, Edward Grove, A. Haines, Melville Klauber, E.E. White and Leroy A. Wright.

The past was being left behind. It was in the spring of that year, on March 27, that Father Antonio Ubach died. He was known as the Last of the Padres, a native of Spain who had been ordained in San Francisco and had come to Old Town in 1866 when the Indians still looked to the Church for protection and guidance as they had done since the days of the San Diego Mission.

More than 2000 persons crowded into St. Joseph’s Cathedral in the city and filled the street outside on April 3 for the Requiem High Mass in which priests from all sections of California participated. A line of carriages extending a mile and a half followed the funeral procession. Hundreds of Mexicans and Indians walked behind them in the procession to the Catholic cemetery overlooking the bay in what became known as Mission Hills. In his eulogy Right Rev. Thomas J. Conaty, Bishop of the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, said:

“The chronicles tell us of long journeys which he made in the mountains, through storm and shine, to carry the consolation of religion to the people of the farthest recesses. What was a journey of 100 miles through a desolate land to him?…He was a priest for all that, and no Mexican was so poor, no lonely Indian so far distant, that Father Ubach would not travel into the wilderness to give him the consolation of religion.”

The history of the state itself was reaching an important turning point. With Gillett as governor and the Southern Pacific in complete control of the State Legislature, and with graft and corruption widespread, reform movements gathered momentum. Fifteen prominent Republicans met in Los Angeles on May 21, 1907, with Ed Fletcher representing San Diego, and it was decided to call a statewide meeting at Oakland on August 1. Attending the meeting in Oakland from San Diego were Fletcher, Marston and Edgar A. Luce, who had helped Mayor Sehon defeat the Hardy and Spreckels machine in 1905.

The Lincoln-Roosevelt League was formally launched, and a platform was drawn up, pledging:

“The emancipation of the Republican Party in California from domination by the political bureau of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company and allied interests, and the reorganization of the state committee to that end…the election of a free, honest and capable legislature, truly representative of the common interest of the people of California.”

Immediately afterward a Nonpartisan League was organized in San Diego, with Marston and the hardware merchant, Roscoe Hazard, among the members of the executive committee and it supported a full slate of candidates headed by Grant Conard, a young real estate man who had come to San Diego for his health. John F. Forward, county recorder and owner of a title company, won the Republican nomination. Edgar Luce, one of those who had attended the Lincoln-Roosevelt meeting in Oakland, said:

“The success of John L. Sehon in his campaign two years ago, and the splendid record he has made as an independent mayor, caused us to attempt to duplicate it. We expect to draw our strength largely from the mass of…voters…who don’t like to wear the collar of a political boss.”

However, with the promise of a railroad to Yuma, and a general era of prosperity, Republicans returned to the Old Guard and elected Forward as mayor. But the State Legislature, perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, and acting to avert more drastic reforms, proposed a direct primary, and a constitutional amendment to that effect was adopted by the people in the following year. The reform movement, however, continued to gain strength.

After having his own engineering studies made and acquiring rights of way, Spreckels disclosed that the railroad to Yuma would go by way of Tijuana and through part of northern Baja California, crossing back into the United States near Tecate, instead of directly east. For a half century San Diegans had tried to convince themselves that there was a railroad route eastward through United States territory, and again it had been proved that it was not practical. Though disappointed, San Diegans celebrated at the ground-breaking ceremonies on September 7, 1907. The principal speech near the foot of Twenty-eighth Street was delivered by Marston, who described the years of alternating hope and disappointment and the frustrating work of the railroad committee of which he had been a member:

“It was always felt by the committee that John D. Spreckels was the “Man of Destiny” for the building of this railroad. However much we may have failed in other respects, I am sure that San Diegans, if they knew all the history, would acquit the members of the committee of any failure to make a steady appeal to Mr. Spreckels…Mr. Spreckels kept his own counsel, and independently, by his own knowledge, discernment and business sagacity, had conceived the great enterprise and determined upon its accomplishment.”

It would be three years, though, before the rails reached the Mexican border and then the hot springs, or Agua Caliente, beyond the town of Tijuana.

But those challenging Spreckels were more sure of themselves as a result of political realignments seemingly under way. On behalf of the Huntington interests and over the opposition of Hardy, the local political boss, Fletcher acquired the franchise for an electric line from the foot of F Street and the Jorres wharf and owned by the Bartlett Estate Company with which he was associated, and began building it northward. Just outside of the town proper they would have to cross the electric line being laid to Point Loma, Roseville and Ocean Beach by a Spreckels company of which D.C. Collier was president. Threatened by an injunction, Fletcher made the crossing on Sunday when the courts were closed. He and Frank A. Salmons, his partner and gem mine owner, then picked up rights of way through Rose Canyon to Del Mar and the developments of the South Coast Land Company.

Somewhere on the coast this line was expected to connect with an extension of the Pacific Electric system of Los Angeles. However it was not long before Henry E. Huntington discovered that Harriman and the Southern Pacific had quietly bought out the interests of his partners and were in full control of his system. Even after all of its experiences with railroads and railroad promoters, this news at first was received with welcome in San Diego. It meant, or so it was believed, that Huntington had combined forces with Harriman and assured the carrying out of his ambitious plans.

San Diego would have a second line to the north and a line to the east as well. There was no way of knowing that Harriman had become the silent force in the San Diego & Arizona ostensibly owned by the Spreckels companies, and that there was no intention of sending two lines into the same town. But Harriman’s unexpected death in 1909 would precipitate a crisis not only for San Diego but for John D. Spreckels.

Politics and railroad expansion were forgotten for a time when a financial crisis originating in the East rolled across the country, and as had happened so often in the past, struck hard at an expanding and speculative California. Banks in many sections of the state resorted to scrip to meet obligations, but those in San Diego, where progress had been more moderate, weathered the storm. None failed or closed their doors. Money for construction of the San Diego & Arizona railroad temporarily dried up. All work on the U.S. Grant Hotel stopped and the concrete skeleton stood silent and deserted for month after month. G. Aubrey Davidson, a former auditor of the Santa Fe railroad, who had returned to San Diego to open a bank in 1907, took a leading part with Louis Wilde in a refinancing plan by which the construction work was resumed.

The recession, though, did not dampen the celebration for the arrival off San Diego of the Great White Fleet which President Roosevelt sent around the world. Though San Diego had always welcomed units of the United States Fleet in the grand manner, convinced as it was that some day the Navy would make its home there because of the bay and climate, this observance surpassed even the one in 1871 when the town thought it was to be the terminus of a great transcontinental railroad.

The fleet of sixteen warships rounded Cape Horn, and after a visit at Magdalena Bay 500 miles down the coast in Baja California, it was sighted by watchers on the Silver Strand at 10:57 on the morning of April 13, 1908. Headlines in The San Diego Union proclaimed “Engines of War, Victors of Peace, Arrive; Thousands Awed by Inspiring Spectacle.” A news story described how “Sixteen monsters of war dashed out of the South Pacific and cast anchor off Hotel del Coronado.”

It was the fleet’s first American port since leaving Hampton Roads in December. The Navy responded with equal fervor. The story in The San Diego Union read, in part:

“The beauty of the day’s spectacle when, with flashing signals and wonderfully executed maneuvers, the ships were brought to anchor in the lazy rolling Pacific waters, was rivaled last night when for three hours every vessel was outlined in fire.”

Electric lights were strung along deck lines, up masts and funnels, and down to the water’s edge at stems and sterns. The name of each vessel was spelled across its forward bridge in lights and searchlights played shafts of light on the beaches and Hotel del Coronado. On shore, answering red signal fires were maintained by excited citizens.

The commander, Rear Adm. Robley D. “Fighting Bob” Evans, the hero of the Spanish-American War, had left the fleet because of illness, and Rear Adm. Charles M. Thomas received the official greetings extended by Gov. Gillett. At one point Adm. Thomas slipped away to visit the graves of the victims of the Bennington explosion.

San Diego was jammed with visitors and it was estimated that 50,000 saw a two-mile long military parade. At night all large downtown buildings were strung with electric lights. There were formal dinners and grand balls. In four days it was all over, but not forgotten. At midnight before departure for San Francisco, on the 18th, San Diegans fired an admiral’s salute of thirteen rockets and lighted thirteen red fires atop Point Loma.

But even before the fleet had arrived and departed a suggested master plan for the development of San Diego was submitted by John Nolen to the Chamber of Commerce. It posed the issue of what a city should be, and what kind of a city San Diego could become.