Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919
CHAPTER SIX: It Was Not Yet Too Late to Design A City – Or Was It?
It was not too late in the West, as it was with many cities in the United States, to assure a future that would in some measure at least capture the beauty and spaciousness of the great cities of Europe and Latin America.
This was the message of John Nolen. Though the extreme importance of commercial interests must be recognized, to him San Diego was by its nature a play city and the possibilities were indeed challenging. He reported:
“The scenery is varied and exquisitely beautiful. The great, broad, quiet mesas, the picturesque canyons, the bold line of distant mountains, the wide hard ocean beaches, the great Bay, its beauty crowned by the islands of Coronado, the caves and coves of La Jolla, the unique Torrey Pines, the Lovely Mission Valley–these are but some of the features of the landscape that should be looked upon as precious assets to be preserved and enhanced. And then the “back country”–hospitable to every sort of tree, shrub, root, grain, and flower–is an inexhaustible source of commercial and aesthetic wealth.”
But San Diego, in its brief modern existence, from the arrival of Father Horton in 1867 to the rapid building by John D. Spreckels, had listened time and again to the advice of visitors from more unfriendly climes, who said that geography and weather were its greatest assets. With the exception of Hotel del Coronado, little had been done to capitalize on these assets and the years had been spent in a so far fruitless commercial race with Los Angeles. It had left a town without charm, and Nolen wrote:
“Notwithstanding its advantages of situation, climate, and scenery, San Diego as to-day neither interesting nor beautiful. Its city plan is not thoughtful, but, on the contrary, ignorant and wasteful. It has no wide and impressive business streets, practically no open spaces in the heart of the city, no worthy sculpture. Aside from the big undeveloped City Park, it has no pleasure grounds, parkways nor boulevards, no large, well-arranged playgrounds. It has no public buildings excellent in design and location. It has done little or nothing to secure for its people the benefits of any of its great natural resources, nor to provide those concomitants without which natural resources are so often valueless.”
The pioneers laid out the commercial and residential areas of San Diego as promoters have always done, by drawing lines on paper. William Heath Davis, a sea captain and merchant, and Andrew B. Gray, a government engineer, first conceived of moving San Diego from its original site at Old Town to broad flat ground five miles south. This was during the Gold Rush and they marked out streets and lots. With the end of the Gold Rush the project failed and became known as “Davis’ Folly.” They had provided for only one open space, or park, a block in size. Then fifteen years later came Alonzo Horton who acquired a new site to the east of Davis’ Folly, laid out blocks without alleys and streets of only eighty feet in width, and his park was only a third of a block in size. The cost to the future was told by Nolen:
“It is too late to make a plan for San Diego based simply upon a thoughtful recognition of the topography, and a skillful consideration of the normal needs of city life and the special needs of San Diego. The street system as a system is fixed almost irrevocably, not only in the built-up sections of the city but for miles beyond. Acres upon acres have been platted through the energy of real estate agents and others, and lots sold to people now scattered all over the country. No topographical map of the city has ever been prepared, and until very recently no contour streets have been laid out.”
Cities would remain congested, commonplace and ugly until they understood better the place and function of the street, he warned, and quoted George E. Hooker, secretary to the Special Street Railway Commission of Chicago, as saying that the traffic problem had become a surprise to people in all important centers and “they cannot understand why it should be ever looming bigger than the amplest provision made for it.”
San Diego’s business streets, Nolen reported, would not meet the demands of the new age of the automobile:
“If any citizen of San Diego wishes to see the street problem in an aggravated form, a form in which it will appear in San Diego, let him go to Los Angeles and stand at the corner of Fifth and Spring Streets, or go to other sections of that remarkable city. The problem there is already acute, and yet the provision has been much more ample than in San Diego.”
To him, the most serious mistake had been the attempt to implant a rectangular system, almost unrelieved by diagonals, on an irregular topography. He contrasted the streets of San Diego with those of Seville, Spain, the “mother city” of California, where it was said of its seven hundred streets there was scarcely one which did not have a personal character of its own. But in his mind it was still within the power of the people of San Diego to make their city convenient, attractive and beautiful, in recognizing the peculiar opportunity for joy, for health and for prosperity that life in Southern California, and more especially in San Diego, offered to all.
The two central features were the bay and the park, and he suggested that the waterfront could be developed for recreation as well as commerce and aesthetically tied to the improvement of the park. He accepted the existence of the park and designed his plan with it in mind, though he wrote that it was not his purpose to justify the wisdom of withholding permanently so large a tract in the heart of the city, and urged not just one but a series of parks. His recommendations were:
“To purchase for a Public Plaza the block from D to C Streets and from Front to First. To form a Civic Centre around this Plaza by some such grouping of public buildings as outlined. To build a sea wall, fill in the Bay Front as suggested, and improve it for the purposes of commerce and recreation. To construct “The Paseo,” a pan-handle to the City Park, and so connect the Bay and the park. To establish at the foot of Date and Elm Streets a centre for the more artistic forms of pleasure-making. To improve the railroad and water approaches to the city. To open, ventilate, and beautify the city by increasing the number of small “squares” and open spaces. To provide ample playgrounds for the use of children. To display more differentiation in the location and treatment of streets and boulevards. To establish a system of parks to include the City Park, the Bay Front, Point Loma, a Beach Reservation, La Jolla, Soledad Mountain, Mission Cliff, Fort Stockton, and the Torrey Pines.”
Nolen drew on other authorities to establish the artistic value of civic centers and said that San Diego had a rare opportunity to secure a beautiful and permanent grouping of its public buildings. Horton’s Plaza, however, was far too small and he contrasted it with the great Plaza of Madrid. He suggested that a new public plaza be created in the block bounded by Broadway and C and Front and First Streets, and that it be surrounded with such buildings as the City Hall, Court House, Federal Building and an Opera House:
“It would be easy to name many other cities in California and elsewhere that would eagerly leap to such an opportunity, cities that unfortunately had settled the problems of locations of public buildings in a way that a well-conceived Civic Centre had become an impossibility.”
At the end of Broadway, or D Street, on the bay front, he suggested the erection of handsome transportation terminals and another public plaza, with commercial development to be below E Street and recreational developments north to another esplanade centering on the foot of Date Street. Date Street itself would become the main artery, or Paseo, to connect the bay and the park. He urged the acquisition of a dozen blocks between Date and Elm Streets, stretching from the entrance to the City Park west to the bay front:
“Here, on this hillside, at comparatively small expense, can be developed what I have called, after the custom in Spanish and Spanish-American cities, “The Paseo,” a pleasant promenade, an airing place, a formal and dignified approach to the big central park, free from grade railroad crossings. In itself this Paseo might possess great beauty, each block offering an opportunity for special design, and yet the whole strip brought into harmony and unity. Formal flower beds, pergolas, terraces, would appear from block to block, and from the City Park to the bay, the cheerful and enlivening influence of water in jets, basins and cascades would give the final touch of beauty.”
At the waterfront, the Paseo would spread out to a width of 1200 feet, where it could command the grandeur of San Diego’s most characteristic scenery, and where the people could establish the proposed casino, art museum, and aquarium and surround them with parks and gardens.
For guidance and inspiration there were the ocean, bay and river fronts of Naples, Genoa, Nice, Mentone, Lucerne, Cologne, Hamburg, Paris, London, Liverpool and Rio de Janeiro. In the United States cities fronting on the Atlantic and Pacific, on the great rivers that traverse the continent, and on the lakes, had not developed the opportunities their situation afforded:
“This contrast has now attracted attention and American cities of all classes, located in different sections of the country have taken steps to better utilize their water frontages. Witness the plans for Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit, Harrisburg, Roanoke and Savannah.”
In suggesting a system of parks, he said there was a physical feature the beauty of which it was impossible to estimate, and that was Point Loma, and while the U. S. Government owned and occupied the end of the promentory, the city should possess enough land to command at all times “the marvelous view that can be enjoyed there.” He found it strange that despite its miles of ocean frontages, including many hard and beautifully curved beaches, the city owned no beaches whatever. La Jolla was described as a village within a city and one of the most romantic and alluring spots on the coast, and that it could be referred to as “El Nito,” the nest, because it seemed to hang like the sea gull’s nest, between the sea and the sky. Fortunately, he said, the city did control a well-located piece of property for park purposes.
The Chamber of Commerce directors, as is the habit of civic bodies reflecting the political, economic and personal crosscurrents of a restless city, sat with the report for ten months, and finally it was released to the public and published in full in The San Diego Union of January 1, 1909. In an advisory to a printed version, Nolen also cautioned the people:
“The aim and purpose of these drawings should not be misunderstood. While their practicality in general has been tested, they are obviously not offered as a final or constructive plan that can be executed without further study and revision…Primarily they are intended to waken and form public opinion.”
And so for all practical purposes the first Nolen plan was buried. Perhaps it was too much too soon. It seemed a great deal to expect of a small town at the most southwestern corner of the United States and in time only a few years removed from the frontier of an expanding America. A grouping of public buildings would wait upon another generation, and the broad and beautiful avenues were to remain only sketches in a forgotten booklet. But the idea of beauty combined with utility, and the bay as a central recreational as well as commercial asset would persist and be mirrored in other civic achievements.
Instead, the year closed with San Diego welcoming the growth of industrial development which Father Horton had envisioned with the assurance of a direct railroad connection to the East. The value of manufactured products exceeded that of agriculture. A total of ninety-six firms employing 1082 persons produced products worth $2,819,375, while vegetables and fruits were valued at $1,718,530.
The city had the largest tobacco plant on the Pacific Coast, producing 3,712,000 cigars and 11,480 pounds of smoking tobacco. Other industries were onyx, lapidaries, ostrich feathers, the largest salt works on the coast, broom manufacturing, olive oil and fishing. The cattle industry surviving from the era of the Silver Dons of the Spanish and Mexican land grants produced 500,000 pounds of hides and 1200 barrels of tallow. Orchards and farms produced 451,152 boxes of lemons and limes, 2,000,000 pounds of grapefruit, 3,601,000 pounds of grapes, 4,180,000 pounds of raisins and 3,682,000 pounds of olives. Orange production was only 99,840 boxes. The fish catch was valued at $131,510.
A new business building, the Timken Block, was under construction at Sixth and E Streets and a ten-story office building was projected for Fifth and D Streets by Los Angeles and San Diego capital. La Jolla had witnessed the building of thirty-five new structures. Congress at last had appropriated $250,000 for a wharf at the coaling station on Point Loma, and San Diego was sure it was the result of the visit of the Great White Fleet, and military officers assigned to duty at Fort Rosecrans were finding service in San Diego so pleasant they were retiring in the town, or planning to do so.
All of this building and renewing of faith and energy must have brought deep satisfaction in the last days of the man who had foreseen it all, Father Horton. He fell ill in late December and died on January 7, 1909, at the age of ninety-five. The town’s oldest citizen, he was a familiar sight on the downtown streets up until the time of his last illness, and though the city had left him little in a material way, he never looked backward and never publicly regretted the speculative experiences that saw him swiftly rise to wealth and fall to near poverty just as fast.
As he was not a devout church-goer, though of a religious family, funeral services were conducted from the Elks Lodge where the eulogy was delivered in the eloquence of the times by the past exalted ruler, John B. Osborn. He described Father Horton as a “plain, typical American…and his faults therefore we will write upon the sands, his virtues on the tablets of our love and memory.” The funeral procession, led by mounted policemen, passed through silent streets, with most offices, stores and business houses closed, and after it disbanded, his body was taken to Mount Hope cemetery for burial in the Horton family plot.
Except for the Church, there were few to mourn the Indians who had been driven from their land with the coming of the pioneers and builders, and Bishop Conaty began returning pastors to some of the crumbling missions around which a few Indians were still clustering. Government reservations represented banishment and not hope. In 1910, Fr. William Hughes wrote in the Indian Sentinel:
“Of the thirty thousand Indians at one time attached to the missions, and the uncounted thousands in the hills never converted, the official census shows less than three thousand of their descendants in Southern California today.
“Among the old missions, a few only have any Indians in attendance at all. San Diego, the first of the missions to be established, which, at the zenith of its glory, an 1800, numbered over fifteen hundred, now has less than fifteen souls. San Luis Rey, which in 1810 had a thousand neophytes, musters now only as many as can be counted on the fingers of two hands. At San Juan Capistrano, in 1812, there were nearly fourteen hundred souls; today there are not more than five families…Of the asistencias, or chapels, originally offshoots of the main missions, San Antonio de Pala has about 250 Indians; though very few are children of the original inhabitants. Mesa Grande and Santa Isabel (the latter being now comprised in the Volcan Reservation) contain, the one, seventy-five and the other, one hundred families. For the rest, the remnants of the Mission Indians are found in small numbers in the mountains above Warner’s Ranch, around San Jacinto, or on the desert below Banning. A poor torn band of forty are huddled together on San Manuel Reservation near San Bernardino, which comprises six hundred and forty acres, which is described in a calm, judicial Government report as “worthless, dry hills,” and which constitutes all that remains of the once happy out-missions of San Gabriel.”
Bishop Conaty placed resident pastors at Pala, San Diego and San Juan Capistrano, encouraged Father O’Keefe at San Luis Rey, provided for more spiritual attendance at the distant chapels of Campo and Mesa Grande and Warner’s Ranch, and continued work among the Yumas along the Colorado. Fr. Hughes wrote:
“Driven from the fertile valley of San Felipe, above which their deserted homes and chapel now hide themselves in sorrow among the ancient oaks; evicted from the great plain of Warner’s Ranch and the almost sacred Agua Caliente, in order to be transported to bleak Pala; forced, by the encroachments of white men even upon the desert, to find refuge in cold Cahuilla, and pressed back by degrees from the mesa of San Jacinto till they have taken up their last stand on the sand-dunes of Soboba; is it any wonder that they are a sad and demoralized race?”
The land left to the Indians failed to provide them with a means of earning their own living, but there were those who still believed that an industrious and humble family could wrest a livelihood from even an acre of land.
A “back to the soil” movement was gaining strength in the country and with his history of San Diego finished, William E. Smythe returned to his causes and was instrumental in the organization of a cooperative farming community which became known as the “Little Landers.” Smythe and George P. Hall, a former agricultural commissioner of San Diego County, selected a site in the Tia Juana River Valley where the old border town of Tia Juana was located before the flood of 1891. Smythe wrote:
“A man can make a living from a little land…It is marvelous but true, that upon as little as one acre, in any part of the United States, the average industrious man…can make better provision for his family than half the citizens of the country are doing now.”
With a campaign of a “little land and a living,” Smythe raised enough money to purchase 550 acres of valley and hillside land valued at $15,000 and launch a nationwide publicity program. His community was renamed San Ysidro in honor of the Plowman Saint, a name that also had been originally applied to a Spanish or Mexican land grant in the area that had never been patented. A headquarters was established in an old adobe house that had served as a stage station and was located on the line of the San Diego & Arizona Railway.
The grand opening for sale of lots was on January 11, 1909. Acres were priced from $350 to $550 and lots at $250. By sundown lots had been sold to twelve families. In one of the many speeches in front of the old adobe house, Smythe said:
“When he heard that the Declaration of Independence had been adopted, Samuel Adams cried, “This is a glorious morning!”–and this is a glorious morning for San Diego for it marks the beginning of a new and solid industrial era in which men shall deliberately sow the seeds of industry before seeking to reap the harvest of profit. It is the second serious industrial era in our history. The first was inaugurated by the Mission Fathers who conquered two generations of prosperity from the fertile soil of our valleys.”
The early days of the colony were difficult ones, because of inadequate irrigation, and most of the settlers were barely able to pay for their land and build temporary shelters. There were few farmers among the idealistic colonists who came from all walks of life. Teachers, lawyers, doctors and other professional people, however, provided the community with a distinct social life for such a small and isolated venture. Produce was to be sold at a Little Landers market in San Diego, there was to be a cooperative store in the village, and the colonists were to share in the dividends from both. But for several years most of the colonists had to seek outside work in order to sustain their experiment.
In the new year, 1909, the Board of Supervisors created a new County Road Commission with an unusual body of men, all millionaires–E.W. Scripps, John D. Spreckels and A.G. Spalding–and all vigorously in opposition politically and philosophically. The people of the county approved a $1,250,000 bond issue for roads, and one of the roads to be graded and graveled was to circle the bay from Coronado to Point Loma. The State of California created a state highway system and provided for an $18,000,000 bond issue for 3000 miles of construction.
Auto roads were being laid out or graded from San Diego to El Cajon Valley, north to Santee, Lakeside, Ramona and Julian; and from Julian to Cuyamaca, through Green Valley to Descanso and Pine Valley. Northward, roads were laid out to Fallbrook and up the San Luis Rey Valley through Pala and Rincon and on up to Warner’s Hot Springs, and from there to Santa Ysabel. Escondido was connected to Oceanside on the coast, by a route through Vista, and to Ramona by way of Clevenger Canyon. Between Los Angeles and San Diego, autos now were able to go by way of Del Mar, Encinitas, and Oceanside, with six bridges along the route, and then north across Rancho Santa Margarita y las Flores, at last abandoning use of remnants of the historic El Camino Real.
The first step in establishing a favorable auto road to Imperial Valley was taken with the improvement of the road eastward through the mountains to Jacumba and Boulder Creek but stopping short of the descent down what is known as Mountain Springs into the desert.
Los Angeles, watching San Diego’s road-building activity toward Imperial Valley which threatened to put direct routes into southern Arizona and open the door to transcontinental auto travel and trade, hastened work on a route to the valley by way of San Bernardino and Mecca. With the arising of competition from Los Angeles, San Diegans again sought contributions from concerned citizens and raised $60,000 to extend the new road from the San Diego County line to the desert floor in Imperial County.
Interest in political and governmental reform revived and City Charter amendments were adopted reducing the number of councilmen from nine to five, to be elected at large through direct primaries with all party labels banned, and installing a modified commission form of government, the first such in California, in which councilmen divided and assumed direct responsibility for city operations as “commissioners.” However, the subsequent city election saw Republican Progressives help bring about the narrow defeat of John F. Forward as mayor and the election of Grant Conard. In the primary the Socialists turned out a large vote for William J. Kirkwood which went to Conard in the general election. Kirkwood was named city building inspector.
The defeat of Forward also reflected the continuing dissatisfaction with the town’s seeming inability to advance as rapidly as its rivals on the coast. G. Aubrey Davidson, the banker, later related that he became convinced that San Diego would “never get to first base unless the city did something unusual to direct attention to what could be found here.”
The Nolen Plan had been for an uncertain future, for a time that might find them all gone from the scene, and at a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce on July 9, 1909, Davidson suggested that in view of the completion in a few years of the Panama Canal, when San Diego surely would become a principal port of call in a great new Atlantic-Pacific sea trade, it might be a good idea to stage an exposition in the city park. This would not only provide for a major attraction but for park development as well.
San Francisco and Los Angeles also were keying future plans to the Panama Canal. Los Angeles had annexed the port towns of Wilmington and San Pedro and was engaged in building breakwaters to make sure that it, and not San Diego, for example, would get the anticipated sea trade through the Panama Canal. San Francisco was considering how best to capitalize on the opening of the canal and would come up with plans for a world’s fair of its own.
Though the era through which the country was passing was a turbulent one, it also was a creative one and civic and regional energy was finding expression in fairs and expositions which captured the imagination of people all over the country. San Diego was proud of the gold medals its products had won at the St. Louis, Portland and Jamestown Expositions.
San Diego was not aware at first of any plans of San Francisco though it learned soon enough, and the exposition idea took hold quickly. The Panama-California Exposition Company was incorporated in September and D. C. Collier became director-general.
The disappointing census figures of 1910 convinced San Diegans that they were losing a population race. The city’s population was given as only 39,578, far below the estimates of the previous year which had ranged as high as 50,000. Population of the county was given as 61,655. Though the town’s population had doubled in ten years, it was still not as large as it was in the Boom of the Eighties. San Diego had passed San Jose in size but had failed to overtake Sacramento. San Francisco had grown to 416,000. As for Los Angeles, its population had tripled in the same time, to 319,000.
In his memoirs, Wangenheim wrote:
“One night, in about 1910, our doorbell rang, and there were a number of “prominent citizens” of San Diego, wanting a rush signature for directors of an exposition to be held here an 1915. The rush was probably to get ahead of San Francisco, which was also planning to hold one at that time. Anyway, I signed (I was president of the bank and hence a “prominent citizen”). Charley Collier was the moving spirit of the whole venture, and worked on it dynamically all the while. It started ambitiously, with the goal of a whole million dollars, the largest amount that our minds could grasp at that time, and one that was almost synonymous with infinity. Plans were laid out for buildings all over the park. That was easy. But when the sponsors got around to figuring the costs, they found that a million not only wouldn’t cover the project; it couldn’t even make a fair start. The plan was grandiose in scale and had to be somewhat curtailed, but future expansion was still a factor, and little by little more millions were needed and demanded.”
A sum of $1,000,000 was raised by private subscription and a city bond issue of $1,000,000 was voted for improvements to the park. Its name was changed to Balboa Park on November 1, 1910. Who suggested the name is not known.
New life flowed through the community and under Louis Wilde, who now owned a half interest, the U. S. Grant Hotel was completed and opened for business on October 15, 1910. U. S. Grant Jr., who had conceived and promoted it, was in New York but sent his congratulations. The structure had cost $1,100,000 and the furnishings $250,000. The cost of operation was estimated at $1000 a day. It had two swimming pools and the top floor was a ballroom proclaimed as the equal of any on the coast. The opening night ceremonies attracted 400 visitors from Los Angeles and 100 from Pasadena. It was a civic achievement for San Diego as well. Citizens had subscribed $600,000 to assist in the financing and another $100,000 to help buy furnishings.
Across the street in the Plaza on the same evening, Wilde presented to the city a fountain designed in classic style by the architect Irving J. Gill, and it was accepted on behalf of the city by Judge M. A. Luce, president of the Board of Park Commissioners. Colored lights on the cascading water suggested a future that seemed at last within the grasp of the present generation and which had escaped their fathers and the city’s pioneers.
There was one task yet to be completed in the opinion of many and that was to rid the town of “boss rule” and the corporation domination under which it was supposed to have been suffering.
Though Theodore Roosevelt had been succeeded as President by Republican William H. Taft, the zeal of reform was still running high. In California the Lincoln-Roosevelt League and Republican Progressives chose Hiram W. Johnson, a lawyer who had won renown in San Francisco graft trials, as their candidate for governor, and Gillett, fearing defeat, decided not to run for reelection. John D. Spreckels threw his support to the secretary of state, Charles Forrest Curry. Johnson, campaigning on a platform to “kick the Southern Pacific out of politics,” and supporting the initiative, referendum and recall, swamped his Republican opposition in the primary and began the final drive toward the State Capitol.
In San Diego, he promised that if he were elected the government of the state no longer would be tied to a locomotive wheel. A thousand persons in Germania Hall heard him say:
“We have heard that certain interests are making ready to deliver certain votes in this city and county to the corporations. Can it be true? Can any man or body of men deliver the votes of the citizenship of this great city and county–in the most beautiful spot on this footstool of God–to a boss in San Francisco? I say, No! Never!”
The people loved it. With Harriman dead, and the Southern Pacific political machine in actuality already in swift decline, John D. Spreckels and his newspapers bowed to the inevitable and urged a straight Republican vote, though the endorsement of Johnson was not with any visible enthusiasm. The vote, on November 6, 1910, in San Diego in favor of Johnson was almost two to one over his Democrat opponent and made the county one of the strongest Republican centers in California.
Ed Fletcher in his memoirs said his support of Hiram Johnson and the Progressives earned him the enmity of both Spreckels and Hardy and it lasted for years, until Hardy’s death. Spreckels, beset on all sides, now also found himself involved in a personal matter that disclosed for all to see a bitter family rift that had ranged brother against brother for fifteen years. The death of his mother in San Francisco had brought to public light a will in which she disinherited two of her five children, John D. and A. B. Spreckels, and while it said they had been provided for by their father before his death, it was made clear she was cutting them out of her $6,000,000 estate and making sure they could never share in it. San Francisco newspapers reported the two other brothers, Rudolph and Claus, had tried to prevent John D. from seeing their mother before she died.
At about this time San Diego Electric Railway, a Spreckels company, made the mistake of asking for a fifty-year franchise to use the city’s streets. Before this fight had run its course, the town was almost torn asunder. The San Diego Sun, owned by Scripps, charged that Spreckels would try to ruin the town if he did not get his “half-century’s monopoly of its streets:”
“We look John D. Spreckels squarely in the eyes and say: We defy you! Upon that issue there can be no middle ground. Either you are the master and hold in your hand the welfare of every man, woman and child in this town, or the people are their own masters, and will know how to deal with your insolent challenge.”
The San Diego Union agreed that the people had to make a choice between Spreckels and Scripps, but answered that before the choice could be made, Scripps should make a firm commitment as to how many millions he expected to invest in San Diego.
The discord greatly troubled Louis Wilde, who had invested heavily in the completion of the U. S. Grant Hotel, as well as Marston, who in a letter to William Clayton, manager of the transit system, wrote that while he trusted Spreckels personally he was apprehensive over what might happen if the great power of the Spreckels interests fell into less conscientious hands:
“If rightly handled and safeguarded all this power is for good. Our interests are mutual; the city needs the capital investment and your companies need the good will and cooperation of all citizens…To secure the freedom for efficiency and profit on the one hand, while maintaining for the city its rightful securities for the future on the other hand, is one of the difficult tasks of our city life.”
A mass meeting was called for Germania Hall by the Chamber of Commerce which had offered an alternative to the franchise proposal. A number of San Diego’s labor unions, most of them still in a formative stage and beset by Socialists and anarchists of various sorts, were supporting the alternative. But after several of their leaders had spoken, and been accused of being employees of Spreckels, a body of Socialists invaded the hall, tried to disrupt the meeting, and then retreated outside to regroup for another charge.
Upon their return they were accompanied by Capt. Sehon, who since retiring as mayor had become a member of the City Council and, under the new modified commission plan, commissioner of police, health and morals. Arriving with him were four police detectives and a member of an Eastern soap manufacturing family and political radical, Joseph Fels. Fels had been ranging the United States and England promoting the Single Tax theory of Henry George and establishing labor colonies.
When the uproar was at its height, Fels clambered onto the stage, and there were those who said it was with the help of Sehon, and offered to buy out all the Spreckels interests and turn them over to the city in twenty-five years. Under questioning, he acknowledged that he had arrived in the city at 1 o’clock that afternoon and knew little of the franchise issue for which the meeting had been called.
At an election the voters on February 15, 1911, overwhelmingly approved the Chamber’s franchise alternative, which provided for revocation by voters and a maximum period of fifty years, but with exact time to be set by the City Council. In the aftermath it was alleged that before he invaded San Diego, Fels had been a guest of Scripps at Miramar ranch, and Sehon threatened to sue The San Diego Union for libel for accusing him of participating in the effort to break up the Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The issue of domination, whether by Spreckels or by Scripps, or whether in truth such an issue was a valid one, had not been settled. Scripps would soon tire of civic controversy. To Spreckels, however, San Diego was his life and he refused to accept defeats. The death of Harriman of the Southern Pacific meant little to the residents of a town that had taken at face value the promise of the scion of the California sugar family that he would bring to San Diego the railroad that had always seemed so important. But a financial crisis was swiftly moving upon Spreckels and perhaps in the exposition’s promise of commercial and recreational developments he could see the means to overcome it. San Diegans were not aware of this; neither were they aware that the San Diego & Arizona was not Spreckels’ railroad and that the new management of the Southern Pacific did not look with any enthusiasm upon the future of the port of San Diego. They would learn soon enough.
Return to Books.
GOLD IN THE SUN
Ch. 1 The Town That Wanted to Grow Up and Be Something
Ch. 2 Here Come the Cultists and the Health Seekers
Ch. 3 Who Could Have Guessed These Stones Were Gems
Ch. 4 The River That Proved It Was Lord of the Desert
Ch. 5 The Auto Challenges the Train and Shapes the City
Ch. 6 It Was Not Yet Too Late to Design a City – Or Was It?
Ch. 7 Beauty Wins A Round in Parks and the Exposition
Ch. 8 The Wobblies and A Story No One Likes to Remember
Ch. 9 San Francisco Shows How Politics Should Be Played
Ch. 10 A ‘Magic City’ Surprises Even Those Who Built It
Ch. 11 The Rainmaker – And Who Caused the Big Flood?
Ch. 12 The Military Appreciated What the Natives Did Not
Ch.13 Southern California and the Gold Nobody Noticed