Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919


The imagination of people of the Sixteenth Century was captivated by an account of a fictional island lying at the right hand of the Indies and very close to the terrestial Paradise, and it took such a hold that even Cortez thought he might have found it when he landed on the peninsula of Baja California.

The captains and missionaries who succeeded Cortez in the explorations of the Pacific Coast may have forgotten the story, even if they had ever heard of it, but all of them who reached the coastal area of what is now Southern California were aware they were looking upon a favored land.

The first to come, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, noted the abundance of grass and game and saw that the natives went about wearing very little clothing to protect them from the weather. More than 200 years later the engineer Miguel Costanso, with the Royal Spanish Expedition sent to settle California, wrote of the sweetsmelling plants, the rosemary and sage, and the profusion of wild grapes and the pretty little pale-pink roses which reminded him so much of Old Castile.

Father Junipero Serra himself, after his arduous journey up through Baja California to San Diego, found “it is beautiful to behold and does not belie its reputation.”

The traders and ranchers who followed the soldiers and the missionaries established a pastoral life possible only in a land kind to the indolent and beguiling to the innocent. Before they knew it, they were citizens of the United States, by force of arms or apprehensive acquiescence.

It wasn’t long before millions of persons were made aware of the benevolent climate and waiting soil of Southern California and the rush was under way.

Their experiences have been related in previous volumes of a historical series centered on the birthplace of Western civilization on the Pacific Coast. The previous books have been THE EXPLORERS, on the period of settlement; TIME OF THE BELLS, the story of mission and presidio life; THE SILVER DONS, the era of the great ranchos; and THE GLORY YEARS, the booms and busts of the first wave of immigration and speculation.

By 1900, it was time to ask what all these new people were doing with the land they had taken over with such eagerness.

Were the values which drew them to Southern California in the first place in danger of being lost in the rush of population and the crush of expansion? Was the Southern California of sunshine and orange trees, which had been publicized so alluringly, likely to become no more real than the mythical island lying close to the terrestial. Paradise?

This book is a close look at the period from the Turn of the Century to the Roaring Twenties, and how one town met the challenge of change and growth. What happened to San Diego may not be typical of what happened to all other cities and towns of Southern California, but the differences only illuminate the issues over which the people argued, whether they wanted smokestacks or geraniums, or, as it were, could they have their cake and eat it too? Let’s begin and see how it all came out.

Richard F. Pourade
Rancho Santa Fe, California