The Rising Tide, 1920-1941
CHAPTER TEN: Changes of War
No one could have foreseen all that happened as the Thirties drew to their close. The last five years began simply enough.
At San Diego one of the largest crowds of the exposition rose and cheered as a tall, slender figure stepped to the stage of the Ford Bowl. He was Dr. Francis E. Townsend, the retired physician and promoter of a pension plan to end poverty and unemployment.
Another seemingly harmless emotional movement had grown, as had Upton Sinclair’s EPIC campaign, into a political force. It had been endorsed by Governor Merriam. The State Legislature had memorialized Congress to put it into effect. Mayor Benbough, owner of a number of mortuaries, had prudently joined in supporting a plan that was so appealing to the elderly.
Now with his movement spreading across the country, Townsend told thousands of persons gathered in the bowl and on the adjoining plaza and hillsides that:
“We may have to shove aside a legislature or two and maybe a congress before we complete our job–but it will be finished…The twenty million persons on the dole are doomed to chronic pauperism under our present system…let us wipe out the great curse of the world-poverty.”
Townsend proposed to give everybody over sixty years of age a pension of $200 a month, to be raised by a transaction tax. The money would have to be spent within a month in order to keep business rolling and producing more taxes.
Though the movement had originated in Long Beach, where Townsend resided, San Diego, with its many pensioners and a population more than average in age, soon found itself a center of the storm. Townsend Clubs sprang up in every community area and drew in the old folks who formerly had centered much of their social life in state societies. But Townsend said San Diego had no monopoly in the enthusiasm for the plan and “it is just as good in other parts of the country.”
In Sacramento a state senator by the name of Culbert L. Olson had emerged as leader of the Democrats and the remnants of Sinclair’s EPIC forces in the State Legislature. In Los Angeles a new movement called the California Pension Plan was promising $25 every Monday morning to everybody over fifty years of age. It was an intricate and supposedly self-liquidating scheme which few understood, providing for the issuance of state warrants redeemable at the end of the year and when weekly tax stamps of two percent had been affixed.
Whereas Dr. Townsend represented a new and delayed concern over the plight of the aged and he made his movement a national one, the leaders of the new pension group were primarily concerned with political power in California. They soon rode over the Townsend plan and came within grasp of success.
Also added to a depression that would not recede was the tragedy of the Dust Bowl. The top soil of much of the Great Plains was being blown into the air and with it went the hopes of a generation which had misused the land opened in the rush to the West.
California was the goal of a stream of destitute migrants, from Texas and Oklahoma, from Nebraska and Kansas, and from as far north as the Dakotas. In the last six months of 1935 more than 43,000 of them entered the state, but they found that all of the open land long since had been taken up. So they followed the crops as temporary workers from Imperial Valley north to the Central Valleys.
The flood of migrants became so large and the problem of providing relief and temporary housing so serious that the Los Angeles Police Department placed border “blockades” at sixteen points, including Yuma and Blythe, on the principal highways into California. The one at Yuma was at Winterhaven, within California, and on highways leading to San Diego as well as Los Angeles. The pretext was to prevent an influx of a criminal element, but a State Relief Administration report claimed that of 7984 persons checked at one point only 272 had police records.
San Diego authorities refused to participate in the blockades. The Mexican nationals who had done most of the farm work in San Diego County had begun a return to their homeland, because of the depression and labor troubles, and were being replaced by transient workers. In San Diego representatives of twenty governmental and private organizations combined to offer assistance to transients, and in one month 696 of them applied for help. In all of California help was given to 77,118 transients in the same time. By 1937 the number of migrants into the state had surpassed that of the Gold Rush of 1849-1850.
It was in the Imperial Valley where much suffering was experienced and the number of transients almost overwhelming. One family, with a blind baby and a tubercular mother, was unable to go any farther. Their auto was out of gas and one tire was flat. A State Relief Administration report described one of the migrant camps:
“…many families were found camping out by the side of the irrigation ditches, with little or no shelter. One such family consisted of the father, mother, and eight children. The father hoped there would be some work in the valley later in the year…the family had no home but a 1921 Ford. The mother was trying to chop some wood for the fire…a meat and vegetable stew was being cooked in a large, rusty tin can over a grate supported by four other cans.”
However, most of the transient families were able and willing to work and merely unfortunate victims of events beyond their control and public disapproval caused the removal of the blockades after about three months.
Transient laborers kept the relief rolls high but with the approach of war they began to melt into the New California. In San Diego in 1935 there were still 15,000 persons registered as unemployed at the federal-state employment service and the labor movement had drifted into disorganization. Harry Steinmetz, the teacher who had run unsuccessfully for mayor, led a group of radical candidates which seized control of the San Diego Labor Council of the American Federation of Labor. Accusing old-line members of being more interested in buying beer than in paying dues, he called for a new goal for organized labor in San Diego. He was quoted in the union newspapers as saying:
“It must lie beyond bread and butter; the goal must be social. We must be welders of a new and better social order, even of a new civilization based upon production for use, competition of ideas, devotion to classless society, peace.”
Charges of association of the new leaders with Communist front organizations led to intervention of the parent AFL organization. William Green, AFL president, appointed a representative from San Francisco to take charge of the San Diego council and he declared all offices vacant. What was happening in San Diego was happening elsewhere. The unemployed would be formed into separate militant unions and organized labor itself would be split into two major divisions and years of turmoil would follow.
Oddly enough, and despite the number of workers on relief, vacant housing was disappearing. The arrival of new settlers and the attraction to San Diego of a new class of industrial workers required by Consolidated Aircraft brought about a revival of home building, with 840 new homes constructed in 1935. The value of building permits doubled to five million dollars. Apartments and hotels enjoyed a measure of prosperity and revenue from tourists rose from fourteen to twenty million dollars.
Exceeding promises of its president, Major Fleet, Consolidated Aircraft had more than 2000 employees by December when the first pursuit plane under a $2,300,000 Army contract was completed. Six were to be delivered by February 17, and six more each month until the contract for fifty had been fulfilled. In his speech dedicating the new plant on Lindbergh Field, Fleet had said that he would have 3000 employees by the summer of 1936.
More significant than the producing of the first Army pursuit plane in the San Diego plant were the records being set by seaplanes developed and improved in subsequent models by Consolidated Aircraft under a military program to build a flying Navy of 1000 planes.
In 1933 the Navy flew six P2Ys to Coco Solo in the Panama Canal Zone, a distance of 2059 miles, in twenty-five hours and twenty minutes. Early in 1934 a squadron of six P2Ys flew 1667 miles from Coco Solo to Acapulco, and then 1616 miles to San Diego. Several days later they went on to San Francisco and then headed across the ocean on a 2408-mile non-stop flight to Honolulu. They arrived at Pearl Harbor twenty-four hours and thirty-five minutes later, for another world record. President Roosevelt called the flight the “greatest undertaking of its kind in the history of aviation.”
In October of 1935 an advanced version of the P2Y flew nonstop from the Canal Zone to San Francisco, 3281 miles, setting a new record for seaplanes. A new competition produced another version which was designated the PBY, or a patrol bomber. It was the famed Catalina.
An expansion of the Consolidated plant was begun in May of 1936 and two months later it received another Navy order, this time for fifty more patrol bombers to cost more than five million dollars. Another contract for more than six million was received in November, raising the total of patrol planes on order to 176 and contracts to more than eighteen million dollars. The number of employees rose to 3000.
The new Catalinas quickly demonstrated their capabilities in the Pacific early in 1937. A squadron of twelve flew non-stop from San Diego to Pearl Harbor and another squadron of twelve from San Diego to the Panama Canal.
Ryan Aeronautical Company’s orders for its all-metal monoplane tripled in 1937 to $420,000 and Solar Aircraft Company reported sales of about $400,000 for exhaust manifolds and other airplane parts.
The threat of war was rising in Europe and military orders for airplanes were going to other aviation companies which had concentrated in the Los Angeles area, Douglas, Lockheed and North American. Adolf Hitler had defied the Versailles treaty of World War I and sent his army into the Rhineland. General Francisco Franco led a military revolt that brought civil war to Spain.
Because of the dominant position of the Navy in San Diego it was inevitable that North Island would pass entirely under its control. On October 25, 1935, the Army moved the fast group of planes from Rockwell Field, to March Field near Riverside. It would take several years to close out all its operations there, however.
It was not a happy hour for the Army. In its record books for Rockwell Field were some of the most significant flights in the history of aviation. Most of the pilots who were reaching positions of command, just before the outbreak of the greatest of all the wars, had learned to fly at Rockwell Field, or had received much of their early training there.
When the exposition drew toward its scheduled close, there was a dispute as to whether it should be continued for another year or replaced by an annual fair of one month. The decision was to re-open for another season. The 1935 fair closed on November 11. The exposition corporation had spent $1,250,000 of its own money, of which $650,000 had come from paid-in subscriptions, $300,000 from advance ticket sales and $300,000 from the sale of exhibit space. The books were closed with $315,833 in the bank, enough to return half of what had been advanced and $75,000 in reserve to restore park areas to their former condition.
Total attendance was 4,784,811, but no effort had been made to determine how many of them had been out-of-town visitors or how much new money had been brought into the community. However, everyone was more than happy with the attendance and financial report.
The re-opening was scheduled for February 12. That day it rained. The fair never reached the attendance or revenue of 1935. Too many of the exhibits were no longer new and there was competition from fairs in other sections of the country. The Ford company along with other major exhibitors reduced or changed their exhibits. The magic had faded. The fair would stagger on until midnight on September 9, 1936, but the number of visitors to both runs of the fair would reach 7,220,000. While there was no large sum of cash to distribute at the end, the exposition did restore the community’s confidence that its future must lie with its climatic and geographical advantages, and that there was “gold in the sun.” It also left a series of buildings and an open air bowl which became permanent assets for residents as well as visitors.
The general success of the exposition also gave the business community renewed confidence in its own initiative. The depression was not the end of everything. In October of 1936, for example, one of the city’s most spectacular fires destroyed the Whitney department store in the south half of the block bounded by Broadway and E and Fifth and Sixth streets. Within twenty-five working days, its owner, Guilford Whitney, had the store rebuilt, refurnished, restocked and reopened for business.
Even though the exposition was attracting money into the community in 1936 and there were many substantial federal works programs, the San Diego County delinquent tax list grew to 106 newspaper pages of fine print. Much of it represented property within the Mattoon districts and other large acreages on which owners simply chose not to pay taxes and to wait out the period of grace before forfeiture to the state.
At long last the civic as well as official leadership in the city and county moved to lift the blight of the Mattoon Act which had removed so much property from the taxrolls and had limited its sale and development. A $2,600,000 county-wide bond issue was proposed to purchase more than $14,000,000 in outstanding improvement bonds. The assessments on the properties would be reduced to $1,381,000, which, when collected by the county, would go to help retire any remaining bonds.
E. G. Merrill Jr. was named chairman of a settlement campaign committee and James B. Abbey was selected to handle legal matters. The bond issue was approved by the voters on October 29, 1935. The major share of the bonds was bought up in four or five years at prices varying from fifteen cents to fifty cents on the dollar. Some bond holders held out, however, hoping that eventual increase in land prices would re-establish the value of their bonds. The last settlement was not made until thirteen years after the election.
The War Department had completed widening the bay channel and the WPA was contributing $2,500,000 for harbor and tidelands improvements. More than 200 acres were reclaimed by dredging, the airport enlarged, a seaplane landing area created and a taxi strip added. A baseball park was constructed at the foot of Broadway. Large areas of mud flats disappeared and in their place appeared paved streets lined with palm trees. The Harbor Drive so enthusiastically supported by the planner Nolen was beginning to take shape.
The deepening of the harbor kept alive San Diego’s hopes of becoming a trading center of a region described as a “vast Western Empire” embracing Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and northern Old Mexico.
The voters of San Diego had committed themselves to six million dollars in port developments exclusive of more than five million expended, or to be expended, by the federal government. Yet, as the port authorities themselves said, “within the territory served by the port of San Diego lies a region practically unscratched.”
Over the years dozens of citizens had given of their time without pay to serve as Harbor Commissioners, among them, Captain W. P. Cronan, U.S.N. retired; Major General R. H. Van Deman, U.S.A. retired; Rufus Choate and Emil Klicka, who worked with their port director, Joseph Brennan, to bring about the development of the harbor as one of the major ports of the Pacific.
There was a disappointment that the port had not produced the commerce so many had anticipated with the completion of the Panama Canal, which San Diego had celebrated with the staging of an exposition, and with the rapid growth of the West. Coastal shipping was beginning to decline in favor of trucking. After 1925 cargo tonnage had leveled off. The bulk of it was in military supplies, fish and petroleum products, very little of it representing goods in domestic and foreign trade.
San Diego liked to think of itself as the terminus of two great railroad systems, the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific, when, in fact, it was at the end of branch lines. But the development of trucking gave some promise of further penetrating the inland citrus growing areas, the farm lands of Imperial Valley, and the mining, cotton and cattle country of Arizona and New Mexico.
The attention that had been given to the harbor, and to keeping it relatively free of politics, however, did prepare it for war that was now approaching. And then another generation would find that those who had believed so much in the future possibilities of the port had been right all along.
Though San Diego was an “Air Capital” in the sense of military flying and in the production of airplanes, and though it was being served by the United Air Transport and Western Air Express, it remained, as in the case of the railroads, a branch-line town.
To almost everyone’s surprise, Tijuana had surmounted the end of prohibition in the United States and the end of gambling in Mexico. It had become a prosperous town as well as a mecca for tourists who could visit a foreign country by day and return by night. Betting at the Agua Caliente race track was not included in the ban on gambling and it continued to operate intermittently under various managements. Several attempts were made to reopen the hotel and resort without gambling but they failed, and President Cardenas ordered its expropriation under his land reform program on December 28, 1937. Hundreds of Tijuana’s poor streamed into the golden rooms and bedded down, and it required a force of soldiers to evict them. It became a military school. The gambling hotel in Ensenada had been a failure from the beginning and the town remained off the tourist path.
In an unusual venture, the WPA also advanced a half million to the 22nd Agricultural District for new county fair grounds north of Del Mar, which was to include a grandstand and race track. In the summer of 1936 a franchise to conduct racing was granted to a combined Hollywood and San Diego group led by the singer Harry “Bing” Crosby. When money ran low Crosby and his associates advanced cash and the track was ready for racing on July 3, 1937.
At the City Hall Mayor Benbough chafed under the restraints the City Charter imposed on the power of the mayor and angrily protested that thousands of dollars were being paid to “fixers” to allow the operation of illegal enterprises and that prisoners were being inhumanely treated in the city jail.
In the summer of 1935, after a long search, the City Council appointed a new city manager, the fifth in three years, to succeed George L. Buck. He was Robert W. Flack, forty-seven years of age, with eleven years of experience as a city manager in Durham, North Carolina, and Springfield, Ohio. His salary was set at $15,000 annually and he assumed his post on August 1.
One of the first tasks facing him was the problem of police administration and the need for new jail facilities. A year passed, with the mayor still unsatisfied regarding the police department, but Flack had the confidence of a majority of the City Council. In the summer of 1936 Flack recommended that a new police station and jail be constructed on a tidelands block facing Harbor Drive between F and G streets.
The recommendation came while the first building projected for the Civic Center was under construction ten blocks to the north at the foot of Cedar Street and future plans contemplated an adjoining Hall of Justice. Beyond the Civic Center site the Navy and Marines were maintaining the buildings and landscaping of the Marine Recruit Depot and Training Station in harmony with the development of the waterfront as envisioned by Nolen. The reaction was quick and sharp. One of the first protests came from Rufus Choate, a member of the Harbor Commission, who wrote to the City Council:
“I’m unalterably opposed to Flack’s plan for a city jail on the waterfront because it violates all the precepts of the regulations governing the use of the harbor and tidelands for commerce, fisheries and navigation; it is a direct contravention of the policies of the Nolen Plan; and undoubtedly will be a constant source of derisive comment from the countless numbers of travelers who arrive in our beautiful harbor by the sea.”
A former mayor, Harry C. Clark, appeared on the scene as head of a Citizens’ Nolen Plan Committee. He was joined by Phil Swing, the former congressman, and Joseph Sefton Jr., the banker. Two other members of the Harbor Commission, Emil Klicka and General Van Deman, said they had not been aware that a Civic Center site was available and rather regretted having granted the city the right to use tidelands.
While Flack said he favored a Hall of Justice, he thought it should be restricted to courts and produced a telegram from Nolen which he interpreted as expressing opposition to the inclusion of a jail within the Civic Center. At the same time, Flack abandoned the F Street site when the Navy indicated it had its own plans for that area, and instead proposed a new site a block away on the south side of Market Street between Kettner Boulevard and Pacific Highway. This adjoined the tidelands area being developed as Battery Park in accordance with the Nolen Plan.
The site was approved by the Council with only Mayor Benbough dissenting. This issue now was whether San Diego really wanted a planned, orderly development and a grouping of its public buildings, as had been the hope of so many for a generation. Edgar Hastings, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said:
“The people have adopted a plan. Now we have a new council and a stranger as city manager, and they would forget the plan. I think they are in error. I’d like to build the complete Hall of Justice. If the city can start it, I’m for it.”
The threat of legal action, indecision regarding plans and costs, and the uncertainty of a WPA grant, prolonged the dispute for more than a year.
Meanwhile, the Civic Affairs Conference, which had been organized to select candidates for the City Council who would pledge full support of the City Charter and the city manager form of government, elected three more councilmen in the Spring of 1937. All six members now owed their election to the volunteer organization.
Ignoring warnings from the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce, the Council proceeded to give final approval to manager Flack’s plan to split the new police station and jail from the Civic Center site and brought about the removal from the Harbor Commission of Rufus Choate who had opposed the tidelands site. Supporters of the original Civic Center plan were divided on the jail issue. George Marston did not enter openly into the public controversy but along with Julius Wangenheim thought it would be a mistake to combine a jail, with all of its noise and confusion, with a Hall of Justice at the Civic Center.
There were others who always had opposed use of tidelands for anything but commerce. Two successive grand juries, however, urged a Hall of Justice adjoining the main Civic Center building and housing the jail and police station as well as courts. Directors of the Chamber of Commerce placed the blame for the controversy on the city manager personally.
The politically isolated mayor began a rear-guard fight against the Police Department and was aided by the San Diego Sun which jumped with fatal enthusiasm into a campaign against civic corruption. No suspicion of wrong-doing attached to Council members elected by the Civic Affairs Conference but they supported the manager and chief of police in a policy of an “open town” because of San Diego’s status as a tourist city and as a military center.
The discharge of a police officer, who complained of being punished for trying to suppress gambling on his beat, led to a Civil Service Commission hearing. Under the influence of one of its members, a woman attorney, Marie Herney, the commission subpoenaed ranking officers and members of the police vice squad and provided citizens with a close-up view of the regulation of vice. Gambling establishments were being opened only a few steps off Broadway in a manner reminiscent of the boom of the 1880’s. The question of who decided what place was to operate, or not to operate, was not made clear, though Mayor Benbough had kept insisting that $2000 a month was going somewhere or to someone for “protection.”
While the arguments continued the Civic Center building was being completed without its tower, or campanile, which had to be sacrificed upon the insistence of airport authorities that it would be an obstruction to aviation. The $2,000,000 structure was dedicated on July 16, 1938, by the President of the United States. Roosevelt arrived at Los Angeles aboard a presidential train and then was driven to San Diego. While in his car, he looked up at the stately building and remarked that he was proud of San Diego and that the motto across its portal, “The Noblest Motive is the Public Good,” insured eternal democracy. That afternoon he boarded the cruiser Houston for an equatorial cruise.
The civic armistice that had been declared for his visit came to an end. The WPA granted $166,500 toward construction of the $350,000 jail and police station. Petitions for a referendum and the filing of legal obstructions failed to halt the award of a contract to begin construction. In a sudden move, Flack resigned as city manager. While a search was under way for a successor the resignation was withdrawn and the Council voted six-to-one for his reinstatement.
The civic controversy, however, was overshadowed by the Townsend movement and then by the rival “life warrants” pension plan which had been converted from “$25-Every-Monday-Morning” to “$30-Every-Thursday,” and then became known simply as “Ham and Eggs.”
On July 25, 1938, Archie Price, a sixty-four-year old man who had been on relief, committed suicide in Balboa Park. Some time before he had walked into a newspaper office and threatened to commit suicide. On his body were found notes in which he had written that he was “too young to receive an old-age pension and too old to find work.” He was buried in a pauper’s grave.
A month later promoters of the Ham and Eggs movement heard of Price and had his body exhumed: They led a caravan of 150 autos to San Diego where a second burial was conducted in a well-kept cemetery. Ham and Eggs was now so powerful that two leading Democrats, Culbert L. Olson , candidate for governor, and Sheridan Downey, candidate for the United States Senate, appeared at the ceremony before a crowd of 5000 to 6000 persons and expressed their feelings about the fate of Archie Price. His death was dramatized throughout the state and more than 750,000 persons signed petitions which qualified $30-Every-Thursday on the November ballot as an initiative measure.
While Olson did not endorse Ham and Eggs, he did not directly oppose it. Downey, however, gave it his endorsement. Both were elected, Olson defeating the incumbent Republican governor, Frank Merriam, by about 220,000 votes. Ham and Eggs polled more than a million votes but fell short of winning by 255,000.
In San Diego County, the story was a different one. Olson led Merriam by a fairly wide margin of 9000 votes and Ham and Eggs had a majority of more than 3000.
The prevailing political discontent in San Diego had been accompanied by a slow but persistent decline in the fortunes of its biggest manufacturing plant, Consolidated Aircraft. New orders had not materialized and the company was coming to the end of production contracts for its Navy patrol bombers. The number of workers dropped from about 3000 to 1400.
Events in Europe and Asia had not yet alarmed the country. The promise of “peace in our time” followed British and French acceptance of the German dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Then in Asia Japanese airplanes sank the U.S. gunboat Panay in the Yangtze River.
The situation changed in the Spring of 1939. Consolidated received seven and a half million dollar contracts to begin production of a four-engine “flying battleship” for the Navy and the first of 1000 four-engine attack bombers for the Army Air Corps. The Ryan Aeronautical Company’s S-T trainer was adopted by the Army Air Corps and Ryan also introduced a new observation plane called the Dragon Fly.
The city election in the Spring gave Mayor Benbough the opportunity for which he had been waiting for two years. He announced for re-election and put up two Council candidates of his own to oppose those supported by the Civic Affairs Conference. Benbough vowed to “mow ’em down” and he did. He was overwhelmingly returned to office and his two Council candidates were elected. A third candidate who ran independently, Harley Knox, also won and the conference had lost its majority.
The city manager resigned. He had served four years, longer than any of his predecessors. Under the influence of the Civic Affairs Conference, the Council had become a policy body, as intended under the Charter; city government largely had been withdrawn from the political arena, and the authority of a city manager defined. The defeat of the city administration was a matter of policy. The people wanted a different kind of a city. The concept of an “open town” was gradually abandoned, as was being done in many other areas, and the police department reorganized along more professional lines.
But with the new police and jail building ready for occupancy, the plan of grouping public buildings on a landscaped waterfront site was dead, though there was no one to fully acknowledge it as yet. It had met the same fate as the original Nolen Plan for raising a “city beautiful” around the harbor in the manner of the more famous Latin American and European port cities. Though the Nolen Plan would disappear from public attention, its recommendations would in a general way continue to influence the planning and development of San Diego, and its orientation toward the bay, for recreation as well as commerce.
Flack’s successor was Fred Rhodes, who had served as city manager of operation before the adoption of the City Charter and had been fired in the quarrels over development of water resources.
The Metropolitan Aqueduct had been completed and the first Colorado River water had arrived on the coastal plain. The All-American Canal was being readied for use and voters at last ratified the agreement that would enable San Diego to have its share of water delivered to the base of the mountains. The city agreed to pay an average of $15,000 a year for thirty-eight years to help defray operating costs and for the extra capacity built into the canal.
There had been successive wet years. In the 1936-1937 season there were sixteen inches of rain. El Capitan reservoir began to fill with the water coming down the San Diego River from the mountains. But below the dam the runoff from the surrounding hills caused a near-flood condition, with 14,200 cubic feet of water a second rushing to the sea. Without the dam there might have been heavy flood damage. In the 1916 flood, the flow had reached 70,200 cubic feet a second. In the Spring of 1938 water was going over the El Capitan Dam spillway. With the reservoirs brimming with water, and with acceptance of the All-American Canal contract, a bond issue to construct another dam on San Vicente creek of the San Diego River system was rejected.
On September 1 the German army invaded Poland. On September 3 Great Britain and France declared war. War still seemed remote to Californians, and the business community in San Diego as well as the state turned its attention to defeating a second attempt to force the Ham and Eggs scheme upon the state. The threat to the future of the state was clearly drawn. Among others, the president of Solar Aircraft, Edmund T. Price, warned that if the plan was adopted he would seek an East Coast site as “we feel we could not operate under the chaos which would undoubtedly follow.”
The fever of social change was running down, however, and in November Ham and Eggs was defeated easily and even in San Diego County it lost by a margin of more than two-to-one.
A casualty of the times was the San Diego Sun. The death of E. W. Scripps had been followed by that of his son and the newspaper was of little interest to the men then in command of the Scripps-Howard chain. The days of the crusading newspaper and of poorly nourished multiple newspapers were drawing to a close. The Sun, with its excess of reformist zeal and its occasional support of socialistic causes, had lost much of the confidence of the community. It was offered to Colonel Copley and absorbed into his Evening Tribune.
Though Scripps-Howard may have had little faith in the future of San Diego, the city’s population reached an estimated 182,000 by the end of 1939 and in addition there were 27,000 men in uniform. Some of the city’s growth in population after 1936 could be attributed to annexations of subdivisions northeast of the city resulting from San Diego’s refusal to increase water services and their prospect of having to construct their own sewage facilities.
The eight Navy and Marine establishments in San Diego County–the Naval Hospital, Marine Corps Base, Naval Training Station, Destroyer Base, Naval Air Station, Naval Fuel Depot, Naval Supply Depot and the Radio Station–embraced nearly 4000 acres and 634 buildings representing an investment of $51,000,000. The cost of development programs under way or soon to be under way was estimated at $29,000,000.
In May of 1940 the Nazis invaded Belgium and The Netherlands and on May 10 they crossed the French frontier and reached Paris two days later.
In September Consolidated Aircraft dedicated an addition to its plant and Major Fleet, the president, told a crowd of 5000 persons that “we came here with $6,000,000 worth of business…Today our backlog is $132,000,000.” More than 9000 persons now were employed in the production of war planes.
The city’s airport had been expanded to meet the demands placed upon it. Various dredging projects and exchanges of tideland properties with the Navy and Marines had enlarged the airport to 455 acres. In one of the last exchanges the city acquired sixty acres of tidelands in trade for 544 acres of city pueblo lands north of La Jolla for a Marine rifle range, Camp Mathews.
The Ryan company was training large numbers of flying cadets for the Army Air Corps. The number of employees at Solar rose to 700 and the backlog of orders to more than three million dollars. Fred H. Rohr, who had worked on Lindbergh’s Spirit o f St. Louis, resigned as factory manager for Ryan and set up his own company to provide special components for the aircraft industry. His operations started in a garage and were soon moved to a warehouse, and from there to a new plant of his own in Chula Vista.
The fleet of tuna clippers had grown in value to $10,000,000 and for a decade San Diego had been the leading tuna port of the Pacific. New “queens” of the sea had supplanted the Atlantic, the first of the tuna clippers, and ranged over an ocean area of more than two million square miles. The Normandie, 150 feet in length, and the Queen Mary, 149 feet, were equipped with brine refrigeration systems capable of handling 400 tons of tuna. Soon the redoubtable clippers would be offered to the government and two-thirds of them would see duty in war.
The rapid growth in population and in industrial and military facilities foreshadowed a crisis in water. But it was asking too much of San Diegans to anticipate what might happen almost overnight. And there was some comfort in the knowledge that they had the right to tap the All-American Canal whenever necessary. The first water had been turned into the canal the year before at a ceremony at Imperial Dam. At that time the water was not destined for the valley’s farms but for seasoning the canal. The principal speaker was the Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. An interested spectator was Phil Swing, the former Republican congressman and principal author of the bill which made the canal as well as Boulder Dam possible. Democrats in charge of the program did not call upon him to speak. Swing was content, however, and told reporters, “I only took up the work of others and did my best…let us all feel joyful.”
A sharp earthquake occurred in Imperial Valley on May 18, 1940. There was a pronounced horizontal movement along forty miles of the Imperial fault which runs through the Imperial-Mexicali Valley. The epicenter was near the town of Imperial, where fifty percent of the buildings on the main street were damaged to a point of condemnation. Eight persons in the valley lost their lives.
Irrigation facilities were extensively damaged and a section of the All-American Canal had to be put into use before anticipated. Water was diverted from the old Alamo channel in Mexico into the new canal. East of Calexico the north embankment of a section of the canal was displaced more than fourteen feet and had to be rebuilt. It could not be placed in service until 1941. The formal dedication of the canal took place on October 12, 1940, and this time Swing was an honored guest and speaker.
Orders for water would be placed with the Bureau of Reclamation, for release at Boulder Dam 303 miles upstream from the Imperial diversion works. In 146 hours it would arrive at the farmer’s control gate after having traveled 410 miles under controlled conditions through the main canal and its branch lines.
In 1938 the Mexican government had expropriated 287,000 acres of the Chandler lands in Lower California which had been dependent on Colorado River water for irrigation. But time would prove that this did not free the users on the United States side of the border from the threat of increasing appropriations in Mexico. New land owners took over and maintained and built up rights in a river that would never have enough water to meet all demands upon it.
The federal census of 1940 gave San Diego City a population of 203,341 and the county 289,348. The city had begun the Twenties with only 74,361. Los Angeles City had expanded to a million and a half. More than three million persons now resided in Southern California. Since 1930 the rate of growth of San Diego County had been more rapid than either Southern California or California as a whole.
When the figures were announced the San Diego Chamber of Commerce estimated that 30,000 new residents had arrived in San Diego since the census had been taken and by the summer of 1941 the city would have to absorb and house perhaps 45,000 more. In 1928 in San Diego there were only 232 persons in the aviation industry. Now there were 20,000. Consolidated’s four-engine land bomber was designated the B-24 Liberator and was being produced at a record pace of one a day. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Return to Books.
THE RISING TIDE
Ch. 1 Envy of Cities
Ch. 2 Charting a Way
Ch. 3 Water is King
Ch. 4 The Flush Years
Ch. 5 The Long Chase
Ch. 6 The Boom Fades
Ch. 7 The Quiet Years
Ch. 8 Creating a Fair
Ch. 9 Making a River
Ch. 10 Changes of War