The Rising Tide, 1920-1941

CHAPTER TWO: Charting a Way

During the speculation of the early 1920’s in the land and resources of California, the enthusiasm for civic planning which had come with the advent of the Twentieth Century for a time almost disappeared. Los Angeles was widening out in a sprawling mass of unregulated subdivisions. Only in a few residential areas, where the wealthy had settled, were community or aesthetic values protected.

Fifteen years had passed since San Diego’s brief glimpse of the city it might have become. At the invitation of a group of citizens, the nationally known planner John Nolen had described the geographical, climatic and topographical advantages which would permit a civic development in the manner of the more beautiful seaside cities of Europe and Latin America.

Such a concept was far removed from a town barely out of its pioneering phase. A smokestack was a much more identifiable sign of progress, and at the first opportunity voters had overwhelmingly approved construction of a commercial pier at the foot of the city’s principal thoroughfare and in an area which Nolen had recommended be reserved for civic, recreational and cultural purposes.

The beautiful Spanish-Colonial buildings of the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition, however, remained as silent but impressive witnesses to what could be accomplished. George W. Marston, for one, though aging and ill, had not given up. He had financed the now neglected study of John Nolen, and in 1921 he had been instrumental in the preparation of other plans by the former director of works for the exposition, Frank P. Allen. The architect of the exposition, Bertram G. Goodhue of New York, also was designer of the United States Marine Base and the Naval Training Station on the northern shores of the bay, and Marston hoped to achieve a harmonious development of the entire waterfront. Marston was quoted as saying:

“At present the San Diego waterfront is being managed in a very haphazard way. It would be a tremendous task, beset with many difficulties, to correct present conditions, but I believe that $100,000 spent here now in correcting those conditions would be worth a million dollars later on. Whenever I have been discouraged in attempting to work out plans for the harbor’s betterment I have thought of the condition of Balboa Park land before the exposition. What has been done on Balboa Park hill can be done on the shores of San Diego Bay.”

Again community interest was lacking, and in 1922 construction was begun on a second pier, this one at the foot of B Street, and further commercial development proceeded north along the area which had been envisioned as the extension of a prado lined with parkways and public buildings from the bay to Balboa Park.

The pier was begun at a time when tonnage through the harbor had declined. By 1923, however, it was rising enough to justify the expectations of the pier’s supporters that by the time it was completed in 1925 San Diego would be an important port city. But the pier, with its accompanying waterfront industrial sites, brought a realization at last that with the rapid growth of the city there had to be some plan if there was to be any orderly development at all.

While across the country there were indications that the building boom might collapse, San Diego’s growth was continuing steadily though not as spectacularly as that of Los Angeles. San Diegans assured themselves they really didn’t want a boom. As The San Diego Union stated editorially:

“Naturally, San Diego doesn’t care for booms. They “bust.” Old-timers here are familiar, to their sorrow, with that enduring truth. The present state of growth is far preferable to any more spectacular flurry.”

However, experts from Los Angeles and San Francisco were summoned to San Diego and they told business leaders that what was needed was a definite program and community cooperation. At a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce, E. B. Gould Jr., its president, asked:

“Are we absolutely going to get behind these basic fundamentals, or are we going to sit back and let things develop, as they may, without our combined efforts?”

Two bankers, G. Aubrey Davidson and Frank Belcher Jr., argued for industrial development. Davidson commented:

“Employment is one of the most serious things we are up against. People need something to do after we get them to come here and that means more industries are required.”

As a result the Chamber of Commerce, though supporting a search for compatible industry, recommended adoption of a plan which would take into consideration the necessities of commercial, residential and aesthetic requirements, and prominent in this would be a Civic Center. To avoid the mistakes of other cities, the Chamber urged proper zoning, supervised guidance of subdivisions and further development of Balboa Park.

Mayor Bacon was more receptive than the former mayor to the arguments of the “geranium growers” who insisted that civic beautification need not be sacrificed in commercial and industrial growth. Though Spreckels had supported Marston for mayor in the “geraniums vs. smokestacks” campaign of 1917, his influence was not always exerted on the side of community-wide planning. He had many development projects of his own.

Interest in civic planning revived. Rehabilitation of exposition buildings gave the community a center of cultural and recreational interest. The Art Association, which for years had concerned itself with landscaping, also began to talk of an art gallery, certainly a necessary asset for a town which all knew for sure soon would take its place among the great cities of the Pacific Coast.

The promise of a gallery came from Mr. and Mrs. Appleton S. Bridges. Bridges had married the daughter of H. H. Timken Sr., and was president of the Timken Investment Company. The Timken fortune came from the invention of the roller bearing. Timken, son of the inventor, had brought his family to San Diego County in the 1890’s and the family still owned considerable downtown property. Bridges estimated the cost of a gallery at $40,000. It would cost $400,000.

The little zoo that had been started through the enthusiasm of Dr. Harry M. Wegeforth was moved from its location on Park Boulevard to undeveloped acreage within Balboa Park. Ellen Browning Scripps, the sister of the newspaper publisher, donated fencing to make possible the collection of entrance fees.

An urbanization was under way. In 1922 Ocean Heights was annexed to the city and in the following year, East San Diego, an area of nearly nine square miles. The Spreckels companies began laying a street car line to Mission Beach and La Jolla. Spreckels soon would spend more millions of dollars in creating a resort at Mission Beach to rival his Coronado and Tent City.

Marston again got in touch with the planner Nolen, and said he was hoping that soon there would be a concerted movement in cooperation with the City Planning Commission for a comprehensive development. “The time is not ripe yet but it is approaching,” he wrote.

While San Diegans tried to out-maneuver Los Angeles on highways and industry, and at the same time bring about some order in the city’s growth, the Army and Navy were irrevocably shaping the area’s future. There were only a few persons, however, who understood the significance of all that was taking place.

In 1922, the Navy dedicated a Naval Hospital in Balboa Park, and commissioned the first permanent building of a Naval Supply Depot on the tidelands. A year later on June 1, the Naval Training Station was put in commission and soon after the first Marine recruits arrived for training at the new Marine Corps Base.

There were now ten major Navy and Marine installations being built or authorized. Nearly $4,000,000 was being spent in developing the Naval Air Station on North Island and its auxiliary Ream Field on the south bay. The Marine barracks were costing nearly $3,000,000 and the Naval Training Station more than $2,000,000. Other important installations were a Fuel Depot, Radio Station, Destroyer Base, Submarine Base, and administrative offices for the 11th Naval District.

In an interview aboard the cruiser Seattle, published on August 3, 1923, Rear Admiral George W. Williams, chief of staff to Admiral Hilary Jones, commander-in-chief of the United States Fleet, said that in the space of a few short years San Diego had become the greatest naval port in America, and its strategic and administrative importance was second only to that of Washington. But, he continued:

“San Diego missed a golden opportunity of getting the Battle Fleet when it failed to erect a small breakwater on the sea side of Coronado, and connect this breakwater with Coronado’s street car system to accommodate the thousands of bluejackets landed daily from the capital ships, and otherwise prepared to take full advantage of the fact that San Pedro soon is to lose the Battle Fleet.”

He did say, however, that within the next twelve months San Diego would become the operating base for twenty of the largest submarines afloat, and their tenders, and that expansion of the Destroyer Repair Base was a necessity. The Navy’s eyes were on the Pacific. Williams said that plans for a first-class naval base at Pearl Harbor should be carried out to accommodate the large number of warships to be stationed in Hawaiian waters. On the following day, command of the United States Fleet was transferred at San Diego for the first time. Admiral Jones was relieved by Admiral Robert Coontz in a ceremony on the Seattle.

In 1925 a total of 120 battleships, scout cruisers, destroyers, submarines and auxiliary ships of the combined fleets of the Navy completed maneuvers off Lower California and steamed for San Diego. It required five hours for the massed fleet to reach their moorings in the harbor and in the Coronado Roads. The date was March 12. The fifteen commanding admirals and their subordinate officers were entertained at numerous civic and social functions. The city’s identity as a “Navy town” was firmly established.

The Navy shared North Island with the Army Air Service. Army and Navy pilots were rapidly expanding the potential of aviation. In 1922 Army Air Service Lieutenants Oakley Kelly and John Macready set a sustained flight record by remaining in the air for thirty-five hours and eighteen minutes, and Lieutenant James H. Doolittle set a coast-to-coast record from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Diego, of twenty-one hours and nineteen minutes.

In the following year, Navy photographers from North Island took the first aerial picture of a solar eclipse, while flying over San Diego at an altitude of 20,000 feet. Lieutenants Kelly and Macready this time flew from Mitchell Field, New York, to San Diego on the first non-stop transcontinental flight. The flying time was twenty-six hours and fifty minutes. Refueling in flight became a reality. Over San Diego Harbor, Lieutenants Frank Seifert and Virgil Hine lowered a hose to Lieutenant John Paul Richter who successfully inserted it into the fuel tank of his plane piloted by Captain Lowell Smith. In 1924 the Navy brought its big dirigible, the Shenandoah, to North Island, to end the first transcontinental flight by a lighter-than-air ship.

Another young Army pilot named T. Claude Ryan, a graduate of the primary cadet school at March Field, Riverside, in 1921 and Mather Field, Sacramento, in 1922, was flying on a volunteer forest fire patrol in northern California. By the end of the year he decided there could be a future for him in commercial aviation. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find anyone who agreed with him. He worked for a time in an auto supply company and then took his savings and went to Rockwell Field, the Army’s part of North Island, where he could at least get in some more flying on his reserve commission.

Commercial flying was limited to barnstorming, sightseeing, instruction and smuggling. There was a small dirt landing strip on the tidelands at the foot of Broadway, and its principal occupant had been a flier who had been convicted of smuggling Chinese from Mexico. Ryan induced the harbor master of the city of San Diego, Joseph Brennen, to let him use the field. Now all he needed was an airplane. Major H. H. Arnold, the commanding officer at Rockwell Field and who later as a five-star general was to command the United States Air Forces in World War II, advised him to bid on one of the war-surplus biplanes at the field. He bought one for $400 and went into the flying business.

Income was slow in developing. A visiting carnival provided some customers and Ryan went with it to the next town. The result was disappointing and Ryan returned to San Diego and for a time took a job as pilot with a barnstorming expedition in northwestern Mexico. This provided enough cash to purchase some ancient standard biplanes from the government and he moved his operation to an area known as Dutch Flats, opposite the Marine Corps Base.

With the aid of some mechanics he converted the planes into cabin transports, and in 1925 with a new partner, B. Franklin Mahoney, a local sportsman who provided some much needed capital, Ryan organized Ryan Airlines and inaugurated an air service between San Diego and Los Angeles, the first regularly scheduled year-round passenger airline in the United States. One of the early passengers was J.H.N. Adams, a contributor to the Chamber of Commerce magazine, San Diego Business, who wrote:

“Those who saw the superb film classic, The Thief of Bagdad, will recall with a pleasurable thrill the brilliant spectacle of the Thief and Princess soaring through the air on the Flying Carpet. It is with a similar feeling that I recount a recent experience.

“Fifteen minutes after leaving San Diego we were over picturesque Del Mar, and passing swiftly over Cardiff, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Las Flores, San Onofre…We soon saw the quaint old Mission at San Juan Capistrano, in less than one hour since our take-off. Ninety miles an hour and yet no sensation of hurtling through the air.

“At four o’clock I had been in San Diego — at five-thirty I was seated in a friend’s automobile and was being whisked a few blocks away to his home in Los Angeles…If you would emulate Douglas Fairbanks, phone Main 4688.”

Across the continent in Buffalo, New York, in 1924 Reuben H. Fleet was keeping a promise he made to himself during World War I while stationed with the Army Air Service at Rockwell Field. He had successfully entered the business of building airplanes. He had seen many young fliers go to their deaths in unstable planes and he was turning out military trainers which he felt were dependable and safe. The name of his firm was Consolidated Aircraft.

Though Ryan was demonstrating the practicality of commercial aviation, and San Diego, along with many other cities, realized it would soon need a community airport, primary interest as far as transportation was concerned was in highways. The fear of remaining isolated in the southwestern corner of the United States had persisted since the first transcontinental railroad surveys of the 1850’s. In the period from 1920 to 1925 traffic on state highways increased ninety-three percent. In San Diego County the number of autos and trucks increased from 18,000 in 1920 to 30,000 in 1923.

The highway from San Diego to Los Angeles was paved all the way, but twenty-three miles of the inland highway to Los Angeles, all of it in San Diego County, remained to be paved. Eastward, the highway had been paved only as far as The Willows, thirty-three miles inland at an elevation of 2300 feet. Beyond, there were passes at 4000 feet, and more than ninety miles from San Diego there was Mountain Springs grade, still a winding, occasionally precarious dirt road leading in and out of the desert. In the Imperial Valley sections of the road between El Centro and Yuma had not yet been improved as to assure regular passage. Southward from San Diego the highway to Tijuana was paved by way of Chula Vista and Highland.

The flood of immigrants into Los Angeles had at last forced the San Diego-California Club to recognize the advantage of advertising there about the attractions of the city to the south. The city’s hopes of effectively tapping the main westward traffic had not materialized. The advertisements appeared in 1923 and conceded that those who had remained in Los Angeles, and invested wisely, had become rich. In San Diego, however, there was the prospect of happiness as well as riches. The advertisements, in part, stated:

“Twenty years ago Los Angeles had a population of 175,000. Today it has probably 850,000 — an increase of nearly 500 percent. The business men who began with small establishments in Los Angeles in 1903 have large business houses today. Those then in the larger establishments today have colossal buildings to house their institutions. The men who owned even a lot or two near the business district twenty years ago today are rich.

“One hundred and thirty-five miles south of Los Angeles is Southern California’s second city, San Diego, which twenty years ago had a population of 20,000. Today the population numbers 125,000 — an increase of more than 500 percent. Pioneer businessmen in San Diego in 1903 are the heads of strong business institutions in that city today. Bankers, merchants, real estate owners, and professional men have profited in proportion to the steady growth and development that has taken place in San Diego.

“To these men and their families life has been sweet because they have lived…on the shores of a beautiful harbor, with every advantage of Southern California’s most delightful year-round climate, scenic beauty, outdoor sports and recreations.”

The event that San Diego was certain would change all of its prospects and make the mountain route instead of the coast highway the principal gateway to the county, took place on November 17, 1923. President Calvin Coolidge pressed an electric button in Washington and rang a gong in the Plaza in downtown San Diego. At that signal, Ed Fletcher unveiled a marble milestone which marked the Pacific terminus of the Lee Transcontinental Highway, which had its beginning in the nation’s capitol. It was the first true southern all-weather transcontinental route.

At the dedication, Fletcher, a vice president of the Lee Highway Association, said:

“For fifteen years San Diego has made strenuous efforts, and at last succeeded, after the expenditure of millions of state and county money, in building a direct highway through almost impassable mountains, and across the great Colorado desert to the Arizona line at Yuma.

“We are indeed happy to know that within the next six weeks a contract will be let to construct the missing link between Yuma and El Centro which, when completed next year, will give us an up-to-date graded, graveled or paved highway the entire distance from San Diego to El Paso. Within the next two or three years every foot of our highways across the continent will be built.”

The Lee Highway provided access to New York, by way of Washington, and westward it ran through Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee; to Little Rock, Arkansas; Lawton, Oklahoma; through northern Texas, southeastern New Mexico to El Paso; and from there to San Diego.

Though the owners of the city’s three newspapers only had a few years to live, their influence was still deeply felt. John D. Spreckels, with the city for which he had worked beginning to come into view, was embarking relentlessly on his final work. Though E. W. Scripps spent most of his time at sea, his San Diego Sun was curiously detached from the community and sounded a strident voice of opposition, swinging first one way and then another, always interesting but often disturbing.

The business community wanted its own voice, and a group of its leaders established the Independent as a weekly newspaper. Among the founders were George W. Marston; Ed Fletcher; Appleton S. Bridges, the philanthropist; W. Templeton Johnson, the architect; Judge W. A. Sloane, who served on the Supreme Court of California; and, among others, Ellen Browning Scripps. The Independent’s first edition was published in May of 1924.

The rising confidence in the city’s future, and the revival of interest in planning, led Marston to ask the City Council to reconsider the Nolen Plan of 1908. The Council appropriated $10,000 and Nolen’s advice was sought by the city’s three principal commissions, Planning, Park and Harbor. By late 1925 Nolen had evolved a new plan of development, the second Nolen Plan, and he wrote:

“Without doubt San Diego should be a more distinctive city in its physical development. Its topography, its climate, and its purposes are all different from the average American city. Not to be distinctive is an advantage lost, and some things in San Diego cannot be changed. The question is, what can be done to recover lost ground and lead the city toward a more distinctive San Diego for the future?”

The plan differed from the one he had presented in 1908. He did not suggest this time that the future appearance of San Diego could be made to rival the great seaport cities of Europe and Latin America. However, he did envision a “city beautiful” fronting on the bay and preserving its own historic values. He wrote:

“The history of the settlement of San Diego is one of unusual interest, and while much has been done to preserve places of historical association, much still remains to be done. For example, the site of the San Diego Mission, the complete planning and development of Old Town under an appropriate and consistent scheme, and making the most, under public ownership and control, of these and other spots, like Ramona’s Marriage Place, should be given attention by the city authorities or by a representative and well-supported organization.”

Nolen argued that comprehensive planning of the waterfront for commerce and recreation was the chief contribution that city planning could make to the prosperity of San Diego:

“The main feature in making the waterfront available for the variety of uses which it must serve is the proposed Harbor Drive, 200 feet in width which we recommend should run from the southern city boundary of San Diego to the U.S. Naval Reservation at Point Loma.”

Thus, the principal scenic avenue would not be a main prado, lined with beautiful buildings, which he had originally envisioned for Date Street from the bay to Balboa Park, but the wide drive following the curve of the bay and ending with a sweeping view of the city from the tip of Point Loma.

He moved the proposed Civic Center from the center of town, where he had originally placed it, to a waterfront location:

“San Diego has needed a Civic Center for a quarter of a century or more, and should begin building it now. Such action would not merely give the city the buildings necessary for its municipal life, but would transform the civic spirit of the citizens and attract favorably the attention of visitors.”

Nolen commented that an open plaza at India and A streets, with a grouping of public buildings around the plaza and an impressive approach from the waterfront portal would be an ideal location but too expensive:

“In view of the high cost of land now on account of San Diego’s failure to act earlier, and the heavy indebtedness of the city…the best practical solution can be found in using the tidelands between, Altantic (Pacific) Avenue and Harbor Drive as the Civic Center for San Diego.”

For some time San Diegans had realized the potential attractiveness of a drive around the bay, and Nolen detailed how it could be zoned and developed to protect necessary commerce as well as the aesthetic values he considered equally important. His plan embraced only the eleven miles of bayfront from the city’s southern boundary to the tip of Point Loma. In his opinion San Diego was making a mistake in expanding northward instead of logically southward along the southern edge of the bay.

For the area from the southern city boundary to Market Street, he endorsed the policy adopted by the Harbor Commission, that it be developed as the future industrial and commercial outlet of San Diego. Because of its great length of more than three and a half miles, Nolen recommended that it include recreational features at the foot of Twenty-eighth Street for the industrial workers who would be living near the area:

“Market Street should mark the north boundary of industry for San Diego. At this point also exists the connecting point by ferry to Coronado. It is especially fitting that such an important focal point have recognition in the city plan. It is therefore recommended that Battery Park be created on the waterfront to mark this important focal point and to serve as a waterfront development for suitable recreation and park purposes, and also have adequate traffic thoroughfares.

“There could be located here a Marine Aquarium, a suitable ferry house, open space to be enjoyed by city workers at their noon hour, and a lasting civic monument, distinctive in its openness and suitable surroundings.”

The area from Market Street, where the bay turned abruptly northward, to the new municipal Pier No. 1 at the foot of B street, and seven blocks long, he said would now always have to be in effect a portal entrance to the business section of San Diego. In his original plan he had suggested that commercial development be contained below E Street. This time he recommended that no more piers for commercial use be built north of the new one and that the zone should be a barrier to any commercial activity to the north. From this pier to Cedar Street, a distance of four blocks, he said that San Diego had a fine opportunity to create one of the most outstanding and distinctive civic features ever attempted:

“It is recommended: 1) that in this zone be established the Civic Center and Portal Entrance of San Diego. 2) That a recreation pier be built to balance Pier No. 1, and that thereby a basin be created of sufficient depth to serve pleasure boats and yachts; that the recreation pier be made to serve as a place for concessions such as dining, dancing, fishing clubs, city club and other semi-public associations. 3) That the land immediately back of this portal basin be developed as a Civic Center for City, County, State and Government buildings; that an archway be the center of the scheme, with a street running through it to the retail business section over a viaduct, eliminating the railroad grade crossing. 4) That this area be called the Cabrillo Portal Entrance, in honor of the discoverer of San Diego Bay.”

From Cedar Street to Laurel Street, an undeveloped area of eight blocks to be created by fill from the dredging of the harbor, he suggested recreational uses that might be related to Balboa Park, in a way that could have great potential for the attraction of tourists:

“It is also recommended that this section of the city be looked upon as capable of intensive residential expansion, creating an apartment house district, that hotels be encouraged to select sites along Atlantic Avenue, facing the waterfront, and that the architecture of these waterfront buildings be restricted by height, setback and other legal arrangements so that unity may result.”

The area between Laurel Street and the Marine Base, he said, offered excellent advantages for a close-in airport, for both land and seaplanes, that few cities could match.

Both the Marine Corps Base and the Naval Training Station, because of their location, the architecture of their buildings, and the proposed landscaping, were to be integral sections of the “city beautiful” on the bay. From the suggested airport to the southwest boundary of the U.S. Naval Training Station, he recommended that an island be created off Harbor Drive which could be used for recreational purposes and as a parade ground for marines and sailors.

The area from the Naval Training Station to the Naval Reservation, which followed the curve of the bay around and along the base of Point Loma, he planned as a recreational outlet for residents of Point Loma and La Playa. From the Naval Reservation to the tip of Point Loma, was another matter:

“This area is occupied entirely by reservations of the U. S. Government, a small section by the U. S. Navy and the major portion by the U. S. Army. It comprises an unspoiled tract of great natural beauty, and the main roads are open to the public under government regulation. The outlook from the plaza at the end of the drive commands one of the most remarkable views in the accessible world.”

Nolen recalled the description of the view from Point Loma, written by the author Charles Dudley Warner:

“The general features are the great ocean, blue, flecked with sparkling, breaking wavelets, and the wide, curving coastline, fusing into mesas, foothills, ranges on ranges of mountains, the faintly seen snow peaks of San Bernardino and San Jacinto to the Cuyamaca and the flat top of Table Mountain in Mexico. Directly under us on one side are the fields of kelp, where the whales come to feed in winter; and on the other is a point of sand on Coronado Beach, where a flock of Pelicans have assembled after their day’s fishing, in which occupation they are the rivals of the Portuguese.

“The perfect crescent of the ocean beach is seen, the singular formation of North and South Coronado Beach, the entrance to the harbor along Point Loma, and the spacious inner bay, on which lie San Diego and National City, with low lands and heights outside, sprinkled with houses, gardens, orchards, and vineyards. The near Hills about this harbor are varied in form and poetic in color, one of them, the conical San Miguel, constantly recalling Vesuvius. Indeed, the near view, in color, vegetation, and form of hills, and extent of arable land, suggests that of Naples, though on analysis it does not resemble it. If San Diego had half a million people, it would be more like it, but the Naples view is limited, while this stretches away to the great mountains that overlook the Colorado Desert. It is certainly one of the loveliest prospects in the world, and worth long travel to see.”

Among other recommendations, Nolen urged that further encroachments on Balboa Park be prevented and that there be a system of parks based on the area’s strong natural features, such as its bays, Point Loma, the San Diego River and Mission Valley, Mount Soledad, Chollas Valley and Torrey Pines. Though he had abandoned the idea of a prado, he did suggest that there could be a number of parkway connections between Balboa Park and the waterfront.

Other principal recommendations were the improving of the highway entrance to San Diego; extension of Sixth Street from University Avenue across Mission Valley to Camp Kearny Highway; a new thoroughfare across Dutch Flats to connect with Mission Beach Boulevard; an outer circuit parkway, out by way of Mission Valley, across East San Diego and back by way of Chollas Valley; a Mission Bay parkway; and park reservations in other canyons.

The Nolen Plan was presented to the City Council in February 1926 and was explained at a public meeting. One of the speakers was Hugh R. Pomeroy, regional planner for Los Angeles County. He told a thousand San Diegans:

“We have learned to our sorrow in Los Angeles County that the opportunities which you fail to take advantage of today are a perpetual mortgage on the future.”

The plan was praised by the Chamber of Commerce Civic Committee, and Julius Wangenheim was named to head a subcommittee to investigate the possibilities of the suggested bayfront Civic Center. The San Diego Independent published Marston’s comments that he hoped San Diego would rise to its opportunities. After a pause of several days, The San Diego Union followed with an editorial:

“A city plan, of course, is in danger of becoming merely everybody’s business, and no matter how enthusiastically we may adopt the Nolen Plan, we shall certainly find individuals coming forward in the future to seek special privileges and modifications of the plan in their own interest. If the plan is allowed to lapse into a hazy commonplace, some of these requests will be granted; and sooner or later somebody will put a fish cannery in the park, or a brewery…on the esplanada.”

Nothing had come of the first Nolen Plan. The second was adopted by the City Council, not as a plan but as a guide.

There was a realization, too, that something would have to be done about the park itself and its heritage of stately Spanish-Colonial buildings. The temporary structures were showing signs of weathering and deterioration. The original Southern California Counties Building at the east gateway to the park, on the north side of the Prado, had been used for a number of years as a Civic Auditorium. On the evening of November 25, 1925, while the building was being readied for the annual Fireman’s Ball, it caught fire from a faulty oil heater. By the time the first fire engine arrived the building was a total loss, so swiftly did it burn. An hour later it would have been crowded with revelers.

Even though the pressures of the rising boom were writing their own drastic changes on the face of Southern California, during the next few years some of the recommendations of the Nolen Plan were to be carried out.