History of San Diego, 1542-1908

PART FOUR: CHAPTER 3: Growth of Public Utilities

Very early in the Horton period, the citizens of San Diego began to realize the future importance of various public utilities and to plan ways and means for meeting the need. Water, sewerage, light, facilities for transportation, these things must be provided if a city of consequence were destined to rise upon the shores of the Bay. Although the boom of 1886-88 gave the greatest impetus to the growth of public utilities, the beginnings of several of them went farther back.

In the spring of 1870, Wm. H. Perry and others undertook to provide San Diego with gas. Machinery was brought by steamer and installed, in June. The venture was not a success, however.

In March, 1881, the matter was again taken up by a number of citizens. The San Diego Gas Company was organized in that month, and in April, articles of incorporation filed. The incorporators were: 0. S. Witherby, George A. Cowles, Dr. R. M. Powers, E. W. Morse, Gordon & Hazzard, Bryant Howard, and M. G. Elmore. The capital stock was $100,000, and works costing $30,000 were erected immediately, on the present site of the gas works—Tenth and M Streets. The fires were lighted for the first time on June 2, 1881. The fuel used was petroleum. Elmore, who held one-fourth of the stock, was a representative of the Petroleum Gas Company. The plant was thought to be sufficient for a city of 20,000. The number of subscribers at the start was 89.

The use of petroleum gas proved unsatisfactory, however, and after an experience of two years, the company made the necessary alterations in its plant and began to use coal, instead. The first use, of coal was on April 19, 1883. From this time on, the gas works have grown with the city, enlarging their plant and extending, their pipes as business required.

The subject of electric lighting came up in March, 1885, when the city trustees appointed a committee of three to prepare a contract for electric lighting. The Horton House was the first building in the city to be lighted by electricity. The first lights were furnished by the Jenney Electric Lighting Company, of Indianapolis, which entered into a five-year contract for lighting the city by the mast system. Their machinery was set in motion on March 16, 1886, and that evening the city was illuminated by electric light for the first time. In May the trustees discussed a proposition for the city to purchase the plant, but decided adversely. After the system had been in operation about six months, it was purchased by E. S. Babcock, Jr., and L. M. Vance, for $30,000. Mr. Vance had been the manager for the Eastern concern, and remained in charge. In March, 1887, the San Diego Gas, Fuel & Electric Light Company was organized, and bought the franchises of the San Diego Gas Company and of the San Diego & Coronado Gas & Electric Light Company. The new company had a capital stock of $500,000, and it undertook to furnish gas and electric light for San Diego and Coronado.

In April, 1905, the San Diego Consolidated Gas and Electric Company became the owner of the works and franchises of the old gas and electric companies of San Diego and has since supplied the city with all its gas and electric light and power. During 1906, this company rebuilt the entire gas and electric plants, at an expense of about $750,000. New machinery and apparatus were being installed, including steam turbines for generating electricity, a new 500,000 foot gas holder, and additional 800,000 foot gas generating set. The company owns and operates about 50 miles of poles and 80 miles of gas mains. It serves some 2,000 consumers of electric light and 4,000 consumers of gas. There are 224 arc lamps furnished to the city of San Diego and 12 to National City, for street lighting. Both the gas and electricity used in National City are supplied from the plant in San Diego.

The first public exhibition of the telephone in San Diego was made by Lieutenant Reade, U. S. Weather Officer, on December 5, 1877. It was not until March 23, 1881, that the newspapers state: “It is currently reported that ere many weeks we will have a telephone exchange in San Diego.” The San Diego Telephone Company was organized and began work in May, 1882. The officers were: President and treasurer, J. W. Thompson; secretary, Douglas Gunn; directors, A. Wentscher, J. A. Fairchild, and Simon Levi. The first use of the lines was on June 11, and there were 13 subscribers to the first exchange.

In 1887, the number of subscribers was 284. The San Diego Telephone Company was not incorporated, but was operated as a mutual affair, as the telephone business was thought to be in an experimental stage. The lines were extended to several outside points, however; to Julian in September, 1885, to Oceanside in May, 1886, and in 1887 to Escondido, Poway, Campo, Tia Juana, Oneonta, Coronado, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, Ocean Beach, and soon after to El Cajon, Lakeside, Alpine, Cuyamaca, Sweetwater Dam, Chula Vista, Otay, and Del Mar. In December, 1890, the Sunset Telephone and Telegraph Company purchased the plant and took control. Mr. Thompson continued as manager until March 8, 1895, when he was succeeded by R. L. Lewis, who still continues in the position. At the time Mr. Lewis took charge, there were 360 telephones in use in San Diego, and the number of employees was 9. In November, 1897, the company completed the construction of a long distance line from Santa Ana, which connected San Diego with over 700 cities and towns in California. The number of telephones now in use in the city is nearly 3,200, and the long distance system has been greatly extended and improved.

The Home Telephone Company secured its city franchise in November, 1903, and a county franchise on June 5, 1905. Service was commenced in February, 1905. It was organized and built largely by local subscriptions. The automatic system is used. The number of city subscribers is about 2,500 and long distance wires have been extended to 19 interior exchanges in San Diego County. The first manager was Roscoe Howard, who served until July 1, 1905. The company has a substantial building of its own.

In the matter of street improvements, the people of San Diego seem to have taken little interest until the time of the great boom. Indeed, the conditions of soil and climate are such that nowhere are the streets so easily kept in good condition, and nowhere are apathy and indifference so prone to prevail.

In November, 1869, a proposition was made to license saloons and teamsters for the purpose of raising funds for the improvement of the streets. This proposition was voted down, however. The first official action for the establishment of street grades was in October, 1872, when the city engineer was instructed to make surveys for that purpose, from A Street south and Thirteenth Street west, to the Bay.

Fifth Street was the first street extended out upon the mesa, and long remained the only avenue to what is now one of the most attractive residence districts in the city. This work was done early in 1880.

The first important street grading work began in January, 1886. There was considerable agitation for this and other classes of improvements in 1886-7, culminating in a public meeting at the Louis Opera House in August, 1887, when Mr. Holabird, Judges Works, Puterbaugh and others spoke. It was thought the trustees were not showing proper zeal, and the needs of the city far outran their accomplishment.

The largest single undertaking in the way of street improvements was the construction of the sewer system. The movement for this work began in May, 1882, when a committee of the city council was appointed and made a report on the city’s needs. Nothing was done at the time, but there was considerable discussion, and by the spring of 1886 the trustees were fairly forced by the growth of the city to take some action. General Thomas Sedgwick appeared before the board by invitation and gave his views. On June 25th, he explained his views further at a meeting held in Horton’s Hall, and steps were thereupon taken to secure the services of Colonel George E. Waring, Jr., of Newport, Rhode Island. Colonel Waring made his report in December, providing for a complete system of sewerage for the city, having a total length of 211,560 feet and constructed on the most approved lines. The proposition to issue bonds in the sum of $400,000 for the construction of the system was voted on in the spring of 1887, and carried by a large majority. These bonds were sold to the Pacific Bank, of San Francisco, in June, and work began the following month. At the close of that year over 38 miles of main pipes had been laid and in July, 1888, the system was practically completed. This was an immense undertaking for a city the size of San Diego, and had the bursting of the boom been foreseen, it is likely the citizens would scarcely have had the courage to undertake it. However, the “Waring System” still serves efficiently the needs of San Diego, a model of engineering skill and of public spirit.

The newspapers of San Diego began to agitate for street railways in March, 1881, but it was not until 1886 that their desire was gratified. The first franchise granted was to Dr. John McCoy, of Pasadena, October 18, 1885. The ordinance provided that no road should be built on any street until it had been graded by the city. Complications arose out of this unfortunate provision, upon the observance of which McCoy insisted. He did not build any street railways.

The next franchises granted (two at one meeting) were to Messrs. Santee, Evans, Mathus, Babcock, Gruendike, and Story, and to Reed, Choate and others, in March, 1886. April 15, 1886, articles of incorporation of the San Diego Street Car Company were filed. In August, the trustees gave a franchise to George Neal and James McCoy for a railroad between Old and New San Diego.

The first car (a horse car) was run on Fifth Street, July 4, 1886. This line was two miles long. The second line was built on D Street, and had a length of 1⅖ miles. The third was the H Street line, 3½ miles; and the next was the First Street line, ¾ of a mile in length. From this on, construction was rapid. On January 1, 1888, there were 36 4-5 miles of street railroads running and in course of construction and about ten miles more being surveyed. The San Diego & Old Town Motor Railroad was opened November 21, 1887, and reached Pacific Beach April 1, 1888. Its officers were: President, J. R. Thomas; secretary and manager, A. G. Gassen; directors, J. R. Thomas, A. G. Gassen, R. A. Thomas, E. W. Morse, T. Metcalf, D. B. Hale, and O. S. Hubbell. It was extended to La Jolla in 1889.

The articles of incorporation of the National City and Otay Railroad Company (motor) were filed in December, 1886. The capital stock was $100,000, later increased to $1,300,000, and the Land & Town Company was a very large stockholder. The road was opened for business on January 1, 1887. It has branch lines to Chula Vista and other points. It has recently been acquired by the Spreckels system, and is being converted into a trolley line.

The Coronado Belt Line was one of the earliest railroads begun. It was constructed by the Coronado Beach Company in connection with the development of the hotel property. The line extends from the Coronado Ferry wharf to the foot of Fifth Street, San Diego, following the shore of the Bay, and is 21.29 miles long.

On January 1, 1888, the names of the steam motor companies, and mileage of their tracks, were as follows:

National City & Otay Railway Co 40
Coronado Railway
Coronado Belt Railway 21¼
San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach 12
City & University Heights Railway
Pacific Coast Steamship Co.’s Railway 1/3
Ocean Beach Railway
Roseville & Old Town Railway 1
La Jolla Park Railway

The following were the electric and horse railways:

San Diego Electric Street Railway
San Diego Street Railway System (horse) 9
National City & Otay Railway (7th St.) ¾
National City Street Railway

The single electric line in operation at that time was owned and operated by the Electric Rapid Transit Street Car Company of San Diego, of which George D. Copeland was president. The first piece of road which it constructed was from the foot of D Street in a northerly direction along the Bay shore, for four miles, to Old Town. This line began operation in November, 1887. The next electric road constructed was that from the Pacific Coast Steamship Company’s wharf to University Heights, four miles. The total cost of these lines, up to the same date, was as follows:

Horse car lines $315,000
Motor car lines 1,006,000
Electric car lines 100,000
Total $1,421,000

The new roads projected at that time were estimated to cost a half million more, but few, if any; of them were ever built.

WALDO S. WATERMAN. Located, 1886; manager Stonewall mine, 1886-93. General manager San Diego Cuyamaca & Eastern Railway from 1891 to date of his untimely death, February 24, 1903. Prominent in politics. Son of Gov. Waterman.

The San Diego Cable Car Company was incorporated and began work in August, 1889. Its line extended from the foot of Sixth Street, to C, thence to Fourth, and up Fourth to Spruce. The enterprise was started by George D. Copeland, and incorporated by John C. Fisher, D. D. Dare, J. W. Collins, George B. Hensley, and H. F. Norcross. The power house was built in 1889, at a cost of $30,000, and was placed at the head of the canyon on Fourth and Spruce Streets, where some remains of the cement foundations may still be seen. The line was formally opened on June 7, 1890. It was at that time thought that this development meant a great deal for San Diego. Electric railways were then in their infancy and many people thought the cable system preferable. The failure of the California National Bank, its principal backer, with the long continued depression which followed, caused the failure of the road. After being for some time in the hands of a receiver, its property and franchise were sold to an electric railway company, in January, 1892. Such, in brief, is the history of San Diego’s first and only cable car line.

With the collapse of the boom, a reaction from the too-rapid building of street car lines was to be expected. A number of the weak companies failed and were absorbed by the stronger ones. All the motor roads went out of business or were converted into electric lines, except the National City & Otay and the San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railways. On January 30, 1892, the entire property of the San Diego Street Car Company passed into the hands of A. B. Spreckels, for the sum of $115,000. This purchase included practically all the live trackage in the city, and, with the lines since acquired, comprises all the older lines in the city. Mr. Spreckels immediately incorporated the San Diego Electric Railway Company, to operate his lines, with the following officers: A. B. Spreckels, president; E. S. Babcock, vice-president; Joseph A. Flint, secretary, treasurer, and general manager; directors, A. B. Spreckels, John D. Spreckels, Charles T. Hinde, E. S. Babcock, and Joseph A. Flint.

The transformation of all the lines to electric power began in May, 1892, and was carried vigorously to completion. At the present time, the company operates 25 miles of track in the city and has 10 miles more under construction. Early in 1907, it will begin operating 10 miles of interurban track between San Diego and Chula Vista.

The motor line to La Jolla, of which the old San Diego, Old Town & Pacific Beach Railway formed a portion, now belongs to the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway Company, of which E. S. Babcock is president and E. A. Hornbeck general manager. The road is now being converted into a trolley line. The company has also recently constructed and is operating an electric street railway to connect with its La Jolla line, running up C Street to Sixth, south on Sixth to its foot, and thence southeasterly to the Cuyamaca depot.

The South Park and East Side Railway, an enterprise growing out of the operations of the Bartlett estate under the presidency of E. Bartlett Webster, began active construction in March, 1906. Its first line ran from Twenty-fifth and D to Thirtieth and Amherst Streets, a distance of a mile and a half, the power house being located at the terminal. During the early months of 1907 the line was extended to Twenty-fifth and F, down F to Fourth, and up Fourth to C, thus reaching the heart of the business district. This line, which has become a strong factor in local transportation and the development of the residence district on the east side, is reaching out toward the bay in one direction, and toward the back country in the other. At this writing, the company has pending applications for franchises up Fourth Street to B, and down B Street to the bay; also, along La Mesa Boulevard to La Mesa Springs, while El Cajon Valley is looking to it hopefully for rapid transit in the early future.

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Main Page
Author’s Foreword
Introduction: The Historical Pre-Eminence of San Diego

PART ONE:   Period of Discovery and Mission Rule

  1. The Spanish Explorers
  2. Beginning of the Mission Epoch
  3. The Taming of the Indian
  4. The Day of Mission Greatness
  5. The End of Franciscan Rule
    Priests of San Diego Mission

PART TWO:   When Old Town Was San Diego

  1. Life on Presidio Hill Under the Spanish Flag
    List of Spanish and Mexican commandants
  2. Beginnings of Agriculture and Commerce
    List of Ranchos in San Diego County
  3. Political Life in Mexican Days
  4. Early Homes, Visitors and Families
  5. Pleasant Memories of Social Life
  6. Prominent Spanish Families
  7. The Indians’ Relations With the Settlers
    List of Mission Indian Lands
  8. San Diego in the Mexican War
  9. Public Affairs After the War
  10. Accounts of Early Visitors and Settlers
  11. Annals of the Close of Old San Diego
  12. American Families of the Early Time
  13. The Journalism of Old San Diego
  14. Abortive Attempt to Establish New San Diego

PART THREE:   The Horton Period

  1. The Founder of the Modern City
  2. Horton’s Own Story
  3. Early Railroad Efforts, Including the Texas and Pacific
  4. San Diego’s First Boom
  5. Some Aspects of Social Life

PART FOUR:   Period of “The Great Boom”

  1. Coming of the Santa Fe
  2. Phenomena of the The Great Boom
  3. Growth of Public Utilities
  4. Water Development

PART FIVE:   The Last Two Decades

  1. Local Annals, After the Boom
  2. Political Affairs and Municipal Campaigns
  3. Later Journalism and Literature [new material in second edition]
  4. The Disaster to the Bennington
  5. The Twentieth Century Days
  6. John D. Spreckels Solves the Railroad Problem

PART SIX:   Institutions of Civic Life

  1. Churches and Religious Life
  2. Schools and Education
  3. Records of the Bench and Bar
  4. Growth of the Medical Profession
  5. The Public Library
  6. Story of the City Parks
  7. The Chamber of Commerce
  8. Banks and Banking
  9. Secret, Fraternal and Other Societies
  10. Account of the Fire Department

PART SEVEN:   Miscellaneous Topics

  1. History of the San Diego Climate
  2. San Diego Bay, Harbor and River
  3. Governmental Activities
  4. The Suburbs of San Diego

Political Roster, City of San Diego
Political Roster, San Diego County