The Journal of San Diego History
January 1955, Volume 1, Number 1

SAN DIEGO is a port of entry, aviation center, military base, and County capital; it is located on San Diego Bay, about 17 miles north of the International Line. Palomar Mountain, with its 200-inch reflecting telescope, and other heights in San Diego County rising 6000 feet and more, add to the sea-turned city, which is the oldest settlement on our West Coast, a background of scenic grandeur.

Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo discovered for Spain what is now the State of California when he entered this harbor — “closed and very good” — on Sept. 28, 1542; he named it San Miguel. Cabrillo National Monument on the headland of Point Loma Head marks the actual place of discovery, the landfall.

Sebastian Vizcaino, entering Nov. 11-12, 1602, first applied the name San Diego de Alcalá to this port.

Permanent settlement began in 1769 within a roughly indicated Royal Presidio, when Fray Junipero Serra founded on “Presidio Hill” California’s first Franciscan Mission. A few years later this establishment was moved about six miles eastward to a site called by local Indians Nipaguay. Mission San Diego de Alcalá church was seven times rebuilt, the present handsome restoration being a well-constructed near-replica of the last “original,” which had been dedicated in 1813.

Both our presidial and mission establishments were involved in changes incident in 1822 to Mexico’s winning freedom from Spain, when strict Spanish regimes lapsed. The typically Mexican Pueblo de San Diego (San Diego Viejo, “Old Town”) was organized in 1835; and Jan. 1, 1836 Don Juan Maria Osuna, having received a majority of 13 votes cast, became alcalde (mayor) of the insignificant community, where actually our civic existence first took shape.

Prematurely, Yankee fashion, the American flag was raised July 29, 1847 in Old Town Plaza by Marine Lt. Stephen Clegg Rowan, acting for Capt. Samuel F. Dupont of the U.S. Sloop-of-War Cyane. A company of about 160 mountain men, headed by John C. Fremont and including Indian scout Kit Carson, had been mustered into the U.S. Army; and at this hour they presented themselves to hospitable residents who nursed and restored them, sorry seasick landlubbers, to military usefulness.

The City of San Diego, its population under 500, was incorporated in February, 1850; the year a beginning of a new town was made near what is now the foot of Market Street. Alonzo E. Horton’s arrival in 1867, however, dates modern San Diego’s real start. He paid 26 cents an acre for rough brush land, which he described as a heaven-on-earth and named South San Diego. That purchase now constitutes our main business center.

A fire in Old Town in the early ‘seventies justified the removal of public business to the new site, where the Horton House, Horton Hall and Court House gave a permanent American look to “Father” Horton’s famous Addition. Charters were outmoded in quick succession to keep up with a modern city’s needs. Since 1932 civic affairs have been in the hands of a City Manager.

John J. Montgomery flew a home-made glider about 600 ft. on an Otay hillside in 1883; aviation history in San Diego is considered to have began with this inconspicuous event. Test flights in 1911 by Glenn E. Curtis, and the establishment on North Island of a flying school are among local “firsts.” Charles A. Lindbergh in 1927 built, test-flew and equipped the monoplane “Spirit of St. Louis,” and his solo flight to France that year was exciting world news. Now in 1955 San Diego’s claim to the title “Air Capital of the West,” though now and then challenged, is backed up by vast activities in airplane factories and related enterprises.

Since 1795 when, taking the advice of Capt. George Vancouver, our Spanish Fort Guijarros was built and manned on Ballast Point, local military establishments have expanded to include principally: Headquarters, Eleventh Naval District with Naval Station, Supply Depot, Air Station, Hospital, Training Center, Sonar School, Electronics Laboratory and Cruiser-Destroyer-Submarine squadron bases; U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Camp Joseph E. Pendleton (site of historic Rancho Santa Margarita); U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, and U.S. Army activities at Fort Rosecrans.

San Diego Bay, 12 miles long and from one to three miles wide, is a natural harbor and accessible to most types of vessels the year around; its main ship channel is about 37 feet deep. Since 1945 an increase in goods shipments has necessitated continuing expansion of facilities. Busy Lindbergh Air Terminal (Municipal Airport) is an important harbor activity. Ship-building yards, fish canneries, meat-packing plants and lumber yards line the bay shore from down-town southward. Deep sea fishing, commercial and sport, is a chief source of income; the fishing fleet cruises as far south as Ecuador, and the annual tuna catch is estimated at 60 million dollars.

A century ago Spanish-speaking Old Town and the newly created County of San Diego were best known for the Franciscan establishments including Mission San Luis Rey and sub-stations at Pala and Santa Isabel. Though originals have melted away and structures at the old sites are either restorations or replicas, it is true that many visitors to these pioneer “reminders” feel, even now, something of our romantic Spanish past still lingering.

Starting with A. E. Horton’s emphasis on “bringing ’em down here to San Diego,” tourists have always bolstered our economy. An equable climate stimulates this trade; and a touch of Spanish-Mexican color and music is not lost an most visitors. Our chief recreational places are 1400-acre Balboa Park, internationally famous because of successful expositions in 1915-16 and 1935-36; and Mission Bay Park now transforming 4500 acres of False (Mission) Bay and estuary into an “aquatic paradise.”

Before 1850 there were no public schools here. Today 62 elementary, 14 secondary, 2 Junior Colleges, San Diego State College, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (branch of the University of California), California Western University (Methodist foundation) and Men’s and Women’s Universities of San Diego (Catholic) are all expanding to accommodate a new generation’s needs.

In 1954 the estimated city population was 450,000.