The Journal of San Diego History
October 1956, Volume 2, Number 4
Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By Wilmer B. Shields

The largest book in general use in San Diego today is the current City Directory. It measures 12 inches in height, 9 inches in width, 21/4 inches in thickness, and tips the scales at 7 pounds. There are 1200 pages in it, mostly in print not recommended for failing eyesight. To list the inhabitants of a city of 450,000, with Street and Avenue Guide, Numerical Telephone Directory and a Classified Business Section, it could scarcely be smaller. (The suburban area has its own directory, about half the size of the City’s.)

A very different book was the first San Diego City and County Directory of 1886-7. There had been a small (71 page) Business Directory in 1874, and San Diego had shared with Santa Cruz, Ventura and Monterey counties a Coast County Directory, published in San Francisco during the early ’80s. This first local directory was a slim volume of some 270 pages of ordinary size, printed with rather large type. In addition to a directory of the city proper, there was in it a glowingly worded section on the advantages of San Diego, a business directory, and a listing of those living in the county towns.

In contrast to the succinct Statistical Review of the current directory, is the introductory comment of the first one. It begins: “There are many points of attraction in the wonderland of the Pacific Coast toward which the tide of empire is turning today. Grand and beautiful scenery, rich mineral deposits, wealth of agricultural products, delightful climate and famous harbors. But what shall we say of a locality favored above all others in possessing each and all of these features in their highest degree?”

A bicycle ride? A sweep? See your directory! The literary style of the first-edition editors carried over into the business section. Concerning the San Diego Collegiate Institute, we read: “As you pass the corner of 12th and E streets you will notice a little cottage. But for the large and strong double swing, the modest signboard, the spacious playground suggesting the thought of a happy time for children, one would hardly suspect that humble roof is the cradle of learning and knowledge of our growing generation. Yet a visit to its chambers will be repaid by the gratifying discovery of the very nucleus of pedagogism.”

The school section also indicates that San Diego was not afflicted with a juvenile racial problem in 1886. The number of children (five to 17 years) in the public schools was listed as “whites 1131, Negroes 7, Indians 0, Chinese l.”

Modern San Diego’s lengthy list of religious sects is not be found in the ’86-7 directory. The Methodists had two churches, the Baptists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics one each. Only the Swedenborgians and the Unitarians were here to represent the unorthodox groups.

Among the local societies of that day are listed the San Diego Natural History Society (already 12 years old), the Excelsior Band of Hope, the Temperance Society, the Y.M.C.A., the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Society for the Improving and Beautifying of San Diego. The Hodcarriers’ Union also was here.

A hint from the pages of the first directory that San Diego was still in the village class is to be found in the special instructions on how to give a fire alarm. The one firebell was located on Fifth Street, according to the directory, and the instructions read: “Ring the bell rapidly to give the general alarm, then toll the bell the same number of times as the number of the district in which the fire is located, then ring rapidly.”

However, the town was growing, and two major civic developments are noted in the directory. One was the new San Diego Street Railway (horse cars) which advertised that it was “giving a service of at least 3 miles in the city proper at 5 cents for the entire trip.” The other was the San Diego Flume Company, on which preliminary work had just been completed, to bring water to the city from Cuyamaca reservoir. A touch of the esthetic was added to utility in the advertisement of the Jenney Electric Company: “The City is probably one of the best lighted on the coast. We use our own elegant and unique style of masts and fixtures.”

There were four bookstores in San Diego in 1886, and the Public Library (“supported by an annual tax limited to one mill on every dollar of assessed city valuation”) contained 1600 “well selected bound volumes.” There is certainly a feeling of pride in the directory editor’s note: “Its well filled rooms are ample evidence of the culture and intelligence of the people of the City.”

The temperance organizations mentioned above were apparently not especially effective. Thirty-eight saloons are listed in the ’86 directory, with names like “Alhambra,” “Bavaria Beer Hall,” “Last Chance,” “Snug Harbor” and “Vienna.”

The “horseless carriage” was still in the future, and fifteen blacksmiths, twelve livery stables, seven wagon and carriage makers, as well as hostlers, buggy washers, and hack drivers operated undisturbed by coming changes. There were also seven expressmen doing business here at various “stands” on the streets, usually at corners.

Other businesses of the ’80s that make unfamiliar reading today were a cooper, a potter, a bell-hanger, a fish peddler, and a well-borer. There was one lemonade stand in town, five money-loaners, several scavengers and midwives. (Question: what was the S.P.Q.R. store?)

The first ground-swell of the fabulous Southern California land boom of the ’80s was evidently beginning to be felt in San Diego, for no less than forty-six real estate agents are listed in the directory for 1886-7. (It should be added that in the ’87-8 directory the total of realtors had skyrocketed to 136.)

Among the names of business firms in the classified section of the seventy-year-old directory are some still to be found in the current edition -the First National Bank, the Lion Clothing Company, Klauber Wangenheim Company (then Klauber-Levi), the Marston Company, the S. D. Gas and Electric Co., the S. D. Lumber Co., the San Diego Union, the Standard Iron Works.

The last section of the first directory (“containing a complete business directory of every town in the county”) makes for confused reading today. Elsinore, Hemet, Murietta, Perris, San Jacinto and Winchester, all included in the directory, are now to be found in Riverside County. Other towns listed have altogether disappeared from recent maps. We look in vain for Agua Tibia, Ballena, Barham, Emery, Helix (where the noted historian, H. H. Bancroft, was postmaster and owner of a blacksmith shop), Howe, Nellie, Nuevo (now Ramona), Penasquitas, Mt. Fairview, Viegas, and Vineyard.

San Diego has had more than one period of phenomenal growth, but the increase noted in the preface to the 1887-8 directory may set a record. Mr. George B. Maxwell, the publisher of the second directory, here calls attention to “the evidence the directory contains of the marvelous growth of San Diego,” pointing out that the names in the directory for the city alone is 7000, which is 5300 more than in the directory of the previous year-an increase of 312% ! This issue of the directory, it might be noted in passing, has the appendix at the beginning of the volume.

From the number of names listed Mr. Maxwell estimated (“by the usual method of multiplying by 3 1/2”) that San Diego had a population of 25,000; but wishing to be conservative he is willing to settle for 21,000. It should be mentioned that women, unless post-mistresses, seamstresses, proprietresses of “lunch parlors,” or the like, were excluded from the directories of this period. Husbands and fathers are listed but not wives or grown daughters.

If women are seldom mentioned, “capitalists” quite frequently are. We have to surmise the exact meaning of the designation in those days. Evidently it did not have then all the connotations it has today. Another descriptive puzzler was the word “cold,” occasionally found following a name. This might have remained unsolved if it had not in a few instances been spelled out — “colored.” We shall probably continue in doubt as to just what a “collaborateur” was. A resident of the Cuyamaca Club is so listed in the ’88-9 directory.

All of this has been given a touch remoteness and unfamiliarity by the passing of 70 years, but probably the entries that strike us today with the most startling impact are to be found on page 89 of the 1888-9 directory for Chung Mahn, 339 Second Street, and Chung Wing, 416 Third.

Following each of these two names is listed the occupation: “Chinese opium den.”