The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
January 1957, Volume 3, Number 1
Jerry MacMullen, Editor
By Loleta Levete Rowan
You ask me what I feel as I look down from the heights on our beautiful bay, encircled with lights of every hue, and my reaction when I remember the same loved bay in the 80’s, with its “Spanish” light house and Beacon Number Seven. It brings recollections of “Steamer Day.”
Once a week the father of New San Diego, A. E. Horton, would sit at the back of his home at First and Fir Streets, with nothing to obstruct his view of the harbor but Indian rancherias. He would watch through long black binoculars for a wisp of smoke to appear over Point Loma. Suddenly he would call to Sarah, his wife, “There she comes, raise the signal.” The signal was a white towel or table cloth to let his neighbors know the steamer would soon round the Point. Soon a cannon would tell the town to gather at the foot of Fifth Street.
Daddy Horton, as he was lovingly called, would hurry to his barn to see if Dolly had been hitched to the surry (it had a fringe on top, as you probably guessed).
Off he would go, down the hills and canyons, through dusty ruts in the unpaved streets, to lower Fifth Street. Meanwhile my family, whose home was at First and Date Streets, would be in a state of collapse, for the youngster who had been awaiting the fluttering towel from the Horton’s home farther up the hill gave them no peace until Fanny, the little brown mare, was hitched to the phaeton, and was ready for two girls to drive to the social event of the week, Steamer Day, when “Who’s Who” assembled.
Father Horton was a large handsome blond, with a long flowing beard. As he stood at the gangplank of the steamer dressed in long coat and to
p hat he was an impressive figure. As he took the visitor’s hand with his other he would pat the tourist’s back and sing out, “Well, well, well! What brings you to our beautiful San Diego?”
Coached by the Captain of the side-wheeler Orizaba, the visitor would answer, “Mr. Horton, you should know what it was — Bay’n Climate.”
That was the cue for the ladies to clap their hands, and the men to cheer. Then the visitor or tourist was a friend for life.
Editor’s Note: Loleta Levete Rowan (1871-1952) was born in San Francisco. She came to San Diego in 1881 in the side-wheel steamer Ancon, and her first view of San Diego was just as she describes that of so many others in the above article. Father Horton was waiting on his wharf to greet the ship, and little Loleta Levete thought he was Santa Claus because of his long beard.
Possessor of a fine contralto voice, she sang publicly from the age of four, and appeared in the pulpit with Ira Sankey of Moody and Sankey, before she came here. Later she sang with many operatic organizations, including the Calhoun, Wilksie, Kersey, and Los Angeles Light Opera companies. She was San Diego’s favorite singer for many years, being best known locally for her characterizations of roles in the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan. She was also known to San Diegans through her vocation, the teaching of music, for fifty years. Her husband, Thomas E. Rowan, the son of a mayor of Los Angeles, also was a singer of some note.
Her recorded memories are an important link with San Diego’s past years.