The Journal of San Diego History
SAN DIEGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY QUARTERLY
Fall 1969, Volume 15, Number 4
Rita Larkin, Editor
By Hamilton Marston
On his birthday anniversary on October 22, 1923, George W. Marston was honored at a public reception held in Balboa Park. At this time a group of civic leade’s presented the city with a bust of Mr. Marston which had been executed in Berkeley, California in 1921 by sculptor Cartiano Scarpitta. When the area of the park in which the bust had been placed was remodeled the bust was taken to Presidio Park where it now reposes in Junipero Serra Museum.
Address given by Hamilton Marston at the dinner of the San Diego Historical Society, on the 200th Anniversary of the City of San Diego, July 16, 1969.
The family of George Marston is grateful to the San Diego Historical Society for making “A Tribute to George Marston” the theme of our celebration this evening of the 200th anniversary of the founding of our city; and we join with our fellow citizens of San Diego in sharing a broader gratitude to the people of Mallorca who have made the long journey to be in San Diego on these eventful days. Their presence is the happiest reminder we San Diegans could have of the debt we owe to their country, to their island, to the city of Petra and to their citizen and oursFather Junípero Serra.
It has always been with deep appreciation that we as San Diegans have read the words of the bronze tablet on Presidio Hill:
ON THIS HILL JULY 16, 1769
PADRE JUNÍPERO SERRA
AND THE SOLDIERS OF SPAIN
SET THE ROYAL STANDARD
RAISED THE CROSS
THE MISSION OF SAN DIEGO DE ALCALA
It was this same appreciation for Father Serra that led George Marston to crown Presidio Hill with a building that would be a permanent memorial to Junípero Serra, rising from the place where the life of our city began and surrounded by the pleasant open space of Presidio Park, also George Marston’s gift to the people of San Diego. The capacity to conceive and accomplish Presidio Park and the memorial to Junípero Serra belonged to an extraordinary man. This 200th anniversary of his city and ours and the hundredth year but one since he came to San Diego is an appropriate time to pay tribute to an outstanding fellow citizen and to reflect upon the nature of the man.
Interestingly, one of the first Marston records that mentions San Diego speaks of the 100th anniversary of the city and how that event was celebrated. George Marston’s father, George Phillips Marston, was in frail health and with his wife Harriett travelled from his home in Wisconsin in 1869 to California, looking for a place to live in a climate where his health might improve. In March, 1870, he wrote from San Jose to his son at home, and his letter follows, in part:
San Jose, Mch 31, 70
My Dear Geo.
I returned yesterday from San Diego, about as far away as I could get & not get out of the U.S., it being as you will see by the map in the S. W. corner & only fifteen miles from the boundary line …. I like the climate of San Diego very much better than even San Jose. The night air here is very chilly & damp, but in San D. it is soft and delightful. It is a new place, but growing, and is the terminus of the Southern Transcontinental R. R. This road will at some time be built, & then San Diego will grow into a large & prosperous Commercial City, for it has a Splendid Harbor, second only to San Francisco on the Pacific Coast. There is no Harbor between it & San Francisco & none South for 1000 miles. It is situated on the Bay, six miles from the mouth. The Mountains in Mexico on the South & the Sierras on the East, the Islands in the ocean & the lovely Bay, 15 miles long & 3 wide, make up a scenery enchanting enough. Add to that a climate more equable than any in the world, as many say, and it is not a bad place for anyone to live in. I have seen no place in Cal. to compare with it, and if I come to Cal. to reside shall go there.
The old City of San Diego, containing some 800 people, principally Spanish and Mexican Indians, has been settled 101 yrs. Last fall they celebrated the Centennial Anniversary with a Bull fight among other amusements. But the New City is some three miles further up the Bay, is two yrs. old, contains 600 Buildings & 3000 Inhabitants, & is flourishing ….
In October, 1870, the father and son, in advance of the rest of the family, left Wisconsin to make their home in San Diego, travelling by rail to San Francisco and by steamer to San Diego. In a letter the father wrote that the steamer was crowded and the beds and food were poor, closing with:
…looking back upon the ocean part of the trip, I can not say that it was to me a very great pleasure. But George enjoyed it much, everything was new and novel to him and everything was relished, even the diet.
The son recorded the interest and excitement of his trip across the country in a journal with many entries that reflect his lively spirit, his enthusiasm and his sensitivity. He wrote:
…Soon after leaving Davenport all in the car retired. Our easy seats were transformed in a jiffy to tolerable good beds and I slept almost as well as in a house. . .Saw a great herd of cattle on a slope half a mile away. They looked pretty & something pretty is to be seen all the time. A good deal of hay is made & I notice some fearful large cornfields . . . Here we are at a Station & I see 2 shops. The sign before one is ‘Saloon’ & the other ‘Saloon ? Tailoring.’
Later in his journal he wrote:
…We shall be on the highest point the road reaches on the Rocky Mts. before night. The cold, thin air gives all of us a fearful appetite. I’ve made three lunches today and expect to end up with a grand supper at Laramie at 8 o’clock. It’s splendid fun.
Again, in the journal:
…At 4 AM. we passed Summit, highest point on the Central Road. There is a great descent in the grade from here, & a magnificent view all the time except the ride of 40 miles through snow sheds . . . The mountains are covered with tall pines, & in the morning mist the sun shining through them casts long parallel lines of light & shadow down the valleys. Range after range of the mountains, one rising over the other, & the green pines shooting up above the mist made scenes of glorious beauty and grandeur. It s worth a journey across the continent to see the noble Sierra Nevadas. At another point, oh the foggy voyage from San Francisco, the bare waves & the water spurting whales are the only things to interest, except always the fun and instruction of looking at human nature. The journal closed with: Saw two water spouts in San Pedro Harbor. Arrived in San Diego in the forenoon of Monday, Oct. 24th, 1870.
George Marston was just twenty years old. He had been born on a farm in Wisconsin on October 22, 1850. He was fortunate in his parents. From his father he may well have gained his sensitivity and judgement and his breadth of vision; from his mother his strong constitution, his firmness of principle, his friendliness and his spontaneity. He had two younger sisters, Mary and Lilla. The family life was warm and affectionate. His boyhood was spent in the little town of Fort Atkinson, which, with its pleasant situation on the Rock River and surrounded by fields and woods, gave him an early responsiveness to nature that was to be a most meaningful part of his character all through his life.
He was a good athlete: he swam, played baseball and became a skilled figure skater. His father had sold his farm and opened a general merchandise store in the little town of comfortable homes and tree-lined streets. It was a good place to spend a childhood-combining natural beauty, the freedom of the American frontier and the security and affection of his home. The Civil War was far away and was over when George Marston was fifteen years old.
In the fall of 1866 George Marston entered the second year of the Preparatory Department of Beloit College. He was the youngest player of the Olympians, Beloit’s first baseball club. A picture we have shows him with his older team-mates, probably some of them Civil War G. I.’s. Years afterwards he wrote:
My position was a modest oneright field, but I was mighty proud to be anywhere in the Olympian first nine… I recall playing with the Club in Milwaukee against the Cream City Baseball Club. I also remember a game we had with the Rockford Club, Forest City I believe was the name. Al Spalding was the pitcher and he gave us our first taste of fast curve ball. It was impossible for us to hit it and the score was something like 70 to 7 in favor of the Forest City Club.
The Olympians must have learned how to hit the fast curve ball, for they went on to become the state champions.
A letter to his father, dated October 20, 1866, gave his schedule at Beloit:
Monday morning I go to prayers at 9 o’clock and from 9.15 to 10.15 recite in Latin to Mr. Fisk. Then I go to my room and study Greek until two o’clock, of course eating my dinner and playing some. From 2 to 3 recite in Greek in the Greek Room to Henry Porter of the Senior Class. From 3 to 4 study English Grammar and recite in it from 4 to 5. Then go into the chapel to prayers, after which we go to supper. In the evening I study Latin and read. Tuesday and Friday evenings I study my Praxis lesson for the day and once a month write a Composition and learn a piece to speak. Wed. evening go to the Debating Society, of which I have been the Treas. the first half of the term. Sat. evng. go to the prayer meeting.
The summer vacation of 1867 was spent at home and must have been a pleasant one for George Marston, according to his father’s comment in a letter to his sister, Lilla:
George is circulating about in a general way, sometimes playing croquet, sometimes baseball. Occasionally I get a little work out of him and the balance of the time he spends eating berries, etc….
After graduating from Beloit Preparatory School, George Marston stayed home for a year, working for a time in a mill and then as a clerk in a bank. Times were hard after the Civil War, which may have been the reason for the year out of school. In the fall of 1869 he entered the University of Michigan as a pre-medical student.
The letters George Marston wrote from the university to his parents reveal his lively interests. He closed one letter to his deeply religious mother with:
I go to the Cong. Church now every Sunday and like the minister better than any other one in the city. Why, he’s real splendid, I think. I feel much more at home there than in the big Meth. Church. Sunday, 3 p.m. go to Prof. D’- – ‘s Greek Testament class and will try to brush up my Greek a little. I have just read Minister’s Wooing by H. B. S. and like it ever so much. I don’t have much time for novels, however.
The well-dressed fellows here wear linen collars instead of paper, gold shirt studs and kid gloves. Must tell father about my money matters. Good night.
Your loving son
My dear father
Now I shall have to tell you how I have made the money fly. Lilla has sent $25.00 since you left and I am two weeks ahead on board and $10.00 in pocket at present. My German books have cost over $8.00, as I was obliged to buy a dictionary which alone cost 4.50. Then there are ever so many things which I have had to buy; for instance a pair of gloves to keep my hands warm; those are necessary, aren’t they? Now my hat is getting seedy, having worn it since April, and must get another. Sold the cap I had. Ought to buy before I come home, for these Ann Arbor storekeepers dock it to us students. Must have a new pair of pants by and by, for those were light summer ones that I bought in Janesville and they were nearly spoiled in that big “rush” we had there. Did I tell you about it? Why, I was rolled down two flights of stairs that time. Next year shan’t spend much; no tuition nor so many books and etceteras as now. Next year I’ll try and earn my own salt if I can.
Your aff. son George
At the end of his first year at the University of Michigan his father’s illness brought the move of the family to California. Of his first days in San Diego George Marston later wrote:
My first employment in San Diego was as a clerk in the Horton House, which had been opened by A. E. Horton Oct. 17, one week before my arrival. The Horton House was a large hotel in a very small town, the population being about fifteen hundred. The steamers came once a week from San Francisco, but just at that time an opposition line was running and the two gave the town two steamers a week for awhile. A stage arrived from Los Angeles once a day; twice a week from Fort Yuma and from Old Town we had a stage every hour. This experience of six months in the old Horton House was the most picturesque period of my life. There was a large Spanish and Mexican element in town at that time and our guests included travellers from every part of the world, soldiers from the Indian wars in Arizona, mining men from Lower California, and adventurers from everywhere.
Travellers by stage from Fort Yuma would arrive covered with dust, and George Marston often told how it was his duty on greeting them to brush them off with a large feather duster before they entered the hotel Once, in the 1930’s, my grandfather spoke at the University Club in San Diego on “Life Begins at Eighty.” and when he was telling us of his early days as clerk in the Horton House, he said it was his duty every night to check out the bar. Although he had been raised in a very strict home with respect to the use of liquor and never drank in his life, he said that he became accustomed to saying to the bartender, when he pulled open the till and found it lined with silver – “Well, we had a good day.”
On the sixtieth anniversary of the Marston Store, in 1938, George Marston wrote “My Personal Business History,” and in it he continues his account of his early days in San Diego.
…After six months in the hotel he took a position as assistant bookkeeper in the store of A. Pauly & Sons. This store, the largest in the city, located on the tide land at the foot of Fifth Street, was a combination of general merchandise store, warehouse and wharf office for steamers from San Francisco and freight wagons to Arizona. All kinds of business was handled by the Paulys, including the buying of gold dust and bullion, grain, wool, hides, etc., the wharf agency, Arizona toll road agency, forwarding and draft selling on steamer days. George Marston’s experience for a year in this frontier warehouse was a good business training for him.
In 1872 he was offered a clerkship in Joseph Nash’s store, which had been moved from F Street, near the waterfront, to Fifth and K. He made this change from Pauly’s to Nash’s so as to be associated with his best friend, Charley Hamilton. We boys, Charley and George, worked toggther for Joseph Nash until April, 1873, when he sold us his stock, accounts and good will for ten thousand dollars. Hamilton paid for his half interest with his promissory note for five thousand at 12 per cent interest, and I paid my half in cash which my father loaned me, also at 12 per cent. (It’s nice to have a father, even at 12 per cent.) That interest would be an impossible handicap in these days, but profits were respectably good then (before the New Deal) and in the course of five years the boy merchants paid their notes in full, principal and interest. …Our partnership continued for five years and since then there have been two stores instead of one. I soon found a “new partner” and took her “for better or worse” as the minister said. We sailed away on the good old side wheeler Orizaba to San Francisco, and from there by long railroad journeys via Niagara Falls and Quebec to Massachusetts and New York to visit our ancestral homes. Like John Gilpin, “although I was on pleasure bent I had a frugal mind, ” and so I improved the time we spent in Boston by buying a stock of dry goods and men’s clothing. The honeymoon turned into a business trip and the Marston store was born.
The first business day in San Diego was August 8, 1878, and the salesroom was a little wooden shop of the wild west style, situated on the northwest corner of Fifth and D Streets (now Fifth Avenue and Broadway) known later as Cline and Mumford’s grocery corner, then as Holzwasser’s and now as Walker’s. The first day’s sales were $10.50 and they didn’t get much better that summer. The trouble was that the location was too far uptown. Before the year ’78 was ended the opportunity came to get a store between G and H Streets, just below our present noble City Hall . . .
Let us take a glance now at the general picture of San Diego at the close of a little more than ten years of New Town History. The population was about 3000 The Tom Scott railroad had failed and we were still living mainly on Great Expectations. Steamer and stage line were in good running order, we had a daily newspaper, water supply was rather scant, streets unpaved, muddy in winter, dusty in summer. It was a frontier town, but not of the western plains type. Rather rough compared to present standards, but having a charm and picturesque quality that is happily remembered by the pioneers. I believe that cultural and moral standards were quite as high as they are today.
In 1882 I moved to the N.E. corner of Fifth and F Streets. “Pacific Building” stands there today. I carried on at that corner for fourteen years and established the business on a firm footing. The original salesroom was 25 by 70. Later on three more rooms were were acquired and in 1895 I was paying rent to four different landlords. What a chance for “a squeeze!”
In these 14 years occurred the great flood of 1884, the great boom of ’86 and ’87, the collapse of ’88 and the terrible drouth of the early ’90’s. The flood washed out our coming railroad from San Bernardino. The boom brought us another railroad from Los Angeles; built the Coronado Hotel and hundreds of fearfully and wonderfully made bay window buildings, some of which can be seen here today. The boom and collapse were both tremendous but in some mysterious way the store kept growing during the dry years. It shot up like a skyrocket in 87 and came down with a thud in ’88. After that a steady recovery for several years. The old F Street store started as a small dry goods shop and became quite a department store in ten years’ time. It installed one of the first telephones in San Diego. It had fashion shows. Its proprietor went to New York once a year to buy goods, then he wrote those marvelous advertisements about the “latest style at the lowest prices” and dressed the show windows in tempting array. In those good days stores opened at 7 or 8 and closed at 9 p.m. At the end of fourteen years the store had about 50 employees.
My father, Arthur Marston, is the only person I know of living now who worked in the F Street store. Unfortunately illness prevents his joining his four sisters, the other children of George Marston, at our dinner this evening. He went on to manage the Marston store in its subsequent locations and to succeed his father in many of his civic interests and to take aleadingpart in the solution of the principal limitation upon the growth of our community, our water supply. My father’s associate in the management of the Marston store, Thomas Hamilton, the son of George Marston’s former partner, Charles Hamilton, died only recently. Of George Marston’s two stores that succeeded the F Street store, on the southwest corner of Fifth and C, from 1896 to 1912, and on the northerly side of C Street, between Fifth and Sixth, after 1912, there are a number of employees present, and I take this opportunity to express what I am sure would have been George Marston’s pleasure in their attendance.
You may have seen some of those “marvelous advertisements” that George Marston wrote, for we put some of them on the panels of pictures and papers that were on display before dinner. To be sure all of you have the opportunity of knowing Marston the copywriter, a few are given here.
The advertiser sometimes sits at his desk and wonders what on earth, in store or out of store, he will talk about this time. Foolish, empty-headed man, why doesn’t he jump up and find out something about the thousand and one things that are in his house? That’s what he did, and now he hasn’t got room to tell it all.
Out in the marking room he found 15 dozen Equipoise Waists piled up in nice order, just out of a great case that had come in from Boston. What a lot of waist places will now be made glad! (Just a hundred and eighty, to be quite accurate.) Equipoise waists have come to stay. This is a little peculiar, considering that regular corsets stay too much, but we don’t see how we can help it.
What a waste of words about those Equipoise things. We will now give some good business items . . . we will . . . note the novelties in fancy hose. Black has held its own a long time. The dye is fast enough now, but the fashion isn’t. Plaids, dots, stripes and embroiderie, in all colors from grave to gay, are coming on in cheerful style.
GEO. W. MARSTON
He headed one advertisement with a poem he wrote about the painted clock on the Methodist church steeple.
The architectural clock
On the Methodist block
Tells the truth but twice a day.
Now isn’t it a wonder,
With a church just under,
An old timer should act that way?
WHAT HAS THIS TO DO
with dry goods? Guess if
you can; perhaps we’ll tell
Another advertisement begins:
“Light-footed March, wild maid of Spring
Your frolic footsteps hither stray,”
Bringing to Marston’s
The Spring-time Goods.
“That comes before the swallow dares
The winds of March with beauty.”
March may not be the month to wear
them, but it is surely the month to buy
them. Early buyers are wise. They get
the best and prettiest. Be wise, Be
early. But whether you buy or don’t,
come in and see the styles. Cottons were
never made finer or prettier than for the
spring of ’91.
In time the merchant who played baseball on nearby vacant lots when business was slow (until he broke his leg and his mother made him stop) who cut the carpet orders at night and wrote the advertisements on the dining room table and sprinted to the newspaper office to beat the deadline found more and more of his time taken by the management of his business and by public affairs. He moved into new and larger store buildings. He belonged to the volunteer fire department – his first civic office was chairman of this picturesque and important organization. He was secretary, vice-president, and then, in 1885 and 1899, president of the Chamber of Commerce. His report at the annual meeting of 1885 closed with:
…it is one of the duties of the Chamber. . .to encourage every project for making the city and its surroundings more attractive to strangers. Good roads, and trees along the best drives are particularly worth your attention. In this connection allow me to suggest that the Chamber of Commerce enlarge its sphere of work, not confining its purpose very strictly to commercial matters, but taking hold of any public affairs pertaining to the material interests of San Diego. . .There are various improvements necessary in a growing town that could be brought about if only some organized force were set in motion. . .With cooperation and some work we can give weight and influence to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce and render it a very useful association to the community.
In 1882 he served on the first board of trustees of the public library and later was to play a central part in the building of a new library, though his far-sighted effort to obtain a full block for the present site of the library was unsuccessful. He led the organization of the YMCA in 1882 and became its first president, remaining a member of the board for sixty-two years and serving as president twenty-two years of that time. From 1887 to 1889 he served on the city council He was chairman of a committee of the Chamber of Commerce to bring a second railroad into San Diego early in this century and for several years was president of the San Diego and Eastern Railway during the period of surveys and promotional effort that led to the accomplishment of the railroad under John D. Spreckels. He described that undertaking later, stating:
…Perhaps the most active and interesting work of a public character that has ever been done here was that of the railroad promotion from 1902 to 1907 . . . Our committee had a survey of the line made, some parts of this survey being merely reconnaissance work. I made many trips into the mountain country and with others went to Ft. Yuma, Phoenix, Bisbee and El Paso in an effort to arouse interest in a new trans-continental route. I made three trips to New York City and one to St. Louis getting interviews with the heads of the Southern Pacific, the El Paso and Rock Island and the Texas and Pacific Railroads. On this business I met in person Collis P. Huntington, George Gould, Cleveland Dodge, E. H. Harriman and other less known railroad men.
In 1907 Mr. Spreckels bought our right-of-way, our surveys and other interests, for which he paid over to the committee the exact sum the committee received from the public, namely $42,000.00 and as this reimbursement was made at Christmas time it made “John D.” a veritable Santa Claus. . . .
Following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 George Marston was active in relief work. He wrote to his friend Charles Rossier, formerly head of the shoe department of Marston’s and then living in San Francisco:
I have been shipping new clothes, old clothes, bedding, tents, etc. for the past week, Mayor Sehon having appointed me chairman of that line. Llewellyn’s old stock happened to be on closing out sale and I bought $250 worth of shoes for the relief committee. Got L. S. and Burt shoes for 50¢ to $1.00 a pair, antique style of the vintage of 1888, away back of pointed toes in the square toed period. If you were wandering about barefooted I hope you got two or three pairs of these relics of bygone days. This was the only lot of old stock that I was guilty of shipping off. The rest of my purchases were up-to-date goods.
In 1916 San Diego suffered a disastrous flood, and George Marston gave his services for years as executive manager of the Rural Relief Association. In March, 1916, he wrote to his daughter, Helen:
…It is said to have rained 12 inches in 12 hours on Palomar mountain on that terrible day – Jan. 27th . . . There were thirty lives lost according to the latest information . . .
I have taken the office of “Executive Manager” of the Relief Association and spend eight hours a day in the work. Have a secretary, stenographer and two field workers.
When a staff was no longer needed, he carried on the work alone. When he finally brought it to a close, he received a letter of thanks from the trustees of the Association, dated June 7, 1928. In their letter the trustees wrote:
…We are quite sure that the public generally has no conception of the time, the labor and sacrifices which attended your acceptance of the position of Executive Manager….
In 1907, as a member of the Civic Improvement Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, George Marston took a leading part in bringing John Nolen, one of the nation’s outstanding landscape architects and city planners, to San Diego to make a comprehensive plan for the improvement of the city. Before dinner you may have seen the pictures of Nolen, Marston and Colonel Ed Fletcher on their drive into the Cuyamaca and Pine Hills country on Nolen’s first visit to San Diego. The Nolen report was first given to the public on January 1, 1909, grouping his recommendations under five major headings:
A Public Plaza and Civic Center
The Great Bay Front
Small Open Spaces
Streets and Boulevards
A System of Parks
For the rest of his life George Marston was to continue working for the beauty and social and economic utility of San Diego in the basic directions of the Nolen Plan.
Parks had engaged his strong interest before the Nolen Plan. Balboa Park, the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and 1916, Presidio Park, Torrey Pines Park, and the parks and beaches acquired through the program of the State-County Parks and Beaches Association, including the great Borrego Desert Park were interests that spanned most of his life. The improvement of the waterfront and the building of our civic center came to a period of principal involvement late in his life. In 1933, when he was eighty-three, he became chairman of the Civic Center Committee. A bond election resulted in a large majority for a bay site for the civic center and for the bonds which, with federal help, would have built the center, but failed of the necessary two-thirds majority. In 1935, for the fourth time, the civic center question was placed on the ballot. George Marston, still chairman of the citizens committee, wrote to John Nolen:
I am very busy this week as we are in the midst of our election campaign, which is for mayor and councilmen and also for bonds for the Civic Centerone million dollars, about a half dozen meetings are being held today and the schedule is fifteen meetings tomorrow. Thank the Lord I do not go to all of them, but I have five speaking engagements this week and there will be about the same effort next week.
In one of his press statements George Marston explained:
San Diego can now get a new county building and a new city hall without cost, that is, without additional taxation. As an ordinary business man, it seems to me that it would be sensible to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity.
The simple facts are that our city hall building is an old rattletrap, dilapidated, dangerous, disgraceful; that our court house is utterly inadequate for the county business. We are in desperate need of a Civic Center of new modern buildings to house the greatest business of the community, our government work.
Just at this time the Federal Government is expending 48 thousand million dollars for public works. The director of the California Federal Agency is recommending our Civic Center project to the Washington administration and assures us that the Government will not only grant us a sufficient loan but will make us an outright gift of 30 per cent, and possibly 50 per cent.
… It is a well known fact that the saving of rental money paid out by our county and city will more than pay the low interest on the bonds and that the average payment of interest and amortization of principal over the full period can be met by these savings on rentals.
I think that San Diego will be a City Sensible as well as a City Beautiful if it goes a hundred per cent for this at the coming election.
Again the bond issue failed of its two-thirds majority, but the new city administration and the county supervisors cooperated to take advantage of the federal aid to obtain the Civic Center without a bond issue. On July 16, 1938, San Diego’s one hundred and sixty-ninth anniversary, our Civic Center was dedicated by the President of the United States. George Marston was eighty-seven years old, and this was his last big civic effort. In 1939 he proposed that the northern approach to San Diego, from the county line to the foot of Broadway or Market Street be made the most beautiful avenue of approach of any city of California. In 1943 he stressed the importance of Harbor Drive as a scenic highway which should be appropriately landscaped for its entire length from Point Loma to National City. The Second World War prevented active pursuit of these proposals.
Twice George Marston was asked to run for mayor of San Diego, twice he accepted and twice he was defeated, the first time, in 1913, by a close margin and the second time, in 1917, by a wide margin. His first letter accepting nomination closed with:
The welfare of the city a city of order, comfort and beauty, a city of character, progress and true greatness for such a city I shall be glad to join with you and all our people in striving to create and maintain.
The long view and the short view are often set against each other. Especially in the second campaign his opponents argued that the large-scale and long-range plans for beauty and utility, for social and economic progress, for commercial and industrial growth, were the impractical plans of the aristocratic aesthetes, the Geranium Growers, and successfully offered their candidate’s slogan “SmokestacksNot Geraniums.” The Geranium Growers were referred to also as the Silk Stocking party, and the Smokestack side was considered to be the working man’s Wool Sock party. One newspaper article declared: “The Silk Stockings and the Wool Socks have locked horns.”
The warmth and security of George Marston’s boyhood home in Wisconsin were reflected within his family life in San Diego. In his business history he spoke of his “new partner” whom he took “for better or for worse,” after he closed his mercantile partnership with Charles Hamilton in 1878. Anna Lee Gunn had been born in Sonora, California, in 1853. In 1875 she followed her family from San Francisco, where she had been teaching school, to San Diego to live and to teach in a school her two sisters had started. “The prettiest and smartest of the Gunn girls,” according to her sister Sarah, when she later congratulated George Marston on his engagement.
A few weeks after Anna Lee Gunn’s arrival in San Diego an entertainment was given in Horton’s Hall, climaxed by ten tableaux depicting “The Courtship of Miles Standish.” She and George Marston took the leading roles. On May 3, 1878, the former Priscilla and John Alden were married. As George Marston was to write, years later,
“The honeymoon turned into a business trip and the Marston store was born.”
Five children were born, too: Mary, Arthur, Elizabeth, Harriet and Helen. Pictures and letters supplement their recollections of the happy life of the family. Many of the early letters were written by their father on his business trips. Later other members of the family joined him on trips to the mountains, to Europe and to Mexico.
George Marston’s first high mountain climb was in 1898. A delegate to the Triennial Council of the Congregational Churches meeting in Portland, Oregon, he took the opportunity to ascent Mt. Hood. In a later account he wrote:
The mountain is a very symmetrical cone and its peak stands out clearly from all the surrounding terrain. The view from the peak was indescribably wonderful and beautiful. The great area below us in every direction was a field of pure white snow. The next area was a zone of green coniferspines, firs, spruces and cedars, a forest belt illimitable in extent.
The third belt appeared to be a mass of clouds from which rose six mountain peaks. And over all the canopy of the sky of an intense blue. This was the most impressive scene of my life. It seemed as if one had left the world and was nearer heaven! On the way down we just put our alpenstocks under our arms and slid…
He joined the Sierra Club and made several outings in the mountains of California, and his journals reveal his interest in the people who joined him on the outings and glow with his descriptions of nature. In 1909 he and his wife made their first European trip, accompanied by their daughter Helen and later joined by their daughter Harriet. All the family except Arthur were together on a second trip to Europe in 1914, when they were overtaken by the war, returning from England in October. From these and later European trips and from his trips to Mexico, into Lower California on horseback in 1874 and to Mexico City in 1929, there is a wealth of record of George Marston’s interest in people and places, in buildings and gardens, in waterfronts and parks. In a letter from Switzerland to his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, he wrote:
Your mother & I think the views from Scheidegg are the loveliest we have seen. We were fortunate in our day. A clear atmosphere and yet varied with fleecy clouds and opalescent mists that gave us vistas, pictures, mysteries and fairy lands…
By far the largest number of George Marston’s trips were short the hundreds taken to Pomona College. He was a trustee for fifty years, president of the board of trustees for twenty-six. In his “Recollections,” written for the fiftieth anniversary in 1937, he introduced his colleagues on the board. His words about Dr. Sumner are given here for what they reveal about George Marston. He wrote:
I wonder if there is another instance of a man establishing a college at the age of fifty, being in vital connection with it for forty years and at last seeing his early visions completely fulfilled. In the first three years of Pomona College Dr. Sumner was virtually its president and also a trustee, secretary, business manager and financial agent. And besides this he taught a class and preached a sermon on Sundays in the Community Church. In the eloquent words of Amy McPherson’s mother: “What a man!”…
Seldom has such a figure of speech been employed in such a context. Unfortunately its strength is fading with the years.
Referring to his twenty-six years of chairmanship, he wrote:
My function was very simpleto restrain them in stormy sessions and to keep them awake in dull ones. The only remarkable thing about my official career is that the more radical I became in my social and educational views the more surely I was reelected by my conservative friends. Perhaps this was as astute as friendly. A chairman is pretty well tied up.
His address at the Joint Meeting of the Trustees of Colleges and Universities of the Pacific Southwest, in Los Angeles, in 1937, like the 12 per cent interest rate of 1873, has an oddly up-to-date ring:
…But there is one great problem that hangs in the offing of every school, college and university. The problem of the Social Order, touching college life as well as all the world around it, and this cannot be compromised without a struggle . . .
. . . Conflicts have already taken place in Amherst and Yale, in several universities, notably Stanford and Wisconsin. There will be more, because either a social evolution or a social revolution is on the way.
In the trend of things trustees are becoming more conservative and faculties more radical . . . When I was first a trustee forty-nine years ago, my associates were mostly ministers, teachers and California ranchers. Poor but honest men. Now my associates are capitalists, business men, corporation lawyers and employers; probably honest but certainly not poor. And they like the status quo.
. . . Prof. Jerome Davis of Yale, author of “Capitalism and its Culture” has been given notice that he is not wanted after the close of this school year . . . Prof. Davis examines the social conditions inherent to capitalism and contends that they are bound to bring on a conflict. His book does not prescribe a treatment for the disease, but describes clearly the kind of culture that capitalism imposes upon the people.
It is not for me to support or oppose the implications of the book. I only wish to present the principle of academic freedom for our teachers and a tolerant spirit toward radical ideas on the part of college trustees … let us be open minded and generous toward our forward-looking teachers. It occurs to me that these professors study history more than we do. Perhaps they have noticed that the well-to-do people in authority have for hundreds of years opposed all the demands of the lower classes and have only yielded when compelled to do so.
In 1940 George Marston addressed the La Mesa Chamber of Commerce on “The Miracle of Mexico,” based upon his reading about the country and his observations on his trip in 1929. He spoke of the progress of the nation, saying:
“The task is a heroic one, more arduous than Americans ever knew. . . Revolutions, like war are hell on earth and give terrible meaning to Lowell’s great verse: ‘Hot bums the fire when wrongs expire, and God up-roots the ancient evil.’ “
On October 7, 1940, Anna Lee Marston died. The pier glass in his bedroom showed the same spare figure but slightly stooped and a thinner face. On October 20, 1943, George Marston gave his last public address, speaking to the ladies of the Wednesday Club on “The Education of George Marston.” In the course of it he said:
The education of George Marston has been mainly that of living in the thick of things … in brief, the humanities of life. I have been immersed for 73 years in shop tending and serving on committees . . .
. . . What I need now is to go to school again and get another and better start.
In 1945 his sisters, Mary and Lilla, died. In the spring of 1946 he was in his last illness. As he grew weaker, those who saw him were limited to his children and nurses. My father has told me that in his last days before his death on May 31, 1946, he was subsisting on a little chicken and ice-cream, and late one night his nurse was feeding him ice-cream. He spoke to her and said:
“I’m the only man in San Diego climbing the Golden Stairs on ice-cream.”
One’s mind goes back to the letter his father wrote, three-quarters of a century before, after the trip from San Francisco to San Diego on the crowded steamer:
But George enjoyed it much, everything was new and novel to him, and everything was relished, even the diet.