THE STORY OF NEW SAN DIEGO AND OF ITS FOUNDER ALONZO E. HORTON, by Elizabeth C. MacPhail (San Diego: Pioneer Printers, 1969). 151 pp. Illustrated. Bibliography. $2.50.
In this little paperback Mrs. MacPhail has told a very adequate and interesting story of New San Diego’s birth and its founding “Father,” Alonzo Erastus Horton. For those of us who are older native San Diegans, members of the previous generation and my own, it is a familiar tale, one of nostalgic memories which help us renew our love for, pride in, and loyalty to what is now our “city in motion.” For many of us it engenders a certain amount of regret that some of what we knew exists no longer, except through the efforts of San Diego history buffs who delightedly live in the past, view the present with some trepidation, and fear a future which will drastically change our mode of life. Nothing, of course, can erase our memories.
The book is not just the story of the energy and growth of a man. It is the relation of the progress of a city-sometimes booming, sometimes faltering. Like its progenitor, the city stumbles forward, staggers backward, hesitantly plunges ahead once again, surges on the crest of the waves, suffers the vicissitudes of the ebb tide, then revives as if a blood transfusion had been administered.
For the newcomer, anyone since the 1930’s, the story of how a city was born will prove entrancing. (This is not to say there was no San Diego before Horton arrived; Old San Diego has just recently celebrated its 200th anniversary!) The modernist will see in these pages the excitement of a man with vision, an ambitious character with personal and civic desires, a stoic who accepted tribulation with fortitude, an idealist with a dream.
Horton was a man with tremendous drive and imagination, a creator of staunch friends and bitter enemies. He was at one and the same time a shrewd manipulator and a “soft touch.” There is some evidence that his “softness” aided his shrewdness. Coming to San Diego in 1867, he purchased for the proverbial song land which made him a fortune. As the years passed the first fortune was dissipated; but another was to follow. His materialistic “ups and downs” provide an intriguing glimpse of a man who made a city and a city which made a man. Sadly enough his life ended on a negative economic note. Yet posterity remembers him.
Mrs. MacPhail has included a roster of names connected with Horton, names vitally important to the growth of San Diego. She shows vividly the connections among these individuals and Horton — some aiding him, others working to his disinterest. Without them he might have done less; with them, pro or con, he was able to accomplish more. Who among old timers can forget W. W. Bowers (Horton’s brother-in-law), E. W. Morse, J. S. Mannasse, George W. Marston, the Kimballs, W. S. Rosecrans, and many others?
The author has mentioned a number of significant happenings in the city-Horton’s Hall, the Horton House, banks, the railroads (off again and on again), the Court House, the library, among the edifices mentioned. She has been diligent in her research on activities by the citizenry, as well as their reactions to Horton’s multifarious business interests.
A positive factor in this book is the excellent series of photographs culled from the Historical Collection of the Title Insurance and Trust Companies’ files. They portray many facets of San Diego’s expansion and make the text live.
While Mrs. MacPhail’s bibliography is not fashioned in the scholarly tradition, it appears to be adequate. Although the bulk of the entries is in the category of secondary works, a very modest proportion relates to primary sources. It would have been helpful to have included an index.
All in all Mrs. MacPhail has made a contribution to San Diego’s history, and for such she is to be commended.
Lionel U. Ridout
Professor of History
San Diego State College