Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor
The Story of New San Diego and of its Founder Alonzo E. Horton. By Elizabeth C. MacPhail. San Diego: San Diego History Center, 1979. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index. Map. 153 pages. $8.95.
Reviewed by Kenneth A. Smith, Social Science Department, San Diego Mesa College.
A very interesting and enlightening book about the birth and early development of San Diego has been produced by Elizabeth MacPhail and the San Diego Historical Society. Photographs and etchings are used generously, almost one per page, giving the reader a most vivid picture of the times, the people, and the events.
The pervading influence of Alonzo E. Horton in the formation and growth of the city is thoroughly detailed. The roles of contemporary San Diego pioneers, such as George Marston, Frank Kimball, W.W. Bowers, John D. Spreckels and others, are suitably covered.
The good and the bad of San Diego history are brought out in numerous instances. The “Fairest of the Fair” was not always a model city-in the boom period of the 1880s there were sixty-four groceries but seventy-one saloons-implying that drinking was of greater concern than eating. The one hundred and twenty “bawdy houses” suggest other diversions of great interest to the early settlers. Gambling was rampant, with that television hero of “law and order” Wyatt Earp the owner of three such establishments. South of H Street was the Stingaree District, our local Barbary Coast, where many of the above institutions flourished “. . . in spite of sporadic efforts (not too strenuous) to tone things down when complaints got too numerous.” (p. 81)
The constant conflict between the “geranium growers,” (as the author labels the “stand-patters”) the retired, the anti-growth advocates and the expansionists, who wanted to build the major city and port of Southern California, is an issue that is examined extensively. When we read the local newspapers today we see that things have not changed much.
The early years of San Diego were years of “boom and bust” generally associated with railroads. The first boom was in the early 1870s when Thomas Scott, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, decided to build the Texas and Pacific Railroad from Marshall, Texas to San Diego. The population doubled between 1870 and 1873, the real estate values and sales skyrocketed. In the fall of 1873 came the financial Panic and work on the railroad ceased after only ten miles of the right-of-way had been graded. Real estate values plummeted and the population, within a few months, was only sixty percent of the 1870 figure.
The second boom was closely connected with the entry of the Santa Fe Railroad into California and the resulting rate war between it and the monopolistic Southern Pacific Railroad. Again population boomed and real estate values shot up, only to crash after less than two years of prosperity.
Alonzo E. Horton prospered and suffered along with his city, unfortunately dying during one of the low periods. But, at ninety-five years of age, he could look back on a long life, filled with challenges that he met and overcame, and a monument, the city of San Diego, of which few men could even dream.
The only shortcomings in this brief and entertaining work are the shortage of maps and the absence of graphs. Inclusion of these would help the reader follow the “ups and downs” of the city’s growth. They should not preclude, however, the purchase of this book.