The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1982, Volume 28, Number 3

Book Reviews

Richard H. Peterson, Book Review Editor

San Diego, an Illustrated History. By Ray Brandes. Los Angeles: Rosebud Books, 1981. Bibliography. Illustrations. Index, 223 pages. $30.00.

Reviewed by Elizabeth C. MacPhail, author of books and articles on San Diego history, including The Story of New San Diego, and its Founder, Alonzo E. Horton, and Kate Sessions, Pioneer Horticulturist.

San Diego, an Illustrated History is an impressive “coffee-table” book, beautifully designed, with many outstanding photographs. The author, Ray Brandes, a native of San Diego and a distinguished archeologist and historian, says the book “is meant to explain how San Diego became the city which might well serve as the model for future cities,” and how it was brought to the point where it can be called “America’s Finest City.”

Histories of San Diego traditionally start with its discovery by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542; but this one goes back much farther – to 9000-6000 B.C., the result of recent discoveries of skeletons and relics dating to prehistoric time.

The Introduction and first two chapters cover the period from prehistory to the end of Mexican rule, telling of the arrival of Cabrillo, of Junípero Serra and the military in 1769, the era of the Missions, the establishment of a town below the Presidio in 1821, and the War with Mexico in 1846. The subjects in these chapters are related in greater detail than in the rest of the book and are written in an interesting manner by one who has special expertise and knowledge of the period.

The rest of the text is sketchy – one sentence or paragraph covers an important event or period of time from 1846 to the present. It is evident from the lengthy bibliography that much research went into the writing of the book in order to glean the highlights that are recorded.

The text touches lightly on the coming of the United States military in the late 1840’s, the attempt to build a new town by the bay in 1850, the arrival of Alonzo Horton in 1867 and the successful development of New San Diego, with the subsequent growth of the outlying suburbs and towns.

Mentioned briefly is the boom of the 1880’s, and the Depression of the 1890’s. The 20th century brought water and harbor development, growth of military establishments, the beginning of aviation and the coming of the San Diego & Arizona Railway. Among the early 20th-century developers referred to are John D. Spreckels, William E. Smythe, Katherine Tingley and George W. Marston. Early San Diego architecture is described, and the benefit to the city of two Expositions in 1915 and 1935 is mentioned.

It was World War II and the population explosion resulting from the mushrooming of military and aircraft installations that brought San Diego into the “Big City” class. The text and photographs show the redevelopment of downtown, the many new high rise buildings, the universities, Salk Institute, the Coronado Bridge, as well as many other highlights of postwar San Diego history.

In the middle of the book is a section with beautiful color photographs. The reproduction of the many black and white photographs throughout the book is extraordinarily fine. Listed are 38 sources of photographs and illustrations, making an outstanding collection that adds greatly to the text.

Whether the author is successful in his stated objective must be left to the individual reader. As a pictorial history and short overview of San Diego from pre-historic time to the present, it is successful. The photographs alone are worth the reader’s time, and make it a desirable addition to any library.