By FRANK NORRIS
Congress of History Community, History Award Winner
San Diego History Center 1982 Institute of History
Logan Heights today is many things—exciting, confusing, a cross-cultural zone at once adjacent to the San Diego central business district and yet, to a large degree, distant from it. At one time the home of many of San Diego’s premier houses and families, the area has ridden a roller-coaster of economic and social fortunes and now offers a bewildering complex of single-family residences, apartments, businesses and industrial establishments. As is true with many older areas near a city center, Logan Heights today lacks definition and form; it is a necessary and perhaps inevitable victim of changing transportation systems which take place in a town subject to long-term, large-scale growth. For many years the center of San Diego’s black and Mexican-American populations, Logan Heights now shares that distinction with areas to the east and southeast and, to a lesser extent, with several other parts of the San Diego metropolitan area.
Where precisely is Logan Heights? Its historical core, where the street pattern follows the bay front rather than the compass directions, is easily distinguishable on any local road map. Similar to many urban districts, however, its boundaries have grown and divided over time. During the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, for example, various economic development programs implied that Logan Heights included the entire southeastern portion of San Diego; this definition may still be held by some San Diego residents.1 Traditionally, however, Logan Heights has usually been limited to an area bounded roughly, on the west, by Thirteenth Street and its imaginary extension to the south, on the north by Imperial Avenue, on the east by Wabash Boulevard (California State Highway 15), and on the south by San Diego Bay. Downtown and its waterfront are to the west, Sherman Heights and Golden Hill are to the north, and southeast San Diego lies to the east.
Logan Heights, named for a Civil War general who, among other accomplishments, is credited with the creation of Memorial Day, was not settled by European-based peoples until about 1880. However, the land had been far from idle in previous years.2 At the mouth of Chollas Creek, on land now administered by the U.S. Navy, an active Diegueño Indian rancheria had existed for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years prior to initial European contact. This settlement, which may have been a permanent settlement in some years and seasonal in others, was observed and noted by Father Francisco Palou during the initial colonizing expedition of Upper California in July 1769, and was known by mission records to have existed as late as the mid 1820s. Thereafter, settlement at the site probably became more intermittent, although residents were recorded there as late as the 1880s or 1890s.3 Most Logan Heights land, however, sloped gently up from the mud flat on San Diego Bay, and possessed no particular attributes for early settlement, either by Indians or European immigrants.
The harbinger of settlement in Logan Heights came with the development of Alonzo Horton’s nearby New Town, beginning in 1867. Within a year, the nascent real estate venture had proven so successful that it spawned several adjacent subdivisions. One of these, Sherman’s Addition, was established immediately north of the study area; lot sales were reportedly as enthusiastic as they were in Horton’s Addition, although relatively few homes were initially built.4
Subdivision, and subsequent sale, of land in present-day Logan Heights quickly followed that of nearby areas. The Mannasse and Schilller subdivision, comprising the non-cardinally directed streets located northwest of present-day Dewey Street, was opened in 1870.5 To the southeast, however, land ownership suffered a large turnover, thus delaying the subdivision process. This acreage, in the form of four large pueblo lots, was first offered in the late 1860s to the San Diego and Gila Railroad as an inducement toward building a railroad across the mountains to the east. That company’s failure, however, caused the land to revert to the city. Shortly afterwards, in 1872, the Texas and Pacific Railroad gained similar title to the land, again in anticipation of a coming railroad. The plans of the Texas and Pacific, however, suffered the same fate as that of the San Diego and Gila; this event plunged the city into dull times and again caused the city to regain ownership of the proffered lands. It was not until the 1880s that this land was again claimed. The San Diego Land and Town Company, a subsidiary of the California Southern Railroad (later the Santa Fe), purchased the land and opened it for settlement in 1886.6
The remainder of the study area was also opened up for settlement during the boom years of 1886-1888. Toward the beginning of the boom, D.C. Reed and O.S. Hubbell opened up an area southeast of the Land and Town Company’s offerings. Other subdivided areas included the Hans P. Whitney Addition, the addition of James H. Guion, and the E.E. Bergin Addition.7
Actual settlement of the newly-opened lands, however, bore little relation to lot offerings or sales. Although a rude path had doubtless existed through the study area since the rancho period—and probably back to the first Spanish expeditions of the late 1760s—the first substantial improvement upon the land was the construction, in the early 1880s, of the California Southern Railroad, built along the existing waterfront between San Diego and National City.8 In conjunction with the railroad, a major depot was later built at the foot of present-day Beardsley Street.9 Anglo settlement, however, proceeded slowly. By the end of 1887, toward the end of the land boom, only twelve houses along with a school were reportedly under construction in the area. Because of its favored location relative to central San Diego, almost all early settlement in the study area took place on Mannasse and Schiller land.10 By the next year, however, a church was dedicated in the Land and Town subdivision. The land for the church was donated by the subdivider, perhaps as a lure to potential settlers.11 Augmenting the scattered dwellings were the shacks and stilt houses of the so-called “squatter town,” which lingered along the water’s edge for several years following the boom, and various short-lived Indian settlements. Indians here, as elsewhere in southern California, sometimes worked on various local construction projects, but were more often idle in an urban setting and were forced to fend for themselves.12
In the fifteen years after the boom, the study area, then known as the “East End,” grew slowly but consistently. The area had all the attributes of a good neighborhod; it was accessible to the central area, had fertile soil, and was close to the water yet high enough to offer fine views of the bay.13 It also had a good school. East School, located at the intersection of Julian and Marcy Avenues, was a focal point for the early community, and was remembered fondly in later years by many former students. It was renamed Logan School about 1905.14
Responding to the growth of the neighborhood, a horse- and mule-drawn rail car line was built into the area along present-day National Avenue in 1891; it was replaced the next year by the San Diego Electric Railway, which offered service from downtown to various Logan Avenue points. In addition to the Logan Avenue route, the National City and Otay Railway provided local steam service through the area beginning in 1887. The NC&O originally travelled along Twenty-eighth Street, but was later rerouted to a Newton Avenue alignment.15
Perhaps because of the ease of accessibility to downtown San Diego, neighborhood business development lagged in the years after the boom. Available records suggest that as late as 1904, only a few, scattered businesses were in operation. Most were small grocery stores, while others, such as feed and seed stores, reflected the semi-rural atmosphere.16 Other businesses included Benson’s Lumber Company, located on the bay between present-day Crosby and Sigsbee Streets; Dobler’s Brewery, at the foot of Thirty-second Street; and a wharf, built in 1898 at the foot of Twenty-eighth Street and alternately put to industrial and recreational usage.17
Migrants to the area came from many walks of life. Spanning the economic spectrum, a few residents were among San Diego’s most prominent families, including various business and political leaders of the time. In a community primarily situated within two blocks of the nearest car line arose many substantial homes of varying architectural styles. Quite simple homes, however, were also constructed; in one recorded instance, a four-room board-and-batten style home was constructed in a few days’ time by friends of the owner.18 Fortunately, many of the historical buildings remain. A recent survey concluded that of those structures evaluated, nine predated 1890, ten others predatd 1895, and eleven more were built before 1900. Between 1900 and 1904, an estimated sixteen buildings in the study area remain; in all, therefore, forty-six surveyed buildings in the area predate 1905. Many of these buildings, however, have suffered from weathering, neglect and other forms of deterioration.19
The ethnic composition of the old East End was fairly typical of other San Diego neighborhoods, in that blacks, Mexican-Americans, scattered Orientals and various European ethnic groups complemented the native-born plurality.20 Both blacks and Mexican-Americans had lived in the area as early as the 1890s, but they attracted litle notice;21 their numbers were small in relation to other neighborhood residents, and other parts of San Diego – particularly the central area—offered greater concentrations of these minority groups. Mexican-Americans were scattered throughout the East End. Blacks, however, were fairly concentrated along a few blocks east of present-day Memorial Park.22 The precise reason for this concentration is not known. Preference of blacks to live near one another may have been a factor, and the location of a nearby black church further encouraged this clustering.23 A more plausible reason, however, was the increased use of restrictive covenants in housing contracts. These covenants were effected in many areas of the city, including the East End area; in many cases, however, these covenants were not rigidly enforced. It should be noted that Mexican-Americans as well as blacks were the objects of many covenants. These covenants, however, were relatively insignificant in determining Mexican-American settlement patterns in and around the study area.24
Turn-of-the-century life in the old East End was easy and adventurous, and pleasantly remembered by many former residents. The atmosphere was open and country-like, offering numerous diversions for both children and adults. A focal point for the boys was the Twenty-eighth Street pier, where wading, swimming, clam-digging and occasional sailing took place.25 Although the wharf was originally built as a loading facility, it saw little recorded use except for a few lumber shipments, and was soon converted into an aquatic center, operated by the city playground department. Still later, it became a recreation center, where dances and other events were held.26
Other parts of the East End also offered amusement. Rabbits were hunted in the swale now occupied by Sicard Street. Children also enjoyed watching the goings-on at the Benson Lumber Company. Here enormous quantities of logs, barged down the coast from the Pacific Northwest, were off-loaded and readied for the sawmill. Travelling circuses were also occasionally held on an open neighborhood lot.27
Social life for many adults and children centered around the baseball fields and the armory. The East End was the site of San Diego’s earliest intercity baseball park. Bay View Park, which was also used as a bicycle track, was built in the early 1890s; it was located just north of the intersection of present-day Beardsley Street and National Avenue. Here San Diego teams competed in the California Winter League for two years, and played Santa Barbara for the championship in 1898.28 Similar to present-day winter leagues in the Caribbean and Latin American areas, California Winter League teams boasted several players from major league teams. In 1900 another baseball field, called Athletic Park, was built to the southeast to replace Bay View Park. Here, at Twenty-sixth and Main Streets, city teams continued to play at least until 1912. The team of 1907, called the Pickwicks, was part of the Southern California League.29
The most popular site for neighborhood activities was the Armory Hall, located on National Avenue east of Twenty-ninth Street. Events held here, remembered by most of the early residents, included a wide variety of dances—square dances, minuets, schottisches, and the trilby two-step—as well as charades, candy and taffy pulls, piano concerts, and other small-town amusements.30
The simple, semi-rural lifestyle of the East End began to fade shortly after 1900. In 1905, the area came to be known as Logan Heights, and as the area grew, the local business base expanded to meet the new demands. Drug and hardware stores, confectioneries and other stores more geared to a large-sized urban neighborhood came into being. Several churches were built, and even a local civic association, called the Logan Heights Improvement Club, existed for a short time. Logan Heights’ business district, which reached its height of prosperity in the 1920s, was concentrated along Logan and National Avenues; although the center of the district was located along Logan Avenue between present-day Dewey and Sicard Streets, businesses existed to a certain extent throughout the neighborhood.31
Soon after the business section of Logan Heights began to diversify, new growth occurred along the bay front. In 1907, near the foot of Twenty-eighth Street, groundbreaking ceremonies for the San Diego and Arizona Railway’s line to the Imperial Valley took place. The new rail line soon cut through the area; the effects of that line ushered in land-use and ethnic changes that have largely directed Logan Heights in recent decades. Up until 1911, the bay front opposite the Santa Fe tracks was largely a muddy salt marsh, owned by the state. During that year, however, the city acquired use of the land. Soon the California Iron Works constructed a plant in the area, and during the next fifteen years the entire local coastline was extended by several hundred yards through the use of dredged fill material.32 The Twenty-eighth Street pier, by then deteriorated, was rebuilt for the use of the Naval Militia of California, an early naval reserve group. Other new industries included San Diego Marine Construction Company, established in 1915, and several tuna canneries dating from the same period. The military presence became permanent when, in 1919, the city deeded 98.2 bayfront acres to the Navy for a Docking and Fleet Repair Base. This was the forerunner of the Thirty-second Street Naval Station, a facility which today occupies over 1100 acres and is a significant contributor to the San Diego area economy.33
Continued growth of the area in the decades following 1905 resulted in the construction of many notable residences. Homes were built in a variety of styles, although dominated by those of the Craftsman and Colonial Revival design. Of these, six buildings subject to a recent historical survey still survive from the 1905-09 period, sixteen were built between 1910 and 1914, and four buildings each were surveyed from the 1915-19 and 1920-24 periods. Many of the buildings constructed after 1905 are still in good condition, although several others are in obvious need of rehabilitation or restoration.34
By the end of the first World War, many of the older homes in Logan Heights were beginning to show signs of wear. In addition, incomes were rising, allowing many residents to purchase automobiles for the first time; and as part of the city’s growth, many new areas were being thrown open for settlement. Each of these factors, combined with the nearby growth of industry in recent years, conspired to make Logan Heights a less desirable place to live than had previously been the case.35 The process of out-migration of long-term residents was far from sudden; it had been noted as early as 1915, and continued through most of the 1920s. By the end of the decade, however, the more prominent families had almost totally vacated their previous homes in favor of Mission Hills, Kensington, East San Diego and other nearby communities.
As the older, primarily Anglo residents left the area, other ethnic groups took their place—enough so that by the late 1920s, Logan Heights was considered “the residential section of the negroes, Mexicans and Orientals.”36 Blacks had migrated to San Diego during and after the World War seeking employment in the manufacturing sector. Significant Mexican-American migration, on the other hand, had taken place for over a decade, in response to the demand for railroad and other construction workers. Worsening economic conditions in Mexico, along with the Mexican Revolution during the decade after 1910 augmented this flow of workers. Both ethnic groups eventually became centered in and around Logan Heights.37
The process whereby the study area became a residential center for black and Mexican-American ethnic groups is a complex one; and as Leroy E. Harris has so ably pointed out in his research on the area, land values may have played a relatively small role in the process. Other factors which may have caused these groups to gravitate to Logan Heights included restrictive covenants on properties located outside of the study area, and the preference for many migrants to live near others of the same ethnic background. The tendency for some realtors to not show minority clients properties in predominantly non-minority parts of San Diego was also doubtless a contributing factor.38
Various forms of available data give a remarkably similar picture regarding when and specifically where various minority groups invaded the study area. Using the admittedly rough technique of using the location of black-oriented churches as a guide for black living patterns, Harris found that, in 1900, the general study area contained one of the city’s three black churches. The same figures were repeated in 1910 and 1920, but by 1926, six of the city’s seven black churches were located in or adjacent to Logan Heights. In 1930, the area contained seven of the city’s eight black churches, and by 1940, all eight black churches were located there. These data suggest that Logan Heights became a center of the city’s black population between 1920 and 1926. Research into the same problem using the various city and county directories, where “colored” persons were so marked in selected editions, reveals a similar pattern. Through use of the directories, however, it is apparent that Logan Heights did not attain pre-eminence as a black residential area until 1930 or even later. Comparison of the two sets of data suggest that church location may have been a magnet for potential migrants, rather than a response to previous migrations.39
A similar pattern emerges when Mexican-American migration figures are inspected. Using the city and county directories as a guide to Spanish-surnamed residents, Harris found that an insignificant concentration (less than two per cent) of the city’s Mexican-Americans lived in the study area in both 1890 and 1910. By 1926, however, in-migration of Mexican-Americans into the study area caused them to number over thirteen per cent of the city’s entire Mexican-American population. This figure had grown to fifteen per cent by 1940.40
These overall statistics, of course, fail to provide insight into where these ethnic groups were specifically concentrated. Precise descriptions, of course, vary according to the time and accuracy of the observer, but in the late 1920s, one early resident states that the Negro area was located between Thirtieth and Thirty-second Streets, and between present-day Ocean View and Logan Avenues. By 1937, two centers of Negro population were identified; one centered on Thirtieth Street between Imperial and National Avenues, while a much larger area extended from Sixteenth to Twenty-fifth Streets, and from Imperial Avenue to the bay. Similar estimates were made concerning the extent of the “Mexican colony.” One longtime area resident stated that in the late 1920s, Mexican-Americans lived primarily between Fourteenth Street and Crosby, and between J Street and the bay. By 1937, however, the area had moved eastward to Logan and National Avenues between Sixteenth and Twenty-fifth Streets.41 Since that time, the populations of both blacks and Mexican-Americans have moved well to the east, although the study area still contains major concentrations of both ethnic groups.
Finally, the decades since the 1920s have resulted in the continued growth of business and industry in Logan Heights. Growth of the above sectors was encouraged by the highly-touted Nolen Community Plan, issued in 1926 and adopted shortly thereafter by the city. The Nolen Plan envisioned Logan Heights, because of its central location, the adjacent bay and excellent transportation facilities as the center of the city’s industrial zone.42 No available evidence, however, has suggested that the existing industrial melange is a result of recommendations in the Nolen Plan.
Industrial growth since the 1920s has differed fundamentally from earlier growth in that newer economic enterprises, by and large, have taken over land formerly used for residential purposes. Residential displacement by industry has resulted in the further erosion of residential land values in the study area. The noise, odors, traffic, and associated problems have also hurt the community image of Logan Heights. The relatively recent construction of Interstate Highway 5, the Coronado Bridge, the widening of Harbor Drive, and similar projects have had similarly destructive effects. The fight for Chicano Park, and the creation of the Barrio Logan concept, therefore, must be seen as attempts to re-establish a sense of neighborhood in an otherwise fragmented area.43
As a result of the many recent land-use changes described above, Logan Heights today offers the visitor little of a sense of unity or of historical continuity. The many individual residences, however, in evidence from the relatively recent as well as distant past, are reminders of almost a century of population growth and change, an open page into a still largely unexplored sector of our local heritage.
1. Leroy E. Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway: A Study of Settlement Patterns of Negroes and Mexican-Americans in San Diego, California (Doctor of Arts dissertation, Carnegie-Mellon University, 1974), p. 12.
2. San Diego Union, May 28, 1973, p. 1.
3. Francisco Palou, Historical Memoir in New California, Herbert E. Bolton, ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1926); C. Hart Merriam, Village Names in Twelve California Mission Records, University of California Archeological Survey 24, 1968; Florence Shipek, Archeological Site Form, on file with San Diego Museum of Man.
4. Federal Writers’ Project, San Diego; A California City (San Diego: Neyenesch Printers, 1937), pp. 40-41.
5. Perhaps more than any other area in San Diego, Logan Heights’ street names (present-day Dewey Street included) have been subject to alteration over the years. Most street names in the study area have been altered at least once, and one street has had five diffeent names. Like the rest of the city platted before about 1920, the names originally given to present-day Logan Heights streets were quite well ordered, as opposed to today’s relative confusion. For example, the various northeast-southwest trending streets, extending from Sigsbee to Schley Streets, were originally called South 21st Street through South Twenty-eighth Street. Similarly, the cardinal-oriented streets on the east side of the study area which currently extended from Imperial Avenue to Main Street were originally platted as M through Z Streets. Ocean View Boulevard, in addition to R Street, has also been called Grant Street, Woolman Street, and Hodman Street.
6. Joseph Tabler, A General Historical Researching of the Barrio Logan (Unpublished MSS., San Diego History Center, 1978), p. 6; Clare Crane, Logan Heights, an Historical Survey, 1971-72 Model Cities Neighborhood Business Directory, p. 4.
7. Tabler, A General Historical Researching, p. 8.
8. I.E. Quastler, Transportation in San Diego County, San Diego, An Introduction to the Region (Dubuque, lowa, Kendall/Hunt, 1976), p. 155.
9. Crane, Logan Heights, p. 4.
10. Tabler, A General Historical Researching, p. 8.
11. William E. Smythe, History of San Diego, 1542-1908 (San Diego: The History Company, 1908), p. 560.
12. Robert Lloyd Carlton, Blacks in San Diego County, 1850-1900 (M.A. Thesis, San Diego State University, 1977), p. 142.
13. Crane, Logan Heights, p. 5.
14. Interview with Gertrude Gibbs, March 27, 1958; Interview with Dora E. Maydole, November 22, 1960; San Diego Union, November 23, 1934, p. 3.
15. Richard V. Dodge, Rails of the Silver Gate (San Marino: Pacific Railway Journal, 1960), passim.
16. Sanborn Map Company, San Diego, California, 1888 (with revisions up to 1904).
17. Tabler, A General Historical Researching, pp. 11-12; Interview with Wallace A. Walter, January 24, 1961.
18. Walter interview; James Britton, New Heights for Logan Heights, San Diego Magazine (August, 1968), p. 66; Maydole interview.
19. Patrick Barley and Michael Pearlman, Barrio Logan and Western Southeast San Diego Historical Survey, prepared for the City of San Diego Historical Site Board, June, 1980, passim.
20. Walter interview.
21. Interview with James R. Johnson, Sr., August 30, 1980; Interview with Luis A. Alvarez, April 25, 1978; Walter interview.
22. Carlton, Blacks in San Diego County, pp. 146,148; Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway, p. 110; Interview with Edgar Robyn, July 3, 1957.
23. Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway, p. 155.
24. Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway, pp. 165-180.
25. Interview with Gerald C. Wellington, January 16,1978; Walter interview; Maydole interview.
26. Tabler, A General Historical Researching, p. 17.
27. Interview with James E. Reading, March 8, 1978.
28. Winifred Davidson, Unpublished Mss. Notes, 1935.
29. San Diego Union, October 29, 1945; San Diego Union, March 2, 1907.
30. Robyn interview; Maydole interview.
31. San Diego Directory Company, San Diego City and County Directory, editions of 1905, 1907, 1910 and 1926; Crane, Logan Heights, p. 8.
32. Bruce M. Browning and John W. Speth, “The Natural Resources of San Diego Bay; Their Status and Future” (California Department of Fish and Game, October, 1973).
33. Tabler, A General Historical Researching, pp. 13-18.
34. Barley and Pearlman, Barrio Logan, passim.
35. Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway, pp. 10, 13, 191; Crane, Logan Heights, p. 8.
36. Alvena Suhl, The Historical Geography of San Diego County (M.A. Thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1927), p. 70.
37. Carlton, Blacks in San Diego County, p. 125; Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway, p. 80.
38. Harris, The Other Side of the Freeway, p. 165.
39. Ibid,, pp. 92-109.
40. Ibid., pp. 110-117.
41. Interview with Bert Ritchey, August 6, 1972; Federal Writers’ Project, San Diego, p. 16.
42. S.H. Burton, Logan Heights, An Industrial City, San Diego Business (September 1,1926), p. 11.
43. Barley and Pearlman, Barrio Logan, pp. 9-11.
THE PHOTOGRAPHS are courtesy of the City of San Diego Planning Department. Maps were supplied by the author.