The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1990, Volume 36, Number 4
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

San Diego Trivia.

By Evelyn Kooperman. San Diego: Silvergate Publications, 1989. Bibliography. Index. 406 Pages. $12.95. 

Reviewed by Richard W. Crawford, Archivist/Historian, San Diego Historical Society.

In San Diego Trivia, Evelyn Kooperman, a reference librarian for over seventeen years at the San Diego Public Library, has produced a fascinating compilation of local facts that defy Webster’s definition of trivia as “unimportant matters.” A well-produced paperback, the book contains over eight hundred questions divided into chapters that include history, sports, music, place names, literature, architecture, plants and animals, art, movies, and television. Kooperman answers each question in engaging detail. A thorough index makes the book a useful quick reference.

Almost one-third of San Diego Trivia is devoted to local history. The archives staff of the Historical Society can certainly attest to the popularity of much of the trivia cited here: Before the construction of Highway 163 through Balboa Park in 1948, what was in its place? [A large lake or lily pond]. What World War II general led maneuvers in the Borrego Desert in 1942? [George S. Patton readied his tankers there in preparation for North Africa]. The Casa de Estudillo in Old Town was long known by what incorrect name? [Ramona’s Marriage Place].

The book appears to be remarkably error-free, the result of diligent research; the bibliography cites nearly two hundred-fifty sources, all well utilized. Kooperman carefully sifts fact from legend, correctly noting, for example, that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor did not first meet in Coronado [p.54]. However, she repeats a popular account that could stand debunking. Did John J. Montgomery really make the first controlled flight in a heavier-than-air glider in 1883, twenty years before the Wright brothers flight [p.28]?

While omissions are inevitable in a book of this kind, the chapters on local history seem a bit sanitized; the seamier side of San Diego life is ignored. John Alessio, “Mr. San Diego,” is cited as the namesake of Mr. A’s restaurant and as a past owner of the Hotel Del Coronado; his significant legal problems with the City of San Diego are not mentioned, nor are the problems of another “Mr. San Diego,” C. Arnholt Smith. Local corruption has been an enduring theme of San Diego political life for over one hundred years. Ironically, Kooperman concludes her book by asking, what is the official motto of San Diego County? [From Virgil’s Aeneid, “The noblest motive is the public good”].

In the spirit of the game, this reviewer will offer his own local trivia questions: Name a San Diego mayor, a prominent banker, and an aviation entrepreneur, that all faced criminal indictment for fraud? [Hint: none of the men were born in the twentieth century].


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