The Journal of San Diego History
Summer 1995, Volume 41, Number 3
Richard W. Crawford, Editor



The carefree, fun-loving attitude of many Americans during the 1920s characterized San Diegans as well. The city’s population nearly doubled between 1920 and 1930. The success of the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition established San Diego’s reputation as a scenic resort community and made the city a popular tourist destination. Creation of a coast-to-coast highway system also encouraged travel to the area. In general, the mood in San Diego and elsewhere was optimistic, enhanced by a feeling of continued economic prosperity.

If Prohibition dampened some spirits during the Roaring 20’s, the illegal sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages actually helped foster improved relations with Mexico and the construction of several major recreational facilities across the border where alcoholic beverages were still legal. The most lavish and noteworthy project was the multi-million dollar Agua Caliente Resort. Built on the former site of the old Tijuana Hot Springs Hotel, the dazzling, red-tiled resort featured exotic decorative effects, both inside and out, and dramatic landscaping. Guests could choose from beautifully appointed rooms or quaint, private Spanish villas. Pleasure seekers could also enjoy continental dining, all the legal liquor they could drink, a greyhound racing course, horseback riding, and last, but not least, an elegant gambling casino. Within two years a first-rate racetrack and championship golf course and clubhouse brought Agua Caliente world fame and focused attention on San Diego as the gateway to Old Mexico.

In the years following the 1915-16 Exposition, the city increasingly capitalized on its romantic ties to a Spanish past. Promotional literature emphasized the similarities between San Diego’s climate and landscape and that of Mediterranean countries. Collaborative development between San Diego and Tijuana became the logical outgrowth of an idealized vision San Diegans used to market the city. San Diego’s scenic attractions and close proximity to a luxurious gambling resort comparable to the pleasure capitals of Europe, seemed like the perfect combination. As the decade drew to a close, most San Diegans were firmly convinced they had found the winning ticket.