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



Population in 1950: 334,387
Population in 1960: 500,000

By the mid-20th century, San Diego had struggled through two decades where outside economic and political forces had dominated the course of events in the city. The effects of the Depression and World War II had taken their toll on the city. The process of suburbanization begun by federal housing projects during the war, were replaced with modern subdivisions aimed at post-war homebuyers. Large projects like Clairemont, Allied Gardens, San Carlos and University City stretched San Diego’s urban limits ever outward.

In the 1950s, civic leaders had become increasingly concerned about the downtown’s general lack of vitality. No significant buildings had been constructed in nearly thirty years. The loss of retail trade to shopping centers developing in the suburbs, the loss of hotel business to suburban motels, and lack of a high-rise skyline gave the city a drab, small-town appearance. The romanticized vision of an earlier generation now seemed tarnished and dated. When the May Company announced plans to open a store and shopping center in Mission Valley, downtown businessmen fought the project, believing that such development would hasten their demise.

As the suburbs grew and the downtown declined, some national magazines suggested that San Diego was a town gone bust. In response, a 1960 master plan for the city outlined progressive measures to revitalize the city. This plan included construction of a civic center to serve as the focal point for downtown redevelopment. The Community Concourse proved to be a psychological booster for the city.

Over the next decade San Diegans worked aggressively to secure three recognized symbols of all major cities: a high-rise skyline, additional cultural amenities and major league professional sports. By the late 1960s, the city had its own symphony and opera, the Chargers football team, conversion of the Padres, from minor league to major league baseball, and the impressive stadium in Mission Valley. Local citizens developed a General Plan for the city and the first high-rise buildings since the 1920s were completed. San Diego now marketed itself as the “City in Motion.”