By John Martin

The Journal of San Diego History
San Diego History Center Quarterly
Spring 2017, Volume 63, Number 3+4

In the Spring of 1969 as actor John Wayne rounded the southern tip of Coronado’s North Island returning from a fishing trip into Mexican waters, his 136 foot family yacht the Wild Goose struck a semi-submerged rock pile near the harbor entry. Wayne roundly cursed the offending pile of rock and then consulted his nautical charts to determine what the Goose had hit. He discovered the obstruction was a crumbling breakwater the federal government constructed at the turn of the twentieth century with a name and provenance unfamiliar to him and most San Diegans called the Zuniga Shoals Jetty.

Several theories exist regarding the origin of the jetty’s name. One version offered that when Spaniard Sebastián Vizcaíno sailed into the bay in 1602 he named the shoal after Gaspar de Zuñiga y Azevedo, the Count of Monterrey, Viceroy of Mexico from 1595 to 1603. Another account held that Captain George Vancouver took the name he attached to his chart in 1793 from Lt. José de Zuñiga of the Royal Army of Spain and the comandante of San Diego’s presidio from 1781 to 1793. One suggested a Spanish cartographer in the 1840s named it after Juan de Zuñiga, a sailor whose name the mapmaker had seen on an earlier harbor chart. The speculation remains.

In the early decades of exploration along the Pacific coast there was also confusion regarding the location of the shoal. French explorer La Pérouse located the “Bajes de Zuniga” inside the harbor on his 1786 chart, as did the map of Archibald Menzies a botanist for the Vancouver expedition that charted the harbor in 1793. The 1849 harbor chart of Andrew Gray and those of Major Alexander D. Bache who surveyed the bay for the U. S. Coast & Geodetic Survey in 1851 and 1853, labeled the shoal at the harbor entry as Zuniga. By the mid nineteenth century, nautical cartographers came to agreement on the shoal’s name and location while sailors agreed it held no significance other than as a navigational nuisance. It took forty years for that assessment to change.

Since statehood San Diego’s civic leaders had looked to transform the small Southern California town into a thriving city, but faced inherent problems. Their town was physically remote from the seat of national government and distance translated into disinterest. San Diego lacked available investment capital, had limited commercial opportunities, an unreliable fresh water supply, and despite considerable effort, local businessmen had failed to make the city a terminus for an eastern railway. All told, not a formula for municipal success. But despite the city’s liabilities after the 1870s, the aggressive leaders of the new San Diego Chamber of Commerce optimistically believed that the natural land-locked harbor would deliver their city to greatness. And as it would happen, when the city fathers opened the campaign to develop the harbor, the enigmatic shoal became a salient factor in their plans.

The Federal Jetty

San Diego’s leaders understood that for the harbor to become the city’s vehicle to prosperity, it had to safely accommodate the entry and anchorage of large vessels. Unfortunately at the end of the nineteenth century both commercial maritime and naval interests considered San Diego a shallow water port in both respects. To overcome these disparities city boosters had to develop plans to increase the water depth over the outer entry bar and deal with the large, shallow sandy middle ground shoal inside the channel. Both projects required mitigating the sand flow that sustained the main channel entry bar and the middle ground troublesome shoal. Lacking the financial and technical resources to pursue projects of this magnitude, city business leaders approached the federal government in the belief that the harbor’s military potential recognized by the War Department and the Navy would translate into government assistance.

The government rewarded the perseverance of city strategists with an 1886 Congressional Rivers and Harbors Act that authorized a survey to prepare an estimate for a 250 foot wide by 24 foot deep channel across the outer bar of San Diego Harbor.1 The Navy steadfastly held that the entry to San Diego Bay, which charts listed at 21 feet deep, was sufficient to allow only their small and medium size vessels entry; American battleships required at least 30 feet of draught. 2 In January 1888 Congress followed with an appropriation that authorized oceanic surveyor Otto von Geldern to conduct another harbor survey to determine the “direction and strength of the currents at the entrance.”3 At the completion of the survey, the War Department ordered Corps of Engineers Lieutenant William H. H. Benyaurd to compare those results and the earlier surveys of 1878 and 1886. Benyaurd’s research found little physical change in the channel but discovered that the sand that sustained the middle ground bar funneled in through a littoral channel running between North Island and the northern tip of the shoal. Benyaurd postulated that as long as sand poured through the littoral gap, the middle ground shoal would be a perpetual navigational obstruction for vessels entering the harbor.4

With the data in hand, Benyaurd formulated a plan to address both the shoal and the entry bar. The engineer observed that two channels existed around the middle ground. Benyaurd described the westerly channel as “too crooked for safe navigation,” as it required ships to steer west inside Ballast Point, then sharply back north, a tricky 90° turn—a maneuver that was difficult for vessels not under power or in tow. The easterly channel was simply too shallow. Dredging would solve these problems, but without the construction of a breakwater to control the volume and velocity of the water over the bar and the flow of sand entering the bay, any result would be transitory. Benyaurd presented his conclusions to Colonel G. H. Mendell, the Supervising Engineer for the West Coast and government jetty expert. Benyaurd’s plan suggested that the construction of a breakwater atop the Zuniga Shoal, which paralleled the harbor entry, would make dredging the middle ground feasible as well as increase and maintain the water depth over the outer bar.5 With Mendell’s blessing the Corps brain trust authorized Benyaurd to proceed.

Benyaurd and the Corps staff engineers designed a 7500 foot long stone jetty that would extend from the western tip of North Island, running southward parallel to the Point Loma Peninsula. The engineer categorized the breakwater as a mound of stone or in Corps parlance a “rubble-mound structure.” Engineers would construct the jetty on a 15 foot curve with the rockwork aligned either on a line along the westerly side of the shoal or on the crest of the shoal. The crown of the jetty nearest the land would measure 12 feet across with 2 foot slopes on the sides, and at the outermost limits, and where the water deepened, it would be 20 feet in width with slopes of 1 to 3 feet.

The engineers designed the jetty to close the littoral gap and control the tidal action at the outer harbor entry. The Corps estimated that the area the tidal action affected without a jetty was approximately 230,000 square feet. The jetty would reduce that to 60,000 square feet, essentially squeezing the tide through a narrower space and increasing the speed of the water flowing over the bar. 6 The theory was simple. The strength of the tidal currents, running straight in and out, would scour the outer bar as well as remove any deposits near the middle ground and keep the channel clear. With the tidal action harnessed, crews could then dredge and deepen the channel. The designers believed the presence of the jetty would allow dredging projects an element of permanency and permit the effective maintenance of the channel.7 The engineers theorized—hoped really— that the sand the jetty impounded from the littoral gap would flow back along the shoreline on the east side behind the jetty, and form a beach along North Island, which might also deepen and push the entry bar farther south.

As to the breakwater proper, the engineers designed “a brush foundation in the shape of mattresses” to create a stable foundation for the massive deposits of rock that would form the jetty. The engineers envisioned laborers placing the rock and the mats from a double tracked railroad trestle running the length of the jetty.8

The War Department sanctioned the Corps’ project in 1890 and the 51st Congress authorized the $394,400 estimated for construction. After the amateur engineers in Congress discussed the plans, however, they modified the estimate and on September 19, 1890, the House approved the first appropriation of $65,500.9 Since the federal government directed the Corps of Engineers to survey, plan, engineer the jetty, and supervise the construction, San Diegans generally referenced the prospective breakwater simply as the government jetty.

Despite the grandiose planning, the project opened with a stutter rather than a bang. The Corps had failed to acquire title to the necessary land at the base of the jetty. The desired “root” of the jetty was a point on the south shore of Coronado’s North Island about 2000 feet east of the harbor entry at Zuniga Point. A federal team had surveyed the site but the landowner, the Coronado Beach Company, had declined to sell or even discuss a price on the needed tract.10 The disagreement naturally centered on the value of the property. The county valued the land at $5.00 per acre and the owner suggested $775.00 an acre. The mutual intransigence briefly threatened the project but the parties eventually agreed to legal mediation and accepted the court’s decision. The resolution came at the middle of June 1892 and allowed the War Department to condemn and purchase 18.85 acres on the southwestern tip of North Island from Elisha S. Babcock’s Coronado Beach Company for $13,942.46.11

While the government and the landowner squabbled, the Corps engineers initiated a dredging project funded in the original appropriation. Local barge captain Albert A. Polhamus started dredging in April 1891 to create a channel at the head of the middle ground shoal to a depth of 24 feet at mean low tide. Polhamus said the completed work would “afford a straight channel” into the bay for vessels with the “deepest draft.” As expected the dredging proved temporary as the channel quickly shoaled back to fifteen feet in depth, but the engineers believed the result reinforced the value of the proposed jetty.12

With the land acquired, the government opened bids and shortly thereafter named Silas R. Smith of Portland, Oregon, the first contractor. To gain the bid, Smith submitted costs for the trestle construction at $5.91 per linear foot, assembling and placing the brush mats at $2.53 per cubic yard, and the cost of stone at $1.62 per long ton. Smith constructed an office building and started work in September 1894. Smith made little headway until he changed out his work crew, which forced the contractor to request a three-month extension to complete the initial phase, which he did in July 1894.13

first sections of the wooden trestle Smith’s crew laid a 1000 foot revetment to form a rock shield along the shoreline from the jetty’s starting point extending westward toward the main channel. Smith sub-contracted with San Diego hydraulic expert Hiram N. Savage to supply much of the rock for this work. The engineers selected a starting point for the trestle well away from the tidal flow at the harbor entrance to mitigate any possibilities of undermining. Originally the plans called for three pile bents for the trestle, but the depth of water in the littoral channel measured between seven and twelve feet and the weight of the railroad stock forced Smith to upgrade the weight of the first eighty-four bents. As the trestle advanced seaward, the height also increased from sixteen feet to twenty feet. When the contract expired in June Smith had completed the revetment, constructed 2,464 feet of double track trestle, and laid 1,860 feet of jetty to the high water height, but still had 4,600 tons of rock to place. In his after report, Benyaurd reminded his superiors that any work on the middle ground shoal would not proceed until the crews extended the jetty to a point where it cut the movement of the sand to the shoal, then and only then could the shoal be dredged effectively.14

The government awarded contractors Powell & Mitchell the second contract and scheduled their work to begin in April 1895. The bid costs were similar to the first phase with trestle construction at $5.00 per linear foot, the mat work at $1.90 per cubic yard, and the cost of stone averaging $2.25 per long ton. Benyaurd returned to the job site and observed that in the interceding eight months, the work had withstood the winter storms and was in good condition. The contractors gathered workers but encountered an unexpected delay. The issue was the quality of the timber supplied for the trestle piles. The contractors rejected the entire initial shipment as substandard, or as Assistant Corps Engineer F. C. Turner explained, “by reason of the bark stripping under the hammer.”15 The crew eventually acquired new piles and the work began in June. Powell & Mitchell extended the jetty another 800 feet to reach 3,347 feet during their contract from February 2, 1895 to October 16, 1896. This phase consumed 311,849 tons of rock from a Sweetwater quarry and enough brush from the San Luis Rey River near Oceanside to create 3,070 cubic yards of brush mats. As with the previous contract, the engineers performed no dredging on the middle ground shoal.16

As the second construction phase drew to a close, and for the first of many times, Benyaurd alerted his supervisors that the overall cost of the project was likely to increase. He explained that as the jetty advanced seaward, the “pothole” scouring action at the leading end or head of the jetty would invariably cause the bottom to erode and deepen, creating the need for more materials and thereby increasing the cost. Benyaurd’s assistant F. C. Turner also took time to record some apparent physical changes the first 3000 feet of the jetty created. Turner observed that the rock structure caused the incoming breakers to shift to the east, away from the channel and as the jetty moved outward the wave action formed a sand bank along the west side or inside wall of the jetty. Turner noted this as a positive result saying the infusion of sand tightened and strengthened the jetty wall. Turner also observed that the winter storms had caused a recession of the beach along the eastern shoreline of Coronado’s North Island and forced the beach eastward another 2000 feet.17

During the second phase the jetty received an unscheduled visit from California Senator Stephen M. White. The Senator arrived in San Diego in October 1895 to deal with some court matters, but the astute businessmen of the Chamber of Commerce took the opportunity to wine and dine the Senator and sell the potential of San Diego harbor. With the federal Quarantine Station just completed, the government jetty was the biggest show in town and White asked to see the structure. The Chamber quickly arranged an inspection tour that included White’s traveling hosts California congressmen W. W. Bowers and James McLachan. Local harbor pilot A. F. Dill transported the group from the downtown pier out to Ballast Point then across the channel to the view the existing 3300 feet of the jetty and trestle. On the tour Dill commented on the specifics of the project and answered questions. The tour and information prompted White to offer his opinion—informed or not—that the work had already improved the harbor entrance. As the congressional guests departed the Chamber members lobbied pledges from the Senator and Congressmen to support the funding necessary to complete the project. The group’s endorsement was significant because White was a member of the Senate Rivers and Harbor Committee, which designated congressional appropriations, and McLachan was a projected member of the House version of the same committee.18

The War Department chose San Diegan Waldo S. Waterman, a mining engineer and son of former California Governor Robert Waterman, as the contractor for the third stage. The work ran from November 12, 1896, to April 1897 and extended the rockwork out to the 3,347-foot mark. Benyaurd and Turner remained on the job as the Corps supervising engineers as Waterman’s crew deposited 14,930 tons of stone, 1,523 cubic yards of matting, added 637 feet of trestle, and laid an additional 645 feet of submerged rock foundation. At the end of the phase, Benyaurd noted that the jetty had settled slightly and the usual scouring in front of the jetty had continued, but on the whole thought the work stood well.19

The jetty received another formal government inspection in early 1897. In January four members of a federal committee arrived in Southern California to visit Santa Monica, San Pedro, and San Diego to identify the best location for another west coast deep-water harbor. Arriving by train from Los Angeles, Chamber of Commerce President Phillip Morse hosted the group, which consisted of two engineers, a Navy admiral, and a member of the Coastal Survey Service. The group, scheduled for two days in San Diego, toured the harbor on a cold, rainy, windy day. The jetty project was their principal point of interest and the stormy day was the perfect environment to assess how it would withstand the “sea attacks.” The visitors remarked on the “judicious” improvement of the jetty and after lunch at the Hotel del Coronado, trekked across North Island to view the jetty. Favorably impressed, the group rushed back to Los Angeles hoping to see the other harbor sites in the midst of the same weather conditions, which they believed offered a true testament to the quality of those potential sites.20

The Spanish American War of 1898 temporarily halted the project. With Congress and the Army engaged in wartime duties, the Corps closed down construction. The Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers, however, reported that the government ordered a survey to assess the status of the project. The U. S. Coast and Geodetic surveyors aboard the steamer Gedney worked west from the Hotel del Coronado in a semi-circle toward Ballast Point. Following the investigation the surveyors issued the opinion that there was indeed significant improvement in the depth in the channel as a result of the jetty work.21 The survey team sent their formal findings along to Captain James J. Meyler, who replaced Benyaurd as the Corps project supervisor. Reviewing the survey results Meyler agreed that there appeared to be considerable changes at the harbor entry, most of a satisfactory nature. The outer bar was 600 feet wide in the channel and had an overall depth of 22.5 feet. This indicated a gain of 1.5 feet of depth since the job began. The middle ground dredging cut of 1891, which started shoaling immediately after the work, was actually showing signs of improvement, which indicated the jetty had effectively arrested the movement of sand into that area. With the war concluded, in June 1899 the Rivers and Harbors Committee appropriated $65,000 and the Corps released Meyler to restart work.22

While the government agencies remained idle during the war years, the citizens of San Diego undertook their own harbor venture. In 1899 the Chamber membership raised $1000 in subscriptions and with the approval of the Secretary of War, performed an experiment on the outer bar designed to determine the feasibility and practicality of dredging the bar. The locals intended to prove to skeptical government engineers that the depth over the outer bar could be increased and maintained with dredging. Local lore held that the floor of the bar consisted of very hard material that would be difficult to dislodge. The Chamber’s scheme was to have the ocean bottom at the bar “hydraulicked” to prove their point. San Diego dredge captain A. A. Polhamus undertook the operation. A diver was dropped from a tugboat hovering over the bar carrying a hose attached to a powerful pump. The idea was to “stir up and disintegrate the upper crust” of the bar and allow the tide to carry the material away. Polhamus and his crew successfully made a cut about 100 feet wide and 5 feet deep across. Within a month the tide had refilled the furrow, but the scheme clearly demonstrated that the bar was essentially sand and mud and easily dredged.23

Following the war hiatus, the Corps rendered an agreement to contractors Healy & Tibbitts, an engineering and barge company from San Francisco, on October 16, 1899, for their low bid of $61,240. Corps engineers anticipated this work would be completed in about eleven months. To this point contractors had extended the jetty by exclusively utilizing the overhead rail trestle, but Healy & Tibbits specialized in the use of ocean going barges and would perform mat and rockwork from the floating platforms.

As usual the contractors failed to begin the work on the designated date. The work, scheduled to begin in December 1899, did not get underway until April 1900. The contractors put the delay on irregularities in the contract and the unreasonable transportation rates local railways charged for hauling rock. The San Diego Union took umbrage saying the contractor’s excuses were lame and “getter lamer all the time.” The newspaper claimed the procrastination was simply a ruse to allow the contractors time to work on a deal with the government to quarry duty free rock from Mexico’s Coronado Islands. The Union claimed the island rock was no better than that of the local quarries and defended the rates rail owner Waterman proffered as fair. Apparently Healy had the necessary influence because by the time the workers constructed and placed the first mats the contractor had an arrangement for obtaining rock from the Coronado Islands that included a nominal duty fee.24

Working from April to October 1900, the contractors pushed the jetty out another 1,033 feet making the overall length 5,025 feet seaward, with over 3,347 feet of the structure completed above high water. In doing so they utilized 2,543 cubic yards of matting and 5,613 tons of stone. Meyler noted, as he had the year previous, that there was “no material increase in depth or width of the channel across the bar,” but again he had no expectations in that regard. But he did explain that with the last two extensions, the jetty had arrested the action of sand over the middle ground shoal to the point where with the completion of the current work, he believed they could maintain a dredged cut. Meyler estimated it would require another 11,000 tons of rock and 7,000 cubic yards of mats to complete the final 2,500 feet of the jetty, which he hoped would come in one final contract.25

Before the next phase could begin the engineers discovered that teredo and limnoria, two species of shipworms that bore into submerged wood, had attacked and damaged 160 feet of the untreated submerged wooden trestle dents. The Corps hired local builder Fred Osborne to remove and replace the defective dents, a task he started in October of 1900 and completed in December 1901 at the cost of $1445.63.26 As the repair work on the plies proceeded, Captain Edgar Jadwin, a future Chief of Engineers, reported to San Diego as the new supervising Corps engineer. Jadwin surveyed the project and noted to the Chief of Engineers George Gillespie that he believed that the extension of the jetty had caused erosion along the western side of North Island, as well as at the beach at root of the jetty. Jadwin wanted bulkheads or wing dams constructed along the shore to protect the shoreline, but the lack of funding stymied the idea.27 In the report to Gillespie Jadwin said the Corps had completed no formal work on the jetty as yet, hence there was no increase in the depth over the outer bar, but observed a decided increase in the velocity of the tide flowing over the bar.28 Chamber President W. L. Fervert may have best summed the city’s sentiment of the pace of the work when he stated in the Chamber’s Annual Report that the contractors were “still pounding away” at the job.29

The government awarded San Diegan Waldo Waterman, the contractor in the third stage, the final contact. Unfortunately, he died unexpectedly before starting work. To avoid costly delays the War Department unilaterally appointed Arnold E. Babcock of Coronado, son of Elisha S. Babcock who owned the Coronado Beach Company, as the contractor in April 1903. Babcock completed the structure out to the designed length of 7500 feet in July 1904.

ways to increase operational efficiency. He brought in a 65 ton steam shovel mounted on a flatcar to speed up the removal the rock from local quarry trains and in 1903 built a new section of the Coronado Line to shorten the haul across North Island.30 With the jetty reaching its full length, Babcock brought in a new suction dredge and started dredging the main channel in July 1903. Babcock, an amateur whose engineering experience was working his father’s Julian gold mine, offered the opinion that if the engineers increased the length of the jetty it would surely increase the flow of the current into the channel and decrease scouring elsewhere. As the project drew to a close, Corps engineer Captain C. H. McKinstry replaced Lt. Col. J. H. Willard in November 1903, then Captain Amos Fries arrived and directed the remainder of the work.31

The Jetty Components

The Rock

The Corps engineers’ 1890s design called for the breakwater to be constructed on top the ridge of the existing shoal. The Corps engineers classified the breakwater as a rubble-mound or rock structure, essentially a mass of rock stacked along the mile-long crest of the shoal. The engineers determined the amount of rock required from surveys of the water depth over the shoal, which varied between twelve and twenty feet, and the littoral channel, which ranged between seven and twelve feet.

San Diego County had an abundance of rock quarries the contractors could access. Some of the stone in the first phase of construction came from the quarry near the Sweetwater Dam, but the material turned out to be of such poor quality the engineers used it mainly for the initial ballast layer on the willow mattresses. The best stone came from the quarries near Foster, a small town above Lakeside, about forty miles north and east by rail from the tip of Coronado. To access this stone the contractors built a spur line from the quarry to the terminus of the San Diego, Cuyamaca & Eastern Railway at the station in Foster. At the quarry, derricks loaded the rock onto flatcars that hauled the material to the end of the line at N Street near downtown San Diego, a route that largely follows the present trolley route from El Cajon to San Diego.32 At that point the rock-filled rail cars moved through Chula Vista, around the southern end of the bay, up the Silver Strand, and out to Zuniga Point on the Coronado Railway. The builders also procured some rock at a site in Spring Valley, north of the Sweetwater site, and again used the National City and Otay Railway to transport the material to the job site. The NC&O hauled the rock from the quarry to 24th Street where an engine from the Coronado line took over

Rock for the second phase came principally from the old quarry used in the 1880s for constructing the Sweetwater Dam. Mr. Eagar and Mr. McNally of the California Construction Company, in charge of collecting rock for the contractors Powell & Mitchell, decided this was the cheapest and most accessible source. At one point these rock contractors considered shipping rock by sea from a quarry on Catalina Island, but the cost proved prohibitive. As in the first phase, the contractors eventually made a deal with the National City and Otay and Coronado line to transport the “hard, heavy so-called porphyry” stone from Sweetwater quarry to the jetty construction site. 33 In 1896, contractors Waterman and Gilmore made arrangements with Simpson and Pirnie of the Coyote Hill Quarry near Foster to supply 15,000 tons of rock for the jetty.34

The construction phase from April to October 1900 was unique because the contractors brought the rock from Mexico. Despite some local rumors that the government was about to rescind the contact – which project supervisor Meyler immediately squelched – Healy & Tibbits identified the rock quarries they wanted on the Coronado Islands, some seven miles south in Mexican waters.35 This was viable because Healy & Tibbitts operated ocean-going barges and had the experience for such an undertaking.

Healy & Tibbitts gained Corps approval and negotiated with Mexican officials to arrange for the purchase and transport of the rock. The agreement produced a convoluted arrangement. The rock came from an uninhabited portion of a foreign country and then, because the rock did not enter San Diego city limits, came under the jurisdiction of the federal government. In the end the Treasury Department authorized San Diego Customs Collector William W. Bowers to determine the value of the stone and assess a duty, which generally amounted to about five cents per ton. The Mexican Consul in San Diego cleared the barge loads and collected a duty for each 1000 tons of rock delivered. With the duty paid the contractors’ vessel, the ocean-going tug Sea Witch, towed the barges directly from the islands to the jetty staging site, rather than detouring to the customhouse in Ensenada, Mexico. Nevertheless American officials required the tug and barge to pay “entrance and clearance” fees each time the boat re-entered American waters. Despite the complications the contractors concluded the deal and obtained quality, but inexpensive Mexican rock from the Coronado Islands.36

In early April 1900 the quarry crew on the island loaded the first barge destined for the jetty. The contractors quickly recognized the added time in barging the rock, and immediately increased the island work force with a vow “to make the rocks fly.” However the rock crews did not anticipate the difficulty in loading the rock from the shore onto the bobbing, floating barges. After the first loads, Healy realized that they should have placed another barge with a derrick between the shore and the unladed barge to streamline the process. Once loaded a tug towed the laden seagoing barges to the jetty site, where another derrick on a separate barge off-loaded and placed the rocks as directed. The contractors established a camp for the laborers on the island to avoid a time-consuming daily shuttle.37

City leaders were ambivalent about the arrangement. They were pleased to see the project moving forward, but disgruntled because the contractors used rock from Mexico rather than local quarries. The businessmen of the Chamber of Commerce complained that the use of Mexican rock left local quarries idle and took jobs and considered action to “prevent the importation of foreign stone.” However with the contract ending and the jetty moving forward the complaints became moot.38

In the final 1903-1904 stage contractor Waldo Waterman again selected rock from the Foster and Sweetwater quarries. The quarry owners reopened, ramped up, and expanded their work force to meet the demands of supplying and shipping an estimated 110,000 to 120,000 tons of rock to the jetty. The SDC&E purchased additional flatcars to facilitate the job and again performed some bridge reinforcement work before bringing the heavy stone south.39 Waterman calculated the project would require about 60,000 tons from each quarry at a cost of approximately $2.00 per ton. He believed that once the owners manned the quarries and perfected the removal and loading techniques, workers could load and transport 40 to 50 flatcar loads a day. Waterman estimated they needed 110,000 to 125,000 tons of stone to complete the work, which meant dumping about 5000 tons per month. At that rate Waterman believed the jetty could be completed in about five months.

Once the rock arrived at the jetty, railway men maneuvered the flatcars out onto the trestle and work crews dropped the material by derrick or hand. Healy & Tibbits used the seagoing barges for the drops. The vast majority of the rock formed the foundation or “hearting” of the breakwater. The first section of foundation consisted of stones weighing under one ton each with the final 1,000 feet using larger stone. Workers used some of the smaller stone, 20 pounds or less, as ballast on the mats or to fill gaps in the foundation. The hearting was covered with another six-foot thick rock layer called the “armor.” The armor stone ranged from one ton to four ton pieces in the 300 feet.40

Benyaurd’s 1887 proposal estimated the breakwater would require approximately 50,000 tons of large rock and 70,000 tons of smaller stone, but his figures fell shy of the actual amount, which was in the range of 500,000 tons. Throughout the project the cost of the rock taken from the mainland averaged $2.00 per ton and the labor to place it cost $1.60 per ton.41

The Mats

The pre-construction engineering surveys revealed that the crust and upper layers of the shoal consisted of loose, sandy material, which posed a dilemma for the engineers. They worried that heavy rock placed on this unstable floor would gradually sink into the surface, shift and settle, and produce an irregular footing that would, over time, weaken the jetty base. As a solution the engineers employed a common Corps technique used in river and harbor projects where they laid down large mats woven from willow branches atop the bed of the watercourse, the shoal in this case, to establish a solid foundation for the rock bulwark. Corps engineers called the willow creations subaqueous or fascine mats.42

Throughout the project the majority of the willow brush came from the Sweetwater and Tijuana creek areas. According to local historian Irene Phillips, J. E. Claus of Chula Vista supplied the brushwood for the first phase. Like the rock, Claus transported the willow first on the National City & Otay Railroad then the Coronado line to the beach on North Island.43 The willow gathered from the south bay cost about 85 cents per yard. One contractor considered bringing in a better grade willow from the Sacramento River area where the brush was virtually free, but with it so readily available in the nearby Otay Valley, the ease of access negated any cost savings.44 Powell & Mitchell in the second phase went to the San Luis Rey River valley on the north edge of Oceanside for the material, but the prohibitive cost of rail transport from Oceanside encouraged subsequent contractors to revert to using material from the Sweetwater and Tijuana River valley area.45

Assembling the brush into mats was an interesting undertaking that required teamwork and muscle. The workers took the two inch or less diameter willow brush and fashioned the individual branches into an eighteen inch thick bundle. They drew the bundle together with wire to compress the bundle to about twelve inches. Workers stacked the completed bundles in two feet high piles on a wooden framework of 2 by 4 inch pine timbers called a grilling creating 3 by 5 foot rectangles. The mat makers then threaded heavy #10 black wire back and forth through the rectangles to tighten it. Teams of laborers then stacked the compacted brush rectangles, slightly overlapping them at right angles to each other.

To further strengthen the mat, a worker below the mat ran a large iron needle threaded with wire through the brush while a worker on top pulled the wire taut and twisted it around a spike. Then another mat was placed on the top layer and firmly secured with the heavy wire. To bind the brush rectangles workers forced long threaded bolts through the mats and used bolts on either end to compress them. The mats varied in size, some measuring about 60 feet long by 40 feet wide, some 37 feet by 75 feet. When weighted down with enough rock to sink it, a mat could weigh 50 tons. The Corps engineers boasted that the completed woven mats could “stand quite a sea.”46 Workers generally constructed the mats on the island’s sloping beaches atop raised wooden platforms so the worker could access the bottom of the mats. Carpenters constructed the platforms on an angle so workers could attach ropes to the mats and use gravity to slide the completed product into the water or onto barges.

All five contractors employed the mat foundation system, although the method of placing the mats varied. Some contractors floated the mats, some dropped the mats from barges, others used the railway trestle, while some used all the methods. Healy & Tibbitts was the only contractor to perform the assembly solely from barges. They used a tugboat to tow a barge with the mat lashed on an inclined, sliding platform out to the jetty site where workers slid the mat into the water, piled on enough rock to hold the mat in place, then used guide lines to direct it into a pre-arranged position. Mats were often sunk two abreast lengthwise. Crews piled rock evenly across the mats to sink them onto the shoal then dropped on larger rock to form the structure. At one point Healy placed a derrick on the mat barge to handle the larger rockwork.47

Once the workers submerged the mat and working from the trestle or barges, they applied layers of larger stone and filled the gaps with smaller rock. There was no reference of men actually working in the water. The layering process continued as the workers gradually established the structure’s desired height and width. When completed the width of the top of the jetty was to be about ten feet and about double that at the base. The rock sloped naturally down the sides as the rock achieved its natural angle of repose.48

San Diego’s mild climate and the shoal’s relatively protected location accommodated the construction process. Aside from a periodic winter storm the weather cooperated and made working conditions generally good. Likewise the Point Loma Peninsula blocked the prevailing westerly wind and ocean swell, so the water was rarely too rough for a vessel or barge to safely access the work area. The tidal conditions also allowed the outer entry bar to retain a depth between 20 to 22 feet, which facilitated maneuvering the tugs and barges to complete tasks.49

Jetty Postscript

Both the time of construction and the final cost of the jetty surpassed the engineers’ original estimates. Construction began in 1893 and ended in 1904, but excluding the time off for the war, the time to replace the damaged trestles, and the gaps between construction contracts, the actual time to construct the jetty was approximately four years. The cost of the project exceeded the original 1888 estimate of $394,400 by almost $150,000, with a final expenditure of $542,850. Benyaurd based his initial assumptions on the depth of water from the 1887 survey and could not account for the changes in the depths over the shoal in the elapsed six years when the job started. Nor could he account for the costs that would accrue from the change in the depth of the water at the front edge of the jetty between contracts. The engineers’ decision to increase the height of the jetty from half tide to high tide level, which expanded the height and volume of the wall and required more materials and time, also inflated the cost.50 Before construction began Benyaurd told his superiors that the cost of the land, the construction of the trestle, and other preliminary operations would absorb the bulk of the initial funds and suggested they secure an additional $20,000 for the appropriation of ancillary construction needs and annual repairs.51 These considerations coupled with the method of bidding a new contract for each appropriation affected the bottom line.

The government’s bidding routine certainly extended the duration and cost of the project. Over the course of the project each Corps supervisor implored the government to pursue the project with more urgency. The engineers viewed the project in technical terms; the quicker it was concluded the better the result. Congress viewed it in economic terms. In the government’s hidebound appropriation procedure the project moved forward disjointedly as Congress administered appropriations—$65,500 in 1890, $50,000 in 1894, $50,000 in 1896, $65,000 in 1899, $75,000 in 1902, and $192,850 in 1903—in a piecemeal manner and opened each bidding application with the selection of a private contractor.52 Assistant Engineer F. C. Turner grumbled to Benyaurd in 1895 about the length of the project. In a report to Benyaurd he conceded that the magnitude of the project probably rendered it inexpedient to try and complete the project through one contract, but doing so would “greatly reduce the cost.” As the project neared completion engineer Meyler repeatedly badgered his superiors to place the project under one final contract. A frustrated Meyler complained that the process deferred and repeatedly interrupted the work, but he also understood that these delays were bureaucratic in nature and beyond his purview.53

The protracted nature of the project also raised the frustration level of many San Diegans who thought the jetty proceeded in a desultory manner. An October 1895 article in The San Diego Union chided the citizens of San Diego for being too modest in their request for harbor improvement funds. The article said civic leaders needed to realize San Diego was competing against all the other regions within the United States for a limited amount of money and must be more aggressive. The reporter urged city leaders to aggressively lobby for the remaining funds for the jetty and sign up one contractor for the duration of the project. It was a matter of economics for the city; the longer the project lingered the more the city lost in revenue from unrealized commerce.54 In January 1900 the Chamber of Commerce urged Congressman James Needham to create a special bill to continue the jetty work without stop. Chamber leaders complained that the government had prosecuted the jetty job over the past ten years through “intermission” and with small appropriations and groused that the gaps between contracts invariably led to the need for additional expenses. They believed the government’s strategy had extended the length of the project and made it more expensive.55 As the final phase approached, H.P. Wood, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Washington on city business, met the Chief of Engineers, General George Gillespie, to insure that funding was available and that there would be no delay on the part of the contractor in starting the work.56 Complaints aside, the project ground forward.

In a project where manual labor, working in the open ocean, and huge boulders ruled, there were remarkably few incidents. The most spectacular accident occurred when Babcock’s crew decided to place a second derrick out onto the trestle. During the maneuver “something gave way” and the pile driver the derrick supported toppled into the water. No one was hurt but it took several days to retrieve the machine and get the work back up to speed.57 Another incident involved Osborne’s tugboat Santa Fe when it ran aground while replacing damaged trestle bents. But considering the high-risk nature of the work, where cuts and bruises were commonplace, it was amazing that neither the government or the contractors reported any serious accidents, injuries, or deaths over the course of the project. The only project-related death occurred when a large rock crushed a quarry worker

Nor were there apparently any serious labor-related issues. The only recorded incident occurred when two deck hands of the tug Sea Witch quit after claiming the contractors had forced them to stay aboard the vessel overnight and work long overtime hours without extra pay. Mr. Horton, the representative of contractors Healy & Tibbitts, rejected the claim, saying the men had probably been on board because the tug often sailed for the Coronado Islands very early in the morning, sometimes at 1:00 a.m. Horton also pointed out that the men were likely on duty but not actually working as the men often slept on the trip to and from the islands. There was also a rumor the company charged the quarry workers a fee to sail to and from the Coronado Islands, which likewise Horton debunked.58

A tangential controversy involved the residents of the City of Coronado who blamed the jetty for the erosion of the beaches on the southern shore of North Island. In 1901 a citizen group noted that it was the fourth time in the course of the jetty project that their beach suffered serious erosion. Jadwin had earlier reported that the extension of the jetty had caused erosion along the western side of North Island, an opinion Corps Engineer Meyler shared. The citizens’ complaints appeared justified, but with the jetty in place there was little recourse and their protests went unaddressed.59

To remarkably little fanfare, the government officially completed the jetty on July 24, 1904. Despite the best intentions, however, it quickly became apparent that the rock structure did not solve the harbor’s problems. Secretary of the Navy Morton tempered the civic celebration when he reported to the Chamber of Commerce several months later that he was “given to understand that the Engineer Department greatly doubts the efficacy [sic] of the work, in other words, they do not believe that it will tend to keep the channel scoured and certainly will not deepen it.” According to Morton the engineers advised him it would take another dredging project to achieve the desired thirty-five feet of depth and 1000 feet in width at the bar, and the engineers still needed to address the middle ground shoal.60

If there was disappointment over the effects the jetty exerted on the entry, the Corps engineers Meyler and Jadwin eagerly noted that the breakwater did create the scenario where impactful channel dredging was feasible. With that information city leaders quickly responded. Within a month of the jetty’s completion San Diego Mayor Frank Frary and Chamber President Homer Peters wrote Secretary Morton urging him to open dredging operations to widen and deepen the entry channel and cut the middle ground. They estimated the work would cost around $15,000.61 Essentially the completion of the jetty created a reversal of roles; the jetty now became peripheral to dredging.

The ravages of the ocean and the lack of maintenance gradually took a toll on the structure. A 1918 U.S. Geodetic map noted that the outer third of the jetty was submerged. By the early 1930s the outer section of the jetty had deteriorated to the point where gaps appeared along the upper crest of the structure. The Corps of Engineers conducted a survey and estimated the jetty required $374,000 in repairs, a project the Corps approved in June 1933. From October 1940 to March 1941, the Corps dumped over two million cubic yards of material along the easterly beach near the jetty, then spent another $53,000 on concrete to seal the shoreward 500 feet of the jetty. Between 1941 and 1969, the jetty’s slopes flattened and the outermost third of the structure underwent considerable settling, which rendered portions of the breakwater totally awash or submerged at high tide. In 1970 the government spent $127,000 for maintenance and the Coast Guard placed platforms with navigational lights atop the jetty to increase the visibility of the jetty and assist boaters.62 Since then the government has essentially allowed nature to determine the fate of the breakwater.

After more than a century the jetty remains an enigma and an icon. Most boaters still cannot name it or even agree how to the pronounce its name—is it ZOO-ni-ga (Zuniga) or zoo-NYI-ga (Zuñiga)? The structure people in the early twentieth century saw it as a formidable engineering accomplishment, a perceived vital step in developing the harbor, and a positive beginning in the furtherance of the campaign to use the harbor to lure maritime interests and hopefully the Navy to San Diego. Zuniga Shoals Jetty is now a favorite spot for fishermen and bird watchers, a point of interest on the harbor excursion cruises, a gathering place for flotsam, and a rocky barrier most pleasure boaters look upon with askance and consider a nautical nuisance.


1. United States Statutes At Large, 1885-1886, Volume XXIV, August 5, 1886, 317; the $5000
appropriation was for surveying the San Diego, Newport and San Luis Obispo harbors.
2. San Diego Chamber of Commerce Regular Meeting Minutes, April 27, 1900, letter, Acting Secretary
of the Navy, F. W. Hackett to SDCC President George Ballou, 128-129, Journal 1900. Hereinafter
cited as SDCCRMM.
3. Annual Report of the Chief of Engineers to the Secretary of War, 1888, Part III, 2115-2116. Hereinafter
cited as ARCE.
4. ARCE, 1891, Part V, 2960. ARCE, 1904, 631. ARCE, 1933, Part I, 1729. SDCCRMM, November 25,
1874, meeting, 35, Journal April 3, 1871 – March 3, 1887. Anthony F. Turhollow, A History of the
Los Angeles District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1898-1965, Los Angeles, 1975, 66.
5. ARCE, 1888, Part III, 2116.
6. ARCE, 1888, Part III, 2117, and 1894, Part IV, 2514.
7. ARCE, 1893, Part IV, 3232, and 1894, Part IV, 2514. Turhollow, 68. See the Coast & Geodetic
Survey chart with 1894 soundings in Six Historical Sketches, Irene Phillips, South Bay Press,
1960, p. 87. “The Government Jetty,” The San Diego Union, January 1, 1895, 9.
8. ARCE, 1892, Part III, 2628.
9. United States Statutes At Large, September 19, 1890 for $65,500, Vol. XXVI, December 1889-March
1891, 434.
10. ARCE, 1890, Part IV, 2902. ARCE, 1891, Part V, 2961.
11. ARCE, 1892, Part III, 2628. “Local Intelligence,” San Diego Union, June 9, 1893, 5. “Real Estate
Transfers,” San Diego Union, June 15, 1893, 7. In different accounts, the purchase figures vary
upward from $10,000 and the acreage amounts ranged from 18.50 to 18.35 to 18.05.
12. ARCE, 1891, Part V, p. 2960. ARCE, 1904, Appendix SS, 4182.
13. ARCE, 1894, Part IV, p. 2514.
14. ARCE, 1894, Part IV, 2514-1215.
15. ARCE, 1895, part V, 3276.
16. ARCE, 1896, Part V, 3183-3184.
17. ARCE, 1895, Part V, 3276-3277.
18. “The Jetty Inspected,” San Diego Union, October 21, 1985, 2.
19. ARCE, 1897, Part IV, 3337.
20. “Harbor Commission,” The San Diego Union, January 14, 1897, 2.
21. “Water Over the Bar,” The San Diego Unionn, November 27, 1898, 2.
22. ARCE, 1988, Part IV, 3154.
23. ARCE, 1899, Part IV, 3153-3154. ARCE, 1898, Part IV, 2927. “The Best Harbor Entrance in The
World,” The San Diego Union, November 14, 1903, 6.
24. “Political Influence is Being Exerted,” The San Diego Unionn, March 4, 1900, 8.
25. ARCE, 1900, p. 4182 and 1901, Part VI, p. 4183, 4185, and 1902, Part IV, 3396.
26. “Along the Water Front,” The San Diego Union, October 9, 1900, 7. ARCE, 1902, Part IV, 3396.
27. ARCE, 1902, Part IV, 3396.
28. ARCE, 1902, Part III, 2341.
29. Annual Report for 1902, San Diego Chamber of Commerce Annual Reports, Vol. I.33.
30. ARCE, 1900, p. 4187. Hughes Report.
31. ARCE, 1903, part III, 2171-2172.
32. The SDC&E ran through Lakeside, Santee, El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Encanto, and the
Mount Hope cemetery, to N Street, which is now Commercial Street. Henry G. Fenton and
other employees moved 200,000 tons of rock needed for jetty construction.
33. “Harbor Jetty,” The San Diego Union, March 26, 1895, p. 5. ARCE, 1895, Part V, 3276.
34. “Local Intelligence,” The San Diego Union, December 14, 1896, 5.
35. “Quarries Selected,” The San Diego Union, January 30, 1900, 5.
36. ARCE, 1900, p. 4182. “First Rock for Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 8, 1900, 5.
37. “Brush Mattresses: Making Them for the Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 5, 1900, 3. “Rock
for the Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 7, 1900, 6.41. ARCE, 1900, 4182. “The Stone From
Coronado Islands,” The San Diego Union, April 16, 1900, 6. “Work on the Jetty,” The San Diego
Union, September 21, 1900, 7. “Along the Water Front,” The San Diego Union, October 9, 1900, 7.
38. “Chamber of Commerce In The Past Two Years,” The San Diego Union, from the San Diego
Chamber of Commerce Journal 1901, 471.
39. ARCE, 1900, p. 4183. “Sweetwater Quarry Opened Yesterday,” The San Diego Union, October 8,
1903, 5. “Dumping Rock on the Jetty,” The San Diego Union, November 4, 1903, 5.
40. “Spending Much Money On Harbor,” The San Diego Union, January 1, 1903, 13.
41. “The Jetty Inspected,” The San Diego Union, October 21,1895, 2.
42. ARCE, 1891, Part V. p. 2961. ARCE, 1892, Part III, 2682.
43. Phillips, Six Sketches, 88.
44. “Brush Mattresses: Making Them for the Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 5, 1900, 3.
45. ARCE, 1895, Part V, p. 3276.
46. ARCE, 1900, Report of D.E. Hughes, Assistant Engineer, 4186.
47. “New Coronado Jetty,” The San Diego Union, October 6, 1896, 5. “Brush Mattresses: Making
Them for The Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 5, 1900, 3. “Last of the Mats,” The San Diego
Union, June 16, 1900, 6. ARCE, 1900, 4186. Hughes Report.
48. “Brush Mattresses: Making Them for The Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 5, 1900, 3. “First
Rock for the Jetty,” The San Diego Union, April 8, 1900, 6. “New Coronado Jetty,” The San Diego
Union, October 6, 1896, 5. “Spending Much Money on Harbor,” The San Diego Union, January
1, 1903, 13.
49. ARCE, 1900, p. 4186, Hughes Report.
50. ARCE, 1900, 4183 – 4184 and 4186.
51. ARCE, 1891, Part V, 2961. ARCE, 1892, Part III, 2629.
52. ARCE, 1900, 4183-4184. See, United States Statutes At Large and ARCE, 1904: September 19, 1890
for $65,500, designated $5,000 for repairs and $8,000 for dredging, Vol. XXVI, 434; July 13, 1892,
$50,000; August 18, 1894, $50,000, Vol. XXVIII, p. 346; June 3, 1896 for $50,000, Vol. XXIX, p. 213;
March 3, 1899 for $65,000, Vol. XXXI, 1132; June 3, 1902 for $75,000, Vol. XXXII, 548; March 3,
1903 for $192,850, Vol. XXXII, 1126; a total of $548,350.
53. ARCE, 1895, Part V, 3277.
54. “To Finish the Jetty,“ The San Diego Union, October 23, 1895, p. 4. “The Jetty Inspected,” The
San Diego Union, October 21, 1895, 2.
55. SDCCRMM, January 1900, meeting, p. 20-24, Journal 1900. “To Finish the Jetty,” The San Diego
Union, October 23, 1895, 4. “The Jetty Inspected,” The San Diego Union, October 21, 1895, 2.
56. SDCCRMM, January 30, 1903, meeting, report from Wood, Journal 1903.
57. “New Steam Shovel,” The San Diego Union, September 16, 1903, 6. “Pile Driver Took A Tumble,”
The San Diego Union, August 26, 1903, 4.
58. “The Tug Sea Witch,” “Deck Hands Quit Because Asked To Sleep On Board The Vessel,” The
San Diego Union, June 15, 1900. 6.
59. “More Tent City News,” and “Washing Away North Island,” The San Diego Union, May 24, 1901,
8. NARA, Laguna Niguel, R.G. 77, Folder D-10, Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers.
November 25, 1938, Report, Major Theodore Eyman to Chief.
60. September 24, 1904, letter Secretary of the Navy, Paul Morton to J.S. Akerman, SDCC, NARADC,
R.G. 77, Document #10924-27. 71. Annual federal harbor dredging programs and amounts
funded included, 1900, $219,000; 1902, $276,850; 1903, $38,000; 1904, $21,000; 1906, $9700; 1907,
$19,700; 1909, $30,000; 1912, $123,000; 1913, $208,000; 1921, $390,000.
61. SDCCRMM, August 5, 1904, letter Mayor Frank P. Frary, J.S. Akerman, SDCC, to Secretary of
Navy Paul Morton, Journal 1904. ARCE, 1904, 632.
62. ARCE, 1933, Vol. I, p. 1065. ARCE, 1941 Vol. II, p. 1756. ARCE, 1979, Vol. I, 33-34 and 33-35.