Gold in the Sun, 1900-1919
CHAPTER SEVEN: Beauty Wins A Round in Parks and the Exposition
High over the harbor of the sun a few little airplanes of wood and fabric circled and dipped in the steady though gentle wind. They were flown from North Island, where Glenn H. Curtiss, a pioneer flyer and manufacturer, had established a private flying school on land obtained without charge from John D. Spreckels through the cooperation of the Aero Club of San Diego, composed of a number of leading citizens who had become excited about the possibilities of flight. Curtiss had been attracted by the same wind and climatic conditions that had intrigued Octave Chanute.
Curtiss arrived at North Island in the winter of 1910-1911 and invited the Army and Navy to send officers for free instruction as “aeroplane pilots.” In San Francisco Bay on January 18, 1911, Eugene Ely, employed by Curtiss, landed and took off in a Curtiss pusher-type plane on a specially-constructed wooden deck on the cruiser Pennsylvania. But Secretary of the Navy George Von L. Meyer remained sceptical and had a different concept of the possibility of naval employment of airplanes in scouting at sea, and informed Curtiss:
“When you show me that it is feasible for an aeroplane to alight on the water alongside a battleship and be hoisted aboard without any false deck to receive it, I shall believe the airship of practical benefit to the Navy.”
On January 26, after fitting a float to his plane at the suggestion of a naval officer, and thus converting it into a “hydro-aeroplane,” Curtiss took off and landed on the waters of San Diego Bay. On February 17, he maneuvered the float-equipped plane alongside the cruiser Pennsylvania, was hoisted aboard, and then lowered to the bay, from where he lifted off for a return flight to North Island. In March the Naval Appropriations Act provided $25,000 for developing naval aviation.
Curtiss’ pilots staged aerial circuses at Coronado which jammed the bay ferries with spectators from all over Southern California. On a damp day on January 28 with 1500 persons in the stands of the Coronado polo grounds, according to The San Diego Union:
“All eyes were turned toward the hangars on North Island. Suddenly on the mist-laden breeze there came a whirring, pounding noise not unlike the flushing of a covey of giant birds, and almost instantly a great salvo of cheers rent the air as a big Curtiss racing biplane lifted itself above the sagebrush across Spanish Bight and ascended higher and higher as its daring driver guided it over a circuitous aerial route, westward toward Point Loma headland.”
At the controls was Eugene Ely. After executing a spiral turn, in which “it seemed the machine must lose its intangible grip on the upper ether,” he landed and was reprimanded for his daring by Curtiss. The climactic event of the day was an aerial race in which a “terrific” speed of sixty miles an hour was attained.
The following day, with an improvement in the weather, 10,000 persons witnessed spiral dips, ocean wave dips, altitude climbs, grass-cutting swoops and races. One of the participants was Lieut. T.G. Ellyson, who had been sent to North Island for training with Curtiss, as the Navy’s first aviator.
In a land where the winter sun was warm Joseph Jessop strolled across the empty blocks of Coronado and scattered the seeds of the wild poppy of California. Golden flowers sprang from the sandy soil and covered the island with a blanket of glory, to give Coronado its name of the “Poppy City.”
Jessop had brought his family to San Diego from a drab manufacturing town in England, where tuberculosis had always come with the rain and the fog, and his children, browned and healthy, were marrying into prominent families of the community in which he had begun a new life at his old trade as a jeweler.
Along the cliffs between La Jolla and Del Mar north of the city grew the Torrey Pines, one of the rarest trees in the world. They are found in only one other place, on Santa Rosa Island, one of the Channel islands southwest of Santa Barbara. Dwarfed, gnarled, twisted and beaten almost to the ground, these trees are relics of another age, of a different climate and a different soil, and have made their last stand in the rugged canyons and painted cliffs of an area of little rain.
In 1889 the Common Council of San Diego had set aside 369 acres to preserve part of the Torrey Pine forest, but when commercial development threatened the trees growing on adjacent lands, E.W. Scripps and George W. Marston persuaded Ellen Browning Scripps to acquire the privately-owned areas to protect the trees forever, and she did.
On a promontory overlooking both San Diego and Mission bays were the ruins of the first White settlement on the Pacific Coast, where Don Gaspar de Portolá founded a Spanish Presidio and Fr. Junipero Serra raised the first Christian church in a pagan land. The old adobe walls were slowly melting back into the earth and it was apparent that the historic site soon would be enveloped by a surging tide of residential growth. Publication of William E. Smythe’s History of San Diego was to awaken interest in events that had happened before San Diegans or their parents had been born. To them the mud heaps on Presidio Hill had been merely sad and rarely noticed remnants of a nation which long since had forfeited its claim to the land and its riches. In 1907 Charles Kelly, Spalding, Spreckels, Scripps and Marston acted to protect the site and purchased it with the expectation that eventually the city would share their interest and enthusiasm and publicly acquire it as the Plymouth Rock of the Pacific Coast.
The development of Balboa Park had been steady though often plagued with indifference or disagreement. It was difficult to sustain interest amid the clamor of civic progress or disappointment and there were charges that more money was being spent on planning than on planting.
But after he had laid out the basic design of Balboa Park, Samuel Parsons Jr. returned to San Diego from New York several times and always was enthused over what had taken place. In a letter to the New York Post he said that one of the notable developments of the enterprise and intelligence of the Pacific Coast was to be found in the interest taken in parks, from Portland, Oregon, to San Diego. He said that the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco already had become one of the few really great parks in America, and, he went on:
“My special object in writing this letter is, however, to give the readers…some idea of another great park, which is now being developed in San Diego. So rapid is the growth of plants in that favored region that this new park bids fair, an the next decade, to be a successful rival, in some particulars, of the parks of the world …It is pleasant to think of a city of the moderate size of San Diego…setting out in earnest to build a park of the first class…How many populous cities in the country, with far greater resources, have never dreamt of starting out on such an enterprise. But this is also true, that in no other place in the United States does such a magnificent park territory serve to tempt the enterprise of its citizens.”
Over the years the dry hard ground was broken open, with blasting often required, and the southwest corner became green and inviting, and tall eucalyptus trees were embedded in the deep canyons. Water was taken up to the mesas to water shrubs and acacias and peppers. Roads were laid out and dust eliminated by oiling.
The unfortunate death in 1908 of George Cooke, the partner of Parsons who had settled in San Diego to live with the park, as the result of an accident with a runaway horse, and the approach of the exposition, had significant effects on the future of the park. The great open vistas with a panoramic view from Point Loma to Mexico, which Parsons had envisioned, and which to him belonged to the imagination “like the stately pleasure domes of Xanadu decreed by Kubla Khan as seen by Coleridge in his opium dreams,” would largely be shut off. There would be a different park, though still a magnificent one.
The tall and graceful eucalyptus trees, like the geranium flower, were becoming symbolic of San Diego and both had been brought from far off places. The eucalyptus is a native of Australia and Tasmania and its seeds had been brought to Southern California by Boston ships of the fur and hide trades during Spanish and Mexican times. Geraniums of many hues found their way to Southern California from South Africa by way of Europe and most certainly were cultivated in the old gardens of the San Diego Mission.
The geranium thrived in a climate very similar to that of its native country. The eucalyptus, however, did not always fare well and suffered during droughts. During a time when easily available lumber was becoming scarce and it was feared that our forests might be disappearing, the Santa Fe Railroad purchased nearly all of the lands which once formed the 8000-acre San Dieguito Rancho of the Osuna family, and had planted 4000 acres with 3,000,000 eucalyptus seeds and seedlings from which they expected to grow hardwood for railroad ties. Growth in a country with an average rainfall of ten inches a year was slow, and without irrigation few of the trees reached any size. The experiment proved to be a costly one. When Oregon fir became more plentiful and proved, with proper treatment, to be superior to eucalyptus wood for railroad ties, the rancho was turned over to Fletcher to manage in 1909. He leased the land for grazing cattle, developed sources of water for farming, and laid out roads through the rolling hills with a view of someday subdividing it.
As the scenery and character of the town changed, so did its homes and its buildings. The stately and ornate “gingerbread” houses of the Victorian Age were no longer being built. Almost gone too were the prim homes built by the early settlers who had brought with them the architecture of New England. In their places appeared for a time a classic Grecian style and then a mission style that borrowed from a past that went back to an era before the first American settlers. Throughout California railroad depots and municipal buildings appeared with the arches and red tile roofs of the crumbling California missions.
At about this time Irving Gill, who had designed the classic fountain in the Plaza and was struggling to make a living as an architect in San Diego, began to develop a style which was called a radical simplification of the Spanish Colonial, and which was to gain for him a national reputation, though it came long after his death. Among the larger buildings which he designed were the Bishop’s School for Girls, the Community House and the Woman’s Club, all in La Jolla; the residence of Ellen Scripps, also in La Jolla; and the homes occupied by George Marston and Melville Klauber.
The reaching for new forms of expression and the striving for beauty in cities, no matter the difficulties of a public consensus or the uncertainty of course, affected the plans for the Panama-California Exposition.
San Diegans were aware that they could not compete with San Francisco in staging a world’s fair and narrowed their ambitions to an exposition that would be regional in character. They again turned to Boston and Massachusetts as they had so many times in the past. John Nolen, the city planner, had come from Cambridge, a suburb of Boston, and San Diego now invited the Olmsted brothers, of Brookline, Massachusetts, to be the landscape designers for both the park and the exposition.
It was the idea of Collier, the director-general, to create an exposition in keeping with the history and culture of Southern California, and to him that meant a miniature city with its buildings in the style of the missions and its gardens suggesting the atmosphere of Old Spain, and buildings and exhibits featuring the products and arts of the Southwest and Latin America. Charm and beauty were to be preferred over size and variety.
In a way Collier’s plans were expressive of the revival of interest in the Spanish and Mexican heritage of California. State and county fairs had featured everything from pyramids to classic temples and the Pasadena Tournament of Roses the chariot races of ancient Rome. But the history of Spanish and Mexican occupation now became something to be exploited and not concealed. Even the Indian was to have a place in the exposition.
The exposition company’s building and grounds committee selected a site in the southwestern section of the park centered on what was known as the “Howard” tract. It was the area west from the site on which later was built the United States Naval Hospital and north of the San Diego High School. The Olmsted brothers, John C. and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., were in agreement with the committee’s plans as to the site for the exposition as they believed, as had Samuel Parsons, that any buildings should be erected only along the edges of parks.
While in Los Angeles, the Boston architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue learned of the plans for the exposition and visited San Diego and influenced the committee to adopt a Spanish Colonial instead of the primitive mission style. During his life, Goodhue designed or contributed to the design of some of the country’s most famous buildings, among them the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Nebraska State Capitol, the Museum of Art at Honolulu, the California Institute of Technology, St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York, and a number of other cathedrals in the United States and Latin America. An artist as well as an architect and designer, he had become enchanted with the cathedrals and baroque governmental buildings of Mexico and in sketches had created imaginary cities of Moorish and Oriental splendor. He was promptly hired as designing and consulting architect and Irving J. Gill as his assistant. Because of his experience with the Seattle World’s Fair, Frank P. Allen Jr. was hired as chief engineer and director of works. John P. Morley left Los Angeles parks to become San Diego’s superintendent of parks.
The modified form of commission government had left the mayor a figurehead with only the power of the veto. By 1911 there was a general dissatisfaction with Conard’s administration, so much so that support began to crystallize behind a conservative Democrat attorney, James E. Wadham, a resident of San Diego for forty years, who said he was against a “one man town” but had never “associated or affiliated with the Lincoln-Roosevelt League or the so-called ‘push crowd.’”
Councilman Sehon, the former mayor, rallied liberals and Socialists behind George A. Garrett for a City Council seat and when he was defeated The San Diego Union proclaimed the end of Sehon as San Diego’s political boss. Wadham was elected but soon found himself embroiled in trouble.
The exposition company originally had been organized with U.S. Grant Jr. as president, John D. Spreckels as first vice president, A.G. Spalding as second vice president, and including among the directors Lyman J. Gage, a former Secretary of the Treasury who also had come to San Diego to make his home. In 1911 Collier was delegated to tour the country to promote interest in the exposition and to carry on negotiations with Congress, the U.S. Government and the State Legislature for recognition and support. For that purpose he was elected president and J.W. Sefton Jr. took over as acting director-general.
Assurances were given to San Francisco that the San Diego exposition would supplement and not rival its fair and an understanding presumably was reached. All mention of the word “international” was eliminated and the exposition became merely the Panama-California. A resolution was introduced in Congress calling upon the United States to invite Mexico and the Republics of Central and South America to participate at San Diego.
In an appearance before the House of Representatives Committee on Industrial Arts and Expositions, Collier testified that San Diego was willing to wait until the President had first issued the invitations to all countries of the world to participate in the San Francisco fair. Collier said:
“We are working in absolute harmony with San Francisco at this stage of the proceedings. It has not always been so, but it is to-day. We feel there is a community of interest between us, and…I further believe this resolution is as strongly endorsed by the men of San Francisco as it is by the men of San Diego, and I bring you the positive assurance that the men of Los Angeles do approve it.”
Collier endeavored to reassure the committee that while it was true San Diego had a metropolitan population of only 50,000, its citizens had shown what they could do by approving many bond issues for civic and park improvements and by individually subscribing a million dollars for the exposition and $700,000 to help complete and furnish the U.S. Grant Hotel.
While the exposition would be twice the size of the one in Seattle, its total cost would be only between $5,000,000 and $6,000,000; it would not be commercial in the strict sense, but largely have to do with agriculture and reclamation and the resources of the Southwest and Latin America, and while the State Legislature had authorized all counties to levy a special tax in order to participate, the federal government was not being asked for any financial assistance:
“I want to say without fear of successful contradiction…that we have brought together an organization for the purpose of constructing our exposition that has never had a superior, and…we went out into the highways of the world and gathered the best talent that money could possibly hire, to perfect all the features of the exposition.”
Collier was congratulated on his presentation and felt secure in his belief that all was well with the exposition and that in due time the resolution would be forthcoming. At home, however, conflict had developed over a question of authority.
The Park Commission had formal jurisdiction over Balboa Park and though a division of responsibility and work had been agreed upon, new park commissioners appointed by Mayor Wadham soon challenged the authority of the exposition directors. The directors resigned in protest and the fate of the exposition hung in the balance. Within ten days, however, the park commissioners were forced to resign themselves and Wadham appointed a new commission composed of Julius Wangenheim, John Forward Jr. and F.J. Belcher Jr.
The groundbreaking ceremony was scheduled for July 19,1911. The date was only three days after the 142nd anniversary of the formal founding of the first San Diego Mission, a crude structure of sticks and reeds, on Presidio Hill. The official program stated:
“The fourth epoch of California begins with the rebuilding of San Diego coincident with the first permanent development of San Diego, the marvelous progressive movement in Southern California and the awakening of imperial enterprise throughout the Southwest; closing with the completion of the Panama Canal and the San Diego & Arizona Railway, thus concentrating the traffic of a continent and the commerce of a great ocean in the harbor of San Diego, the nearest point on Pacific tidewater to the Middle West and the Southern states and the first port of call an American territory north of the canal.”
San Diego was crowded with visitors for the groundbreaking ceremony. Notables were greeted by flower-decked autos and fire engines and escorted through an “arch of welcome” erected across the foot of D Street, or Broadway. At 7 o’clock in the evening in Washington, D.C., which was 4 o’clock in the afternoon in San Diego, President Taft pressed an electric button in the East Room of the White House which unfurled an American flag at the site of the ceremony. John Barrett, director-general of the Pan-American Union and envoy of President Taft, wielded a silver pick and shovel. Bishop Conaty came from Los Angeles to celebrate a pontifical military mass, the first in San Diego since 1769, in honor of Fr. Serra.
A formal dinner followed in the U. S. Grant Hotel and there were three days of masked balls and street and water carnivals. One feature of the celebration literally never got off the ground. An aviation experimenter by the name of C.H. Toliver had floated a bond issue and built a dirigible, 250 feet long and 40 feet in diameter and with four gasoline engines and six propellers, which he proposed to inflate with hydrogen gas and take off with forty passengers on a flight that would astound the world. He never succeeded in inducing it to rise and the city, fearing the gas might explode, declared it a public nuisance. Later, Toliver and his wife were shot to death by Toliver’s secretary.
A preliminary sketch showing how the exposition might appear had been submitted by the Olmsted brothers, but it was not long before Goodhue and Allen became dissatisfied with the size of the site and its terrain, and proposed a new location in the central portion of the park. Collier and the majority of the directors agreed to the change. The Olmsteds, who believed that buildings were unnatural intrusions upon parks, were flatly opposed. In September in a letter to Wangenheim, chairman of the Park Commissioners, they announced their withdrawal:
“This is contrary to our advice and will interfere with other portions of the design proposed for Balboa Park by us. We regret that our professional responsibility as park designers will not permit us to assist in ruining Balboa Park. We tender herewith therefore our resignation.”
A new plan for the new site was drawn by Allen and Goodhue and recommended by the exposition’s building and grounds committee on October 25. Gill resigned as assistant architect and was replaced with C.M. Winslow, of New York. Goodhue designed the group of permanent buildings, Winslow the temporary structures, and Allen conceived and designed the high bridge to span the canyon and connect the exposition area with Sixth Street. In Goodhue’s sketches of the exposition there was a feeling of the mysticism and splendor of the imaginary towns he so liked to draw.
The progress on the railroad that was expected to mean so much for San Diego upon completion of the Panama Canal and opening of the exposition continued to be agonizingly slow, though construction work also had been started westward from the New River in the Imperial Valley, from a temporary connection with the valley’s inter-city line to El Centro. The suspicion grew that the San Diego & Arizona might only get as far as El Centro and a permanent connection with the Southern Pacific line.
Autos were becoming a necessity and 325 new cars had been delivered to San Diegans in 1910. The route of new roads and which of the existing ones were to be improved pitted areas as well as individuals against each other, as roads would determine what sections of the county were to be opened for sale and settlement. One day the millionaire members of the County Highway Commission found themselves out of office with the expiration of the first year of their second term. No provision had been made for them to serve until appointment of their successors, and the Board of Supervisors, unhappy over the selection of a route near Ramona and the work of the commission’s engineer, quietly let their terms run out.
In a statement issued in their names, Spreckels, Spalding and Scripps charged that their terms had been deliberately shortened:
“We conclude, therefore, that we have been legislated out of office by the Board of Supervisors. We are perfectly confident, from expressions of certain supervisors, that our services are neither appreciated nor desired.”
The supervisors, however, in the face of public protest, beat a hasty retreat and, blaming it all on an error, hastily reappointed all three of the commissioners. But Spreckels had had enough, not only of the Board of Supervisors but of his co-worker, Scripps:
“I will not again sit on the highway commission or any commission with Mr. Scripps who is inimical to my interests and to the best interests of the city.”
When Spalding also presented a formal resignation, an angry supervisor, Joseph Foster, countered:
“I’m not going to be riff raffed by these millionaires because I’m a poor rancher. I am tired of the abuse of these people …Gentlemen, I move we accept Mr. Spalding’s resignation.”
Scripps, however, reversed himself and repudiated the letter of protest to the supervisors and agreed to serve again on condition that no members be appointed with whom he did not care to serve. He promptly fired the controversial engineer, Austin B. Fletcher, and became, in the words of The San Diego Union, “monarch of the roads of San Diego.” Scripps’ reign lasted about six months, when he was caught in another quarrel with fellow commissioners over personnel and quit, with the following comment:
“I’ve patched up a good many things in my time. I suppose I’m a great patcher, but this is one of those things that won’t patch.”
Transportation by sea and land was the key to the future, and when the Pacific Navigation Company’s steamship Yale arrived with 400 excursionists at the west Santa Fe wharf on March 4, cheers and whistles resounded along the waterfront, and the ship’s officers and passengers were taken on a trip around the city in automobiles. The autos were decked with Yale and Harvard pennants representing the two new coastal steamships. When the ship departed, the pilot of an airplane from the Curtiss flying school bombarded it with oranges.
The need to improve docking facilities for the expected trade by sea resulted in Gov. Johnson’s signing on May 2, 1911, legislation giving San Diego control over its tidelands from National City to the military reservation on Point Loma on condition that $1,000,000 be spent on harbor improvements. Control of the tidelands had rested with the state since its jurisdiction had been firmly established following the efforts of land speculators to gain possession of them in the early days of the railroad booms.
A campaign to gain approval of a million dollar bond issue was organized under the leadership of the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, and a proposal was made by City Engineer Edwin Capps, the former mayor, to dredge and fill along the waterfront and build a pier at the foot of D Street.
The designation of the foot of D Street for a commercial pier and the bayfront just to the north of it for related facilities was in direct conflict with the Nolen Plan that had called for all commercial structures to be south of E Street and all recreational development north of it. The Civic Improvement Association telegraphed Nolen and asked him to appear in San Diego. But Frederick J. Lea, manager of an onyx company and chairman of the executive committee of the bond campaign, warned:
“I don’t believe there is a reputable taxpayer or citizen or business man in San Diego who has the nerve to help openly to defeat these bonds. If they secretly oppose the bonds, we will find it out and their names will be published.”
A week later, the Civic Improvement Association began a retreat and announced that it had decided to support the bond proposition, even if it had to “swallow the Capps plan” but did not mean it would cease its opposition to the site chosen by the city engineer.
Nolen arrived from Sacramento and a mass meeting was held in Germania Hall, with Lyman Gage, the former Secretary of the Treasury, presiding. George A. Garrett, a printing firm executive who had been defeated for a seat on the City Council, said that the press had misrepresented the views of the association:
“We are a tourist city. We’ll always be a tourist city, and while it as good to see new smokestacks going up and more ships entering the harbor, what we want is not more smokestacks and ships as much as we want to make things attractive and pleasant for the tourists.”
It had been four years since Nolen had visited San Diego and he told his audience that it was gratifying to see the progress San Diego had made in commercial and residential building:
“In public improvements, some progress has been made…but…the really big opportunities have not yet been grasped…Above all, it needs to begin a practical, well-considered business-like improvement of its great bay along modern lines and requirements, especially for commercial purposes…the older cities in the United States have made mistakes in the development of their waterfronts…it is a pity to have smaller and newer cities repeating their mistakes.”
A petition was presented to the council requesting that the question of the pier location be settled by the council after the election. It was signed by Gage, Garrett, Fletcher, Marston, Alfred D. Robinson, Julius Wangenheim, Charles N. Andrews, Gordon Gray, Ernest E. White, and John M. Ward. It was ignored and the bond issue carried almost unanimously in the election on November 14, in which women voted for the first time. Smokestacks had won again.
While the city quarreled over plans for its development, and its leading citizens fought for power over roads, Los Angeles, with its railroad lines and developing harbor, was moving to realize ambitions of becoming as well the terminal of continental highway systems slowly being put together. San Diego was advocating a route from Arizona to the coast and Los Angeles by way of San Diego which Los Angeles did not favor. San Diego was at a distinct disadvantage in this crucial struggle. The steepness of the mountains had defeated the early railroad schemes though now the engineers of the San Diego & Arizona were planning to penetrate a canyon of almost overwhelming ruggedness, Carrizo Gorge.
The highest elevation on the lowest pass of the mountain mass on the direct Yuma-San Diego route was about 4000 feet. Just east of Jacumba the elevation was about 3200. For several years road crews had been hacking out a new highway down the mountains from Jacumba. The old wagon road, which had been used by autos for a decade, left Jacumba Valley and went northeast and then almost directly south to reach Mountain Springs, dropping about a thousand feet in three miles; then it followed the bed of Devil’s Canyon, a virtual tunnel between towering red rock hills and dropping another thousand feet to the upper desert floor. Any auto caught in this narrow gap in a desert cloudburst could be picked up by rushing water and battered to pieces against the walls.
The new road was following what eventually became Highway 80, clinging precariously to the sides of precipitous mountains, dipping in and out of their scalloped sides and reaching Mountain Springs from the south, a drop of a thousand feet. Avoiding Devil’s Canyon, it was turning down Myer Canyon, or In-Ko-Pah Gorge, for another thousand feet, again clinging to a narrow ledge cut out of the mountain sides, and was to reach the desert floor near Ocotillo. In time both the Devil’s Canyon and Myer Canyon routes would become divided sections of Interstate Highway 8.
All of the Myer Canyon section was in Imperial Valley, as were sections of the upper road. Residents of San Diego’s county towns began a movement to have the proposed Imperial highway, as it was known, approach Mountain Springs by way of El Cajon, Lakeside, Alpine and Descanso to Clover Flat instead of along the old stage route nearer the border which led to Campo and then to Jacumba.
In contrast to San Diego’s new road, Los Angeles was offering a route which followed in part the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad, from Yuma to San Bernardino by way of the Salton Sea, and had the advantage of a gradual rise through the low San Gorgonio Pass. Road races were popular ways of emphasizing the importance of national highways and one from Los Angeles to Phoenix, by way of San Diego, brought the cheering news that “San Diego will awaken this morning with the full realization that it is on the automobile map.” The race attracted sixteen motorists who pledged to maintain a speed limit of six miles an hour through cities and towns but on the highway “only the drivers, their mechanicians and the startled rabbits and other field and tree creatures knew at what terrific rates they traveled.”
A month later, an Ocean to Ocean Highway Association convened in Phoenix, with eighty-four delegates from California, Arizona and New Mexico. A delegate from Los Angeles was president. San Diego was represented by Spalding, as first vice president for California, and Rufus Choate of the Chamber of Commerce. The object of the meeting was to work for the construction of a highway through the three states which would link with a highway system through the Middle West and East.
The Arizona and New Mexico delegates had no trouble agreeing on a route through their states but the Californians were divided on whether it should go directly from Yuma to Los Angeles, by way of the Salton Sea and San Bernardino, or by way of San Diego. San Diego lost, and the decision also removed the principal towns of Imperial Valley, El Centro, Holtville and Calexico, from the proposed national road system. An article in the American Motorist of February, 1912, protested that 130 miles of the route would be through absolute desert conditions:
“From El Centro, which as located fourteen miles south of Brawley, a perfectly feasible route now leads via Coyote Wells through Devil’s canyon to Campo…This route may be improved at not an excessive expense owing to the proximity of road material. The distance is seventy-three miles from El Centro to Campo. From Campo to San Diego through a beautiful mountainous country, there already exists a splendid boulevard, a distance of fifty-two miles. San Diego is a charming city, offering many advantages both as a business and residential city…Already a road 133 males long connects San Diego with Los Angeles, and is improved for a major part of the distance.”
The route by way of San Diego had ninety miles less of desert though it was about thirty miles farther than by way of the Salton Sea and the mountain barrier made it slow and much more difficult.
Disappointments were not new to the little border city and its people would fight as hard for a highway connection with the East as they did for a railroad. The year had been a good one, with bank clearings up by $20,000,000 and the value of building permits by $2,000,000. Exports through the port exceeded $1,000,000 for the first time. The growing of fruit and the manufacture of fruit products were the county’s largest source of income despite the growth of industry. In fishing the year’s catch was nearly 6,000,000 pounds and the Portuguese with their gasoline-powered boats largely had taken over from the Chinese. In 1911 one of the boats brought in a load of an unusual tuna, but as there was very little market for that type of fish it was cooked to keep it from spoiling. The taste after cooking was similar to that of chicken. It was albacore tuna.
Artists and musicians as well as retired or semi-retired industrialists and philanthropists were building homes and enjoying the sun, among them, Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, the opera star, and Carrie Jacobs Bond, a composer. At the Theosophical headquarters on Point Loma, Greek pageants were being held yearly and the lure of a serene closed little community also was attracting people from around the world. Among those who arrived after 1910 were William Edmond Gates, a Mayan scholar; the poet Kenneth Morris, of Wales; the English novelist Talbot Mundy; and Maurice Braun, a Hungarian immigrant artist, and his wife, Hazel Boyer Braun.
In the Imperial Valley, with nearly 200,000 acres under cultivation, the farmers tired of the continual troubles of the California Development Company, organized the Imperial Irrigation District and under the leadership of the county’s vigorous young district attorney, Phil D. Swing, moved to acquire the canal system on which they were so dependent. Swing’s greater work still lay ahead, in the taming of the Colorado River.
The menace of the river was ever present. In the winter of 1908-1909, it changed its channel about twenty miles below the border and began emptying into Volcano Lake situated on the plateau of the delta. With its water came the silt which slowly began filling in the bed of the lake at the rate of about a foot a year. All concerned knew that if the river’s course was not changed, and its water and silt diverted to the Gulf of California, the rising deposit of silt would lift the water pouring into Volcano Lake and let it flow once again into the Imperial Valley, to re-create the ancient Lake Cahuilla.
San Diego’s population now was estimated at 55,000 and the rush of downtown traffic gave the city what was described as a metropolitan air. A time limit was proposed on auto parking in the downtown area. Merchants didn’t like the idea, but W. B. Hage told a hearing in the City Council that “I can remember the day, and it was not so very long ago, that moving pictures in Los Angeles would show a donkey and a scissors grinder in some one of our streets with the inscription `San Diego’s Busy Day.”‘ One citizen complained, however, that under the proposed thirty-minute limitation a surgeon performing an operation in his office in the Granger building would have to leave his patient and rush outside and move his vehicle. It was a drastic proposal and needed more debate.
During the same year of 1911 gunfire had sounded along the border and radicals who had aligned themselves in one way or another with a revolution in Mexico were to blow the reform movement in California into disorder and angry recriminations.
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GOLD IN THE SUN
Ch. 1 The Town That Wanted to Grow Up and Be Something
Ch. 2 Here Come the Cultists and the Health Seekers
Ch. 3 Who Could Have Guessed These Stones Were Gems
Ch. 4 The River That Proved It Was Lord of the Desert
Ch. 5 The Auto Challenges the Train and Shapes the City
Ch. 6 It Was Not Yet Too Late to Design a City – Or Was It?
Ch. 7 Beauty Wins A Round in Parks and the Exposition
Ch. 8 The Wobblies and A Story No One Likes to Remember
Ch. 9 San Francisco Shows How Politics Should Be Played
Ch. 10 A ‘Magic City’ Surprises Even Those Who Built It
Ch. 11 The Rainmaker – And Who Caused the Big Flood?
Ch. 12 The Military Appreciated What the Natives Did Not
Ch.13 Southern California and the Gold Nobody Noticed