- Journal of SD History
Hon. Philip David Swing (1884-1963)
Phil D. Swing brought rivers, roads, and rainbows to the southwest. Rainbows are non-existent without water. The pots of gold on the Las Vegas strip, and in Imperial's winter gardenland, and Arizona's desert paradise, are the rich footings of permanent rainbows that Phil D. Swing shouldered into the sky.
Ten thousand passengers a day who breeze across the sand dunes west of Yuma, on U.S. Highway 80, little dream that once a man had to carry the legal timbers to bridge the Colorado, and inspire the crews that laid the first ribbon of planks for vehicular travel across the shifting sands. That man was Phil D. Swing.
Laudatory words lose luster when based on hearsay evidence thrice compounded. Perhaps, therefore, it should be said that in 1908 this writer lived on a ranch in Imperial County where Swing was district attorney, and that twenty years later he had the fortunate experience of being associated in Congressman Swing's law firm in San Diego.
Since 1908 there has been a big change from the day when muddy slop, ladeled from an open canal, served for household water in Holtville.
In that era the mud was allowed one day to settle in a barrel of water, after which the top liquid slowly was siphoned off and through a filter of porous clay. The residue was patiently boiled, cooled, and placed in an olla on the shady side of the house where, in temperatures of 115 degrees and higher, it was consumed faster than diligence could produce it. The distillation of sea water, even in that day, would have been cheaperexcept that there was no sea.
Phil D. Swing changed all of that.
In 1928 San Diego, with a population only 25 per cent of what it is today, had drunk its wells dry. Its mountain reservoirs were almost as empty as cash registers during the great depression. Its sunset clouds were filled with lots of color-and little rain.
Phil D. Swing brought that era to a close.
The dynamic young man who later would do so much for the southwest was born in San Bernardino on November 30, 1884. His parents were James Wesley, and Mary Frances (Garner) Swing. His older brother, Ralph, was a California state senator for years.
After graduation from Stanford in 1905, Phil worked in his brother's law office in San Bernardino, and was admitted to the bar in January, 1907. It was in that year that Imperial County was created by the California legislature.
An offer to commence practice in Los Angeles was rejected, and in 1908 Phil D. Swing was acting District Attorney of Imperial County. Soon he was district attorney [1911-1915], and later was appointed judge of the Superior Court of Imperial County [1919-1921], after taking out time for service in World War I. In earlier years the district attorneys of small counties were permitted to engage in private practice. The law firm of Eshleman & Swing [at El Centro, 1907-1912] was organizer of, and attorneys for, the Imperial Irrigation District, the largest in the United States.
As the need both for taming and harnessing the Colorado River became apparent the people of San Diego and Imperial counties resolved to elect Imperial Valley's superior court judge to the Congress of the United States. No one was better equipped to sponsor and bring to pass the needed Federal legislation.
Judge Swing served as U.S. Congressman from 1921 to 1933. Teaming with California Senator Hiram Johnson, the famous Swing-Johnson bill brought Boulder Dam into being. For the past forty years every important water and power project of the southwestern desert in some way has hinged--one should say swung-upon the efforts of Swing.
All-American Canal, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, San Diego County Water Authority, interstate compacts, international treaties, tri-state litigation before the Supreme Court of the United States, State Water Resources Board, President Roosevelt's Committee to Study the Military Water Problems of San Diego -- to all of these the ex-judge and ex-congressman made major contributions. He has served as special counsel for an almost endless list of boards, committees, communities, cities, counties, districts and states.
Phil Swing was married in 1912 to Miss Nell Cremeens.
In 1933, Swing became a member of the law firm of Stearns, Luce, Forward and Swing at San Diego, where he represented the State of California, the City and County of San Diego and the Imperial Irrigation District in Colorado River Matters. He was appointed a member of the California State Water Resources Board (now California Water Commission) in 1945; reappointed in 1950 and served until 1958.
After Phil Swing died in San Diego, August 8, 1963, a grateful citizenry built a fountain to his memory next to the City Building in downtown San Diego at 3rd and C Streets.