CHAPTER 8: The Auto - the Rise of Shopping Centers
In 1957 it was learned that the United States Air Force had placed a huge, though secret, order for Atlas ballistic missiles even though one had not as yet been successfully test fired. Thousands of personnel were preparing to move into the new Convair Astronautics plant being completed on Kearny Mesa. In its main plant at Lindbergh Field, General Dynamics was tooling up for production of the Convair 880, to challenge two major competitors in the field of jet-powered commercial airliners.
After two failures, an Atlas missile was successfully fired out over the Air Force's Atlantic range, in the last month of the year. The Convair plant rang with cheers.
In the same year it became known that the May Department Stores Company, with headquarters in Los Angeles, would, if zoning changes were approved, build a huge shopping complex in Mission Valley. A spokesman for the company, Albert C. Martin, of a Los Angeles engineering and architectural firm, told the City Council in a conference that the center, to be located near the intersection of Highways 80 and 395, had the top priority of all May Company projects in the nation. Ultimate cost estimates ranged as high as $35,000,000. Jobs would be provided for almost a thousand persons.
First, it would be necessary to re-zone about ninety acres of land from agricultural-residential to commercial. Martin assured Councilmen that in keeping with the beauty and history of the valley, the proposed buildings would "breathe the spirit of the Missions," with interwoven courtyards or patio areas, each with covered walks.
The decision on a site in Mission Valley came out of a research project predicting a northward growth for metropolitan San Diego which would place the center in the heart of the future. It also represented the first large invasion of out-of-town marketing interests other than the chain and variety stores common to most American communities and cities.
The nationally-known Jordan Marsh Company, of Boston prestige, which had occupied the former downtown home of Sears, Roebuck & Co., staggered into failure and closed its doors in March of 1958. There were various versions of its failure, ranging from a drift of shopping from downtown to a mistake of judgment in the quality of merchandise that had been offered. The store had not seemed to live up to the company's Boston reputation.
The grouping of stores in areas where parking could be made available had begun, in a small way. One of the larger ones was the South Bay Plaza which opened in 1955 but it had not as yet had a significant impact on retail business in San Diego. The possible turn of a tide in shopping habits had prompted the San Diego Downtown Association to formulate a plan for pedestrian malls, the planting of trees, and the addition of scattered but accessible parking garages and freeway connections which would draw motorists into the central district.
In Mission Valley, hotels and motels already were rising rapidly and zoning regulations had been relaxed to allow C. Arnholt Smith to erect a new ball park for his minor league baseball team, the San Diego Padres. Other promoters were seeking to push through projects calling for a denser use of land than the Planning Department had thought wise, and Mayor Dail had responded by suggesting that "throwing out some of these red-tape ordinances" might improve the economy of San Diego.
The prolonged drought and the existence of dams on the San Diego River and its tributaries had lessened the fear of floods for many who saw commercial and recreational opportunities in the valley. The May Company gave the Council assurance that all structures in the center would rest on a nine-foot high fill which would bring ground level up to the grade of Highway 80 and provide protection against the highest flood ever recorded.
But the plan was not in the concept of Mission Valley as had been envisioned by the City Planning Department. And the department was concerned with possible flooding:
"If the storm of January 1943, which centered in the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles were to occur over the San Diego River, Mission Valley would be subjected to the worst flood in its history."
Of course, this would mean that the upstream reservoirs would have been filled to overflowing by previous storms.
The department had been working on an elaborate zoning plan for the valley, to allow for a future flood control channel, but it was a general concept which mostly became an issue. Its own plan sought to provide "for the highest and best use of the property":
"Mission Valley is the gateway to potentially the finest recreational area in the world. It will develop into an area complementing Mission Bay, offering accommodations and entertainment to visitors and residents. It would be possible for some future generation to tie Mission Valley, Old San Diego and Mission Bay Park together by a motor-boat canal, scenic roadways, bridle trails, and a scenic railway -- further enhancing our position as a tourist center."
The May Company proposal, the City's Planning Director, Harry Haeslig, told the San Diego Downtown Association, would not be compatible with this concept.
In its conclusion, the Planning Department stated:
"The lessons we can learn from our large Eastern cities should be obvious; they now wish they had not been so short-sighted when they traded the almighty dollar for their available open space . ... Once Mission Valley is paved with commercial enterprises it will be lost forever to the community as an open area within the City."
The Planning Commission voted three to two to overrule its planning staff and send the re-zoning request to the Council as a report and not a recommendation which would have required five affirmative votes. A formal hearing was set by the City Council for June of 1958.
The May Company was blunt. An executive, Walter Brunmark, declared:
"If we are not given the privilege and the right to come into your City and locate in Mission Valley, we will not come here . ... There isn't any other location suitable for the kind of a retail shopping center that we want to put in here, in San Diego."
The most prominent spokesmen against a center in Mission Valley were downtown merchants, but all of them insisted their opposition was not based on a matter of unwelcome competition but on other factors which they considered important to San Diego and San Diegans.
George A. Scott, who himself was interested in a shopping center in the eastern part of the metropolitan area, said:
"Business in this day and age should not unite to stop competition; we are not going to fight location of a competitor, whether in Mission Valley or some other place."
His concern, he said, was in the matter of flooding in the valley and who was to pay for the protection that might be necessary in the future.
Another view was presented by Hamilton Marston who said that the Council must know that a favorable decision would bring many more requests for the change of hundreds of acres in this central San Diego area. He asked the Council:
"Do you know the consequences of what you are starting? What are the implications for Mission Valley and for all San Diego, our City and our metropolitan area? We know that shopping centers are a fact of mid-twentieth century American life. But how do they fit into the pattern of motor-age transportation and the pattern of residential, recreational, commercial, industrial and civic administrative land use of the modern American city, and especially San Diego?"
The possibility that the valley, if commercial building were permitted, might become the equal of the downtown area, or even surpass it, was raised by Arthur Jessop, of the pioneering jewelry merchandising family:
"The valley is part of the Planning Department's future plan for ... tourists and we are considering throwing it down the drain . ... Should a decision be made before considering these consequences, we may as well tattoo on the Council walls right here: `Thus died planning in San Diego."'
The effect of outlying shopping centers on some other cities was recalled by another merchant, Guilford Whitney, who told the Councilmen:
"You may know that in some of our California cities -- and one of them is Fresno -- the downtown area has gone backwards, very, very rapidly with the development of shopping centers. Our opposition is not to shopping centers. We feel that they are a normal growth. However, placing a shopping center of the magnitude of this one, with projected annual sales of fifty million dollars, almost half of what the small central business district now does, would be a blow to downtown San Diego . ... If we build another central city only four minutes away from downtown we may end by having a slum business district in what is now our central area."
While other fears were being expressed that Mission Valley was to be converted into a commercial alley, there was some evidence introduced that the people, or the voters, didn't look at a shopping center in the valley in an unhappy light. A locally conducted poll showed little opposition, even indifference.
The hand of conciliation was offered by the May Company. Frank Clark, an executive, pledged:
"Not withstanding the differences between ourselves and our opponents . ... I would like to give this pledge on behalf of our company that if we are permitted to build our store and our center, we will extend the hand of friendship and cooperation to one and all, including these opponents, and work with them to provide the City of San Diego with a new era of merchandising as to convenience and beauty of facilities. And we pledge to you, the City Council, that we will assume our fair share of each and every community service."
An ordinance granting the zone change was adopted unanimously by the City Council. Referendum petitions later were circulated for a public vote on the Council re-zoning action, but soon were withdrawn.
As the 1960's approached, it was obvious that the "downtown revolution" was in full swing in San Diego. The auto had won. The California Division of Highways had in its first construction stages a great curving freeway that would sweep across the top of the City, chopping off a corner of Balboa Park, as a part of the new coastal Highway 101.
Resistance to the location of freeways persisted, however, though their march across the State seemed to be relentless. The coastal communities between south Carlsbad and the Torrey Pines junction resented the highway which in spreading south and inland seemed to be cutting their communities in half. Angry property owners pulled up survey stakes and others burned in effigy the Highway Department's regional engineer, Jacob Dekema.
In San Diego, the City Council as early as 1955 had approved the route of the crosstown freeway which, while it would provide easy access in and out of the downtown area, also would make it possible for shoppers to cross easily from one metropolitan area to another, without ever passing through the central business district, by a system of traffic interchanges.
In face of this, however, the Marston Company had invested heavily in enlarging and improving its downtown department store. Now the May Company was beginning construction of its huge shopping center in Mission Valley and the Walker Scott Company at last had been successful in bringing into construction the College Grove center in the City's eastern section.
By late 1959, the shopping center race was on, and other Los Angeles merchandisers were driving to enter the competition for the San Diego market. After failing to entice Walker Scott stores into selling, or surrendering its shopping center advantage, the Broadway-Hale Department Store of Los Angeles looked southward and acquired a site in Chula Vista. The Marston Company finally joined the wave moving outward from downtown. It was instrumental in the development of another center in the eastern area to be known as the Grossmont Shopping Center, and accessible from Highway 80, by the Del Webb Construction Company of Phoenix, Arizona.
Thus the San Diego region soon would have in operation four regional shopping centers. And another was being formed to the east, outside the City, in El Cajon Valley, which would have a branch of Whitney's, an old-line San Diego store which was trying to expand into more department store status.
All of the leading downtown merchants who had questioned the advisability of the May Company creating a great merchandising center in Mission Valley were now themselves vigorously engaged in meeting the new form of competition spawned by the auto age.
Population was still soaring. In the twenty years since the start of World War II, the City had added more than 350,000 residents for a total of 554,000. The population of the County as a whole had passed the million mark. The annual rate of growth was approaching nine percent.
The economic figures for 1958 listed the value of agricultural products at more than 100 million dollars. Navy and Marine payrolls were more than $270,000,000. The total value of manufactured products was more than $1,266,000,000 and the revenue from the tourist business was estimated at $144,000,000.
The City's Old Guard, oriented as it was to the buying and selling of land, could take cheer in the fact that in 1958 almost 11,000 new homes had been built, or were about to be built, in the City, and more than 22,000 in the County as a whole.
The City was moving northward, out on Kearny Mesa, as the May Company and others had foreseen, with huge tracts of homes rising in Clairemont as well as in Linda Vista.
A survey by the San Diego Unified School District indicated a continued expansion in home building in the north coastal areas of Soledad, University City, and the La Jolla Highlands, with 12,000 homes projected within the following five years, and perhaps as many as 3,000 more rising on Miramar Mesa, as yet untouched.
During the 1950's San Diego's Unified School District would complete more school buildings than in all of the preceding hundred years. In five years enrollments had risen from about 50,000 to nearly 85,000, and school bond issues had been readily approved by the voters.
In the County, outside the immediate City area, El Cajon, Santee, Fletcher Hills, Lakeside, La Mesa, Spring Valley and Lemon Grove, were experiencing building booms that seemed to assure the success of the new shopping centers to the east. To the south, National City and Chula Vista were also prospering and changing.
The growth, however, was no match for that of Los Angeles, which had spawned subdivision upon subdivision in a seeming endlessly expanding circle, and with the downtown district splitting into a half dozen centers with no dominating structures, an obvious object lesson in unrestrained building. The open spaces which had been provided by the many canyons which cut through the San Diego mesas were largely lacking in Los Angeles. It was a city in a basin which so persistently trapped the smog of the auto and industrial age. Only a relatively few people could escape to distant and more inviting hillsides.
In Los Angeles smog had become so bad by 1954 that in October of that year air traffic had to be diverted from the sprawling International Airport, on the seacoast, inland to Burbank, and ships were unable to penetrate into the inner harbor. Action was demanded and yet with all controls possible, based on the knowledge of the times, it was not certain that blue skies were ever to return to Los Angeles as in the days of the pioneers.
A survey in the late 1950's indicated that half of the residents would live elsewhere -- in California, of course -- if they could do so. San Diegans took a lot of comfort from that -- but all of the story of building booms had not yet been written.
San Diegans didn't believe it could ever happen here. It was an isolated area open to the sea. It was blocked off to the north from a Los Angeles spill-over by a huge Marine base; to the east by mountains and to the south by Mexico; to the west by the ocean. Magnificent natural barriers -- and much of the land in the City and surrounding country was still vacant. No one thought now of trying to slow it all down.
"Smokestacks or geraniums?" The old civic struggle seemed to have been long buried. The smokestacks which in the language of the times had represented heavy industry with belching clouds of smoke and fumes were not visible to any measure. The City had settled down with a new type of high technology industry. The new industries came to San Diego because in a measure here was access to the aviation industry and the Naval Electronics Laboratory, the atomic and high-energy research capabilities of General Dynamics and soon the higher scientific and educational opportunities of the University of California.
Not all business indicators were favorable, however. General Dynamics was running into trouble trying to sell its new Convair 880 airliner. The 880 had come on the scene late, and thus out of necessity to offer some sales advantages, the design had been modified in a number of ways to meet preferences and specifications of competing airlines, until the break-even point had receded, it seemed, almost beyond the point of recovery. Thousands of workers already had lost their jobs.
The value of airplane and related products declined in 1958, by $175,000,000, but it was still far ahead of the figure of 1956.
Though Convair was cutting back, only one sixth of San Diego's workers were now dependent directly on aircraft production, and 3,200 new jobs had been created in the County in one year through expansion of existing industries or the establishment of new ones.
Industrial parks were beginning to appear, to embrace electronic and related developments in industrial technology. Too, and with little attention, the floors of a number of the canyons which had provided so much open space for San Diegans were slowly filling with structures.
The commercial promise of the harbor, however, was diminishing somewhat. The flood of cotton had slowed down. Mexico had created a port of its own at Ensenada on the Baja California coast, and trucks were streaming across rough peninsula roads from Mexicali, loaded with Mexican-grown cotton which once had been shipped through the Port of San Diego.
The loss of some of the cotton trade was only a small cloud of distress, however. The City's Harbor Commission, with Harry L. Foster as chairman, in its 1959 report still insisted that the port was "the hub of the Great Southwest, and the gateway to the world."
The port was served by twenty-four trucking lines, two rail lines, five major air lines, and thirty-five steamship lines. The key to the fast movement of cargo, the port officials announced, was the proximity of sea, land and air transportation terminals, all within minutes of each other. And the dockside bunkering stations at the new Tenth Avenue marine terminal, where ships could load, discharge and take on fuel and water all at one time, were described as the most modern on the Pacific Coast, with fast turn-around service for all sea traffic.
The aggressive sales program of the Harbor Department still was reaching out to bring into fruition the old dream of the harbor as the port for all of the Southwest.
But in the opinion of many persons in coastal and world trade, and in developing waterfront-related businesses and industries, the Port of San Diego could not take its rightful place as a major port while split into a half dozen political jurisdictions.
As early as 1956 the Attorney General of California, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, in a speech in San Diego urged the preparation of legislation for unification of the bay. But Mayor Dail instead argued that it would be easier to consolidate San Diego, National City and Chula Vista than it would be to create a new agency concerned only with bay unification.
Shipbuilding on waterfront land controlled by the City had become a major industry, too, whose production in 1958 was estimated to be worth $18,000,000. C. Arnholt Smith's National Steel and Shipbuilding Company was turning out cargo and cargo-passenger vessels, and he had taken as partners a group of large construction firms headed by the Henry J. Kaiser Steel Company with headquarters at Oakland, California. By the 1960's, however, Smith was out of the firm. But he was becoming a dominant factor in tuna fishing and canning.
Tuna was making a comeback, after the heavy setback due to Japanese imports, with the development of purse seining, the conversion of older boats, and the building of still larger and larger clippers. The value of tuna products was placed at almost $37,000,000 in 1958, up $4,000,000 from the preceding year, but still far below the high point of more than $58,000,000 in 1951.
By then, the United States Tariff Commission reported, Japanese tuna had taken forty-six percent of the American market, and it was reported the Soviet Union was preparing to enter the Pacific with a large fleet equipped for year-round fishing for tuna.
San Diego Portuguese and their boats had led the way to the great fishing grounds. It was in the Spring of 1929 that the Atlantic, the first of the real tuna clippers, led her sister ships across the Equator to fish off the Galapagos Islands, 300 miles off the coast of Ecuador and 3,000 miles from San Diego. Now their very existence as fishermen was being threatened.
A San Diego Representative in Congress, Bob Wilson, carried the fight for the tuna industry to the floor of the House:
"We in San Diego have no intention of letting this industry go out of business if we can humanly avoid it. The 138 vessels we have left out of the fleet of 210 we had in 1951 still bring us about $25,000,000 in new wealth from the sea each year and this is a principal source of income to the port and the City."
Though United States foreign policy considerations were not supposed to be allowed to damage domestic industries, Wilson said that in 1951 a bill to provide a tax on frozen tuna imports, while a Federal study was undertaken for a long-range solution, passed the House and then was defeated in the Senate under a vigorous attack by the State Department:
"Time has gone forward and in the succeeding seven years our fleet has declined by twenty-four percent and while the Japanese share of the United States tuna market was increasing from twenty-one to forty-six percent."
The alternative of a subsidy was proposed by Wilson, as had been done with other industries threatened by low-cost importations.
In 1945, the Japanese agreed to talks concerning the tuna problem and Representative Wilson said he was "extremely hopeful" some kind of an agreement could be reached. Imported canned tuna was under tariff restrictions but there were no restrictions on fresh frozen tuna. The Japanese did eventually agree to limit imports but a suspicious tuna industry said that only time would tell how effectively it would be carried out.
As tuna was no longer present in abundance off the California coast, the California canneries had lost a locational advantage and larger companies set up a few receiving stations and processing plants closer to the sources of raw material. At one time there were six canneries in San Diego; now there was only one, C. Arnholt Smith's Westgate-California Corporation, which also maintained two freezing plants in Peru and operated two refrigerated freighters to ship frozen tuna to the San Diego cannery. The San Diego plant claimed twenty percent of American sales. Two other major tuna canneries were on Terminal Island, San Pedro, as were four smaller ones.
In the 1960's American tuna fishermen had met the competition of the Japanese and were holding their own, though by then they had lost half the American market.
The center of the City was becoming a commercial and financial district, but one from which the people could tend to desert at night. The continued failure of the voters to approve the grouping of public buildings had resulted in the erection of a new County Courthouse covering two City blocks and facing on Broadway. But even before its completion, it would be too small.
Impatient with the failure of the citizens to approve bonds for a Convention Hall, Harry Handlery was adding one to his El Cortez Hotel complex high on the hill overlooking the downtown district and which had been a prominent landmark for all those who came and went by the sea during the war.
No skyscrapers, in the eastern concept of tall office buildings, had been erected in the downtown area since the Great Depression. Building restrictions in California also had been influenced by the fear of earthquakes, but modern construction of steel and masonry was eliminating some of that.
It became publicly known in the late 1950's that Charles K. Fletcher's Home Federal Savings & Loan Association would erect a new office building, perhaps fifteen stories high, at Broadway and Seventh Avenue, as the first unit of a threebuilding complex. Not to be outdone, C. Arnholt Smith also had announced plans for a tower for his United States National Bank, at Broadway and Second Avenue, which, if necessary to be the most prominent structure in town, would soar to twenty stories. The business community breathed a collective sigh of relief. All had not been lost.
Downtown was changing, not dying, as had been feared by the merchants who had felt the City's future threatened by the intrusion of a giant shopping center into Mission Valley.
In 1958 San Diego was listed fifth in the nation in the volume of downtown building, ranking only behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. Downtown construction permits exceeded $35,000,000 in value.
Parking buildings became an accepted way of business life. As the taxpayers had refused to create a public parking district, and other attempts to induce property owners to form their own parking districts had failed because of the scattered ownership of downtown property, individual firms were erecting their own structures.
In the earlier days of aviation, and even during the war years when bigger and bigger airplanes were taking off and landing, the slogan-makers of San Diego, as they had done so many times in the past, adopted a new identification for the City. San Diego would be the "Air Capital of the West." Presumably the airport was strategically situated in the Southwest corner of the United States, the first landing field from the cities of the west coast of Mexico, Central and South America, and a logical termination for across-the-Pacific flights. All this had been said about the port -- and weren't the ships now coming?
But the development of jet-powered aircraft by Convair and Ryan was creating a rising problem of noise at the airport, though commercial jets were not yet serving San Diego as they were at Los Angeles.
There were warnings, too, that the location of the field, with relatively high terrain to the east which forced a steep landing glide, and the presence of Point Loma and its crowded residential areas under the take-off pattern, meant that flying conditions might not be safe in a jet-air age and that a crash could sweep away many homes and cost many lives.
An opportunity to have eased onto Kearny Mesa by firming up rights to co-exist with the Navy on Miramar Field, had been neglected. The City had seen use of the field as limited to air freight, a business which had not developed as anticipated. The City's rights passed with the Korean war and the jet-age. But the City still had other plans. Its eyes had been fastened under on another area of Kearny Mesa.
Since 1943 Arnold H. Peik had operated a small airport on the southwestern shore of Mission Bay and by 1946 he had a 2,600foot oiled runway and three hangars. The City bought him out and then in 1957 closed the airport down in connection with the development of Mission Bay Park. The City also purchased and closed down another small airport southwest of Peik's, or Pike's as it was known, and just north of Midway Drive.
On Kearny Mesa, William Gibbs, Jr. had operated another private flying field, since 1937, and by 1946 he had three dirt runways and several hangars.
In its move to provide a substitute location for the little air fields from the Mission Bay Area, and also to prepare for the future, the City acquired by condemnation 1,500 acres on Kearny Mesa which included Gibbs Field. Improvement of runways and facilities was made possible with Federal assistance. The new field was dedicated in 1950 and named Montgomery Field after the glider pioneer of early San Diego.
For a number of years the field was operated by Gibbs, until the City took over in 1954. By this time, however, it was too late. The Navy had so increased jet operations at Miramar that the two fields were not compatible as far as safety was concerned. The President's Air Coordinating Council flatly rejected Montgomery Field as a major jet-age passenger terminal. San Diego again was left with only Lindbergh Field and a soaring rash of complaints of noise and exhaust pollution. A decision had to be made on the future, as existing terminal facilities at Lindbergh were proving inadequate for the volume of passengers.
The City Council retained Leigh Fisher & Associates of South Bend, Indiana, to study the situation and suggest possible solutions.
In 1956, with the limited wisdom of a contemporary view, Fisher concluded:
"With the advent of heavier turbo-prop and turbo-jet aircraft, which require flatter approaches, Lindbergh Field cannot be utilized in the future as a dependable air-carrier airport to serve San Diego's growing air trade."
The Fisher report recommended that the best solution would be for North Island to be shared by the Navy and the City:
"Its clear over-water approaches, convenience and accessibility to the entire metropolitan area all indicate that this airport could be developed as a satisfactory air-carrier airport. However, the importance of the Navy to the San Diego area economy and the importance of the North Island mission as the primary aviation and supply point, including aeronautical outfitting and assembly as well as complete dock-side services to home-ported aviation ships, indicated that it would not be in the best interests of San Diego to ask the Navy to relocate these operations from North Island. It appears, therefore, that there is no area in which a suitable air-carrier airport can be located without substantial conflict with Naval Air installations and/or terrain, and therefore the problems of joint use of a Naval Air installation should be considered."
The Navy reacted quickly and angrily. Rear Admiral Charles C. Hartman, commandant of the Eleventh Naval District, in letters to Mayor Dail wrote:
"I regret to advise you.that as far as the Navy is concerned the Fisher report recommendations are not acceptable, and are believed to be impractical and unworkable ... it seems incredible to me that Fisher would submit such an important matter ... without personally consulting with the senior responsible naval officers of this area."
An Air Use Panel, composed of representatives of the Armed Services and two other government bureaus, was assigned to look into the San Diego situation. Former Mayor Harley Knox in a letter to The San Diego Union and submitted to the panel commented:
"The City Administration apparently hopes that this panel will force down the neck of our Navy, the bitter dregs of witches' brew concocted for them by the people whom they benefit the most."
At Air Use Panel hearings, the Navy suggested two alternative solutions, one was civilian use of the southeastern area of Mission Bay and the other was Brown Field which it would be willing to consider surrendering. Mayor Dail and former Mayor John D. Butler both rejected the use of Mission Bay land as economically and politically unfeasible. Butler told the panel that "he didn't think there was a remote possibility that the electorate now would move to put a master airport in that recreational park."
The site at Mission Bay did have some terrain advantages over Lindbergh Field: the landing approach was more favorable, a longer east-west runway was possible, and takeoffs would be over the flat areas of the bay channel and south Mission Beach. But the land was unstable and would require filling and packing.
Brown Field was held to be too far from the City, though it was only sixteen miles from downtown, and subject to restrictions on operations by proximity to Mexico.
No solution emerged even though there would be many ideas and many bitter exchanges. Lindbergh Field was still a fact of life, and in need of improvements. In 1957 the Civil Aeronautics Administration rejected a multi-million dollar expansion into a jet-age airport. Mayor Dail assured the CAA that the City was not planning to permanently use Lindbergh Field as the City's master airport and as a result the CAA looked favorably on a request for Federal assistance in the interests of practicality and safety. It was considered that the terminal building eventually might be re-located to the Harbor Drive side of the airport.
In a letter released by Mayor Dail, William B. Davis, acting CAA administrator, said the CAA doubted that airlines would ever serve Lindbergh Field with jet airliners. In March of 1959 the first commercial jet liner in regular service landed at Lindbergh Field because of heavy fog at Los Angeles. Its 106 passengers were taken north by bus.
With no other place to which to turn, the City again took another look at Brown Field which the Navy said it would decommission in 1960. The City hired the firm of Charles Luckman and Associates of Los Angeles and its report found that the development of Brown Field as a municipal airport was feasible provided the runways were oriented in a north-south direction with landing approaches made over Mexico to avoid high terrain to the west, but that Brown Field and the Tijuana Airport could not be operated as separate fields because of air traffic conflicts, a problem so familiar to San Diego. The reaction of Federal aviation officials was not enthusiastic. But the development of a freeway south from San Diego would keep the issue of Brown Field alive.
But the civic dream of a jet airport which would open the door to the entire Pacific basin was fading, even though the annual number of passengers using the airport had climbed to almost 700,000. But very little air traffic could be originated along the west coast of Latin America; San Francisco was 200 miles nearer the Hawaiian Islands than was San Diego; and Los Angeles had the population, the industry, and the air line connections. San Diego, again, in an air age, was at the end of the line.
Search Pourade's 7-book series on San Diego History: