- Journal of SD History
Part Five: Chapter VI : JOHN D. SPRECKELS SOLVES THE RAILROAD PROBLEM
The foregoing chapter, written in the early days of December, 1906, reflected the condition of San Diego as it was up to the morning of Friday, the 14th day of that month. Then a dramatic thing occurred which changed the entire aspect of affairs. Having gone to bed the night before without the slightest hint of any forthcoming announcement, the whole city awoke to behold the following front page of the San Diego Union:
None but a San Diegan can comprehend what this meant to the future growth of the city, nor what it suggested in the way of immediate gain to owners of real estate. The ambition for a direct eastern outlet dates back to the early thirties, more than three-quarters of a century. The first organized effort, expressed in the incorporation of the "San Diego & Gila," began in 1854. The success of the citizens in securing the extension of the Santa Fe system during the eighties did not meet the demand for a direct eastern outlet, and was disappointing in other respects. The great effort begun in the summer of 1901, and persistently pushed in every channel of possible relief, had apparently accomplished nothing more than educational results. The year of 1906 had indeed been one of the most prosperous in San Diego history, yet as the year drew toward its close the prospect of a direct eastern railroad outlet appeared as remote as at any time during the previous decade. In fact, the most recent developments went far to convince the public that the city was helpless in the grasp of a transportation monopoly which could defeat, and meant to defeat, as it had defeated, every aspiration in that direction.
From this situation the city was suddenly delivered by the mandate of the one man who had sufficient capital of his own to build the road, and sufficient interests at stake to justify him in doing so. And it is a high tribute to the character and reputation of John D. Spreckels to say that his simple word was accepted by all as a sufficient guaranty of the performance. The authoritative announcement of his purpose in his own newspaper constituted a contract with the entire San Diego public and the public accepted it as such. The San Diegan-Sun, which is entirely independent of the Spreckels interests and has opposed them on many occasions, unquestionably voiced the sentiment of the entire community when it said:
The Sun feels at liberty to say what the Union and Tribune, through modesty enforced by personal ownership, are unable to say, that San Diego today lifts its hat and gives voice to an unrestrained cheer for John D. Spreckels. To Mr. Spreckels is frankly given the credit for securing to San Diego what has long been San Diego's most urgent need—a railway direct to the East.
While as a matter of course the fact is generally appreciated that the road is not yet built, and that so far only incorporation papers have been filed, this move made by Mr. Spreckels and announced by Mr. Spreckels's newspaper, is accepted by San Diegans unanimously as meaning, substantially and capably, that all necessary preliminary plans have been perfected by Mr. Spreckels, and that the railway line now incorporated will be constructed as rapidly as a work of such gigantic proportions can be executed.
Big enterprises undertaken and successfully accomplished by Mr. Spreckels here and in the central portion of the State give warrant to the conclusion that the plans now announced will be carried to equal success, and that the eastern outlet so long hoped for will be realized as speedily as possible.
It will not be necessary to explain to old San Diegans what the construction of such a road will mean to this city and country, for all this has been figured out many times. It is doubtful, however, if even the closest student of the situation can appreciate the final limit of the results of such an enterprise, as it is given to no one to see all the details of the future. One result plainly visible is that this move will break, and break forever, the antagonistic power of the combined railway interests, which for years has been exerted against San Diego. Not only will this adverse influence be broken, but it will be forced under the new conditions to become a friendly factor in the upbuilding of this port.
This turn in affairs will be realized no matter what corporate relations Mr. Spreckels may establish. If he engages in the business independently, as he and his brother and father did at the inauguration of the San Joaquin enterprise, then it will follow that the Southern Pacific will be forced to build here to protect itself from competition.
If Mr. Spreckels allies himself with the Southern Pacific and if the road to be built by Mr. Spreckels is to become a part of the Harriman system, then the Santa Fe will be compelled to come across lots from Arizona to secure a portion of the trade of Imperial Valley and a shorter route to this port.
If Mr. Spreckels allies himself with the Santa Fe, then it will be for the Southern Pacific to follow, and without doubt it will follow and follow in a hurry.
Looked at in any way possible it means that the railway combine against San Diego is broken at last, and looked at in some ways it appears to be plain that the building of one road will eventually be followed by the almost immediate construction of another.
With these prospects assured, San Diegans have a right to lift their hats to John D. Spreckels.
The articles of incorporation of the San Diego and Arizona Railway Company bore the date of June 14, 1906, although they were not filed with the county clerk until six months later. They provided for the construction of a railroad from San Diego "in a general easterly direction by the most practicable route to a point at or near Yuma, in the Territory of Arizona." The incorporators were John D. Spreckels, A. B. Spreckels, John D. Spreckels, Jr., William Clayton, and Harry L. Titus. The capital stock was fixed at $6,000,000, of which $200,000 were paid in at the time of incorporation. The announcement in the Union was quickly followed by two substantial acts of good faith on the part of Mr. Spreckels. One of these was the filing of condemnation suits as a means of obtaining right of way through some of the most valuable property in the lower part of the city; the other was the announcement that the entire sum of money collected by the San Diego and Eastern Railroad Committee in 1901, and expended in the effort to promote the project, would be repaid by the San Diego and Arizona Railway Company. In both instances, Mr. Spreckels insisted on paying for what the citizens would doubtless have offered as a free gift in the form of a subsidy. Indeed, they would doubtless have supplemented all this with much richer subsidies in the way of cash and land. Mr. Spreckels preferred to be absolutely independent and free of obligations alike to the public and to private individuals. Thus it happened that hundreds of people who had contributed to the railroad fund five years previously received a most unexpected Christmas present in addition to the assurance of a new railroad.
It is most interesting to note that San Diego is perhaps indebted for its good fortune to the calamity which befell San Francisco on April 18, 1906. Mr. Spreckels and his family were San Francisco refugees, though they fled from the burning city in their own steamer and found shelter in their own magnificent Hotel del Coronado. Mr. Spreckels had been very ill a few weeks before and had planned to go abroad for a prolonged stay. The destruction of San Francisco changed his plans and he came to San Diego to remain for months. During those months the railroad project took shape in his mind, so that it may be said that as San Diego lost a railroad by the unforeseen event of the great panic in 1873, so it gained a railroad by the unforeseen disaster at the Golden Gate in 1906. As its history was powerfully influenced in the wrong direction by the earlier event, so it will be powerfully influenced in the right direction by the later event.
While unstinted praise is given to Mr. Spreckels for the consummation of the railroad hopes, the labors of many others over a long period of years should not be forgotten. These efforts did not produce tangible results, but they were not thrown away. Every article written in favor of the direct eastern outlet, every meeting held in its behalf, every movement set on foot to that end, from the days of Frémont to the days of Spreckels, contributed something to the final result. The cause that has faithful friends is never lost. The cause that can endure through more than two generations, and inspire the enthusiasm of a community when failures have been so numerous as to pass into a proverb known throughout the state—such a cause can know only triumph in the end. It was this triumph which came to the people on the memorable fourteenth of December, 1906, and which brought San Diego to the threshold of 1907 with rare exaltation in its heart.
An old epoch had closed; a new epoch had dawned.
[from William Ellsworth Smythe's History of San Diego, 1908, pp. 529-534]