- Journal of SD History
From Aspin to Zanzibar
Street Names in San Diego's Mission Beach
Meet Miss B. She is an alluring young lass who wears only a swim suit and a provocative smile. The come-hither look in her eyes hints at delights beyond your ken, which she would show you.
But wait, girl-watchers! Walk, don't run. Miss B. does not live in the flesh. She exists only on paper. Even there, her curvaceous beauty is demurely shrouded in a bathing suit which extends below the knees and to the elbows. Rubber bathing shoes which lace up her calves, and a voluminous scarf-like cap complete her daring ensemble. Miss B. is a bathing-beauty cover-girl, circa 1914. Her fetching likeness adorns the cover of a real estate advertising brochure,1 and the delights to which she would introduce you are those of San Diego's most recently platted resort area-Mission Beach.
Turn the first page, and you will find, indeed, that the words, "Miss B," are a cut-out revealing five letters of the title, "Mission Beach." The brochure was distributed by the Mission Beach Syndicate,2 George L. Barney, Manager.3 Lots in Mission Beach were being promoted for sale by the same firm.
Inside the little pamphlet there is a large fold-out map. It shows the entire peninsula comprising the new subdivision, including street names, lot and block numbers, and a color-code designating the use to which various areas of the beach could be put. True, much of the print is so small that you will need not only bifocals but a magnifying glass. Street names themselves are more readable on the official subdivision map surveyed in June, 1914,4 and adopted by the Common Council of San Diego on December 14, 1914.5 Miss B's street map is adapted from this first official map of Mission Beach.
The principal north-south thoroughfare was and is Mission Boulevard. How did a street so far removed from the old Mission receive this name? The answer may be found in the history of the area now known as Mission Bay.
The early Spanish explorers named that shallow estuary, "Puerto Falso." One version of this origin is attributed to Cabrillo, some of whose men, returning from a trip ashore in search of fresh water, reportedly stumbled upon the northerly inlet and, not seeing Cabrillo's ship, thought that he had sailed without them.6 Thus it became "False" Bay, to differentiate it from the larger bay to the south. The name persisted, through Pantoja's map of 1782,7, James Pascoe's 1870 Map of the Pueblo Lands of San Diego,8 and into the Twentieth Century.9
Mission Beach was a Johnnie-come-lately as a San Diego resort. The land boom of the 1880's passed the False Bay area by. Coronado, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, and Ocean Beach were all "discovered"-and exploited by the realtors-as resort areas.10 The narrow spit of land separating the Pacific from False Bay was considered worthless low-lying dunes. That is, until John D. Spreckels saw the place.
Spreckels had taken over the Babcock and Story investments at Coronado,11. where his hotel and Tent City had prospered. Some time before 1914, Spreckels saw opportunity in the long, narrow peninsula extending south from Pacific Beach, bought parts of Pueblo Lot 1803,12 and worked through corporations and agents to put the land on the market.13 But the name, "False Bay," was neither tempting nor euphonious. "Mission Bay" had been proposed as early as 1888 by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, as she looked out across the sheet of shallow water from the old College of Letters in Pacific Beach, toward Mission Valley.14 At any rate, the name was applied to the subdivision, and it was made official for the Bay on June 2, 1915, by a decision of the U.S. Geographic Board.15
It was natural, then, that the main thoroughfare through Mission Beach should be called Mission Boulevard. Parallel to the Boulevard on the west were two other north-south access routes, Strandway and Ocean Front Walk. Likewise on the east, there were Bayside Lane and Bayside Walk. Strandway and Bayside Lane were narrow alley-width streets, today carrying only one-way traffic each. Ocean Front Walk and Bayside Walk were pedestrian routes, inaccessible to vehicular traffic. Obviously, Ocean Front Walk, Strandway, Bayside Lane and Bayside Walk are locational names deriving from their geography.
But it is in the naming of the sixty-five short east-west passageways which intersect the Boulevard that the developers showed a flash of genius. As if to cement still further their tie to the historic Mission, the developers took a bold approach: they named some of the east-west streets after Missions, and the rest for beaches. It was as simple as that: "Mission" plus "beach" equals "Mission Beach."
Not all east-west passageways were alike. A few-thirteen on the original map, to be exact-were some twenty-four feet wide and traversible by car. Each of these was designated as a "Place," not a "Street." The remaining fifty-two, interspersed between the Places, were ten-foot-wide walkways, and each became a "Court." Vehicular access to lots on the Courts was via unnamed east-west alleys which ran parallel to the Courts. If by today's standards lots were small and access inadequate, it is well to remember that the Beach was conceived as a summer resort only, that the automobile was still a novelty in 1914, and that the north end of the Beach was intended to become an owner-occupied Tent City.16 (To me, it is quaintly amusing that my home property, Lot B, Blk. 240, one of the largest in area at the Beach, was on "Miss B's" map to be part of this Tent City. The brochure characterizes the Tent City concept as "distinctive and original . . . the lots are sold to you, and are of ample size for the purpose intended. Each owner is supposed to supply a tent storage house on the rear of the lot, used, if desired, as a private garage while he is at the Beach, and at other times for storage of tent and furnishings."17 My "tent," stored in the garage, has sprouted wheels and become a van camper; my "storage" there includes overflow from the house!)
But on to the naming. Since the Places were slightly more grandiose than the Courts, it fell to their honor to be named for the Missions. With twenty-one California Missions to choose from, and (in 1914) only thirteen Places, not all Mission names were used. Others were abbreviated, but not to the point of obscuring their identity. So, from south to north, came marching a stately procession of Missions, accurately arranged in south-to-north order as the real Missions appeared on the map: San Diego Place, San Luis Rey Place, Capistrano Place, San Gabriel Place, San Fernando Place, Ventura Place, Santa Barbara Place, San Luis Obispo Place, El Carmel Place,18 San Juan Place,19 Santa Clara Place, San Jose Place,20 and San Rafael Place.
To a knowledgeable resident, two discrepancies will jump out at once from this list. First, there is no San Diego Place. Although it is shown on city maps and is still a dedicated street, there is no street so signed in Mission Beach. Originally it was the first cross street north of the old wooden bridge which connected Ocean Beach to Mission Beach.21 Today, at the place where San Diego Place should be, there is only a sign, "End," for Mission Boulevard, which dead-ends at the North Jetty.22 San Diego Place appears to have been buried under the Jetty. It seems ironic that the name of the Mother Mission of California is now lost under a pile of rocks.
Second, San Rafael Place is not the northernmost Place; Santa Rita Place is. But Santa Rita Place was not named in the 1914 map, nor even in a 1924 amended map.23 Santa Rita Place came into being through Ord. NS225, adopted May 5, 1933, by the City Council, "naming an unnamed alley or public way adjacent to Blocks 247 and 249, Mission Beach, according to Map No. 1309."24 Houses had been built fronting on this alley, and local usage named it Santa Rita. Eventually the name was confirmed. It seems a pity that the California Mission sequence was not continued; Mission San Francisco Solano (Sonoma) lay still north of Mission San Rafael, and its name was unused as a street name in San Diego.
Thus came into being the thirteen Places named for Missions, and their stepsister, Santa Rita, not of the same blood line. Then the fun began, in the naming of the Courts. The concept of "beaches" was charitably enlarged to include spas, harbors, and even islands, in order to conform to the letters of the alphabet. The Courts in Mission Beach, like streets in many other sections of the city, were named in alphabetical order. The A's began at the south and Z was at the north. Since there were fifty-two Courts and only twenty-six alphabet letters, obviously some letters had to be used more than once. Also, some letters have a stubborn way of resisting initial use. The developers did quite well, though; they omitted only U and X. (X is admittedly a stumblingblock. Only one street name in San Diego begins with X.25 But U? What would have been wrong with "Upernavik," on the Coast of Greenland? Did it connote too cold a clime?) Thoughtful planning emerged in the alphabetical arrangement of the Courts: all the A-names were grouped together, all the B's, etc. Thus one can be sure that Brighton Court is near the south end, and Venice near the north, eliminating the staggering confusion of two sequential alphabets found in some areas.
Only two names in the "Court" series of the 1914 map defy identification as shoreline names. Embarassingly enough, one is Aspin, the very first Court at the south end, adjacent-on the map-to non-existent San Diego Place. Spelled variously with an "e" or an "i," A-s-p-i-n is the official name.26 Could Aspin be an abridgment of Aspinwall, Panama? It seems unlikely, despite the 191 interest in the new Canal, because Aspinwall was renamed to Colon in 1890.27 The other Court without a watery pedigree is Vanitie, V-a-n-i-t-i-e. With such self-conscious misspelling, it was probably a coined name.
Here are the Courts, then, with their probable derivations:28
Aspin - (Unknown)
Anacapa - One of the northerly group of Santa Barbara Islands.
Allerton - Allerton Point, Mass., is north of Nantasket Beach.
Asbury - Asbury Park, N.J., is a resort city on the Atlantic coast. (San Luis Rey Place intervenes.)
Avalon - Resort town and bay on Santa Catalina Island, California.
Balboa - Beach resort in Orange County, California.
Brighton - English resort on English Channel. (Capistrano Place intervenes.)
Catalina - Obviously named for Santa Catalina Island. The name was changed, however, on May 12, 1930,29 to:
Cohasset - Summer resort and town on Massachusetts Bay, southeast of Boston.
Coronado - San Diego County's own famous beach city and resort.
Deal - Seaside resort near Dover, England. (San Gabriel Place intervenes.)
Devon - English county with miles of rocky coastline.
Dover - English Channel port on the Strait of Dover.
Ensenada - Port and resort, Baja California, Mexico. (San Fernando Place intervenes.)
Flushing, Folkstone, Galloway, Gloucester, Harbor, and Huntington Courts, all on the 1914 map, and all sea-related, were eliminated from the 1924 map. So, also, were Prado, Plaza, Esplanade, Southway and Northway.30 They were in the area occupied by Belmont Park today. The original plans in 1914 projected an elaborate hotel and elegant homes for this section,31 which were never built. Instead, the amended map of 1924 cleared the way for John D. Spreckels to build his "Mission Beach Amusement Center" in the space between San Fernando and Ventura Places. It opened on May 30, 1925, and after John D.'s death the next year, his organization deeded the entire Amusement Center to the City.32
(Ventura Place intervenes.33)
The Courts resume with I-and with several multiple choices: Island - Several possibilities: Island Beach, Ocean County, eastern New Jersey; Island Park, village and shore resort in Nassau County, N.Y.; or even possibly a generic name.
Isthmus - Again, several possibilities: the Isthmus of Panama, newsworthy in 1914; a misspelling of Isthmia on the Peloponnesus, Greece; or a generic name.
Jamaica - Perhaps the Island in the West Indies; or even Jamaica Bay, Long Island, N.Y. (Santa Barbara Place intervenes.)
Jersey - Take your choice: one of the Channel Islands off Normandy, France; or Jersey City, N.J., in Upper New York Harbor.
Kennebeck - A fascinating study in possible misspellings. The Kennebec (without a final "k") River in Maine has no port nearer the Atlantic than Bath. But Kennebunk, Maine, is both a port and summer resort. Did someone's pen slip?
Kingston - Among the possibilities are Kingston, Jamaica, a port; Kingston, Mass., on Plymouth Bay; and Kingston-on-Thames, near London, a resort suburb.
(San Luis Obispo Place intervenes.)
Lido - Resort in Northern Italy, near the Lagoon of Venice.
Liverpool - Second largest port in Great Britain, near the mouth of the Mersey River.
Manhattan - Our well-known giant on the Hudson; or possibly locally known Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles County. Local pride points to the latter.
(El Carmel Place intervenes.)
Monterey - California's own famed resort and scenic region below San Francisco.
Nahant - Beach resort town on Massachusetts Bay, near Lynn, Mass.
Nantasket - Another resort town on Massachusetts Bay, opposite Nahant.
(San Juan Place intervenes.)
Newport - One of several choices is Newport, R.I., wealthy resort area. The name was changed, however, on May 12,1930,34 to:
Niantic - Resort village in Connecticut, part of East Lyme.
Ormond - Resort city in northeast Florida.
Ostend - City, port, and seaside resort in Belgium.
(Santa Clara Place intervenes.)
Portsmouth - Port or resort cities by this name are found in Hampshire, England, and in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia, U.S.A. It's anybody's guess.
Pismo - Resort beach famous for clamming, San Luis Obispo County, California.
Queenstown - Fishing town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, on Chester River estuary.
Redondo - Beach resort, Los Angeles County.
Rockaway - Rockaway Peninsula, New York is the site of many resort communities; Rockaway Beach, Far Rockaway, etc. There is also a shore resort by this name in San Mateo County, California.
(San Jose Place intervenes.)
Salem - Port and harbor in Massachusetts, silted up in 19th Century.
Seagirt - Sea Girt is a resort borough in New Jersey, near Asbury Park.
Sunset - Sunset Beach, resort town near Long Beach, Cal.
Tangiers - Tangier (singular) is in Morocco, on the Strait of Gibraltar; Tangier is also a Virginia fishing town on an island in Chesapeake Bay.
Toulon - A French port on the Mediterranean.
Vanitie - (Unknown; probably coined.)
(San Rafael Place intervenes.)
Venice - You may choose between Venice, Italy, or Venice, a resort in Los Angeles, which was in its heyday in 1914.
Verona - The city in Italy is not a port; but Verona, Maine, is on an island in the mouth of the Penobscot River.
Whiting - Town in Maine on Dennys Bay, southwest of Eastport.
Windimere - Another study in misspelling. Probably comes from Lake Windermere in the Lake District of England, which has many resorts. The name, Windermere, is also repeated in Canada at lake resorts.
Yarmouth - Another sturdy English name, applied to more than one resort in England, and to several more in the New World. In the U.S., there are at least two popular summer resorts named Yarmouth; one in southwestern Maine, another on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
York - New York? York, England? Probably neither. York, Maine, includes a summer resort called York Beach, which seems the more likely progenitor of the name of this Court.
Zanzibar - Hard pressed for names beginning with Z, the developers can hardly be blamed for appropriating an island off the east coast of Africa!
(Santa Rita intervenes.)
So end the Courts, on the 1914 and 1924 maps. It can be seen that names from England and New England predominate. Also, as the streets proceeded from south to north, more Courts were inserted between Places. At the south end, there were only three Courts platted between Places; at the north, as many as seven. Did the developers get tired of naming? Or did they wish to crowd as many lots as possible on the land? Human nature would point to the latter explanation.
But wait! We cannot stop with the official maps. In Mission Beach itself, north of both Zanzibar Court and Santa Rita Place, there is a street sign, "Wavecrest Court," with houses numbering on this drive. Originally the sign was small, hand-lettered, and fastened to a telephone pole in the middle of the Boulevard. Today it is a standard City street sign.35 The City Clerk's office has no record of the official adoption of the name. ("I wonder if it was ever dedicated?" mused one worker there.) So, just as San Diego Place, the southernmost street, seems to have died without an official death certificate, so must Wavecrest Court, the northernmost, have been born without a birth certificate!
Well, Miss B., it's been nice knowing you. You introduced us to a beach which, though it has changed since your day, has developed a distinctive character of mixed age groups, economic status and life styles. But beyond that, you led us to discover a plan of street names which used not one theme, but two, wove them thoroughly together, and integrated them to highlight the meaning of the subdivision's name-Mission Beach.
1. Mission Beach. (San Diego) Frye & Smith, (ca. 1914) Unpaged advertising brochure in the catalogued collection of San Diego Public Library, California Room.
3. The syndicate, with Barney as manager, first appeared in the San Diego City Directory of 1915. Offices were in the American National Bank Building at Fifth and Broadway, a building now occupied by Wells Fargo Bank. Listings for the syndicate continued in the City Directories through 1919, at various addresses. Old City Directories found in San Diego Public Library, California Room.
4. Map of the Subdivision ofMission Beach, as surveyed June, 1914, by D. A. Loebenstein, C.E. Map # 1651, San Diego County Recorder's Office.
5. Resolution # 18782 of the Common Council of San Diego, record of which is in the City Clerk's Office, Microfilm 7.10. The resolution includes a complete list of all "boulevards, places, courts, lanes, ways, walks, avenues and alleys" named on the map.
6. Smythe, William E. fHistory of San Diego, 1542-1908. San Diego, The History Co., 1908. p.29.
7. Map of San Diego, 1782, by Juan Pantoja y Arriaga, reproduced in Bancroft, Hubert H. History of California. vol. 1, p.456. "Puerto Falso" designates the more northerly bay.
8. Wall map, said to be the original, in City Clerk's Office, San Diego. The English term, "False Bay," is used on Pascoe's map.
9. Smythe, loc. cit. Smythe used the name, "False Bay," as a contemporary term.
10. Pourade, Richard F. The Glory Years. San Diego, Union-Tribune Publishing Co., c1964. pp. 174-196.
11. Ibid. p.180, p.218.
12. Pueblo Lot 1803 included all of present-day Mission Beach, and a small adjoining area of southern Pacific Beach. When Mission Beach was subdivided, the Pacific Beach area was detached from the new subdivision. See Resolution # 18782 of the Common Council of San Diego. loc. cit.
13. Spreckels' own name does not appear in any of the early promotional literature. His biographer, writing during Spreckels' lifetime, noted that Spreckels built "an entirely new [street car ] line to the new Spreckels popular resort at Mission Beach... " See Adams, H. Austin. The man, John D. Spreckels. San Diego, Frye & Smith, 1924. p. 202. Also, Harry Turner in his reminiscences, stated, "Back in San Diego [some time after 191611 took out a real estate license to become tract agent for Barney and Rife, sales agent for Mission Beach subdivision, owned by the Spreckels interests." See Turner, Harry Kendall, Sr. Personal interview Jan. 15, 1959, by Edgar F. Hastings, for the San Diego Historical Society. Turner interview and Adams biography both found at San Diego Historical Society, Serra Museum Research Library.
14. Mrs. Thorpe and Harr Wagner both thought the name more appropriate than "False Bay." The name, "Mission Bay," was first used in print in a poem by Mrs. Thorpe which appeared in the Golden Era of August, 1888. For an account of the Thorpe-Wagner association with the new name, see Davidson, John. "Mission Bay False Port ..." San Diego Evening Tribune, November 2, 1934, clipping found in John Davidson Place Names Notebook, LO-PAD. San Diego Historical Society, Serra Museum Research Library.
15. Gudde, Erwin G. California Place Names ... 3d rev. ed. Berkeley, University of California Press, c1969. p.204.
16. Mission Beach ... Frye & Smith. loc. cit. See fold-out map in brochure.
18. The popular name for Mission San Carlos Borromeo, taken from its location on Carmel Bay. See Hunt, Rockwell D.,
and Sanchez, Nellie Van de G. A Short History of California. Crowell, c1929. p. 71, p. 124, p. 151.
19. Apparently named for Mission San Juan Bautista, since San Juan Capistrano is already represented by Capistrano
Place; also, as San Juan Bautista, it is in correct geographical order.
20. Named for Mission San Jose de Guadalupe.
21. This bridge across the channel entrance was built in 1914 by Spreckels, and its demolition was completed on January 25, 1951, after the first Ventura Bridge was opened in September, 1949. San Diego Union, January 26, 1951, clipping in Vertical File under Ocean Beach, San Diego Historical Society, Serra Museum Research Library.
22. South, Middle and North Jetties were constructed after World War II by the Army Corps of Engineers. They had a dual purpose: to channel the San Diego River directly into the ocean instead of either of the two bays; and to form a protected and deepened entrance into Mission Bay. The North Jetty was completed in 1953. By 1959, further dredging had been done in the channel, riprap added, and both North and Middle Jetty grouted. Information from the City of San Diego, Engineering and Development Dept., Flood Plain and Beach Erosion Sect., Mr. Jim Mueller, A.C.E. Much of Mr. Mueller's information came from the Definite Project Report on San Diego River and Mission Bay, California, prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers, 1949, and from Addendum # 1 to same, March, 1958.
23. Amended Map #1809, Mission Beach, in San Diego County Recorder's Office; alters original map filed Dec. 14, 1914, on 10 Nov. 1924, and amended map filed 13 Nov. 1924 in County Recorder's Office. Eliminates Courts between San Fernando Place and Ventura Place, "The Prado," and certain other unused "Ways."
24. City Clerk's Office, Card Index to Street Names. Santa Rita Place. However, the reference to Map #1309 is a typographical error in the Clerk's Office. The correct map is Amended Map #1809 in the County Recorder's Office.
25. Xenophon Street, in an "author" series in Point Loma. See: San Diego Fire Dept. Map Division. San Diego City (Map) Edited 1954, compiled from original wall maps, rev. 1965, 1967, 1972, updated daily. Found in San Diego Public Library, California Room.
26. Resolution #18782, City Clerk's Office. loc. cit.
27. Columbia-Lippincott Gazetteer of the World; ed. by Leon E. Seitzer. New York, Columbia University Press and Lippincott, c1962, c1952. Aspinwall.
28. Columbia-Lippincott... loc. cit. Each Court name was checked in the gazetteer under its own alphabetical entry.
29. Ordinance # 12833, passed by the City Council May 12,1930. City Clerk's Office, Microfilm 3.35.
30. San Diego County Recorder's Office, Amended Map # 1809. loc. cit.
31. Mission Beach ... Frye & Smith. loc. cit.
32. City of San Diego Planning Dept. and People of Mission Beach Community. Mission Beach Precise Plan. April, 1974. p.5. In City Clerk's Office and San Diego Public Library, Pacific Beach Branch. 33. Ventura Place west of Mission Boulevard was changed to Ventura Boulevard by Ordinance NS 4017, Mar. 29, 1949; east of Mission Boulevard, to West Mission Bay Drive by Resolution # 183596, adopted Apr. 29, 1965. City Clerk's Office, Card Index to Street Names. Ventura Place.
34. Ordinance # 12833. loc. cit.
35. From my own personal recollection. Living nearby for over thirty years, I have watched the evolution of the Wavecrest sign. The sign on Mission Boulevard now says, "Wavecrest Ct. Alley." The word "alley" is omitted from the sign at 'the intersection of Wavecrest Court and Strandway.
Zelma Bays Locker graduated from Drake University, Des Moines, with a degree in Education, and earned a M.L.S. at Pratt Institute Graduate School of Library Science, Brooklyn. From 1933 to 1967 she was employed by the San Diego Public Library serving as Senior Librarian in charge of the California, Newspaper and Genealogy Rooms at the Central Library from 1954 until her retirement in 1967. She served on the Board of Directors of the San Diego Historical Society during 1968-1974 and was Secretary of the Board 1970-1974. She is a member of various historical societies and currently serves as Church Historian for the Central Christian Church, San Diego.
Mrs. Locker's article was an award-winning paper presented at the San Diego Historical Society's 1974 Institute of History. Illustrations provided by the author and Historical Collection, Title Insurance and Trust Co., San Diego.