The New York Times, February 28, 1887, p. 2:|
SAN DIEGO, Feb. 10.--The path to commercial greatness for most modern cities lies over the tracks of many railroads, and San Diego at present chafes under the restraints imposed upon her by her solitary road, the California Southern. A rival to this road will probably soon reach her, and she will feel more comfortable in being brought so much nearer her hoped-for magnificence. It may be interesting to note what may be seen on the way to this beautiful town by the sea.
SAN DIEGO AS A SEAPORT.THE AMBITIOUS TOWN ON THE PACIFIC COAST.
SPECULATORS TRYING TO MAKE THE OLD MISSION A RIVAL TO LOS ANGELES AND SOMETHING MORE.
Passing southward from Colton the traveler is permitted a glimpse of the orange groves of Riverside, green amid the aridity of the surrounding plains and hills, and for miles afterward sees little to vary the monotony of ground squirrel (here called gopher) earthworks except an occasional small courtseying owl that ducks in a comical way to the passing train and lives in a communistic fasion with the squirrels and lizards.
Strung along the road are towns or diagrams of towns, which if fully inhabited would make Southern California more densely populous than China. Some of these, in anticipation of their great future, charge triple metropolitan prices for anything the unfortunate wayfarer may need, and one in this respect appropriately commemorates the Mexican bandit from whom it derives its name, Joaquin Murietta, in the cool rapacity of its charges to the hungry traveler.
In a valley between the Temescal and Santa Ana mountains Lake Elsinore, a beautiful sheet of water without an outlet, astonishes the voyager in this parched region by suddenly presenting green shores nad islets covered with wild fowl. Leaving the lake, the valley of the Santa Margarita soon leads into the Temecula Cañon, a narrow gorge in the Santa Rosa range, with slopes and sheer walls that barely leave room for the brawling, limpid stream and the railroad, and these have to cross and recross each other a dozen times... Emerging from the cañon the road and the stream keep company through a broad valley containing grazing sheep and cattle...
After a long curve inland, to avoid a cut, and grazing the "False Bay," the road runs beside the old roadbed of the abortive Texas and Pacific Railroad, through the old town of San Diego and a shanty suburb of the new town occupied by hundreds of squatters on the land granted by the city and forfeited by the non-completion of the road.
The new town is reached in time to begin the night hunt for quarters that has become chronic in Southern California. Nothing makes a man feel so weary of his kind as to find himself one of a throng struggling to be first down on a hotel register, unless it be to find himself in the unfortunate majority who have to search further for a room. If he be not a case-hardened egoist he will be crushed by the sense of his own superfluousness. With what relief he discovers through a circuit of three or four informants that a room in a private house is vacated for that night only, and that he may (it is 10 o'clock now) occupy it till morning...
The Southern Californians... seem to the cool spectator to be rather extravagant in their ideas of the future of their section, and to permit their enthusiasm to affect their estimate of values. When a person buys a piece of property for speculation he adds 25 or more per cent. to the price, and seems to think that the mere act of buying it has enhanced its value...
The nearest approach to real estate prices is in the price of "hay," as the unthrashed barley straw here fed to horses and cattle is called; but this is due to the drought which up to the present has cut off the usual grass supply that follows the rains. There is something ficticious about the price of this "barley hay" too, for only a few weeks ago it could be bought for from $8 to $12 a ton, and now it is quoted at $25 a ton. A "syndicate," which is the name here given to any form of combination by which the price of anything is advanced, has probably possessed itself of the limited supply remaining of last year's crop.
San Diego with its beautiful bay and excellent harbor aspires to rival San Francisco in the future, claiming Los Angeles County and all Southern California, Arizona, New-Mexico, and even Western Texas as tributary to it as a seaport. Los Angeles indignantly refuses to be classed as a part of the "back country" that is to furnish the exports to make San Diego great, claiming that she herself is the important point in Southern California, and that she has a seaport of her own, San Pedro, on which the Government has already expended much money. Los Angeles ridicules the idea that San Diego can ever be more than a pleasant watering place, with nothing behind her for hundreds of miles but a desert waste and sterile mountains... The most indignant and contemptuous of all, however, is the San Franciscan one occasionally meets here. In his eye San Diego's claims to consideration as a future seaport are simply absurd, and he "would not give six bits for the whole damned country back of her." San Diego holds that with more railroads she must become the seaport of Southern California, having the only harbor that does not require lighters to load and unload vessels.
San Diego is at the same time the creature and victim of "boom..." She is busily engaged again in "booming" real estate, and miles square of the rocky plateau east of her are "subdivided" into lots sufficient for a population of 100,000... The neck of land between the bay and the ocean, forming a natural and perfect breakwater for the bay, and which would probably be required for the necessities of commerce in a seaport of ordinary pretensions, is laid out for ornamental grounds, the site of a great hotel, and building sites for a seaside resort of the future, and the company who own all are selling the lots or offering them for sale at prices ranging from $150 to $3,000. The ornamentation at present has progressed little beyond clearing off the dense chapparal, leaving clumps of the scrub oaks for decorative foliage, and plowing and grading the streets and paths.
Even in this crude condition of the grounds sales are made. The attractions of the superb beach stretching miles along the ocean, the rocky Coronado Islands (Mexican territory), outlined softly on the seaward horizon, the mountain ridges to the south, surmounted by more distant Mexican peaks, the bay to the eastward, and the city terracing the slopes beyond, were potent enough in one instance recently to induce 18 out of a party of 19 Eastern people to buy lots as a speculation...
A broad bed of sand depressed about a foot below the level of the banks is where the San Diego River flows in the rainy season, and in seasons of freshet rushes in a turbulent and sand-laden current that sweeps everything before it, but in other seasons reveals itself only as occasional moist spots in the sand. Yet this apparently dry river bed is the only source of the water supply of the ranches in the valley and the main source from which San Diego draws her water supply. A few feet below the top of the sand water is found as abundant as in a well, showing that there is an undercurrent flowing constantly. These Western streams apparently flowed in deeper channels in the remote past, and were gradually filled by sand when the sandstone strata was reached in the work of erosion in the mountains...
A walk of four or five miles down the valley from the "mission" brings the pedestrian to the new water works of the city. Here the work of sinking five or six immense wells in the sand of the river bottom and banks is in progress. Cylinders of boiler iron 25 or 30 feet in diameter and about 15 feet long are sunk in excavations in the sand, the water rising in them through the bottom as in a curbed well. The tops of the cylinders, closed with heavy planks, are about on a level with the sand bed and covered over with sand to prevent evaporation. From these tanks the water is pumped by steam to an elevated distributing tank or reservoir on the high ground above the city.
The sand which is so serviceable as a conservator of the water supply of the valley has not been so useful when carried by the current into San Diego Bay, into which the river broke during the great freshet of 1825, and the course of the river has therefore been turned back through its natural channel into False Bay, thus protecting the harbor from sand deposit.
Continuing down the valley and westward toward the bay, the old town of San Diego is discovered in utter ruin. The adobe houses of the Mexican period, with few exceptions, are uninhabitable, and the presidio that in those days constituted all that was imposing architecturally and socially is in even greater ruin. Here the "mission" was first established by Padre Junipero, which a few years later was removed up the valley. The buildings of the American period are equally dilapidated. The "booms" of the new town and the railroad terminus there having made old San Diego unnecessary, the sham-front shops and gingerbread houses that sprang up among the adobes in the temporary impulse given by the American occupation have yielded to the corroding operation of time and neglect more readily than the old buildings.
A broken-windowed, empty-housed town, old San Diego is nevertheless one of the points of chief historical interest in Southern California. It was the objective point of Gen. Kearny's march of 2,000 miles in 1846, and was occupied on his approach, after a detachment of sailors and marines sent by Commodore Stockton from the bay had captured the earthwork on the slope above the town and planted cannon upon it commanding the presidio...
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