Articles by Richard Crawford
Gambling ships were quite the vogue in the 1930s. Anchored three miles off the San Diego coast, ships like the Reno or Monte Carlo frustrated law enforcement but delighted the sporting crowd. Click below for a story I wrote many years ago about the ill-fated Monte Carlo, the wreck of which can usually be seen each winter at low tide in front of the Hotel del Coronado. This was originally published in Stranger Than Fiction: Vignettes of San Diego History (San Diego Historical Society, 1995).
Kelp–best known as the flyblown brown seaweed that fouls beaches and tangles the legs of ocean swimmers—is actually one of San Diego’s great natural products. In the early 1900s, the processing of ocean kelp by the Hercules Powder Company in a huge plant in Chula Vista employed hundreds of people and helped win a war. The story of Hercules Powder.
To look at it now, solidly in place, you would never know its disturbed history. The broken course of the Sutherland project is one of those fantastic things that could only happen here. –Shelley Higgins, former City Attorney, in This Fantastic City.
The story of the ill-starred Sutherland Dam, known in its day as A Dam Fiasco.
We arrived at San Diego very tired at ½ past 7. Did not know where to go or what to do. It was dark. A serious time. At length, Walter, Keane, and self were taken in at the Dragoon Quarters and the rest got a tent. Our supper was coffee and crumbs of biscuit. –H.M.T. Powell, December 3, 1849
The diary of a tired traveler from Illinois provides a rare, colorful account of early San Diego. Of an estimated 80,000 gold-seekers who found their way to California in 1849, relatively few stopped in San Diego. Fewer still left recorded narratives of their time here. The journal of H.M.T. Powell, published in 1931 as The Santa Fe Trail to California, 1849-1852, is considered by historians to be one of the most important accounts of the Gold Rush era.
An eyewitness view of Old Town San Diego in 1849: H.M.T. Powell and San Diego
San Diego is now the automobile racing capital of America. For the brief space of one week the Southern California exposition city is to revel in all the glory of the speed game. Next Saturday America’s foremost drivers are to risk their lives . . . in one of the most unique motor races ever staged on the Pacific Coast. –Los Angeles Times, Jan. 3, 1915
The story of the 1915 Exposition Road Race.
For the first time in the history of aviation, Glenn H. Curtiss yesterday performed the feat of launching his hydro-aeroplane from the water into the air, and after remaining in the air one minute and 21 seconds, alighted upon the water. He repeated his performance at will, skipping about Spanish Bight, off North Island, and circling around the craft in the harbor, with the ease and grace of the ordinary sea-bird. –San Diego Union, January 27, 1911.
The early months of 1911 would be a remarkable time in the history of aviation, particularly for pioneer flyer Glenn Curtiss. The 33-year-old former motorcycle racer was America’s most accomplished aviator: winner of prestigious speed races, a successful aircraft builder, a respected consultant to the military, and the first aviator to fly and land a plane on water. The story of The Aviator.
San Diego by nature offers the finest spot in the United States for tourists. And tourism is our largest non-government business. [Mission] Valley is part of the Planning Department’s future plan for the tourist, and we are considering throwing it down the drain . . . –Arthur Jessop, downtown merchant, June 26, 1958.
Controversial decisions in city planning are not new in San Diego but perhaps no action has ever been more consequential than a City Council vote in June 1958 to rezone 90 acres of farmland along Interstate 8–a decision that green-lighted construction of the Mission Valley Shopping Center.
The great need of this town is about to be supplied by A. E. Horton, Esq., who will immediately erect, on the northwest corner of Fourth and D Streets, a palatial brick edifice, for hotel purposes. It is to contain a hundred rooms and to be fitted up with elegant furniture and all modern improvements. –The San Diego Bulletin, December 18, 1869
The story of San Diego’s first hotel, the luxurious Horton House Hotel.
A number of quite prominent San Diegans attended a séance given by Elsie Reynolds in a room at Dr. Barnes’ residence; Friday evening . . . a lady spirit was materialized, and came into the audience to shake hands. A lady present, at an opportune moment, seized the spirit around the waist with one arm and clinched its wrist with the other hand. The spirit shrieked and attempted to tear itself away. . . . The séance ended abruptly. –San Diego Union, January 20, 1889.
The religion of “Spiritualism” claimed millions of followers in the United States and Europe in the nineteenth century. Believers included Mary Todd Lincoln who hosted séances in the White House to reach her departed sons Eddie and Willie. Spiritualist demonstrations could also be entertaining, profitable for the mediums, and more often than not, fraudulent, as San Diegans would discover in the summer of 1888: The Spooks in San Diego
In the fall of 1918, San Diego children skipped rope to a popular rhyme:
I had a little bird
Its name was Enza
I opened the window
In the last weeks of World War I and in the months that followed, an influenza outbreak swept the world, infecting a billion people and killing as many as 50 million. It was one of the deadliest pandemics in history. In San Diego the scourge reached epidemic proportions . . .
Read the story of The Spanish Flu.