Pacific Beach History

Courtesy of  John Fry and the
Pacific Beach Historical Society
P. O. Box 9200
San Diego, CA 92169-0200 

A Brief History of Pacific Beach

1885 - The Beginning:

It all started with the completion of the railroad link between San Diego and the East Coast in 1885. A massive advertising and public relations campaign paid for by the railroads and chambers of commerce started a trickle of visitors that quickly turned into a torrent of immigrants.

Thousands of people were arriving each month by the middle of 1886, awaited by land speculators eager to make their fortune. Ramona, Del Mar, San Marcos, El Cajon, Lakeside, La Jolla and Pacific Beach were a few of the towns that came into being during this frenzied period.

The July 31, 1887 issue of the San Diego Union announced news of a "Great Enterprise, a new city about to be build at "False Bay" (now called Mission Bay). Lots in Pacific Beach went on sale December 12, 1887 and was said to be the "most successful in the history of San Diego real estate transactions".

By the end of 1889 the San Diego & Pacific Beach Railroad was completed to the end of Grand Avenue and with the convent transportation available, things were looking up for the young community.

On March 15, 1894 the railroad extension into La Jolla was completed and became the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla Railway. This facilitated not only passenger transportation, but hauling of freight in the form of lemons, lumber, coal and merchandise. Pacific Beach at the turn of the century became a growing farming community of citrus fruit, primarily lemons.

Early 1900's - A New Century:

In 1902 development became the new opportunity for those who took advantage of the lots offered. The lot sizes were 25 X125 and were usually sold in pairs for between $350 - $700 for ocean front property. For those who preferred living two to five blocks from the ocean the prices declined to between $150 - $200.

In 1906 the Los Angeles & San Diego Beach Railway was created by merging the San Diego, Old Town and Pacific Beach lines with the San Diego, Pacific Beach and La Jolla railway. The Lamont street station was where most passengers departed the train was just west of Lamont on Grand Avenue. It is noteworthy to identify that despite it’s name this railway never went further north than La Jolla, In 1919 the railway was closed and abandoned as touring cars and buses became the popular.

By the early 1920's Pacific Beach had a population of 500 and a new modern school, The Pacific Beach School at 1580 Emerald Street. Around the same time Earl Taylor and his family relocated to Pacific Beach from the Midwest. Taylor soon purchased much of the land west of Cass Street and proceeded to improve the area by paving the streets and building sidewalks. He was looking for ways to make his property more saleable, facilitated streetcar service to La Jolla and had an idea to build a "pleasure pier" similar to the popular piers in Los Angeles. The opening of the pier occurred on the weekend of July 4th 1927 with all of San Diego flocking to see the new Crystal Ballroom located at the end of the pier.

The Zlac Rowing Club was established in 1892. It started with three sisters and a cousin named Zullette, Lena, Agnus, and Caroline, they used the letters of their first names to create the name of the club. They bought their first barges from a whaling company in Seattle. They first were in San Diego Bay. They moved to Mission Bay in 1929. The building was designed by Lillian Rice, a member of the club and a women architect in a tough man's world. The tall pines trees were planted by Kate O Sessions in 1930, she was a friend of the club. At that time Mission Bay was a mud flat. They would row the whaling barges in the muddy water. Some times they would get caught in a low tide and would have to wait for the water to come back to row back to the clubhouse.

The club is now over a hundred years old. It is a women's only rowing club. Girls are invited to join the club as young as age 14, or may join the club at a later age. They are taught the skills to row both a sweep oar and a scull rowing, two different types of rowing boats. For further information we have a book written about the club. It is " A History of Zlac Rowing Club" by Helen Wallace. It is available at the library.

The building of roads to accommodate the increasing numbers of automobiles had an impact on Pacific Beach as on December of 1930 the Rose Canyon Highway was opened. Following, in January of 1931 the causeway between Crown Point and Midway Drive across Mission Bay was completed and open for use. In 1939 buses replaced the streetcar line to La Jolla.

Modern Pacific Beach:

World War II had a most dramatic effect upon the beach area increasing the population five-fold and with it bringing development which transformed Pacific Beach into a thriving community. In December 1943 the new ROXY Movie Theater opened on Cass Street. Additionally plans for improving Mission Bay were approved and the number of businesses and residences doubled and re-doubled.

By 1950 the population of Pacific Beach reached 30,000 and the average home sold for $12,000. The Taylor family, having recovered from the depression years built markets and businesses throughout the beach area. In 1951 a new library was built at the corner of Felspar and Ingraham and later that year the Pacific Beach Town Council was officially incorporated.

As the beach community entered the 1960's, development continued to increase. Vacant lots were filled in and older buildings replaced. Along sail bay large condominiums began to rise and slowly the quiet rural Pacific Beach began to disappear. During this period the city’s investment in Mission Bay Park facilitated the developments of the Islandia, Vacation Village and Hilton Hotels. In 1964 Sea World opened along with a host of other tourist and marine oriented businesses.

Today Pacific Beach pulses with the heartbeat of the young and active.  "PB", as it is now known locally is home to many college students, single professionals and families.  A paved walkway parallels the beach from just south of Tourmaline Surfing Park to the navigable inlet almost 3 miles to the south. Walking, jogging, bicycling and skating are permitted on the walkway, but speed is regulated for safety reasons. There is no shortage of places to eat, drink, shop and party along Garnet Avenue and Mission Blvd., where dining becomes an adventure of choice with a wide range of ethnic restaurants, nightclubs, sports bars, pubs and coffee houses.  Pacific Beach is the most popular beach destination in the city of San Diego and draws large crowds in the summer, especially holiday weekends.

The information and photographs above are excerpts from the book
"A Short History of Pacific Beach"

For more information call John Fry at 858-272-6655 or
Email at

This page is maintained by Larry Salus as a
Community Service

Larry Salus