The Rich Valley of El Cajon

Below is an excerpt from the list of appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971, courtesy of the U. S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It shows the appointment of the first postmaster for El Cajon, Amaziah L. Knox, on June 6, 1878:

Knox, originally from Maine, had come to San Diego County in 1869, where he bought some acreage in the El Cajon Valley and began raising wheat. He also began to take lodgers in his house, which he eventually expanded into a hotel, taking advantage of his location at the half-way point between the city of San Diego and Julian, which was experiencing a boom due to the discovery of gold.

An item in the San Diego Union on of December 9, 1873 reported a visit to the paper’s offices by “Mr.Knox, of Cajon Valley” who reported that heavy rains had made the ground so wet that “they will have to wait awhile before they can go on plowing. Between 5,000 and 6,000 acres will be planted in wheat on the Cajon this season,” the article stated, of which Knox was planting some 2,000 acres.

Within a decade Knox and other valley ranchers would grow an expanding assortment of crops, including grapes, raisins and olives, of sufficient quantity and quality to appeal to markets beyond California. An 1888 book, reporting on the operation of George Cowles, an El Cajon neighbor of Knox, stated that “…today the raisins produced on the Cowles Ranch are sent all over the United States, and they are without doubt superior to any grown either in this country or Europe. ……This season there were shipped from eight to ten thousand boxes of raisins from this vineyard which is but five years old. It is situated in the center of the valley. Besides grapes, and olives, and other fruits, there are about one thousand acres in grain, while the ranch is stocked with one hundred head of fine horses, and about three hundred head of choice, graded cattle.”

While the Post Office Department chose the name El Cajon for the office over which Mr. Knox presided, his home and land were then more widely known as “Knox’s Corner.” But in 1912, just a few years before his death at the age of 84, Amaziah Knox would see the city of El Cajon formally incorporated. One of the members of the first city government would be his son, Dr. Charles Randall Knox. The original Knox house at what is now the southwest  corner of Main Street and Magnolia Avenue in downtown El Cajon is today the home of the El Cajon Historical Society.

Sources for this post included the National Archives and Records Administration, historic San Diego County newspapers, the El Cajon Historical Society, and the following books: Picturesque San Diego by Douglas Gunn, published in 1887, City and County of San Diego Illustrated, and Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Pioneers, by Leberthon and Taylor, published in 1888, and City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California, by Clarence Alan McGrew, published in 1922.

All-Stars

In honor of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game tomorrow, the History Seeker recalls a county family that produced a trio of local baseball stars, one of whom became an All-Star in the Show, as some call the major leagues.

“The Prides of Escondido,” was the headline over a photo of three young Escondido High School baseball players in the San Diego Union on April 18, 1928.

“Escondido is proud of its Coscarart boys, and with plenty of reason,” began the article accompanying the photo, describing Joe, Steve and Pete Coscarart as “ball playing fools.”

“Joe is shortstop and cleanup hitter for the Escondido High team,” explained the article, while “Steve holds down second base and is second in the batting order. Pete, the little fellow, is lead off hitter and plays left field or wherever you want to put him.”

A few days later the Union reported the victory of the Escondido High team over ‘the Naval Training Station nine,” 3 to 1, “in a fast game featured by the bang-up playing of the Coscarart trio…” Pete, playing second base, “made a fast double-play in the fifth inning and halted a rally by the Boots. He caught a sizzling liner and threw out a runner at third base, retiring the side. Joe and Steve played right field and shortstop, respectively, and showed good form at bat and afield.”

All three brothers would star on minor league teams. An injury cut short Steve’s career. Joe and Pete would go on to the major leagues, Joe with the Boston Braves and Pete with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Pete would last in the majors the longest, playing for the Dodgers and then the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1938 to 1946. In 1939, Pete was considered the top defensive second baseman in the National League. He was considered pretty good on offense too, with a .277 batting average, 22 doubles and 10 stolen bases. The following year he made the National League All-Star team. He was later named to the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame, and is memorialized locally in Pete Coscarart Field, home of Escondido High’s baseball teams.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego and Escondido newspapers and the Society for American Baseball Research.

License to Serve

The San Diego Union of November 21, 1905 included this item on page 6, which I present in its entirety:

“The liquor license muddle has at last been untangled. Joe Jost was awarded the license formerly held by John Conklin for 468 Fifth street. The council looked with favor upon the application of Smith and Steinmann as partners for the license for the saloon at 1420 E street. And granted their application. Meyer and Heckler we granted a transfer of the license formerly held by George Wahl for the saloon at the corner of Fourth and E streets. The license of the Imperial Saloon was transferred to A. B. Gifford and the license for the saloon at 568 Fifth street was transferred to A. A. Finley.”

If you read it all you could count a total of five saloon licenses being granted for establishments within a few blocks of each other in downtown San Diego at one city council session. The “muddle” in the licensing process had to do with an ordinance passed earlier in the year that was part of a campaign by the Anti-Saloon League and other organizations promoting prohibition. That ordinance, among other things, limited the number of saloons legally permitted in the city to 55.

It certainly didn’t stop the development of saloons, not to mention the sale of liquor at restaurants and at wholesale operations. In December of 1905, the ordinance was reversed after a contentious city council session packed by representatives of both “wets” and “drys.” While setback locally, the “drys” would continue their campaign on the state and national level, culminating in the passing of national prohibition with the 18th amendment in 1919.

And we all know how that turned out.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the archives of the San Diego City Clerk’s office.

The City’s Keyboard

It’s never been easy being the city of San Diego’s Civic Organist. There’s the technical challenge of playing one of the largest pipe organs in the world. Then there’s the matter of selecting the repertoire for the weekly concert programs, taking into account everything from the tastes of a diverse audience to weather conditions.

Below is a photo, courtesy of the digital archives of the San Diego City Clerk’s office, showing Royal A. Brown at the Spreckels keyboard in 1935.

Brown served as the civic organist from 1932 to 1954. He was an accomplished musician and also a composer in his own right. Among his compositions were a number of masses as well as a suite entitled “Balboa Park,” which he described to a San Diego Union reporter in 1942 as a portrayal of “things, scenes, events and impressions of beautiful Balboa Park in San Diego.”

His Balboa Park Suite and some other original compositions can be seen on programs in local newspapers for organ concerts at the pavilion during his tenure, interspersed with selections of other classical and popular works, from Mozart and Bach to Victor Herbert and Richard Rogers.

An extensive article San Diego Union article in June of 1942 talked about the challenges Brown faced.

Constance Herreshoff, the reporter regularly covering the music and theater scene for the Union at that time, wrote, “In the course of giving four weekly concerts on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 [the concert schedule at that time], Brown figures that he plays about 3,000 different pieces a year. Sometimes he changes a set program after sizing up his audience.”

“On cold foggy days….Brown finds that marches go well, and that Souza, especially, warms people up.”

By June of 1942, with San Diego mobilizing for the war effort, an increasing number of Brown’s audiences included servicemembers. He told the Union reporter that “sailors want majesty,” and Herreshoff noted that “if he sees more sailors than usual in the crowd, he pulls out lots of stops and plays important things with plenty of form and backbone.”

Brown noted that he got a lot of requests for Bach, but “he plays Bach on only 50 percent of his programs, out of deference for those who don’t like Bach.”

“You have to watch your bridges after playing Bach,” he told Herreshoff. “You can’t play Souza right after Bach.”

He also gave an insight into the relationship between the organist and the maintenance crew. While pointing out the need for a good mechanic “In case a key sticks or something goes wrong,” Brown added that sometimes he had to tell the repair crew to hold off.

“But when I play a piece called ‘March of the Magi Kings’ by Dubois,” Brown said, “I put up a notice for the mechanic saying, ‘Don’t Shut Off.” Brown explained that in that particular piece “a high note is held for a long time to represent a star, while the hands play about the Magi in the lower part of the organ. I stick in a peg to hold the high note down. The mechanics worry when they hear this high note and will start in ‘killing’ the cipher’ if I don’t flag them.”

Royal Brown was at the keyboard until October of 1954. He passed away unexpectedly of a heart ailment at his home just three days after playing his regular concert date. His musical heritage lives on in the work of his successors both at and behind the keyboard.

From Working Ranch to Marine Base

The photo above was taken in 1887 and appears in the book, Picturesque San Diego, which was published that year. The caption on the photo reads, “Santa Margarita Ranch House,-from the Vineyard.”

 Formally called Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores, the tract was the largest of the Mexican land grants and would continue to function as a working ranch for another 55 years until the entry of the United States into World War II would give it the name we know it by today: Camp Pendleton.

When I give lectures about Picturesque San Diego, my slide show includes that image of old Rancho Santa Margarita. Among all the photos and passages from the book that I present, that photo is one of the few on which audiences often make the connection between the rural photo and the name of the present-day location. That may be at least partly a tribute to the Camp Pendleton Historical Society. Their most recent newsletter offered up a surprising fact about the man for whom the base is named, Major General Joseph H. Pendleton, USMC: “Surprisingly, except for hundreds of signs featuring his name, there is no public display of him as a person.”

The society has inaugurated a project to erect a permanent monument to General Pendleton on base grounds. Click on the link below to learn more about the project and the life of the man who helped to secure a permanent presence for the U.S. Marines in San Diego: