Of Eagles, Omens and Real Estate

The Sunday edition of the San Diego Union for October 8, 1871 included among the items in its “National City” column, a story that began this way:

“On Wednesday afternoon, people in the immediate vicinity of the flag staff in front of Kimball Brothers’ land office were surprised by the appearance of a huge eagle which lighted on top of the staff.”

A little background here. The Kimball brothers—Frank, Levi and Warren—had in 1868 purchased the Mexican-era land grant Rancho de la Nacion, some 26,000 acres spreading south of Old Town San Diego and fronting the bay. They subdivided it and began offering lots for sale in the community they renamed “National City.”

Along with seeking land buyers, they also quickly began trying to interest railroad companies in extending a line to their town and connecting it to the developing transcontinental route. They offered thousands of acres to various railroad entrepreneurs in exchange for the building of a station and other facilities.

At the time of the article in question, no deal had been officially announced, but the idea of a transcontinental terminal in the San Diego area was very much in the news. So there’s the context for this tale of the eagle’s landing on a real estate office flagpole.

The eagle hung around for a while, long enough, stated the Union reporter, that “the believers in signs and wonders predicted that the appearance of this strange visitor was the herald of good times coming, and would now allow the bold bird to be brought down…”

The article went on to state, “The [railroad] terminus being the most important matter under consideration, it was supposed that this prophetic bird had come among us for the purpose of pointing out the coveted spot. This belief was confirmed by its taking wing and going in a straight line to the railroad lands, which it sailed around a few minutes, but returned to the flag pole again, as if dissatisfied with the reconnaissance, where it remained all night.”

At daylight the next morning, the eagle had disappeared, “leaving the superstitious and the skeptical to discuss the object of the eagle’s visit.”

A decade and a half later National City would get a station as the terminus of the transcontinental railroad, along with repair yards. But a few years after that the railroad owners changed their plans and moved the facility to the Los Angeles area.

Maybe that bird was right.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers and the books San Diego County Place Names A To Z by Leland Fetzer and City of San Diego and San Diego County:Birthplace of California, by Clarence Alan McGrew.

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