A Face and Story Behind A Street Name

Undated photo of William Kettner courtesy of the Library of Congress.

William Kettner served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1913 to 1920, representing the Eleventh Congressional District, which at that time included San Diego City and County as well as a number of other southern California counties.

Originally from the Midwest, Kettner came to southern California in the 1880s, first settling in Visalia but moving to San Diego in 1907. He ran an insurance business and was also active in various civic organizations, including the San Diego Chamber of Commerce.

Historical accounts uniformly describe him as an affable and outgoing man with a strong sense of civic responsibility. He wanted to actively promote his community. He came into Congress at a time when local, state and national leaders were beginning to recognize San Diego harbor’s value, not just as a commercial seaport, but also a strategically important location for the U. S. Navy.

Kettner took a leading role in promoting San Diego as a headquarters for naval facilities. He served on house committees dealing with rivers and harbors and with naval appropriations. Among those friends cultivated by the affable congressman during his time in Washington was a young assistant navy secretary named Franklin Roosevelt. Kettner is credited with introducing the East Coast-raised Roosevelt to San Diego’s physical beauty and climate as well as its value as a naval port.

Kettner is credited with helping to bring most of the major naval facilities to San Diego, including the Naval Training Center, the Broadway Naval Supply Deport, and the North Island Naval Air Station, to name just a few.

Ill-health and some business reversals led Kettner to retire from Congress after the 1920 session but he remained a popular figure until his death in 1930. A city fireboat was named after him in 1919, and a few months after his retirement from Congress, the San Diego city council passed an ordinance declaring that “the name of Arctic Street, for its entire length in the city of San Diego, California, be, and the name is hereby changed to Kettner Boulevard.”

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History  the Library of Congress, and the archives of the San Diego City Clerk’s Office.

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