San Diego’s First Memorial Day

San Diego Union May 27, 1882

Memorial Day was marked for the first time in San Diego in 1882.  As was true elsewhere across the country, the commemoration  originated in the last decades of the 19th century with people decorating the graves of Civil War soldiers. A national organization of Civil War veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, or GAR, played a strong role in honoring its fallen comrades, as shown in the notice above. As preparations for the San Diego commemoration were made, the GAR also invited veterans of an earlier conflict, the Mexican War, to participate.

On May 30th, veterans of both wars decorated the graves of their fallen compatriots, then marched to Armory Hall for a commemorative ceremony that included prayers, a concert by the City Guard Band and poetry readings before ending with the singing of “America the Beautiful.”

A Day That Re-Shaped Our Home

On this day 175 years ago, May 13, 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. I thank Judy Russell, author of the blog, The Legal Genealogist, for reminding us all of this anniversary, marking the beginning of a war that profoundly re-shaped the two nations who fought it. That included of course, a literal physical reshaping of the territories of these two nations, especially the then-Mexican province of Alta California, and its southern-most region, containing the then-small village of San Diego. In December of 1846, the San Diego region would be the setting for the Battle of San Pasqual, the bloodiest battle of the war. The war would last until 1848 and end with Alta California becoming a territory of the United States and, in 1850, the 31st  state in the USA. And one of that state’s first counties would be called San Diego.

Here’s a link to Russell’s post, which offers info about the records which researchers can plumb for more information about the war and the people who fought it. That’s history for you!

https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2021/05/13/proclaiming-the-war/

Talkies Come to Chula Vista

The ad below appeared in the Chula Vista Star newspaper on Friday, February 7, 1930, on page 6. The same edition also carried a front-page article announcing an upcoming “Gala Opening” at the theater on Sunday, February 9th.

The Seville Theatre, at 388 Third Avenue, had been open and showing movies in the town since 1927. But those movies had been silent. While sound films had been introduced in 1927, the technology was still new and still spreading slowly to movie houses across the country, and across San Diego County. So the premier of a “100% All Talking Program” at a local venue was a special occasion.

“Last Sunday night marked the opening of one of the finest talkie theatres in Southern California with the introduction of sound at the Seville Theatre,” proclaimed an article on the weekly Star’s front page on the following Friday, February 14.

“Third Avenue was appropriately decked out in its finest flags and banners for the occasion,” reported the article. A line of searchlights scanning the skies Hollywood-style included a truck-mounted “six million candle-power light…loaned by Airtech at Lindbergh Field.”

The box office opened at 5:45 p.m. as a 20- piece orchestra “composed of local music students” entertained the crowd. When the lobby doors opened at 6:15 moviegoers were greeted by the recently elected “Miss Chula Vista,” Louise Turner.

The filmed program consisted of a Metrotone newsreel, an “animated talking cartoon…Harry Langdon’s first all-talking comedy,” and ended with “the big feature of the program,” Joan Crawford starring in “Untamed.”

“The entire house was sold out for the first show,” reported the Star. “By 9 o’clock the lobby was again packed and the line extended around the corner of the theatre and down Third Avenue, waiting for the second show.”

The Seville continued to operate until 1955. It was demolished in the early 1960s.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego County newspapers and the website, Cinema Treasures.

Illegal Vines

The headline below is from a front-page article in the Escondido Times-Advocate’s edition of Saturday, October 9, 1920:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is times-advocate-9-oct-1920.jpg

Prohibition had gone into effect in January 1920, transforming the growing of grapes, which had been part of San Diego County’s agricultural scene going back at least to the days of the Spanish Missions, into a crime.

“Several thousand gallons of mash in vats ranging in size from 500 to 1,200 gallon capacity, hundreds of gallons of wine and five tons of grapes were seized in three raids made in and near Escondido by federal and county officers Wednesday evening,” began the article, which went on to say that “The haul at the trio of wineries is the most extensive raid yet made in this county and brings the number of places raided around Escondido to a total of five during the last few weeks.”

The law allowed for a certain amount of winemaking for individual family consumption and for the making of “sacramental” wine for religious purposes. A number of San Diego winegrowers utilized those exemptions to try to survive.

However, only four San Diego County wineries survived after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, according to Richard Carrico’s 2016 book, Of Wine on the Lees Well Refined:A History of Wine and Wineries of San Diego County.

Winemaking thankfully made a comeback here. As of 2019, there were over 150 commercial wineries in the county, according to the San Diego County Vintners Association.

To that the History Seeker can only say: Cheers!

Attracting Patients and Doctors

The photo below is from a promotional pamphlet for the Florence Hotel, which opened for business in January 1884 on Fir Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues in downtown San Diego.

FlorenceHotel1889 (1)

The Florence was one of a number of new hotels built to accommodate a rising tourist trade in San Diego County in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. San Diego’s mild climate made “health tourism” an important part of the travel market of the day. The owner of the Florence, W.W. Bowers, who also happened to be Alonzo Horton’s brother-in-law, was interested in promoting his hotel for all comers, not just “invalids” or “consumptives,” to use two popular terms among the San Diego business community in those days. But he certainly wouldn’t turn down business from anyone either, including doctors themselves. In late 1883, as he was getting ready to open the Florence, Bowers felt compelled to write a letter to the San Diego Union that included this:

“I am not a doctor, neither am I building a sanatorium, asylum, hospital, nor home for the friendless. I am engaged in erecting what is intended to be a first-class family hotel, nothing more-no-less; the guests will, I suppose, do as at other hotels, choose their own physician if they desire one without the advice or interference of any employee of the house; I state this because I have in one day received as many as four applications for the position of physician-not from the doctors here, but from friends and relatives of doctors who want to come here.”

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