For the introductory blog post to San Diego’s historical landmarks, click on San Diego’s Historical Landmarks.
San Diego Historical Landmarks — #1: El Prado Area Designation, part 1
After passing Sefton Plaza, one arrives at the historic, and very beautiful Cabrillo Bridge. The first view below is going east on El Prado just after passing Sefton Plaza. The second view is the bridge as seen from the highway below.
(In the first picture above, the person at the right side of the bridge is James Frimmer, my other half.)
The Cabrillo bridge was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition. According to current sources, the bridge, including its approaches, is 916 feet long with a main span 450 feet long and 120 feet high.
In my copy of “Descriptive Guide Book of the California-Pacific International Expostion at San Diego, California, 1935,” (hereafter “Descriptive Guide”; publish date not stated but obviously 1934 or early 1935), page 6 states,
“The bridge with its approaches is 1505 feet long … and a height above Laguna del Puente of 110 feet.”
The bridge spans State Highway 163, completed in February 1948 (the orange north-south road in the map above), but the difference between 1,505 feet and 916 feet is not insignificant. Makes me wonder where those other 589 feet disappeared to. It’s not like the area has changed, and what would you do with an approach of 589 feet? The only thing I can think of is that the eastern approach at the time included El Prado all the way over to Pan American Road (see location of “El Cid Statue” on the map above).
Laguna del Puente was a lagoon in the canyon below, at the time called Pound Canyon, clearly visible in this picture from 1916 (courtesy of Wikipedia only because I would have had to take a picture of a picture in one of my books, download the picture, etc. Wikipedia was easier):
Pound Canyon was used to hold horses and cattle in the late 19th Century. By the time of the 1935 Exposition, Descriptive Guide states,
“In the lagoon are water lilies, rushes, pampas grass and bamboo.”
I mention pampas grass and bamboo because they are not native to San Diego. Bamboo was introduced to San Diego for the Koalas a few hundred feet away at the San Diego Zoo, which was founded in 1916. Although I could not find my source for this post, I remember reading that pampas grass was introduced in an effort to grow something similar to bamboo, but less expensive and easier to grow, with the hope that the Koalas would eat it. They didn’t, and don’t. Bamboo it is.
Pampas grass is also considered an invasive, non-native species, and county workers are striving to eradicate it from San Diego County. That’s why you won’t find it in plant nurseries here. Unfortunately, people bring it in from other states, which is why you’ll have a plant check at inspection stations when you drive into California from other states.
Thomas B. Hunter of San Francisco designed the bridge, a multiple-arched cantilever structure and the first bridge of its type in California.
Construction began in December 1912 under the direction of supervisor Frank P. Allen, Jr. The cost reached a quarter of a million dollars, about $5.8 million today. It features seven arches, each 56 feet across, supported by fourteen hollow concrete pillars. The pillars were constructed using over a million board-feet of wood, mostly redwood. Entrance doors at the bottom of each pillar provide easy access for maintenance. Although the entrance doors are normally locked, the locks were often picked and the doors damaged or destroyed by vagrants.
A fire erupted in the easternmost span of the bridge in July 1951, with redwood timbers smoldering for many hours. Once the fire was out, it was quickly forgotten. Perhaps it served as an omen, though, because another fire erupted on June 17, 2004. Again, old wooden concrete forms ignited. Since the fire could not be reached inside the pillars, firefighters jackhammered holes in the bridge’s sidewalks and pumped foam and water into the pillar. The fire has been attributed both to vagrants and to arsonists. The 2004 fire caused Caltrans to undertake a major rehabilitation of the bridge, repairing broken concrete, replacing corroded steel, and removing most of the old wood froms used in the original construction.
Although one can drive across the bridge now, it was originally intended as a pedestrian bridge. It was dedicated on April 12, 1914, by Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy; San Diego had, and still has, a significant Navy presence. Roosevelt and San Diego Mayor Charles F. O’Neill made the first automobile crossing, and automobile crossings for the next few years were reserved to dignitaries. Roosevelt returned in 1935 as President of the United States to cross the bridge again for Balboa Park’s second Exposition.
Not all history about the bridge is good. By October 1931, 17 people had commited suicide by jumping from the bridge. By 1950, the toll had jumped (pun intended) to 50, with eight of them occuring during the first six months of 1950. That caused the City to install wrought iron fencing on both sides of the bridge in June 1950.
It should be noted that not all suicide attempts were successful. In 1934, a sailor jumped from the bridge and splashed into Laguna de Puente. He survived. It is said that “when the ambulance arrived, he sat at the edge of the lagoon and complained of a headache.”
Suicide jumps from the bridge did not really stop until the Coronado bridge, rising 200 feet over San Diego Bay, was opened in 1969.
In part 3 of San Diego Historical Landmarks — #1: El Prado Area Designation, I’ll look at the California Tower and the Museum of Man.
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