Category Archives: Then & Now

Combining history, photography, and railroad passions

San Diego Then & Now

I always have been a fan of history, especially history that indicates how cruel humans can be to each other—The Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, American Civil War, World War I, World War II….

My second favorite history genre relies on another of my passions, photography, for its best storyline: then & now.

Combine history and photography with my passion for trains, and all is well in the world.

Trains were instrumental in building America, bringing people closer to each other, and moving troops in times of war.

Much of the railroad infrastructure in San Diego was built by the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe railroad, such as the historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego:

Santa Fe Depot in San Diego

The Santa Fe Depot is still used by the San Diego Trolley, the Coaster, and Amtrak. A careful search through historical records will reveal many pictures of Santa Fe trains in San Diego, such as this calendar picture of Santa Fe 3751, a steam engine built in 1927:

Santa Fe #3751 along the Pacific Ocean

That picture is circa 1962 and shows #3751 rounding the curve under the historic Del Mar bridge just north of Torrey Pines State Beach here in San Diego County. The train is headed northbound with the next part of its journey being right above the beaches. Gorgeous views and one of the most scenic Amtrak routes in all of North America!

Santa Fe #3751 still is fully operational and makes several excursions a year to various train events. When I went to San Bernardino Railroad Days earlier this year, I had the pleasure of riding in the consist from San Bernardino to Los Angeles Union Station, about 90 miles, that was being pulled by Santa Fe #3751.

Here is Photographic Art based on a picture of the Santa Fe #3751 from 2012 National Train Day in Los Angeles:

ATSF 3751 at Los Angeles at National Train Day in May 2012

Now let’s go back to that calendar picture. Although the location of the bridge was not disclosed on the calendar, I recognized it because I’ve driven over that bridge many times, and walked Torrey Pines State Beach many times. Here it is on a Google map:

Del Mar Bridge at Torrey Pines State Beach

The location is a great place to do a little train watching since Amtrak and the Coaster use it regularly. Northbound and southbound trains use the single track, so trains go by about every 30 minutes on a week day.

Following is my re-creation of the calendar picture with a northbound Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at the same point on the curve under the bridge.

Amtrak under the Del Mar Bridge at Torrey Pines State Beach near San Diego, California

There are about 50 years between the two pictures.

Look at the trees on the top of the hill in the background and you can see that the silhouette is very much the same:

Torrey pines

The trees are Torrey pines. San Diego is one of only two places in the world where the Torrey pine grows. The other is an island off the Southern California coast.

Now I want to find that tall tree in the middle because I’m pretty sure there must be a time capsule at its base that is waiting for Russel Ray to dig it up. Inside will be all sorts of materials about the history of San Diego, photographs, an old Kodak Brownie camera, and maybe even a toy Lionel train, Santa Fe #3751.

Following is Santa Fe #3751 at the 2014 San Bernardino Railroad Days, preparing to take a couple hundred train fans—including me!—back to Los Angeles Union Station. I rode in the second car behind the locomotive and tender, or the fifth car from the rear.

Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino, California

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

La Mesa Historic Landmarks — #1: McKinney House

City of La Mesa Historic Landmarks logo

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

A couple of years ago I discovered that the city of San Diego has a long list of historic landmarks.

Yesterday I discovered that the city of La Mesa, where I live, has at least one historic landmark.

I was there and saw the plaque:

City of La Mesa Historic Landmark #1

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Now all I have to do is find the list of other La Mesa historic landmarks so I can track them down and share them with………..wait for it………….YOU!

Since I have a degree in forestry from Texas A&M University, I might have been more impressed with the pine tree than the house:

Historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

That pine tree is by far the tallest tree in the area, even taller than the palm trees.

The house was built in 1908 and is located at 8369 University Avenue.

Location of historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

View Larger Map

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The McKinney House also happens to be the home of the La Mesa Historical Society:

La Mesa Historical Society

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Rev. McKinney and his wife, Florence, moved in 1899 to what was then known as Allison Springs.

He was one of the first ministers of La Mesa Methodist Episcopal Church, as well as the town librarian, a school trustee, and a lemon rancher. He was a busy man in early La Mesa!

The McKinney House is a good representative of middle-class rural life in the San Diego area at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The house normally is open for tours on the second and fourth Saturdays from 1:00-4:00 p.m. Unfortunately, it is closed right now for renovations, so you’ll just have to enjoy my exterior photos for the moment.

Historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Courtesy of the La Mesa Historical Society, following is a picture of the front of McKinney House as it looked around 1910, followed by my picture taken on June 3, 2013.

Mckinney House in La Mesa, California, ca 1910

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Historic McKinney House in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Other than the beautiful pine tree, the grounds could be just about any house in La Mesa in 2013. There is a bench in front of a huge bushy vine or viney bush in the back yard:

Historic McKinney House grounds in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

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Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Then & Now — Date Avenue in La Mesa, California

Then and Now logo

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I am taking a break from reading novels in favor of reading some of my history books. I particularly enjoy the Images of America books by Arcadia Publishing. I’ve browsed through my books, many times, but today I decided to actually read them. I started with Images of America: La Mesa by James D. Newland and the La Mesa Historical Society (ISBN-13 978-0-7385-8043-2). La Mesa is where I live. It’s an eastern suburb of San Diego.

I found pages 36 and  37 to be very interesting. Ever wonder how old those really tall palm trees are that you see in sunny places like San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Miami? I can give you a pretty good indication. Here are two pictures of Date Avenue in downtown La Mesa in 1908 (first) and 1910 (second):

Date Avenue in La Mesa, ca. 1908

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Date Avenue in La Mesa, ca. 1910

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Photos provided by Arcadia Publishing and used with permission. Thank you!

You can see that the palm trees didn’t appear to grow much in two years, although lots of houses grew in place of the citrus trees. This morning, I updated those pictures:

Date Avenue in La Mesa, California, on June 3, 2013

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Except for that first palm tree (doesn’t appear to have grown much!), the rest of the palm trees are about 103 years old! I’m not only surprised that they are still living, but I’m kind of surprised they are not taller.

The second picture also features a large 2-story home on the corner. Eventually that large lot for the 2-story home was split in two and another house was built on the corner, making the house in the picture the second house on the street. From today:

4664 Date Avenue in La Mesa, California, on June 3, 2013

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

That house is located at 4664 Date Avenue in La Mesa (91941) and was last sold in 1984 for $115,000. Zillow gives it a current Zestimate value of $393,662. Trulia tells us that average list price for similar homes for sale is $689,043, the average sales price for similar recently sold homes is $426,850, and the average list price for zip code 91941 is $601,823. Overall, I’d say it was a nice investment for someone in 1984.

Since it has not been sold recently, online public records are sparse. From what I can tell, it currently is a 3-unit apartment building, but I cannot find the square footage or number of bedrooms and bathrooms. I’m guessing all three units are one bedroom and one bathroom.

Great location for walking to downtown La Mesa where one can enjoy La Mesa Village or catch the San Diego Trolley for points north, south, or west.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend
James Frimmer, Realtor
Century 21 Award, DRE #01458572

If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!Real Estate Solutions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Classic Car Cruise in The Village, La Mesa, California

Then & Now: The Village in La Mesa, California

Out & About

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I live in La Mesa, which we call the “Jewel of the Hills.”

La Mesa, California, The Jewel of the Hills

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

All it really means is that we’re far enough inland so we don’t have to worry about oceanfront property prices or about escaping tsunamis.

Each year in October, downtown La Mesa, known as The Village, hosts the best and largest Oktoberfest in all of San Diego County.

Oktoberfest in The Village, La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

On Thursday afternoons during the summer they host a Classic Car Cruise. Lovingly restored and cared for cars from decades gone by cruise The Village:

Classic Car Cruise in The Village, La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Classic Car Cruise in The Village, La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Classic Car Cruise in The Village, La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Here is a picture of The Village from 1910:

The Village in La Mesa California, ca. 1910

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Notice the train at the end of the street? That’s a San Diego & Cuyamaca Eastern Railway train which stopped at the La Mesa Depot just a few yards to the right. Of course, I had to go update the photo:

The Village in La Mesa California, ca. 2010

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I even waited for about twenty minutes for a train to come by, the famous red cars of the San Diego Trolley. The old La Mesa Depot is now a museum, and the San Diego Trolley stops several yards to the left of this street.

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Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend
James Frimmer, Realtor
Century 21 Award, DRE #01458572

If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!Real Estate Solutions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Bank of East San Diego

San Diego Then & Now — The Bank of East San Diego

San Diego Then & Now

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I have many “Images of America” in my library. They are little booklets, 125 pages or so, about the smaller places in America that probably didn’t make the books about the big cities. They are published by Arcadia Publishing (online at www.arcadiapublishing.com). It is such a successful series that there are now many similar publications, from self-publishers to city historical associations.

These little books are wonderful glimpses in the American past, and Arcadia Publishing is great a not only providing permission to use their pictures in a post like this, but if you ask nicely, and sometimes even if you don’t ask at all, they’ll offer to provide JPG files of the pictures in the books so that you don’t have to take a picture of a picture.

One book in my collection, published by the San Diego Police Historical Association, is this one:

East of San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I met the author, Gary E. Mitrovich, three years ago shortly after I bought the book. He also graciously provided permission to use the pictures in the book in a post like this but he didn’t have JPG files to provide. So pictures of pictures it is.

East San Diego was a short-lived city, previously known as the San Diego neighborhood of City Heights. It voted for incorporation on November 2, 1912, by a vote of 288 to 212, and officially became East San Diego on November 7. On June 26, 1923, a vote was held in East San Diego to determine if the city wanted to be annexed by San Diego. By a vote of 1,344 to 1,109, East San Diego declared an end to its experiment as a city. At noon on December 23, 1923, East San Diego once again became the San Diego neighborhood of City Heights, which it is to this day.

On page 75 is a picture of the Bank of East San Diego, located at 4246 University Avenue:

Bank of East San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

The Bank of East San Diego was established on June 25, 1923, and opened its doors for business on August 11, 1923. You already know that the city of East San Diego ceased to exist in December 1923. I could not find when the bank closed, but it was still listed as an operating bank in a 1925 directory of City Heights.

The building was restored in 2004 and looked like this in May 2010:

Nancy's pub in City Heights, San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Nancy’s Pub closed in 2011 and the building now houses the Black Cat Bar. I’m wanting to go inside to see if if the old vault still exists, and if I can have a drink in it. I remember when I lived in Houston back in 1977-1983, there was an old bank that had been converted into a bar, and the bar in the vault was the coolest thing.

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Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend
James Frimmer, Realtor
Century 21 Award, DRE #01458572

If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!Real Estate Solutions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Historic bell at the main fire station in La Mesa, California

San Diego Then & Now — The Volunteer’s Bell

San Diego Then & Now

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Here in La Mesa, “Jewel of the Hills,” we have one of the highest sales tax rates in the state of California.

La Mesa, California, The Jewel of the Hills

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

However, we also have a brand new and beautiful police station, a brand new and beautiful fire station, a brand new and beautiful city hall, and a brand new and beautiful library. We might have more brand new and beautiful city buildings and such but I’m really tired of dictating “brand new and beautiful.” We also have streets without potholes (quite unusual), sidewalks that aren’t heaving and caving, great mass transit, and a vibrant downtown (Oktoberfest is the best in San Diego County!).

The brand new and beautiful (I guess I’m not so tired of dictating “brand new and beautiful” after all) fire station looks like this:

Main fire station in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

In the bottom left corner of that picture, there is a not-so-brand-new-and-beautiful bell. See it? It looks like this:

Historic bell at the main fire station in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

See the bronze plaque on the base of the bell? It looks like this:

Bell plaque at the main fire station in La Mesa, California

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Before I go any further, note that the presentation line at the bottom of the plaque says that it was presented in 1957. However, in the upper right corner is the date 1952. Hmmm. I’m thinking there’s an error and either the 1952 should be 1957, or the 1957 should be 1952. One of the things that leads me in this direction is the text on the plaque, text with four errors:

  1. This bellwhich (could have used a space)
  2. here,proudly (also could have used a space)
  3. The Volunteer’s Bell (apostrophe should be after the s as I’m sure there is more than one volunteer)
  4. the volunteer’s (definitely a misplaced apostrophe, and telling us that the first apostrophe is also misplaced)

I know that sometimes, when I’m in a hurry, my twos and sevens look the same. Quite possible here.

Since The Volunteer’s Bell is quite old, I went looking for more information on it. Little there is. However, I did find this picture of it in my book, “Images of America: La Mesa” by James D. Newland and the La Mesa Historical Society:

The Volunteer's Bell, La Mesa, California

Picture reprinted with permission of Arcadia Publishing.
“Images of America: La Mesa” is available from the publisher online at www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665.

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Back in 1948, the La Mesa Fire Department received an unusual gift, a springer spaniel-pointer mixed dog that was named Blaze and given the honorary title of Fire House Greeter. Our doggy in the picture is Blaze, with the book saying the picture was taken “c. 1960.” I’m guessing that the picture was actually taken on the day that Blaze retired in 1959, which, of course, is “c. 1960.” Just seems logical. No, I don’t have an updated picture of Blaze since he died in 1962.

However, I did find out a little more about The Volunteer’s Bell’s recent history. When the new fire station was built, the bell was removed and put into storage, which caused a minor uproar in La Mesa. Many people believed that it was wrong to put into storage something that represented the efforts of hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteer firemen over the years in protecting life and property. Some of those volunteer firemen had even died in the line of duty, making The Volunteer’s Bell an accidental memorial.

Look at the top of the bell in both pictures and you can see that it has been altered slightly, a result of cleaning and refurbishing while in storage. In the black & white picture, look closely under the butt of the guy at the right. That square you see is the bronze plaque!

If you enjoy history and live in small-town America, check out the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing. They are small books of about 125 pages and with lots of historical pictures. Unfortunately, they are on the expensive side, ranging in price from around $18 to $24 new. Amazon has some of them so a check there for good-condition used copies is worthwhile.

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend
James Frimmer, Realtor
Century 21 Award, DRE #01458572

If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!Real Estate Solutions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

First Jack in the Box restaurant, San Diego

Then & Now: The first Jack in the Box

San Diego Then & Now

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

As I was doing online research for my recent series of posts about pictures in East of San Diego: The Lost History of the East San Diego Police Department, 1912-1923, by Gary E. Mitrovich, I discovered the location of the very first Jack in the Box fast food restaurant:

First Jack in the Box restaurant, San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

Jack in the Box was founded in 1951 by Robert O. Peterson when he converted his Topsy’s restaurant at 6270 El Cajon Boulevard to a Jack in the Box. At the time, El Cajon Boulevard was the main east-west thoroughfare between San Diego and points east, the place where teenagers hung out, and San Diego’s #1 cruising strip.

The new Jack in the Box had a drive-through window and an intercom system. Hamburgers were just 18¢. The picture above appears to be from the late 1950s or early 1960, judging from the cars, and the menu in the window says that hamburgers are 26¢, and cheeseburgers are 29¢.

Wikipedia says that the first Jack in the Box was in Long Beach, California, but Jack in the Box disputes that, naming the restaurant at 6270 El Cajon Boulevard “Jack 1,” the first Jack in the Box.

While I was doing my research, I didn’t recall seeing a Jack in the Box on El Cajon Boulevard anywhere within two or three miles from where I live, so I went over to 6270 to see what was there now. Here is what I found:

Platt College, San Diego

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I wasn’t going to do this post, but Platt College being on the site of the first Jack in the Box kept bugging me. It’s because when I lived in College Station, Texas, I was a fast-food and pizza junkie: McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen, Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, Del Taco, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Little Ceasar’s, and Double Dave’s.

I would start the day with a McMuffin at McDonald’s; brunch, lunch, and mid-afternoon snack at the other burger places; supper and evening snack at pizza places; and end the night getting more pizzas and snacks at Double Dave’s and Taco Bell. Never did a day end without a visit to either Double Dave’s or Taco Bell. Ah, that was the life……………I think.

When I evacuated Texas and moved to San Diego in April 1993, I gave up fast food. Mainly because I was on a very limited budget for the first eleven months, and fast food was way too expensive for my budget.

I never went back. I think I’ve eaten at all of those mentioned restaurants a grand total of maybe twenty times since April 1993, and mostly McDonald’s because I just love their fries, which regularly get voted as best fries in America.

In late 1993, I attended Platt College. It’s a college dedicated to technology, and I took some computer and network classes there. Who knew that I was sitting on an old spicy crispy chicken sandwich and curly fries graveyard?………lol

Platt College was founded in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1879. The San Diego campus at 6250 El Cajon Boulevard was opened in 1980, which means that Jack 1 was no more.

Jack in the Box still has its corporate headquarters here in San Diego.

Did you know that the “Breakfast Jack,” introduced in 1969, was the first breakfast sandwich offered by a fast-food chain?

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

Looking for real estate services in San Diego County?
I can highly recommend
James Frimmer, Realtor
Century 21 Award, DRE #01458572

If you’re looking for a home inspector,
I recommend Russel Ray — that’s me!Real Estate Solutions

Pictures copyright 2012 Russel Ray Photos