From Old Town to Downtown San Diego

The birth of San Diego city was met with great optimism, but the bright mood did not last long. The inland town of San Diego was a poor location for trade especially when trade came by the water. Within two years, the city was bankrupt.

Less than 2 years after the establishment of San Diego, a bayshore called New San Diego was heavily promoted by the merchant William Heath Davis. The new area, was developed by real estate mongul Alonzo Horton. Businesses and companies moved to the new bayside location and with it the large population also moved.

San Diego Old Town to Downtown

This new San Diego is today Downtown San Diego.

San Diego’s boom came in 1878 when railroads arrived and connected the city to the rest of the United States, this was the famous/infamous Transcontinental Railroad.

San Diego announced its arrival as a global city with two World Fairs in 1915 (Panama-California Exposition) and 1935 (California Pacific International Exposition) held at Balboa Park, which was constructed for the purposes of these fairs.

San Diego Balboa Park 1Source

San Diego Balboa Park 2 San Diego Balboa Park 3Source

Downtown San Diego was once made up of old buildings along the Gaslamp Quarters.

San Diego Gaslamp Quarters 1 San Diego Gaslamp Quarters 2 San Diego Gaslamp Quarters 3

It experienced a massive boom from the 1870s till around the 1950s as the host of to many naval bases and a vast military enteprise on the West Coast of the United States. It’s importance remained after the second world war because the Great War was replaced with the Cold War.

San Diego USS Midway Museum 1USS Midway Museum in the foreground and a functioning carrier (USS John C Stennis) in the background

The military engine powered the development of the city. Downtown San Diego grew and grew with residential areas sprouting around the main city such as Little Italy, a former fishing village, and presently one of the most gentrified of districts in the city with restaurants, retails stores, residential units and art galleries.

San Diego Little Italy

San Diego has since been divided into 52 districts including Mission Valleys, La Jolla, Torrey Pines and San Yisidro at the border with Mexico.

The wild town however continued and soon became known as an extremely dangerous city. Both as a consequence of its reputation and its losing economic competitiveness, downtown San Diego experienced a decline in the 1960s when businesses closed and moved out of the city to other parts of the country and the world. A renewal campaign was launched from the 1980s till the early 200s and much of downtown San Diego today was rebuilt.

San Diego Downtown 1San Diego Downtown 3 San Diego Downtown 4 San Diego Downtown 5

A new convention centre was built in 2004 and plays host to large events such as Comic Con.

San Diego Downtown 2

A large baseball stadium for a very succesful baseball team – the San Diego Padres.

San Diego Downtown 6

A refurbished nightlife and entertainment quarters (more of this in another post).

San Diego Downtown 7

You know that a city has developed its fundamentals right when it spends well on building a underappreciated public amenity, the library.

San Diego Downtown 8

Tourism has become a large part of the city’s economic strategy with the redevelopment of a seaside dining location called the seaport village.

San Diego Downtown 9 San Diego Downtown 10

Perhaps its the bayside location, although the downtown area has undergone a recent revival the sense of large city stress just isn’t there. It feels like a relaxing bayside town (to my Singaporean eye, not unlike a very developed Katong/Joo Chiat/ East Coast.


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