HORTON PLAZA PARK
WHERE PEOPLE MEET AND OPPOSITES COLLIDE
Richard W. Amero
From its beginnings, proponents of Horton Plaza Park use have divided into those who favored using the park as a passive setting for plants and trees and those who wanted the plaza to be an active center for civic events. Both groups compromised to reach their goals, but, as pressures mounted, control of plaza development shifted from one group to the other.
When Alonzo Erastus Horton built the Horton House in 1870, he included a dusty one-third block, 228 x 108 ft. plaza in front as part of the hotel grounds. He built an oval driveway around the plaza, planted hedges to define its borders, and set out watering troughs for horses.
Carriages, horses, flies, fleas, and people soon crowded the edges of the plaza. Flowers displaced the horses and people, but not the flies and fleas in the plaza.
"Doc." P. P. Martin's Brass Band, organized in 1867, the Harmonia Brass Band, organized in 1874, the Silver Cornet Brass Band, organized in 1875, and the City Guard Band, organized in 1881, played concerts on the plaza on special occasions or as part of a regular series.
When residents received word that the U.S. Congress had selected the Texas and Pacific Railway to bring a transcontinental railroad into San Diego, they pulled out all stops for a jubilee celebration on the plaza, March 10, 1871. It was a heady time for a town of 2,300 people.
On a sleepy summer day in June 1873 barking dogs chased a bull on the plaza. In the manner of San Diego's early politicians, the bull responded by catching the dogs in his horns and tossing them into nearby establishments. The same month Horton installed the first of many drinking fountains.
Besides its services as a hitching post and carriage stop, citizens gathered on the plaza for civic happenings, such as a centennial commemoration of the "Glorious Fourth," July 4, 1876, at which a patriot fired a salute from a gun made by tinsmith William Augustus Begole.
In 1882, the Board of City Trustees approved the installation of a picket fence and a new drinking fountain.
To accommodate City Guard musicians, the Board of Trustees put up a band stand in 1886. A custodian locked the plaza at night "to keep vandals from destroying and carrying away property."
Hoping to improve the rundown condition of the plaza, a Park Committee, in August 1887, urged the appointment of J. O. Byrne as a gardener and police officer. In November, City Trustees approved replacing the fountain with a more imposing multi-level model equipped with a nickel-plated cup.
The Salvation Army gave its first concert at the southeast corner of the plaza, March 31, 1888. Spectators vented their displeasure by jeering and tossing rocks.
Bemoaning the plaza's "graveyard" aspect and, by implication J. O. Byrne's skills as a gardener, a writer in the San Diego Union, in March 1889, called the plaza "unquestionably the dreariest-looking park I have ever seen" and "an abortion of landscape gardening." He suggested doubling the space and surrounding it with a low wall.
Horton kept the plaza open as a service to Horton House and to businesspeople who bought property adjoining the plaza to take advantage of its location. When in 1887 City Trustees started talking about putting a city hall on the site, Horton favored the idea. Expressing its approval, the San Diego Union, May 12, 1889, claimed the plaza was "a capital place for a city hall."
As the city hall plan did not work out, Horton, on August 30, 1890, advocated removing the fountain, bandstand and hedges, elevating the plaza above the street, laying cement on the surface, planting trees along the borders, and placing iron circular seats at the base of the trees.
Defending his plan, Horton stated his object in giving the plaza to the city was "to provide a central, commodious and attractive place for public meetings, public announcements, public recreation and for any other proper public purposes, a place where all public questions might be discussed with comfort, where public open-air concerts might be given, where the people might rest, and where children might play in safety."
Horton's advocacy of an active civic plaza received little attention. As an answer to exigencies of wear and tear rather than to Horton's wishes, workers removed the hedges and fountain in 1891 and relocated the bandstand to the center of the plaza.
People who disliked the plaza's landscaping and who wanted it to be used exclusively for public meetings opposed a proposal to plant grass and trees on the plaza.
Bowing to pressures to revitalize the plaza, the Park Committee ordered plants uprooted and ground leveled. An estimated 5,000 people stood in the open space thus created, April 23, 1891, to cheer President Benjamin Harrison, who spoke to them from a grandstand in front of Horton House.
In 1892, the Board of Aldermen ordered the decrepit bandstand removed. As Aldermen did not have money to spend on its improvement, they allowed the plaza to remain dry and desolate. Businessmen resumed talk of building a city hall on the site.
The first Cabrillo celebration on September 28-30, 1892 brought record numbers of people to the plaza. A pavilion made of white cloth and decorated with pepper branches occupied a ground space of 200 x 124 ft. Planned for 5,000 people, the pavilion managed to hold at least 6,000. R. F. Del Valle of Los Angeles held everyone spellbound with a rhapsodic description of Cabrillo's adventures. In the evening, the First Cavalry Band entertained an audience of nearly 10,000 on the plaza and surrounding streets. The next day the San Diego Union came out in favor of a permanent pavilion on the plaza.
Reversing its position, the Union, December 6, 1892, endorsed a plaza of palms and semitropical plants with diagonal walks.
In July 1893, Francis H. Mead, a much-traveled visitor, expressed his astonishment on finding the plaza bereft of plants and furniture.
A second Cabrillo celebration, centering on the plaza, took place September 27-29, 1894. In the evenings, masked couples danced inside a great pavilion described by the San Diego Union as "more brilliant than the pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan."
Aside from scarcity of funds, another reason for the neglect of the plaza was that Alonzo Horton held title to it and could take possession whenever the city decided to use it for anything but a public highway.
Proponents of paving the plaza were gaining the upper hand when Horton, who approved of the paving, offered to sell the plaza to the city for $5,000 and the city's half lot on 5th Street.
In October 1894, at the age of 81, Horton finally agreed to deed the plaza to the city provided he would be paid $100 a month up to $10,000 for the remainder of his life, beginning in January 1895. Payments continued to April 1903 when the full amount had been paid. At that time Horton was 89 years old.
With the deed to the plaza cleared, officials could resolve the plants versus cement dispute. Attendees at band concerts and political rallies offered to raise funds for a bandstand and a pavilion. The Union stated the project would be "an improvement and adornment of the plaza."
Professor Earlson made a balloon ascension from the plaza on the afternoon of January 1, 1896. He alighted on the roof of a house on 10th Street, near today's Market Street, scaring the woman inside.
A 46-gun salute fired on the plaza on the morning of July 4 caused a concussion that broke the window glass on Sun and Schmitt buildings.
A tent, put up for a political rally in August, provided cover for a masked Admission Day ball in September.
In September, civic officials renewed the debate over plaza usage. As the Leach Opera House, begun in 1885, the Louis Opera House, begun in 1887, the Fisher Opera House, begun in 1892, and the Garrick Theater, begun in 1897, provided the city with meeting places, the use of the plaza for massive group events was no longer a necessity.
A sum of money to use for plaza rehabilitation had become available from insurance payments for the destruction by fire of the Children's Home in City (Balboa) Park on May 9, 1897. Plans, as drawn up by Joseph Falkenham of the Board of Public Works, called for paving the entire surface with asphalt, installing 12 gas lights and a bandstand on wheels, erecting iron posts connected by iron chains, and planting 28 Cocos Plumosa palms which were to be decorated with electric lights.
The plan drew immediate fire from devotees of grass and shrubbery. Moses A. Luce wanted an ornamental fountain in the center of the plaza. Responding to requests from the City Guard Band, the Board of Public Works put a new bandstand with shell-shaped enclosure on the west end of the plaza in May 1898. Instead of asphalt, the Board put down a layer of red composite earth in August.
Historian Elizabeth MacPhail gave the date nursery woman Kate Sessions planted 28 palms as January 19, 1897; however, the more likely date was January 19, 1898 for shortly before that date the Board of Public Works blasted holes in the hardpan. Sessions received $75 for the palms, the money coming from funds raised by Major Henry Sweeney at a "Society Circus" put on by local talent in December 1895.
A celebration of the Capture of Manila by Admiral George Dewey, on the evening of May 2, 1899, brought jubilant citizens to the plaza for a carnival, band concert, and fireworks.
In March 1900 the San Diego Union began a campaign to put benches on the plaza. These benches could have held some, but not all of the 10,000 people who jammed the plaza on the evening of April 9 to hear silver-tongued orator William Jennings Bryan denounce imperialism and trusts.
Advocates of an ordinance forbidding the sale of liquor on Sunday described to large audiences on the plaza in October how drinking alcohol led to lewdness, lawlessness, madness and murder.
In June 1902, the Board of Public Works invited Protestant pastors to hold Sunday afternoon evangelistic meetings on the plaza.
William W. Bowers, brother-in-law of Alonzo Horton, designer of Horton House, state senator, and prominent Republican, criticized the "miserable, unsightly clamshell" on the bandstand in September. Far from directing sound outward, the shell was soaking it up.
The San Diego Union, June 14, 1903, noted that the palms had reached a height of 15 ft. and that they "gave a picture of beauty seldom rivaled in the world of trees."
A contractor tore down the 35-year-old Horton House in July 1905 and began building the U. S. Grant Hotel on the site it had occupied.
The first indication of citizen displeasure with street speakers appeared in the San Diego Union in August 1905. The intersection of 5th and E Streets had become a popular spot for impromptu speeches because, unlike the plaza, orators there did not need the permission of the Board of Park Commissioners. Owners of businesses in the section complained that people with causes were taking over the streets and obstructing access to their establishments. Businesspeople did not at this time condemn the content of the speeches.
New buildings went up around the plaza in 1907, including a six-story San Diego Union building on the west side.
Trying to find a solution to the plants versus cement dispute, the San Diego Union, March 1907, suggested a border of grass be planted within the line of palms with shrubbery at the edges of the grass. The Union also favored putting a statue of Ulysses S. Grant in the center of the plaza as a way of acknowledging the hotel named after the general that was going up across the street.
In March 1907, George W. Marston, echoing the advice of architect William S. Hebbard, proposed grouping civic buildings around an enlarged plaza.
Far from putting the city hall at its edge, city hall promoters wanted the building to absorb the entire plaza. They claimed the plaza was a relic of frontier times that had no place in a progressive city.
The San Diego Union, July 9, 1907, began noticing people in the plaza rather than the plaza itself. The cacophony of tongues was too much for the editor. He concluded a series of sarcastic remarks about the intelligence and morality of the speakers with the ambivalent question:
"But speech is free. One will hope and trust that it always will be. Nevertheless, would not San Diego be better off if there were less of it on the Plaza? Is the Plaza being put to its best possible use?"
In July 1907, 200 citizens signed a petition asking that benches and bandstand be removed. While the petition did not state a reason, one can surmise that genteel people were not enthusiastic about ungenteel people who sat on the benches.
The San Diego Sun responded on July 31::
"Why don't de park comisheners fix up dis plase an leave de benches here like they did in Los? Trees an flours an green t'ings like that would sorter hide up fellers. We don't care to be on exibishen, but we likes to have a plase to rest 'thout goin' to a booze joint."
Sensing he had been too kind, the editor of the Union, February 20, 1908, put more acid into his views:
(The Plaza) "should not be permitted, as at present, to be the chosen resort of vagabonds, crooks and noisy agitators. The scenes that occur daily upon that little square, which should be a beauty spot, are a disgrace to San Diego, and would not be tolerated in most cities."
Returning to wild talkers on the plaza, the editor of the Union, March 8, 1908, said "simple means" could be taken "to disperse the crowds and keep the agitators on the move."
Prominent San Diegans took the "simple means" in 1912 when, with the connivance of police, they kidnaped street speakers (some from the jail in which they had been incarcerated), took them to the county line, beat them, forced them to kiss the American flag, and told them to be on their way.
After Park Commissioners had benches and bandstand removed. Nebraska, a fictitious commentator in the San Diego Sun, told his crony Ohio on April 16::
"I have a notion to sit down on the ground here. Suppose they will take the ground away too, if they see us making use of it?"
The Women's Christian Temperance Union served sailors from the Great White Fleet lemonade from a booth on the plaza, April 16, a beverage that would not corrupt their minds and morals, as snatches of music drifted down from a band on the roof garden of the U. S. Grant Hotel for the enjoyment of all standing people.
In September city planner John Nolen issued a plan for San Diego in which he suggested grouping civic buildings around a block-size plaza on D Street between Front and First Streets. He considered the existing plaza to be too small to serve as an effective foreground for buildings.
Also, in September, the Park Commission banned public speaking on the plaza. In December, they hired architect Irving J. Gill to draw up plans for a genteel plaza.
Since a free-speaking element from European countries, other than Great Britain, reputed to be socialists, anarchists, and atheists had made the plaza --- like the Greek agora --- a place for relaxation, entertainment and intellectual stimulation, Gill was expected to draw up a plan that would displease these people and would please sedate, well-bred, churchgoing, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Almost alone in the city, merchant and park commissioner George W. Marston demurred from this attempt by supercilious people to banish those who spoke broken English and used occasional profanity:
"While it is true that some of the men who congregate there may be 'plotting against the government,' as the term goes, I notice that a large number of them are pensioners; a percentage of them tourists, perhaps. who gather on the plaza for sun baths, which are to be had for the effort of going there. If we shut these people out of the plaza, where will they go?"
When Gill undertook the redesign of the plaza, the prospect before him was bleak. The plaza looked like a desert surrounded by a horse corral. Palms were turning yellow due to soil devoid of nutrients. Commissioners favored a plaza of grass and flowers with a fountain in its center.
Gill's job was to make the plaza respectable, to find places for a fountain and a kiosk containing weather-reporting instruments, and to lay out walkways. He used the walkways to divide the plaza into quadrants. The walkways converged on a circle where the fountain was to be located.
The United States Weather Bureau placed the kiosk, in the shape of a miniature Greek temple, at the center of the east walkway, which had been widened to allow for foot traffic and for placement of circular seats. To balance the kiosk, the Park Commissioners set aside space for a drinking fountain on the west walkway.
The plan called for benches that would seat no more than fifty people. Because horses, hacks and express wagons contributed their special aroma outside the plaza, benches would not be placed on abutting sidewalks. Commissioners relented in February 1910 and allowed benches along west and south sides of the plaza, but none directly across from the U. S. Grant Hotel.
Gill retained small sections of lawn to serve as enclosures for shrubs and plants and for urns, which were to be deposited in the middle of the quadrants. In the final stages of the plan, Gill shifted the urns to the sides of the red-tiled walkways. Thinking that the cost of bedding and replacing flowers would be expensive, Park Commissioners chose grass as the dominant ground cover. To protect the grass from intrusion, workers put chicken-wire fencing around each of the plots.
"Father" Alonzo E. Horton passed away, January 7, 1909. He died in poverty, having lost his fortune in the collapse of the Great Land Boom of 1886-1888. During his last years he became San Diego's ubiquitous greeter with a friendly word to all. He had no regrets over the passing of the city he had "fathered" because he knew the city that replaced it would be even more spectacular.
After reading in the San Diego Union of the need for someone to donate money to build a fountain, Louis J. Wilde, banker and part-owner of the U. S. Grant Hotel, donated $10,000. Wilde was a bantam rooster of a man whose aggressive stance and powers of vituperation won him the allegiance of working-class people.
The Park Commissioners accepted Gill's design for the fountain in November 1909 after a competition that had elicited thirteen designs. The principal requirement was that the fountain be equipped with an electrical apparatus that would project blended colors on spraying water.
Gill modeled his fountain after the monument of Lysicrates in Athens, circa 334 B.C., in itself a tribute to gaiety and song. This was not an original idea as the Lysicrates monument had been copied often in other cities, though this may have been the first time the monument was destined to be a fountain.
The fountain was the center of plaza activity. It was equipped with special machinery to pump and to illuminate cascades of water. The elongated lines of the fountain and the round dome that surmounted it harmonized well with the tall open arches of the U. S. Grant Hotel, now obscured by the enclosure of the roof garden.
As the first plaza as foreground matched the Horton House, so the new plaza matched the nine-story, Second Empire style U. S. Grant Hotel and complemented its lines and features.
Gill's original fountain plan called for a liberal use of Mexican onyx and golf leaf. Above the fountain's pedestal, six Corinthian-style columns supported a frieze, on top of which rose a bulbous-shaped dome of ambered glass cut in small sections and secured in copper frames. A large eagle with outspread wings perched on the dome. From base to eagle the height was 25 ft.
Four streams of water spurted toward the columns from the edge of a large circular basin, 20 ft. in diameter. More water came out at the feet of the eagle and descended over dome, frieze and columns. Water also gushed from the mouths of lion heads on the sides of the pedestal.
If Gill's design had been accepted, the fountain would have been more colorful than the more restrained fountain we now have, which, in its simplicity and purity of design, comes closer to Gill's later stripped-down architecture.
In his second design, Gill substituted white Vermont marble for the onyx, eliminated the lion heads on the pedestal, changed the shape of the central monument from circular to octagonal, increased the number of columns to eight, and redirected the flow of sheets of water between the columns and over the pedestal into the basin.
In his third and final design, Gill abandoned the use of gold leaf and shifted the eagle from the top of the outside dome to the top of the inside dome, located within the space enclosed by the columns. Eight streams of water spouted toward the columns from the basin and eight sheets of water flowed over the pedestal into the basin.
Sculptor Felix Peano designed the bronze eagle and bronze panels on the pedestal representing Alonzo E. Horton, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, and Father Junipero Serra. A fourth panel, facing the U. S. Grant Hotel, read: "Presented to the City of San Diego by Louis J. Wilde 1909 A.D." On the frieze above the columns appeared the notation: "Broadway Fountain for the People." Since the fountain has been called the Horton Plaza Fountain, the Wilde Fountain, the Gill Fountain, and the Electric Fountain, it should be noted that its official name, as chosen by Wilde, is Broadway Fountain. By choosing this name, Wilde, who was unusually prescient, named Broadway (then D Street) three years before the City Council did the same thing.
As the fountain neared completion, a squabble erupted between Harry Brown, electrical inspector, and Irving Gill. Brown claimed the electrical connections underneath the fountain were unsafe, that water would run into them, and that people would be electrocuted. Such controversies had a way of becoming knockout dramas, and this was no exception. Citizens called in police to protect disputants and fountain. Police Commissioner John L. Sehon and Park Commissioner Thomas O'Hallaran rushed to the fray. Officials of the Consolidated Gas and Electric Company refused to turn on the power for the lights on the fountain until the City guaranteed payment. Disputes were eventually worked out. Harry Brown tested the fountain, October 14, and no one died. Someone reassured the Electric Company that bills would be paid.
At last, October 15, 1910, the great day arrived. Two hours after the formal opening of the U. S. Grant Hotel, at 8:15 in the evening, Mrs. Louis J. Wilde pulled a cord dropping the canvas over the fountain as cheers arose from thousands of people who thronged the streets from curb to curb on all sides of the plaza, but, presumably, not on the grass. Gill, who had taken more than enough raps while the fountain was under construction was "cheered to the echo." The fountain, resplendent as a peacock with tail feathers outspread, showed off its colors as hundreds of incandescent lights flashed on an off at 30-second intervals.
For the third time since they were planted, the Cocos Plumosa palms were in bloom.
According to Nebraska in the San Diego Sun of July 15, 1908, the City planned the plaza of 1910 for fashionable functions to be enjoyed by window renters in the Union building and the U. S. Grant Hotel. To this end, the City intended to exclude band concerts and political meetings from the grounds and to allow no more than fifty people on the plaza at one time.
Problems concerning Horton Plaza surfaced with renewed vigor after the October 15, 1910 dedication of the Broadway Fountain.
Critics pointed out the lack of an object on the west side to balance the kiosk on the east, of statues at each corner of the plaza, of outdoor entertainments, of money to defray the cost of operating the fountain, of seats, of a bandstand, and of comfort stations.
To protect the turf, park employees posted a "Keep Off the Grass" sign in March 1911. Park Commissioners asked policemen to "chastise" violators.
Plaza visitors were unhappy about people with bad sanitary habits who used the drinking fountain, tobacco chewers who expectorated over the walk, readers who left newspapers on the grass, and the indignity of the eagle on the fountain being the target of shooting waters.
The southeast corner of the plaza became a popular spot for speakers who addressed audiences on such subjects as women's suffrage, the evils of drink, the iniquities of society, and the need for a new social order.
Madame Adelina Trombin sang at the plaza on the evening of January 1, 1912.
Disapproving people referred to the plaza as "Argument Park" due to the congregation there of men and women discussing topics of the day, some of whom were members of the International Workers of the World. In December 1913, Park Commissioners gave the Chief of Police the "irrevocable right to keep all objectionable characters out of Plaza Park."
On May 7, 1912, San Diego voters approved issuance of $10,000 in bonds to construct underground comfort stations on the south side of the plaza. The San Diego Union, May 4, predicted the comfort stations would become "highly offensive public nuisances." To which the San Diego Sun, on May 6, replied: "The Plaza is the most reasonable and desirable of all possible points where such a convenience should be provided." The comfort stations opened September 1, 1914. African-American attendants in men's and women's sections sold soap and towels.
Park Commissioners could not make up their minds about seats. They added and removed them as requests waxed and waned. As an experiment, Commissioners approved putting seats near railway tracks on the north side of the plaza for women to use. Custodians were to take the seats out from under should "idlers and loungers" sit on them.
Sometime in 1912 Commissioners gave Francis M. Randall permission to set up a mobile peanut and popcorn stand at the southeast corner of the plaza. Members of the family continued to maintain the stand until June 1942 when City Manager Walter Cooper withdrew the permit.
Ice in the Broadway Fountain, January 7, 1913, diverted everyone's attention from the International Workers of the World while giving the Chamber of Commerce shivers that were not due to the recorded 22-degree temperature.
Band concerts without bandstand by a Young Men's Christian Association Band and a reorganized City Guard Band became regular features. Custodians hoped listeners would keep to sidewalks outside the plaza.
A Plaza Theater, catering to "white people only," and a Southern Title Guaranty building went up opposite the south and west sides of the plaza in 1913. A second theater (the Cabrillo) went up next to the first in 1915.
Beginning in 1913, the plaza became subject to "improvements" or "desecrations," depending on one's point of view. Park Commissioners permitted the erection of a ticket booth for a Cabrillo Carnival and authorized the installation of 12 concrete posts and lamps around the plaza.
S. A. Reynolds, in October 1915, conversed with "tourists, old-timers, common bums, and men who have held good positions" at the plaza. Their chief grievance was scarcity of seats.
America's entry into World War I (April 4, 1917) escalated the use of the plaza for broad civic functions as opposed to its use for person-to-person conversations. Even before the war, in September 1916, the U.S. Navy had put up a recruiting sign.
A band from the British cruiser H.M.S. Lancaster joined the 21st Infantry Band for a concert on the plaza in the evening of June 12, 1917 as part of a drive for Liberty Loan Bonds. A bulletin board, put up June 18, showed the hourly results of a National Red Cross War Fund campaign. About the same time the San Diego Electric Railway Company put up a free information booth for soldiers and sailors.
In July, proprietors of Sargent's Restaurant requested the removal of benches on the southeast side so their patrons would not be annoyed "by the stares and comments of the annoying elements the empty benches attracted." The Park Board complied, only to be met by more requests for benches to accommodate people in the plaza.
A Christmas observance for about 20,000 people in the plaza, December 24, 1917, centered around a 60-ft. tree to the left of the fountain. Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, contralto, sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and "When the Boys Come Home" for servicemen and the 21st Infantry Band played patriotic and popular melodies.
In 1918, objections to the plaza took on a female cast. Women complained about the jeering comments of male loafers near their comfort station entrance. One woman thought male idlers in the plaza should be put to work knitting socks for soldiers. The Mothers' Club of San Diego petitioned the City Council to put seats in and around the plaza for the thousands of uniformed men in the city. As seats posed a threat to grass and walks, the Park Board resisted demands to put them in.
For five days, beginning June 24, campaign workers occupied a War Stamp-A-Day savings booth on the plaza. Volunteers in another booth collected signatures on a petition to oust members of the Board of Education.
In July, the Park Board turned down requests to use the plaza for political meetings. Park Commissioners allowed the sale of Liberty Bonds and Thrift Stamps to continue, gave the Salvation Army permission to solicit funds, and permitted the Coast Artillery to use a portion of the plaza for an enlistment campaign.
An exhibit on the plaza in September showed some of the machinery bought by Liberty Loan subscriptions for use by military services overseas.
The greatest day in 1918 in San Diego --- as in the nation --- was November 11, in celebration of the armistice that ended hostilities in Europe. To keep celebrators from going too far, saloons and wholesale houses in the City were closed. A victory parade along Broadway in the afternoon was succeeded by an unrestrained display of joy on the plaza. Overcome by enthusiasm, Mayor Louis J. Wilde proposed naming the plaza in honor of General "Black Jack" Pershing, commander of American expeditionary forces. M. O Hall said "Horton Plaza" would be a more suitable name, an act of courage at a time when patriotic emotions were so high.
The November 11 jubilee was a prelude for a United War Work Carnival, November 15. Weeks of quarantine as a result of a flu epidemic had been lifted. Everyone was out for a good time. An exhibit of battlefront trenches in the plaza reminded spectators of horrors that had passed. The Young Men's Christian Association and the Knights of Columbus provided entertainment, and the Salvation Army gave away doughnuts.
During an Army and Navy Peace Review Day, November 27, a military band played lively airs in the plaza. Crowds, jamming streets, gazed aloft as scores of airplanes flew over the city, flying V formations and looping-the-loop.
The Consolidated Gas and Electric Company set up a 40-ft. tree for the Christmas Eve celebration. A double quartet from the Rotary Club sang patriotic songs; a Triple-C male quartet sang Christmas carols; and contralto Madame Schumann-Heink sang Gounod's "Ave Maria." Approximately 5,000 people crowded around the rostrum, some of whom were wearing faces masks due to a resurgence of the flu.
In 1919, Park Commissioners took up the use of the plaza in peacetime. They stopped people from putting up signs, authorized the overhaul of the fountain, denied a request to put up a peacetime information booth, replaced benches on the east side, and gave the Anti-Tuberculosis Society and the American Legion permission to set up temporary displays.
Julius Wangenheim, who was chairperson of the Southern California Liberty Loan, sounded a note of plaza reform in a letter to the Board of Park Commissioners, January 10.
"It is with keen pleasure that I wish to thank you for the very generous attitude toward the Liberty Loan in the dedication of the Plaza for that purpose. It was only the urgent need of the nation in time of crisis that would have tempted me to ask you to infringe on the inviolability of the Plaza.
"Might I not suggest, now that the war is over, that the Plaza be protected against any infringement for any other purpose. It is so small, so dainty, and so centrally located that every inch should be carefully guarded. And might I not also suggest that all signs, booths, and everything else of this nature on the Plaza be discontinued."
A Christmas Eve sing on the Plaza, December 24, conducted by the War Camp Community Service, diverted between 4,000 and 5,000 persons.
During the 1920's the Park Commission followed a policy of allowing temporary plaza uses for band concerts, exhibits and solicitations by such organizations as the American Legion, the San Diego Electric Railway Company, and the Olympic Games Fund --- which put a tent and two camels on the lawn --- but shied away from allowing uses to the U.S. Army for a recruiting office, to the Committee for Russian Relief for a tent, and to the Chamber of Commerce for a sign advertising a fund drive.
Christmas concerts begun by the Elks Chanters in 1920, were well on the way to becoming a tradition.
Stephens and Company, investment bankers, put up a new building at Third and Plaza Streets, on the site of the old Sansabaugh building, in 1923. The building was faced with terra cotta in a design reminiscent of 15th century Florentine buildings.
The Park Commission opposed putting a marker signifying the end of the Lee Highway and old Spanish Trail in the plaza, but was overruled by Mayor John L. Bacon. Colonel El Fletcher, vice president of the Lee Highway Association, unveiled the milestone, November 17, 1923. Park Department employees placed the marker on the site formerly occupied by the weather kiosk. Somebody, either in the United States Weather Bureau or the Board of Park Commissioners, had approved removing the kiosk sometime before for reasons that were never divulged.
In 1924 the Park Commission was tempted to plant a second row of palms at the edge of the sidewalk around the plaza, to take up grass and plant flowers, and to remove seats. Letters claiming that the benches were continuously occupied by "old gossips and cranks" who were "knockers of San Diego" had been received by the Commission. John Morley, park superintendent, answered one such letter:
Probably the solution might be, when the Plaza is remodeled, to take up the walks and plant the whole area, and not allow anyone inside at all, put a neat fence around and let the public view the park from outside. What would you think of such a scheme?
When the combined Atlantic and Pacific fleets came to San Diego in March 1925, sailors snoozed nightly on plaza benches. They were not sleeping off drinking sprees as alcohol was not readily procurable in San Diego during the 1920-1933 Prohibition Era.
On April 6, 1925, the City Council officially changed the name of the plaza to Horton Plaza. Having been scorched over the Lee Highway marker, the Park Commission, in February 1926, checked with Colonel Fletcher before supporting the placing of a zero marker on the west side of the plaza, showing the convergence of Jefferson Davis and Dixie Highways.
Taking note of a controversy over a tribute to Colonel Fletcher on the Lee Highway marker and to Jefferson Davis on the Jefferson Davis Highway marker, the Hammer Club of San Diego, July 19, declared its opposition to using the plaza as "a resting place of certain monuments expressing the gratitude of the people of San Diego to individuals who may not be entitled to such bronze expressions of gratitude."
The Heintzelman Post No. 33 of the Grand Army of the Republic added its objection to a tribute "to the memory of a vile murderous traitor of thousands of unarmed, helpless men" on the Jefferson Davis marker.
Bowing to the outrage of Union veterans, in December 1926, the Park Commission ordered the offending tablet on the Jefferson Davis marker removed.
Horton Plaza continued to be used as the forum of San Diego during the 20's and 30's. Newspapers had little to say about goings on, until July 28, 1930, when the top of a palm at the Third Avenue side of the plaza fell to the ground, striking and killing 19-year-old Dorothy Edwards. The palm had been ravaged by termite ants. A coroner's jury declared the Park Department had been negligent in failing to inspect the trees. Park Department people subsequently removed eight trees and started checking the rest for termites and rot at three-month intervals. It took the Park Department ten years to get around to replacing all the trees.
Like the palms, the electrical system in the fountain broke down in 1931, making necessary its rehabilitation at a cost of $1,400.
As if their denials of requests for plaza use had no meaning, the Park Board, in November 1934, allowed the Better Housing Committee of San Diego to put an old house on the plaza for remodeling. The building served as a hospitality house for visitors to the 1935 California-Pacific International Exposition. It was moved from the plaza in November 1935, having been won in a drawing by Ruth Joe.
Other signs of plaza use during the depression were the opening of another information booth, the use of the plaza as a stage for a Rose Bowl float, and the placing in the plaza of a small cannon. Pierre Fink, writing in the San Diego Sun, May 15, 1935, called these additions "about as attractive as a family washing strung up in the front yard." Fink was just as vehement about loungers on the plaza, whom he suggested "fanning out," which may have been a euphemism for expelling them from the city.
Protestant clergymen conducted Holy Week services on the plaza in 1936, a rite that lasted many years.
Agreeing with Fink that loafers on the plaza were loathsome creatures, Chief of Police George M. Sears asked the City Attorney, in February 1937, to draft an ordinance making it unlawful for adult males to sit on park benches that the Park Department had marked: "For Women and Children Only."
Plaza pigeons began dying in August. Maintenance people thought their deaths had something to do with stagnant water in the broken-down fountain. After they conducted postmortems, doctors at the San Diego Zoo declared the pigeons died of eating pillbugs.
Dressed in its brief authority, Park Commissioners, in 1937, informed the City Council they could not approve the use of the plaza for advertising then turned down a Community Chest request for a "scoreboard." Not amused by such an assertion of independence, the Council allowed the scoreboard to go up outside the plaza.
In March 1940, the City began a fountain renovation at a cost of about $3,500. The contractor selected for the job sandblasted the fountain and waterproofed its electrical connections.
In April 1941, the Southern California Telephone Company put two telephone booths near the comfort stations, and, in September, the Travelers' Aid Society put a building in the southwest quadrant of the plaza. Cluttering being the order of the day, the Ryan Aeronautical Company displayed its PT-21 military trainer airplane in May. A scrap company put in a huge cage for the collection of scrap aluminum in July. Discovering that there were tiny bits of space left, a China Relief Committee, in August, set up booths on east and west sides of the plaza to sell tickets to a Coronation Ball. Most of these encroachments had something to do with the anticipation of approaching war.
World War II caused the most sweeping plaza changes since the destruction of its gardens in 1891. As with World War I, Park Commissioners allowed the use of the plaza for bond rallies. Canvassers sold bonds from a sandbagged and camouflaged dugout. The U.S. Air Force sent along a Messerschmidt for exhibit in a tent. The City Council discussed erecting a building to cover the entire plaza for the United Services Organization. After looking at the number of organizations who were in the plaza, the Council decided the idea was impractical. City planning engineer Glen Rick advised against the United Services project as the concentration of representatives of too many races in one spot might lead to disorders, a recognition of divisions in society that still wait to be bridged. At last, in December 1943, the Council allowed the United Services Organization to put a small Christmas gift-wrapping booth in the shrinking plaza.
City Manager Walter Cooper suggested taking out palms, grass, walks, and chains and turning the plaza into a bus depot for war workers. The Park Commission emphatically opposed the project and the Council vacillated. Through a process of getting a bit here and a bit there, by the end of 1943, the San Diego Electric Railway Company gobbled up the northern half of the plaza. City workers widened sidewalks on all sides of the plaza, took out grass, and laid asphalt around information booths and around trunks of trees, leaving no place for watering. Vandals had a field day carving their initials on dying trees.
Patriotic organizations used a large tent put up in February on the southern half of the plaza to show newsreels of military activities. Bands from Camp Elliott and the Naval Training Center gave concerts, and U.S. Naval Hospital corpsmen showed how to treat war casualties in the tent. Actors put on a "Hollywood" variety show in the tent in May. They fired off blanks and marched fake hostages around the plaza. A Red Cross donor booth in July, a 300-lb. bronze Victory Bell in August, and a large pictorial map of the San Diego Zoo in November were jammed into the compacted plaza.
All this tinkering with the plaza had little effect on the city's transportation problems. Council member Charles C. Dail thought the answer was to finish paving the plaza. Traffic engineer James E. Reading countered by saying buses could stop a few blocks away from the plaza.
In early 1945 the Park Commission began thinking of the nature of the plaza in peacetime. They dreamed of getting rid of wartime encroachments and of incorporating a closed-off Plaza Street into the plaza. In April, the City Council took the unheard of step of banning the sale of tickets on the plaza to commercial events.
On April 12, the Tribune published a plan for a new plaza, submitted by Director of Parks W. Allen Perry. It was the first of many changes proposed by merchants and architects who did not like Irving Gill's plan. The proposal called for the elimination of fountain, palms, cannon, and markers. The center of the plaza was to be left free. Pools were to be placed in positions occupied by markers and shade trees were to be planted along walkways. The surface was to be paved with tile. Benches, also of tile, faced the pools. Director Perry told the Planning Commission the changes complied with Alonzo Horton's wishes, as expressed in his letter of August 30, 1890.
San Diegans kept quiet on Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, but, on Victory in the East Day, August 14, they indulged in an orgy of celebration that surpassed the jubilation on November 11, 1918, when the armistice ending World War I was announced. Thousands of people headed to the plaza. They passed bottles of liquor from hand to hand, danced, screamed, jostled, blew horns, and tossed confetti. Some pranksters scattered store windows or called in false fire alarms. Others set off fireworks. A Camp Pendleton marine climbed to the top of a 50-ft. palm on the plaza where he fastened the Stars and Stripes to a frond. On his return to earth, women fought for the privilege of kissing him.
On March 8, 1946, the City told the San Diego Railway Company, the United Services Organization, and the Travelers' Aid Society to move their encampments. That same month, Mayor Harley Knox suggested putting a parking garage under the plaza which would extend under the two-thirds size block to the south. Council people said the City did not have the money to pay for such a scheme. Finally, on August 28, City Manager Fred A. Rhodes announced plans for a new plaza with lawns and fountains, but no people inside. The newly planted grass would grow only if people looked at it from a safe distance.
As a dress rehearsal, prior to the removal of people, a City Park Department trap crew began capturing plaza pigeons in order to relocate them in Balboa Park.
Again a contractor sandblasted the fountain and put it in working order.
Unlike the city manager who thought he could keep people away, merchants knew the inviting grass would be an irresistible magnet for loafers. They voiced their disapproval of plaza people, but, to show they were not as mean as Ebenezer Scrooge, in December 1946. they put up a 60-ft. Christmas tree. Finding that the tree disturbed the formal balance of the plaza, in December 1947, merchants turned the central Broadway Fountain into a giant candle, erected a throne for Santa Claus in front of the candle, and put two 30-ft. Christmas trees at the sides of the candle.
After 33 years in the plaza's information booth, Adolph H. Anderson retired in March 1948. The City dedicated a plaque honoring the Salvation Army's first service on the plaza in 1888 at the plaza's southeast corner. The Army's weekly parade through the streets and sermons and songs on the plaza had become a colorful San Diego tradition.
The City tried again in October to get rid of the pigeons. The San Diego Union published the inevitable letter from a tear-stricken 8-year-old girl.
For Christmas 1948, downtown merchants exceeded their efforts of the year before. This time they turned the fountain into a candy palace with a throne for Santa Claus in front and girl elves, in candy-striped suits, at his sides. Knowing that they would have to come up with something new, in 1949, merchants covered the fountain with a 35-ft. iceberg. Windows at the base of the fountain revealed elves at work in Santa's toy shop at the North Pole.
An artist drew a sketch for a new plaza in 1949 that had most of the elements of Fred Rhode's 1945 plan. Merchants who promoted the plan wanted to retain the palms, replace the fountain with an information booth, and substitute a promenade filled with people for the adjoining Plaza Street filled with cars. Park and Planning Department managers and high-ranking Navy and Marine officers endorsed the new plaza. Citizens lower in the hierarchy than military commanders or executives at City Hall proclaimed their love of the fountain and threatened to put up barricades to keep it from being moved. The Council resolved the controversy by locating the information booth in the southwest corner, an even more devastating blow to Irving Gill's formal plaza than the 50-ft Christmas tree since the information booth would be there the year-round.
The Information Booth that opened August 22, 1951 was not a subdued affair. It rested on a high foundation and was approached by mounting steps. By contributing to the untidy look of the plaza, the booth intensified the dissolute conditions it was supposed to remedy. Three city employees inside the booth answered questions and gave directions.
Police officers invoked City Ordinance 5267, passed in 1913 to curb street speakers, when Konrad K. Meier, a 63-year-old itinerant preacher made loud noises unto the Lord.
Not having consulted the merchants, Edwin Martin praised the plaza's friendly atmosphere in September. He enjoyed the democratic mixture of people on the plaza, including mothers, babies, old men and women, fishermen, a wino, "generals," "pinks," a sailor and his girl, and pigeons.
Mayor John D. Butler said planting flowers instead of grass would cause pedestrian pileups and police problems.
In September a new Council reversed the policy established by a Council some years before. It saw nothing wrong with allowing the Community Chest to sell tickets and to ask for donations. The Junior Chamber of Commerce, the United Services Organization, the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and San Diego State College lined up immediately with requests in hand.
Was it coincidence that soon after the do-gooders set up their tents, Council Member Charles B. Wincote said, "The Plaza looks like the wrath of God?"
Plaza Associates asked for a franchise to put a 756-space, three-level garage under the Plaza. The firm would pay $1,200,000 to build the garage. Service Auto Parts Company submitted its plan a few weeks later. It called for 1,000 parking spaces under the plaza and a convention hall at the south edge, between Plaza and E Streets. Finding that the convention hall idea would not fly, the same group proposed putting a bus terminal on one-third of the section between Plaza and E Streets and extending the plaza to encompass the remaining two-thirds.
Deputy City Attorney Douglas Deaper said the Council could use Horton Plaza for any purpose it desired.
Proposals to put convention, auditorium and garage facilities on or near the plaza lapsed because City officials thought the City could not afford to pay for the block south of the plaza. They had qualms about the City condemning property, feared the loss of revenue to the City if land was taken off tax rolls, and believed that development would increase, rather than decrease automobile congestion. Other sites could be found that were not as likely to stir up controversy.
In August 1954, merchants began promoting a plan for Horton Plaza prepared by Charles Shattuck, a Los Angeles real estate appraiser. Shattuck wanted a 5,000 seat convention hall south of the plaza and a 650-stall garage under it. He said both projects would cost about $4.0 million. A redesigned plaza would function as the entrance to the convention hall. Having been down this path before, the City Planning Commission held out for a 10,000-seat convention facility at some other location.
Departing from their Christmas custom of hiding the fountain, downtown merchants in December set up a 20-x 34 ft. ice rink in the northeast corner of the plaza Specially chosen performers skated to Christmas music on a one-inch sheet of ice, kept frozen by a refrigeration unit.
On January 18, 1955, the City Council, by a vote of four to three, rejected the Shattuck plan. Merchants were back to square, or, perhaps, plaza one.
With the City now free to consider other sites for a convention hall, the ramshackle condition of the plaza could no longer be ignored. The Chamber of Commerce asked again for removal of fountain, palms and grass, but said nothing about buildings and billboards. Newspapers printed more heated letters from readers who wanted the plaza they knew put in good condition, but did not want it destroyed.
Since concerned citizens at the time made louder noises than merchants, the Council, on May 5, voted to clean the plaza at a cost of $4,300. Workers again sandblasted the fountain and replaced fixtures.
Those undesirable plaza hangers-on --- the pigeons --- aroused the ire of Don Bowman who called them "filthy, extremely annoying birds." What would the letter-writing 8-year-old girl have said about that?
In July, the City added an Avenue of Flags on the Broadway side of the plaza in acknowledgment of the Fiesta del Pacifico. This attempt at beautification could not, however, mitigate the impact of twelve bruised trash cans and of empty, broken flower urns.
Park employees put in a sprinkler system in April 1959, a sign that the Park Department was going to take care of the grass.
In 1960 merchants had more to worry about than poorly dressed, unwashed people on the plaza. Businesses were moving to the suburbs. The merchants commissioned a study by the Western Real Estate Research Corporation. The consultants recommended putting hotels and public buildings downtown, but did not comment on Horton Plaza.
Vice President Richard Nixon, Republican, in October, and Senator John F. Kennedy, Democrat, in November, held rallies at the plaza in support of their presidential candidacies. Between the rallies, President Dwight D. Eisenhower came to San Diego, October 13. Nearly 100,000 people jammed Broadway and the plaza to cheer the president as his motorcade whizzed by.
Architect C. J. Paderewski offered to furnish a plan for plaza renovation in March 1961. He wanted to get rid of the fountain, which he said had no historical significance. Bricklayers from local Union 11 offered to donate labor and materials. Preoccupied with plans for a Civic Center, the City refused to consider Paderewski's proposal.
Downtown merchants had not given up plans to change the plaza. Organized as the Downtown Association, the merchants complained about the seedy area south of Broadway, but did not know what to do about it. Les Earnest of the Park and Recreation Department said plans to replace the plaza's stately Classical look with a stripped-down modern version were stymied indefinitely.
Citizens got to look at Paderewski's plan when the San Diego Union published it in July 1962. The plan called for a rectilinear, off-center plaza, with a sunken fountain at the west end, deciduous trees around the perimeter instead of palms, benches underneath the trees, a row of flags, covered areas, a new information booth, and colored paving. Reversing himself, Les Earnest said the renovation should go full speed ahead.
Paderewski claimed the new plaza would cost $45,000. This money would come from "a voluntary cooperative arrangement at no cost to the city." Property owners on adjacent streets would be asked to alter facades to create a unified effect.
San Diegans, Inc. another organization composed largely of business people, began talking in August about putting a high-rise federal building south of the plaza.
Banker C. Arnolt Smith urged that a plaza be built on the north side of Broadway, between Second and Third Avenues, as a frontage for the Community Concourse. Smith casually said the Concourse would have to be redesigned to fit the plaza. Money to finance the improvements would come from the sale of Horton Plaza to the federal government.
Like Edwin Martin in 1952, reporter Syd Love, in January 1963, praised the plaza people. He found a permanent population of unemployed adult males and a floating population of shoppers, children, young couples, and sailors loafing on the grass or sitting on the benches. Love left out several homosexuals, including queens in drag, who frequented the plaza because of the contacts it afforded and because of its proximity to Bradley's Bar and Restaurant, a gay gathering place, on the southwest side of the plaza.
Sunday night Salvation Army volunteers marched to the plaza from their headquarters, a few blocks away. While there, they played and sang hymns. At other times, preachers in the plaza held forth simultaneously from all quadrants. Sailors entering and leaving the Barbara Worth Hotel, a brothel next to Bradley's Bar, added to the fast-pace of activity and provided moments of sordid drama. Like Boston's old Scollay Square, the plaza was the place for young people to go who sought knowledge of the world.
Not taking C. Arnolt Smith's plans for a new plaza on Broadway seriously, City officials commissioned architect Selden Kennedy to draw up plans for a plaza within the new Community Concourse. These plans became final in September 1963. Unlike Horton Plaza, a new, spacious, pedestrian plaza would provide a stage for civic gatherings while encouraging people not to linger. To accomplish the latter goal the plaza would not contain benches and it would be fully lighted at night.
In April 1964, the irrepressible Downtown Association urged the City Council to proceed with Paderewski's transformation of Horton Plaza. Though the cost had mounted to $100,000, the Association promised to come up with the money. Members quoted Alonzo Horton's August 30, 1890 letter, criticizing the plaza of that time, to justify their actions.
Sensing that the Association was being less than truthful, City Manager Tom Fletcher said the project would cost the city $380,500. Because of the expense or because of many protesting letters published in the San Diego Union, Paderewski's repudiation of the past was left to gather dust.
Taking to heart the motto, "if at first you don't succeed, try, try again," architects Frank L. Hope and Samuel Hamill, in July 1965, issued a growth plan for downtown that called for the redevelopment of Horton Plaza.
Since words were accomplishing nothing, the Downtown Association put on a Carnation Flower Festival in August. They decorated the fountain with flowers. Artists set up easels, and Jose Torres and his seven-piece mariachi band provided lively music.
In February 1966, the Downtown Association joined with the San Diego Chapter of the American Association of Architects to produce another plan for Horton Plaza. Confident that a sanitized plaza would restore a sick downtown to health, Paderewski steered the plan to completion. San Diegans, Inc., in August, added their support.
Repeating many suggestions offered before, the new plan would eliminate restrooms, remove the fountain, uproot grass, replace benches with backless seats, and add a reflecting pool. By doing tricks comparable to a magician's rabbit in the hat, the ugly duck plaza would become a swan.
Arthur Bernard wrote the San Diego Union, urging the City to remove shabby buildings on the block to the south and to extend the plaza to E Street.
About 40 artists, on June 11, 1966, ousted the plaza's regular users and set up a temporary art gallery.
Property owners tore down the upstairs Barbara Worth Hotel in July, leaving the downstairs Plaza Theater in place. Ladies of the night would have to find another hotel to take the sailors they met in Horton Plaza.
Two out of five unnamed property owners refused to sell their lots on the south side of the plaza.
As the 200th anniversary of the founding of Mission San Diego de Alcala in 1769 approached, the Downtown Association, to no one's surprise, said the time had come to do something about the plaza. They put a model of their latest renovation scheme in the lobby of the First National Bank. The plan called for the retention of the restrooms; otherwise, it repeated Paderewski's proposals. Cost would now come to between $150,000 and $200,000.
Agreeing with Arthur Bernard, Frank L. Hope, president of the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, hoped the City would buy the property between Plaza and E Streets and expand the plaza. Hope resurrected the idea that a parking garage beneath the plaza would pay for its improvement. He thought it expedient to patch up the plaza for the 200th anniversary. Simultaneously, he recommended a study to find the best long-term uses for the plaza and blighted areas to the south.
City Manager Walter Hahn, in August 1968, put a damper on plans to enlarge the plaza. He claimed property owners in an improvement district would have to be assessed to pay the cost of getting the land, now estimated at between $1 million and $3 million.
It was well into the 200th anniversary year before the City spruced up the information center and restrooms, put in a lighted bulletin board, and installed a new irrigation system at a cost of about $42,905. Pigeons found the Lantana shrubs planted at this time to be as appetizing as the geraniums they replaced.
In December, a task force appointed to analyze plaza expansion came out with a proposal to improve a twelve-block area between Union and Fourth Streets and Broadway and F Street. Horton Plaza abutted the improvements on the north.
To squelch talk of paving the plaza and getting rid of the fountain, the San Diego Historical Sites Board, on March 19, 1971, designated Horton Plaza as Historic Site No. 51.
In a letter to Mayor Pete Wilson, in December 1972, Royal F. Walker, owner of the Plaza Theater, described the plaza as "a cauldron of hippy freaks, perverts, drug addicts, and a conglomeration of bedraggled, seedy individuals." Walker's complaint led to many police arrests, which produced a counter complaint from the Human Right's Commission.
Rockwise, Odermatt, Montjoy and Amos, in July 1973, presented guidelines for a shopping center south of the plaza. They called for jacking up the fountain and putting a redesigned plaza underneath.
On October 2, 1973, the Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Diego set up the Centre City Development Corporation. The Agency instructed the new Corporation to get land, relocate occupants, manage property, prepare sites, secure financing, and administer redevelopments.
As plans for the project became more precise, the Centre City Development Corporation took to calling Horton Plaza "Horton Plaza Park" and the redevelopment project "Horton Plaza."
Developer Ernest Hahn signed a contract with the Redevelopment Agency in May 1974 to build a shopping center extending from E to G Streets. A two-level, glass-covered walkway would open upon an enlarged, triangular-shaped Horton Plaza Park.
Urban planners' Kevin Lynch and Donald Appleyard published Temporary Paradise? in September 1974. While their study was concerned with the entire San Diego region, they noted that Horton Plaza was "brash and tawdry and packed with action." They added: "It will be unfortunate if the renewal program banishes this liveliness and substitutes for it an empty space ringed by bank fronts."
In November 1975 Ernest Hahn endorsed the expansion of the plaza to E Street. He thought a larger plaza could hold a small amphitheater in one corner and a small building in the center. Also, in 1975, the Central Federal Savings and Loan Association opened a 22-story office building adjoining the plaza on the west. The site had been the home of the San Diego Union building that was demolished in 1970.
While negotiations for the shopping center were underway, life on the plaza continued as usual. Speakers took to using bullhorns. Hare Krishnas in saffron-colored robes clanged cymbals and chanted the names of Vishnu in a loud, fervent manner. Deranged people wandered about muttering to themselves. Young runaways stood about looking forlorn as "Johns" approached them furtively. Pimps, dope dealers, panhandlers, pickpockets, and purse snatchers plied their trades. Drunks exhibited the irrational aspects of different stages of intoxication before dropping to the ground in paralyzed stupors. Shysters tried to swindle anyone foolish enough to listen to them. Lonely and untidy pigeon feeders achieved moments of bliss when their breadcrumb offerings induced pigeons to alight on their arms and hands. Radios carried by the seated and the supine blared forth a Babel of sounds. Sailors answered ringing pay phones near comfort stations, where they talked to teen-age girls who got their "kicks" from talking to strangers. The sailors suggested sexual contact and the girls responded with giggles. Workers and shoppers took shortcuts through the commotion as if it did not exist.
Early in 1977, City staff nominated Horton Plaza for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Under pressure from higher-ups, the staff withdrew the nomination. In February, the City Council approved changes to the plaza advanced by former Mayor Frank Curran, who had become head of the Central City Association, the new name for the Downtown Association. Curran wanted to replace grass with paving, palms with trees in boxes, and water in the fountain with displays of flowers.
Responding to complaints from the Save Our Heritage Organization, the Council, in June, turned around 180 degrees. It decided to spend $100,000 to restore the plaza to its 1910 appearance.
In December, architect Frank L. Hope and designer Jon Jerde presented plans for the shopping center. It was to be confined between E Street on the north, Market Street on the south, First Avenue on the west, and Fourth Avenue on the east. The plaza would be extended to E Street, but that portion not affected by the expansion would keep its 1910 design.
With City approval, architect Mike Jones, a member of the Save Our Heritage Organization, took charge of the 1978 plaza restoration. He replaced the bronze eagle on the fountain that had been stolen sometime before with a small, ridiculously out-of-scale version. Workers replaced the utilitarian wood-slat and cement benches with wrought-iron benches decorated with lively curlicues and replanted the grass.
Between 1973 and 1982 the shopping center went through six major design changes. A change in 1979 shrank the center from 8-1/2 to 6-1/2 blocks. All hope of expanding the plaza evaporated when the two-thirds block on the south was set aside for a store or an office building.
Though the City had restored the plaza in 1978 to a clean, inviting condition, the Central City Association, in 1982, deplored its lawns, restrooms, fountain, pigeons, and people. Physically, the plaza was in good shape, but it looked like a relic from another era and the people on it misbehaved.
Reacting to the Central City Association's disgust with the plaza, the Centre City Development Corporation, in June 1983, requested qualified people to submit proposals for a new Horton Plaza Park. Three months later they selected Lawrence Halprin of San Francisco and Van Dyke Halsey of San Diego to redesign the plaza for $132,000. Actual construction would cost about $500,000.
Halprin conducted "take part" workshops. He listened to people who attended before he made up his mind what to do. During the three workshops, Halprin gave pep talks to participants before dividing them into groups. He gave each group tape, paper and scissors and told them to redesign the plaza. Afterwards, everyone reviewed the creations. They went home pleased and ready for another session of childs' play.
Not thrilled by the workshops or by the gimmicky plaza they saw taking shape in Halprin's mind, the Save Our Heritage Organization, the San Diego Historical Society, and the Congress of History began gathering their forces.
Partisans of Irving Gill and disciples of Lawrence Halprin proceeded to turn the feel-good workshops into places of argument. Gill advocates knew about San Diego's past. Such knowledge meant little to those who wanted to sweep the past away.
Halprin seemed not to understand why he should be questioned.
Gold or brass, Halprin's final design was published in the San Diego Union, April 22, 1984. It called for moving the Broadway Fountain to the plaza's northwest corner at Second Avenue and Broadway, building a pergola and clock tower on Fourth Avenue and Broadway, and paving most of the plaza except two sunken, grassy strips. Palms grouped in groves were to be planted along Plaza Street, which would be converted into a pedestrian walkway. Steps in front of Robinson's Department Store, then going up on the south, and steps around the strips would count as seats. Such double-use of steps had been forbidden by 1975 Midtown Manhattan plaza zoning legislation which Halprin chose to disregard. Having made the use of water his hallmarks in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco plazas, Halprin put a small water feature on the median of Broadway, north of the plaza.
To justify his plan, Halprin said his plaza would foster such activities as concerts, dances and political rallies. The pergola, arcade and tower would resemble Irving Gill designed buildings in La Jolla. Keeping the fountain would remind people of the past. The plaza would look bigger. People could move about and through it easily, and the asymmetrical details would provide subliminal linkages with nearby buildings and streets and with the entrance to Robinson's Store.
Halprin did not say he was trying to expedite pedestrian flow into the new shopping center, but he didn't have to.
In March 1984, the City removed the restrooms underneath the sidewalk on the south side of the plaza. The restrooms had deteriorated over the years. In the early 80's gang members from Southeast San Diego behaved as if the restrooms were their exclusive turf. They ripped basins off the walls, clogged toilets, and covered walls with lurid graffiti. Non-gang members entered the restrooms at their peril for they risked being robbed, beaten, and set on fire after being doused with lighter fluid.
Wanting to stop Halprin's plan before it gained momentum, the Save Our Heritage Organization selected architect Wayne Donaldson to prepare a plan for Horton Plaza Park that would respect its historical character. Donaldson's plan would cost $550,000 instead of the $1.8 million required by Halprin. It called for adding more palms to the plaza's borders, constructing steps that could be used as seats in front of Robinson's, putting back the underground restrooms, and improving paving on surrounding streets. Being sensitive to the need for economy, the Centre City Development Corporation reversed its pro-Halprin position. To avoid being called weak-knee Mollies, the Corporation explained that Halprin's ambitious new plaza would not have been completed in time for the grand opening of the Hahn (Horton Plaza) Shopping Center.
Upset by the Centre City Corporation's reversal, Halprin retorted that he never wanted to see San Diego again and that he was finished forever with that "pipsqueak of a park."
Hoping to waylay the Save Our Heritage Organization's dramatic victory, the Central City Association and San Diegans, Inc., on July 5, 1984, revived their perennial proposal to take out grass, restrooms, benches, and bollards and chains. If the City would do these things, it could provide a suitable entrance to the shopping center while getting rid of "undesirables."
Halprin's plan showed last-minute signs of flickering life. Members of the Planning Commission, the City Manager's Office, the Park and Recreation Board, and the Public Facilities and Recreation Committee were loath to turn their backs on such a distinguished designer of public plazas as Lawrence Halprin. Taking into consideration the need to have the plaza ready for the August opening of the shopping center, on November 5, by a vote of seven to 2, the City Council endorsed the plan to keep everything as it is. Chains would be left in place to keep pedestrians from demolishing the disputed grass.
In September, work crews put barricades around the plaza. After a considerable delay, on March 11, 1985, crews began the actual work of rehabilitation.
The Centre City Development Corporation paid $775,000 to rehabilitate the plaza. Under Wayne Donaldson's direction, workers steam cleaned and polished the fountain, recreated the light show, and put in thermistors to govern water flow. They placed sixteen planter urns, made of fiberglass, on pedestals, replaced bollards and chains, improved drainage, and added new turf, lights and palm trees. As a final touch they replaced remaining benches with wrought-iron seats with armrests, similar to those in the Gaslamp Quarter. Reversing their position in the original plaza, workers relocated the Lee Highway marker on the west end of the south walk and a plaque from the Jefferson Davis Highway marker in the pavement on the east end of the south walk. Compounding the confusion, they placed a plaque marking the location of the first Salvation Army meeting in San Diego in the original position of the Jefferson Davis marker, where the meeting never took place. Clearly the architect in charge of the restoration did not know the history of Horton Plaza.
On September 28, 1985 at 4:00 p.m., Mayor Roger Hedgecock presented a commemorative plaque to representatives of the Save Our Heritage Organization in a low-key ceremony at the plaza. The plaque, which was to be set in cement north of the fountain, read:
The plaza was ready in time for the official opening of the shopping center, October 9, 1985. It was sparkling clean and temporarily without street people. Captain Winston Yetta said downtown police had become more aggressive in attacking crime, but denied they were targeting "indigent people who look different than other folks."
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., on October 15, 1985, the Save Our Heritage Organization held a public party in the plaza. Lucille Wilde Miller, 82, a daughter of Louis Wilde, donor of the fountain, participated in the reenactment of the unveiling and lighting of the Broadway Fountain on October 15, 1910.
A remodeled version of the 1923 Stephens and Company building opened next to Robinson's in November 1986. Glendale Federal Bank occupied the ground level. Ernest Hahn had recreated the building at a cost of $875,000.
By January 1987 street people had retaken the plaza. Different types of people visited the plaza at different hours of the day. More seemly types appeared at noon on sunny days. Sailors, gays and residents of downtown hotels no longer visited the plaza in large numbers because downtown "improvements" had eliminated locker clubs, "buckets of blood" saloons, readily available restrooms, and inexpensive single room hotels.
Aspiring Yuppies who believe the fabulous things they see in stores may someday be theirs are welcome in the Horton Plaza (Ernest Hahn) shopping center where they sit on scattered backless seats on one of the center's four levels. Office workers have a wide choice of restaurants in which to sit and eat. Some of the restaurants have their own enclosed plazas. Older people can participate in programs in rooms provided by a major department store within the shopping center.
As workers and shoppers moved out, poor and young people, confused veterans of the Vietnam war, homeless men, women and children, and African-American, Mexican-American, and Spanish-speaking people moved into the plaza.
Religious fanatics threatened hung-over or deranged people on the benches with hellfire. The latter were too wrapped up in their private fantasies to respond.
People on benches on the west side were usually restrained in manner, while those on the east side engaged in loud conversations accompanied by expressive gestures. Sometimes someone laid his sleeping gear full-length on a bench, keeping others from sitting. Spanish-speaking men in pairs and African-American men alone sold marijuana. Abusers of drugs floated by. Haggard adults drank wine and beer from containers concealed in paper bags. Every so often a young, bedraggled man would urinate in public. Pigeon lovers fed crumbs to birds. Vandals uprooted plants, damaged irrigation pipes, nailed handbills on barks of palms, vomited in the fountain, and did their utmost to short the fountain or clog the jets. Hostile young men broke slats on the benches. African-Americans did pushups with gusto or paraded about displaying their torsos. Paper plates, cups and sacks littered grass and walkways. Graffiti covered curbs, pedestals, urns, and trunks of trees. Perhaps because most of the people there had no money (except for buying marijuana), panhandlers were rare.
Plaza people kept within their own circles. They did not reach out to the other world of workers and shoppers, nor did members of that other world seek the society of plaza people. Some well-fed, well-clothed members of the other world enjoyed looking at the weird plaza people from the safety of sidewalks.
Managers of Robinson's and the U. S. Grant Hotel carped about the licentious people in the plaza. They claimed "bums" on the plaza were driving away customers. Responding to such complaints, City Manager, John Lockwood, ordered the removal of benches on the south side of the plaza.
Merchants wanted more people with manners and money to use the plaza, but they did not want --- or said they did not want --- the transients and homeless to go.
To hide the plaza's unpleasant reminders that "America's Finest City" had problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, family breakdown, crime, poverty, and unemployment, merchants and city officials discussed plans for a new, respectable plaza. Ideas included construction of an Arts Tix office, construction of an information center, introduction of vendors, introduction of street performers, increase of police surveillance, removal of benches, movement of bus stops away from the plaza, intensification of efforts to keep the plaza clean, and replacement of grass with flowers.
A 450 sq. ft. Times Tix Art Center, operated by the San Diego Theater Foundation and constructed at a cost of $166,000, with half of this total coming from the Los Angeles Times-Mirror Foundation, opened in July 1989 in front of the Glendale Federal Bank. It does nothing to highlight the supposedly Florentine features of the bank. While the ticket building abutted the south right-of-way, Willis Purvis, president of the Theater Foundation, claimed it was located on private land donated by Ernest Hahn, Inc.
In October 1989, the Central City Association proposed construction of a 100 sq. ft. kiosk on the southeast side of the south right-of-way. It would be used to sell newspapers, trolley and lottery tickets, and tourist items, and would cost about $35,000, with the retailer paying for construction.
Owners of Reidy O'Neil Restaurant, on the east side of Fourth Avenue across from the plaza, said they would sell sandwiches and drinks in the kiosk.
The Central City Association volunteered to pay from $25,000 to $100,000 for Horton Plaza changes. Because they thought something had to be done to get vile people out of the plaza, the San Diego Union and the Centre City Development Corporation endorsed the Herculean proposals. While professing to be neutral regarding the removal of people, the San Diego Historical Sites Board and the Save Our Heritage Organization opposed the removal of grass and benches. The Tribune, which endorsed the 1984 Halprin plan, criticized the Central City Association's "Better Homes and Gardens" solution to vagrancy on April 13, 1990.
Always eager to get rid of the homeless, the Central City Association convinced the City Street Department to remove public seating from the sidewalks of downtown San Diego. Simultaneously, managers of sidewalk cafes expanded seating for their patrons in the public right-of-way. The Business Association tried without success to persuade people to give slugs instead of change to beggars.
Even if the homeless were to find homes, the unemployed jobs, and people living below the poverty level were to rise above it, the disappearance of these groups from Horton Plaza Park would not make it a Paradise for the well-to-do. Other people in the plaza would be sure to upset somebody. Years ago it was Socialists, then it was atheists, then it was "gays;" yesterday it was beggars and cocaine addicts, today it is skateboarders and Skinheads, tomorrow it is . . . ?
On a visit to San Diego in May 1990 New York City resident and plaza consultant William H. Whyte found the "drug dealers, panhandlers and prostitutes" in Horton Plaza Park to be "innocent amateurs" compared to "the dangerous professionals" in New York City. "What does the business association really want?", he asked Kay Kaiser of the San Diego Union. "There is something very weird and strange operating here." For a man familiar with the machinations of politicians, Whyte's question was either intentionally ironic or astonishingly naive.
Not sharing William H. Whyte's scruples, on July 2, 1990, the City Council, by a vote of five to three, came out in favor of a grassless, benchless Plaza. The Council accepted a compromise promoted by the Central City Business Association, which in the words of Ron Oliver, vice president of the Association, would "enhance the appearance of the park and convert it from a sit-down/lay-down area for the passive users to a walk-through park that can be enjoyed by all." Benches were to be removed for six months, grass was to be replaced with flowers and hedges, and bronze plaques were to be placed in unspecified locations depicting downtown history. The Business Association would pay for refurbishment, estimated at $95,000.
The Council would review the impact of modifications within 18 months from the October 8 date of final approval. If the Council were to find that the new landscaping was "not successful in generating greater public use of the park," the Central City Business Association would replace it "at its own cost." Kathryn Willetts, chairwoman of the Historic Sites Board, was under the delusion that "the grass would eventually be phased back in after an undetermined period," The Council did not, however, include this stipulation in its agreement resolution.
Upon completion of the redesign, proprietors of Reidy O'Neil Restaurant, across Fourth Avenue from Horton Plaza Park, promised to set up a food kiosk. The Business Association expressed its willingness to sponsor musical performances, art shows and book sales. Leo Sullivan, co-owner of Reidy O'Neil's, proposed putting round, backless benches "suited to group conversations"on the plaza. The kiosk proposal never got beyond the talking stage. When in 1994 Reidy O'Neil's went out of business, the prospect became moot.
After trying myriad times to transform Horton Plaza Park, downtown merchants had accomplished their goal by reducing their plans and by blaming declines in their businesses on the unseemly and unsightly behavior of people in the plaza.
Switching from grass to flowers to get rid of derelicts was a more extreme measure than replacing grass with hard-surface paving, as was done in Los Angeles' Pershing Square, Portland's Courthouse Square, and Seattle's Westlake Mall Plaza, and would have been done in Horton Plaza Park if Lawrence Halprin's 1984 plan had been carried out. Flowers keep people from lying on the ground and removing benches keep them from sitting along walkways. Hard-surface pavement allows people to meet in plazas and permits staging of public events. If the pavement covers ledges and steps, it provides people with places to sit.
As Central City Business Association "enhancements" are subject to the same processes of change that brought them into being, it is certain someone will again advocate paving Horton Plaza Park.
Seven years have passed since the City Council's October 8, 1990 resolution, yet the Council has never held its promised review of Plaza modifications. Members of the Central City Business Association, Park Department, City Manager's Office, and an ad-hoc committee set up to monitor Plaza conditions have expressed satisfaction with plaza changes. Problems deal mostly with finding a ground cover that will grow, will cost little to maintain, will resist onslaughts by pigeons, and will present an indelible image of the city. Planting to date by City work crews and at City expense has been meager and haggard. It would not win prizes at the annual San Diego County Fair! To compound the irony, E. Robert Bichowsky, a horticultural agronomist hired by the Parks Department to suggest ways of controlling weeds, nematodes and insects, recommended replanting afflicted areas with turfgrass.
Plaza experts Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte had much to say about how a city should make its public spaces appealing to a broad spectrum of people. Their advice is general and does not allow for exceptions. As it does not conform to guidelines for a friendly open-space that draws people to it, the current dehumanized version of Horton Plaza Park is an exception. A count of people on the Plaza as opposed to people on the more hospitable Home Savings Plaza to the west or Wells Fargo Plaza a few blocks further on would not reflect in Horton Plaza Park's favor. Ironically, private businesses own and maintain the welcoming Home Savings and Wells Fargo Plazas. But this is not the entire story. If all Plazas in the City were the same, they would become monotonous. Since difference, contrast and surprise brightens people's lives, the City needs many beckoning plazas in different configurations and with different themes.
Drunks, prostitutes, dope dealers, disorderly juveniles, undocumented aliens, and homeless, jobless, and mentally askew people who once thronged Horton Plaza Park have scattered. They are not gone. Disadvantaged, disoriented and dangerous people still sleep on streets, defecate in planters, lurk in alleys and dark places, snatch purses, pick pockets, and ask for money near popular spots in downtown San Diego. Residents of fashionable condominiums surrounding Pantoja Plaza have complained about the unsightly people in their front yard. The fascinating, scrubby, sometimes repulsive individuals that once occupied Horton Plaza Park have lost a haven. Since shoppers, workers and tourists stopped going to Horton Plaza Park when dissolute people came, it cannot be said that Central City Business Association's "enhancements" gave them back a "defensible" gathering place.
Though they have no seats on which to sit, scruffy people still surround Horton Plaza Park. Some of them are panhandlers and pick pockets who work the crowds coming from the Horton Plaza Shopping Mall or from the nearby Planet Hollywood, a garish attraction, even more incompatible to Horton Plaza's configuration than the off-center Robinson's Department Store it replaced. Both the Plaza and the Shopping Mall are intimidating at night for they attract the unruly and carefree youth who harassed pedestrians and shoppers in previous years. While Planet Hollywoods in most cities are offensively tacky and loud on outside and inside, they need not be so, as the Planet Hollywood in San Antonio, attests. Unlike San Diego, San Antonio has rigid design controls for its River Walkway, and Planet Hollywood was not so powerful that it could override them.
While the City of San Diego has taken the free seats on sidewalks away from people (but not the paid seats in sidewalk restaurants) downtown San Diego has a number of places where people can meet and rest, and the list is expanding. The roster includes the privately-owned Home Savings Plaza, Wells Fargo Place, and the balconies of the Horton Plaza Shopping Mall, and the publicly-owned Civic Center Concourse, F-Street Courthouse Plaza, Pantoja Park, Martin Luther King Linear Parkway, William Heath Davis Plaza, and Seaport Village patios and walkways. Plans call for more companionable spaces which people can enjoy without having to pay to visit them.
A shortage of restrooms (more evident in publicly-owned spaces) defies the biological urgency people have to evacuate their wastes and encourages the visible practice of urination and defecation on streets, sidewalks and store entrances the City ostensibly has tried to prevent.
Members of the Centre City Development Corporation and the Central City Business Association are not heartless. Though they don't want homeless and shabby people in their backyards, they have contributed to facilities to assist these people. It may be that conditions in San Diego are too dissimilar for a "good" Skid-Row Park for alcoholics, drug addicts, and drifters to be established similar to the Father Alfred Boddecker Plaza in San Francisco. In the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin rough and angry people are invited to gather, to talk, to sun themselves, and to play games. Park Department employees, social workers, clergymen, and policemen are on hand. Oakland has equivalent facilities in Lafayette Square, Seattle in Occidental Square, and Los Angeles in MacArthur Park. Eventually, San Diego may have to set up a similar outdoor operation. It may cost money, but, by showing demoralized, disgruntled people they can be valued, such an operation may save money and lives. It would revive the informal, loud, lively and gritting atmosphere of Horton Plaza Park as it was before the Central City Business Association and the City Council undid it, but it would be run along more hygienic and sensible lines.
At the request of city officials, Irving Gill designed a Classic-style plaza in 1909 with the hope that its formal organization and orderly arrangements would discourage people who talked about politics and religion in foreign accents from turning it into an outdoor club. In time, businesspeople turned away from Gill's plan because agitators, cranks, gossips, idlers, rejects and miscreants of all ages, classes, nations, religions, and races transformed the plaza into a forum for the exchange of ideas. For all its precisely articulated spaces and uncomfortable, linear benches, Gill's plaza was small enough and had points of interest enough to provoke conversations. Merchants wanted a fresh- from-the-catalog plaza made up of flat, dull spaces that would show that San Diego was a modern, industrial city, speeding exultantly into the future.
To avoid riling historic preservationists, the City Council in 1984 decided to stay with Gill's plan. As Council members had at best only tepid feelings toward Gill's nineteenth-century plaza, on October 8, 1990, they accepted the downtown merchants' allegation that poor, sick and maimed people were driving away business. By replacing grass with flowers and by removing benches, the Council forced these people to move away from the north entrance to the Horton Plaza Shopping Mall. Because shoppers and workers no longer see non-conformist, demented and diseased people in Horton Plaza Park or hear zealots threatening them with eternal damnation, merchants claim crime in downtown San Diego has gone down and sales have gone up, but they do not produce Police Department statistics to prove it nor do they explain why Robinson's Department Store on the south side of the plaza closed, why the Carls Junior Hamburger Restaurant, and the Reidy O'Neil Restaurant on the east side of the plaza ceased operations, why the U. S. Grant Hotel on the north side of the plaza is in periodic financial difficulty, and why major department store buildings along Broadway are still empty.
Horton Plaza Park today is even more unfriendly to people than the Horton Plaza architect Irving Gill designed in 1909. It is this ragged, parsimonious attempt at clinical formality, in which flowers hesitate to grow, that San Diegans are asked to cherish, but not to use.
LETTER, ALONZO E. HORTON TO THE BOARD OF PUBLIC WORKS
August 30, 1890
Responding to your letter of the 28th instant, requesting me to state the purposes for which the Horton Plaza was set apart for public use and my desires in respect to its improvement, I have to say that I have been gratified by the action you have taken and hope that your recommendations may meet with the approval of the people and be adopted by the Common Council.
The present so-called park should be condemned and removed -- hedge, trees, fountain, bandstand, and all. Instead of being an attractive and useful place, it is unsightly, a receptacle for dust and filth and a hiding place for vice. My object in dedicating the grounds to public use was mainly to provide a central, commodious and attractive place for public meetings, public announcements, public recreation, and for any other proper public purpose; a place where all public questions might be discussed with comfort, where public open air concerts might be given, where the people might rest, and where children might play in safety. I gave to the City the North One Hundred Forty-Five (145) feet of Block 42, and the Plaza grounds therefore extend from D street to the property line on the south side. It was not intended to have an open street across the south side or to allow teams to cross the Plaza.
To render it unnecessary to maintain a street in front of the property fronting on the Plaza grounds, I dedicated to the public use an alleyway of ample width through the block in the rear of the property.
I should be very much pleased if a curb and sidewalk were constructed on 3rd, 4th and D streets, enclosing the entire grounds, and an elevation made on the inside line of the sidewalk, in the form of a second curb, eight inches high. The entire surface of the Plaza should then be filled to this height and covered with cement.
Around the 3rd, 4th and D street margins circular places should be provided in which trees should be planted in double rows and far apart not to obstruct view.
Each tree should be enclosed by a circular seat of iron, so small that a toper could not recline on it, and having a high back formed to protect the tree.
Very truly yours,
A. E. Horton
For more articles by Richard Amero see: www.sandiegohistory.org/balboapk.htm