San Diego Downtown to Uptown
Old Town Moves to Downtown
San Diego, once a sleepy town, experienced a boom in April 1867. The boom began when Alonzo E. Horton, a wealthy businessman, purchased one thousand acres of land, which is now downtown San Diego, for 2.5 cents an acre. Horton advertised his property widely and the first real-estate boom was under way. In addition to the Americans, the town became full of immigrants such as the Portuguese, who came for tuna fishing. Soon, San Diego had two newspapers, the Herald and the San Diego Union. In 1871, the county records were moved from the Whaley House in Old Town San Diego, which served as a courthouse and the hall of records, to Horton Hall on 6th Street in downtown San Diego.
The promise of railroads in 1885 was also part of the boom. Chinese immigrants were part of the building of the railroads. The railroads were never built, but San Diego’s population still rose to 40,000 in 1887. Other reasons for the boom were the enjoyable climate in San Diego, the arrival of the military, the Word’s Fair, and the discovery of gold in Julian, east of San Diego.
Population Spreads to Mission Hills
In 1869, three men started the creation of Mission Hills, which is home to Pioneer Park. They were Captain Henry Johnston, Cyrus Arnold, and Daniel Choate. Johnston became the first Mission Hills property owner when he bought 65 acres of land that he named “Inspiration Point.” Before that, Mission Hills was a hayfield and the only reason to come to the area was a few houses and Calvary Cemetery.
Henry Johnston’s daughter, Sarah Johnston Cox, inherited his property. The address of the first Mission Hills home was 2036 Orizaba Street. His daughter built the home and the street was named after the ship he came to San Diego on. Today that historical house is called Villa Orizaba. Sarah Johnston Cox was unable to interest people in her inherited real estate until her neighbor, Kate Sessions, got involved in 1903. Kate Sessions was known for landscaping Balboa Park.
At the time, Kate Sessions controlled much of the Mission Hills land. Kate Sessions came to San Diego looking for a spot to start her experimental nursery, thinking she would not be disturbed at first. Later, there was no way to get people to support her business because of the poor roads. Then, in 1908, she persuaded John D. Spreckles to build a streetcar line from the booming downtown to Mission Hills, on the condition that they would improve the roads. Mission Hills was officially born on January 1, 1908.
The streetcar line brought more people to Mission Hills and there was no more room for Miss Sessions’s nursery. So she had to find a new site, which is now the corner of Fort Stockton Drive. Kate Sessions needed help with her nursery so she hired two Italian immigrants named Guiseppe and Pasquale Antonicelli. In 1926, the two brothers became the owners of the Mission Hills Nursery.
Kate Sessions’s packinghouse and part of the growing fields were moved to an area east of Calvary Cemetery. The land was later sold to the San Diego City Schools and was used as the Ulysses S. Grant Elementary School kindergarten room. The Antonicellis attended Grant. Today that building is used for Grant Elementary’s after-school program.
The city wanted a fence in Calvary Cemetery, but Kate Sessions thought it would look ugly so she planted eucalyptus trees instead. Antonicelli carried water to the trees. Many of the trees still stand today.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, Mission Hills was considered an area of wealth and influence. It now had homes, an elementary school, a streetcar, and a deteriorating Calvary Cemetery.
By Lauren and Grace
Alonzo E. Horton
The Kid's Corner building
|© 2005 Grant Elementary School|