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Every great city’s story is peppered with larger-than-life characters, surprising events and reversals of fortune. Find out how San Diego got its determination, its imagination and how the past is shaping an exciting future.


An ever-building story

In 256 years San Diego has gone from being the first European settlement in California to the 8th biggest city in USA; from a tiny military fort to an international hub for industry and culture.

An ever-building story

In 256 years San Diego has gone from being the first European settlement in California to the 8th biggest city in USA; from a tiny military fort to an international hub for industry and culture.

The millenial density appeal

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but for the hyper-social, “millennial” generation, inspired by shared enthusiasms and the latest trends, downtown is absolutely where it’s at”

“The 25–34-year-old age group is focused on living near their peers. They want to be socially engaged and live near work. They want to reduce their automobile use.” All those things aim at high-density, urban-type living.” David Crowe, Chief Economist for the National Association of Housebuilders.

The millenial density appeal

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, but for the hyper-social, “millennial” generation, inspired by shared enthusiasms and the latest trends, downtown is absolutely where it’s at”

“The 25–34-year-old age group is focused on living near their peers. They want to be socially engaged and live near work. They want to reduce their automobile use.” All those things aim at high-density, urban-type living.” David Crowe, Chief Economist for the National Association of Housebuilders.

Sports beats depression

In 1935 every state in the Union was recovering from the Great Depression. This baseball field was built for local favorites The Padres, on a former Navy athletics ground as part of the WPA’s infrastructure projects, helping to get the economy back on its feet.

Sports beats depression

In 1935 every state in the Union was recovering from the Great Depression. This baseball field was built for local favorites The Padres, on a former Navy athletics ground as part of the WPA’s infrastructure projects, helping to get the economy back on its feet.

Work, wharves and warehouses

This picture, from 1867, gives some indication of the sheer pace of growth in the years immediately following Alonzo Horton’s speculative gamble on San Diego’s downtown. Many jobs were created in the harbor-side wharves and warehouses that served the city’s port.

Work, wharves and warehouses

This picture, from 1867, gives some indication of the sheer pace of growth in the years immediately following Alonzo Horton’s speculative gamble on San Diego’s downtown. Many jobs were created in the harbor-side wharves and warehouses that served the city’s port.

How to humanize streets

Jane Jacobs essay “Humanizing Streets” was influential on civic leaders when they started to wrestle with how to rethink downtown in the 1980s and 90s. “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

How to humanize streets

Jane Jacobs essay “Humanizing Streets” was influential on civic leaders when they started to wrestle with how to rethink downtown in the 1980s and 90s. “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.”

Always be an early adoptor

In 1850 Alonzo Horton paid just 27.5 cents per acre of San Diego harbor-side land.

Today 1 acre of downtown San Diego will cost you… $179,446!

Always be an early adoptor

In 1850 Alonzo Horton paid just 27.5 cents per acre of San Diego harbor-side land.

Today 1 acre of downtown San Diego will cost you… $179,446!

Naval growth

If San Diego had always been a naval town, the twentieth century’s increasing military focus on the Pacific rather than the Atlantic ocean heralded a significant growth in the US Navy’s local presence.

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Naval growth

If San Diego had always been a naval town, the twentieth century’s increasing military focus on the Pacific rather than the Atlantic ocean heralded a significant growth in the US Navy’s local presence.

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Always looking up

Though aerospace would be a bit of a boom and bust player in San Diego’s economic story, in its 1960s heyday it was the site of some truly landmark engineering. Here’s the Atlas rocket that would power Alan Shepherd and America’s other first astronauts into space.

Always looking up

Though aerospace would be a bit of a boom and bust player in San Diego’s economic story, in its 1960s heyday it was the site of some truly landmark engineering. Here’s the Atlas rocket that would power Alan Shepherd and America’s other first astronauts into space.

Tenacious beginnings

Initially a Franciscan Mission and part of the Spanish Empire, San Diego became the site for the first European settlement of the emerging California. It was discovered in 1542 by one of the first European colonists, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who immediately saw the potential and possibilities of the area.

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Tenacious beginnings

Initially a Franciscan Mission and part of the Spanish Empire, San Diego became the site for the first European settlement of the emerging California. It was discovered in 1542 by one of the first European colonists, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who immediately saw the potential and possibilities of the area.

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Horton’s Vision

It’s a quintessentially American story. Alonzo Horton, entrepreneur and successful town-builder in Wisconsin, travels West in search of California gold. Hearing about a wonderful little inland town near the Mexican border, his inspiration is fueled. With money in his pockets and a dream in his head, this would be his city project, a chance to make his mark.

Horton’s Vision

It’s a quintessentially American story. Alonzo Horton, entrepreneur and successful town-builder in Wisconsin, travels West in search of California gold. Hearing about a wonderful little inland town near the Mexican border, his inspiration is fueled. With money in his pockets and a dream in his head, this would be his city project, a chance to make his mark.

All images credited by San Diego History Center