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San Diego’s ‘Perfect’ Sewer and Other 1894 Attributes

A postcard from the 1894 guidebook to San Diego published by B.R. Baumgardt & Co.
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Above: A postcard from the 1894 guidebook to San Diego published by B.R. Baumgardt & Co.

Judging by an 1894 guidebook, San Diego was one of the grandest places to visit on the planet.

Just how fabulous was our fair city of about 16,000 people?

Well, if Southern California was Italy, San Diego would combine the best of Genoa, Naples and Venice. "Of natural beauties this trio of Italian attractives is not more profuse than San Diego," gushed George Wharton James, author of "B.R. Baumgardt & Co's Tourists' Guide book to South California." (Los Angeles had dibs on Rome, while Pasadena was most like Florence).

Never mind those canals in Naples. We had "swift electric cars" that "glide along with easy, unruffled motion." There's more: San Diego's "sewage system is perfect," new homes were appearing with "magical rapidity," and "it has an excellent library of 9,000 volumes, an elegant opera house built at the cost of $100,000, more than five miles of paved streets and 45 miles of graded streets."

Wowsers. To borrow a phrase from Liz Lemon: I want to go to there.

The guidebook, which I found through Google Books, sounds like it was written by the Chamber of Commerce. But even if it's connection to reality may have been limited, there are definitely some great tidbits here.

San Diego is well-read and well-churched:

"Its public library ranks second only to that of Los Angeles. There are twenty-three churches, five banks and two first-class daily and several weekly newspapers. In this latter class is the Seaport News, a fearless, independent and well edited journal, which, in all that means the highest welfare of San Diego, is always to be found on the right, though not always the popular side."

Wow, two first-class daily newspapers? Those were the days. And a paper that always had the "highest welfare" of San Diego in mind? Wow, those really were the days.

There's a park without a name -- City Park -- worth noting:

Wonder whatever happened to it? "For a city park there is a reservation of fourteen hundred acres, which it is the intention speedily to improve and make the most attractive semi-tropic park in the world."

Let's hear it for ozone:

"St. Joseph's Hospital and Sanitarium situated on University Heights. No location could be better for the purposes of such an institution than this. On the one side the placid face of the ocean, sending forth its health-giving ozone, and on the other the purple peaks of the mountains which promise fragrant and invigorating snow-kissed breezes, breathing of the pine, fir and other life-giving trees and shrubs."

From lemony fresh in PB to danger up the coast:

"A pleasant ride from Old Town, passing Pacific Beach, where fine lemon orchards attract the eye with the sweet delicacy of both odor and coloring, until the shore of the Pacific is touched, along which the railroad runs until La Jolla, (pronounced La-hoy-eh), is reached, twelve miles from San Diego.

"It is almost wholly surrounded by hills. There is an air of rugged grandeur and zest of danger about the place with its mammoth caves of sand stone, which fascinates and attracts all who once come within their influence. There are ten in all, some of which are four hundred feet broad and two hundred feet high, with a depth extending back under the hills, of four hundred to six hundred feet."

And finally, that teeny burg to the south: "Tia Juana. A railway connects San Diego with this quaint little town on the Mexican border, where 'Ruben the Guide' makes things very interesting for his visitors."

I'll bet.

-- RANDY DOTINGA

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