A Glimpse Into San Diego’s Rich Transportation History

The San Diego Union :: Special Transportation Edition :: July 1, 1924

While going through our historical archives over at San Diego Historic Streetcars a couple weeks ago, I stumbled upon this incredible gem: a full, original copy of the San Diego Union Newspaper from July 1st, 1924. This copy of the paper was the “Special Transportation Edition” and touted the benefits of streetcars and the expansion of streetcar service to a number of beach communities in San Diego: Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla.

This San Diego Union is full of interesting tidbits and provides a fascinating glimpse into San Diego’s transportation history. The positive tone throughout the newspaper shouldn’t be too surprising— streetcar service was very popular and successful in San Diego. Plus, the San Diego Union was a holding of  John D. Spreckels back in the good ol’ days of those sometimes-benevolent robber barons. Of course, the Spreckels family was also responsible for a lot of the development in these communities and owned the San Diego Electric Railway Company which expanded streetcar service to encompass most of San Diego at that time. Aside from those obvious questions of conflict of interest, there were actually a number of material benefits to this kind of regulated monopoly: one obvious benefit being our efficient city-wide streetcar system. Virtually anyone living in San Diego could easily travel across town on a charming electric streetcar via the extensive Speckrels-built rail network. No horse, buggy, or automobile required!

Perhaps most interesting is that the benefits of streetcars as potent engines of economic development were well recognized even back in 1924. In fact, many of these headlines of yesteryear could easily be the headlines we may see again in San Diego, if our city decides to make the commitment to restore streetcar service in the present day. For example, “Today Starts the Splendid Electric Streetcar Service That Will Add […] Many Millions of Dollars To [Pacific Beach’s] Property Values”, is something you could expect to read in the coming era of streetcar revival.  Well, maybe you won’t see the word “splendid” in any of today’s papers, but regardless of the exact wording it has been widely shown that streetcars greatly increase private development, business revenues, and property values around any new alignment. In Tampa, Florida, the Tampa Downtown Partnership has identified over $1.2 billion dollars of new investment and development in the two block radius around their historic streetcar line that opened in October 2002.

That is just one example of the powerful economic boon that investment in a historic streetcar can bring to a city. The good news for San Diego is that we are getting closer and closer to realizing our goal of restoring the Class 1 streetcars to America’s Finest City. On Nov. 5th, the Little Italy Association voted to unanimously approve the concept of restoring our historic streetcars to a new rail alignment in their district. We are looking forward to working with their association and the numerous city leaders who are supportive of this project to make that commitment a reality.

For now, please take a look at the full San Diego Union paper below— I recommend perusing the slideshow in full screen mode– and imagine the possibilities for San Diego’s future. Sometimes our history can provide an important framework for solving current problems. Let’s get to work to bring back a practical and charming form of transportation that is best suited to serve our downtown and uptown neighborhoods: the historic Class 1 streetcars.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported us along this journey. We couldn’t have made the progress we have so far without you!

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