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2005 blog


San Diego Native: An Oxymoron?

San Diego Jewish Times, July 28, 2005


By Donald H. Harrison

Sometimes when I give speeches about San Diego County’s early Jewish history, I like to ask how many adults in the audience were actually born in this area.  People crane their necks to see how many natives there are in their group, but more often than not, there are none, or perhaps just one or two. This seems to be the case whether there be 20 people attending my lecture or 100.

When I ask how many people moved to San Diego during their school years, sometimes a few other hands are raised.  But the point obviously remains valid: by and large, this is a county of immigrants, who are more or less unaware of San Diego County history.  And that, in my opinion, is unfortunate because San Diego County has quite an interesting history.  And to this history, members of the Jewish community have been outstanding contributors.

Two books recently have come along that can provide easy-to-read tutorials about San Diego. Both were published this year by Sunbelt Publications—the same house that cooperated with the Agency for Jewish Education to put out my biography of Louis Rose. The owners of that publishing house, Diana and Lowell Lindsay, along with their editor-in-chief, Jennifer Redmond, are dedicated to telling the stories of San Diego County and the Southwest in their many aspects.

One of these books is by Iris Engstrand, a highly regarded history professor at the University of San Diego.  It is called San Diego: California’s Cornerstone, and it tells the area’s history from before the time Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo came here in 1542 and named it “San Miguel” to the day earlier this year when Mayor Dick Murphy announced he planned to resign as San Diego’s mayor, prompting a special election.

In 248 pages of text, followed by a chronology, extensive index and bibliography, Engstrand writes not only about San Diego’s political developments, but also about its cultural, sports and media developments. 

Here are the names of some of the Jews mentioned in Engstrand’s book; see how many you recognize:  Robert Breitbard, Lewis Franklin, Maurice Franklin, Jack Gross, Irwin Jacobs, Julian Kaufman, Melville Klauber, William Kolender, Larry Lawrence, Marty Levin, Ron Mix, Arthur Ollman, Louis Rose (of course!), Jonas Salk and Julius Wangenheim.

To give you the flavor of Engstrand’s book, let me quote her section about the Sports Arena: 

“The city also promoted construction of the International Sports Arena in November 1966.  Costing $6.5 million, it was designed to seat 13,000 spectators for hockey and 13,700 for basketball and other public events.  The Sports Arena was built on city-owned land through private investors led by Robert Breitbard.  In 1966, Breitbard obtained a franchise in the Western Hockey League, the Gulls, and in 1967 obtained a franchise for a National Basketball Association expansion team he called the Rockets. Both teams were popular but short-lived. The Rockets were sold to Houston interests, and the Gulls disbanded in order to make room for the Mariners, a World Hockey Association franchise.”

Breitbard, as Engstrand points out later in the book, was also the founder of the Hall of Champions museum in Balboa Park.  We in the Jewish community know him as a member of an activist family, whose matriarch, Bess Breitbard, was one of the original “Jolly 16” the group that founded the San Diego Hebrew Home for the Aged that  grew to become Seacrest Village Retirement Communities.

Another enjoyable book issued by Sunbelt is San Diego County Place Names A to Z written by retired San Diego State Prof. Leland Fetzer.  This is an alphabetical listing of place names in San Diego with the stories behind those names.

Rose Canyon originally was named La Cańada de las Lleguas, but became known as Rose Canyon after Louis Rose started a tannery there during the 1850s.

On the other hand, an area once known as Klauber Park, after its developer Abraham Klauber, was quickly renamed Encanto at the insistence of Klauber’s daughter, Alice.

So, one Spanish place name was replaced by one for a Jewish San Diegan, and later a place named for a different Jewish San Diegan was  replaced with a Spanish name!  Here is Fetzer’s account of the latter.  (He follows the paragraph with the names of authors of previous works, and the page numbers of those works, he relied upon.  The full title of the works are listed in the bibliography): 

“Encanto. (Span. “enchantment”)  Also Encanto Southeastern S.D. Neighborhood.  Its original name was Klauber Park.  Abraham Klauber subdivided it in 1891.  His daughter Alice supposedly chose the area and renamed it for its charming climate and sea views.  The district got its own post office in 1909.  Annexed to the City of San Diego in 1916. (Gudde 123; Salley 67; Stein 44)”

There are hundreds of names listed and explained in Fetzer’s often-humorous reference work.  As is my nature, I immediately zeroed in on those names having to do with Jews or Jewish culture. Besides Carmel Valley and Carmel Mountain named for the place near Haifa, Israel, where Elijah battled the false prophets of Baal; our county also has its own Mount Ararat. (east of Bonsall) and Mount Nebo (in the La Mesa area).  I couldn’t help but wonder about naming a housing development “Mount Nebo.”  That was the place where God allowed Moses to gaze upon the Promised Land, but forbade him from entering it. 

As residents of the Mount Nebo area look out their windows, do they look over a landscape of beauty that they never will be able to attain?