By Doug Curlee | Editor at Large
Most people tend to wonder where their communities came from — how did they originate? Who built all these homes and businesses? Why are they named what they are?
We actually started thinking about this when an irate reader told us we were crazy — that Capri Drive is not in Del Cerro, and never has been. (It is in Del Cerro, if only just barely.) But it got us thinking about the history, and how a whole bunch of land tracts and developments became the four communities our newspaper serves.
So, with thanks to the San Diego Historical Society, the city of San Diego, and news stories over the decades of San Diego history, here we go.
Grantville is actually the first of our communities to have its identity. It really got started in 1887, when the Junipero Land and Water Company decided the area that is now Grantville, right near the San Diego Mission de Alcala, needed a home for Civil War veterans. The company actually got one single building erected before the effort died for lack of money and will.
Since that didn’t really work out, the company decided it was a good idea to start selling off tracts of land to others interested in building homes and other types of buildings, so they did.
It’s interesting to note that Grantville was named in honor of President Ulysses S. Grant. But the post office built in Grantville couldn’t be called Grantville, because there was already a Grantville post office in California. So the post office was named “Orcutt.”
(Further note of interest, to me at least — there is now a California community named Orcutt. It’s just south of Santa Maria, and I used to live there.)
Grantville is today basically a business and industrial area of San Diego, which many people would like to convert into a commercial and residential area. Pretty much the entire Grantville area has been rezoned to try to make that happen, and it probably will, when there is enough money available to make it so. Given the plans set forth so far, it will take a lot of money.
Some of the tracts of land in that general area — about 1,000 acres to begin with — were eventually acquired by local developers Louis Kelton and Walter Bolenbacher, under the name Allied Contractors.
They began building homes and developments in the area in 1955. Since the company was named Allied Contractors, it didn’t take a great leap of imagination for the area to be called Allied Gardens. It’s essentially a residential development community with a strong community identity that local organizations work hard to keep strong.
In 1950, developers Lou Burgener and Carlos Tavares bought up several tracts of land in what is now Clairemont. They ran in water and sewer lines, built streets, and began building houses as fast as they could, sometimes as many as 10 in a day. Those homes sold as fast as the developers could build them, growing into the large community we know now.
That’s one of two factors in our community rundown. One is that it gave Tavares the wherewithal to start buying land and building homes and commercial structures in what we now know as San Carlos. The building boom carried on through the 1970s, creating the San Carlos community.
The other factor is how San Carlos got its name. Tavares was convinced that he should name it after himself. He was not convincing himself so much as he was making his wife happy. You see, Clairemont was named after his wife, Claire. She considered it a favor returned.
That brings us to our last community area covered by this newspaper.
Del Cerro means “of the hill” in Spanish, and anyone who has ever driven around Del Cerro can certainly understand where that came from. Most of the almost totally residential area of Del Cerro seems to sit on a hill, or in a canyon between the hills.
It’s probably the most upscale of our communities, although some San Carlos boosters might argue that. It really has only one commercial center, with Windmill Farms surrounded by a few other businesses.
It’s also probably the only one of our communities that feels itself under threat from a nearby entity with designs on some of its property — namely, San Diego State University.
SDSU has been talking expansion for years, and some of the property the school is looking at is actually in Del Cerro, and residents don’t take kindly to that. There is a court case under appeal in the courts right now — it’s been there for several years.
Our communities are now, for the most part, built out.
If there is any major building in the future, it’ll pretty much have to be like San Francisco had to do — grow up, not out.
—Doug Curlee is Editor-at-Large. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.