By Jeremy Ogul
What were the forces — both natural and human — that shaped San Diego into the dynamic and diverse region it is today?
That is the question that drives every chapter in “San Diego: An Introduction to the Region,” a book that surveys everything from our geologic formations to our economic base. With chapters on transportation, architecture, water resources and population growth, the book aims to be the standard one-volume reference work on the region’s geography and history.
San Carlos resident Philip Pryde, a retired San Diego State professor, put together the first edition in 1975 as a textbook for a college course, but over the years it has been revised to appeal to a wider, more casual audience. The most recent edition, published last fall, is the first in 10 years, and for the first time includes more than 100 color photographs dating as far back as 1941 among its 360 pages.
With so many residents transplanted from other parts of the country and of the world, San Diego is a place where history often remains hidden. This book could serve as a convenient starting point for those who want to know more about how we got here, Pryde said.
“San Diego” was a book Pryde, a Massachusetts native who earned his Ph.D. in Seattle, could have used when he first moved here in 1969. Instead, he had to write the book himself, with help from his colleagues in the geography department.
Even for readers who know San Diego quite well, the book is full of forgotten facts, such as the series of landslide events that affected dozens of homes in the 1970s and 1980s. Over-steepening of hillsides led to slides in neighborhoods including San Carlos, Fletcher Hills, Mt. Soledad and the Carlton Hills area of Santee before local governments realized they needed to adopt stricter construction regulations.
“Although earthquakes are probably the natural hazard that Californians fear the most, in the San Diego region a greater dollar value of damage has occurred from landslides than from earthquakes,” the book states.
Another example of the kind of intriguing facts sprinkled throughout the book: The 90-foot-tall Sweetwater Dam, built to supply water to the National City and Chula Vista area, was the highest dam in the U.S. at the time it was completed in April 1888. In fact, San Diego may have been the world’s center of dam construction in the 1880s and 1890s, with no fewer than six significant dams built on rivers and streams in the county in a span of 10 years. One of those was the La Mesa dam, completed in 1895; the remains of which are now submerged in Lake Murray.
“There’s so much about the county that people don’t know or wouldn’t guess,” Pryde said. “I know people who have lived here forever and say they’ve never been to the desert.”
The book also includes guest essays by notable local figures such as Ken Kramer, host of the popular public television show “About San Diego”; veteran U-T reporter Roger Showley, who has written at length about the region’s history; architect Michael Stepner, who has had a hand in much of the redevelopment Downtown and elsewhere over the past few decades; and Rick Crawford, archivist at San Diego’s Central Library.
The book is available for purchase at bookstores and gift shops throughout the county, including the Visitor Center at Mission Trails Regional Park; the Museum Store at the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park; and the Barnes & Noble stores in Mission Valley and Santee.
—Contact Jeremy Ogul at Jeremy@sdcnn.com.