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Since Alonzo Horton first built a wharf at the foot of Fifth Avenue . . . the Gaslamp Quarter has been a destination.
Horton's wharf cost about $50,000 and made Fifth Avenue and adjacent streets the backbone of fast-developing San Diego. In the 1880's San Diego became a boomtown, and by the time of the Gold Rush the population swelled to 40,000. Even famed lawman Wyatt Earp set up here in the Gaslamp Quarter. A couple years later the gold mines in Julian were empty: the boom was over and many pieces of land that were highly sought after prior, were now extremely difficult to sell.
In 1887, the famous call girl Ida Bailey took up residence at a house of ill repute in the Stingaree. The Gaslamp Quarter was known as the Stingaree district because it was said you could get stung just as badly in the District as by the stingrays in Mission Bay. There were around 350 prostitutes working in 120 bordellos and Ida was at the top of the game. Her competition Madame Cora invented some pretty original marketing techniques to rival her.
The Stingaree's 71 saloons boasted names such as the Turf, Oasis, First and Last Chance, Old Tub of Blood, and Legal Tender. The first renaissance in the area took place in 1912 when police arrested 138 prostitutes in what was called the Stingaree Raids. With the red lights of the Stingaree officially turned off, San Diego became unpopular as a liberty port for the Navy. Seven hundred ninety-seven men aboard several warships voted for San Francisco as their favorite liberty port. San Diego had only 17 votes. Learn more about the History of the Gaslamp
By the 50's 60's and 70's, the Quarter was littered with pornographic theaters book, shops and other secondary uses. The area was in disrepair and became a low rent district up until 1974, when the Gaslamp Quarter Association was formed, to protect San Diego's historic district and unite area business and property owners.
The 70's were a period of preservation for the historic buildings when public opinion shifted to support the restoration of many of downtown San Diego's historic buildings. This movement was solidified when the first Gaslamp Quarter Urban Design and Development Manual was adopted by the City Council in 1976. These guidelines sought to preserve the historic design elements of the buildings while allowing for the planning necessary to keep the city expanding and progressing in an economically positive direction.
These guidelines gained acceptance and the grass roots efforts paid off. In 1976 the City of San Diego adopted a Planned District Ordinance for the Gaslamp Quarter, establishing design and use guidelines for the redevelopment of the Gaslamp as a National Historic District. During this time of restoration enough architecture was preserved for the Gaslamp Quarter to receive national recognition and in 1980 the entire district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1982, the Gaslamp Quarter became a major redevelopment project area of the City of San Diego. Several developers and restoration experts were encouraged to continue restoring the Gaslamp's Victorian buildings. This led to one of the most profound joint urban preservation efforts in San Diego history and capped a downtown revitalization effort which successfully transformed a once troubled area.
Today, new residential dwellings have crowded the downtown area including many historic lofts. With this influx of new residential spaces and the desire to re-use historic structures, the Gaslamp Quarter Association works to maintain continuity between progressive architectural design and the rich turn of the century style of the many buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter which at times are at odds. These historic buildings, many of which were built between 1880 and 1910 are still standing in varying degrees of authenticity, but are important as part of the rich heritage of the Gaslamp Quarter.
What was once one of San Diego's seedier sections today offers a vibrant atmosphere with an architectural mix from the turn of the century with today's gaslamps, brick sidewalks, landscaping, galleries, theaters, hundreds of boutiques and shops, plus more than 150 restaurants, bars and nightclubs, and 92 completely restored buildings. The Gaslamp Quarter is where San Diego's colorful past comes alive and exists hand in hand with modern development and commerce in an active urban setting.
For more information on the History of the Gaslamp - visit our partners at the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation
William Heath Davis House
Museum & Gift Shop
410 Island Ave., San Diego CA