In an effort to establish a town on San Diego's waterfront, San Franciscan William Heath Davis begins developing land near what is now the foot of Market Street. For his own family, Davis builds a pre-framed lumber "salt box" house, one of the first residences in town. The Oldest surviving structure in San Diego's New Town was actually built on the East Coast and shipped around Cape Horn. After an economic depression causes Davis' venture to fail, his town becomes known as Rabbitville after its principal inhabitants.
A stout and bearded Alonzo Horton, 54, arrives in San Diego from San Francisco. After looking over Old Town, he decides the best place for the city to develop is down by the waterfront. Determined to build a new downtown on the site of Davis' failure, Horton purchases at auction some 800 acres of land on the waterfront for approximately 33 cents an acre (some historians credit Horton with paying 27 cents an acre). Two years later, he pays $4,000 for a 160-acre parcel needed to sew up the section known as the Horton Addition.
Read more about: Alonzo Horton and the Gaslamp Quarter Renaissance
Horton spends about $50,000 to build a wharf at the end of 5th Avenue which makes this and adjacent streets the backbone of the fast-developing city. On March 24, Horton sells $5,500 worth of commercial and residential lots in one day. His new town begins to boom.
After building Horton Hall at 6th and F -- the first public theater, with 400 seats for lectures -- Horton opens the town's first bank, the course, is named bank president.
San Diego's booming prosperity attracts prostitutes and gamblers, including Wyatt Earp, who runs three gambling halls. Gradually, San Diego commerce begins moving north of Market Street. The abandoned area to the south becomes a redlight district known as the Stingaree, a name probably derived from the fierce stingray fish in San Diego Bay. It is said you could be stung as badly in the Stingaree as in the bay. Read more about Wyatt Earp
The original Chinese Mission School opens in rented facilities at the First Presbyterian Church at 8th and D (now Broadway). The Mission becomes a social center and a catalyst for interaction between Caucasians and Asians in San Diego. It also provides an opportunity for Chinese, and later Japanese, immigrants to learn English and receive religious instruction.
Feisty, red-haired call girl Ida Bailey takes up residence at a house of ill repute in the Stingaree. Here you can find 350 prostitutes working in 120 bordellos. The Stingaree's 71 saloons boast names such as the Turf, Oasis, First and Last Chance, Saloon, Old Tub of Blood and Legal Tender
San Diego's 1880s real estate boom ends. By the end of the decade the population has dropped from 40,000 to 16,000.
Alonza Horton makes a deal city fathers can't refuse: he sells them a valuable half-block of land for $10,000, stipulating that it must remain a park forever. Under the agreement, the city agrees to pay Horton $100 a month with no interest and no down payment. In the event of Horton's death, the city would acquire the property outright. The city fathers underestimated Horton's endurance. In April 1903 a spry, 89-year-old Horton cashed the final payment. Today Horton's park fronts Horton Plaza and has been renamed Horton Plaza Park.
Madame Ida Bailey opens up her own fancy parlor house at 530 4th Avenue called the Canary Cottage. In the pale yellow house set behind a white picket fence, she and her girls "entertain" downtown's well-groomed gentlemen with fat wallets, including the mayor and chief of police.
Having lost most of his properties through tax sales and foreclosures, Alonzo Horton dies at the Agnew Sanitarium. On his 95th birthday he tells a newspaper reporter, "It's the most beautiful place in the world to me, and I had rather have the affection and friendly greeting of the people of San Diego than all the rulers in the world." Ironically, the same year in San Leandro, California, William Heath Davis also dies financially impoverished.
Influenced by a wave of citizen morality, police raid the Stingaree and arrest 138 prostitutes operating out of sleeping rooms on the upper floors of the district's buildings. One hundred thirty-six promise to leave the city; two agree to reform their ways. The next morning, however, one changes her mind. The other was found to be insane.
With the red lights of the Stingaree officially turned off, San Diego becomes unpopular as a liberty port for the Navy. Seven hundred ninety-seven men aboard several warships vote for San Francisco as their favorite liberty port. San Diego gets only 17 votes.
Ah Quin, Labor contractor for the California Southern Railroad, comes to a tragic end when he is struck and killed by a motorcycle at 3rd and J. He dies one of the wealthiest Chinese in Southern California.
The Chinese Benevolent Society is founded to protect the interests of all Chinese citizens in San Diego. The Society is housed in the building at 428 3rd Avenue, in front of which Chinese holidays are traditionally celebrated.
Post World War II to the early 1970s
Following World War II, the suburbs outside of Downtown San Diego experience an influx of new residents and businesses, leaving the Gaslamp Quarter as the home of tattoo parlors, seedy bars, pawn shops, and locker clubs. Adult businesses, including peep shows, massage parlors, and adult bookstores, continue to converge on the Gaslamp for the next 20 to 30 years.
Business and property owners band together, under the leadership of former City Councilmember Tom Hom, petition the City Council to aid in revitalizing of the Gaslamp Quarter. The San Diego City Council provides $100,000 to rehabilitate the Gaslamp Quarter, as well as to develop design guidelines to preserve the district's historic aesthetic. One of the first buildings to be restored was the Buel-Town Company Building (current home of the Old Spaghetti Factory). Restorations to the Pacific Hotel and the Keating soon followed.
The Gaslamp Quarter Urban Design and Development Manual is adopted by the City Council. The guidelines gained acceptance and the the City of San Diego adopted a Planned District Ordinace for the Gaslamp Quarter, which established design and use guidelines for the redevelopment of the Gaslamp as a National Historic District.
The Gaslamp Quarter is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Developers and restoration experts are encouraged to continue restoring the Gaslamp's Victorian buildings, leading to one of the most profound joint urban preservation efforts in San Diego history. Business and property owners form a Business Improvement District (BID) named the Gaslamp Quarter Association in an effort to protect the historic district.
The idea of the Gaslamp Archway on 5th Ave. and L St. is first conceived.
The Gaslamp Quarter Archway is installed and funded by redevelopment funds overseen by Centre City Development Corporation. The Gaslamp Quarter Archway was designed by Harman Nelson, architect, and built by Roy Flahive of Pacific Sign Construction Company.
The Gaslamp Quarter Archway is officially completed and dedicated. The sign is significant in that it uses neon, incandescent and flourescent light fixtures to present a beautiful, vibrant display. The Gaslamp Quarter Archway was symbolic as a declaration that the City of San Diego was committed to continuing the redevelopment of Downtown. It serves as an icon for other cities to look to the Gaslamp Quarter as an example of successful redevelopment. Learn more about the Gaslamp Quarter Archway refurbishment in 2013: http://www.gaslamp.org/archway
The Gaslamp Quarter has successfully transformed into a premier shopping, dining and entertainment district. With over 200 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and lounges, and countless boutiques, art galleries and shops to peruse, the Gaslamp has established itself both as the playground of hip, eclectic San Diegans and as an elite urban destination.
For more information about the history of the Gaslamp Quarter visit the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation's web site at www.gaslampquarter.org