John D. Spreckels

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John Diedrich Spreckels
JohnDSpreckelsB&W1901.jpg
Spreckels in 1901
Born (1853-08-16)August 16, 1853
Charleston, South Carolina
Died June 7, 1926(1926-06-07) (aged 72)
San Diego, California
Parents Claus Spreckels
Anna Christina Mangels

John Diedrich Spreckels (August 16, 1853 – June 7, 1926), the son of German-American industrialist Claus Spreckels, founded a transportation and real estate empire in San Diego, California in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The entrepreneur's many business ventures included the Hotel del Coronado and the San Diego and Arizona Railway, both of which are credited with helping San Diego develop into a major commercial center.

Upon his death he was eulogized as "One of America's few great Empire Builders who invested millions to turn a struggling, bankrupt village into the beautiful and cosmopolitan city San Diego is today."[1]

Early years[edit]

The oldest of five children, Spreckels was born in Charleston, South Carolina, though the family soon moved to New York City and then went on to San Francisco, California, where he was raised. Spreckels attended Oakland College and then the Polytechnic College in Hanover, Germany until 1872 where he studied chemistry and mechanical engineering. He returned to California and began working for his father, Claus Spreckels, who had grown extremely wealthy in the sugar business. In 1876 he went to the Hawaiian Islands, where he worked for his father's sugar business, Spreckels Sugar Company.[1]

Entrepreneur beginnings[edit]

In 1880, with $2 million in capital, he organized J. D. Spreckels and Brothers, a company to establish a trade between the mainland United States and the Hawaiian Islands. The company began with one sailing vessel, the Rosario, and later controlled two large fleets of sail and steam ships. The firm also engaged extensively in sugar refining, and became agents for leading sugar plantations in Hawaii. Much of the development of commercial interests between the United States and Hawaii is due to this firm.[2]

In October 1877, he married Lillie Siebein in Hoboken, New Jersey, and together they had four children: Grace (born September 1878), Lillie (born November 1879), John (born April 1883), and Claus (born March 1888). They first lived in the Kingdom of Hawaii and then in San Francisco. In 1887, Spreckels visited San Diego on his yacht Lurline to stock up on supplies. Impressed by the real estate boom then taking place, he invested in construction of a wharf and coal bunkers at the foot of Broadway (then called "D" Street). That boom ended soon but Spreckels' interest in San Diego would last for the rest of his life.

He acquired control of the Coronado Beach Company, the Hotel del Coronado and Coronado Tent City; he bought the San Diego street railway system, changing it from horse power to electricity, in 1892. The Hotel del Coronado was owned by the Coronado Beach Company which was originally capitalized with US$3 million. At the time of capitalization the original company directors were E.S. Babcock, John D. Spreckels, Captain Charles T. Hinde, H.W. Mallett, and Giles Kellogg. The Coronado Beach Company was responsible for numerous other investments in the Coronado, California area. Before deciding to invest in the Coronado Beach Company Spreckels waited for his close friend Captain Charles T. Hinde to join him. They jointly invested and managed new businesses.[3]

For a time, Spreckels was owner of the San Francisco Call, then a morning newspaper. While still living in San Francisco he continued his investment in San Diego, buying the newspaper The San Diego Union in 1890 and the San Diego Evening Tribune in 1901. He moved his family permanently to San Diego immediately after the 1906 earthquake and moved into his new mansion on Glorietta Blvd. in Coronado in 1908. That structure survives today as the Glorietta Bay Inn.

Relocation to San Diego[edit]

In the next decades, Spreckels became a millionaire many times over, and the wealthiest man in San Diego. At various times he owned all of Coronado Island, the San Diego-Coronado Ferry System, the Union-Tribune Publishing Co., the San Diego Electric Railway, the San Diego & Arizona Railway, and Belmont Park in Mission Beach. He built several downtown buildings, including the Union Building in 1908, the Spreckels Theater Building in 1912,[4] the Hotel San Diego, and the Golden West Hotel. He employed thousands of people and at one time he paid 10% of all the property taxes in San Diego County.

He resided in the Spreckels Mansion located at 1043 Ocean Boulevard in Coronado, California, designed by architect Harrison Albright (1866-1932) in 1907.[5][6]

Spreckels was president of several companies, including the Oceanic Steamship Company, operating a mail and passenger line to Hawaii and Australia, the Western Sugar Refining Company, the Coronado Water Company, the San Diego and Coronado Ferry Company, the San Diego and Coronado Transfer Company, the Pajaro Valley Consolidated Railroad Company, the San Diego Electric Railway, and the San Diego & Arizona Railway Company.

Transportation and infrastructure[edit]

San Diego Electric Railway[edit]

SDERy double-decker Car No. 1 pauses at the intersection of 5th Street & Market Street in San Diego during its inaugural run on September 21, 1892.

The San Diego Electric Railway (SDERy) was a San Diego-based, light rail mass transit system founded by Spreckels in 1892. Spreckels' strategy involved buying up several failed downtown horse- and cable-drawn trolley routes, consolidating and standardizing the trackage, and elecrifying resulting unified street railway system.

Over the years, the SDERy constructed new lines to connect San Diego's burgeoning downtown with the region's up-and-coming outlying communities, including Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and Normal Heights (developments where Spreckels owned the bulk of the land). Spreckels' underlying philosophy in this regard can best be summed up as follows:

"Before you can hope to get people to live anywhere... you must first of all show them that they can get there quickly, comfortably, and above all, cheaply. Transportation determines the flow of population."[7]

At its peak, the SDERy's routes would operate throughout the greater San Diego area over some 165 miles (266 kilometers) of track. And though the system had operated continuously for more than half a century, steadily declining ridership (due in large part to the phenomenal rise in popularity of the automobile) ultimately led the company to discontinue all streetcar service in favor of bus routes in 1949.

San Diego Class 1 Streetcars[edit]

Class 1 Streetcar #125 at 5th and Broadway in San Diego, CA (1915)

One of Spreckels' major contributions to the city of San Diego was his commitment to the construction of Balboa Park in preparation of the Panama-California Exposition. As the owner of the San Diego Electric Railway Company, he also developed a unique fleet of special streetcars that could handle the large crowds attending this event. Following the Exposition, the Class 1 streetcars would go on to provide a continuing public transportation service for the city of San Diego over the next 27 years.

An evolution from previous streetcar models, the Class 1s were designed with artistry, state-of-the-art technology and San Diego's unique climate in mind. Under Spreckels' guise, the engineers of SDERy drafted up plans that took elements from both the "California Car" and the "Closed Car" designs and refashioned them into a new, modern transit fleet. Their plans were sent to the Saint Louis Car Company (SLCCo) where these beautiful, Arts & Crafts-style streetcars were built and shipped out to San Diego. Ultimately, the Class 1 streetcars ran all over San Diego, from Coronado through Downtown, Mission Hills, Ocean Beach, North Park, Golden Hill, and Kensington. They even briefly served as a link to the U.S.-Mexico Border.

These streetcars were "retired" in 1939 to give way to the cheaper, Depression-era Presidents’ Conference Committee (PCC) streetcars. Today, only three of the original twenty-four Class 1 streetcars remain in existence.

San Diego and Arizona Railway[edit]

J.D. Spreckels drives the "golden spike" to ceremonially complete the San Diego and Arizona Railway on November 15, 1919

In 1919, Spreckels completed the San Diego and Arizona Railway, a short line American railroad, dubbed "The Impossible Railroad" by many engineers of its day due to the immense logistical challenges involved. Established in 1906 to provide San Diego with a direct rail link to the east by connecting with the Southern Pacific Railroad (which secretly provided the funding for the endeavor) lines in El Centro, California, the 148-mile (238-kilometer) route of the SD&A originated in San Diego and terminated in the Imperial County town of Calexico.

The total construction cost was approximately $18 million, or some $123,000 per mile; the original estimate was $6 million. Construction delays, attacks by Mexican revolutionaries, and government intervention during World War I all served to push the construction completion to November 15, 1919 when the "golden spike" was finally driven by none other than Spreckels himself. Completing the SD&A was a monumental task that seriously affected Spreckels' health, almost costing him his life.

In subsequent years, damage to the lines from heavy rainstorms, landslides, and fires took a financial toll on the railroad, as did border closings with Mexico. In 1932, financial difficulties forced Spreckels' heirs to sell their interests in the firm for $2.8 million to the Southern Pacific, which renamed the railroad the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway (SD&AE).

Southern California Mountain Water Company[edit]

"Get your water first, for without your water you get your population under false pretenses and they quit you when the water runs dry."[8]

Spreckels organized the Southern California Mountain Water Company, which in turn built the Morena and the Upper and Lower Otay Reservoir dams, the Dulzura conduit and the necessary pipeline to the city.

Legacy[edit]

Spreckels contributed to the cultural life of the city by building the Spreckels Theatre, the first modern commercial playhouse west of the Mississippi. He gave generously to the fund to build the 1915 Panama-California Exposition and, together with his brother Adolph B. Spreckels, donated the Spreckels Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park to the people of San Diego just before the opening of the Exposition. Spreckels paid the salaries of a resident organ tuner and of the organist for many years, providing free daily organ concerts.

Spreckels died in San Diego on June 7, 1926. His biographer, Austin Adams, called him "one of America's few great Empire Builders who invested millions to turn a struggling, bankrupt village into the beautiful and cosmopolitan city San Diego is today."

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b John D. Spreckels at www.sandiegohistory.org
  2. ^ California AHGP - John D. Spreckels at www.usgennet.org
  3. ^ Phillips, Morris "Abroad and at home:practical hints for tourists (Google eBook" Brentano's, 1891
  4. ^ Spreckels Theatre, San Diego at www.sandiegohistory.org
  5. ^ Sarah Grieco, Looking Inside Spreckels Mansion, NBC7, May 17, 2013
  6. ^ Diane Bell, Spreckels Mansion Sold For $9 Million, UT San Diego, July 10, 2013
  7. ^ Adams 1924
  8. ^ Dodge 1960

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