Walter W. Austin

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Walter W. Austin
Mayor Austin.jpg
20th Mayor of San Diego
In office
May 4, 1931 – May 2, 1932
Preceded by Harry C. Clark
Succeeded by John F. Forward, Jr.
Personal details
Born September 22, 1880
Kendall, Wisconsin
Died July 12, 1951 (aged 70)
Idyllwild, California
Political party Republican

Walter Wolcott Austin (September 22, 1880 – July 12, 1951) was an American Republican politician from California.

Early life[edit]

Austin was born 1880 in Kendall, Wisconsin, and moved to Chicago, Illinois with his family, where he was a newsboy at age 7, and to Aberdeen, South Dakota. In 1912, he moved to San Diego, California.

In San Diego Austin started out as employee of the H. D. Field Safe Co., which he later purchased half-interest then full interest and renamed it Austin Safe and Desk Company. Austin sold the business, and the company later specialised in office furniture then interior design. Austin entered the real estate and insurance business around 1931, and vice president of Fraser Mortgage Co.


Austin was elected mayor of San Diego in 1931 as a young reformer. The main issue was the $8.5 million spent for water projects, such as the Lake Hodges Dam, with little to show for it. Austin served as mayor until 1932. In 1940, he supported construction of San Vicente Dam and extending the water system.

While mayor, the city sold unemployment bonds to increase jobs locally. Funds were spent on projects such as building pedestrian tunnels near schools. Austin also backed establishing a school traffic patrol system.

Austin was the first mayor under a new city charter, approved in the same election that elected him mayor. The charter specified a "weak mayor" or council-manager government. A City Manager appointed by the City Council managed day-to-day business and the mayor presided over the Council meetings, with no veto power. The motivation was to help stem police corruption, under the idea that an appointed city manager is less subject to bribes and campaign contribution favors than an elected strong Mayor. Council-manager government originated with the Progressive movement in Staunton, Virginia. This form survived until 2006 when it was replaced by a strong mayor city government.

Austin was a long time Republican and was chairman of the Willkie Committee for San Diego in 1940. Austin was founder and president of the Executives Association of San Diego and the San Diego Business Men's Art Club. Austin also was a director of various charities.


Austin was one of the first to build a home at Borrego Springs where he spent much time during retirement. He also built a 3-story home in Bankers Hill, a San Diego community just north of downtown, in the 1920s. The home includes unique stained glass that was handmade by Austin that still remains today.

Austin died 1951 in San Diego, from complications of appendicitis at his Idyllwild, California home. His children are Genevieve Irene, Virginia Lucille, Warren Wolcott, Gladys Viola, and Edgar Owen.

Further reading[edit]

  • Obituary, San Diego Union, July 13, 1951, p. 3:3. Includes portrait
  • Biographical sketch, San Diego Union, March 24, 1934. Includes portrait as a child
Political offices
Preceded by
Harry C. Clark
Mayor of San Diego, California
Succeeded by
John F. Forward, Jr.