|On August 14, 1882, the first California Southern Railroad train rode the tracks of its new route from San Diego to San Bernardino. Theodore M. Loop – the contractor and engineer who worked on the project – had acquired acreage and built a home on the north shore of Los Peñasquitos Creek, a setting he described as “the most attractive place on the entire coast.” Loop built a tent city on the beach, now Torrey Pines State Beach. His wife, Ella, called it “Del Mar” – words taken from a popular poem, The Fight on Paseo Del Mar.
In that same year “Colonel” Jacob Taylor (left) – who had come with his family to live on Rancho Peñasquitos – met Loop who suggested that they build a town. Taylor was captivated by the beauty and potential of the area, and in the summer of 1885, he purchased 338.11 acres at the northern end of the mesa from homesteader Enoch Talbert for $1,000. Thus the town of Del Mar was officially founded.
Taylor was a dynamic visionary who pictured Del Mar as a seaside resort for the rich and famous. With technical support from family and friends, he designed and built a town whose focal point was Casa del Mar, a hotel-resort on what is now 10th Street. Other town attractions included a train station, a dance pavilion, and a bathing pool extending from the beach out into the sea.The first Del Mar store, located on the north side of 9th Street, was owned by Henry John Gottesburen and his wife Mary who had moved from Atchison, Kansas, to Del Mar in 1884. Their daughter Mary was the second child born in Del Mar and was affectionately known as “Baby Del Mar.” In 1889, Taylor’s hotel burned to the ground, leaving Del Mar without its main attraction. With the loss of the hotel and with many Californians suffering from economic hardships, Del Mar became dormant for about 15 years until the early 1900s, when the powerful South Coast Land Company began to develop San Diego County, including Del Mar.
Building the New Hotel
The South Coast Land Company hired a prominent Los Angeles architect, John C. Austin, to draw plans for a new hotel, the Stratford Inn, to be built on the northwest corner of 15th Street and Grand Ave. (now Camino del Mar). From its elegant opening in 1910, it served as a magnet for Hollywood stars of the silent film days.
The village also offered a pier, a plunge (saltwater bath house), a golf course, and its own powerhouse. The plunge and pier became the newest attractions for the town. From 1912 to 1920, beautiful new homes were built that soon became landmarks. Although home building came to a halt during the depression of the 1930s; life in Del Mar went on and a Civic Association was formed in 1931.
The Fairgrounds and The Racetrack
In 1933, a search for a permanent location for the San Diego County Fair began. Ed Fletcher suggested that the 184 acre site in the San Dieguito Valley – just off the main highways and the Santa Fe Railroad – would be easily accessible and a perfect setting for a fairground.
The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided initial funding and the “Del Mar” Fair opened to a great fanfare on October 8, 1936. Fifty thousand people came to enjoy the exhibits and entertainment. Selection of a queen – the Fairest of the Fair – soon became a highlight of this annual event. The final touch on the fairgrounds was the mile-long oval racetrack.
Bing Crosby took the leadership role in making the Del Mar Turf Club a reality, and Pat O’Brien became the Vice President. On opening day of the race track (July 3, 1937), a new era began in Del Mar. The track was hailed as Bing’s Baby or Movieland’s Own Track. In 1938, Bing recorded the song that would open and close every day of racing since those early days – Where the Turf Meets the Surf (click to listen to the song).
For decades racing season has brought crowds to Del Mar. Hollywood celebrities, such as Pat O’Brien, Jimmy and Marge Durante, Lucy and Desi Arnaz and their children, as well as Burt Bachrach and Angie Dickenson, decided to acquire residences in Del Mar. The physician who included many celebrities in his practice, Marcus Rabwin and his wife Marcella, also decided to make Del Mar their home.
During World War II, the racetrack was closed, and the grandstand became a bomber tail assembly production facility. Racing returned to Del Mar when the war in Europe was over. On August 14, 1945, Pat O’Brien announced to the assembled racetrack patrons that Japan had surrendered.
Post World War II and The University Years
By 1959, Del Mar decided to incorporate as a city and the 60s marked a time of relative tranquility with the exception of a local student uprising. As the University of California in San Diego came into being, its presence influenced the social, cultural, and political life of the area. The city of Del Mar gained new residents, many of whom were politically active, providing new community leadership. Emphasis began to shift to protecting the environment and beautifying Del Mar. From the late 60s to the early 80s people spoke of the “open space decade,” thus Seagrove Park was born. The 80s marked an increasing emphasis on beautification, coupled with progress and a higher cosmopolitan profile. Del Mar grew to become home to a major publishing concern and attracted artists, writers, and business. In 1985, Del Mar celebrated its centennial, and the Del Mar Historical Society was born.
The centerpieces of new Del Mar are L’Auberge – a beautiful hotel designed with the Hotel Del Mar in mind – and the elegant shops and boutiques of the picturesque seaside shopping center, Del Mar Plaza. Its selection of restaurants provides great taste, mood, and rave reviews.
Jacob Taylor would be pleased to know that his vision retains its elegant ambiance, hosting guests from all over the world in the crown jewel of San Diego, our Del Mar.