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Vintage San Diego: On Broadway


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Photo courtesy of the San Diego History Center

In the late 19th century, downtown’s Horton Plaza Park was the place to be, and now modern-day developers are betting that it will once again become a popular gathering spot.

This 1885 photo shows a rarefied glimpse at San Diego more than a century ago. The park stood at the intersection of Fourth and D streets (D Street is now Broadway), then nothing but dirt roads for travel via horse-drawn buggy. This was the hub of “New Town,” an extension of the rapidly growing downtown area.

Alonzo Erastus Horton, often referred to as the Father of San Diego, had the land cleared around 1870 to build the Horton House (pictured, left) with dreams of it becoming a center for townspeople to hold meetings and festivals. Although the Horton House was torn down in 1905 and replaced with what is now the US Grant hotel, the plaza lives on. And on May 4, Horton Plaza Park will officially reopen following a $17-million face-lift.

The new 53,000-square-foot park, which is owned by the city but will be operated by Westfield, features three food and beverage pavilions with trellised patio seating and an amphitheater where the city will host free lunchtime concerts, much like the weekly shows of the City Guard Band in the late 1800s. Additionally, the iconic Broadway Fountain, built in 1910, has been restored to its original grandeur.

Horton, who must have appreciated the value of urban parks, is also credited with convincing the city to set aside 1,400 acres that would one day become Balboa Park.

By the Numbers

226 - Blocks of what is now downtown San Diego once owned by Horton

33 cents - Cost of an acre of land in 1867

$4,000 - The price paid for “Horton’s Addition,” now Horton Plaza Park

$100 - Monthly rent the city paid to Horton after he deeded the plaza to it in 1895

5,000 - Attendance at a reception for President Benjamin Harrison in April 1891

75 - Events planned for Horton Plaza Park in 2016, with up to 200 expected annually

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