By Katherine Hon
As discussed in earlier PastMatters columns, Ordinance No. 755 adopted May 21, 1900 changed the original names of more than 250 streets in San Diego. This ordinance eliminated duplication and achieved some continuity where street names changed from tract to tract.
The source of replacement names in Ordinance No. 755 was Louis Jackson Davids, the relatively new city engineer. He noted in his transmittal memorandum to the Board of Public Works that his suggestions for new street names were “taken from natural objects (trees, flowers etc.) or from men celebrated in Science, Literature, Statesmanship, War etc.; care being taken to maintain alphabetical order.”
These celebrated gentlemen include military heroes in La Playa and scientists in La Jolla and Clairemont/Bay Park.
La Playa’s Military Heroes
The Point Loma neighborhood of La Playa — which began where ships first landed at the southern end of the peninsula — appropriately gained street names reflecting historic naval heroes with Ordinance No. 755.
A remnant of Hull Street — which replaced Colorado Street on an early La Playa map — honors Commodore Isaac Hull (1773-1843), who took command of the USS Constitution from Commodore John Rodgers in 1810 and successfully led the ship in battle during the War of 1812. He later commanded the Washington Navy Yard. Commodore is a rank between captain and rear admiral.
Other street names provided by Davids that remain in La Playa include the alphabetical series Jenkins, Kellogg, Lawrence, McCall, Nichols, Owen, Perry, Qualtrough and Rogers. These names replaced Pearl, James, John, George, William, Short, Ricardo and two unnamed streets, respectively.
On these streets, the theme of naval heroes continues. For example, Captain James Lawrence (1781-1813) commanded the USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 and was mortally wounded in a battle with the British Royal Navy frigate Shannon. His dying command — “Don’t give up the ship” — was immortalized on the battle flag of his friend and fellow naval hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819), who was well regarded for his success in the 1813 Battle of Lake Erie.
Commodore Perry’s younger brother, Matthew Calbraith Perry (1794-1858), also achieved commodore rank. He commanded the USS Shark, on which he sailed to Key West to plant the U.S. flag and claim the land as a U.S. Territory after Florida was transferred to the U.S. He became famous for helping open Japan to U.S. influence. The younger Perry served under his brother and several other officers honored with street names by City Engineer Davids, including William Bainbridge, Stephen Decatur and John Rodgers, which was spelled “Rogers” in Ordinance No. 755.
Matthew Perry named the Key West harbor “Port Rodgers” in 1822 for John Rodgers (1772-1838), who commanded the USS President during the War of 1812 and fired the first shot of the war. Rodgers later served as president of the Board of Navy Commissioners and as Secretary of the Navy.
Davids provided an alphabetical series of hero names starting with A through G to replace streets numbered First through Sixth plus Custom House Street on an early La Playa map, but those original streets were south of the Fort Rosecrans Military Reservation boundary and never implemented. Davids suggested the street names Admiral, Bainbridge, Chauncey, Decatur, Emmons, Farragut and Goldsborough.
Commodores William Bainbridge (1774-1833), Isaac Chauncey (1772-1840) and Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) served in the War of 1812; these street names can be seen in what is now Liberty Station and was previously the Naval Training Center. David Farragut (1801-1870) — a Civil War hero who was the first person to hold the ranks of vice admiral, rear admiral and full admiral in the U.S. Navy — is also honored with a street in Liberty Station.
The street name Goldsborough is gone in San Diego. City Engineer Davids may have wanted to honor Louis M. Goldsborough (1805-1877) — who was promoted to rear admiral in 1862 during the Civil War and commanded the Washington Navy Yard from 1868 to 1873 — or the officer’s younger brother, John R. Goldsborough (1809-1877). John Goldsborough was captain of the USS Union, USS Florida and USS Colorado during the Civil War and attained commodore rank in 1867.
City Engineer Davids provided an alphabetical series of engineers and scientists for La Jolla to replace street names that were duplicated elsewhere. Gone now are Agassiz, Borden and Ictinus, which replaced Vine Street, Olive Avenue and Garfield Avenue. Remaining today are Cuvier, Draper, Eads, Fay, Girard and Herschel streets, which replaced Palm, Orange, Washington, New York, Grand and Lincoln avenues, respectively.
Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) was a French naturalist referred to as the “founding father of paleontology.” John William Draper (1811-1882) produced the first detailed photograph of the moon in 1840 and helped establish the New York University School of Medicine. Several of Davids’ other replacement names were gentlemen renowned for significant engineering accomplishments.
James Buchanan Eads (1820-1887) designed and built the first road and rail bridge over the Mississippi River south of the Missouri River at St. Louis. The steel and wrought iron bridge was completed in 1874 and is still in use today. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark and is the oldest bridge on the river.
John Doane Fay (1815-1895) was an American civil engineer who helped reconstruct the Long Bridge over the Potomac River. He was Resident Engineer on the New York State canals from 1841 to 1849 and Division Engineer on state canals during the 1850s and 1870s.
Pierre-Simon Girard (1765-1836) was a French mathematician and engineer in charge of the planning and construction of the Canal de l’Ourcq, a 67-mile-long canal with ten locks located northeast of Paris that was initiated upon orders of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
In the Clairemont/Bay Park neighborhoods just east of present-day I-5, Davids replaced lettered street names B through Q with celebrated men of science. Lost to other changes are Bartrum, Corliss, Darwin, Field, Miller, Pasteur and Quain. Remaining names are Edison, Gesner, Huxley, Ingulf, Jellett, Kane, Lister, Napier and Orten.
These scientists include Abraham Pineo Gesner (1797-1864), a Canadian physician with a passion for geology who developed kerosene — the liquid that helped replace whale oil as a lighting fuel, thus saving many whale lives.
Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was an English biologist and anthropologist who concluded that birds evolved from small dinosaurs based on his comparative anatomy research. John Hewitt Jellett (1817-1888) was an Irish mathematician who wrote “A Treatise on the Theory of Friction,” and John Napier (1550-1617) was a Scottish mathematician, physicist and astronomer who invented logarithms.
Original street names and changes in North Park will be the topic of future PastMatters columns.
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.