Highway 80 route into North Park set by 1912 race

Posted: August 24th, 2018 | Columns, Featured, PastMatters | No Comments

Katherine Hon | PastMatters

The North Park Historical Society (NPHS) is busy organizing the ninth annual North Park Car Show, which will be held on Saturday, Sept. 8 from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. Once again, The Balboa Tennis Club will host the car show in its parking lot at Morley Field. Dozens of classic cars will delight attendees at this free, family-friendly event celebrating the automobile.

If you have a fine classic car or vintage motorcycle to show (pre-1990 preferred), the exhibition fee is $10 for one vehicle and $20 for two or three. Visit for a registration form and car show information or contact NPHS at 619-294-8990 or

Johnathan Harrison, freelance designer and professional photographer with JHDesign Company, volunteered to design the car show poster for a second year. The summer feel of the event is reflected in his choice of a 1957 Ford Thunderbird in the foreground and a sunny image of our community’s iconic Water Tower in the background.

The San Diego Union’s Oct. 26, 1912 issue proclaimed, “22 Racing Cars Ready for Starter’s Flag — Phoenix Is Goal of Greatest Road Race Ever Known in History of West.” The route through San Diego is explained in the left box. D Street is now Broadway Street.

Why does NPHS organize an annual car show? “The very development of North Park is integrally tied to the expansion of San Diego by first the electric rail car system and eventually the personal automobile,” board member Bob Bauer explained in Uptown News’ Aug. 28, 2015 issue.

In fact, a special car race from San Diego to Phoenix in October 1912 established El Cajon Boulevard as the terminus of Interstate Highway 80, placing North Park in the heart of mid-city San Diego.

The race was the brainchild of prominent San Diegans — including F.B. Naylor, Col. Ed Fletcher, Rufus Choate, John Forward Jr. and Fred Jackson — to beat the time of racers from Los Angeles to Phoenix. It also hoped to prove that the southernmost interstate highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans should continue to San Diego — not Los Angeles — from the state border at Yuma, Arizona.

The poster for the 2018 North Park Car Show, which was designed by Johnathan Harrison, features a 1957 Ford Thunderbird and the community’s iconic Water Tower. (Courtesy of North Park Historical Society)

Within two weeks, the organizers established the rules, raised money for the purse, determined the route and obtained official recognition from the American Automobile Association.

The first entry for the race was a six-cylinder Stevens-Duryea — sponsored by E.B. Harvey, secretary and treasurer of the Auto Service Company in Downtown, and driven by Dave Campbell of Campbell Machine Company, agents for Stevens-Duryea Motor Cars.

The Stevens-Duryea automobile company was founded in Massachusetts by a partnership of J. Frank Duryea and the J. Stevens Arms and Tool Company in 1901. Their partnership only manufactured cars from 1901–1915 and 1919–1927.

The race began at 10:15 p.m. on Oct. 26, 1912 with 22 racing car entries and two unofficial registrants in touring cars: the current mayor, James E. Wadham, and his friendly rival Percy J. Benbough.

The front page of the San Diego Union’s Oct. 27, 1912 issue announced “Enormous Crowds See Big Snorting Racers Start.” The article provided a 4 a.m. update on the cars, most of which had passed through Campo.

However, the Buick sponsored by race instigator F.B. Naylor had smashed at Spring Valley, one mile from La Mesa. The Premier sponsored by North Park real estate developers McFadden and Buxton, and driven by expert driver Joe Fernando, had broken a wheel at Dulzura. Both cars were out of the race. Thankfully, all drivers were unhurt.

The San Diego Union’s Oct. 30, 1912 issue reported the finisher’s times and presented a special message from racing daredevil Barney Oldfield. Fortunately for San Diego, the Stevens-Duryea clocked the best time of all racers at 16 hours and 49 minutes, beating the second-place finisher by 1 hour and 21 minutes. Second and third places went to cars racing on the Los Angeles route, but no matter. San Diego had won!

“In my years of experience as a driver of racing machines I have never seen or heard of pluck and determination such as was exhibited by San Diego, when, with only two weeks’ preparation, that city conducted an automobile road race to Phoenix which will go down in history as one of the greatest road races ever run,” Barney Oldfield said. “By promoting this race San Diego showed the world that you could not be cut off the map. The spirit San Diego exhibited in this event will be a strong argument for recognition in its fight for the ocean-to-ocean highway.”

Oldfield was right. In its early years, Highway 80 included a segment on University Avenue from Euclid to Fourth avenues. In the 1930s, the designation of Highway 80 was changed to run along El Cajon Boulevard and Park Boulevard in order to route traffic past the 1935–1936 Exposition. Consequently, North Park became a key part of Highway 80’s history along both of the community’s major east-west arterials.

— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at or 619-294-8990.

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