Downtown San Diego, also referred to as Center City, is the city center of San Diego, California, the eighth largest city in the United States. In 2010, the Centre City area itself had a population of more than 28,000. Founded in 1850, downtown San Diego serves as the cultural, financial center and central business district of San Diego County with more than 4,000 businesses and nine districts.
The city of San Diego was originally focused in Old Town near the Presidio, several miles north of current Downtown. The location was not ideal because it was several miles from navigable water. In 1849 Lt. Andrew B. Gray, a surveyor working with the boundary commission to establish the boundaries of the new state of California, suggested that an area closer to San Diego Bay would be a better location for a city because it would be better for trade. He proposed the idea to William Heath Davis, who recruited four other investors. The partners under Davis’s leadership purchased 160 acres (65 ha) of land in what is now Downtown San Diego. They laid out a street plan for New Town and built a wharf and warehouse. Several people built houses there, including the still-standing William Heath Davis House, now a museum. John Judson Ames wrote a prospectus for a newspaper, the San Diego Herald in December 1850, soliciting advertisements and subscriptions from the towns-people; the first issue was published on May 29, 1851. However, New Town did not do well due to a lack of fresh water, a financial depression in 1851, and opposition from the established settlements in Old Town and La Playa.
The Santa Fe Depot, built in 1915 (Photo coming)
In 1867, Alonzo Horton purchased 800 acres (320 ha) of pueblo lands in the current Downtown area, and in 1869 he added Davis’s 160 acres (65 ha) to his holdings; the area was referred to as the Horton Addition. Davis’s wharf had fallen to pieces by then, but Horton realized the area was still ideal for a harbor. He built a new wharf at the end of Fifth Avenue in 1869. He vigorously sold property and gave away land to promote development of the area, fueling the first of San Diego’s many real estate speculation booms. People flocked to the area, known as New Town, because of its better access to shipping. In 1871 government records were moved to a new county courthouse in New Town. By the 1880s New Town had totally eclipsed Old Town (as it is called to this day) as the heart of the growing city.
A Class 1 streetcar at 5th and Broadway in downtown San Diego, circa 1915 (Photo coming)
In 1885 the transcontinental railroad reached San Diego. The Santa Fe railway station opened downtown in 1887 (that station was replaced in 1915 by the Downtown landmark Santa Fe Depot, which is still in use). In 1886 the city’s first electric lights and first streetcars were established in New Town. In 1912 the Spreckels Theater opened downtown, the first modern commercial playhouse west of the Mississippi. A new commercial pier, the Broadway Pier, was built by the city in 1913.
In the 1910s, Downtown became one of the many San Diego neighborhoods connected by the Class 1 streetcars and an extensive San Diego public transit system that was spurred by the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 and built by John D. Spreckels. These streetcars became a fixture of the neighborhood until their retirement in 1939.
In 1964 the multi-story City Hall and Community Concourse were dedicated on a four-block-square property at 202 C Street. Recent mayors and city councils have discussed building a replacement city hall, but no replacement plan has been approved.
In the 1960s, Centre City began to fall into a state of disrepair and disrepute. Major businesses and stores moved from downtown to suburban shopping malls. Downtown became known as a hangout for homeless people and sailors on liberty. Tattoo parlors, bars, and strip clubs were predominant forms of business. Trash littered the Gaslamp Quarter, many 19th century Victorian houses were rundown, and there were few buildings of significant size (the tallest building at the time was fourteen stories, the locally famous El Cortez). Despite this, low- and mid-rise buildings were beginning construction.
In 1975, redevelopment plans were created for Downtown. In 1985, Downtown underwent more redevelopment with the completion of Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp Quarter revival, and the completion of the San Diego Convention Center. Petco Park, a baseball ballpark used by the San Diego Padres, opened in 2004.
Located in Central San Diego, Downtown San Diego is delimited by San Diego Bay to the west and southwest, Bankers Hill, Middletown, and Balboa Park to the north, Sherman Heights and Golden Hill to the east, and Barrio Logan and Logan Heights to the southeast. San Diego International Airport is just northwest of downtown.
Districts and neighborhoods
Columbia, the west district of downtown. Located between the Marina and Little Italy, west of Columbia St.
Core District, the central business district of downtown.
Cortez Hill, the north-east district of downtown.
East Village, the east district of downtown, which is home to Petco Park and the surrounding Ballpark Village.
Gaslamp Quarter, a two by ten block night life district in central Downtown
Little Italy, the north-west district of downtown.
Marina, the south-west district of downtown, which is home to Seaport Village and Pantoja Park.
Horton District, the district comprising Horton Plaza and adjacent buildings in central downtown.
Seaport Village, a tourist district within the Marina District, which is not an official district or neighborhood.