The first known residents of the SolanaBeach area migrated here about 9000 BC from Nevada and eastern California. Known as the San Dieguitos, they were hunters of large animal such as mastodons, giant bison and camels. Apparently the San Dieguitos followed the herds when they migrated south into Mexico. Evidence of these early settlers can still be found on the bluffs and rolling hills east of the ocean.
The next wave of inhabitants, known as La Jollans, dwelled in small bands along the coast and around the lagoons, and were seafood collectors and seed gatherers.
In turn, the La Jollans were ousted, or absorbed, by a new group of immigrants from the Colorado River area known as the Kumeyaay. They fished and foraged along the coast, and gathered acorns, piñon nuts and other edibles in the mountains. They were peaceful, healthy, attractive and good-natured.
The discovery of small metates off the SolanaBeach reef has provided some archaeological history from the shell mounds in the area. When the Spanish first explored the area, Indians were living where the fresh water streams entered the lagoons from Del Mar to Oceanside.
The Spanish arrived in 1769 led by Don Gaspar de Portola. Portola’s charge was to press north from San Diego to MontereyBay where he was to establish a mission and a colony. He was accompanied by Franciscan padres, whose job it was to convert the local Indians. In traveling between the San Diego and Monterey missions, the Portola party established a trail that was later known as “El Camino Real”. In the SolanaBeach area, the Spanish traveled inland to avoid the many marshes and inlets near the coast. The original road crossed at Conley’s corners on Via de la Valle which is now the east end of the Polo Field. Captain Juan Bautista Anza came within a stone’s throw of SolanaBeach on his now famous trek from Sonora to San Gabriel in 1774.
Control of the area passed to Mexico when it gained independence from Spain in 1822. Many of the inhabitants were sons and grandsons of the original Spanish settlers who became influential in government and were owners of enormous ranchos. Many thousands of acres in what is now San DiegoCounty became privately owned during the Mexican regime. The then current mayor of the City of San Diego, Juan Maria Osuna, claimed the land known as Rancho San Dieguito in 1840. His eldest son, Leandro, lived in a three-room adobe overlooking El Camino Real, and Osuna soon built his own adobe about a mile east. Restored in 1923, the house is located in Rancho Santa Fe.
Following the Mexican War with the United States, California became a U.S. territory, and on September 9, 1850, was admitted to the Union. Until the 1860s and the gradual influx of the Anglos, the Californios (early Mexican, large land owners) continued to dominate life in the SolanaBeach area. The County of San Diego was established by the State Legislature on February 18, 1850. The population numbered 790. Records show that the first American homesteader in the vast San Luis Rey district, was William A. Ewing, who took up 180 acres in the San Dieguito River valley in 1862.
“Grandpa” Frank Knowles, who died more than 50 years ago, came to the San Dieguito area in 1885. He had memory of a few Indians living on the San Elijo Lagoon at that time. He lived to be 104 years of age. The main area known as SolanaBeach was originally called Lockwood Mesa and was first settled by the George Jones family in 1886. Chief crops were grain and lima beans.
The oldest house in SolanaBeach is the Stevens House, originally located on the Molly Glen Ranch in SolanaBeach. Henry and Belle Sandford of Del Mar established the ten-acre ranch on the south slopes of SolanaBeach. It was located on the current site of the Del Mar Downs development, and the house was built in late 1887 or early 1888. In 1891 the ranch was bought by Susan Stevens, daughter of James and Susannah Stevens for whom Stevens Street and StevensCreek were later named. The Stevens were originally from New York, but later moved to Michigan and then North Dakota, where James West Stevens was a State Senator in the third legislature of that state (1892-1896). They came to California around early 1896, with their son Edwin following a year later. In 1898 Susan sold the ranch to her parents.
“Grandma Stevens”, as Susannah was known, was a celebrity when she reached her 105th birthday. By the time she had turned 100, she had been interviewed and photographed by newspapers from Los Angeles and San Diego. She and James celebrated their 60th anniversary with a big party on the Del Mar beach in 1906. James died in 1907 and Susannah died a few days short of her 106th birthday in June 1927. Grandma Stevens lived in the ranch house from 1892 until her death in 1927.
After Susannah’s death, Edwin and his wife Jennie lived in the house until Ed’s death in 1935. They speculated in real estate, at one time buying and developing the adjacent 120 acres now known as EdenGardens, or La Colonia. The house itself changed hands at least twice after Jennie’s death in 1940. The final owners found old 1890-era newspapers in the walls when they lived there. The Stevens House today is in La Colonia Park and houses the SolanaBeachHeritageMuseum. It is currently open on the first and third Saturdays of each month from to or by calling the curator at 858-259-7657 for an appointment or any seasonal hours.
The area encompassing SolanaBeach began to develop rapidly, when Lake Hodges Dam was built in 1917-18. The creation of the 12,000-acre Santa Fe Irrigation District in 1918 ensured that the area from Rancho Santa Fe through Solana Beach would prosper and expand. The coastline from Solana Beach to Oceanside began to boom in the early 1920s. In 1922 Colonel Ed Fletcher, an early community leader and developer, purchased 140 acres at $20 per acre from farmer George H. Jones to develop the town of SolanaBeach, with the help of his brother-in-law Eugene Batchelder. The Solana Beach area was promoted as an avocado growing center. This growth paralleled the development of the entire county during the 1924-29 period.
To provide access to the beach for the development, hydraulic water pressure was used to erode away tons of earth and create the Fletcher Cove entry and beach. This took one man three months with a fire hose, using water that was coming over the spillway at Lake Hodges Dam. The beach was opened with great fanfare including horse races on the beach on July 4th, 1925. Fletcher also built the Bank of Solana Beach, which he subsequently sold to the Bank of America. He was later forced to sell half of SolanaBeach when the depression hit in 1929. At this time SolanaBeach had a business center, a Ford agency, a bank, grocery, drugstore, and other allied businesses.
The depression stifled growth in SolanaBeach. The price of lots tumbled and land reverted to the Santa Fe Irrigation District for lack of tax payment. For almost a decade, progress was at a standstill. With the approach of World War II, the community began to stir. It was not until the early 1950s that the area reached the stage of development that had been predicted for the 1930s.
After World War II, the community began to grow. The Chamber of Commerce was formed. A sanitation district and a fire district were created. For a 10-year period between 1950 and 1960, the community underwent tremendous growth. The Bill Jack plant (1949) brought industry into the area and private contractors built a number of homes. MarviewHeights, land originally owned by the Santa Fe Irrigation District and later sold as individual homes by Fred Howland Ford and his brother, gave impetus to local residential development. EdenGardens, one of the oldest residential areas of SolanaBeach, was a community formed by Mexican farmers who were hired by the owners of large ranches in Rancho Santa Fe. These farmers wanted their families nearby, hence the formation of La Colonia (the colony). The name EdenGardens came later from a land developer who thought it would be a good marketing tool. Many residents still refer to the area as La Colonia.
The money market collapsed in 1959-60 and it was not until late 1967 that the trend reversed. Paul Tchang, a San Diego builder, had constructed almost 100 premium homes in SolanaBeach by 1969. Thirty-three more were built in 1970, and 500 more from 1971 to 1977. Lomas Santa Fe completed their golf course and opened the sale of lots in Isla Verde in 1968. This signaled the beginning of a real estate boom which lasted well into the 80s and 90s. After a brief interval in the mid 90s, real estate sales were once again on the rise.
As the community progressed, additional attention was given to civic beautification. The Solana Beach Women’s Civic Club (reorganized as the Civic and Historical Society in 1989) gave the town a positive identity with the renovation of the central plaza and installation of the “Sun Burst Fountain”. They were instrumental in the removal of numerous billboards along Highway 101, replacing them with trees, and installing welcome signs at City entry-points. Recent years have seen the incorporation of Solana Beach in 1986, creation of the Cedros Design District, building of the Solana Beach train station, formation of the 101 Merchants Association, construction of a new joint-use library, and the influx of many new businesses.
Incorporation of the community in 1986 provided a Council-City Manager form of government, with the Mayor’s position rotating among the Council members.
Over 13,000 residents call this 4 square mile beach community their home. The Pacific Ocean is to the west; the City of Encinitas to the north, and the City of Del Mar to the south. The unincorporated village of Rancho Santa Fe is located on the east side. Property values in this upscale community have appreciated significantly since incorporation. The business community has equally enjoyed the prosperity of a healthy economy. SolanaBeach is the home for many artisans, high-tech businesses, and professionals.
The elementary school district is composed of five elementary schools, two of which are within the City limits. The middle school is under the administration of the San Dieguito Union High School district. High school students in the area attend TorreyPinesHigh School located to the southeast of SolanaBeach. Additionally, there are several private and parochial schools in SolanaBeach.
The City has two community centers, Fletcher Cove and La Colonia. The Community Center at La Colonia was dedicated on May 5, 1991. Program activities include adult education classes and a meeting place for numerous community groups. In November 1996, a community storefront office for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was instituted at the center in La Colonia Park.
In 1995 the Santa Fe train station was moved from Del Mar to the new station at SolanaBeach. Also, in 1999 the North County Transit District, operator of the “Coaster” commuter train, and the City of Solana Beach completed a multi-million project to lower the train tracks below grade level under Lomas Santa Fe Drive.
The South Cedros area of the City has been developed as an upscale design district that attracts many artisans, decorators, and antique dealers. The area continues to be a focal point for the City.
Information provided courtesy of the Solana Beach Civic & Historical Society
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