So maybe (probably) I’m just a nerd, but a section in a history book on the desirability of San Diego as a place to live tickled my funny bone this afternoon. I may or may not have chuckled aloud.

Unfortunately, I was in the library at the time. I was spared a “SSSSHHH!!!” from the librarian in the California Room at the Central Library on E Street, but I was still a little embarrassed.

I was skimming a book by historian William E. Smythe called “History of San Diego: 1542-1908” for a story I’m working on about the jobs that formed San Diego’s foundation as a city – especially the fishing industry. The San Diego Historical Society has made the text of the book available online.

Because of some of the other stories I’ve been working on lately, my curiosity was piqued by a chapter called “Phenomena of the Great Boom.”

Smythe, writing in 1908, summarizes San Diego as experiencing a “series of booms and boomlets” split by times of economic depression or decline, and declares a focus on “The Great Boom” of 1886-88. He mentions several quantifiable contributors to this boom – the completion of the Santa Fe Railroad, the development of water and other utilities and some other minor factors.

But, just like what I wrote recently about the psychological “x-factor” in real estate, there’s more to the story than what can be measured. And, to that end, Smythe seems to have a penchant for superlative language – hence my amusement.

Here’s some of the good stuff:

But when all these material influences have been mentioned there remains another which was far more powerful and which supplies the only explanation of the extraordinary lengths to which the boom was carried. This latter influence was psychological rather than material, but it was none the less effective on that account. The people were hypnotized, intoxicated, plunged into emotional insanity by the fact that they had unanimously and simultaneously discovered the ineffable charm of the San Diego climate. Climate was not all – there was the bay, the ocean, the rugged shores, the mountains – but the irresistible attractions were the climate and the joy of life which it implied.

It only gets better:

If someone should suddenly discover the kingdom of heaven, of which the race has dreamed these thousands of years, and should then proceed to offer corner lots at the intersection of golden streets, there would naturally be a rush for eligible locations, and this sudden and enormous demand would create a tremendous boom. It happens that San Diego is the nearest thing on earth to the kingdom of heaven, so far as climate is concerned. This fact was suddenly discovered and men acted accordingly.

It sounds like these boom-ers even encountered some of the economic pressures currently worrying many analysts. It sounds like the 1860s version of the seemingly inevitable job losses in the real estate, mortgage and construction industries if the housing market continues to drop.

Here’s Smythe’s take:

The economy of heaven is a factor which has never been much dwelt upon, and economic considerations were sadly neglected by those who went wild over real estate in the height of the boom. It was forgotten, for the moment, that men cannot eat climate, nor weave it into cloth to cover their nakedness, nor erect it as a shelter against the storm and the night. Such a reminder would have seemed puerile at the time. The only vital question was: Can we find land enough between Los Angeles and Mexico to accommodate the people who are coming, and can we get it platted into additions fast enough to meet the demand? If this question could be answered affirmatively, it was enough. Obviously, the people would continue to come, prices would continue to soar, and everybody would get rich at the expense of his neighbor, living happy forever after.

Ringing any bells, San Diego?


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