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Birth of a City
May 2009 | Peter Kaye, Ocean View

First DM City Council sworn in by Bud James, from left to right: Henry Billings, Tom Douglas, John Barr, Clayton Jack and Elwood Free.
Photo: Courtesy Del Mar Historical Society

May 26, 1959 was a typically gray day in Del Mar, overcast until mid-afternoon with temperatures in the low 60s. Kids were still in class at Del Mar Elementary School and St. James Academy; their older brothers and sisters at Earl Warren Junior High School or San Dieguito High School.

Some moms were shopping at Safeway in Solana Beach for 49-cent-a pound hams, 65 cent-a-pound T-bone steaks and, if you could choke it down, Lucky Lager beer at $1.29 a six-pack. Others stayed home to patronize Town Market or Del Mar Market, higher prices, less variety but more convenient and friendlier.

The market was where Earth Song and the women's clothing place are today.   There had been a market at that location since the Kockritz building was built in early 1927.  This picture was taken in the 1950s (vintage of autos). The Market was closed for a while during WWII and used as a USO.  No one in the DMHS is sure when the market finally closed, but probably late 60s when the entire building fell into disrepair. Jim Watkins bought the building in 1971 and began its renovation. Earth Song showed up in the early 80s (?).

Photo: courtesy Del Mar Historical Society.  Comments: Larry Brooks.

Dads were at work, many at Convair and a sizeable contingent, including me, at the San Diego Union, a 25-minute drive down Highway 101. It was a slow news day. The ex-chief of Tijuana’s narcotics police was shot to death in a bar. Led by President Eisenhower, the nation mourned the death of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. In Los Angeles, Sen. John F. Kennedy had some surprisingly kind words for a possible rival in the 1960 presidential election – Vice President Richard Nixon.

Closer to home, an election was already underway. In tiny Del Mar, 1¾ square miles and 4,000 residents, voters were deciding whether to create San Diego County’s eleventh city. Interest was high and the outcome uncertain. A week earlier, more than half the community’s 1,257 registered voters overflowed Del Mar Elementary School auditorium to hear the pros and cons of incorporation.

Headed by contractor Tom Douglas, the Committee for Self Government, argued Del Mar should determine its own destiny, that county services were inadequate to preserve the community’s identity. The Committee to Vote No said Del Mar couldn’t afford to go it alone and scoffed at proponents’ advocacy of the Lakewood Plan, which outsourced city services to the state and county.

More than these issues, personalities and factions dominated the election. Another Union newsman, Ken Reiley, and I opposed incorporation and a leading proponent, retired Army Col. Waldron Cheyney, tried to get us fired. Local businessmen generally opposed incorporation, old timers in the community were split and most new residents favored formation of a city. Del Mar’s Green versus Gray battles were a decade away.

On Election Day, almost 80% of registered voters flocked to three polling places and approved incorporation by a 555 to 479 margin. There were 14 candidates for City Council and the winners were Douglas (later chosen mayor), Clayton Jack, Henry Billings, John Barr and Elwood Free.

History shows both sides were right. Starting with the fire department, Del Mar soon realized it could not contract for many city services and began to build its own bureaucracy. However, the city has held fast to preserving its identity and environment. Over the years, I’ve noticed the contrast between Del Mar and its neighbors, Solana Beach and Del Mar Terrace, and now I’m convinced I was on the wrong side of the incorporation issue.


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