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2017-18 marks the 150th Birthday the Gaslamp Quarter, the Historic Heart of San Diego! Each week we will be sharing a historical “Factoid” about our amazing historic neighborhood.

55. The Sterling Hardware Building 1887

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Numerous and complicated title transfers are recorded since 1867 when Alonzo Horton first sold this lot for $150. In 1889, half the building was leased to Ramona Wolf who name was probably used by Helen Hunt Jackson for the novel Ramona,. The somewhat fictional account of the eviction of the Temecula Indians.  The Standard Theatre later operated with vaudeville variety shows.  In 1904, Moritz Trepte, a German immigrant and carpenter, purchased the north half for 10$.  Trepte became “ one of the Pacific Southwest’s leading contractors”  The Sterling Company, seller of second-hand goods, had the entire building until the 1970s.

The building went through a massive restoration and now is the beautiful Sparks gallery.

54. Learn Victorian Slang

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It’s interesting to think how people talked to each other when the Gaslamp Quarter was in its infancy in 1867.  Part of the charm and character of the 1860s-1880s, as viewed through our modern eyes, has always been the colorful speech of those days.  Books have borrowed it, movies have parodied it, and children gallop around on stick horses mimicking it.  Yet what did those people really have to say?  If we could listen to Alonzo Horton, what might come out of his mouth?  Of course, Mrs. Horton might have gone after him with a broom, for some of it, but for those who write, or those who simply possess inquiring minds, it seems a gathering of a few words or phrases would not be inappropriate.  To that end, we wanted to offer 5 words. A small collection of idioms, slang, language which we have gleaned from a few websites.  In a couple weeks we’ll have 5 more!


  1. Afternoonified – A society word meaning “smart.” Forrester demonstrates the usage: “The goods are not ‘afternoonified’ enough for me.”
  2. Arfarfanarf – A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf,” Forrester writes, “meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.
  3. Bags o’ Mystery – An 1850 term for sausages, “because no man but the maker knows what is in them. … The ‘bag’ refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.
  4. Benjo – Nineteenth century sailor slang for “A riotous holiday, a noisy day in the streets.”
  5. Bricky Brave or fearless. “Adroit after the manner of a brick,” Forrester writes, “said even of the other sex, ‘What a bricky girl she is.’”

53. Chinese Laundry, 1923

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The south half of this building was the Hop Lee Chong Laundry, a Chinese laundry in continuous use from the building’s construction in 1923 until 1964. The north half was the home of several Oriental businesses such as the “American Company”, “ Sunset Company”, and “Tuck and Tong Herb Company”.  It also served as living quarters for local Oriental tenants, including various operators of the laundry.  Now this location is the home of Suki Day Spa.

52. Gaslamp Quarter Gaslamps

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Though gas lamps were not the main source of lighting in the district, it was chosen as the symbol for the Gaslamp Quarter during the redevelopment and preservation efforts that occurred during the 1980s. There are actually only four real gas lamps in the district, located at each corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street.

51. Montijo Building, 1881

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This one-story building with 12-inch-thick walls was used as John Young’s morgue from 1881 to 1885. John Young was the County Coroner, an claimed embalming to be his specialty. The basement vault was surrounded by ropes used to lower caskets into the ground to keep them cool. In 1885, the undertaking rooms were removed, and the Gray and Co. furniture took over. The Montijo family, locally known for their saddle shops, opened another at this site in 1892.

Today, the building is home to El Chingon, located at 560 Fifth Avenue.

50. San Diego Hardware Company

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Prior to 1923 this building served as a dance hall and a Woolworth store. Today the structure retains its original wood floors and rounded storefront windows. Its metal ceilings are also original and are the only ones remaining in the district, the others having been donated to the war effort as scrap metal. Established in 1892, San Diego Hardware began its second century of business in the first floor and basement of the building, but by 2005 will have moved on to another location in San Diego.

Late in 1892, four San Diego citizens founded a new venture, which was to be called San Diego Hardware An article in the Dec. 1, 1892 edition of the San Diego Union, announced, “The San Diego Hardware Company has purchased the retail store of Todd & Hawley, 658 Fifth Street”. The four founders of the company  were Fred Gazlay, John M. Wood, George M. Hawley and George T. Hawley.  All four men had previous experience in the hardware business.

In 1922 the company moved closer to San Diego’s center of commerce.  The company moved two blocks North on Fifth Avenue to 840 Fifth Avenue.  The building had been occupied by the “five-and-dime” store F.W. Woolworth’s.  At the grand re-opening a newspaper article reported, “Tomorrow morning, what is said to be the finest and most beautiful hardware store on the Pacific coast- the new home of the San Diego Hardware Company – will be opened for business …”.  The new store had three entrances, a fifty-foot storefront on Fifth Avenue and a 25-foot storefront on Fourth Avenue.  During this time the store was known as “The Winchester Store”, selling Winchester firearms and sporting goods as well as it’s broad selection of hardware, housewares and hand tools.  There was a shooting range in the basement where a sharpshooter from Winchester put on shooting demonstrations.

Today San Diego Hardware stands as the oldest family-owned and 10th oldest business in San Diego and continues its tradition of unmatched hardware expertise and one-on-one customer service. In March of 2006, after 114 years of business downtown, San Diego Hardware relocated to its new store in the Kearny Mesa area of San Diego.

Click here to learn more about the history of San Diego Hardware.

49. Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade

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The 1st annual Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade took place in 2008 and now it’s the 10th anniversary! Did you know livestock like horses used to be allowed in the parade? However due to some issues they are no longer allowed. For the 2nd Annual Greyfrairs Bobby Award this year, we will be honoring Chopper the Biker Dog, who also participated in the Pet Parade since 2009 and was the Best of Show winner in 2010!. The 10th Annual San Diego Union-Tribune Gaslamp Holiday Pet Parade presented by Blue Buffalo is this Sunday, December 10th from 1PM-5PM. Register your pets now at www.holidaypetparade.com. This event is free for spectators!

48. Shopping in the 1880s

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Marston Building (1881), 548 C Street; Architects — Stewart Brothers; Style — Italianate Victorian (Courtesy GQHF)

‘Shop ’til you drop’ 1880s style by Sandee Wilhoit for the San Diego Downtown News

It’s the holiday season! Time for feasting, caroling and yes, shopping.

For our Victorian ancestors, buying a gift for a special loved one was also a part of the holiday season, although shopping was not done on such an elaborate or commercialized scale as it is now.

Several notable shopping emporiums stand out in San Diego’s early history, none more so than Marston’s. As it did not close its hallowed doors until 1961, many of us may still remember being taken “Downtown,” dressed in our Sunday best, to shop at Marston’s and enjoy the elegant atmosphere of San Diego’s finest department store.

For those with more modest tastes and means, Whitney and Company provided a ready alternative. In 1905, Guilford H. Whitney, Sr. operated his limited-price variety store in a modest storefront on Fifth Avenue between F and G streets.

Gone but not forgotten — the old shopping emporiums of San Diego — reminders of a simpler, and definitely less expensive, Christmas shopping season.

Click Here for the Full Story!

47. The Old Side-Wheeler Senator

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From The Journal of San Diego History

San Diego Historical Society Quarterly

July 1957, Volume 3, Number 3

Jerry MacMullen, Editor

By Arthur Woodward

The Old Side-Wheeler Senator


One of the most famous steamers on the California coast in gold rush days was the old Senator. She was a handsome craft when she first arrived from New York and dropped anchor in San Francisco bay, October 21, 1849 after a voyage of a trifle over seven months.

At that time she was well fitted throughout. There were four bridal suites all handsomely furnished. The outside staterooms were done in rosewood and the decking of the main saloon was made of alternate panels of walnut and ash.


For 30 years until her retirement in 1887 The ship transported people from San Francisco, to San Pedro and then San Diego.  It was always literally jammed to capacity with persons eager to buy lots in San Diego!

Click Here to Learn More!

46. Horton House

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The palatial 100-room Horton House held its gala opening on October 10, 1870.  The building – construction was supervised by Horton’s brother-in-law William W. Bowers- was one of the most sumptous of the time.  All rooms were richly carpeted and boasted marble-top tables and washstands.  They were connected to the desk by a bell.  The 360-degree view from the hotel’s observatory was breathtaking.  Water from a 55-foot-deep well supplied a 7,000-gallon tank that could provide 2,000 gallons of water per hour.  The $150,000 hotel took its place beside the Grand in Paris, the Astor in New York, the Cosmopolitan in San Franscisco,and the Pico in Los Angeles.  Horton set aside a half block across the street as a plaza so his guests would have a place to sit in the sun.  This Passage is from, San Diego California’s Cornerstone by Iris Engstrand  publshed in 2005. Today the site the Horton House was on is occupied by the US Grant Hotel.


45. Tom Hom

At the GBOD Group Gaslamp 150th Anniversary Gala presented by Trilogy Real Estate Management on Tuesday, November 7th, we honored the lifetime achievements of the Gaslamp Quarter’s own, Tom Hom. Tom played a central role in the preservation and rehabilitation of the Gaslamp Quarter and much of Downtown San Diego at a time when the wrecking ball threatened to eliminate this important historic and cultural center. As the Gaslamp Quarter celebrates its 150th Anniversary, we want to extend our deepest gratitude and appreciation for Tom and all the years of hard work and dedication.

Thomas Edward Hom was born in 1927 to Chinese-American parents who had made their home in San Diego. The four-block Chinese-American community west of Fifth Avenue was Tom’s childhood home. One of 11 children, Tom was an honest and understanding child imbued with a strong sense of hard work and resilience. During a time of great social and political change in the United States, Tom was inspired by the national movement to enter into public life. While not initially successful, Tom had struck a chord with the electorate. He campaigned for City Council in 1963 riding a wave of support for greater minority representation in American politics. Upon his election, Tom became the first non-Caucasian person to serve on the San Diego City Council. In 1964, he would be unanimously elected Deputy Mayor, and in 1968, Tom was elected to the California State Assembly representing the 79th District.

Tom was the founding president of the Gaslamp Quarter Association, and helped to establish several San Diego County businesses, civic, and church organizations.

Tom has had long affiliations with several organizations such as, APAPA San Diego Chapter, San Diego Chinese Historical Museum, Asian Business Association chapter in San Diego, Chinese Service Center, and the Tecate Chamber of Commerce.

Tom never really retired. An avid musician and artist, Tom continues to create art well into his 90s.

Check out the video to learn more and see some great historical photos!

44. Gaslamp Quarter Archway

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The idea of the iconic Gaslamp Quarter Archway was first conceived in 1986 and designed by Harmon Nelson and David Ford of David Robinson Design, Inc. in 1988. Two years later in 1990, the Archway is built and installed by Roy Flahive, President, and Cheryl Strukelj, Vice President, of Pacific Sign Contruction, Inc., and funded by redevelopment funds overseen by the former Centre City Development Corporation. The original cost of the project was $150,000 and weighed a total of six tons!

In 1991, the Gaslamp Quarter Archway is officially completed and dedicated. The sign is significant in that it uses neon incandescent, and fluorescent light fixtures to present a beautiful, vibrant display. The Gaslamp Quarter Archway was symbolic as a declaration that the City of San Diego was committed to continuing the redevelopment of Downtown. It serves as an icon for other cities to look to the Gaslamp Quarter as an example of successful redevelopment.

Having endured significant dilapidation from weather and constant vibration from road traffic since its original dedication in 1991, a rehabilitation of the Gaslamp Quarter Archway’s in 2013 was made possible by the efforts of the Gaslamp Quarter Association in conjunction with Downtown San Diego Partnership, Clean & Safe Program. The project was managed by Byron Wade, President and CEO of Project Professionals Corporation, and completed by West Coast Signs. The owner of West Coast Signs, Patrick Flahive, is the son of the original builder, Roy Flahive, who also consulted on the rehabilitation. The refurbishment included re-painting, energy efficient electrical upgrades, structural evaluation and replacement of the original incandescent light bulbs to more energy-efficient and durable neon lighting.

Since the installation in 1991, the Gaslamp Quarter Archway has become a significant landmark in San Diego and serves as the gateway of this vibrant district, welcoming millions of conventioneers, Padres fans and visitors to the Gaslamp Quarter annually.

43. ‘Reuben the guide’

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Not all Gaslamp “landmarks” are buildings. San Diego’s first tour guide, known coast-to-coast, was Reuben Williams, or as he was simply called, “Reuben the guide.”

Reuben was born in Kansas City in 1856, but came to California from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1864. He originally settled in San Francisco and later migrated south to Los Angeles. During the great boom years of the 1880s, he sensed the excitement surrounding San Diego and arrived here to settle permanently.

Reuben was employed by the National City and Otay Railway in the capacity of guide to the many tourists flocking to San Diego, who also wanted to catch a glimpse of the “land of tomorrow,” as Tia Juana was called then. And yes — it was called Tia Juana.

An African-American, Reuben was known for his huge sombrero, his five-pointed star and his ever-ready smile and accommodating manner. He was a veritable wealth of information, which he readily shared with his guests. Reuben’s tours left from the NC & O Railroad Depot, located at 536 L St., the current location of the Hard Rock Hotel.

-Written by Sandee Wilhoit, historian of the Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, for the San Diego Downtown News.

Click Here to Read More!

42. Carriage Works, 1890

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Constructed to house the wholesale business of Todd and Hawley, which operated here until 1902. Their stock was purchased by Lyons Implement Company, which carried a complete line of Studebaker vehicles, including buggies and wagons. Along with Lyons, San Diego Gas & Electric, San Diego Farm and Dairy Supply, a tent and awning company and the Volunteers of America have occupied the building.

Today, Carriage Works building hosts, Tin Roof, GARAGE Kitchen + Bar, and The Shout! House at the corner of G Street and Fourth Avenue.

41. Paris Hotel, 1910

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From 1910 to 1918, Muehleisen Tent and Awning Company, located in this two-story brick building supplied awnings for several buildings in the Gaslamp District. It later became Western Leather Supply, which operated at the site until 1930. Various tenants have occupied the ground floor since, including Club Tokyo and El Indio Shop, featuring Mexican food. The second floor has been rented rooms since 1911, when it was known as the Washington Hotel, and later the Paris Hotel.

Today, the ground floor hosts, The Poke Co, Cafe Lulu, and All American Burgers at the corner of F Street and Fourth Avenue.

40. Wyatt Earp

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Excerpts from Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation website. gaslampfoundation.org 

Wyatt Earp came to San Diego between 1885 and 1887 and could have remained here as late as 1896. He was accompanied by his third wife Josie who he met in Tombstone, Arizona. She was an actress and possibly a dance hall girl and she accompanied him in his many travels until his death in 1929.

Wyatt Earp had a lot of miles under his belt prior to his arrival in San Diego in the late 1800s. He displayed his courage at an early age where as a teenager, his first job was as a stagecoach driver in California. He was later a buffalo hunter out of Illinois where he met his longtime friend Bat Masterson. His reputation as a fearless and determined lawman was established in Wichita and Dodge City Kansas as he tamed these cities thought of as some of the wildest in the west.

In Tombstone, Earp took part in the famous shoot-out at the OK Corral where three of his enemies died. He could have been directly responsible for the shooting deaths of at least 5 men in his lifetime. Wyatt left Tombstone soon after the OK Corral and started a lifelong journey throughout the western frontier, settling in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Nome, Alaska.

He was an active businessman in addition to a gambler and was engaged in a variety of real estate ventures including the land boom of the mid 1800s. Earp leased four saloons and gambling halls in San Diego, the most famous was his Oyster Bar located in the Louis Bank of Commerce on Fifth Avenue. He was listed as a capitalist (gambler) in the San Diego City Directory in 1887 and among his other winnings, he won a race horse. Wyatt also lived for a time in The Grand Horton, now known as the Horton Grand Hotel located on Fourth and Island Avenues.

39. Metropolitan Hotel Building, late 1800s

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This beautiful Victorian building, constructed in the latter part of the 1800s, housed the Metropolitan Hotel. Its uses also included a drug store, furniture store, and various retail establishments. However, by the 1960s, the building became quite run down. Owners modernized and removed the exterior Victorian detail work, removing 12 bay windows and adding stucco. In the 1980s, city leaders took a second look at the Gaslamp historic buildings and the area was designated an historic district, providing tax advantages and incentives to property owners for restoration of designated buildings to their original appearance during their period of historical significance. Unfortunately, it was determined by the owners that restoring the Metropolitan Hotel would cost too much money, so the owner was permitted to paint a trompe l’oeil on the building – a three-dimensional likeness of the historic detailing. Whimsical in approach, it includes a man and his suitcase sneaking out in order to avoid paying his hotel bill.

Today, the Metropolitan Hotel building, located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Market Street, hosts Blue Point Coastal Cuisine and Hosteling International.

38. The McGurck Block, 1887

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From 1903 to 1984, the Ferris and Ferris Drug Store occupied this building. For a long time it was San Diego’s only all-night drug store and for a period of time, actor Gregory Peck’s father worked as the night druggist. The building was also used as a post office and as a ticket booth for the Coronado Ferry. The upper floors of this three-story Italiante Revival building were used for rented rooms and became known as the Hotel Monroe in 1929.

Today, the McGurck Block building, located at 611 Fifth Avenue, hosts Searsucker on the ground floor.

37. Callan Hotel, 1878

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In 1886, Till Burnes leased this structure as his Acme Saloon. Here he kept his menagerie which included a wildcat, noisy monkeys, an anteater, and his pet bear who escaped on at least two occasions. The bear was also known to lick the face or event take a bite out of a passerby. The saloon closed in 1907 after a shady history. From 1928 to 1941 the Nippon Company owned the building and ran an import business. However, this was lost due to the Japanese internment during World War II. The Callan Hotel opened in 1943.

Today, the Callan Hotel, located at 500 Fifth Avenue, hosts Sab Lai Thai Kitchen and Blarney Stone Pub on the ground floor.

36. Samuel I. Fox Building, 1929

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Entrepreneur Samuel Fox built this four-story, $500,000 structure to accommodate his Lion Clothing Company, the sole tenant of the building until 1984. Showcasing 16-foot ceilings, antique oak wood paneling, walnut window frames, cast-iron decorative grills, heraldic lions in full relief, sculptured terra cotta spandrels, and an overhanging tile roof, the building was recognized as an artistic masterpiece as well as a merchandising success.

Today, the Samuel Fox Building, located at 950 Sixth Avenue hosts BIGA, Bravo Carne Asada and Ramen Yamadaya on the ground floor.

35. Learn Victorian Slang

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It’s interesting to think how people talked to each other when the Gaslamp Quarter was in its infancy in 1867.  Part of the charm and character of the 1860s-1880s, as viewed through our modern eyes, has always been the colorful speech of those days.  Books have borrowed it, movies have parodied it, and children gallop around on stick horses mimicking it.  Yet what did those people really have to say?  If we could listen to Alonzo Horton, what might come out of his mouth?  Of course, Mrs. Horton might have gone after him with a broom, for some of it, but for those who write, or those who simply possess inquiring minds, it seems a gathering of a few words or phrases would not be inappropriate.  To that end, we wanted to offer 5 words. A small collection of idioms, slang, language which we have gleaned from a few websites.  In a couple weeks we’ll have 5 more!


  1. Got the Morbs – temporary melancholy
  2. Mutton Shunter – the police
  3. Batty-Fang – to thrash thoroughly
  4. Doing the Bear – courting that involves hugging
  5. Mafficking – getting rowdy in the streets

34. Balboa Theatre, 1924

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Built in 1924, the historic Balboa Theatre was an elegant vaudeville and movie palace in the heart of downtown San Diego. At the time, it was a state-of-the-art building that included six storefronts along Fourth Avenue, with 34 offices on the floors above. After a 1934 remodeling, the theatre was reopened as El Teatro Balboa, featuring contemporary films from Mexico City and presenting Latin stars to San Diego’s increasingly diverse audience. During World War II, the theatre’s office space was reconfigured by the U.S. Navy into bachelor quarters for sailors waiting to ship out.  After the war, the remodeled spaces became single-occupancy housing.

In 1959, the Russo family of San Diego acquired the building and saved it from potential demolition. They operated it as a action movie house until the City of San Diego purchased it in 1986. Ten years later, the Balboa Theatre Foundation nominated the Theatre to the National Register of Historic Places to save both the interior and exterior of this community asset.

The Balboa Theatre was closed for over twenty years. After numerous proposals to privately renovate or re-purpose the Theatre, the City’s Redevelopment Agency made the commitment in 2002 to retain the Theatre as a public asset and fully fund its $26.5 million restoration and rehabilitation.  Integral to that commitment was that the Theatre would be reopened as a community performing arts center to be managed by San Diego Theatres.

Click here to learn more about the Balboa Theatre!

33. The Brunswig Drug Building, 1900

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Photo Credit: Residence Inn by Marriott San Diego Downtown/Gaslamp Quarter

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Right around the corner from The Oyster Bar is the Brunswig Drug Building.  This building was constructed for the Brunswig Drug Company with two stories and a basement.  A third story was added when the building was renovated in 1925 following a fire.  Constructed of brick and mortar with cast-iron columns and show windows, the structure houses offices on the second floor and in the basement.  A mural by San Diego artist David Robinson called “The Wild Bunch” is featured along the south wall of the building.   The building houses, The Wine Bank, The Michael J Wolf Gallery, San Diego’s Best and Find your Feet.  You can see the mural if you are staying at the Marriott Residence Inn and taking a dip at the pool!

32. The Alan John Factory, 1908

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This four-story building is made of concrete with a pressed brick front, and a loft-like gallery on the first floor. In 1910, George Hazard and Elwyn Gould opened a hardware store here and later used it as a warehouse. Later, Krasne’s Leather Goods and Guns operated on the ground floor, and the upper floors contained the Alan John Clothing Factory.

Today, the building houses the brand new opened Smoking Gun and soon to open Spill the Beans on the ground floor of the Market Street side and the soon to open Overload on the Sixth Avenue side. The upper floors house Performance Pilates and many live/work lofts.

31. Horton Grand Hotel, 1886

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History abounds at the Horton Grand Hotel, which is a restoration of two separate historic hotels: The Grand Horton Hotel and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery Hotel.

The two hotels were built in the mid-1880s and were originally located where Horton Plaza mall now stands.

Opened in 1886, the Grand Horton Hotel was an elegant, ornate Italianate Victorian structure built by German immigrant Peter Mayerhofer in his desire to replicate the Innsbruck Hotel in Austria.

It was constructed by prominent San Diego architects Comstock and Trotsche.

The Hotel was one of 300 structures built during the Boom of the 1880s to accommodate the influx of people to the little seacoast town of 5,000. Over, 26,000 visitors flocked to the town after the arrival of San Diego’s first transcontinental railroad in 1885.

Click here to learn more about the Horton Grand Hotel!

30. The William Penn Hotel, 1920

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Opened as the Oxford Hotel in 1913, the five-floor property at 511 F St. was designed by Eugene M. Hoffman, who immigrated at the age of seven from Germany in 1877 and moved to San Diego in 1910, according to the city’s historic site report.

The hotel was advertised as “the only first-class hotel in the hub of the amusement and shopping district.” The developer was Levis Brinton, a Pennsylvania farmer who had moved to San Diego in 1887. He died in 1918. His widow Florence apparently changed the name to the Hotel William Penn around 1920, perhaps as a nod to the founder of the English colony of Pennsylvania in 1682.

The 1920s-era building, served as jumping off point for the design for the 1,800 square-foot street-level cocktail bar and dining room opening this week, Queensborough. With an entryway off F Street, the space will include a vintage phone booth-turned-photo booth from Brennan’s cousin in Queens along with authentic subway turnstiles and New York subway tokens set into the flooring. The new swanky bar has the original brick walls and brass fixtures of the site’s previous longterm tenant, Maloney’s Tavern.

29. Llewelyn Building, 1887

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Since its 1981 restoration, this building stands as a Victorian-style landmark. Built by William Llewelyn, the structure housed the family shoe store until 1906. Thereafter, the building was occupied by hotels of several different names, generally of unsavory reputation. In 1917 the proprietors were charged with operating a “cat house.” The charges were dropped after the tenants agreed to behave. Still, the illicit activities and bad reputation continued unabated for many years.

Today, the Llewelyn Building (726 Fifth Avenue) is home to USA Hostels, Asti Ristorante, and Panevino Restaurant.

28. Nanking Cafe, 1912

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Originally built for $1900, this single-story building includes cast-iron columns on the front façade.  Decorative anchors plate rosettes detail the top of the cast iron pillars.  Located in the heart of San Diego’s turn-of-the-century Chinese community, it has housed Asian restaurants since its construction. Thomas Ah Quin operated a Chinese merchandise store in the building for several years; reportedly, only a front for a lucrative gambling parlor in the back.

Today, the building hosts, Monkey King, located at 467 Fifth Avenue, and the space right next door will be the host of the Rabbitville “Hop-Up” gallery exhibition for San Diego Comic-Con from July 19-23, 2017.

27. Gaslamp Square

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Gaslamp Square is the triangular block located adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter Trolley station at L Street and Fifth Avenue. Originally built by the Centre City Development Corporation in 1996, the square was meant to recognize the achievements of a Gaslamp Quarter redevelopment pioneer Chris Mortenson. A plaque was inlayed into the south end of the feature where it remains today.


Gaslamp Square was once home to an award-winning interactive water fountain named “Dancing Waters”. The water feature was removed in 2009 after years of neglect and growing concerns over public water use. Future redevelopment plans for the square are still under consideration. However, Gaslamp Square continues to act as a gathering space for the thousands of conventioneers and tourists that visit the Gaslamp Quarter each year. For more information on events in Gaslamp Square please visit www.gaslampsquare.com

26. Fourth of July 1868

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Photo Credit: Gaslamp Museum at the Davis-Horton House

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Parade on Fifth Avenue in the late 1800s.

[Augusta Jane Barrett was born on April 17, 1839, in East Sumner, Maine, on a farm that had belonged to her ancestors since the American Revolution. She died January 5, 1913, at her home in San Diego. The following is an excerpt from her memoirs about the Fourth of July, housed in the San Diego History Center Document Archives.]

“On the fourth of July, 1869, we had a celebration. The exercises were held in a warehouse at the foot of Fifth Street, where the Pacific Coast Steamship Company’s depot is now located. It was a small building built by Mr. Horton, and was afterwards used by A. Pauly & Sons as a store for general merchandise. We had a very modest procession: Mr. G. W. B. McDonald was President of the Day; Reverend Sydney Wilbur made the prayer. Captain Matthew Sherman read the Declaration of Independence, and Daniel Cleveland, Esq., was Orator of the Day. We had good singers in those days, the same as now, and the patriotic songs were sung with truly patriotic spirit. Our celebration was enthusiastic. It was not such a large gathering but it was an animated one. The fact that we were here, in this far away town of San Diego, did not keep us from feeling our joy and expressing it at the anniversary of our nation’s birth. Tables stood on one side, spread with many good things to eat, and there was plenty for all. After the dinner was served, the tables were cleared and we indulged in a good old fashioned dance.”

25. Keating Buliding, 1890

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Mrs. Keating had this Romanesque-style building constructed as a tribute to her late husband, George. Today the top cornice still bears his name. With such conveniences as steam heat and a wire cage elevator, the structure was originally heralded as one of the most prestigious office buildings in the city. Legend has it that the gray granite used on the first two floors had been used as ballast on European sailing ships; however, an 1892 article in the San Diego Union refutes the claim.

Today, the Keating Building, located at 432 F Street, is home to the Keating Hotel.

24. Cole Block Buliding, 1891

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Architecturally, the Cole Block is typical of commercial buildings that were built downtown around the turn of the century. It is the 2nd structure on the site, and has been only slightly altered since it was built by Albert Cole, a successful business-man who committed suicide soon after construction was complete. One of the original building’s more interesting tenants, Theopile Verlaque, who ran a liquor store on the corner of the building, developed San Diego’s winemaking industry and founded the city of Ramona.

Today the Cole Block building, located at 702 Fifth Avenue, is home to Whiskey Girl!

23. Taste of Gaslamp

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The Taste of Gaslamp is the oldest tasting festival in San Diego!  The 1st Taste of Gaslamp was held in 1993 and on the trifold invitation it read, “Gaslamp Goes Gourmet”.  The event was put on as a fundraiser for the Gaslamp Quarter Foundation and was an exclusive dining party from 2PM-6PM with celebrity chefs, Jeff Tinksb Executive Chef of Loew Coronado (at the time) and food critic, David Nelson. The event was hosted at the award winning residence of Marsha Sewell and Michael Shea, the Historic Yuma Building. Guests experienced an afternoon with celebrity chefs, delicious food and fine wines.

This year the 23rd annual Taste of Gaslamp is about to kick off on Saturday, June 17th, from 1PM- 4PM.  Now the Gaslamp Quarter hosts the bests in dining and entertainment.  Don’t miss this historic foodie event! Visit www.tasteofgaslamp.com for more information!

22. Louis Bank of Commerce Building

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Considered the Jewel of the Gaslamp and punctuated by twin rising towers, this building is San Diego’s first granite building that was pre-built on the east coast and sent around Cape Horn to San Diego.

This is the great example of Baroque Revival Architecture. The four story building housed the Bank of Commerce till 1893 when Isidor Louis opened an oyster bar that became a favorite of Wyatt Earp.

The upper floors later became the Golden Poppy Hotel, a notorious brothel run by fortune teller and early marketing genius, Madame Cora. Her ladies would parade through the streets by day and hand colored marbles that matched the color of their dresses to potential clients. At night, the “gentlemen” would bring their colored marble and be directed to a room of the same color to meet their colorful “lady.”

21. Mayor’s proclamation : May 24th, 150th Anniversary Gaslamp Quarter Day!

The Honorable Kevin L Faulconer, Mayor, City of San Diego and the Gaslamp Quarter Association invited a group of special dignitaries, member businesses, San Diegans and visitors in the launch of a year-long celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the National Historic District.  The 150th Anniversary of the settling of Alonzo Horton’s “New Town” will include several special events and a public art installation to commemorate the occasion.  “The Gaslamp Quarter’s colorful history, combined with its modern-day, world-class boutiques, galleries, and restaurants, makes the urban district unlike any other. Come see for yourself why the Gaslamp Quarter is the West Coast’s premier vacation destination!” said Michael Trimble, Executive Director of the Gaslamp Quarter Association.

Mayor Faulconer, proclaimed May 24th the official 150th Anniversary of the Gaslamp Quarter. “In just 150 years, the Gaslamp Quarter has undergone a phenomenal transformation from a dusty plain to a world-renowned hub of entertainment, dining and business,” said the Mayor.  “The Gaslamp continues to be a place where people from around the world celebrate San Diego and its constant evolution should give all San Diegans a reason to be excited about what’s to come.”

Read more

20. Pussycat Theatres

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Located on lower 4th, this was one of the first half dozen Pussycat Theatres opened by Dave Friedman and Dan Sonney. This locale was specifically built as a Pussycat, originally intended to be a 16mm incandescent house and still outfitted with some of that equipment when Vince Miranda and George Tate at Walnut Properties purchased the Pussycat chain in 1968 and began operating this and many other San Diego theaters, most of them general-release cinemas or late night grindhouses.

Open from noon to 5:30 a.m, this Pussycat’s exterior decor was mildly seedy, if era-apropos: faded and cracked faux-bricks, twin poster marquees ringed with flashers and lined in crimson velveteen, lit by flashing red and purple lights, with its ticket booth taking up the outside corner of the entranceway, stationed right there on the precipice of colorful, crazy lower 4th.

One of the early managers (early to mid-70s) was future F Street Bookstore founder Gojko “Greg” Vasic.
Hoping to sweep downtown free of porn blight, the city targeted the adult merchants with eminent domain proceedings intended to condemn the properties, so they could be refitted to suit the resurgent Gaslamp Quarter, whose acreage would be added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The city’s Redevelopment Agency named around 75 businesses and individuals in an eminent domain lawsuit filed December 31, 1979. 
The 4th Avenue Pussycat was one of them. The city confiscated the keys in 1981, though Walnut kept operating other downtown theaters as temporary Pussycats, until virtually all the company’s San Diego theaters were forced to permanently shut down.

19. Tivoli Bar & Grill – Oldest Pub in Downtown San Diego

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The Tivoli Bar lies on a lot originally owned by land baron Alonzo Horton, who helped develop most of downtown San Diego. Built in 1864, the building was first called the Walker House and functioned as a boarding house, feed store and blacksmith shop. The Walker House was converted into a saloon and kitchen in 1885. The original bar, which still graces the premises, was built in Boston and brought to San Diego by ship around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, a journey which took three or four months. In the bar is displayed the original cash register from the turn of the 20th Century, and the old safe, located in the back of the bar.

Over the years, the Tivoli Bar has been host to a number of notable characters, none more famous than Wyatt Earp and his wife Josie, whose photos are prominently displayed over the entrance to the bar. The artist Vincent was well known in the art world and all over the Southwest, especially Las Vegas, for his beautiful nude paintings. Vincent was also a regular Tivoli customer and two paintings of his beautiful wife adorn the wall behind the bar. The Romero family, owners since 1972, have mounted throughout the bar an eclectic collection of photographs and memorabilia, including pictures of major league ball parks and athletes, famous actors, heroes of the Mexican Revolutionary War (in which a Romero grandfather fought), family and friends, as well as past owners, employees and patrons of the bar.

Current owners, brothers Roy, Robert, Wilfred and Mike Romero, honoring their parents who owned the Tivoli before them, have reserved a wall to commemorate the Romero family heritage. The Romero Brothers are dedicated to preserving the saloon-like historical character of the Tivoli Bar and Grill. Many visitors have commented that the Tivoli reminds them of their favorite neighborhood bar, a place to feel welcome, comfortable and enjoy a few drinks with old and new friends. A San Diego historically designated building, the Tivoli enjoys the unique distinction of having experienced the city’s growth and maturity, from its fascinating historical past through to the vibrancy of the modern Gaslamp/Petco Park era.

Click Here to Learn More.

18. Higgins-Begole Building, 1873

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The Higgins-Begole Building, located at 527 Fifth Avenue, was two separate buildings that were joined into a single facade sometime before 1921. The north half of this building’s first story was constructed circa 1868, the oldest documented brick building in the Gaslamp Quarter. W.A. Begole, who ran the hardware store, added a second story in 1878 and third in 1886. The south two-story Art Deco building was constructed by Mr. Higgins in 1873 and a third story added between 1906 and 1921 when the facades were joined. It served as a grocery, dry goods, store and billiard parlor. The upper floors were rented rooms, most likely a bordello before the 1912 Stingaree raid. It also served as rooms for the Salvation Army, Hotel Togo and Hawaiian Hotel.

Today, the Higgins-Begole Building on the ground floor is home to Don Chido, winner of the Favorite Mexican, Latin, or Spanish Cuisine Award at the 2016 Lamplighter Awards!

17. Ah Quin

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Photo Credit: San Diego History Center

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Tom Chong-kwan, nicknamed “Ah Quin” by American Immigration officials, was a Chinese immigrant, who was also a fundamental part of San Diego’s development into a major city. Ah Quin first arrived in San Francisco in 1868 and Santa Barbara in 1873, before moving to San Diego in 1881. George Marston invited Quin to live in San Diego and direct the procurement of Chinese labor to help build the railroad. He opened a storefront in the Stingaree district of Downtown San Diego to direct his operations and to provide provisions for the Chinese laborers that he procured.

Ah Quin soon became the most powerful person in Chinatown and was often referred to as its unofficial mayor. He became a bridge linking the Chinese community and the white establishment and was also called upon to translate when there were court cases against the Chinese.

Quin married his wife, Sue Leong, in San Francisco in 1881 and the couple returned to San Diego, where they eventually had 12 children, including the first Chinese boy ever born in San Diego.

Click here to read more about Ah Quin.

16. The Backesto Building, 1873

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Located in one of the busiest areas of Downtown San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, is the Backesto Building. Built in 1873, it was originally a one-story building. However, now the building has seen tremendous changes and became one of the well-acclaimed architectural monuments in San Diego. It is a classic example of architectural reviving of the classical and the Victorian era. If you are in the Gaslamp Quarter, be sure to check out the magnificent Backesto Building!

The Backesto Building opened in the heart of New Town’s original business district in 1873. Klauber and Levi, a pioneer grocer and general-merchandise firm, occupied the ground floor from 1879 to 1886. In 1892 San Diego Hardware opened at the site, relocating in 1923 to a few blocks north on 5th Avenue. The structure, one of the first in the Gaslamp to be restored, stands within a block filled with century-old buildings.

Today, the Backesto Building hosts many business offices in the upper floor, including the Gaslamp Quarter Association, and hosts barleymash, Henry’s Pub, Chianti and American Junkie on the street level.

15. Alonzo Horton

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On April 17th 1867 a paddle wheel steamer arrived from San Francisco with six passengers, one of which was the father of San Diego, Alonzo Horton.

Like so many other visitors, Horton was immediately taken with San Diego’s setting and potential. Having heard of San Diego at a lecture about West Coast ports in San Francisco, he booked the next passage south and upon arrival, overlooked the bare, rabbit-ridden landscape and conjured up a vision of the future.

“I thought San Diego must be a heaven on earth,” Horton told an interviewer in 1906 of his first impression. “It seemed to me the best spot for building a city I ever saw.”

Once in San Diego he bought 960 acres of land on San Diego Bay for just 27 ½ cents an acre. The district became known as “Horton’s Addition” or “New Town.” At first there was much opposition from the residents of the former site of the town center, which became known as “Old Town.”  But new businesses began to flood into the new tract due to its great convenience for ships arriving from the East.  Eventually the new addition began to eclipse Old Town in importance as the heart of the growing city.  Local land exploded in price throughout the 1880s, making Horton a financial success yet again.

Click Here to read more about Alonzo Horton and a timeline of events. 

14. Petco Park

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Petco Park the home to the San Diego Padres, opened in 2004, on March 11, and its first game was for a four-team NCAA invitational tournament hosted by San Diego State University. The San Diego State Aztecs baseball team, of which retired Padres player Tony Gwynn was the head coach, defeated Houston. It was the largest attendance for a game in college baseball history!  Petco has enjoyed many different milestones since its opening in 2004, including,

  • On April 15, 2004 Mark Loretta hit the first Padre home run off of Hideo Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers. It was caught by Mike Hill, a bartender at the Kansas City Barbecue.
  • On August 4, 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 755th home run to tie Hank Aaron’s record
  • On April 17, 2008, the Padres and Rockies played in a 22-inning game, the longest game in Petco Park history. The Rockies won the game 2–1. It was the longest MLB game in nearly 15 years.
  • On July 2, 2009, The MLB experienced its first game to be delayed/halted by a swarm of bees at Petco Park in a game between the Padres and the Houston Astros. A small swarm of honeybees took up residence around a chair in left field, causing the game to be delayed by 52 minutes. A beekeeper was called in and the swarm was exterminated.
  • The park hosted the2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.


The Park is named after the San Diego-based pet supplies retailer Petco, which paid for the naming rights until 2026. In addition to baseball, the park is also used as venue for concerts, soccer, golf, and rugby events.

13. Learn Victorian Slang

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It’s interesting to think how people talked to each other when the Gaslamp Quarter was in its infancy in 1867.  Part of the charm and character of the 1860s-1880s, as viewed through our modern eyes, has always been the colorful speech of those days.  Books have borrowed it, movies have parodied it, and children gallop around on stick horses mimicking it.  Yet what did those people really have to say?  If we could listen to Alonzo Horton, what might come out of his mouth?  Of course, Mrs. Horton might have gone after him with a broom, for some of it, but for those who write, or those who simply possess inquiring minds, it seems a gathering of a few words or phrases would not be inappropriate.  To that end, we wanted to offer 5 words. A small collection of idioms, slang, language which we have gleaned from a few websites.  In a couple weeks we’ll have 5 more!


  1. Afternoonified – a society word meaning “smart.”
  2. Arfarfan’arf – a figure of speech used to describe drunken men.
  3. Butter upon bacon – too much extravagance
  4. Gigglemug – habitually smiling face
  5. Mind the grease – asking people to let you pass when walking or otherwise getting around

12. William Heath Davis House

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Constructed by William Heath Davis in 1850, the house remains the oldest structure in downtown San Diego. The house is a pre-framed lumber “salt box” family home, from the East Coast shipped to California by boat around Cape Horn. The house was constructed to be used as a housing unit for military officers. The house now is home to the Gaslamp Museum and Gaslamp Quarter Historical Foundation, located at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Island, in the heart of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. There are tours of the William Heath Davis house available every day but Monday. Walk inside and you will be transported back to the Victorian Era, where each room represents a different period and function. You can experience the feeling of sailing back through time and living the way early San Diegans did. The self guided tour includes a brochure that relates many fascinating tidbits about the people who lived in the house and their impact on the area formerly known as “New Town.”

11. The Royal Pie Bakery Building, 1911

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The Royal Pie Bakery building is now home to the Dublin Square Irish Pub. Prior to their occupancy, this property was home to bakeries since 1871, even before the current building was constructed in 1911. Originally housing the San Diego Steam Cracker Factory, the structure was purchased by Alois Kuhnel in 1920 for $500. The upstairs housed the notorious Anchor Hotel during the first quarter of the century when the Gaslamp Quarter was a deteriorating red light district. Martha Kuhnel closed down the hotel because of the “rampant immorality.”

Today, the Dublin Square Irish Pub thrives with live music, drink specials, and pours a perfect pint of Guinness. The building’s outside facade complements the establishment in that if you enjoy a pint outside on the patio, you can transport yourself to Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland.


10. The Stingrays of San Diego Bay

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Fifth Avenue – 1885.

Photo Credit: San Diego Historical Society

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The Gaslamp Quarter was once a notorious “red light” district called the Stingaree, teeming with sailors, gamblers, bars, and brothels.  The Stingaree occupied the area from the waterfront between Sixth Avenue and First Avenue up to Market Street in the 1880s until the cleanup in 1916. Sailors joked that it was far easier to get “stung” in this bawdy part of town than it was in the bay with all its stingrays.

So are there a lot of stingrays in the San Diego Bay? Is that how the Stingaree got its name?

There are many different species of stingrays found in the San Diego Bay, but the most prevalent one is the Round Stingray. This particular Stingray has a nearly round pectoral fin disc, usually colored brown or grayish brown above with pale yellow spots or reticulations. Some individuals are plain or black and the underside is white to yellowish. The Round Stingray likes to swim and feed in shallow waters and favors soft bottomed habitats such as mud, or sand, often abundant in eelgrass, which they use for camouflage. As they prefer swimming in shallow waters, they are very abundant in the San Diego Bay. They have a barb that can cause a painful cut, so those who are around San Diego’s beaches learn the Stingray shuffle. This is when people shuffle their feet in the sand, so that the stingrays can be alerted by the vibrations, and not sting those walking around the muddy/sandy bay bottom.

9. The Historic Yuma Building

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Alfred Henry Wilcox arrived in San Diego in 1849 as captain of a ship carrying a government crew charged with turning the San Diego River into “False Boy” (Mission Bay). He became involved in Colorado River steam boating, publishing, and banking, and commissioned this Italianate-Baroque Revival building from Armitage and Wilson Architects in 1888. Captain Wilcox named the Yuma building after Yuma, Arizona as he sailed his river boat all the way around Baja and up the Colorado River winding up in Yuma. This beautiful building was a brothel during the Stingaree era (1880s-1916) and was the first business closed down during the Stingaree raid of 1912.

Interior designer Marsha Sewell recognized the beauty of this structure, and in 1991, as it sat amidst a sea of pornographic movie houses, purchased it as a residence for herself and her late husband Michael Shea, who was an airline pilot for the American Airlines and a war hero that flew P-51s in World War II and Korea. The Sewell-Sheas were among the first, during revitalization, to recognize the potential of the Gaslamp Quarter as a great place to live and refurbished the building using historic photographs and make it shine again. This building is definitely one of the jewels of the Gaslamp Quarter!

8. Learn Victorian Slang

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It’s interesting to think how people talked to each other when the Gaslamp Quarter was in its infancy in 1867.  Part of the charm and character of the 1860s-1880s, as viewed through our modern eyes, has always been the colorful speech of those days.  Books have borrowed it, movies have parodied it, and children gallop around on stick horses mimicking it.  Yet what did those people really have to say?  If we could listen to Alonzo Horton, what might come out of his mouth?  Of course, Mrs. Horton might have gone after him with a broom, for some of it, but for those who write, or those who simply possess inquiring minds, it seems a gathering of a few words or phrases would not be inappropriate.  To that end, we wanted to offer 5 words. A small collection of idioms, slang, language which we have gleaned from a few websites.  In a couple weeks we’ll have 5 more!

  1. Bark Juice – a slang term for liquor or strong adult beverage
  2. Bend an elbow – have a drink
  3. Chin music – a slang term for conversation
  4. Fast Trick – a slang term for a woman reputed to be morally loose
  5. Going down the line – a slang term meaning to pay a visit to a brothel


7. San Diego Mardi Gras

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Mardi Gras celebrates 23 years in the Gaslamp Quarter! The first San Diego Mardi Gras took place in 1994. Experience the 2017 San Diego Mardi Gras now at sdmardigras.com!


6. San Diego’s Historic Chinatown

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The Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District (APTHD), San Diego’s historic Chinatown, is an eight-block district adjacent to and in part overlapping with the Gaslamp Quarter.  The APTHD is bounded by Market Street on the north, 2nd Ave. on the west, 6th Ave. on the east and J St. on the South.  22 structures historically contribute to this district.

San Diego’s Chinatown began in this area in the 1860s, settled by abalone fishermen.  The area was once a thriving Chinatown full of Chinese and Chinese-Americans, who had successful produce businesses and laundry facilities. After world war II Chinese and Chinese-American people began moving to other parts of San Diego.   The 22 contributing historic structures remain and date from 1883-1930. Buildings include the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum and the San Diego Chinese Center.

The San Diego Chinese Historical Museum was built in 1927 elsewhere and was originally the Chinese Mission. It was moved to its present location in 1996. The Museum houses a permanent collection of Chinatown artifacts, hosts rotating exhibits from all aspects of Chinese and Chinese American culture, presents tours and lectures of the museum and the Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District

5. Spencer Ogden Building, 1874

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This is the oldest structure in the Gaslamp Quarter to be owned continuously by the same family. In 1881, Spencer and Ogden purchased the building from Charles de Laval, and it remained with the Ogden family. The second floor was added in 1885, and the original iron work of this French Renaissance-style building was replaced with newer material. One of the early tenants was a dentist who attempted to make fireworks, and blew away part of the second floor in 1887. Today, the Tipsy Crow calls the Spencer Ogden Building home.

4. Frey Block Building, 1911

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The Frey Block Building contains a rich ethnic history. In its first few years, the Frey brothers from France operated a second-hand store here. The site later housed several Oriental restaurants. Near one entrance, one can find the tile advertisement for the Kong-Nam Café. In the 1950s, the corner became Crossroads Jazz Club, one of San Diego’s most significant cultural landmarks. A showcase for local African-American talent, it was the birthplace of San Diego’s jazz scene. Today, the Frey Block Building is home to Starbucks and Royal India.

3. Benjamin Harrison

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On April 23rd, 1891, President Benjamin Harrison became the first incumbent US President to visit San Diego. After enjoying a meal at the Hotel Del Coronado, President Harrison made a speech at Horton Plaza to an eager crowd. The trip was part of a larger presidential tour of the South and Southwestern States. The 23rd President praised San Diego, saying, “One who has ever breathed this atmosphere would want to live here always.” Click Here to Learn More

2. “Rabbitville”

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Prior to the settling of New Town by Alonzo Horton in 1867, the area now known as Downtown San Diego, was jokingly nicknamed “Rabbitville”. The lighthearted moniker referred to the failed attempts by others to build a city on San Diego Bay. Where these early pioneers had failed to build a city for people, they were successful in making a great habitat for the local rabbit population. To honor the 150th Anniversary, the Gaslamp Quarter Association and Downtown Clean and Safe program are proud to announce a new public art campaign, “Rabbitville”, that will educate visitors on our rich history. “Rabbitville” will feature 15 fiberglass rabbit statues painted and decorated by local artists prominently displayed in the Gaslamp Quarter. Click Here to Learn More

1. Bum the Dog


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Did you know San Diego had a town dog? Bum disembarked off a ship in San Diego as a stow-away in 1886 and proceeded to win the hearts of all those he encountered. He was a free spirit who belonged to no one, but was loved by everyone.  All the town folk attended to Bum’s needs. Subsequently, Bum became San Diego’s first and only town dog. A statue of his likeness sits (lies, actually) in the GQHF’s Pocket Park, along with another famous canine, “Bobby.” Click Here to Learn More