More Carlsbad History


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[ Some information for these history bites was based on conversations with longtime residents and on historical accounts contained in Seekers of the Spring: A History of Carlsbad by Marje Howard-Jones, Windows on the Past: An Illustrated History of Carlsbad by Susan Schnebelen Gutierrez, and Carlsbad Short Tales and Fast Facts 101 by Marilyn Campbell. A wealth of Carlsbad history can be found online and at the Carlsbad History Room at the Georgina Cole Library, 1250 Carlsbad Village Drive ]

The push for an official town of Carlsbad began in 1952 when the Garlock’s house burned down and Carlsbad had no fire fighting equipment of its own to stop the fire.

A vote of the citizens that resulted in a tie 45 to 45 resulted in the village of Carlsbad remaining independent rather than annexed into the city of Oceanside.

In 1952 809 people voted for and 732 against the idea of Carlsbad becoming a city.

In 1928 Carlsbad was known as the “home of the avocado.”

During the rubber shortages of World War Two the guayule plant found along the edge of Agua Hedionda lagoon in Carlsbad was used to produce a substitute of rubber.

Carlsbad’s Bristol cove used to be called buzzards bay because an occasional cow would wander into the mud flats and get caught resulting in a mealtime gathering of buzzards.

In northwest Carlsbad north-south streets are named after presidents and east-west streets are named after trees.

Changing the name of Elm Avenue to Carlsbad Village Drive cost the city an unexpected $200.000 when the council found out they had to put in all new freeway signs because the name was so long.

A 14th century King Karl IV of Bohemia, now part of Czechoslovakia gave Carlsbad it is name. King Karl was one of the first to embrace the Renaissance and funded the university of Prague in 1348. Upon discovering a spring with miraculous healing qualities in the bohemian alps he built the town of Karl Bath, named appropriately for all the baths and spas that offered the healing waters to clients. Carlsbad was named for the springs that supposedly had the same mineral composition as the spring in Bohemia and provided the same healing effects.

The Luisenos Indians were a nomadic tribe described by early Spanish explorers as “greatly generous and well formed” who camped next to Agua Hedionda lagoon in Carlsbad in the winter and move eastward in the summer.

The reason that El Camino Real in Carlsbad was not along the coast is because the Spanish explorers thought the ocean and its marshes to be unhealthy, a not entirely unfounded notion as malaria mosquitoes inhabited the lagoons and traveled a mile or two inland.

The Spanish government in 18422 gave Juan Marron a land grant that called San Francisco rancho Agua Hedionda that included much of what I now Carlsbad

The first railroad through Carlsbad was built in 1882.

In 1885 a retired sea captain John Frazier drilled the well that would lead to Carlsbad’s name and fame. When others gave up he continued to drill and at 400 ft found water and a strange cave and gas formation.

John Frazier supplied water to the steam locomotives and enticed passengers on the train to “alight drink and be happy” after tasting his special spring water. He began bottling and selling his water across the nation.

In 1970, Kawaski tested its Jet Ski in Agua Hedionda Lagoon before launching the product worldwide.

La Costa’s 4,090 acres were annexed by the City of Carlsbad in 1972. At the time, La Costa consisted of only 60 registered voters.

Now the largest one-day street fair in the world, with 100,000 people descending upon downtown Carlsbad on the first Sundays in May and November, the first Village Street Faire began quietly in 1979, with locals selling hand-made crafts.

In 1975, Boogie Board inventor Tom Morey opened his first factory on Oak Avenue and State Street.

The popular, free, TGIF summer concert series in Carlsbad parks began in 1984.

Several north-south streets downtown are named after presidents; among them, Garfield, Lincoln, Harding, Madison, Jefferson and Roosevelt. Townspeople disagree as to whether Roosevelt Street was named after Teddy or Franklin Delano.

In the early 1900s, Agua Hedionda Lagoon’s Bristol Cove was known as Buzzards’ Bay due to the birds’ attraction to corpses of cows that had become stuck in the lagoon’s mud and died.

Highway 101 began as a dirt road traversed by wagons. The first section paved in North County began in 1909 in Oceanside. Over the next few years, 101 was paved through Carlsbad and down to San Diego.

Hope springs eternal in Carlsbad education. The first school in town was named Hope. Built in 1872 at the present site of La Costa Spa and Resort, the one-room, 14-foot-square, dirt-floored schoolhouse served children of Carlsbad’s early founders as well as those of Russian immigrants from a settlement nearby. The current Hope Elementary School in northeast Carlsbad opened in 1987.

Carlsbad has two sister cities. One is Futtsu, Japan, which, like Carlsbad is located on a coast and began as a small, agricultural community. The other is Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, which was our town’s namesake due to the purported healthful mineral wells in each, said to be exactly the same.

The City Seal mosaic in City Council Chambers was created from 13,858 ceramic tiles in the late 1970s by Carlsbad barber Johnny McKaig. The seal was originally designed in 1958 by USMC Major Al Rinehart.

Carlsbad boasted one of the first auto courts in the area. Built in the 1920s, the Apex Campground on what is now Carlsbad Boulevard offered cabins and amenities, including a gas pump and fresh produce. In the 1940s, the Apex was sold and its name changed to The Supreme Court, causing many a joke over possible “vacancies at the Supreme Court.”

Carlsbad had its own ”Jack La Lanne” in the 1930s. Dr. P.M. Seixas, who broadcast a morning exercise radio show in Los Angeles, established his California Health Club’s headquarters here, citing the health benefits of our mineral springs water.

In the 1940s, there were only five fire hydrants in Carlsbad, all downtown. When an insurance company offered to cut homeowners’ insurance in half if a hydrant was located near the house, more than 100 new hydrants were installed throughout town over the next two years.

Carlsbad has led the way in Southern California recycling efforts, beginning with a pilot curbside recycling program in 1989. Success led to city-wide implementation in 1990.

In the 1940s, Carlsbad Hotel owner Spence Reese’s dog ,Gus, broke his leg and commenced nocturnal wanderings. Reese said that if Gus imposed on anyone’s hospitality, they could telephone Reese to send a cab to pick Gus up.

Carlsbad High School houses 3,000 students, but Carlsbad’s largest educational institution is the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which teaches jewelry skills to thousands of people around the world, on campus and online.

The first piece of art found in Carlsbad is a chipped stone bear dating back 8,000 years. The bear, created by Native Americans during the Holocene Era, was discovered near Agua Hedionda Lagoon in 1985 and is classified as a State Prehistoric Artifact.

What do baseball players Troy Glaus and Brady Anderson, football player Ted Johnson and Olympic snowboarder Shaun White have in common? These great sports all attended Carlsbad schools.

Kids helped design Pine Avenue Park in the Carlsbad Barrio. Before creating the park, which opened in 2006 at the site of old Pine School, park planners held workshops to determine what young users wanted to enjoy. The results include many kid-friendly features recommended by elementary school students. What suggestions didn’t make it? A ferris wheel and a zoo, for two.

Although Carlsbad features more than six miles of Pacific Ocean coastline and three lagoons, the city is situated in a semi-arid desert.

World-renowned architect Irving Gill was motivated by the climate and healthful mineral water to move to Carlsbad in 1928. He lived on Chestnut Avenue until his death in 1938.

Today, about 100,000 people live in Carlsbad. In 1925, the population was 600. Residents joked that this “high” number was reached by counting not just people, but every dog and cat in town.

In the 1980s, Carlsbad firefighters rescued a comatose cat from a burning house. The cat, whose name was Dog, came to life and frantically leapt onto firefighter Rick Fisher, biting him. The next day’s headline in the newspaper read: “Cat Named Dog Bites Fish.”

Before “Flying Tomato” Shaun White won a gold medal in snowboarding at the 2006 Olympics, he attended Carlsbad Seaside Academy’s independent study program. Shaun’s teacher enticed him to class by keeping his favorite snacks (no, not tomatoes!) in her desk drawer.

In 1928, California Lieutenant Governor Burton Fitts named Carlsbad the “Home of the Avocado.” First planted in 1916, avocados were known by many as “alligator pears.”

Carlsbad’s official city flower, depicted on the City Seal, is the bird-of-paradise. The flower was introduced by Carlsbad grower Clint Pedley, who was given seeds as partial payment on a debt in 1934.

About 25% of the land in Carlsbad – 6,489 of 24,563 acres – is set aside as open space.

Before Carlsbad incorporated in 1952, Oceanside tried to annex it. Of the 90 people voting on May 2, 1952, 45 voted for annexation and 45 voted against. Since a majority was needed, the tie meant annexation did not occur. On June 24, 1952, 809 people voted for incorporation, with 732 against. On July 16, 1952, the town of Carlsbad officially became the City of Carlsbad.

In the midst of a 1930’s mini oil rush in San Diego County, a well was drilled at the corner of El Camino Real and Dove Lane. Like the other 30 wells around the area, the boom turned out to be a bust.

In 1923, movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. camped in a tent on the banks of Agua Hedionda Lagoon.

S.O.S. pad inventor William Smith retired to the area in the late 1920s, living in a palatial Vista home built by Carlsbad contractor C.W. Billups. His children attended Oceanside-Carlsbad High School. Smith died of a sudden heart attack in 1936; apparently his family didn’t have time to send out an “S.O.S.”

Many renowned sporting events take place in Carlsbad. Among them are the Carlsbad 5000, one of the fastest 5K road races in the world, and the Carlsbad Triathlon, one of the oldest swim-bike-run events in the nation.

The Santa Fe Railroad introduced coordinated bus and rail service to Carlsbad in 1938, offering interchangeable tickets for 1.5 cents per mile.

The Royal Palms Hotel (now Fidel’s) on Carlsbad Boulevard was a popular stopover for Hollywood stars going to and from the Del Mar Racetrack in the 1940s. Bing Crosby was one of the hotel’s investors. In the 1950s, several “Zorro” films were shot on-site.

There was only street light in Carlsbad in the early 1960s and it was portable. Police officers would charge the battery at a service station during the day, then roll it out to State and Elm (now Carlsbad Village Drive) at night.

Jazzercise began in the 1970s in Carlsbad, still home of its international headquarters. Creator Judi Sheppard Missett rented space at Valley Junior High. Participants put their money in a shoebox as they entered the room.

Now satisfying people’s hunger for fish tacos at nearly 200 Rubio’s Restaurants throughout the southwest, the Carlsbad-headquartered craze began in the early 1980s when Ralph Rubio discovered fish tacos on a spring break trip to Mexico.

Carlsbad resident and native Aussie Michellie Jones is a two-time Triathlon World Champion, 2000 Olympic Silver Medalist and winner of several local triathlons.

Carlsbad’s first postman was actually a woman: Lillian Polk.

It snowed in Carlsbad one day in 1971.

Rumor has it that “The Cisco Kid” TV star, Leo Carrillo, whose Carlsbad hacienda is now a city park, would sometimes gallop on his horse through downtown Carlsbad.

Elinor Dusenbury, who composed Alaska’s state song, retired with her husband to Carlsbad in the 1940s.

Nationally renowned Oceanside author Victor Villaseñor wrote his ground-breaking book, Rain of Gold, about growing up in the Carlsbad Barrio.

Iconic apparel creator No Fear was started in Carlsbad in 1989 by twin brothers Mark and Brian Simo.

One of the first electric cars, Th!nk City, was designed in the 1990s by a Carlsbad-based Ford subsidiary.

Farnsworth Court in the Carlsbad Business Park is named for physicist-inventor Philo Farnsworth, a pioneer of television.

Carlsbad had no traffic signals until 1965, when the first signal was installed at the intersection of Elm Avenue (now Carlsbad Village Drive) and Harding Street.

One of two Torrey Pines on Carlsbad Village Drive and Pio Pico features a plaque dating back to the early 1900s. It reads: “Planted by seed by Mrs. James A Greenwood. Please don’t disturb.”

Carlsbad Mayor Claude A. “Bud” Lewis was first elected to City Council in 1970. He ran on a dare issued by his students at Carlsbad High, where he taught and coached.

A fire at the Garlock family house on 1238 Oak Avenue on New Year’s Day, 1952, became the impetus for incorporation later that year. The Carlsbad volunteer fire department had no equipment and nearby agencies could not get to the home before it burned to the ground.

Before being elected to the U.S. Congress, (retired) Ron Packard was Mayor of Carlsbad.

Although women were more likely to be housewives than professionals in the 1950s, Lena Sutton was one of five initial City Council members elected in 1952.

The Victorian-style home on Carlsbad Village Drive east of the Cole library was called the “Spite House” because the original 1960s owner circumvented what he saw as the city’s harassing building restrictions by constructing a two-story garage topped by a living area on the third floor.