How 19 San Diego Neighborhoods Got Their Names

San Diego is famous for its mild weather and laid-back lifestyle, but locals also know the city has a particularly complex web of neighborhoods and sub-neighborhoods. In fact, the city has so many nabes that even life-long San Diegans never discover some of them. Here’s a selection of some of the districts with names that have the most interesting origin stories.

1. BANKERS HILL

Take stroll through the stately, mansion-lined streets of Bankers Hill and you’ll get a hint about how it got its name. The hilly neighborhood, which contains some of San Diego’s most beautiful historic homes, seemed so rich that early San Diegans apparently assumed a bunch of bankers lived there, and a name was born.

2. BARRIO LOGAN

Jamie Lantzy via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

 
Barrio Logan only recently got an old-school-style neighborhood gateway sign, but it’s been a distinct neighborhood since the 1880s. The Logan part pays tribute to Congressman John Logan, an Illinois senator who became popular in the city because of legislation he wrote that was intended to create a transcontinental railroad from Texas to California. The railroad was never completed, but when the land for the planned railroad was sold for development in 1886, one of the main streets was named Logan Avenue in honor of Logan’s efforts (incidentally, Logan was also instrumental in creating Memorial Day nationwide). The neighborhood that bore his name became home to a large concentration of Mexican-Americans over the years, and “barrio” (“neighborhood” in Spanish) became a formal part of the neighborhood name in the 1960s when Logan Heights, as it was once known, was split in two by a freeway. Today, Logan Heights is the northern part of the area and Barrio Logan is the southern.

3. BIRDLAND

Blame a clever city planner for Birdland’s name: Most of the neighborhood’s streets are named after bird species, like the blue jay and starling.

4. NORMAL HEIGHTS

 
You may think the “normal” in “Normal Heights” refers to the neighborhood’s everyday feel, but the name actually comes from the teachers college, San Diego Normal School, that later became San Diego State University (even though, rather oddly, the school was actually located in a nearby neighborhood).

5. CITY HEIGHTS

The “Steiner, Klauber, Choate and Castle Addition” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, but such was the original name of what’s now known as City Heights, which was once unincorporated land purchased by developers named Klauber, Steiner, and Castle (a man named Daniel Choate helped them subdivide the land). In 1912, City Heights temporarily ceased to exist when it became its own city named East San Diego. But East San Diego didn’t last long, and in 1923 it was annexed by San Diego, with the City Heights name in use once again. The bigger neighborhood of City Heights is actually comprised of a collection of smaller neighborhoods with names like Teralta, Bay Ridge, and Fairmount Park; however, they’re all called City Heights by the City of San Diego and most residents who aren’t in the know.

6. CLAIREMONT

Thank a pair of developers for Clairemont’s name. In the late 1940s, Lou Burgener and Carlos Tavares put down money on a bunch of cattle land and decided to turn their acres into tract housing to accommodate the postwar influx of San Diegans. Tavares’s wife, future philanthropist and legendary arts patron Claire Tavares, suggested a family-friendly design for the new community, which had a “village within a city” concept, and they named it in her honor.

7. GASLAMP QUARTER

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Today, the Gaslamp is home to some of San Diego’s most vibrant nightlife. But at the beginning of the 20th century, it was called “New Town” as opposed to “Old Town” a few miles away. The neighborhood’s thriving red-light district got the nickname “Stingaree,” a play on “stingray” (probably in reference to the rays in San Diego Bay as well as the dangers of the area), and over the years it developed a reputation for crime, prostitution, gambling, and unsavory characters. In the 1970s and 1980s, the city of San Diego decided it was time to clean up the area’s act, renamed it the Gaslamp Quarter, renovated it, and sold it as a historic district once filled with Victorian gems and flickering gas lamps. (The city also added new gas lamps to encourage the feel.) The neighborhood is now packed with shops, hotels, and pricey eateries that belie the neighborhood’s gritty roots.

8. GOLDEN HILL

Golden Hill got its name not from the rich residents whose houses once lined its streets, but from nature. The area was originally named Indian Hill, but in 1887 a developer named Daniel Schuyler successfully petitioned city trustees to rename the area with the help of a poem that celebrated the neighborhood’s “golden light.” What that golden light was, however, has been subject to debate, with the main guesses being that the sun made Indian Hill shine like gold [PDF] or that the area was once covered with gold-blooming acacias.

9. HILLCREST

PDPhoto.org via Wikimedia // Public Domain

 
Speaking of hills, the origin of Hillcrest’s name is pretty simple—it’s at the crest of a hill. A woman named Mary Kearney originally owned the land, but from the 1870s through the early 1900s it changed hands multiple times. The name was supposedly suggested by the sister-in-law of a developer long before the neighborhood became the LGBT center of the city.

10. KEARNY MESA

Remember Mary Kearney? She’s not the Kearny in Kearny Mesa. The community was named for a former military base—Camp Kearny—which was later renamed Miramar. And that camp was named after Stephen Watts Kearny, the U.S. Army Brigadier General who helped conquer California during the Mexican-American war.

11. KENSINGTON

 
Known for its luxurious homes, Kensington is said to have been named after a similarly ritzy London neighborhood. The neighborhood was initially called Kensington Park, but the “Park” part was dropped at some point over the years. One of the neighborhood’s subdivisions, Talmadge, has a connection to one of San Diego’s lesser-known roles—as a pre-Hollywood film center. It was named after the Talmadge sisters, a group of silent film stars who opened a real estate development there in the late 1920s (in no small part because Norma Talmadge’s then-husband, studio executive Joseph Schenck, helped finance the development).

12. LINDA VISTA

With its vistas over San Diego Bay and Mission Valley, it’s no mystery why the Spanish name for “pretty view” became Linda Vista’s name. As San Diego’s population boomed during World War II, the southern part of Kearny Mesa was named Linda Vista by housing officials and slated as a place for dense military housing—despite the fact that there were no schools, sidewalks, bus routes, shops, or other accommodations nearby. Eventually it was built out into a proper neighborhood, with a name that keeps its view top of mind.

13. LITTLE ITALY

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Italian fishermen were once part of a thriving tuna industry along San Diego’s waterfront. The “Italian Colony” that built up in what is now Little Italy is responsible for its name, though today the neighborhood is better known for its food and festivals than its fishermen.

14. NORTH PARK

You can thank lemons—and a man named James Monroe Hartley—for North Park’s name. Hartley bought the land that is now North Park in 1893 to create a lemon grove. It was part of a parcel of land known as Park Villas, but was renamed “Hartley’s North Park” because of its new owner and its location north of Balboa Park. Eventually, San Diego grew enough that Hartley’s lemon grove became desirable home-building territory. All the better, since Hartley apparently had to truck in water due to a drought that was then hitting the area.

15. OLD TOWN

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As its name implies, Old Town has some serious history. It’s where the first non-native settlers of California dug in, building first a Spanish mission, then Mexican pueblos, and finally an American city. However, Old Town was simply known as San Diego until an upstart developer named Alonzo Horton started a nearby settlement he called “New Town” (built on an earlier attempt at a New Town that failed dramatically). That new New Town became Downtown, and Old Town got its present-day name.

16. POINT LOMA

Speaking of old: Point Loma’s name dates from long before California was populated by Europeans. In 1542, an explorer named Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo made the first landing in California, in San Diego Bay, and named its east peninsula “la punta de la loma,” or “hill point.” It took another couple of hundred years for the area to be colonized, but the name Point Loma stuck.

17. SCRIPPS RANCH

 
Suburban Scripps Ranch doesn’t seem like the kind of place where people would undertake a utopian social experiment, but that’s what happened in 1891 when an up-and-coming newspaper mogul named Edward Willis (or Wyllis) Scripps began building his dream home. He named it “Miramar,” or “sea view,” after the one-time Mexican Emperor Maximilian I’s palace. The entire family moved in to try out communal, idealistic living. Unfortunately, Scripps’ social experiment ended [PDF] when his brother Fred was indicted for sleeping with a 14-year-old girl, but Miramar Ranch—later renamed Scripps Ranch—eventually became a popular place to live. The name would later stick and become attached to the surrounding neighborhood.

18. TIERRASANTA

Tierrasanta’s name—it means “holy land” in Spanish—is a testament to its holy roots, though the community wasn’t founded until the 1970s. Before that, it was part of the Mission San Diego de Alcála Ranch. There, thousands of indigenous people were enslaved by Franciscan friars, including Junípero Serra, the controversial mission leader who became a Catholic saint in 2015. Allegations that the mission and its ranch were the site of virtual slavery or even genocide aren’t the only explosive things in Tierrasanta: The community was once a military training base and has experienced several issues related to unexploded ordnance.

19. RAMONA

Black Canyon Road Bridge in Ramona. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain  

Ramona technically isn’t part of the City of San Diego—rather, it counts as one of the county’s “unincorporated places.” But it gets an honorary inclusion on this list because of the strange origin of its name. “Ramona” wasn’t a historical figure but a fictitious one, the heroine of Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel by the same name. The 1884 book follows the woes of the mixed-race Native American/Scottish Ramona as she navigates racial tension and romantic tragedy in old Southern California; the book was so popular that some have credited it with largely creating the tourism industry in Southern California.

Are You Smart Enough to Pass Thomas Edison's Impossible Employment Test?

 Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

If you thought Elon Musk's favorite question to ask job applicants was tough, you should see the employment test devised by Thomas Edison. When he wasn't busy inventing the light bulb or phonograph, or feuding with Nikola Tesla, Edison was apparently devising a trivia test of nearly impossible proportions.

As Smithsonian reports, the 146-question quiz was designed to weed out the candidates who would be ill-suited to work at his plant, which was a desirable place to get a job in 1921. College degrees didn't impress him much—"Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant," he once remarked—so he needed to find a more effective method of determining prospective employees' knowledge.

The test may have been too effective, though. Of the 718 applicants who took the test, only 57 achieved a passing score of 70 percent, and only 32 scored Edison's desired result of 90 percent or higher. This was certainly frustrating to applicants who considered themselves to be pretty well-educated. An unsuccessful applicant named Charles Hansen, who shared all of the questions he remembered with The New York Times in 1921, called the test a "silly examination." Another applicant said it was "not a Tom Edison but a Tom Foolery test" [PDF].

After the test questions became public knowledge, reporters went out and started polling people to see how well they'd do on Edison's test. Albert Einstein reportedly failed (he didn't know the speed of sound offhand), as did Edison's youngest son, who was a student at MIT at the time.

If you want to challenge yourself, check out a few of the questions below, then scroll down to see the answers that appeared in The New York Times. (Note: The answers given were the correct answers in 1921, but some may have changed since then. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity.)

1. What city in the United States is noted for making laundry machines?

2. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

3. What region do we get prunes from?

4. Name a large inland body of water that has no outlet.

5. What state is the largest? The next?

6. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

7. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

8. What causes the tides?

9. To what is the change of seasons due?

10. Who discovered the South Pole?

11. How fast does light travel per foot per second?

12. Of what kind of wood are axe handles made?

13. What cereal is used all over the world?

14. Name three powerful poisons.

15. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

Feeling stumped? Scroll down to see the answers.

1. Chicago

2. New Guinea

3. Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.

4. The Great Salt Lake, for example

5. Texas, then California (Note: Today it's Alaska, then Texas)

6. Stradivarius

7. Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide

8. The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the Earth because of its comparative rigidity.

9. To the inclination of the Earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the Earth's revolution around the Sun, this causes the Sun's rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

10. Roald Amundsen, and then Robert Falcon Scott

11. Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

12. Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

13. No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

14. Cyanide of potassium, strychnine, and arsenic are all acceptable answers.

15. It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist who invented it.

For the full list of questions and answers, check out Paleofuture's article about the test on Gizmodo.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Why is North Always Up on Maps?

iStock/Princessdlaf
iStock/Princessdlaf

Geophysicists recently updated the World Magnetic Model—navigational data used for everything from cell phones to satellites—and found that magnetic north, a spot once located in Arctic Canada, is moving quickly toward Siberia. But even this discovery doesn't quite explain why maps always feature north at the top.

There’s nothing inherently upward about north. Some early Egyptian maps put south on top, while in medieval Europe, Christian cartographers tended to give that distinction to east, since you had to turn that way to face Jerusalem. Others placed east on top because of the rising Sun (that’s why we orient ourselves). And early American settlers sometimes used maps with west on top, because that was the direction they were often heading.

If anyone deserves the blame for today’s northward bias, it’s Claudius Ptolemy. In the 2nd century, he wrote the influential Geographia, which featured a “global” map with north on top. No one’s positive why he positioned it that way, but it may be that the Library of Alexandria—where he did his research—simply didn’t have much information on the Southern Hemisphere. During the Renaissance, Ptolemy’s work was revived. By then, the phenomenon of magnetic north had been discovered, making his layout even more appealing to mapmakers.

The magnetic north pole, however, was not located until 1831. On an otherwise disastrous expedition to Arctic, British explorer James Clark Ross discovered the pole—the spot where a compass needle on a horizontal axis points straight down—on the west coast of Canada's Boothia peninsula. "I must leave it to others to imagine the elation of mind with which we found ourselves now at length arrived at this great object of our ambition," Ross recalled. "Nothing now remained for us but to return home and be happy for the rest of our days."

This story was originally published in 2014.

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