Third in a series

My parents lived in El Cajon, a San Diego eastern suburb, for 17 years from 1982 to 1999, my father leaving retirement in Oakland to work in several of another Jacobsen uncle’s businesses.

Uncle Rob moved to San Diego from Portland, Oregon, in 1968; he became successful in the computer software business, founding and then selling RJ Software. My father worked with him at a small manufacturer of water heat pumps called JEI Heat Pumps and then also with Uncle Rob’s son at a computer printer repair and supply business called Lasers and Copiers. My father again retired, staying there, until moving to Stow, Ohio. But I had been going to San Diego for years, first for entry to Mexico, then to visit Uncle Rob and then to visit my parents bringing our children during Thanksgiving week; in addition, multiple medical conventions and business trips. 

San Diego is a great city, snuggled along the coast between water and hill, temperate all year and politically easygoing with moderate progressive local government. There is a sense of important business in the air, coupled with enjoyment of life and the great outdoors despite a population of more than 1.5 million, all coexisting nicely alongside the obvious presence and importance of the U.S. Navy and other military.

The indigenous peoples, the Kumeyaay, were touched by the Spanish first in 1542 by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo sailing up from Mexico to claim Mission Bay for Spain, naming the area San Miguel. The site was later renamed by Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602, San Diego (Didacus) de Alcala, whose feast day was first celebrated there a few days later. In 1769, the Spanish brought multiple groups up from Mexico by land and by sea to establish an enduring colony. The famous Father Junipero Serra established the Mission San Diego the same year, growing it to 1,400 Indian Catholic priests 30 years later, and anchoring the  El Camino Real leading northward to the Franciscan Catholic Missions Father Serra founded all along the California coast.

San Diego remained part of California as it passed from Spanish to Mexican to American control. Its early existence was choppy, falling out of favor of state government due to poor finances, corruption and faulty local decisions, losing its city charter from 1850 until 1889. But a move to the harbor and the arrival of the railroad in 1878 boosted its path to recovery, so that by 1915 it could  host the Panama-California Exposition and in 1935 the California Pacific International Exposition, both enhancing the new Balboa Park. Curiously, the animals left over from the 1915 Fair were the basis of the San Diego Zoo, then barely noticed, but now world famous. Balboa Park is  now a major center for community, education, recreation and just “being outside.”

The military has been an important part of San Diego since 1850, when California formally became a U.S. state. A Navy coaling station was built in 1902 at Point Loma with later developments of naval training centers, camps, hospitals and air stations including the famous Miramar Air Station. World War brought aircraft manufacturing; Charles Lindbergh's plane, the “Spirit of St Louis," was built in San Diego by Ryan Airlines. The next war led to a huge expansion of both military installations and civilian populations; over 20 years, the population doubled to about 350,000 by 1955. 

Post-war economic depression led the city to develop nonmilitary commerce. The economy expanded with ship building, commercial and sports fishing, fish canning, electronics and high tech (particularly wireless communications) and most recently with a major rise of tourism featuring the deep-water military harbor and  cruise ships, Coronado Island, Balboa Park and museums, Horton Plaza, the Gaslamp Quarter, a major convention center, Petco Park, the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and SeaWorld. Downtown skyscrapers have made the access to the downtown San Diego International  Airport (Lindberg Field) difficult, but airport relocation has been blocked by widespread suburban development and geography. The city has an excellent education system, including the University of California with its colleges, medical school and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography; there are many other state, local and private institutions, giving the region a very high percentage of college graduates (45%). The Mexican influence is obvious and important. San Diego is an outdoor city and surrounded by many popular parks, preserves and national or state forests all popular for hiking trails, camping and exploration. 

Ray and Joan Kroc moved to San Diego from the Chicago suburbs in 1976, two years after Ray purchased the San Diego Padres in a distress sale for only $12 million and to prevent the team move to Washington, D.C. Ray Kroc was the successful founder of the McDonald's real estate and hamburger worldwide empire that sprang out of Kroc’s discovery, when he was a milkshake machine salesman, of a very successful hamburger stand in Bakersfield, California, owned by the McDonald brothers; the brothers  eventually sold out to the their new sales manager, and then moving back to the Chicago area, Kroc made important business history. See  “The Hamburger,” Feb. 21, 2017, the Morning News and SCNow. After Ray’s death in 1984, Joan continued to have cultural and political influence in San Diego. She became part of the Gang of Four wealthy women (Joan Kroc, Helen Copley, Maureen O’Connor and Susan Golding) that for a time had tremendous influence on the culture, development and politics of the city working together behind the scenes but also through public office and through the newspapers they controlled. At Joan’s death, she left the bulk of her estate to the local Salvation Army but also made her hometown in Minnesota happy with a $15 million gift.

My favorite San Diego restaurants include the Chart House, Mister A’s, Parma Cucina, the Mission, Eddie V’s, Puesto, Monsoon of India, Casa Guadalajara and the Taco Shop. On Coronado: Primavera, the Crown Room and Bluewater Boathouse.

Some amusing stories: 1) In the old days you could drive out to Cabrillo Point past Fort Rosecrans along dirt roads and watch the submarines come and go, and my uncle and I used to visit there, often in silence, but mainly to review our past year. 2) Medical school roommate Bill of other essays and I went to visit my uncle and then on by train to Mexico City, or so we thought. Imagine Uncle Rob’s surprise to hear me, only six hours later, call him from the bus station for a pickup; the Mexicans would not let us on the train, since we carried no cash but what they gave us back for the tickets. 3) Son Charles and I went to the zoo one day — it’s a huge place — and got separated; despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find him until assisted by the gracious Zoo Police. 4) Once when visiting my parents, then living in San Diego, I took them up to Disneyland; it was only their second trip to Disney and their first ride in a limousine; they were delighted. 5) For a time my Jacobsen grandparents also lived in San Diego, and I used to deliberately visit them in the morning to tease my grandmother on her tilt board. 6) One reason I like Mister A’s is that you can almost reach out from your dinner table to touch passing airplanes on airport approach.

When you go West, young man, make sure to include San Diego.

Dr. Stephen Imbeau and his wife, Shirley, have been in Florence for more than 30 years and raised their three children here. He and Dr. Joseph Moyer started the Allergy Center about 21 years ago, and it is now one of the largest in South Carolina. Contact him at

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