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Olde Del Mar

Olde Del Mar

jacob taylorOn August 14, 1882, the first California Southern Railroad train rode the tracks of its new route from San Diego to San Bernardino. Theodore M. Loop – the contractor and engineer who worked on the project – had acquired acreage and built a home on a mesa just north of San Diego, a setting he described as “the most attractive place on the entire coast.” Loop built a tent city on the beach and his wife, Ella, called it “Del Mar” – words taken from a popular poem, The Fight on Paseo Del Mar.

In that same year “Colonel” Jacob Taylor (left) – who had come with his family to live on Rancho Penasquitos – met Loop who suggested that they build a town. Taylor was captivated by the beauty and potential of the area, and in the summer of 1885, he purchased 338.11 acres at the northern end of the mesa from homesteader Enoch Talbert for $1,000. Thus the town of Del Mar was officially founded.

Taylor was a dynamic visionary who pictured Del Mar as a seaside resort for the rich and famous. With technical support from family and friends, he designed and built a town whose focal point was Casa del Mar, a hotel-resort on what is now 10th Street. Other town attractions included a train station, a dance pavilion, and a bathing pool extending from the beach out into the sea.

The first Del Mar store, located on the north side of 9th Street, was owned by Henry John Gottesburen and his wife Mary who had moved from Atchison, Kansas, to Del Mar in 1884. Their daughter Mary was the second child born in Del Mar and was affectionately known as “Baby Del Mar.” In 1889, Taylor’s hotel burned to the ground, leaving Del Mar without its main attraction. With the loss of the hotel and with many Californians suffering from economic hardships, Del Mar became dormant for about 15 years until the early 1900s, when the powerful South Coast Land Company began to develop San Diego County, including Del Mar.

New Hotel

Building the New Hotel

The South Coast Land Company hired a prominent Los Angeles architect, John C. Austin, to draw plans for a new hotel, the Stratford Inn, to be built on the northwest corner of 15th Street and Grand Ave. (now Camino del Mar). From its elegant opening in 1910, it served as a magnet for Hollywood stars of the silent film days. The village also offered a pier, a plunge (saltwater bath house),a golf course, and its own powerhouse. The plunge and pier became the newest attractions for the town. From 1912 to 1920, beautiful new homes were built that soon became landmarks. Although home building came to a halt during the depression of the 1930s; life in Del Mar went on and a Civic Association was formed in 1931.

Fairgrounds & Racetrack

The Fairgrounds and The Racetrack

In 1933, a search for a permanent location for the San Diego County Fair began. Ed Fletcher suggested that the 184 acre site in the San Dieguito Valley – just off the main highways and the Santa Fe Railroad – would be easily accessible and a perfect setting for a fairground.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided initial funding and the “Del Mar” Fair opened to a great fanfare on October 8, 1936. Fifty thousand people came to enjoy the exhibits and entertainment. Selection of a queen – the Fairest of the Fair – soon became a highlight of this annual event. The final touch on the fairgrounds was the mile-long oval racetrack.

Bing Crosby took the leadership role in making the Del Mar Turf Club a reality, and Pat O’Brien became the Vice President. On opening day of the race track (July 3, 1937), a new era began in Del Mar. The track was hailed as Bing’s Baby or Movieland’s Own Track. In 1938, Bing recorded the song that would open and close everyday of racing since those early days - Where the Turf Meets the Surf (click to listen to the song).

For decades racing season has brought crowds to Del Mar, and Hollywood celebrities, such as Pat O’Brien, Jimmy and Marge Durante, Lucy and Desi Arnaz and their children, as well as Burt Bachrach and Angie Dickenson, decided to acquire residences in Del Mar. The physician who included many celebrities in his practice, Marcus Rabwin and his wife Marcella, also decided to make Del Mar their home.

During World War II, the racetrack was closed, and the grandstand became a bomber tail assembly production facility. Racing returned to Del Mar when the war in Europe was over. On August 14, 1945, Pat O’Brien announced to the assembled racetrack patrons that Japan had surrendered.


Post World War II and The University Years

By 1959, Del Mar decided to incorporate as a city and the 60s marked a time of relative tranquility with the exception of a local student uprising. As the University of California in San Diego came into being, its presence influenced the social, cultural, and political life of the area. The city of Del Mar gained new residents, many of whom were politically active, providing new community leadership. Emphasis began to shift to protecting the environment and beautifying Del Mar. From the late 60s to the early 80s people spoke of the “open space decade,” thus Seagrove Park was born. The 80s marked an increasing emphasis on beautification, coupled with progress and a higher cosmopolitan profile. Del Mar grew to become home to a major publishing concern and attracted artists, writers, and business. In 1985, Del Mar celebrated its centennial, and the Del Mar Historical Society was born.

The centerpieces of new Del Mar are L’Auberge – a beautiful hotel designed with the Hotel Del Mar in mind – and the elegant shops and boutiques of the picturesque seaside shopping center, Del Mar Plaza. Its selection of restaurants provides great taste, mood, and rave reviews.

Jacob Taylor would be pleased to know that his vision retains its elegant ambiance, hosting guests from all over the world in the crown jewel of San Diego, our Del Mar.

The Alvarado House

On November 5, 1885, Jacob Taylor sold the first lot in his new Del Mar. It was Lot 14, Block 10, and Don Diego de Jesus Alvarado paid $600 for it, including a house.

The deed contained a clause, “…this conveyance is made and accepted upon these express conditions that the said party of the second part [Don Diego] shall not use or employ the said land and premises or any part thereof for the purpose of carrying, exercising or conducting any saloon for the dealing of intoxicating liquor of any kind, either alcoholic, malt or fermented or any house of ill fame or for any species of gambling.”

Lot 14, Block 10, became 144 10th Street. In 1985, the property was threatened with demolition to make way for new construction. After some negotiation, the owner donated the house to the Del Mar Historical Society and paid to have it moved to the City Hall parking lot where it sat for several years before being moved to the San Diego County Fairgrounds, where it sits today. During the Fair it is open to the public with docents to tell about its history.

A major goal of the old Del Mar Historical Society and now the History Committee of DMVA is to bring the Alvarado House back into Del Mar. We are presently talking with the City about placing it on the recently acquired Del Mar Shores School property. The goal includes a museum for display of Del Mar artifacts, an atmospheric-controlled storage room, and a community meeting room.

Stratford Square


by UT San Diego


Stratford Square has been a retail center since it was built in 1927. In fact, it was one of the first commercial buildings in Del Mar.

While its general purpose has remained the same, the eye-catching, brown and white building on the corner of Camino del Mar and 15th Street has gone through quite an evolution.

In the early days, Stratford Square was where the locals and visiting celebrities went for everyday needs – emery boards, rouge, milk or a box of Hydrox cookies.

“That was where the market was,” said Don Terwilliger of the Del Mar Historical Society. “There wasn’t another market in Del Mar until the beginning of the 1940s.”

It housed a grocery, a beauty parlor, doctor’s office and a drugstore, which featured an old-fashioned soda fountain.

“Bing Crosby’s kids used to come over and get milkshakes at the soda fountain,” said Jim Watkins, owner of Stratford Square.

In the 1930s and 1940s, it was common to see Hollywood celebrities shopping inside the two-story building, Terwilliger said.

They were especially drawn to Del Mar after Crosby and Pat O’Brien built the Del Mar Racetrack in 1937. Movie stars such as Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Betty Grable and Jack Benny would vacation in Del Mar and shop at Stratford Square, Terwilliger said.

Photographs of many of Del Mar’s famous visitors line the back hallways of the brick-and-beam building.

In the early days, apartments filled the second floor. Watkins said those apartments had a rather dubious reputation and “were known for their ladies.”

Stratford Square was designated a historical site by the city of Del Mar in 1978. It had originally been known as the Kockritz Building, named after Herman W. Kockritz, a friend of one of the founders of Del Mar, William Kerckhoff.

It had gone through several owners before Watkins bought it in 1966.

He changed the name to Stratford Square and restored the building to its original English Tudor style. He also built the sidewalk cafe in front of what is now Americana Restaurant.

Various tenants have occupied Stratford Square over the years. One of Watkins’ favorite stories is about the evolution of the northwest corner.

When Watkins bought the building, the corner space was a parlor that housed what he calls a “dirty, dirty beer bar.” He said people used to bet on the rats that would race across the floor and there were fights every Friday and Saturday night.

“There was always blood on the floor,” Watkins said. “It was really raunchy.”

In the early 1970s, a watering hole called Golden Rollin’ Belly occupied the space. After that, it was an Italian restaurant, then a Mexican restaurant, then a French restaurant.

Today, the space is occupied by the popular sport’s bar and restaurant Jimmy O’s.

Stratford Square is one of the most photographed buildings in Del Mar, because of its beauty and history, said Terwilliger and Watkins.

“If you look around, this is the only structure that remains of the old history of Del Mar,” Watkins said.

With the building’s age come some quirks.

Carol Goodell, owner of Frustrated Cowboy, said those idiosyncrasies are what give the building its character. Recently she and her husband remodeled their Western-themed store and found a variety of interior walls within their space.

“You just don’t know what you’re going to find,” Goodell said. “Maybe there’s a buried treasure.”


DMVA History Committee


Mission Statement

To educate the public and preserve the history of the Village of Del Mar.


Making History Everyday.


  • Conduct downtown historic walking tours and events
  • Facilitate the preservation and restoration of the historic buildings in downtown Del Mar along with other historic artifacts and materials through education and public outreach
  • Make historic photographs and other memorabilia available to the public
  • Install plaques on historic buildings with audio features to showcase downtown Del Mar history
  • Create keepsake holiday ornaments depicting historic points of interest

Chair: Bing Bush

To be a part of this committee, contact info@delmarmainstreet.com.


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