Love a good scrapbook? Us too. This is why we enjoy exploring the City of San Diego’s archives — a treasure trove of photos and materials that tell the history of the people, events, places, and things that have helped shape America’s Finest City.
Sometimes, we find ourselves scratching our heads at some of the snapshots. What are we looking at? Here are a handful of photos that made us want to dig a little deeper — and reminded us of the rich past of the place we call home today.
Official town dog Bum gets help, 1887
Why is everyone crowding around this adorable dog? Well, that pooch is Bum — San Diego’s Official Town Dog — a San Francisco-born steamboat stowaway who arrived in San Diego in 1886. He was known for roving around town and “bumming” food off local eateries and residents, and thus became SD’s communal pet. In this pic, Bum is being treated for a fractured leg after being kicked by a spooked horse. The beloved St. Bernard-Spaniel mix died in a county hospital in 1898; a statue depicting Bum sits at Pocket Park in the Gaslamp Quarter — that’s a good boy.
Local firefighters on a horse, 1910
Every hero needs a horse. On Aug. 5, 1889, a City Charter Amendment established the San Diego City Fire Department. To start, the department consisted of 41 men, 11 horses, 4,000 ft of hose, two steam fire engines, one hose wagon, two hose carts, and one hook and ladder. As the department modernized and motor-drawn vehicles saved money and improved emergency response times, fire horses were phased out. In 1917, the city says the last team of fire horses were moved to city-owned yards where they were used to haul trash.
Something big is coming, 1914
Balboa Park, is that you? This photo shows large-scale construction in preparation for the Panama-California Exposition, the event many historians credit for putting San Diego on the map. Held between Jan. 1, 1915, and Jan. 1, 1917, the expo celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal and San Diego’s place as a major US port. Many Balboa Park sites that we know and love today — like Spreckels Organ Pavilion and cultural buildings along El Prado — were built for the exposition.
Knowledge is power, 1930
San Diego State University has been a cornerstone of local education for 125+ years, but the beginnings of the oldest and largest higher education institution in San Diego are humble. The university was founded in 1897 as San Diego Normal School, a training center for elementary school teachers, with just seven faculty and 91 students. In 1921, it became San Diego State Teachers College. As it outgrew its original campus on Park Boulevard, locals rallied to build a new campus in eastern San Diego. In February 1931, students and faculty moved into the area pictured here — the seven Mission-style buildings known to this day as the Main Quad.
It’s corn, 1935
Before “Corn Boy” took over the internet, these boys took a corn break to restore their energy at the California Pacific International Exposition held at Balboa Park. Featuring hundreds of exhibits spanning history, arts, horticulture, and science, the fair-like event was designed to promote San Diego and support the local economy. The event took place May-November 1935, and returned February-September 1936. Tickets cost 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for kids.
Rub-a-dub-dub, San Diegans in a tub, 1973
Boats, surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks… bathtubs? If it can float, San Diegans will find a way to get it on the water. On this particular week — Aug. 24-Aug. 31, 1973 — locals fashioned bathtubs or “close facsimiles” into small watercraft and launched them at Crown Point Shores for the 1973 Bathtub Races in Mission Bay. The rules: the engine could only have up to 8 horsepower, and the max weight (including the driver) was 350 pounds.
Feathery fame: The San Diego Chicken, 1978
Sure, local professional sports teams have memorable mascots, but in the 1970s the Famous San Diego Chicken — aka the KGB Chicken — rose to feathery fame not just locally, but worldwide. SDSU student Ted Giannoulas first donned the suit, and his energetic, comedic approach was described by sports reporter Jack Murphy as an “embryonic Charlie Chaplin in chicken feathers.” Soon, he was a regular at Padres games, sporting events, and concerts — and as seen in this pic, apparently at City Council meetings. Here, the mascot is seen presenting a proposal for the development of a soccer field in Morley Field East.
Pure satisfaction, 1981
Our city has seen its share of iconic concerts, and this one — The Rolling Stones at Jack Murphy Stadium on Oct. 7, 1981 — was epic, with a setlist that included hits like “Under My Thumb,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The rockers were on a 29-city tour across the US to promote their “Tattoo You” album, and sold $50 million in tickets — the largest grossing tour of 1981. The 1982 film, “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” documented parts of the tour.
📷 Say cheese. We’ll explore more historical local photos like this down the road, but if there’s anything you’d like see more of like this, send us a note. We’ll be here, scrapbookin’.