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Harlem of the West
An Historic Downtown San Diego Community


                                      IN DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO 1860 - 1960

In an effort to provide a comprehensive understanding of the history and contributions of African-Americans to the development of downtown San Diego, CCDC hired Mooney & Associates to conduct historical research.

The research focused on the Centre City Project area south of Broadway, which has been directly associated with African-Americans from 1870-1960. Because this history of settlement has not been previously researched and documented, the results of the research will facilitate the recognition of people, events, sites and districts through local historic designation proceedings.

The Community Advisory Committee to the Study included Gil Johnson, Board Vice President; Lynne Christiansen, County Historian, Department of Parks and Recreation; Dr. Dorothy Smith, Educator; Reverent George Walker Smith, Catfish Club; Carol Wallace, President and CEO, San Diego Convention Center Corporation; and Murray Lee, Historian, San Diego Chinese Historical Society.

The Study involved a great deal of outreach into the community to inform people about the Study and to seek input and knowledge about the people who lived and worked in the area and their activities. The consultants conducted oral interviews with many long-time residents, who shared family histories, memories, photographs and documents. In addition, consultants met with civic and religious organizations, the African-American Genealogical Association, the Irving Jacobs Center, and gave a presentation at the Catfish Club. The consultants also researched libraries, not only in San Diego, but in Los Angeles, Laguna Niguel, and the University of California at Berkeley.

The Study identified 16 standing contributing resources and 21 non-standing associated sites for a proposed downtown San Diego African-American Thematic Historic District. Each of the identified properties are described and a historical narrative is provided. The majority of the standing resources and non-standing sites are located in East Village and the Gaslamp Quarter.

The research provides insight into persons important in the downtown African-American community. Some of the categories used in describing persons of importance are: business leaders; barbers, beauticians and salon owners; sports figures; social, professional and religious leaders; and firemen and policemen.

The Study has suggested recommendations on how to preserve and enhance the area. Some of the recommendations are as follows:

  • Designation of the Thematic District
  • Provide signage and outdoor art to explain and exhibit the rich African-American heritage of the area
  • Make the Study available on the Internet to libraries and schools
  • Develop a brochure to promote a walking tour
  • Collaborate with other interested organizations to develop interpretive and educational programs to share the information in the Study.

The Study will be forwarded to the Historical Resources Board for consideration of a designation of an African-American Thematic Historic District. For more information, contact: Beverly Schroeder, Senior Planner, CCDC (619) 533-7113, or e-mail at schroeder@ccdc.com


see also:  Black Historical Preservation -You can learn more about the efforts to preserve the San Diego community originally known as "Harlem of the West", view pictures from that time period, and find out where to look for plaques commemorating the history of the Douglas Hotel (Sidewalk at 2nd Avenue and Market Street) and the Clermont/Coast Hotel (Building at 7th Avenue and Island Avenue).

Black History Timeline in San Diego  |  See Creole Palace  |  A Brief History of the San Diego NAACP, 1917-2007

African Ancestry in California

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