In 1882, a New Yorker named Theodore Loop came to Southern California to build a railroad connecting Los Angeles and San Diego. The original train tracks were laid down in the middle of Township 14, known today as Del Mar. Mr. Loop liked the area so much he told people that he had “found the most attractive place on the entire coast”.
In the same year Loop met a very successful rancher from New Mexico, Mr. Jacob Shell Taylor. Taylor and Loop were both captivated by the beauty of the area and recognized a development opportunity. In the summer of 1885, Taylor purchased 338.11 acres and began building the new resort town.
Del Mar was named by Loop’s wife, Ella, who took it from a popular poem of the time titled “The Fight of Paseo Del Mar.”
Taylor was a savvy businessman and a visionary. He knew that if he could lure visitors to Del Mar they would likely be loyal customers or new residents. Jacob Taylor initially built as many as 40 small houses, a two story Victorian schoolhouse, an observation tower, a train depot and a water system. Additionally, in 1886 Taylor opened “Casa Del Mar”, the area’s first resort. To entertain visitors Taylor built a dance pavilion on the beach and a large swimming desi pool that went out into the ocean called a Natatorium. Del Mar became a popular vacation destination.
For five years the town bustled with development. Sadly in 1889 Jacob Taylor woke up in the early morning to the smell of smoke in his hotel room. He woke all of the hotel guests, guaranteeing their safety, but within two hours the entire hotel burned to the ground. Taylor insisted he would rebuild the hotel but, unfortunately, he never finished it. Taylor moved to Texas; leaving behind the town he founded, never to return.
The Big Boom
Over 15 years lapsed before the next development boom. In 1900 the South Coast Land Company purchased the majority of land north of 9th Street. Like Taylor, the directors of the South Coast Land Company had big plans for Del Mar. Their first project was the grand resort hotel called the “Stratford Inn”. They hired a prominent Los Angeles architect, John C. Austin. The new hotel was built on the hill overlooking the beach. (Today the L’Auberge hotel occupies this land.)
On March 9, 1909 the beautiful Stratford Inn opened for business. It was a world-class hotel built on 10 acres. It quickly became the desired destination for Hollywood’s silent film stars.
The hotel had a saltwater swimming pool called The Plunge. Next to The Plunge the Powerhouse was erected to provide power and warm water to the hotel and to the Village. Shortly after the hotel was finished, a pier (which was washed away in a storm years later) and a new train depot were built. The train depot was directly in front of the hotel, making it an easy commute. The same depot sits on the location today.
During the 20′s and 30′s Del Mar experienced tremendous growth. Although there were still just a few hundred permanent residents, the summer crowds reached almost 2,000. To accommodate the growing population, the Kockritz Building was constructed across the street from the hotel on the southwestern corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar. The building was designed to match the English Tudor architecture of the hotel. The building remains to this day and is referred to as Stratford Square. It has become a Del Mar icon and treasure.
During the early 30′s the San Diego Fair was looking for a permanent home. Col. Ed Fletcher of the South Coast Land Company suggested the 184-acre site in the San Dieguito Valley just north of the Village. The Works Progress Administration provided the initial funding and the Del Mar Fair opened to great fanfare in 1936, a yearly tradition that continues.
A year after the Fair opened the mile-long oval thoroughbred racetrack was completed. One of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s prominent founders, crooner Bing Crosby, became the President of the Turf Club and movie star friend Pat O’Brien became the Vice President. Opening day of the track, July 3, 1937 began a new era in Del Mar. The track was hailed as Bing’s Baby or Movieland’s Own Track. Crosby himself coined the famous lyrics, which live on today, “Where the surf meets the turf, down in old Del Mar …”.
For decades the summer racing season has brought crowds to Del Mar along with many Hollywood celebrities such as Pat O’Brien, Jimmy and Marge Durante, Lucy and Desi Arnez, Burt Bacharach and Angie Dickenson. All made Del Mar their second home and it continues to remain a favorite of many today.
During World War II the races came to a halt so that the facilities could be used as a bomber tail assembly plant. However, racing returned in August 1945 after Japan surrendered.
Del Mar Historic Walking Tour
Now, it’s possible to learn about the Village of Del Mar’s rich history through a pleasant walking tour, a perfect way to spend a sun-soaked day in North County San Diego’s prestigious and already walkable seaside city. New, silver QR coded plaques have been installed on several of the historically significant buildings in the area. With the touch of a smartphone or tablet, pedestrians can now scan the code and access detailed information on the buildings and the colorful past of the residents who developed the seaside neighborhood in the early 1900s.