In her book, “Del Mar Looking Back,” historian Nancy Hanks Ewing dates the town’s emergence as a community to the arrival of James Taylor and his family in the mid-1880s.
About 75 years later, citizens of Del Mar had an opportunity to take control of the diminutive coastal burg’s political destiny and they took it.
Faced with remaining under the vast fiefdom of San Diego County or being swallowed in the impending sprawl of municipal San Diego, a bare majority of Del Mar voters cast ballots on May 26, 1959, in favor of turning their revered village into a city.
“They were worried about the encroachment of (the city of) San Diego,” Larry Brooks of the Del Mar Historical Society said of the cityhood movement’s leaders.
Incorporation became official July 15, 1959, crowned with the swearing in of the first Del Mar City Council consisting of John Barr, Henry Billings, Clayton Jack, Elwood Free and Tom Douglas, the first mayor.
To commemorate the city’s 60th anniversary, the Del Mar Foundation on July 14 is sponsoring a wine and cheese reception starting at 6:30 p.m.. and a concert at 7 p.m. by legendary alto saxophonist Charles McPherson and his quintet at the recently opened Town Hall.
The event will also include the screening of a video with images compiled by Brooks from the Del Mar Historical Society’s files.
While admission is free of charge, attendance is limited to residents of Del Mar and the surrounding area as well as former city mayors, and registration is required through the foundation at delmarfoundation.org.
Then, Monday, July 15, the City Council and City Hall officials will host a celebration with a birthday cake during the regularly scheduled meeting at Town Hall, 1050 Camino Del Mar.
“We definitely think the anniversary of the city is a big deal and worthy of a big celebration,” said Betty Wheeler, a foundation representative.
“We want to see as many former mayors there as possible,” she said of the July 14 event. “We look forward to the opportunity for our community to catch up over a glass of wine at the reception and then enjoy some great music, and really pay tribute to the city’s birthday and what incorporation put into motion.”
Down through the decades, the city has notched many achievements aimed at bettering the lives of its residents.
None of those mileposts looms greater than the city’s purchase and preservation, with strong community support, of the Del Mar Powerhouse as a public resource and the adjacent lot as a park.
The property owner had envisioned converting the landmark structure and land along Del Mar’s shore into a restaurant complex. A community-wide campaign in 1983 succeeded in helping the city to make the property a public asset.
The building now serves as the community center, thanks in large part to the efforts of Lynn Gaylord, who has also been involved in promoting the anniversary.
Because of the significance of the powerhouse campaign and acquisition to Del Mar’s history, the foundation chose to use the late Alice Goodkind’s watercolor painting of the tower to decorate the cover of the July 14 program.
“We wanted to use this artwork because it’s an iconic image of Del Mar, but also it comes from a person who contributed so much to the city’s betterment,” Wheeler said.
Among her many activities, Goodkind, who died in 2003, contributed to the foundation’s efforts to bring cultural events to the city and was a founding member of the Del Mar Historical Society, Friends of the San Dieguito River Valley, and the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy.
While pyrotechnical displays are not planned as part of the anniversary celebrations, musical fireworks are guaranteed with the appearance of the world-celebrated McPherson and his formidable group of San Diego-based jazz virtuosos —trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, pianist Mikan Zlatkovich, bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Richard Sellers.
Though not a Del Mar resident, McPherson has lived in San Diego for several decades and has performed in town several times over the years. He has close associations with Del Mar-area musicians, especially guitarist Peter Sprague.
McPherson is approaching an anniversary of his own, as he will turn 80 on July 24.
“His professional career and the city of Del Mar were basically born at the same time (60 years ago), so we just felt that was a wonderful coincidence,” Wheeler said. “He is one of our region’s finest musicians.”
It is no coincidence that in its six-decade long history as a city, Del Mar retains its natural beauty, visual elegance and cultural vibrancy amid tremendous pressure from commercial and real estate interests.
“Because of the hard-working folks who have fought off large-scale development in Del Mar for the past 60 years, we have one of the most desirable communities in California,” Gaylord said in an email. “People have protected views and there is a really tough Community Plan and Design Review Board which hold back big-scale homes.”