History of Del Mar

Old Del Mar

On August 14, 1882, the first California Southern Railroad train went over the tracks on its new route from San Diego to San Bernardino. Theodore M. Loop - the contractor and engineer who worked on the project - had taken 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, paying $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. Other town attractions included a natatorium, dancing pavilions, and a bathing pool extending from the beach out into the sea. In 1889, the original hotel burned to the ground, leaving Del Mar without its main attraction.

The Del Mar Store

The first Del Mar Store was located on the north side of Ninth street. It was owned by Henry John Gottesburen and his wife Mary who had moved from Atchison, Kansas to Del Mar in 1884 and opened their first store. Their daughter Mary was the second child born in Del Mar and was affectionately known as “Baby Del Mar.”

Today, the old Del Mar Store does not exist any more, but you can visit our Online Store, with its collection of items and pictures reminiscent of the old days.

Building the New Hotel

With many Californians suffering from economic hardships, Del Mar became dormant for about 15 years. But, in the early 1900s, when South Coast Land Company began to develop San Diego County, Del Mar came alive again.

The South Coast Land Company hired a prominent Los Angeles architect, John C. Austin, to draw plans for a new hotel, the Hotel 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, bath house, pool, golf course, and its own powerhouse.

Of course the “plunge” and pier were the main attractions. From 1912 to 1920, beautiful new homes soon became landmarks. Home building came to a halt in the late 1930s; however, life in Del Mar went on and a Civic Association was formed in 1931.

The Fairgrounds and The Racetrack

In 1933, a search for a 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 Road - 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 decided to acquire residences in Del Mar such as Pat O'Brien, Jimmy and Marge Durante, Lucy and Desi Arnaz and their children, as well as Burt Bachrach and Angie Dickenson. 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 Stratford Inn 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.


Del Mar Historical Society