The El Cajon valley nestles below the San Diego foothills and its name means "big box." The friars at San Diego Mission used this geography to their advantage to pasture their cattle. The hills kept the cattle from wandering and provided watershed.
After the missions were secularized, the valley land was given to Dona Maria Antonio Estudillo, wife of Don Miguel de Pedrorena to fulfill a debt of the government. That grant included the area that eventually developed into Santee, Bostonia, Glenview, Johnstown, El Cajon and part of Grossmont.
El Cajon is a diverse business community that includes a downtown that bills itself as "East County's Cultural Zone," Parkway Plaza, a leading shopping area with over 200 stores and restaurants as well as a number of light manufacturing companies. The area is also home to the El Cajon Speedway and two community colleges. The goal of the city is to build a vital economy from this diversity that will offer opportunities to all income and age levels.
Unlike some other areas of the county, El Cajon is built out and does not have large tracts of open land available for development. New construction is either built on vacant lots or involves the rehabilitation of older buildings and sections of the city. For the last seven years the El Cajon Community Development Corp. has been leading the efforts to redevelop and revitalize the downtown historic district centered around Main and Magnolia.