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South County Milestones

South County has always been a vibrant region rich with culture. The area hit the ground running with the arrival of the Santa Fe Railroad in the 1880s and never looked back. The Sweetwater Dam and a luxury resort called the Hotel del Coronado soon followed, and people flocked to the region filled with the promise of opportunity.

Today, South County is seeing yet another transformation. New homes that range from simple to lavish have also brought on new schools, retail centers that rival more established centers in the county and top notch commercial buildings.

The future of South County looks bright. The South Bay Expressway is scheduled to be completed late 2006, which will enable drivers in Otay Mesa to travel up to Santee. Commercial development around the extended freeways is expected to soon follow. Also in the region’s sights is attracting more high-tech and biotech companies, and a four-year university to be built in the Otay Ranch area.


Mexico forms its own government in 1831, and Rancho del Rey, a Spanish land grant in what is part of today’s South San Diego County, became known as Rancho del la Nation or National Ranch. The ranch encompassed the areas now known as National City, Chula Vista, Bonita, Sunnyside and the Sweetwater Valley.


Rancho del la Nation, formerly used by the Spanish as grazing land for their cattle and horses, is granted to John Forster, the son-in-law of Mexican governor Pio Pico.


Frank Kimball and his brothers Warren and Levi buy 26,400 acres of Rancho de la Nacion and lay out National City.


Indiana railroad promoter Elisha S. Babcock and Chicago piano manufacturer H.L. Story buy the peninsula of Coronado for $110,000.

November 14, 1885

As a result of the efforts of the Kimball brothers, the first train leaves from the Santa Fe Rail Depot in National City for Waterman (now Barstow), 78 miles from its transcontinental link in San Bernardino. The Santa Fe Rail Depot is the only original transcontinental railroad terminus in the U.S. still standing.


Construction of Hotel del Coronado begins. At an auction on November 13, 1886, Babcock and Story sell some of their Coronado lots. They use the $1 million earned from the sale to establish a ferry system, water service and the Coronado Gas & Electric Co.


National City is incorporated. Current population is 63,773.

March, 1888

The Kimball Brothers Water Company completes Sweetwater Dam, a significant engineering feat and San Diego’s first major dam. Supplying water for National City and Chula Vista, the dam is 396 feet long and 12 feet wide at the top, 75 feet long and 46 feet wide at the base.


Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story open the landmark Hotel del Coronado, although construction is still under way on much of the building.


Coronado secedes from San Diego and incorporates. Current population is 26,973.


Sugar magnate John D. Spreckels, owner of the Del, opens Tent City to house guests while the hotel is closed between June and December for renovations. The tents remain and Tent City becomes a popular summer resort until it is closes in 1939.


Paradise Valley Hospital began with the purchase of the Potts Sanitarium and adjacent land by Ellen G. White and Josephine Gotzian for $4,000.


William E. Smythe founds the Little Landers colony, now San Ysidro, on 550 acres of land in the Tia Juana River Valley. He hopes it will become the first of many utopian farm communities across the nation.


Citizens of Chula Vista vote to incorporate the city. Current population is 217,543.


Famed aviator, Glenn Curtiss, finds the area now known as North Island ideal for experimenting with his newly developed seaplane and performs the first successful United States seaplane flight and the first amphibian flight in the world. At the same time, he opens and operates the first U.S. military flying school.


Navy establishes a base on North Island, with three airplanes and three fliers. On Thanksgiving Day, 1912, the Army Signal Corps establishes Rockwell Field with an aviation school on North Island.


U.S. Marine Base and Naval Hospital approved; government purchases North Island, its Rockwell Field shared by the Army and Navy until 1939.

May 9, 1927

Charles Lindbergh takes off from Rockwell field, North Island, Coronado, in the Spirit of St. Louis, a custom M-1 monoplane built in San Diego by Ryan Airlines. He completes his historic solo nonstop flight from New York to Paris May 20-21


Rohr Aircraft Corporation relocates to Chula Vista and employs 9,000 area workers at the height of wartime production.


City of Imperial Beach is incorporated. Current population is 27,710.


Chula Vista Shopping Center is developed on 5 acres on Broadway between H and I streets.


The first auto dealerships were built on National City Boulevard. This area soon became known as the Mile of Cars. By 1973 there were 12 dealerships, and by 1991, there were 21.


Coronado Bay Bridge opens, replacing ferry service across San Diego Bay.


San Diego Trolley begins service to border

March 10, 1981

Ribbon-cutting ceremony to open Plaza Bonita was held. The 855,865-square-foot mall is the only enclosed regional shopping complex in the South County area and includes four major department stores – May Co., Mervyn’s, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward.


Otay Mesa Port of Entry opens. Today it is the largest commercial border crossing between California and Mexico and one of the busiest in the world.


EastLake, a 32,000 acre master-planned community celebrates grand opening and first residents move in.


Stage 1 of State Route 54 construction begins in the summer.


ARCO Olympic Training Center opens in Chula Vista.


State Route 54 completed.


Rohr Inc. and its affiliates are acquired by The BFGoodrich Company (now Goodrich Corporation). Today, it is known as Goodrich Aerostructures and remains headquartered in Chula Vista.


Coors Amphitheatre opens in Chula Vista.


Otay Ranch, a 5,300-acre planned community in east Chula Vista opens.


Phase 1 of the Shops at Las Americas in San Ysidro opens off Interstate 5 at the U.S./Mexico border.


* The first portion of the SR 905 extension, from the Otay Mesa POE to Airway Road, began construction January 2003.

* National City Mayor Nick Inzunza introduces 10 key goals designed to revitalize the city and stimulate economic growth.

* Hitachi Hitachi Home Electronics (America), Inc. makes Chula Vista its new headquarters, moving into the EastLake Business Center.


Paradise Valley Hospital celebrates its 100th anniversary.

November 2004

South County Regional Education Center, one of National City Mayor Nick Inzunza’s 10 goals, opens.


* Groundbreaking held for the South Bay Expressway Customer Service Center, which will serve as the hub of the expressway’s operations. South Bay Expressway is the first toll road in San Diego County and California's first road built as a public/private partnership. When completed (scheduled for Fall 2006), motorists will be able to travel the 125/South Bay Expressway from SR-905 in Otay Mesa to the SR-54 in Spring Valley where they will connect with the existing 125, allowing them to travel all the way north to Santee.

* Board of Port Commissioners agreed to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with Gaylord Hotels to develop a major 1,500- to 2,000-room hotel and 400,000-square-foot convention facility on the Chula Vista bay front.

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