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The Marstons of San Diego

We've always looked after our city

They split the business (Hamilton took the groceries and Marston the dry goods).
  • They split the business (Hamilton took the groceries and Marston the dry goods).
  • San Diego Historical Society

“One of my grandfathers came to San Diego as the honorary German consul and the representative of a steamship line. I don’t think very many people come here representing shipping lines any more, and I don’t think we even have a German consul.. . .“

George Marston (c.1925). Marston wrote of Charles Hamilton (by then long dead): “He was a rare character, and the only fault he had was that he was too honest for me."

George Marston (c.1925). Marston wrote of Charles Hamilton (by then long dead): “He was a rare character, and the only fault he had was that he was too honest for me."

As he speaks, Hamilton Marston gestures from time to time with his large, thick hands. His cheeks are ruddy, his gray hair slightly tousled, his blue eyes bright behind plain brown glasses. He is not a large man — five feet, ten inches — and as rain beats against the windows of his spacious brick house near Balboa Park, a fire blazes in the fireplace behind him, and a brass clock on the mantelpiece chimes out the half hours, he seems like nothing so much as a country squire comfortably ensconced in his ancestral home.

The image is both true and untrue: untrue in that Marston was born and has lived all his life in San Diego, a city; and true in that this house was built by his parents in 1909. “San Diego was still close to the days when it was a regional center then,” he continues.

Hamilton Marston: "People who are looking for the quick return have had the upper hand."

Hamilton Marston: "People who are looking for the quick return have had the upper hand."

“It had been foreseen by the Spaniards as one of the great cities on the coast. But when the border was created, San Diego changed from a city that was central to one that was on the edge, at the end of the line. Its importance began to decline, and, in a sense, it's been declining ever since.”

At the age of sixty-nine Marston speaks softly, in a slow drawl that is pure Californian. He seems polite and, above all else, controlled. “He gives the impression of being shy,” says longtime friend (and recently unsuccessful mayoral candidate) Si Casady. “If he's at a gathering he's not the type of guy who jumps up and makes himself known.” Such traits are uncommon enough in themselves, but they are all the more unusual in someone who is current head of one of San Diego's oldest and most civic-minded families. The history of the Marstons and the history of San Diego’s growth are tightly interwoven. It is virtually impossible to open a book about the city’s past without reading about George White Marston, Hamilton’s grandfather, an influential (and colorful) political figure of his time. Marston Point in Balboa Park is named after him, as is Marston Junior High School in Clairemont; the department store he founded, Marston’s, was one of the city’s largest when it was sold to the Broadway chain in 1961. His son, Arthur Hamilton Marston, played a less flamboyant role in public affairs, but was active in the chamber of commerce and helped convince the city that major roads such as Highway 163 (formerly 395) should be built. And Hamilton Marston — Arthur Hamilton Marston, Jr. — has continued in his father’s vein, shunning political office but contributing to the city’s development in numerous other ways. In addition to having run Marston’s in the years before the business was sold, he has been on the chamber of commerce's board of directors four times; he was a founding member of San Diegans, Inc., a quasi-govemmental group organized in the early Sixties to address the problems of the center city; and he has been a member of the county water authority (1974-78), and other committees and organizations concerned with development in the San Diego area. Says Casady: “If you’re in this town for any length of time and you’re going to do anything, you’re going to run into Ham Marston.”

Now retired as a merchant and member of the chamber of commerce, Marston has remained active in several groups, particularly the Committee for Charter Protection for Parks, which he helped to found in 1977. As with most of Marston’s projects the committee’s focus is on urban planning, that slow, complex, and unglamorous process that over the years gives a city its shape and personality. But this particular committee formed around a relatively hot topic: preventing the Navy’s enormous new medical complex from being built in Balboa Park, unless approved as required by the city charter. The issue began as a little-known one, but slowly gained attention until last year it became a full-blown controversy. The Navy has had a medical facility in the park since 1919, but their current plan involves returning part of that site to the city and shifting over onto an adjacent thirty-nine-acre site in Florida Canyon. Since the city charter requires a two-thirds majority of voters to approve the use of the park for non-park uses, the issue was finally (and at least partly due to the efforts of the committee) put on the ballot last September. In a low turnout, sixty-one percent of the people voting approved the land swap — less than two-thirds, but in the Navy’s eyes a clear enough majority to allow them to proceed. Within weeks they moved to condemn the Florida Canyon site (the first step towards acquiring it), whereupon the Committee for Charter Protection for Parks, acting on behalf of several other organizations, made good on a promise to sue to block the move.

“The issue of the naval hospital is the most important land-use decision the city has faced since the decision was made to change the zoning of Mission Valley in the Fifties,” insists Marston, who helped to prepare the committee’s suit. “With all the growth coming to San Diego, open space is going to become increasingly important. The parks, like our bays, are the big engines that run this community — they’re important economic generators and they’re crucial to the quality of life.” Concern for parks is itself something of a Marston tradition; in fact, the family name has been bound up with parks and urban planning since the very early days of the city. In 1838 a branch of the Marston family had moved from Newburyport, Massachusetts, to Wisconsin, finally settling in Fort Atkinson, a small farming town in the southern part of the state. It was there that George White Marston grew up, and from there that the family eventually moved to San Diego because of his father’s failing health. George Marston was a young man of twenty the day they arrived here on a steamer from San Francisco — October 24, 1870 — his college career at the University of Michigan cut short after one year. In Fort Atkinson the family business had been a general merchandise store, so it wasn’t unusual when, two years after his arrival, George Marston took a job as a clerk in Nash’s general store on Fifth and K streets, in what is today downtown San Diego. Less than two years later he and another clerk, Charles Hamilton, borrowed $5000 each, bought out Nash, and became partners in their own store. Although they split the business five years later (Hamilton took the groceries and Marston the dry goods), the two men remained friends throughout their lives, marrying sisters of the same family and taking an active role in public affairs. George Marston had a well-developed sense of humor, and when he was in his nineties wrote of Charles Hamilton (by then long dead): “He was a rare character, and the only fault he had was that he was too honest for me. He usually told the customers all the bad points about an article rather than the good points, and I thought it was a little too honest to advertise our butter as being ’as good as you could expect in the summer time after its long transportation from Poway.’ " Hamilton’s grocery store flourished downtown for many years (it was sold to a larger firm in the 1950s, and finally closed in the early 1960s). Marston’s dry goods business flourished too, moving to a series of larger locations (all downtown) over the next thirty-five years. Marston himself worked long hours to make his business a success, and yet as it expanded, so, seemingly, did his range of interests. In addition to his management of the store he played piano, wrote poetry, and was an active skater and baseball enthusiast. His marriage to Anna Lee Gunn in 1878 produced one of the town’s prominent couples, and throughout the late 1880s and 1890s he also became active in public affairs. He was twice elected president of the chamber of commerce, and served as a city councilman and later as a park commissioner. And as his financial prospects improved he began to speculate in real estate, too. In the late 1800s he and Charles Hamilton bought most of the Mission Hills area (then undeveloped), gave it its name, and sold it a few years later at a profit Marston himself estimated at 200 percent. Armie Carter, Democratic activist who knew George Marston personally, remembers Marston “had so much property he didn’t even know where it all was.’’ Carter, now eighty-seven and a resident of Mission Hills, adds, “He told me once that he was going to build a motel near Old Town for some friends of his. I was a broker at that time, and I told him, “Mr. Marston, don’t do it; you ’re going to lose a lot of money. ’ But he went ahead and built it anyway — the Casa de Pico Motel [now the Bazaar del Mundo]. And then the next year World War II broke out, and there was a tremendous shortage of hotels in San Diego. We had mechanics. Navy people, you name it, all coming here to work. So of course he made a fortune on his motel. One day he called me into his office and said, 'Remember when I said I was going to build that motel? You strongly recommended that I skip it.’So I told him, 'Sure, but a war broke out; you were just lucky. ’ And he said, ‘Well, let me tell you something: the secret of success in my life has been luck."

From 1885 to 1905 George Marston and his wife Anna lived in a house on the corner of Third and Ash streets. It was there that their son Arthur, and their daughters Mary, Elizabeth, Harriet, and Helen grew up. Then in 1905 the Marstons had a large brick house built on a ten-acre site on Seventh Avenue, just north of Balboa Park. The lot was later divided and two more houses were built — one in 1909 by Marston’s son Arthur. Photographs from this period show the Marstons’ houses standing more or less alone in the midst of a barren tract, but it wasn’t long before houses sprang up around them, since houses were being built almost everywhere in the city at that time.

As early as 1907 the city’s rapid growth had led the chamber of commerce, at the urging of George Marston and others, to bring in an expert to assess the city’s current state and present his views on future growth. John Nolen, an acclaimed landscape architect and city planner from Cambridge, Massachusetts, was the man who carried out the study; his report, “San Diego: A Comprehensive Plan for its Improvement,” was the first comprehensive planning document the city had ever had. In it Nolen recommended, among other things, that the bay front should be reserved for public recreation and use north of E Street; that Balboa Park and the bay-front be connected by a mall or “promenade”; and that a system of parks be developed. “The possession of play areas is a necessity of city life,” he wrote, “and by obtaining them now San Diego can avoid the heavy penalty of procrastination which New York and other cities have had to pay.”

George Marston thought the Nolen plan presented sound concepts for developing the city, but not everyone in San Diego agreed with him, as he found out when he ran for mayor in 1913. “He had the support of the chamber of commerce and the newspaper,” explains Hamilton Marston, “but there was quite a division in San Diego then, and in a sense it still exists. And that was the division between the people who felt that the major amenities of the community — the bay, the parks, the climate — were a very important economic generator, and were interested in enhancing them; and the group who wanted to take an earlier advantage of the amenities, which sometimes amounted to reducing them. In other words, the people who wanted the quick return and those who wanted the longer term return.

“The people who were critical of the Nolen plan called themselves the smokestack group, and their motto was ‘Smokestacks versus Geraniums. ’ And they called my grandfather ‘Geranium George,’ and he was defeated by a man named O’Neal. But at the end of four years my grandfather was persuaded to run again, and O’Neal became his campaign manager. And again the same division occurred, and the fast-buck group tended to take the position that the other side — which included the chamber of commerce — was a bunch of silk-stocking aesthetes who didn’t appreciate the importance of a community where people would earn a living.”

The 1917 mayoral race ended in a second defeat for George Marston; the margin was two to one. But he took his defeat with good humor, and while his son Arthur took over the business of running Marston’s department store he himself became more and more involved in civic and cultural activities. In 1913 and 1914 he served on the county advisory water commission; in 1924 he was instrumental in getting John Nolen to visit the city again for a further planning study. The second Nolen plan, completed in 1926, focused on the development of major streets, the construction of a civic center near the harbor, and the continuing development of a system of parks. Among Nolen’s enduring recommendations today are Harbor Drive and the county administration building at the foot of Cedar Street, which actually housed both the city’s and county’s offices when it was completed in 1936. (Among his recommendations which didn’t come to fruition was the idea of extending Sixth Avenue across Mission Valley.)

As in earlier years, there was little public support for Nolen’s concept of a park system; but by then George Marston had gotten used to the idea of staging a sort of one-man parks development committee. In 1926 he led the fight against a proposal to turn over 122 acres of Balboa Park to the state for the development of a college (the proposal was defeated more than two to one at the polls). He acquired most of the current site of Presidio Park in a series of deals and paid for the costs of landscaping and extending roads to it out of his own pocket. (When the city officially accepted the gift of Presidio Park from George Marston on July 22, 1929, it was with the understanding that he would pay for its maintenance for two years. As it turned out, he contributed to its upkeep for eleven years.) He assisted with the development of Old Town by acquiring land later sold to the city and by building the nearby Pico Motel, and in the late Twenties helped to found (and largely financed) the Parks and Beaches Association, a group dedicated to obtaining state-owned beaches and parks. By carrying out land surveys and negotiating for the purchase of property, the association eventually played an influential role in the acquisition of Silver Strand, Cuyamaca, and Palomar state parks, and the Agua Hedionda estuary in Carlsbad.

In his later years George Marston became something of a grand old man in San Diego, continuing his civic work, writing letters to the editors of the local papers, and making numerous speeches. The frequent stories about him in the local press often referred to him as a “pioneer merchant and civic leader”; so often, in fact, that it became a family joke. “We used to call him ‘pioneer merchant and civic leader’ over the dinner table, ” remembers Hamilton Marston. “We thought he might even start answering the phone, ‘George Marston, pioneer merchant and civic leader.’ ” In 1936 George Marston published a slender volume entitled History of San Diego’s City Parks, notable for its downplaying of his own role in the development of them. His wife Anna also became an author, collecting her memoirs and her parent’s journals in Records of a California Family. But in 1937 Anna Marston suffered a fall and became a partial invalid, spending most of the final three years of her life upstairs at the house on Seventh Avenue. She died on October 7, 1940. George Marston himself continued his vigorous life well into his nineties. But in his final years he became increasingly frail, and on his ninety-fifth birthday gave an interview to reporters from his bedroom in the Seventh Avenue house. He died on May 31, 1946, at the age of ninety-six, leaving the house to his daughter Mary.

George Marston’s house on Seventh Avenue still stands. Over the years ivy has crept up over the bricks in front, and the pine and eucalyptus trees he planted in 1906 are now more than sixty feet high. Miss Mary Marston, now over one hundred years old, has given the house and grounds to the City of San Diego, to be incorporated into Balboa Park upon her death. (The city has tentative plans to use it to house the San Diego Historical Society.) The house built in 1909 by Arthur Marston on the property to the north still stands, too, and still belongs to the Marston family.

There was a marked contrast between George Marston and his son Arthur; the elder Marston was outgoing, humorous, and liberal in his politics, while Arthur is described by some who knew him as subdued and rather conservative. He never ran for public office, and he never became involved in public affairs to the extent his father had. “One of the differences between my father and my grandfather,” recalls Hamilton Marston, “was my father’s reaction to my grandfather’s load of civic activities. I know my father said to me once, ‘Your grandfather was almost never at home.’ That’s something of an exaggeration, of course, but he did have a great burden of meetings and trips. My father was active in civic affairs; he was interested in the transportation system of the city, he was active in the chamber of commerce, and he was a member of the county water authority for twenty years. But I think there was more of an element of personal leadership in my grandfather’s involvement in affairs. My father’s participation was more as a member of committees and boards, and as far as my own participation is concerned, it’s been more in that pattern.”

As he tells me this Hamilton Marston is sitting in the front room of his house on Seventh Avenue, sipping coffee from blue-and-white china. Dark Middle-Eastern rugs adorn the room’s hardwood floors, and on the wall hangs a painting of a Mission Valley long since vanished: green hills glimpsed through a stand of eucalyptus trees. Arthur Marston lived in this house for most of his life, and it was here that Hamilton Marston was born on May 7, 1910.

There are strong parallels between Hamilton Marston and his father; both have lacked flamboyance (some say charisma), and there is a passionlessness in his public demeanor that many say his father also had. “He doesn’t go in for hyperbole,” says Si Casady. “I’ve seen Ham get up and speak to the city council on issues he’s very much involved in, and he sounds like a geometry teacher giving a lecture to the class.” He is a private man, as was Arthur Marston, for the most part living quietly at home with his wife Margaret rather than cultivating status among the city’s fashionable set. But politically, at least, there seems to be a divergence between father and son. Armie Carter, who has known three generations of Marstons, recently commented, “His father was somewhat conservative — ran the store, mostly. He supported a lot of things, but not so actively. Hamilton used to be somewhat conservative himself, but he’s changing. He’s getting more like his grandfather. ”

Having spent his boyhood in his parents’ house on Seventh Avenue, Hamilton Marston attended San Diego High School, walking to it along a dirt road through Balboa Park that has since disappeared beneath Highway 163. After attending Williams College in Massachusetts (he majored in history), he returned to San Diego in 1932 and went to work at Marston’s. “I’d worked in the store during vacations — as a messenger, that kind of thing — and enjoyed it very much. So I didn’t enter the business from a sense of obligation,” he insists. For the next twenty-nine years he served the store in various capacities, first as a sales clerk and later as personnel manager and operations manager. The store itself had grown from the tiny dry goods store on Fifth and Broadway to a bustling, five-story building on the north side of C Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. It had been George Marston’s goal to offer a wide variety of goods in order to attract a broad clientele, but during the early part of this century, under the direction of Arthur Marston, the store began to specialize in clothing and catered more to San Diego’s upper income groups. Then in 1955 Arthur Marston retired, and Hamilton Marston became general manager of the store. He moved to enlarge the home furnishings departments and generally broaden the store’s clientele, but his tenure as general jnanager lasted only until 1961, when Marston’s was sold. Although the sale brought to an end more than a century of family involvement in the retail business, Marston claims it wasn’t a difficult decision to make. “It seemed to make awfully good sense at the time. Of course, it didn’t involve leaving the business myself — I worked for the Broadway until I retired in 1976. But back in the early Sixties branch operations were becoming the way to do business, and we didn’t have the capital or the background in branch operations that the Broadway did.

“I have no feeling of deep regret. When people ask me what did I do, I say I was a merchant, but I don’t have a deep identification with it. When it was all finished it just seemed as though its time had come.”

During the 1950s and early 1960s Marston became increasingly active in civic organizations, particularly the chamber of commerce. It was a time when city planning was being done in earnest, and the city as it is today was taking shape. In the mid-Fifties, a proposal to change the zoning of Mission Valley to general commercial was put before the city council. Marston and others lobbied for thorough planning studies before the change was made, but the city council approved it before the studies could be carried out. When Mission Valley Center was completed, “the effect on downtown business was immediate and measurable,” Marston remembers. It was under these circumstances that San Diegans, Inc., was organized, with Joseph Jessop of Jessop’s Jewelers as its first president. (Marston served on the group’s executive committee and later became president.) In general the group brought public attention to the growing problems of the city’s center, which has since then become one of the city’s major planning concerns. According to Marston, it was largly through the efforts of San Diegans, Inc., that the new civic center was built downtown in 1964.

In the early 1970s Marston served on chamber of commerce committees which examined trends in regional planning decisions and worked with the department of defense in studying possible land sales from the federal government to the city. His experience on those committees, coupled with the emerging importance of the downtown area, led him to feel that a comprehensive planning study of the San Diego area was needed. In early 1974 he went to the city council and told them that he and his aunt, Mary Marston, would put up $10,000 to cover the cost of having an urban planning expert come here to review and comment on San Diego’s development. (“Ten thousand dollars seemed like an appropriate amount,” he explains. “It was about what John Nolen got in 1907. ”) The only stipulation was that the city had to take the responsibility of selecting the expert. The council quickly agreed to the idea, and then-City Manager Kimball Moore was given the task of finding someone and arranging for the study to be made. He eventually selected a team of two well-known planners — Donald Appleyard and Kevin Lynch — who visited the area, talked to various local planning organizations, and solicited comments from numerous citizens and civic groups. Their resulting report was called Temporary Paradise? and it is remarkable both for its vision and for its resemblance, on several counts, to the earlier Nolen plans.

Temporary Paradise? viewed San Diego as a potentially unique city that was, unfortunately, well on its way to becoming Los Angelized. It criticized the “chaotic” development of Mission Valley; the numerous, widely scattered suburban tracts (which are costly to extend water services to and make the concept of a mass transit system all but unworkable); and the lack of public land around the bay. It recommended preserving the area’s remaining valleys and canyons for public use and recreation; working to construct and preserve the special character of neighborhoods like North Park and the beach areas; and employing design techniques which would enhance the city’s Mediterranean flavor while conserving vast amounts of water. Noting that Tijuana was rapidly becoming one of the largest cities in Mexico, Temporary Paradise? also recommended that growth be directed to the South Bay in order to make San Diego an international focal point for the San Diego/Tijuana population center.

Many of the recommendations in Temporary Paradise? are either long term or speculative. But the report, in a scant fifty pages, brought together considerations of city planning that had long since been lost in the area’s rapid growth. It made the point that the city could be different, better; that people should decide where development goes and not the other way around. Twenty-five thousand copies of the report were printed and distributed free to the public from fire stations,-libraries, and other city agencies.

At about the same time Temporary Paradise? appeared, the Navy announced intentions to move its hospital from the current site in Balboa Park to a new site in Murphy Canyon. The move was almost unanimously welcomed by those concerned with city planning, including the mayor and the chamber of commerce; it would have allowed the Navy to expand the facility freely, park land would have been returned to the city, and crucial open space near the city’s center would have been preserved. But in 1976 the Navy, strongly supported by Congressman Bob Wilson, reversed itself and proposed to move further into the park by exchanging part of its current site for other park property in Florida Canyon. (At the time Wilson said that moving the hospital to a new site would be too costly, but the price tag for expanding the facility on its present site has since risen to well above the 1976 Murphy Canyon estimate. There was apparently, some opposition from Navy and ex-Navy personnel who felt that a hospital in Murphy Canyon would be too distant and inconvenient to the majority of those whom it would serve.) When the issue finally made the ballot last fall, sixty-one percent of the voters approved the exchange; but the committee took heart that this was less than the two-thirds majority required by the city charter, particularly since, as Marston points out, the ballot issue was somewhat unclear. “As it was presented, the issue seemed to be pro-park — giving land back to the city,” he explains. “The fact that it would move the hospital further into the park really didn’t come out on the ballot.

“Here are two uses of land whose potential impacts on each other are increasingly going to be negative. The park will constrain the hospital, and the hospital will dominate the park, to the disadvantage of both. And in an area like San Diego, with all the land the government has for sale and exchange. ... It’s the most unfortunate working out of something that really ought to be going the other way.’’

As he talks about the hospital issue Marston refers from time to time to bulging ring binders filled with documents which support his arguments. He has, he says, eleven such binders filled with information on the hospital question —just the essentials, he stresses. His meticulousness is almost legendary among his associates, who point out that the affidavit filed by him on behalf of the committee’s recent suit against the Navy is longer than all the others. That suit, filed in early January in a San Diego federal court, alleges that the Navy should not be allowed to condemn the park site because it failed to prepare an adequate environmental impact statement. The Navy denies this, and has been supported in its current quest for Balboa Park land by the chamber of commerce, a fact which Marston finds ironic. “In 1972 the chamber took the leadership in working with the Navy to explore the possibility of an appropriate site outside the park,” he says, producing minutes of a chamber meeting from one of his ring binders. “I know because I happened to serve on that committee. We recommended that any sale of park land for non-park uses should be rejected. Really, it’s very interesting that their position could have changed so diametrically. Points of view change, of course, but one regrets being opposed by a group that previously had a different viewpoint.”

Marston is at a loss to explain exactly why the chamber’s position flip-flopped, and speculates that the group’s directors may have simply wanted to accommodate the Navy’s position no matter what it was. The Navy is certainly important to the area’s economic picture, he points out, but adds, “In a sense this issue of the hospital is bound up with the question of San Diego having lost its centrality, its sense of being captain of its own ship. Tourism, development, the Navy, all of these things have assumed, with respect to the city, an extraordinary scale that I don’t think they have in cities that have maintained themselves. I don’t see Atlanta or San Francisco or Los Angeles being that influenced by the institutions that are there. I see them being much stronger and more vigorous.”


As he sat in front of the county administration building on Harbor Drive one morning recently, Hamilton Marston looked amused. I had just asked him why he had never run for political office, and Marston, who was wearing a conservative gray suit and a dark blue knit tie, took a moment to answer. “During the years I was of an age to undertake a thing like that,” he said finally, “I was in the store business — a relatively strong responsibility. But also, my work with people in government has brought me to the conclusion that they work awfully hard.” He laughed. “Government work is extremely important, but it can be vexatious. The kind of approach I’ve had to it is about as far as I would be able to get into it, and that is, being on committees, and presenting things for government to review.”

It was a clear January day, and naval officers came and went on the sidewalk in front of us. In the distance the gold spire of the bell tower in Balboa Park gleamed in the sunlight. Marston downplays the role his family has played in the development of San Diego, but in the same way that his grandfather fought to create a park system and his father took an interest in transportation, he himself has helped to bring vision and foresight to the city’s planning efforts. Two recommendations of Temporary Paradise? that have since been realized, for instance, are express bus lanes at freeway junctions (there is one on Highway 163 North leading out of downtown), and the “Tijuana Trolley,” which will provide a rail link between downtown San Diego and the border. Others will undoubtedly creep into plans now and then, and if the naval hospital is kept out of Balboa Park it will be thanks in large part to Marston’s initiative, too. But Hamilton Marston could be the last member of his family to play a role in the shaping of the city for some time. Neither of his two sons has so far taken an active interest in San Diego’s development (one works in the South Bay, and the other is a graduate student at U.C. Berkeley), nor have his two daughters. Marston himself seems unconcerned by this — “They have their own lives,” he shrugs.

A flat-bed truck carrying a boat rumbled by on Harbor Drive, passing the pale tower of the Holiday Inn further up the street. I asked Marston what his grandfather would think of the way San Diego had turned out, and he answered without hesitation, “I think he had enough experience in San Diego to know pretty well what was going to happen. That is, it’s been a continual fight between the people who want to cash in fast on the amenities, and in some cases lose them or jeopardize them, and the people who are concerned with enhancing them for the long term. In retrospect I would say the people who are looking for the quick return have had the upper hand. We’re choking Mission Valley with cars and parking lots. And the community seems to be continuing to develop in its outer edges. But we’ve done a good job with Mission Bay, and except for permitting extraordinary encroachments in about one-fourth of Balboa Park we’ve done pretty well there, too.”

Marston doesn’t call himself an environmentalist, yet his concern for the city’s development is to a large extent a concern for the quality of its physical setting. “I’d just like to point out,” he told me firmly, “that I’m interested in looking at things in the long term. I try to look at all the concerns we have. . . . Certainly the quality of life is very important. If you look at Los Angeles from the air, you don’t see any patches of green. I was in a high rise building there recently, and from the window you just see a sea of roofs. ...” A few days later, on January 28, a hearing on the Committee for Charter Protection for Parks’ suit against the Navy was held in federal court in downtown San Diego. The committee was seeking a preliminary injunction to halt the Navy’s plans to conduct soil tests on the park site, on the grounds that the tests would permanently alter Florida Canyon. Judge William Enright ruled against the committee, giving the Navy at least temporary ownership of the park site and the right to proceed with the tests; but it was only one round in a court struggle that committee members say could go on for as long as two years. I talked to Hamilton Marston on the phone that night. He had been to the hearing, and said that the ruling came as no surprise; that the committee’s position on that particular issue had been vulnerable. He would be meeting with the rest of the committee’s directorship soon, he said, to decide what avenue to pursue next. We chatted for a little while longer, and then hung up. I went to the refrigerator to get a beer, but I couldn’t help wondering what Marston was doing over in that old brick house on Seventh Avenue. Maybe he was going through his eleven ring binders full of material on the hospital issue, looking for some scrap that somehow had been overlooked. Or maybe he was just musing in the front room with the Middle Eastern rugs and the painting of old Mission Valley, the same room he was sitting in when he told me, “San Diego is really, I think, going backwards in terms of its own initiative and strength. It has become overshadowed by the scale of the national institutions that are based here. The Navy, for instance, used to be just an occasional gunboat that would come into the harbor on its way up the coast. But now the Navy has grown to a size where it can say, ‘We want to stay in Balboa Park — in fact, we want to own part of the park,’and the city gets all concerned about it and feels, ‘Well, we ought to go along.’ I think San Diego has really acceded further to the requests of the Navy than most cities this size would have; I think a city with a stronger sense of independence would have taken a stronger stance.”

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