Lost Roads of San Diego, part 3

A journey to nowhere

Looking east from the withered stump if Ward Road
  • Looking east from the withered stump if Ward Road
  • Image by Margot Sheehan

Truckee Road — Pacific Beach, Northeast

Most of the Lost Roads in this series still endure as footpaths, parking lots, or slices of newer highway; but Truckee Road never existed at all, except on paper. Old maps and city directories show that it was supposed to begin near Los Altos Way in Pacific Beach and proceed due east, terminating about a quarter-mile west of todays Interstate 5.

Truckee Road: Looking east from Kate Sessions Memorial Park, with cul-de-sac of Balfour Court in the distance

Truckee Road: Looking east from Kate Sessions Memorial Park, with cul-de-sac of Balfour Court in the distance

In the early 1920s, Truckee Road was part of a subdivision plan on the south foot of Mt. Soledad. But San Diego development hit the skids around 1926, and then a depression and a war came.

In the 1940s, a few hundred temporary war-workers’ houses cropped up nearby, along streets that had been paved in the ’20s but never developed. (These hillside prefabs, known as Los Altos Terrace, were pretty classy; from their front stoops you got a panoramic view of downtown, the harbor, and Mission Bay. They were designed by Frank Hope, Jr., who in the 1950s and ’60s would become San Diego’s premier architect of hospitals and office buildings.) After the war, these temporaries were carted off, and private housing took their place. By the late ’50s, most of eastern Pacific Beach had filled in, but the Truckee Road region remained unpaved, ungraded, and unsigned.

In 1961 the Truckee area still looked much as it had in the ’20s- a square mile of steep hills and scrub canyon, most of it city land because no private developers wanted it. But that year the city council voted to turn part of the area into a park, named in honor of a dead Mission Hills florist.

Truckee Rd., as envisioned in 1925

Truckee Rd., as envisioned in 1925

After that, things happened fast in these rocky muirlands. Kate Sessions Memorial Park was open by 1964. Nearby, Soledad Mountain Road was completed, connecting eastern PB with La Jolla. Developers put up pricey houses on two-acre lots, called in the landscapers, and sold the results as “estates on Mt. Soledad in La Jolla.”

By 1970, Truckee Road had vanished from the books. In its place we now find a pair of short cul-de-sacs named for two British MPs of the early 20th Century: Balfour Court and Belloc Court. The juxtaposition of these two streets suggests a developer with a sense of humor. Arthur Balfour is the fellow best remembered for the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which it was resolved that it would be a good thing to give Palestine to the Jews. Hilaire Belloc is the politician and writer best remembered for his kiddie verse, his travel books, and his belief that it was a lousy thing to give Palestine to the Jews.

Belloc Court at Edgeworth Road

Belloc Court at Edgeworth Road

None of which has anything to do with Mr. Truckee, an early 19th-century Indian guide. Pioneers of the Sierra honored him by naming a river, a lake, a town, and a plateau of meadows after him. Today, the two-fisted mountain town of Truckee, California, is still on the map (north of Lake Tahoe) and so is Truckee River. Truckee Meadows, though, has vanished under the city of Reno, Nevada. And Truckee Lake was long ago renamed Donner Lake, after the ill-fated wagon-train party that camped there in 1846-47.

When Truckee Road was wiped off the San Diego map, that freed up the name. And lo! today there is a tiny Truckee Avenue on the northern rim of Mission Valley, right in the shadow of the 805 freeway.

Ward Road — Normal Heights and Mission Valley

Ward and Murphy Canyon Road

Ward and Murphy Canyon Road

Speaking of the Donner Party: There’s never been a Donner Road in San Diego, but there’ve been lots of Donners. One of the sons of George Donner (died and consumed by the Truckee River in early 1847) sired a son who moved to Texas after the Civil War. Said son begat a son named Joe, who became a carpenter and eventually moved his family to San Diego, where he died in 1944. His widow Myrtle followed in ’66. Only then did the kinfolk go public with the noisome little family secret: yes, they were descended from those Donners.

Joe and Myrtle lived at 3760 Ward Road in Normal Heights. Their house was razed a few years ago to make way for one of those cheap, multiunit apartment buildings that have turned the area into what realtors nicely call a “transitional” or “mixed” neighborhood.

But if the neighborhood’s going, the street’s almost entirely gone. Fifty years ago, Ward Road was one of the city’s key thoroughfares, two miles long and a main route to Mission Valley and the north. Now all that’s left of it is two shabby residential blocks.

Decades ago, if you were downtown and wanted for some strange reason to go to Escondido or Riverside, your most direct route was via Ward Road, which crossed Friars Road, turned into Murphy Canyon Road, and finally joined with Linda Vista Road on Kearny Mesa. From there the Escondido — or Inland — Highway proceeded north.

Today, nearly all of Ward has been supplanted by a stretch of Interstate/State Route 15. The new freeway follows the old Ward Road grade, beneath the Adams Avenue overpass. Recent maps still identify this portion of 15 as Ward Road. (Take out your Thomas Bros, and see.)

The photograph shows a dead-ended stump of Ward, hard by an I-15 offramp in Normal Heights. Until it was closed off around 1960, this piece of street took you underneath Adams Avenue and into Mission Valley. A sign at the barrier says NO DUMPING, but on a recent day the weed-choked roadside was filled with garbage and a broken-down yellow davenport.

Down near the Mission, off Camino del Rio North, you can find another stump of road bearing the name Ward.

The Wards themselves seem to have been a colorful lot. They included a father-son team of public officials who divided their time between San Diego and Tombstone, Arizona. During one of their extended excursions (c. 1883), the elder Ward got himself named sheriff of Tombstone, with his son as deputy. By 1891 the younger Ward, Will by name, was deputy sheriff in San Diego. A few years later he was styling himself a “rancher” and keeping both a downtown house and a spread northeast of the city.

Jump to: Part 1 | Part 2

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