Entering the 1940s, San Diego was a city of 200,000 with little industrial base. World War II transformed San Diego and the rapid creation of Linda Vista played a central role. See the rest of this entry for more on the history of Linda Vista.
Linda Vista was San Diego’s first
major housing development for industrial workers. It expanded the city beyond
the Mission Valley boundary for the first time. And it represented a younger,
more racially diverse and integrated San Diego than characterized the city at
In 1935, Rueben H. Fleet relocated
his Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from Buffalo to San Diego. While the
United States didn’t enter the war until December, 1941, US aircraft production
was already in high gear in 1939 supplying planes to France and Britain and a
readying US military. Consolidated Aircraft was a principal supplier and grew
from 874 employees in San Diego in 1935 to 41,000 employees in 1941. Ryan
Aircraft and Rohr Aircraft were other major defense manufacturers here.
Houses and neighborhood plan
Single- and mulit-family homes original
to Defense Housing Project No. 4002, the 1941-43 development, are seen
throughout the two walking tour loops. The examples at this location are
typical of the single-family home style.
Speculative subdivisions and street
plans were drawn up for the Linda Vista area in 1927 as “Chesterton” and
“Chesterton Extension”. These subdivisions never materialized, but portions of
the layout and street names were eventually were incorporated into the 1941 Linda
Vista Housing Development and later expansions.
The combined project architects are
identified as Louis J. Gill, Earl Heitschmidt, Charles O. Matchum, Sam W.
Hamill, and Blanchard & Maher. Louis J. Gill was the nephew and business
partner of Irving Gill. Louis was the lead architect on a number of major San
Diego projects including the County Administration Building, the Mission Hills
Congregational Church (now United Church of Christ), and a number of projects
at the San Diego Zoo.
The neighborhood was modeled on ‘garden
city’ town planning principles and Clarence Perry’s Neighborhood Unit Theory,
which emphasizes a self-contained community with large blocks and open spaces,
a designated service space at the central point, and separation between
pedestrian and vehicular traffic. A few public pedestrian paths remain in the
area: connecting Thomson Ct. and Upton Ct., Ulric St. and Westinghouse St. at
Comstock St, Fulton St. and Eastman St. mid-block, and Eastman St. and Linda
Vista Rd. at the pedestrian crosswalk midway along that long block.
The houses were designed by Public
Buildings Administration architect C.D. Persina to be functional and simple. The
houses share a common floor plan, allowing for low-cost and efficient
was contracted to Los Angeles based McNeil and Zoss Construction. To allow for
easy disassembly, two-headed nails were used in the construction of many of the
second phases’ “temporary” homes.
Vista project homes remained federal property leased to tenants for nine years
following the end of the war. The Lanham Act which created the project
established that the housing was to be temporary, to serve wartime needs. The
debate that followed was whether to then turn the property over to the city and
commercial interests in some mix or to allow tenants an opportunity to purchase
their homes. The tenants organized and won out.
notable that the federal tenant and later disposition process resulted in Linda
Vista being substantially more integrated than San Diego, which had racial
covenants restricting black and Hispanic home ownership to Logan Heights and
Southeast San Diego. This had the effect of reducing the degree of segregation
for the whole of San Diego, in contrast to the re-segregating role that public
housing played in many cities.
long process, sales of the project homes began on October 28, 1954. Prices and
priority were assigned to purchasers based on their residency and military
service – another topic of heated debate, as most residents had been civilian
wartime factory workers – by then including for the Korean War.
non-veterans, the single family homes cost $6,000 to $7,000. (Equivalent to
about $53,200 to $62,000 in 2016.) Financing was provided at 5% down and 5%
interest over 20 years.
Industry’s demand for aircraft
workers far outpaced growth in San Diego’s housing supply. Besides the largely
self-contained military outposts, the San Diego economy until then had been
substantially built on tourism and real estate, both of which catered especially
to Midwestern retirees. The San Diego community and its traditional industries had
little common interest with the defense industry’s need to build an unprecedented
amount of affordable housing.
The United States Housing Authority
was created in 1937 and made funds available to San Diego to build the housing
needed for the wartime effort. San Diego rejected offers of federal housing funds
in 1939 and 1940. By late 1940, workers were migrating to San Diego at a rate
of 1,500 per week, the city population had grown by 50% over two years, and the
severe housing shortage was impacting defense production. On October 14, 1940
the federal Lanham Defense Housing Act was passed, overriding San Diego’s
obstinacy and contracting for 3,000 housing units to be built on the 12,000
acre coastal sage scrub bluff that is now Linda Vista.
Over 259 days, 3,000 homes and 750
dormitory units were built in Linda Vista, the largest public housing project
in the U.S. for a brief time. The project broke ground on February 19, 1941 and
twenty families moved into new homes on May 19, 1941. Building continued throughout
the neighborhood, with 40 homes completed per day at the peak. A dedication
ceremony was held September 9, 1941 and the initial project was completed on
November 5, 1941. A second phase of 1,845 “temporary” units was completed in
1943 bringing Linda Vista’s population to 16,000.
City services in Linda Vista were
initially strained by the projects’ relationship to San Diego, heightened by
the fact that the development was exempt from property taxes. Federal payment
in-lieu of taxes to the city began in June 1943. School operations were
supported by the federal government starting in September 1941 but funds for
construction of school buildings, playgrounds, streetlights, or stores of any
kind took longer. It took two more years for those to fully arrive.