Friday, February 27, 2015

February 25th Program Review - Barbara Zaragoza

CVGS member Barbara Zaragoza was the Program speaker at the 25 February 2015 program meeting at the Chula Vista Civic Center Branch Library Auditorium.  Her topic was "San Ysidro and the Tijuana River Valley."

Barbara recently wrote the book San Ysidro and the Tijuana River Valley for Arcadia Publishing, and it is chock full of photographs of the border region from the 1850s up to the present.  She published 90 of the 2,000 photos that were collected.

In the first part of her talk, Barbara discussed the pre-American history of the border region, from the Native-American tribes who had three vilalges in the region and left lots of artifacts, to the Spanish colonization starting in 1769 by Father Serra, then about Mexico's independence from Spain in 1821 and creation of the Santiago Arguello Melijo Rancho and Rancho Tiajuana that stretched from the ocean to Otay Mountain.  She had a picture of the Arguello home called "La Punta" which was obliterated by building I-5 in 1951 near the salt works.

After the U.S.-Mexico border was defined by the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, 51 border monuments were installed between the ocean and El Paso, Texas, with three strands of wire marking the border to prevent animals from straying across.   In the 1870's, a U.S. Customs House was built near the present San Ysidro border crossing.  Real estate development started on the U.S. side, some Japanese farmers settled in the Tijuana river Valley, and a schoolhouse was built at the end of Hollister Street.

Tiajuana City was started in 1887 on the U.S. side near the present border crossing, but it was wiped out by the 1891 Tijuana river flood, and the residents fled to the Mexico side of the border.

Another border commission installed new border monuments starting in El Paso and finishing with number 258 at the Pacific Ocean.  Marker 255 still stands in San Ysidro by the train station.

William E. Smythe, an East Coast journalist, laid out a utopian agricultural community in 1908 called "Little Landers" in San Ysidro on 1 acre plots, with a hotel, on the river floodplain.  He also named the area San Ysidro.  In the 1916 great flood, the community was washed away.

In 1911, the Industrial Workers of the World took over Tijuana on the Mexico side by force, and some Mexicans fled to San Ysidro.  Some Americans watched the battles from their side of the border.  Mexico eventually won the battle.

In 1915, the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego sponsored train trips to Tijuana for a Mexican Fair, sightseeing and other purposes.  When the U.S. passed Prohibition in 1919, Frank E. Beyer set up a "Vice City" in Tijuana with clubs, opium dens and a racetrack and many Americans visited.

By 1924, San Ysidro had a library, two churches, and many homes.  In the 1930s, dairy farmers were in the Tijuana River Valley.  Border Field was opened in 1929 and became a State Park in 1971.  In 1955, a chain link fence was built.  In 1957, San Ysidro was annexed into the city of San Diego.  By the 1960s, the population of San Ysidro was about 7,000, and 80% were of Mexican heritage.  The building of I-805 in the 1967-1975 time period displaced about 300 homes and businesses in San Ysidro.  The San Diego Trolley terminus was located in San Ysidro near the border crossing.  The border crossing has traffic of about 50 million persons a year, the highest land port of entry numbers in the world.

The far western portion of the Tijuana River Valley is still undeveloped and is protected as a California State Park, and is the largest coastal wetland on the West Coast Flyway.

This was an interesting discussion of local history and the events that led to the settlement of San Ysidro, Tijuana and the Tijuana River Valley.  Barbara's book can be purchased at and at  She has a website at including a blog about local history and culture.

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