National City is the second oldest city in San Diego County. Founded in 1868, it was acquired through a Mexican land grant by the Frank Kimball family. It was incorporated on Sept. 17, 1887.
We can’t deny the Latino cultural and gastronomical influence that has helped shape the city’s character. Thousands of people cross the Tijuana-San Diego border every day and many Latinos have made San Diego home. National City consists of 64% Latinos and we actively promote festivals and cultural celebrations like the International Mariachi Festival to support youth development in the arts.
National City shares different cultures, the other largest ethnic group is 19.5% Asian. Here, there is a large population of Filipino and Vietnamese communities. The Filipino Press is San Diego’s number one source of news and information for the Filipino community to help promote business and community development. Another great source for the Asian community is the Asian Business Association (ABA) that provides a strong voice on business, cultural and political issues of interest to San Diego’s Asian and Pacific Islander community.
Before the entry of Spanish into the area which modern day National City occupies, this was the territory of the Diegueño tribe, also known as Kamai, and later Kumeyaay. During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century there was a Kumeyaay village, north of the modern National City boundaries, on Chollas Creek.
Following, the Spanish named the 26,000 acres (11,000 ha) of land El Rancho del Rey. After independence from Spain in 1810, the Mexican government renamed it Rancho de la Nación. Governor Pío Pico granted Rancho de la Nación to his brother-in-law John (Don Juan) Forster in 1845. Rancho De La Nación once totaled 26,633 acres, encompassed the far corner of Spring Valley, all of Chula Vista, Bonita, and extended all the way to Seaport Village.
President Andrew Johnson, in issuing the land patent, listed the name as the English translation “The National Ranch.” In 1868, Frank Kimball and his brothers Warren and Levi, contractors and builders from San Francisco, purchased the entire rancho and thus began the foundation of the city, retaining the National name, now calling it National City.
The Kimball Family started the Citrus Growers Association and also the first lumber company, bank and newspaper for National City and the City of Coronado. National City was also known for its tile factory and a growing citrus and olive industry. It is a little-known fact that the tiles used in the Downtown San Diego Railroad Depot were made in National City. The Kimball’s were also responsible for building the Sweetwater dam.
The Frank Kimball home, constructed in 1868, is located in historic Heritage Square in the 900 block of “A” Avenue. Heritage Square also heralds the celebrated Elizur-Steele home and the Proctor-Rice home. All of these homes are of Victorian Era construction built by prominent business owners and educators in the1880s. National City is home to more 100-year-old Victorian homes than any other city in California. Even though the city is 130 years old, the majority of the homes and businesses were built between 1940 and 1970.
One famous home in National City is the Noyes House. Located at 2525 N Ave., this Victorian house started off as the home of Oliver Noyes, a wealthy businessman, who was named National City’s first postmaster. In 2008, a piece of property surrounding the Noyes house was donated by the affluent Walton family (of Wal-Mart fame) to the International Community Foundation. That property also became home to Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center, which provides science-based environmental education lessons, hands-on gardening, and cooking lessons to students and families from underserved communities.
Four buildings in the City are listed in the National Register of Historic Places:
1. Granger Music Hall, 1615 East 4th Street
Ralph Granger, who struck it rich in the silver mines of Colorado and was making $5,000 a day through the 1890’s, located his family on an estate in Paradise Valley (8th Street). His love of violins led to his purchase of a large and expensive string collection, which prompted him to hire San Diego architect Irving Gill to build a private music hall for him near his house.
A wonderful 75-foot mural adorns the recital hall ceiling portraying the Muses Euterpe and Erato, surrounded by cherubs. Due to the way the building was constructed, no wall is exactly parallel, so a microphone is not needed. Sound travels from one end of the hall to the other without distortion.
Saved from demolition, Granger Music Hall was moved to its present site. In an effort spearheaded by National City Historical Society, it was lovingly restored and painted its original colors by the citizens of National City.
2. Brick Row on Heritage Square, 900 Block A Avenue
Designed by San Diego architect R. C. Ball, it was constructed by Frank Kimball in 1887 for $30,000. These 10 individual row houses were to be used by the executives of the Santa Fe Railroad during the time National City was acquiring the first railroad terminus in San Diego County. This architectural style is unique to this region and was molded after the row houses of Philadelphia and similar eastern cities. It was hoped that the railroad VIPs would not only feel at home surrounded by familiar architecture, but also be impressed by the cosmopolitan appearance of the young city. All the apartments have a formal dining room with a fireplace, a kitchen, a parlor, a butler’s pantry, and four bedrooms upstairs.
Twelve-inch thick interlocking brick walls divide the units. The brickwork on the row houses was laid with an artistic eye to break the severe lines of the long walls. The bricks above the second story are set upright at an angle. A one-story wooden porch runs the length of the building.
It is an integral part of National City’s Heritage Square. Each of the 10 units is privately owned and maintained; however, there is a protective covenant on the Facade, so the exterior will always be in keeping with the Victorian surroundings.
Brickrow houses the National City Historical Archives at 926 “A” Ave. A large collection of the city’s history and that of the police department and fire department are available for the public to view.
The Kimball Museum is located directly across the street from “Brick Row.” The Kimball Museum is the home of the National City Society.
3. Santa Fe Rail Depot, 922 West 23rd Street (California Southern Terminus Depot)
Built in 1882, the Santa Fe Rail Depot is the only original transcontinental railroad terminus in the United States that is still standing. On November 14, 1885, the first train left from National City to Waterman (renamed Barstow in 1886), 78 miles from its transcontinental link in San Bernardino.
The restored Santa Fe Rail Depot serves as a railroad museum and community meeting place. For more information please visit www.sdera.org or call (619) 474-4400.
Neighboring the Depot is National City’s Railcar Plaza at 840 West 24th Street. Once owned by National City founder Frank Kimball, the railcar played a significant role in transportation, serving as the region’s first commuter-type train dedicated to passengers. Even the legendary Wyatt Earp rode the train!
The Original 1887 No. 1 Car of the old “MOTOR CANNON BALL” excursion train is now on display at the National City Railcar Museum.
4. St. Matthews Episcopal Church, 521 E. 8th Street
In 1872, the Kimball brothers donated a parcel of land for the future building of a church. The Episcopal Society was organized in 1882 and Frank Kimball was elected secretary. St. Matthews Church was built five years later. Designed by Chula Vista architect William Herman, it was patterned after an English Countryside church.
Locally Designated Significant Buildings
1 907 A Avenue Elizur Steel/Crandall/Ennis House
2 923 A Avenue Frank Kimball House
3 926 A Avenue National City Historic Archives
4 939 A Avenue John Proctor House
5 940 A Avenue Hannah Lee’s Teahouse
6 538 C Avenue Pinney House
7 907 D Avenue Boyd-Vurgason House
8 1108 D Avenue Fred Copeland House
9 540 E Avenue William Burgess House
10 305 F Avenue Mitchell-Webster House
11 341 F Avenue Tyson House
12 405 G Avenue Doctor’s House
13 437 G Avenue Parson-Ochsner House
14 1735 J Avenue George Beermaker House
15 1515 L Avenue George Kimball House
16 2824 L Avenue McKnight House
17 2525 N Avenue Oliver Noyes House
18 636 E. 2nd Street John Steele House
19 926 E. 7th Street Barber-Ferbita House
20 3600 E. 8th Street Wellington Estate
21 2202 E. 10th Street Tower House of Moses Kimball
22 940 E. 16th Street Judge Hertel Hawken House
23 1129 E. 16th Street Mrs. Eimar Home
24 539 E. 20th Street Charles Kimball House
25 1504 E. 22nd Street D. K. Horton House
26 541 E. 24th Street Olivewood Clubhouse
27 1430 E. 24th Street Wallace Dickinson House
28 1433 E. 24th Street Dickinson Boal House
29 1941 Highland Avenue Floyd Home
30 425 Shell Avenue Josselyn House