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New Picture History of San Diego : It Provides Look at Both the Famous and Often Forgotten

November 03, 1986|GORDON SMITH

SAN DIEGO — It's called "San Diego--A Pictorial History," and it's nothing if not thorough; Raymond Starr's new book includes everything from sketches of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo to a photograph of Kurt Bevacqua hitting a home run for the Padres in the 1984 World Series.

Starr, 49, a professor of history at San Diego State University, began the project three years ago. His goal was to compile a complete history of the "major events, themes and people in San Diego . . . using visual images" rather than words to convey the information.

"It is a history," he pointed out, "so you need pictures of John D. Spreckels, Balboa Park, and something about the tuna industry, for instance. But the book is also designed for a popular audience, not an academic one, so you want exciting pictures, too. Sometimes I picked pictures because they were amusing, or simply because they were good pictures."

In the course of his research, Starr visited the archives of the San Diego Historical Society, the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, and the California State Library in Sacramento, among others. "By going out of town, I was trying to get some material that hadn't been used before," he noted.

After sifting through tens of thousands of photographs, sketches and maps, Starr selected 373 for the book. As a general rule, he "wanted to find pictures that evoke something about San Diego--something that will give people a sense of the community."

Going on a picnic in a horse-drawn carriage was a popular weekend outing for American families at the turn of the century, but Starr selected two photographs of family picnics at clearly recognizable local sites--La Jolla and Point Loma--for his book. A picture of the Over-the-Line tournament in Mission Beach is also included, along with a 1926 photograph of a surfer who has carved the words "Mission Beach" and "S.D. Calif." into his heavy wooden board.

Another important consideration, Starr explained, was "to convey the history of all San Diegans, not just the white elite who lived and worked downtown. I tried to find pictures of people who were important in shaping San Diego, but I tried to include pictures of non-white, non-elites, too.

"It's very hard to do. One of the things I learned while doing the book is how distorted our historical record is."

For instance, it's fairly easy to find photographs of philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps, yet it's practically impossible to find any of the Filipinos and Latinos who lived in San Diego when it was still a fledgling port.

Still, Starr has done a remarkably thorough and balanced job. Along with a photograph of Jefferson Keno Wilson, the city's chief of police from 1909 to 1917, the book includes a picture of the girls' basketball team at San Diego High School in 1900. A picture of George Marston and John Nolen touring San Diego in 1908 can be found, but so can a picture of Bum, a likable mutt who regularly attended concerts and parades downtown and was a kind of town mascot from 1886 to 1898.

Three pictorial histories of San Diego have been published previously, but Starr pointed out that none of them are in print. He said his book also contains several photographs never before published; in addition, it includes extensive captions, written by Starr, that tell the stories behind the photographs and sketches.

Some 6,000 copies of a deluxe, limited edition of "San Diego--A Pictorial History," have been printed, and will be sold for the next year or so only through local nonprofit groups, including the San Diego Historical Society, the Save Our Heritage Organisation, the Normal Heights Community Development Corp. and Cabrillo National Monument. After that, a commercial edition will be marketed through local bookstores.

Although it's priced at $27.95, "it's a book for the general reader," said Starr, "the person who wants to understand San Diego today by understanding how we got here.

"But it's also for entertainment. I don't know anyone who doesn't like old photos."

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