History of La Mesa Summary

On February 16, 1912 La Mesa Springs, a community of 700 citrus farmers, home-seekers, developers and businessmen incorporated into the City of La Mesa. Located amongst the rolling hills and mesa “tablelands” between San Diego and El Cajon, today’s suburban city of over 56,000 is still renown for its “small town” character, featuring its historic “village” business district, family-friendly neighborhoods, good schools, and ample retail and recreational amenities.

The area’s centuries-old prehistory and history can be traced to the natural springs that attracted stockman Robert Allison in 1869. “Allison Springs,” later renamed La Mesa Springs, prospered and grew after the arrival of the San Diego and Cuyamaca Eastern Railroad in 1889 (now the route of the MTDB Trolley).

After incorporation the young city grew steadily, reaching 3,925 residents by 1940. Post-World War II, La Mesa exemplified the exponential suburban growth of the region, expanding to the north and west of old downtown to accommodate 50,000 plus residents by 1980—all still attracted, as today, to the “Jewel of the Hills.”

(Excerpt from Images of America: La Mesa by James D. Newland, available at the Historical Society.)

Following Spanish colonization in 1769, what is now La Mesa became part of the lands of Mission San Diego de Alcala. Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, and in 1834 the new government secularized mission lands. Eleven years later, Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California, granted 58,000 acres of ex-Mission land to Santiago Arguello, commandante of the Presidio of San Diego. In 1868 stockman Robert Allison arrived in San Diego and purchased 4,000 acres from Arguello’s heirs. The land, which is now south La Mesa, was used to graze herds of cattle and sheep.

Historic Preservation

La Mesa’s history can be traced through its varied and well-preserved architectural record. Surviving examples represent the early settlement of La Mesa in the late 1800s, evidenced by growth in the local citrus industry and the layout of some of the City’s first suburban subdivisions in the early 1900s. Some notable examples from this early era include La Mesa’s oldest standing residence, the Albert W. Gray House at 8045 Culowee Street (1891) and the site of the oldest commercial building the restored La Mesa Depot at 4695 Nebo Drive (1894) and the Collier Park Spring House (1907)—all City Historical Landmarks.

The Society plays an active role in historic preservation in the City, placing several members on the Historic Preservation Commission and assisting property owners with research on their houses for nomination and possible listing on the City Historical Landmark Register. Visit the archives to learn more on your property.

Click here for all listed City Landmarks: www.cityoflamesa.com/index.aspx?nid=765

Water and the Railroad

In 1885, the arrival of the railroad into San Diego sparked a land boom. In 1881, John Harbison purchased 4,000 acres from the Arguello estate (now north La Mesa), and in 1887, the San Diego Flume Company (formed to bring water from the Cuyamaca mountains) purchased Harbison’s land and filed a subdivision map naming it La Mesa Colony—with the original townsite at today’s 70th & El Cajon. In 1894 Lookout Ranch owner A.S. Crowder and Joseph Allison (one of Robert’s sons) flled the La Mesa Springs subdivision map. Streets were graded, the La Mesa Lemon Company Store and a blacksmith shop constructed near the La Mesa Springs Depot. Five- and 10-acre lemon ranches dotted the landscape.

Residential Development

The transformation from an agricultural area to a residential community began in 1906 when Sherman Grable purchased 100 acres in the Date Avenue area from land developer David Collier. Grable and Charles Park formed the Park-Grable Investment Company. Together they developed 1,000 lots from 200 acres in central La Mesa. With a population of 700, the community incorporated as the City of La Mesa on February 16, 1912.

Grossmont and
Mt. Helix

In 1902, Ed Fletcher and William Gross purchased the Villa Caro Ranch, which included the smaller peak on the north side of Mt. Helix. Fletcher named this mountain Grossmont, in honor of Gross. In 1910, the two men developed it as a picturesque artist’s colony.