There’s more there than meets the eye of the first-time visitor. Here’s some background that may make your visit more fun:
Prior to 1867, the area which today makes up downtown San Diego was jokingly known as "Rabbitville" due to many failed attempts by early settlers to build a city on San Diego Bay. In those early days, although they couldn't seem to get the city built, they were successful in making a great habitat for the local rabbit population - hence the nickname.
Originally the center of San Diego was located in what today is still known as Old Town. But in 1867 Alonzo Horton, known as the father of downtown, purchased several hundred acres of waterfront property and built a wharf at the end of 5th Avenue and began to develop what was called "New Town". Within a few years, the area began to thrive.
The Gaslamp Name
In contrast to the much older original Spanish settlement of "Old Town", in "New Town" the city installed about 50 Gas Lamp Street lights to light up this new modern part of the town. The name "New Town" was lost over the years as the rest of the city grew but with great insight, the city kept the Victorian feel for most of this area, including the design of the signature Gas Lamp Street lights, hence giving the area its name.
Along with respectable merchants, a red-light district known as the Stingaree emerged (named for the stingrays in San Diego Bay) in early New Town. Gambling halls, bars and brothels thrived in the Stingaree until 1912 when the city announced it would host the Panama-California Exposition. At that time, officers raided numerous houses of ill-repute, arresting 138 women, who were subsequently shipped out of town by train.
San Diego in the 1880s was booming and a host of unsavory characters came to take advantage of the city's growth. One such character was Wyatt Earp, the west's most famous lawman. Having brought a sense of law and order to cattle drives in Kansas and battled outlaws at the OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, Earp made his way to San Diego in 1885 where he operated three gambling halls, organized gambling excursions in Mexico, and prospected copper and gold.
Tokyo might have Hachiko, but San Diego has two canine celebrities - Bum and Greyfriars Bobby. Bum, a St. Bernard-Spaniel mix, arrived by steamboat in 1886 as a stowaway. He became a local legend for his friendly temperament and fiercely independent lifestyle. Living on the streets of downtown, he led parades, ran with the fire brigade and greeted dignitaries and commoners alike. Another local canine hero is Greyfriars Bobby, a Skye terrier from Scotland, who accompanied policeman John Gray on his daily rounds in San Diego's sister city, Edinburgh, Scotland. When Gray died suddenly, Bobby is said to have loyally slept by his grave for more than 14 years. Greyfriars Bobby was immortalized into a bronze statue, symbolizing loyalty, service and friendship. Edinburgh, Scotland presented San Diego a copy of its celebrity dog statue, and in return San Diego gave Edinburgh a duplicate of Bum that is now on display at the foot of Edinburgh castle. Bronze statues of both dogs can be visited in the pocket park behind the Gaslamp Museum at the intersection of 4th and Island Avenues.
With Gaslamp's colorful past it's no wonder spirits have decided to take up resident here. Touted by many as "the most haunted house in the Gaslamp Quarter," the Davis-Horton House (and historical museum) has become a widely documented location for paranormal activity. It was even featured on My Ghost Story segment on the Biography Channel in 2012. But wait, there's more...Haunt World Magazine named the Haunted Hotel in the Gaslamp, one of the top 13 haunted houses in America featuring the Hotel in "American Haunts IV" on the Travel Channel. Popular tours including the Ghosts of the Gaslamp Walking Tour at the Davis-Horton House are offered year-round.
Most people think of Convoy Street in Kearny Mesa as being the center of Asian culture in San Diego. In fact, beginning in the 1860s, Chinese abalone fishermen, who were not allowed to live in other sections of the city, settled around an 8-block area adjacent to the Gaslamp Quarter. Known today as the Asian Pacific Thematic Historic District (APTHD), San Diego's historic Chinatown is an eight-block district overlapping with the Gaslamp Quarter Historic District. There are 22 buildings considered historically significant to this history between Market Street on the north, 2nd Ave. on the west, 6th Ave. on the east and J St. on the south. You can visit the San Diego Chinese Historical Museum to learn more and take a tour.
The Gaslamp Arched Sign
In 1980 the Gaslamp Quarter was listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places. In 1986 the idea of installing the Gaslamp Quarter Archway Sign was conceived but it would take until 1990 for it to be built and installed. The original cost of the sign was $150,000, and total weight is six tons.
There are nearly 100 historical building in the 16.5 walkable blocks that make up San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter. Standing side-by-side with modern building and skyscrapers, these classic Victorian era landmarks give the areas its unique character and charm. Today, many of the buildings have been converted into museums, hotels, bars, restaurants, galleries, shops and work spaces. A few of our favorites include: Yuma Building, Spencer Ogden Building, Old City Hall, Keating Building, Louis Bank of Commerce, St. James Hotel, and the Royal Pie Bakery Building. You can find more information about these historic building or there are also many Guided Tours of the area including walking tours, photo tours and even Segway tours.