How DC Collier’s Land Grant for Ocean Beach and Point Loma Became the ‘Incredible Shrinking Park’

by on March 27, 2021 · 0 comments

in History, Ocean Beach

This weekend, the OB Rag is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the infamous Collier Park Riot, which occurred on March 28, 1971. Our post for the occasion yesterday was just to cover the basics. Today, we use the historical event to delve more into the history of Collier Park itself and of DC Collier, who donated the land it sits on to the City.

The History of the DC Collier’s Park Landgrant of 1909

In 1909, David Charles “Colonel” Collier, a real estate developer who lived in Ocean Beach, gave a 60-acre parcel of land to the city as parkland “for the children” of the Point Loma peninsula. Collier was well-known locally as he was responsible for establishing the public utilities and streetcar system that enabled the development of Ocean Beach. He also planted trees and established the first elementary school in OB. Many OBceans consider DC Collier as the true “Father of Ocean Beach.”

As OB writer Dave Rice reported in a  San Diego Reader article, “The land sat largely undeveloped for decades, though it served as the first home for the Door of Hope, a housing facility for single mothers.”

Later, a 1956 citywide ballot measure granted the city manager authority to sell off Collier Park “upon such terms and conditions as may be deemed by the City Council to be in the best interests of the people.” The measure was sold to voters at the time as a means to transfer part of the property for construction of Collier Junior High School (later renamed Correia Middle School), ostensibly keeping true to Collier’s “for the children” wishes.

Some portions of Collier Park eventually became parkland – Bill Cleator Park includes a small playground area along with a series of fields that serve as the home of Peninsula Little League. Across Nimitz lies the Point Loma Native Plant Garden, Ocean Beach Community Garden, and a small patch of grass actually bearing the name Collier Park. Other land was sold off to apartment builders, a church, and the YMCA – the five acres along Famosa are the last bit of Collier’s grant that remains undeveloped.

The OB Rag has followed the Collier Park story for half a century. According to the OB Rag (Mid-January 1972, Vol. 2, No. 4):

The land, which had been donated to the city of San Diego by David Charles Collier with the express purpose that it be turned into a park “for the children of San Diego”, was dedicated for park use in 1909 when the City Council passed ordinance 3664. The park, however, was not developed and in 1956 proposition L went on the ballot and voters passed the proposition for what they thought was the transfer of some property from Collier Park to the San Diego Unified School District. The deceptive wording on the ballot had, if effect, “un-dedicated” the park land. At the time the city promised concentrate on building another park at Robb Field.

With the electoral “authorization”, the City of San Diego carved up the land, tearing a boulevard through the middle, handing off a good-sized section for the creation of Collier Junior High (later Correia Middle School), another chunk for the YMCA, and the western portion would be sold off by for the development of apartments. In the meantime, the land was vacant and unkempt.

1957 Thomas Bros. map of Ocean Beach. Click on the map to see a large version of it.

A few years back, OB Rag writer Citizen Kane shared his research into maps of Collier Park, and called his post “The Incredible Shrinking Park”.

The Incredible Shrinking Park can still be observed in Ocean Beach at the intersection of Green and Soto Streets. It’s officially known as Collier Park, and consists of approximately 6.7 dedicated acres if you include the Point Loma Native Plant Reserve. That might sound large, but it’s barely a fraction of the original size of the park before it began shrinking.

Travel back in time with the aid of the Fall 1957 Thomas Brothers Map, and you can see the park was bounded by Soto, Green, Valeta, and almost to Wolcott (about two blocks from the present day Stumps Market.) If we make a comparison to some streets that are more familiar in Ocean Beach, then readers should be able to visualize the size of the park a little better. Plunk the park down on the map with one corner at Newport Avenue and Abbott Street, and the length of the park would stretch all the way to Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. The width would go all the way over to the alley between Cape May and Brighton Avenues. That’s 3 long blocks in length, and 3.5 short blocks in width.

There are a number of reasons and justifications that have caused the park to shrink. You can read about some of that unpleasantness here. Take your children to Collier Park, and tell them the sad story of The Incredible Shrinking Park. It’s a lesson worth learning.

Visitors probably won’t be able to see the park shrink. The shrinkage isn’t linear and gradual. It shrinks in sudden chunks. It’s pretty complex stuff, but a team of scientists at Lucys Bar have estimated that by the year 2023 the Incredible Shrinking Park will have to be renamed as the David Charles Collier Memorial Parking Space. Enjoy it while you can.

Overlay of old Thomas Bros. map on recent Google map

And believe it or not, the legacy of controversy remains with the community to this day. Dave Rice in his Reader article accounted for that last 5 acres:

In 1981, the city transferred the land to the San Diego Housing Commission with a provision that it was to be used to build low-income housing. Although the commission made several attempts over the following years to partner with a developer for the site, a project never materialized. In addition to opposition from locals the site itself, once part of the Famosa Slough wetlands, proved challenging due to its steeply-sloped topography and low elevation.

Collier Park, then and now.

Here’s that 1957 Thomas Brothers map page:



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