About Del Mar

Life in Del Mar

A publicist for the Del Mar Race Track once described Del Mar as a place "where nobody's in a hurry except the horses." That's really only half true.

Del Mar Photo Montage

Del Mar does have many well-traveled paths to the past- the days of the dons, the tales of the race track's early days, the sparkling scenarios of movie stars, and the everyday lives of settlers and townspeople- but its newly paved roads to the future are just as visible, and they are a modern-day reflection of the town's new style.

Residents and visitors enjoy the paradox that Del Mar offers, small-town atmosphere with sophisticated ambiance. From fine restaurants and quaint shops and cafes, to palatial bluff-side homes and posh hotels, right down to the very faces and personalities that make the city vibrant and alive, Del Mar's style is as easy to trace as its own history and roots.

The Beginnings – Del Mar's Unique History

Of course any reference to the future must begin with a look at the past.

The earliest remnants of life in and around Del Mar were in 9000 B.C. As glaciers began to melt away, a tribe of people, whom archaeologists now call the San Dieguito people, migrated from the inland valleys toward the shores to find more food. As evidence of this tribe's existence, numerous artifacts- tools, primitive cutlery, and makeshift weapons- have been found in the area.

Roughly 2,000 years later, a tribe called the La Jollans, who lived near the ocean and gained their primary sustenance from the sea, was also traced to this area. In 1929, San Diego Museum of Man pioneer archaeologist Malcolm Rogers discovered perhaps the most famous Del Mar resident of all-the skull of a La Jollan tribesman and several bones eroding out of a Del Mar cliff. At first, the skull and bones were thought to be 48,000 years old, but in 1984 the bones were re-tested and confirmed to be 5,100 years old. Rogers called it "Del Mar Man".

When the Spanish arrived in the mid 1700's, the native American tribes began to disappear, and time gave way to a new age- the age of the California Missions and the silver dons. In 1769 a group of 74 Spanish men, including Father Junipero Serra and many leatherjacket soldiers, set out on a sacred expedition to colonize California territory. They traveled on what is known today as El Camino Real or the King's Highway. Unlike other parts of El Camino Real which ran along California's coast, the road veered inland at Del Mar, avoiding the swampland and lagoons closer to the ocean. Although not by foot, El Camino Real remains a well-traveled route today.

During the early and mid 1800s, the area south and east of where Del Mar is now located was called Cordero. Historians believe the Cordero Mesa (where Del Mar Heights is today) was named after a Spanish leatherjacket soldier who supervised sheep grazing in the area. In 1880 the township spanned roughly 36 miles, stretching from the south end of Solana Beach up to Mira Mesa and Carmel Valley and down to Sorrento Valley. Del Mar was part of Township 14 also known as the San Dieguito Township.

William A. Ewing was the first American homesteader to settle in the Del Mar vicinity, and thus he was the authority on the area, a leader to all those who came later. But it wasn't until Theodore Loop arrived in 1880 that the barren chaparral-covered bluff and slope became a community, a town. The California Southern Railroad had brought Loop, a contractor/engineer from New York, to help extend the railroad to San Diego. After the project was completed, Loop acquired several hundred acres, much of which was Del Mar land and included the beach. In order to attract newcomers to Del Mar, Loop built a tent city on the beach and sponsored excursions on weekends. Marion Loop, Theodore and Ella Loop's daughter, was the first person born in Del Mar city limits, and Ella had already named the town "Del Mar," meaning "of the sea" in Spanish.

In 1883 Theodore and Ella Loop met Jacob Shell Taylor, and the three embarked on a venture to make Del Mar a community. Taylor had bought an undivided half interest in Enoch Talbert's land, and Taylor eventually bought out Talbert to own a total of 338.1 acres on the Del Mar mesa. Between 1884 and 1890, the town was built, including a hotel, business district and livestock stables. Taylor became known as the founding father of Del Mar.

Here Today - Gone to Del Mar

From 1905, when famous land developer Ed Fletcher and the South Coast Land Company began to develop coastal land from Del Mar to Carlsbad, on up through the 20s and 30s, the face of Del Mar continued to change. Fletcher and his company built a store, the Stratford Inn, a 1,000-foot pier, a new brick railroad station, an indoor swimming pool and a garage (most of which remain today). They also broke ground for homes and vacation cottages just above the hotel on the hill. In the 1920s, another wing was added to the hotel and it was renamed the Del Mar Hotel. In 1925, a golf course was built on the fairgrounds and eventually the state highway ran through town, bringing lots of tourists.

1937 Opening of Del Mar Race Track
Changes Del Mar Forever

Beginning July 3, 1937, the history and future of Del Mar would never again be the same. This day marked the opening of the Del Mar Race Track. Bing Crosby, William A. Quigley and Pat O'Brien, along with Ed Fletcher's help, had pushed for the establishment of the track, and on opening day many Hollywood starlets like Dorothy Lamour and Bette Davis were on hand for the celebration. Throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s the tradition continued, and the town became known as a perennial play land for the rich and famous. In fact, several celebrities have called Del Mar home- Desi Arnaz, Jimmy Durante and Martin Milner to name a few.

In the 70s, several of today's old faithfuls set up shop- Earth Song Bookstore and Ocean Song Gallery, Bully's and Carlos & Annie's restaurants, both Del Mar heights Plaza and Flower Hill Mall, and the New Stratford Inn. In the past ten years Del Mar has become known as a haven or mecca for publishers, artists and all types of sports enthusiasts. Rarely does a day go by, especially on the weekends, that you can't see evidence of an extremely healthy and active community.

Del Mar of Today and Tomorrow

Today the actual city of Del Mar is a 2 square-mile seaside city, and its size has remained virtually the same as it was 100 years ago. The Del Mar Chamber of Commerce estimates the population at 4,200. The city, however, steps to a new beat, one of planned progress, slow growth and community awareness and participation. According to many Del Mar locals, the preservation of such a "special" place as Del Mar has provided a common ground for business people and residents alike.

"Ordinances related to growth, density and architecture, as well as residents and business people's concern for the city, are the reasons Del Mar is what it is today," said Lew Hopkins, former Mayor of Del Mar. "Growth is an evolutionary process, but it can be planned. The most major changes to Del Mar over the past years would have to be the addition to the Inn and the construction of Del Mar Plaza. And they are both gradually improving the image of Del Mar." According to Mr. Odam, another Del Mar heights resident, Del Mar's small-town charm and resort identity have produced a very unique community. "It used to be said that there was nowhere to eat lunch in Del Mar- that's not true anymore," Odam said with a laugh. "And you can't forget the original seed of Del Mar… there were maybe two shacks and some sheep grazing until someone came along and built a hotel, a railway and a race track. With those resort town roots it's hard to criticize what the town is today. It is a resort town, and it's laid back. But is still had a distinct character. It's no longer a backwater place- it's on the map."

An excerpt about Theodore Loop from "Del Mar Looking Back" by Nancy Hanks Ewing paints the perfect picture of Del Mar: As he rode he thought, "A town will grow here. My town." Loop's wife had already named it: Del Mar. Of the sea. He liked it and said it aloud, "Del Mar." There was something special about it.

"This will be a special place. I feel it."

Lots of people think so.

© 2019 Blue Book Publishers, Inc.