Imperial Beach History

The history of Imperial Beach started about June 1887 when R. R. Morrison a real estate developer, filed a subdivision map with the San Diego County Clerk. Soon after Mr. George Chaffey purchased several plots of land for subdivision. Mr. Chaffey intended to create a summer retreat for the people of Imperial Valley. It’s considered that the name “Imperial Beach” was coined as part of a marketing strategy. Imperial Beach built its first sidewalks in 1909-1910.

Wave and tidal energy was thought to be the way of the future in the late 1800´s and early 1900´s. In 1909 a wooden pier was constructed in Imperial Beach to support massive machinery that used wave action to generate electricity for the town. The “Edwards Wave Motor” worked inadequately for its intended purpose and was subsequently dismantled and hauled away. For many years the pier attracted large crowds as did the nearby boardwalk and bathhouse. The wooden pier finally deteriorated and it washed to sea in a severe 1948 storm.

In 1910 the builder of the Hotel del Coronado, E. S. Babcock, dredged a channel in the south end of San Diego Bay. Boats carrying up to fifty passengers traveled three times a day from downtown San Diego to the South San Diego Landing (now the north end of 10th street). A battery powered trolley car took passengers south on 10th Street, west on Palm Avenue, south on Seacoast Drive, proceeded to the end of the street before returning to the landing. The trolley cars batteries were the newest invention of Thomas A. Edison in attempt to do away with the overhead trolley car wires. The popular cruises ended in 1916 when very heavy rains destroyed dams and caused severe erosion, filling the 10th Street Channel with silt. It was never dredged again.

The military property on the southern boundary of Imperial Beach was first developed in 1917 by the Army. The property was originally called Aviation Field and re-named Ream Field one year later in honor of Army Major William Roy Ream, the first flying surgeon to be killed in an aircraft accident. The Navy began using the field in the 1920′s for various naval aviation activities. The recent history of the military base began on August 1, 1974 when the name was changed to Naval Auxiliary Landing Field. The property is currently used as a naval helicopter base.

On June 5, 1956 Imperial Beach voted to become its own independent city. The act of incorporation was recorded in the California State Secretary’s office on July 18th, 1956. Imperial Beach became the 10th city in San Diego County and the 327th city in California.

In the first part of the 1960´s an extremely popular fishing pier was built after a bond issue was passed by the voters. Storms destroyed the pier approximately 20 years later. Because of its popularity it was rebuilt in 1988. The Imperial Beach Pier (pictured above) is the city’s most famous landmark. Its used by locals and guests to catch fish, check out the waves and dine on some tasty fish and chips.