By Dave Slifka
To the untrained eye, University Heights may appear to be just another indistinguishable part of San Diego’s urban sprawl. However, closer consideration reveals a community that not only has a compelling history of growth but a unique identity forged by its relationship to the land and local civic development.
The modern history of University Heights began in 1885, with the completion of the Santa Fe Transcontinental railroad. As people flowed in on the Santa Fe, a syndicate of land developers rushed to create the infrastructure that would accommodate these new settlers. In 1888, they established what would eventually become University Heights and promoted it as a branch location for the future University of Southern California College of Fine Arts. Although plans for the university stalled due to a collapse in the real estate market, the community – and its name – persisted, and later became home to a state-sponsored teacher training college.
University Heights grew in fits and starts as local circumstances evolved. Once boasting an ostrich farm and silk mill, it was at the forefront of fashion in the early 1900s. During the same period, the original San Diego trolleyline was extended into University Heights, bringing increased migration from downtown and points beyond. The opening of the Panama California International Exposition in 1915 led to the creation of Balboa Park and another surge of residential construction in UH. These periods of development and others live on in our community through its quintessential design and architecture.
Some of San Diego’s early leading entrepreneurs, architects and builders had a tremendous impact on the direction and character of University Heights. The neighborhood is full of residential and commercial structures that bear the fingerprints of local luminaries like John Spreckels, George Marston, Irving Gill and David Dryden. Their contributions left us wonderful examples of buildings from all periods of the 20th century, from Victorians to the contemporary homes of today. In between, you can find Craftsman of the early 20th century, Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Style from the 1920s, and Ranch and Mid-Century Modern from the post-World War II era.
University Heights is much more than just another big city footnote; it represents the best of San Diego’s past and future. Come explore with us and re-discover this treasured corner of the city.