By Jon Luna
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles on the history of City Heights. The series will explore the evolution of the community using both words and photographs, with a special emphasis on the community’s cultural and ethnic diversity.
Only in City Heights can you sample cuisine from Ethiopia, Vietnam, Laos, and many other countries all without having to travel more than a mile or two. There is no question that City Heights is unique in the region for its cultural diversity, the question to ask is “How did it occur?”
This article is the first of a series of stories that I will write to shed light on City Heights’ past. With each article, my goal is to bring readers closer to an understanding of how this Mid-City community became the melting pot that it is today. My column will also cover major historical figures, milestones and landmarks.
The history of City Heights is a story that is rarely told so it remains largely unknown even to the residents who live there. Journey with me, together we will explore how the community’s past is inextricably linked to its present.
City Heights was originally called Teralta and Teralta Heights, possibly from the Spanish word for high ground. In the early decades of the 1900s, it was also commonly known as East San Diego.
The founders were adventure seekers looking for a new home in the West. These pioneers settled the area because it was on high ground and had a year-round Mediterranean climate. Today, the neighborhoods bounded roughly by El Cajon Boulevard, the I-15, University Avenue and Euclid Avenue are called Teralta East and Teralta West. A park at Orange Avenue and 40th Street also carries the Teralta name.
In 1912, City Heights was incorporated as East San Diego and became the second largest city in the county with a population of 4,000.
The city’s founding fathers set high standards for the community and outlawed liquor sales, gambling, dance halls, carrying guns, and driving faster than fifteen miles an hour. These rules and the fact that there was no jail, no arrests, no hobos, and no idle rich was why the community was nicknamed, “The Golden Rule City.” The Golden Rule has existed since biblical times. It states “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
The city trustees even served without pay, yet held meetings at least twice a week. And the city’s first chief of police was coincidentally named O.W. Justice.
City Heights residents of 1912 were proud of their rapidly growing city with high moral aspirations. Over the last century, City Heights has changed dramatically, but it is safe to say that residents in the community can still be proud of it.
Next month’s column will focus on early 20th century races held on University Avenue to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Jon Luna is a first-generation Filipino-American who was raised in City Heights. A San Diego State University graduate, he still lives there and works regularly as a substitute teacher at Hoover High School and other City Heights public schools. He is also pursuing a master’s degree in history from the University of San Diego. Jon’s research comes from the archives of the San Diego History Center.