The 1930s

The Great Depression

When the Great Depression began in the autumn of 1929, shock waves radiated out across the entire country. Larger cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco were impacted more dramatically than San Diego County, but the impact soon found its way here in the early years of the 1930s. Despite all of the new business, even a small agricultural town like Carlsbad could not elude the effects of the national crisis.

The First National Bank on Elm Avenue, that had just opened in the late 1920s, closed its doors or, as was commonly noted, went on a “Bank Holiday.” Some Carlsbad adults recall playing in the abandoned bank as children. It was a place furnished with piles of newspapers and an empty vault. Other adults remember their sorrow at seeing classmates living in the abandoned bank building with their families. Some families that were totally without resource were forced into spaces behind the tellers’ windows to live.

[PHOTO] Carlsbad Village from the air in 1932.

[PHOTOS] Early chapel interior and Rev. Gardner.

Hard Times at St. Michael’s

The Rev. G. C. Gardner arrived at St. Michael’s as the new vicar in 1931, and he was also Priest-in-Charge for Encinitas and Del Mar. He was a former organist at Westminster Abbey and was a fine musician. One of his suggestions for church improvement was the addition of two small transepts in front of the sanctuary. He also called for the purchase of a church bell, which was mounted on posts near the church entrance.

The deepening Depression began to press into church life. In February 1932, Mrs. Gardner reported to the Guild on the Diocesan Convention held in Los Angeles. She told of the talk given by Bishop Gooden in which he suggested that each parish help to relieve the hungry in its locality by installing a ‘Vicar’s Kitchen.’ This ministry to the suffering community soon began at St. Michael’s.

Other meetings regarding the financial affairs of the Board of Missions were tinged with concern a lack of funds might make it necessary to call in some of the missionaries. One March meeting notes write: “The Guild sincerely hopes that this will not happen to our Mission as Rev. Gardner is doing such good work.”


In September, the Guild held a discussion as to how to raise funds. It was suggested that they raise money by giving a card party if the Rector approved. After the meeting, Rev. Gardner came over to the Guild Hall from the Rectory to give us his views in regard to raising money by giving card parties. He was decidedly opposed to raising money by promoting gambling. He intimated that the Guild seemed to think that raising money was more important than the spiritual welfare of the Guild and stressed the fact that great good would come by prayer.

A St. Michael’s Every Member Canvass report from December 1932 gives an indication of how tough times were: the pledges amounted to slightly over $30.40 per month and the report ended with the words “Every member of the congregation has been visited.”

[PHOTO] The Carlsbad Hotel and Mineral Springs opened in 1930. Known today as Carlsbad-by-the-Sea.

Carlsbad Flowers & New Tourism

Despite the hardships suffered throughout town, Carlsbad hung on during the Depression. Growth slowed but the area was still growing. Some of the more experienced avocado growers were able to survive, and new floriculture soon became a defining feature of the area. Flowers were everywhere in the late 1920s and 1930s, and many driving through the area stopped to take pictures.

Nurseryman Luther Gage was growing winter gladiolus and freesias at his first nursery at Tamarack and Fourth (now Jefferson). Gage is also credited with being one of the first to grow the bird of paradise, along with Clint Pedley and his brother in 1934. All have been credited, along with Donald Briggs, for the flower’s popularity. The bird of paradise is now the city’s official flower and is pictured on the city seal.

Gage gathered some of the best available seed from around the world and crossed strain varieties to create superb hybrids for vivid colors and sizes. One of Gage’s workers, Frank Frazee, eventually started his own bulb-growing business with his sons and within a few years was growing 1,000 acres of ranunculus along Agua Hedionda Lagoon. In 1958, they leased land along Highway 101 (now the 5 freeway) in the Ponto region of Carlsbad, which is famously known today as the Flower Fields.

In April 1933, Harold Finley of the Los Angeles Times suggested that his readers should drive to Carlsbad and its neighboring cities to “enjoy the unprogrammed outdoor showings of the commercial growers.” “The south coast area of San Diego County, taking in Carlsbad, Encinitas and South Coast Park, with Vista, a few miles back, thrown in for good measure, affords a gorgeous spectacle for the motorist, a spectacle amply justifying a trip expenditure for gasoline and one for which there is no ‘gate’ fee. Here where the air is tempered by a bit of moisture and an agreeable coolness from the sea, are the main bulb fields of the Southland’s great and growing floral industry.”

Hollywood Glamour & Investment

Many visitors to the area continued to frequent what was then known as the “World-famous” Twin Inns restaurant. The Carlsbad Hotel and Mineral Springs (known today as Carlsbad By The Sea), opened in 1930, bringing in Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes to enjoy the mineral springs and what the town had to offer. As the Depression waned in the later years of the decade, new developments began to set the stage for the area’s bright future. Carlsbad became a resort destination and a popular stopover on the way to Agua Caliente in Tijuana and soon the racetrack in Del Mar.

A $500,000 grant from the federal Works Progress Administration built the Del Mar project. The first fair was held in October 1936, and it was decided that a racetrack at the fairgrounds might make it self-supporting. World-famous crooner Bing Crosby, his brother Everett, and a friend William Quigley joined the first board of directors with actors Pat O’Brien and Oliver Hardy. The executive committee included Gary Cooper and Joe E. Brown. On opening day of the first racing season, July 3, 1937, Crosby, pipe in mouth, manned turnstiles and took tickets. Santa Fe Railway installed a spur to the track, and the opening-day crowd included stars Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Taylor, and Bette Davis. An innovation now a staple at all racetracks, the photo-finish camera, was introduced that day, and the following year, Crosby recorded “Where the Turf Meets the Surf,” which has been played before the race “at old Del Mar” ever since.

Around the same time, in 1937, actor Leo Carrillo purchased the former Los Kiotes ranch and soon renovated and added to the ranch, located in the hills southeast of the Agua Hedionda Lagoon. Carillo began hosting many of his friends from Hollywood. Bing Crosby, who had a home in nearby Rancho Santa Fe, and other investors formed a company called Carlsbad Properties in 1944 along with the Casey family. They purchased the Cohn Estate and developed it into the Royal Palms motel and Sea Side Café, which later became Fidel’s Norte near St. Michael’s.

The Rev. David Graham

Hollywood celebrity wasn’t the only draw in town. 1930s parishioner Louise Curley once shared this memory of the Rev. David Graham, who served St. Michael’s as vicar from 1937-1939:

“Mr. Graham was an exceptionally handsome young bachelor who mysteriously increased our regular attendance at church by vast numbers. Young ladies and their mothers rediscovered St. Michael’s. Mr. Graham married an Encinitas girl and our congregation returned to its normal size.”

Text Sources, Photos, and References:
• A History of San Diego North County: From Mission to Millennium (2001) by Lola Sherman
• Carlsbad: Images of America (2009) by Jeannie Sprague-Bentley
• Windows on the Past: An Illustrated History of Carlsbad, California (2002) by Susan Schnebelen Gutierrez
• The Carlsbad Historical Society
• The San Diego Floral Association
• Seekers of the Spring by Marje Howard-Jones
• Historic Carlsbad: A Self-Guided Tour, Carlsbad City Library Brochure
• The Los Angeles Times
• The San Diego Union-Tribune
• California Garden, April 1935
• St. Michael’s History Booklet: From 1894 to 1983
• St. Michael’s Archive