A Brief History of La Mesa
Following Spanish colonization in 1769, what is now La Mesa became part of the lands of Mission San Diego de Alcala. Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, and in 1834 the new government secularized mission lands. Eleven years later, Pio Pico, the last Mexican governor of California, granted 60,000 acres of ex-Mission land to Santiago Arguello, commandante of the Presidio of San Diego. In 1868, a wealthy Robert Allison arrived in San Diego and purchased land, including 4,000 acres from Arguello. The land, which is now south La Mesa, was used to graze herds of cattle and sheep.
Water and the Railroad
In 1885, the railroad sparked a land boom in San Diego, creating a need for new sources of water. In 1881, John Harbison purchased 4,000 acres from the Arguello estate, and in 1887, the San Diego Flume Company (formed to bring water from the Cuyamaca mountains) purchased Harbison's land and filed a subdivision map naming it La Mesa Colony. A major growth period began in 1894 when A.S. Crowder and Joseph Allison (one of Robert's sons) flled the La Mesa Springs subdivision map. Streets were graded, the La Mesa Store and a blacksmith shop were constructed near what is now La Mesa Boulevard. Five- and 10-acre lemon ranches dotted the landscape.
The transformation from an agricultural area to a residential community began in 1906 when Sherman Grable purchased 100 acres in the Date Avenue area from land developer David Collier. Grable and Charles Park formed the Park-Grable Investment Company. Together they developed 200 acres in central La Mesa into 1,000 lots. With a population of 700, the community was incorporated as the City of La Mesa on February 16, 1912.
Grossmont and Mt. Helix
In 1902, Ed Fletcher and William Gross purchased the Villa Caro Ranch, which included the smaller peak on the north side of Mt. Helix. Fletcher named this mountain Grossmont, in honor of Gross. In 1910, the two men developed it as a picturesque artist's colony.
The 1920s through the present
La Mesa grew rapidly during the post-WWI years, and by 1923, its population reached 1,600. The first theatre was built and the business area continued its expansion east and west along La Mesa Boulevard. By 1950, La Mesa grew to 11,000 and by 1960, it grew to 30,000. Today, the population of La Mesa is nearly 60,000.