History of National City

One of the oldest cities in San Diego County, the history of National City is rich. The city is about five miles south of San Diego and as of 2017, has a population of just over 60,000 people.

It had its beginnings in 1868 when the brothers Frank, Warren, and Levi Kimball bought 26,000 acres of land from a Mexican landowner. The previous owner, John (Don Juan) Forster had acquired this vast swathe of land from a land grant issued out by the Mexican government. Prior to the Kimball brothers’ acquisition of the land, the Mexican government had named the land Rancho de la Nación, or the Ranch of the Nation. The Kimball brothers maintained the name and National City became incorporated on September 17, 1887.

The Kimball Brothers of National City

History of National City: The Kimball Brothers

The Kimball brothers made a significant impact on the development of National City. Not only did they acquire and name the city, but they also played a vital role in promoting economic and cultural growth. Frank Kimball, the first brother to move to the ranch, was one of the first to build a modern home in San Diego county. This home had hot running water, and sewer.

In the early 1870s, the Kimball brothers proceeded to open the first post office within the city. Around the same time, they contracted out a job to build a wharf. As a result, access to various imports and exports via the sea. This wharf turned out to be invaluable as it encouraged the funding of Texas & Pacific. The Texas & Pacific is a railroad coming from Texas to the wharf from the government.

Besides the modern housing and railroad, the Kimball brothers were involved with having roads built to the town, raising sheep, planting olive trees, and erecting business buildings. They even had their hand in the cultural growth of this city when they formed a reading club, which utilized the Kimballs’ home library. Frank Kimball opened up his personal library to the public in December 1884, providing residents access to various papers on art, literature, and music.

Image of Mural in Napoleone’s Pizza House in National City. Mural painted by Augie Lugo, commissioned by owner Peter Crivello. Photo of mural taken by Chadd Cady / San Diego Union Tribune

Mile of Bars to Mile of Cars

In the mid-20th century, a stretch of road consisting of adult-themed entertainment/bar establishments became popular within National City. These establishments, on what is known as the “Mile of Bars,” served sailors based out of the Naval Base in San Diego. In an attempt to clean up the image of this particular area, the city has since then closed down these establishments and have replaced it with automobile dealerships. Newly branded as the “Mile of Cars,” there are now over 20 car franchises situated on the one-mile avenue.

Historic Places

The National Register of Historic Places is part of a federal act. It aims to preserve key American historical artifacts, buildings, and archeological findings. Today, there are five buildings in this register that you can visit in National City. These buildings include: Brick Row on Heritage Square (built by Frank Kimball), Granger Music Hall, Santa Fe Rail Depot, National City Railcar Plaza, and St. Matthews Episcopal Church.

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