By Katherine Hon
William Jefferson Gatewood formed his West End tract in 1873 and named his north-south streets after people he knew. In the ordinances of 1899 and 1900, original names changed as follows: Pemberton became Idaho (later 28th), Winder became Utah, Johnson became Sherman (later Granada), Gatewood became Kansas (later 29th), Brunson became Nebraska (later 30th), and Robinson became Ray. The names Pemberton, Winder and Gatewood were discussed in last month’s column. This time the focus is on Johnson, Sherman and Brunson.
Possibilities for a San Diego pioneer behind Gatewood’s choice for the street name of Johnson include Cullen A. Johnson and George A. Johnson.
Cullen Augustus Johnson (1826-1872) was working as an attorney in San Francisco by 1861 and moved to San Diego in 1867. He served as the district attorney from 1868-1869. A City Deed dated February 25, 1869 records his purchase of the 80-acre west half of Pueblo Lot 1116 from the City Trustees for $20 with “Wm Jeff Gatewood” signing as the notary public. This land became part of University Heights in 1888.
Cullen Johnson died of tuberculosis on May 16, 1872. Father Antonio Ubach conducted the funeral service in the Old Town Catholic Church, and Johnson was buried at El Campo Santo Cemetery. The Daily Union’s May 17, 1872 issue noted, “A large number of the members of the Bar and friends of the deceased followed his remains to the grave.” However, his gravesite is not identified. It may be one of the many unnamed graves marked with a simple cross, enclosed with a picket fence, or even lying under San Diego Avenue. The cemetery was split by a streetcar line in 1889, and the rail line was paved for what is now San Diego Avenue in 1942. Most of the bodies were left in place both times.
George Alonzo Johnson (1824-1903) was born in New York and came to California by steamer in 1849, landing in San Francisco. The 1860 Federal Census listed Johnson as a “Steamboat Captain” in San Diego. He was a notable pioneering captain on the Colorado River before settling in San Diego. In 1853, he founded a successful steamboat company that shipped cargo up the Colorado River from its mouth to Fort Yuma. He is an important figure in Arizona history.
George Johnson lived in Old Town during his early and later yearsd. He was a member of the State Assembly in 1863 and 1866-1867 and participated with Gatewood as a director of the San Diego Bay Shore Railroad Company to build a rail line from Old Town to Horton’s Addition. His name is among those listed on the back cover of the 1874 San Diego City Directory as a director of the Commercial Bank of San Diego.
In addition to these civic accomplishments, he raised premier stock on the Rancho Santa Maria de los Peñasquitos. The rancho was a wedding gift to Johnson’s bride, Maria Estéfana Alvarado (1840-1926), from her parents in 1859. Through her mother, Estéfana was the niece of Pio Pico, the last governor of California under Mexico, and General Andrés Pico. The land encompassed what is now the communities of Mira Mesa, Carmel Valley and Rancho Peñasquitos. Johnson sold the rancho in 1880. Later, the family moved to a wood-frame pre-fabricated building that had been brought by ship to San Diego’s Old Town in 1869. They lived in this simple home until Johnson’s death on November 27, 1903. The San Diego Union’s December 1, 1903 issue reported his “interment was at the Catholic Cemetery on the mesa overlooking the Bay.” This is present-day Pioneer Park in Mission Hills, a story in itself.
In 1900, City Engineer Louis Davids replaced the West End name of Johnson with Sherman, because nearby University Heights also had a Johnson Avenue. In University Heights, the street was named for Andrew Johnson, U.S. President from 1865 to 1869. Gatewood had named his street before the 1888 map of University Heights was filed, but Davids apparently gave higher priority to maintaining consistency with the University Heights theme of presidents for east-west streets.
Davids likely recognized prominent San Diego pioneer Matthew Sherman (1827-1898) with the replacement name in West End. Sherman was stationed in San Diego in 1862 during the Civil War and came to live in San Diego permanently in December 1865 after being discharged from the army with the rank of captain. He started his military career at age 13 and served on the USS Independence during the Mexican War in the 1840s.
Sherman was a long-time public figure in San Diego. He served as Customs Collector from 1865-1869, as city clerk from 1869-1870, on the City Board of Trustees from 1884-1886, on the County Board of Supervisors from 1886-1887, and as mayor from 1891-1893. He founded Sherman Heights from land he bought from the City Trustees in 1867. The family lived in several homes in his tract. Sherman helped set aside the land that became Balboa Park and helped create Mount Hope Cemetery — his eventual resting place — which his wife named.
The Evening Tribune’s July 5, 1898 issue announced Sherman’s death that morning, noting, “During his thirty-three years’ residence here Captain Sherman enjoyed the confidence and respect of everyone with whom he became acquainted…” Those acquaintances probably included Louis Davids, who also lived in Sherman Heights during the 1890s. Sherman Street was changed to Granada Avenue by Ordinance No. 4346 on January 16, 1911.
Anson Brunson (1834-1895) was born in Ohio and became an attorney. He practiced in Macon City, Missouri, before coming to California in 1862. He settled in Napa and then moved to Los Angeles a few years later. He came to San Diego often. The San Diego Union’s October 20, 1869 issue reported, “Our friend A. Brunson of Los Angeles, was badly stung by a stingaree while out bathing on Saturday last. He is doing well under the care of Dr. Hoffman. The surf is very fine, but dangerous. We advise our friends to patronize the Baths of Cottrell, at Horton’s wharf.”
Brunson represented plaintiffs and defendants in a variety of San Diego cases. He and Gatewood represented the defendants in a case reported in the Daily Union’s October 8, 1871 issue, and both men gave speeches at an April 13, 1871 San Diego event to entertain members of the Los Angeles Bar. A City Deed dated April 20, 1871 indicates Brunson bought land in San Diego, including in Pueblo Lots 22, 32, 33, 206 and 214. However, it appears he had sold all this land by 1873.
Brunson was nominated to be a Superior Court judge in 1884. Later, he continued his law practice, including for railroad companies. The San Diego Union’s December 12, 1890 issue noted, “Judge Brunson of Los Angeles, attorney for the Santa Fe system, came down last evening on business.” The San Diego Union’s June 15, 1893 issue reported, “W.J. Hunsaker, ex-mayor of San Diego, was yesterday appointed general attorney of the Southern California Railroad company, with headquarters at Los Angeles. Mr. Hunsaker succeeds Anson Brunson, his law partner.” Brunson died on October 8, 1895 and is buried at Pioneer Memorial Cemetery in San Bernardino.
Present-day Ray Street separates Gatewood’s West End tract from the eastern part of Joseph Nash’s Park Villas tract, which extends from Ray to Boundary streets. Future columns will discuss the pioneers behind original street names in this part of North Park.
— Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at email@example.com or 619-294-8990.