A Moment in Time

Sample Articles from Footprints

A Moment in Time:  A Classic Photo from the JAHSSD Archives
by Don Estes
[JAHSSD Footprints, Winter 2002, Vol. 11 No. 4]

Judging from the light and the shadows, it must have been a midmorning in the summer of 1914 when Mr.Kiichiro Sakai planted his camera on the east side of Cabrillo Canyon about a quarter of a mile south of the new bridge. Using his tripod, he carefully framed his shot, focused on the classical, almost mystical city rising on the opposite flank of the canyon, touched the shutter and captured a moment in time.

Kiichiro Sakai had arrived in San Diego County in 1912 to open a boarding house in what was then the heart of a growing Japanese enclave south of Market Street in downtown San Diego. At that time, there were perhaps 300 Japanese living in the city proper and 60 to 70 Nikkei businesses.

Mr. Sakai leased the building at 538 Fifth Avenue and proceeded to turn it into a boarding house with furnished rooms. In 1912, the Japanese population of San Diego was growing with many of the new arrivals motivated by the dream of making a financial stake from the opening of the Panama-California Exposition which was to be held on 400 acres of under-developed mesas in the city’s Balboa Park.

As the community’s leaders set about raising the required five million dollars, land was cleared and building begun. The centerpiece of the 1915 exposition was to be the California quadrangle which included the great domed State of California Building and its accompanying California Tower.

Entering the new city from the west, visitors to the Exposition had to cross an arched, gleaming white bridge of 1,505 feet spanning Cabrillo Canyon. Designed by Thomas B. Hunter. the bridge cost $214,000 and was completed and opened on April 21, 1914.

On the far side of the bridge, arriving visitors would be treated to a stunning view of the Exposition buildings dominated by the domed State Building and the 200-ft. California Tower. The 1914 cost of the quadrangle was $250,000 paid by the taxpayers of the State of California.

This was the scene that was framed by Kiichiro Sakai in the Summer of 1914. The flat runway of the bridge almost seems to be gliding across the photograph to a rendezvous with the Exposition’s gateway. Below and to the right of the bridge can be seen some of the 100,000 seedling trees that were planted in holes that had to be literally drilled or blasted in the park’s hard pan before they could be planted.

Also seen in Mr. Sakai’s photo: the California Tower still under construction. But off to the left in what was then a designated park area-now the San Diego Zoo-is the already completed Exposition roller coaster.

The Panama-California Exposition opened at midnight on January 1, 1915, and remained open until midnight, January 1, 1917. Three months later, the United States was at war with the Central Powers.

Mr. Sakai continued to take photographs, perhaps not realizing he was the first of a line of Japanese photographers who would live and work in downtown San Diego. He disappears from local records in 1917 with the closing of the Exposition that probably brought him here in the first place. Part of his legacy to us and our city however, remains today in his work seen here. Through the medium of that work, we can all enjoy Mr. Sakai’s moment in time.

Our special thanks to Mrs. Jane Yamaguchi Takeshita who contributed this photograph to our archives.