The Naming of Serra Mesa

The builders of 1950’s and 60’s American suburbia did not agree. No title was too grandiose, too cloying or coy to attache to their groupings of mass produced houses. The tracts of Serra Mesa sprung up after the Korean War were no exception. The area was parceled out into neighborhoods with such unlikely names as Murray Ridge Estates, Princess Park, and Royal Highlands.

Developers carried their fanciful selection of names over into their naming of streets. Our streets bear the names of family members, friends, pets, favorite places or things. Birdland derives its designation from the fact that it was laid out with streets named after birds. In a dispute with his wife over the naming of a street, one builder settled on Haveteur Way or “have it your way.”

American Housing Guild’s Mission Village, on the other hand, had the distinction of being located within reasonable proximity of its namesake, the Mission San Diego de Alcala. In fact, all of the area we now call Serra Mesa was originally part of the Mission Rancho Lands of San Diego granted to the Catholic Church by the King of Spain.

When Mexico broke the power of the Church in 1834, the lands were deeded over to men like Don Santiago Arguello. His family held onto the grant, about 15,999 acres, as long as it could, but eventually the land was sold, divided, and settled by miscellaneous ranchers and homesteaders.

Our modern suburban history began with the Navy’s Cabrillo Heights housing project built in the early 50’s after the Korean War. Surrounding development occurred thereafter, most between 1955 and 1965.

The tracts were the creation of developers who were largely oblivious to modern concepts of community planning. Clusters of houses were plopped down here and there with little or no rhyme or reason except that the land was cheap and the parents of baby boomers were in search of nests. The advent of the freeways and imported water also contributed to the sudden expanse of tract housing on our barren mesa.

The name game came to a dramatic conclusion in June of 1961 when the Cabrillo Mission Community Council held a contest to name all of the communities from Birdland to Mission Village. Six names were submitted by area residents. Mrs. John Dowling submitted the winning entry, Serra Mesa. Her prize was a $25 savings bond and a $10 gift certificate! The City Council acted swiftly to ratify the selection, and hence forth, our entire community has been known as Serra Mesa.

Perhaps Gertrude Stein was right after all. Whether we live in Mission Village, Princess Park or Birdland we all live in a united Serra Mesa. “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose…”

by Peggy Lacy  (Reprinted in the Serra Mesa Observer, July 1992)