Mira Mesa History


More than 150 years ago, the Miramar/Mira Mesa area was part of an enormous ranchero owned by Don Santiago Anguello. A former Mexican Army commandante of San Diego’s presidio, Anguello lost his lands in 1846 when the United States declared war on Mexico and annexed the territories of California and New Mexico. On July 29, 1846, Captain Samuel F. Dupont ordered the U.S. flag raised in San Diego.

Nearly 50 years later, Edward Scripps arrived in the area. He described San Diego as a ‘dilapidated boomtown’. Scripps was a wealthy newspaper publisher who sought to escape the pressures of life on the East Coast. He is credited with naming the mesa Miramar, which loosely translated from Spanish means ‘an area from which there is a view of the sea from every vantage point.’ (photo: 1) Scripps established a ranch on 2,000 acres in the Miramar area. The land was later purchased by the Jessop family, a prominent group of San Diego jewelers. In the vicinity, a post office, general store and one-room schoolhouse served the Miramar settlement of cowboys and ranchers.

Meanwhile outside the Miramar area, with the development intiated by such pioneers as Alonzo Erastus Horton, John D. Spreckels, and other businessmen, San Diego was moving away from the ‘dilapidated boomtown’ and becoming an outstanding place to take up residence and employment (photo: 2 | 3). Monumental events, such as the California-Panama International Expo in 1915, for which the Balboa Stadium (photo: 4) and Park were constructed, and the opening of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad in 1919, San Diego was quickly becoming a ‘real boomtown’. In 1920, the population had reached nearly 75,000 people.

However, the real asset to San Diego’s (and eventually Mira Mesa’s) growth lies in the military. In 1917, San Diego was chosen as the site for the War Department’s Army division in the Southwest. The Army purchased the Miramar area and established Camp Kearny (photo: 5 | 6). The camp was constructed in 1917 to help mobilize troops for World War I and to support the extensive naval facilities (photo: 7 | 8).

After WWI, Camp Kearny remained idle and did not function as a military base until the Navy moved into the grounds in 1932. During the Navy’s lack of activity however, some great civilian aviators took to the skies of San Diego. Charles Lindberg’s famous plane, Spirit of St. Louis, was built in San Diego for his 1927 Transatlantic flight, and many other legendary aviators such as Reuben Fleet, Claude Ryan and B.F. Mahoney took root in San Diego. With the opening of Lindberg field in 1927 and the Navy’s return in 1932, so came aircraft manufacturers that would eventually become Convair and General Dynamics Corporation.

Taking advantage of the area’s clear flying skies and open terrain, the Navy brought in the world’s largest aircraft, mooring the two dirigibles (now knows as blimps), the USS Akron and USS Macon (photo: 9). However, both aircraft tragically went down off San Diego’s coast in the following years. So again the base remained idle, still under Navy control. In the early 40’s, with the threat of World War II getting ever-closer to U.S. interests, the Navy again turned to Miramar and constructed air strips and prepared for possible conflict. When the U.S. joined the fighting in World War II in 1941, both the Navy and Marine forces operated extensively at the base.

After the war ended, the base was designated under Marine control, being titled Marine Corps Air Station. However just a year later in 1947, the Marines were relocated to El Toro and Tustin so the base reverted to Navy control as a Naval Auxiliary Air Station.

During the next 15 years, the Navy only utilized a small portion of the base to help support the Korean War, and as a result many of the facilities deteriorated from lack of use.

It wasn’t until the start of conflict in Vietnam that Miramar was utilized to its potential again. The Navy set out to use the facility to train fighter air crews in air combat maneuvering and fleet air defense. They created the Top Gun program designed for elite pilot and air crew training, eventually bringing the area the nickname ‘Fightertown, USA’. The film based on the glory of the Navy elite air crews, Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, was filmed partially on the grounds of NAS Miramar and the surrounding San Diego attractions.

With the increased use of the base during the Vietnam War, the community of Mira Mesa began to thrive from the increased need for family housing and civilian industry. Houses started sprouting up at an incredible rate as each new small community grew out of the edges of the last one. Soon Mira Mesa would be an independent, thriving community housing a great deal of Miramar’s military families. As the industry in the area continued to increase, so did the ratio of civilian residents to that of the military-related residents. By 1975 Mira Mesa had established itself as a flourishing community of San Diego in its own right, no longer being solely a ‘support community’ of the military base.

In the years since Mira Mesa grew into San Diego’s largest community, Miramar as a military base has continue to undergo some dramatic changes as well. In 1993, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission redesignated Miramar as a Marine Corps facility and the transfer of assets began. The Navy’s F-14 Tomcat and E-2 Hawkeye squadrons were replaced by the Marine’s F/A-18 and Sea Knight and Super Stallion helicopter squadrons. Top Gun was moved out of Miramar by 1996. As of October 1, 1997, the equipment and troop transfer, combined with approximately $400 million in upgrades, established MCAS Miramar as the home of the Marine Corps’ West Coast air power.

Some information provided by GlobalSecurity.org.
Photos supplied by Library of Congress.

Mira Mesa Today

Established in the 1950’s as a residential area to support Naval Air Station, Miramar, Mira Mesa has grown into the largest community in San Diego. In the late 1960’s, a housing-boom took hold in the area that now extends from the I-15 freeway in the East to I-805 in the West (approximately 10,500 acres). Nestled on the southern edge of the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve and the northern boundary of MCAS Miramar, the community is now home to approximately 80,000 residents, including students, hi-tech employees, families, and single people alike. There are over 23,000 homes in the community, averaging 3.09 people per household. The median age is 32.4 years old and the community boasts a median income of approximately $63,000/year.

The community provides a balanced ratio of business and residentially zoned areas, providing great shopping and recreational opportunities as well as business buildings with cutting edge technology facilities and office space. A thriving variety of ethnic cuisines and restaurants, as well as more traditional dining, cover all ends of the Mira Mesa area. Along with its eight community parks, teen & senior centers, ice arena, aquatic complex, extensive shopping centers, and state-of-the-art movie theater, Mira Mesa offers the perfect blend of California living.

Census/Statistical information provided by SANDAG Data Warehouse and the City of San Diego Planning Department.

Miramar Today

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar currently covers 24,000 acres and is home to eight F/A-18C & F/A-18D Hornet jet squadrons, four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter squadrons, four CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter squadrons, one KC-130 transport and refueling squadron, and nine station support aircraft for a total of about 257 aircraft. The base is now home to 12,200 Marines, Sailors and civilians.
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