America’s Finest City is a lively, sunny, and successful place, full of hard-working, law-abiding citizens. Some might be surprised to find out that that wasn’t always the case… in fact, the Gaslamp District, San Diego’s gorgeous downtown region, used to go by a very different name, with a very different meaning. Let’s take a trip back to the 1900s, when what is now known as the Gaslamp District, was dubbed the “Stingaree.”
The area between 1st and 6th avenue, and from H street to the bay, was San Diego’s very own red light district, one that is said to have rivaled the red light district’s of San Francisco and New York. We’re talking saloons, gambling halls, bawdy houses, parlor houses, and more. The reasons this beautiful waterfront region sustained a life of vice are many. A timeline of events might help us put it all into perspective.
1920s Prohibition – Just like the rest of America at the time, prohibition caused a frenzy of law-breaking behavior. The black market for liquor naturally popped up in the area already known for vice and sin – the infamous Stingaree.
1930s The Great Depression – Take an already troubled neighborhood, and pair it with the Great Depression, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
1930s WWII Preparation – Lots of young servicemen getting ready to go fight for their country, looking to relieve some stress and let off some steam. Business was booming during this time, keeping the debauchery alive and thriving.
1950s Suburbanization - With the expansion of building outside the city center, middle class and wealthy individuals and families flocked away from the dirty and lawless city, to settle down in neighborhoods with peace and quiet, and family values.
Politicians and city officials were known to “look the other way” when it came to the goings-on within the Stingaree, which of course, added to the success of the district. It’s said that the nickname Stingaree was given to the region because visitors would get “stung” by the many vices, the way one can get “stung” by a stingray.
Eventually, in the 1970s, groups of citizens who’d had enough, got together to work on reclaiming and cleaning up the area. Initially it was slow-going, but between combined efforts of concerned citizens and city officials, constant change was underway. Modern day Stingaree is still quite successful… but in an entirely different way! Now known as the Gaslamp District, people flock to the booming waterfront reason to be wined and dined at some of the most fabulous restaurants in the country, to shop at lovely boutiques and malls, to stay at exquisite hotels, and much, much more. The difference between then and now is striking, and the Gaslamp is sure to continue flourishing, and keep on attracting many more visitors each year.