How our dear Cardiff came to be

Hector MacKinnon arrived in 1875 while Native Americans still occupied some of this area. He set about farming, raising chickens and his wife Sarah made jams and jellies. The first Cardiff School was in his barn.
Thirty-six years later J. Frank Cullen, a painter from Boston, came west and when he saw this area he visualized an artists’ colony. He built a hotel to accommodate the artists which stands today on the corner of San Elijo and Chesterfield. He proceeded to lay out the town site, and sold his corner bungalow lots, 25-feet-by-100-feet for $45 and the same size inside lots for $30.
Cullen had the great foresight to reserve the gorgeous bowl now known as Glen Park for recreation, and the equally gorgeous area for Cullen School, which was constructed with his own funds. Today, called Cardiff Elementary, it has a campus with a view that is breathtaking. As we celebrate the centennial of our beloved jewel, Glen Park and Cardiff Elementary (Cullen) school remain as monuments to their developer.
Cardiff -by-the-Sea was originally to have a Spanish name, but legend has it that Mrs. Cullen wished it to be named for Cardiff, Wales; and so we have street names of Birmingham, Chesterfield, Edinburg, etc. Only San Elijo remains to remind us of what might have been.
The attempt to serve the area with water became a problem and in Cullen’s efforts to develop Cardiff his finances became stretched. He petitioned for the formation of Cardiff Irrigation District with the purpose of providing water, which would soon be available from Hodges dam, for lands south of Del Mar north to Carlsbad.
A vote formed the Cardiff Irrigation District and it gained approval of the state engineer and the state bond commission. However, opposition came from George Jones who was farming what is now Solana Beach. Jones brought suit claiming that the original survey was in error, a small portion of the San Elijo Slough had been overlooked, and the lands weren’t contiguous.
Because Cullen’s attempts to develop Cardiff were defeated, Cardiff regressed but I am sure that were he here today he would be proud of what Cardiff-by-the-Sea has become.
Cardiff’s one and only industry was the Kelp Works, which Clarence Cole built in 1912. Kelp was used for food and industrial chemicals, and the plant was located on Manchester at the foot of San Elijo. The Coles lived at Newport and Kilkenny.
The Friends of the Cardiff-by-the-Sea Library have planned a year of special events, which kicked off recently with a gathering at Besta Wan attended by 50 people celebrating and discussing the “good old days.”
On April 30 at 10 a.m. there will be a dedication of a commemorative garden in Carpentier Parkway, and on July 2 we will join with Cardiff 101 Main Street for a community picnic in Glen Park.
Watch for more activities and pick up a bookmark with the scheduled events at the library or at the 101 Main Street office in the VG’s shopping center.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea is a jewel to behold and we thank J. Frank Cullen for the place that we all love to call home.

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  1. Bill Lombardo, Ph.D. says:

    I loved your article and plan on using it as a reference in an article that I am writing on the good old days of Cardiff. Alas, I’m having problems finding out much about the history of Cullen Elementary and anything about Ada Harris. There were a few photographs in the book Cardiff-By-The-Sea by Tucker and Bujkovsky from Arcadia Publishing in South Carolina. The book is in the Cardiff Library and well worth viewing. I have done a fair search of Internet and haven’t come up with much. Any suggestions? Thank you. Bill Lombardo, Ph.D.

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