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Development and art shapes seaside community

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — The namesakes of the winding roads in the town are an insight into the earliest development of what was a sleepy outpost by the Pacific Ocean in the early part of the 1900s.
After Hector MacKinnon settled at the northern mouth of the San Elijo Lagoon in 1875, all remained relatively quiet in the area that would soon become Cardiff.
In 1910, J. Frank Cullen arrived from Boston. A painter by trade, the visionary saw a potential coastal playground laid out before him. He purchased MacKinnon’s land in 1911 and began to plot the town site. According to historical documents, the entrepreneur sold lots for $30 up to $45 for prime corner spots.
As infrastructure developed, Cullen’s wife, Esther, encouraged her husband to name the town after her native homeland of Cardiff, Wales.
Obtaining a consistent supply of water for the new town proved to be Cullen’s biggest obstacle. Initially a two-inch main pipe carried water three miles from Cottonwood Creek to a storage tank on the hill overlooking Cardiff. The pump was operated by a gasoline engine that was not as reliable as necessary for a growing town. Approximately 100 residents had settled in the area according to historical records.
Cullen was joined by other residents and business owners, many of them flower growers, in forming a water district that would ensure a more consistent source of water to the town. Finally, in 1922, the San Dieguito Irrigation District became a reality. The storage tank was eventually converted into a house that remains at the top of the town today.
As Cullen pursued his desire to develop a resort-like atmosphere, another pioneer was making progress toward bringing cultural sensibilities to the outskirts of society.
Victor Kremer, a German-born music publisher and composer, found his way to Cardiff and laid claim to the Composer District, north of Birmingham Drive. Current resident Billy Stern said his experience walking through his neighborhood with his oldest son in 2004, and noticing all of the street names designated as great composers, was intriguing.
Stern set out on a journey of discovery to uncover the origins of the neighborhood street names. “It was just a great story of Victor Kremer and his passion for music and the arts,” Stern said. Given his own deep love of music, Stern, who is on the board of directors of the nonprofit Guitars in the Classroom and an accomplished guitarist, the process of learning about the roots of his neighborhood, came naturally. “I definitely care about the community and I definitely care about music,” he said. A self-described “knowledge navigator,” Stern said he was aptly prepared to find out why Kremer chose the composers such as Mozart and Verdi and others to put a stamp on the area.
“Each composer was a brilliant character,” Stern said. He said there are so many interesting people that still live here today and are attracted to the area that the existence of the composer district serves as a metaphor. “When he (Kremer) put a street sign up it was meant to inspire people,” Stern said he believes.
What was originally going to be named “the paradise artists’ colony” became the Composer District. While his fellow musicians scoffed at the idea of living in a remote outpost, Kremer was not deterred.
In fact, he set his sights on creating a drink from a wild passion fruit vine growing in his backyard called “Passionola.” As fate would have it, a bitter frost put an end to his dream of creating a new industry but did help him survive the Great Depression as he eked out a living on the passion fruit harvest.
Perhaps his most obvious legacy is the addition of “by-the-Sea” to Cardiff, taken from the popular 1914 song “By the Beautiful Sea.”
Given the abundance of artists living in Cardiff and the number of tourists soaking up the coastal riches in the summer months, the dreams of both early settlers seem to have been realized.