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Escondido's Colorful History

Escondido has a rich and fascinating heritage. The Escondido History Center is proud and pleased to be tasked with preserving our city's history by word, artifact, and photograph.  We are proud to have recently published Escondido, A Pictorial History of the Hidden Valley, which was written by our Executive Director, Robin Fox and local historian Carol Rea and elaborates on the information on this page.  

Early Escondido


  The name, “Escondido” is roughly translated to “hidden place” and the city ‘s fascinating history began on land that formerly comprised the Rancho Rincon del Diablo, an old rancho predating California’s entrance into the United States. In 1886, the ranch was purchased by the Escondido Land & Town Company (EL&T Co.), headed by the Thomas Brothers; Richard, Charles, John and William, as well as Jacob Gruendike, Daniel Hale, Thomas Metcalf and several others. Numerous attempts had been made to utilize the land before, but the actions taken by the Escondido Land & Town Co. were the first to attempt to turn the area into a full-fledged city.

  Escondido was just one of many Southern California towns that was established during the 1880s land boom. The EL&T Co. immediately opened a San Diego office and began building a 100-room hotel in Escondido. Proceeds from their first land sales were used to entice the Santa Fe Railroad to build a branch line to Escondido, thus ensuring their community would grow and prosper.

  Offering free land to anyone who would build a church or school, the young community soon had an elementary school (the Lime Street School), a large seminary built by the University of Southern California (USC) for $75,000, and several churches. The EL&T Co. also sponsored the creation of a local newspaper, The Escondido Times. The newspaper was used initially as an advertising tool targeting mid-western farmers, luring them to Escondido’s perfect year-round growing season.

Escondido was described as one of the most prosperous and rapidly growing colonies in southern California. Two years after the EL&T Co. was formed, the city of Escondido was incorporated on October 8, 1888. Local voters approved incorporation 64-19. The population was approximately 500.

  The city grew slowly but steadily, as an agricultural center ideal for grapes, citrus and later for avocados. Eventually, Escondido became the commercial center serving North San Diego County and encouraged banks and financial institutions to locate here. Both World Wars contributed to an influx of people and a labor force, light industries began moving in, and the groves and vineyards gave way to housing.


  Escondido has a rich history of people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds, coming together as a community and that diversity continues to be one of its strongest features today. From the beginning, when pioneering families settled in this hidden valley, it grew steadily with a boom in the 1950s and it continued growing with a population that exceeds 145,000 today.  Housing for the expanding population has brought a variety of building methods and styles that has created a great diversity of neighborhoods and often among individual homes within those neighborhoods.

  We are also a community of faith.  The Escondido Land & Town Company donated land to churches in Escondido’s early days and, since then, churches of many faiths have continued to multiply here.  Several significant faith-based events have occurred over the years, including the observance of the National Day of Prayer. 

  Schools and the way education is delivered have transitioned over the years.  From the first elementary school and then the USC seminary, a strong school system has grown. Public schools and, more recently, charter schools and options for home schooling give families a wider variety of choices.

  We care about our past, as well.  A strong historic preservation program, instituted in 1992, created the Old Escondido Neighborhood Historic District and is protecting and preserving our built history throughout the city, while the Escondido History Center and the Library’s Pioneer Room maintain vast collections of photographs, documents, and artifacts.

From the earliest times, community members came together to form clubs and organizations, offering social, networking, and community support opportunities. Community volunteers organized a variety of events over the years and sporting events, most often featuring school teams, have long been popular in Escondido.


While the area had been farmed for many years, the Escondido Land & Town Company was Escondido’s earliest commercial enterprise, a group of developers looking toward a future of other businesses, homes, schools, churches, and ranches in this Hidden Valley. They developed a clever marketing plan and it worked; a lumber company and brickyard were soon started to handle the building surge. Blacksmiths and wheelwrights like Thomas Bandy and Alexander Stewart set up businesses to repair wagons and forge hardware and tools. 

The hospitality industry began with the 100-room Escondido Hotel, built to accommodate the many early visitors.  Later, as horse drawn wagons were replaced by automobiles, surfaced streets began to crisscross the County and by the 1940s, motor courts and motels became economical “homes away from home” for families seeing the country.

  Agriculture, started on early ranchos, continued to grow along with the city. Census reports from the early 20th century reflect an influx of farmers, especially from the East, Midwest, and Europe. Families like the Hillebrechts and the Henrys ran large farms on the outskirts of town, still operating today.  Grapes were Escondido’s largest crop in the early days, later to be replaced by citrus fruit and avocados, but the fertile soil and mild weather meant that nearly everything could grow here.  Edward Paul Grangetto, Sr., first arrived in Escondido in 1913 and, in 1952, he started Grangetto’s Farm and Garden Supply, which now has four locations in North San Diego County, still run by the Grangetto family.

  Before the prohibition era, there were at least a dozen wineries in Escondido, but only the Ferrara Winery survived beyond that time and it continued to operate until 2011. The historic site was taken over about six years later by new owners joining multiple new wineries in and around Escondido.  Also becoming popular are local craft breweries, the most successful and now thriving internationally, Stone Brewing Company. 

  In time, other businesses needed by the growing township lined Grand Avenue in the new Downtown.  Pharmacies, general stores, restaurants, and markets featuring locally grown produce brought commerce to Escondido. Services, like those provided by barbers and photographers, came to the downtown area, as well.

  As the town spread outward, strip malls became common as in other cities around the country.  The Escondido Village Mall, the Auto Park, and North County Fair brought numerous businesses into single shopping sites to make it easier for shoppers to spend their money.

  Diverse companies have made Escondido their home over the years since it was founded. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps was founded by Emanuel Bronner following his escape from a mental institution in 1945, and it became a company respected world-wide; the headquarters/ manufacturing plant operated here on West Mission from the 1960s until 2014 when it moved to Vista.  The Ken Blanchard Company, Escondido Disposal, and Alhiser-Comer Mortuary have all served the community for many years while relatively newer ventures like Trapeze High, a unique school for teaching the art, have become well established, too.


  Escondido’s relationship to the arts and its endeavor for cultural development began almost at the city’s incorporation in 1888. The first city band was formed by 12 local musicians. In 1889, a band stand was built on the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and Maple Street.  Band concerts often made Sundays and holidays merry occasions. These early days also boasted local celebrations, eventually including the Grape Day Festival, which always had a musical component. Early theatrical productions were also quite common in the schools, churches and clubs.

  In the 1920s and 30s, the Community Arts Association was organized to give attention to arts and drama. About the same time, local optometrist, Benjamin Sherman, who had studied drama at leading Southern schools, gathered local young people together and presented several plays at the Kinema Theatre. Audiences of 500 to 700 attended. Later, he became the author of the outdoor play “Felicita.” In more recent history, the Patio Playhouse Community Theatre has been providing local, live theatre since 1967.

  In 1946, the Philharmonic Arts Association was formed and launched its first concert series, held in the Escondido High School auditorium. Through the Association’s efforts, Escondido was host to world-renowned artists such as Risë Stevens, Jose Greco, Artur Rubenstein and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

  In the 1970s, the Escondido Regional Arts Council was created to bring visual arts to North County. The first gallery was in the Vineyard Shopping Center on East Valley Parkway. Today, the Municipal Gallery and the Escondido Arts Partnership both provide venues for local artists to exhibit their work.   The City established a Public Art Program in 1988 and more than 22 public art projects have been installed by the City of Escondido and private developers under the guidance of the Public Art Commission.

  Also in the 1970s, the cultural history of the community came into focus with the establishment of Heritage Walk in Grape Day Park. The City’s first library was identified and moved to the Walk, opening in 1976 as the first local history museum.  Since that time, other historic buildings have been added to Heritage Walk to help keep the history of Escondido alive. Additional museums and galleries have been established in the City, over time, to provide the people of Escondido with well-rounded cultural opportunities.

  With the success of the Regional Arts Council, a stronger, more comprehensive Felicita Foundation was formed, which successfully lobbied to use the city’s old library space upon completion of the new library in the early 80s. With the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Felicita foundation was able to use the newly acquired space to present both visual and performing arts in a limited scope.

Sparked by this civic vision that recognized how vital the arts are to a community, Escondido voters, in 1985, approved the building of a $73 million arts center that would bring music, dance, theater, education and the visual arts together on one dynamic campus as part of an overall redevelopment project. Since its opening in 1994, the California Center for the Arts, Escondido has been dedicated to promoting the arts along with their power for community building and enhancement, and to enrich the lives of Escondido citizens.

  Literature has always played a key role for Escondido residents, as well.  First librarian Mina Ward authored a book that included her own stories as well as articles from technical magazines to assist in gauging shorthand speed.  Several other notable authors have made Escondido their home, including, more recently, Martha C. Lawrence and former Escondido Police Officer, Neal Griffin; as well as childrens book illustrator Debbie Tilley.

Government Sites & Services

  Escondido was incorporated in 1888 as a result of a 64-19 vote by city residents, who also elected the first members of the Board of Trustees.  The Board met monthly, upstairs at 110 W. Grand.  In 1930, the Board of Trustees became the City Council and the chairman became the mayor. In 1955, an ordinance was adopted, setting up the current Council-Manager form of government. 

  A Public Library was Escondido’s first city service.  In the early 1900s, the city also began paving roads.  The Parks and Recreation Dept. was formed in 1956, later to become part of the Community Services Department.   Escondido has always offered a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities, including camping, fishing, picnicking, hiking, and boating. Currently, the City maintains Dixon Lake, Lake Wohlford, Daley Ranch, and nine urban parks.

  The scope of city services has steadily increased over the years, particularly as the city limits extended outward and the population grew. Eleven different departments, in addition to the City Manager’s, City Attorney’s, City Treasurer’s, and City Clerk’s offices, now provide residents with a wide range of services.

  Escondido has experienced very few major crimes that have attracted national attention.  Sadly, a post office shooting in 1989 became the second postal shooting in the country, followed by others in different cities that led to the term “going postal.”  Also receiving national attention was the murder in 1998 of Stephanie Crowe, who was stabbed multiple times in her bedroom. Another tragic murder occurred in 2009, when Amber DuBois was abducted on her way to school.  Her murder and Chelsea King’s of Rancho Bernardo, by the same man, led to the passing of Chelsea’s Law, which, among other provisions, increased penalties, parole provisions, and oversight for violent sexual predators who attack children.

  Fires have taken lives as well as damaging and destroyed property and throughout Escondido’s history. Thankfully, however; the number of fires has steadily decreased, thanks to stricter fire codes, including mandated fire sprinklers in new construction, as well as more advanced firefighting equipment and strategies.  The Fire Department also began offering medical aid and transport in 1977 with those calls now making up 80% of fire department calls while fire-related calls constitute only 1.7% of their nearly 16,000 annual calls.

Escondido Timeline

1000 BC - 1700 AD First people in area were the Kumeyaay Indians

1769 Missions established by the Spanish

1843 Governor Micheltorena granted Escondido Valley to Juan Bautista Alvarado, who named the 12,653 acres El Rincon del Diablo.

1846  Battle with Mexico fought at San Pasqual, Dec. 6, 1846

1847  Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

1850 California became a state

1855 After Alvarado died, his defendants started selling off his land and Judge Oliver Witherby of San Diego began buying portions of El Rincon del Diablo. It took him 10 years to purchase the entire ranch. Witherby established a gold mine southwest of the present intersection of El Dorado and Bear Valley Parkway.

1868 Witherby sold Rancho Rincon del Diablo to John, Josiah, and Matthew Wolfskill and Ed McGeary for $8,000. They raised grain and sheep.

1868 Nate Harrison, a free slave, homesteaded on the side of Palomar Mountain.

1870 Zena Sikes built adobe home (across from today’s Westfield Shoppingtown, North County)

1874  Peter Cassou bought 320 acres in the valley.

1875  Major G. F. Merriam homesteaded 160 acres.

1883  Valley purchased by the Stockton Company, a group formed by 15 men from Central California.  They planted grapes next to the Escondido Creek. It rained 50 inches which was too much for the grapes.

1884  Post office name changed from Apex to Escondido.

1885  Many people came to California. Among them were the Thomas brothers. Four of the brothers, Jacob Gruendike, and seven others formed the Escondido Land and Town Co. and purchased the 12,814 acre valley for $102,042. The sale was completed March 1.

1886  Construction began on the Escondido Hotel, a 100 room hotel on the east end of Grand Ave.  The University of Southern California, with its Methodist backing, was given land to build a church on Grand Ave and a seminary at 3rd and Hickory. Graham & Steiner opened the first store in town. The Escondido Times, a local newspaper, began weekly publication. The Board of Trade was founded, renamed the Chamber of Commerce in 1895.

1887  Escondido Land & Town Co. invested in the railroad. Construction was started in March 1887 and completed January 1888 of the Oceanside to Escondido line. A load of wheat was the first freight to leave Escondido. The Lime Street School, in what will later become Grape Day Park, opened. The first stage travelled between San Diego and Escondido.

1888  The city of Escondido was incorporated on October 8. It consisted of 1854 acres.

1890  Population: 541. Escondido Irrigation District proposed a $450,000 bond issue to build a reservoir.

1891  Grand Avenue, downtown, had at least 12 oil lights. The Advocate, the second newspaper in town, started publishing.

1893  50,000 fruit trees were planted.

1894  Construction of Bear Valley Dam began. USC’s seminary became Escondido High School.

1895  Bear Valley Dam completed. Water became available. City’s first library was built.

1898 Escondido Land & Town Company packed 262,000 lbs. of raisins.

1900 Population: 755.  Grove owners formed the Citrus Union within the decade.

1901 Street lights were changed from oil to gas.

1905 The water bonds were paid off October 31. Grand Avenue got sidewalks.

1907  It snowed 2” in February and again in April. A movie theater opened. Escondido High School students hand dug the “plunge,” a pool, next to the school.

1908  The first official “Grape Day” was held on California Admission Day, Sept 9.

1909  Giant eucalyptus tree was planted in what will become Grape Day Park. The Escondido Times and The Advocate, local newspapers, merge into The Times-Advocate.

1910  Population 1,334. The first electric service in town was available on March 5 from sundown to 10:00 p.m. The Lime Street School, the city’s first, was torn down. Escondido Women’s Club was organized. Carnegie Library replaced city’s first library.

1911  Gas became available. In December, William Alexander bought the Escondido Land and Town Company.

1912  Grand Avenue was fully paved.

1914  Palm trees were planted on Grand Avenue from the train station to Maple Avenue.

1915  Hotel Charlotta opened. Escondido Humane Society was organized.

1916  “Hatfield’s Flood,” 24.1 inches, ruins railroad tracks. No trains in or out of Escondido for a month.

1917  San Diego Gas & Electric purchased the Escondido Utilities Company and provided 24 hour service.

1918  Lake Hodges Dam was completed.

1920  Population: 1,789. Prohibition started, banning manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcohol while thousands of acres of grapes are being grown in Escondido.

1921  First service station in town.

1922 A 20-man volunteer fire department was established.

1923  Escondido Hotel, built in 1886, is torn down. Escondido Hospital, the first in town, was opened on Grand Avenue by six doctors.

1924  Escondido Dam and Lake becomes Lake Wohlford. Kiwanis and Rotary clubs form.

1927  Escondido High School moved into new building, at the corner of Hickory and 4th. Masons erected a flag pole in the middle of the street on Grand at Broadway. The Felicita Pageant debuted.

1928  Escondido Fruit Growers divide into Escondido Lemon Association and Escondido Orange Association. First commercial avocados planted.

1929  A. L. Houghtelin constructed a 50’ diameter wooden tepee, a local landmark for nearly 50 years. First Escondido High School burned down. Lemon packing house opened.

1930   Population: 3,421.  Post office began home delivery of the mail. Many street names changed to expedite mail delivery.  The city’s Board of Trustees changed their name and became the City Council.

1931  Lake Hodges overflowed for the first time.

1936 WPA built an adobe band stand in Grape Day Park.

1938 Escondido celebrated its first 50 years. The second City Hall, built of adobe, opened at Grand and Valley.

1940 Population: 4,560.

1941 Troops camped in Grape Day Park.

1944  Flagpole on Grand Avenue at Broadway was removed.

1945  Local lemon production reached a peak, with 1,159,039 field boxes. Railroad passenger service to Escondido from Oceanside was discontinued.

1947  Escondido High School had its first night football game.

1948  Palomar Observatory was completed. Palomar Hospital District was formed.

1949  Highway 395 opened through town.

1950  Population: 6,544. Highway 395 to San Diego was opened. Palomar Hospital opened with 10 patients. Cora Swingle was the first woman elected to serve on City Council.

1951  The first annexation added 8.7 acres to the city.

1952  Kay Owens started Escondido’s only radio station, KOWN.

1955  After a construction flaw in Escondido High School was discovered, the student body was divided up, with some attending a new campus on North Broadway. The rest were taught in temporary classrooms on the original campus.

1956  New library at 3rd  and Kalmia replaced the Carnegie Library. The Escondido Historical Society was established.

1959  Entire student body attended Escondido High School together again at the North Broadway site.

1960  Population:16,377.  Lemon packing house closed.

1962 Orange Glen High School opened.

1964 Escondido Village Mall was built on East Valley Parkway.

1966  Medians were added to Grand Avenue. The first Escondido Drive-In opened in 1966.

1967  It snowed 4” in December. Patio Playhouse opened.

1969 Kit Carson Park was dedicated.

1970 Population: 36,792.

1971  Dixon Dam and Lake were dedicated. City’s first library building was moved from Grand Avenue to Grape Day Park.

1972  San Pasqual High School opened. San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park opened.

1974  Lorraine Boyce became the first woman to be elected Mayor.

1976  New Police Headquarters was built at 700 W. Grand.  Heritage Walk was established in Grape Day Park.

1977  Dixon Lake Recreation Area was dedicated.  Escondido Auto Park was built. The Tepee, a large wooden structure and local landmark for nearly 50 years was blown down by the wind.

1980 Population: 64,355.

1981  Current library at Broadway and 2nd Avenue was built.  Escondido Auto Park opened. Escondido National Little League All-Star team played in the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

1982  Rube Nelson’s Country Corner grocery store closed.

1984 Santa Fe Depot was purchased from the Santa Fe Railroad Company and moved to Grape Day Park.

1986 North County Fair Shopping Center (currently Westfield North County), a regional shopping center, opened.

1988  Escondido celebrated its centennial. City government moved into a new City Hall at the corner of Broadway and Valley Parkway. Downtown Street Faire began.

1989  Downtown Farmers Market began in October

1990 Population: 108,635 . Transit Center opened on West Valley Parkway

1994  California Center for the Arts, Escondido opened.

1995  East Valley Community Center opened. First Night alcohol-free New Years Celebration was first held. Escondido Arts Partnership was established.

1996  Grape Day Festival and Parade were revived. City purchased Daley Ranch. Lights were installed on Grand Ave palm trees

2000  Cruisin’ Grand started.

2001  Escondido Humane Society in Kit Carson Park burned down. Escondido Children’s Museum opened on Grand Ave.

2003  Queen Califia’s Magical Garden by Nikki de Saint Phalle opened in Kit Carson Park. In October, firestorms raged. Mingei International Museum Satellite opened downtown. Escondido Humane Society opened new facility on East Valley Parkway.

2004  Escondido Children’s Museum moved to Studio One at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. “Vinehenge,” a new playground in Grape Day Park, opened.

2006  Escondido Historical Society celebrated their 50th anniversary with a name change to Escondido History Center

2007  Witch Creek Fire destroyed homes and caused two deaths. President Bush landed at San Pasqual High School to tour burned areas and to talk to firefighters staged at Kit Carson Park. Paramount Condominiums, under construction on Escondido Boulevard, burned down, the largest structure fire in the City's history.

2008 Sprinter light rail system began running between Escondido and Oceanside.

2009 Final stage of the Amgen Race of California brought thousands of bicycle enthusiasts downtown.

2010 Population: 133,875 California State Polytechnic University, Pomona developed plan for “Revealing Escondido Creek” to create a linear park to ultimately replace most of the flood control channel.

2012 The new Palomar Medical Center on the west side of Escondido was opened.

2014 Voting for City Council Members changed from voting at large to districts.

2015 After more than 50 years, the Palomar Medical Center downtown campus closed down completely.  The Roynon Museum of Earth Science and Paleontology opened to the public on Grand Avenue.

2017  Talone’s meat market and slaughterhouse, vacant for several years, burned down.

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