Library Opens Digital Portal To The Past

    Rare Look At 1903 Tent City Available At Coronado Public Library Website

    CORONADO – A donation of 1903 Tent City newspapers made headlines four years ago, when a Coronado Realtor found and purchased them as a gift to the Coronado Public Library.

    This extremely visual window into the past has been completely digitized and is now available on line, in its entirety. The historic cache of documents consists of a full year of 1903 Tent City newspapers – never before seen by contemporary museums, libraries or historians.

    Officially named, “The Coronado Tent City Daily Program,” these publications were a primary source of information for everything from train timetables to Pacific Coast Steamship arrival and departure times. There were concert agendas and advertised trips to Tia Juana [sic]. There were even ads for the Coronado Ostrich Farm; “15 cents to Tent City People. Tuesdays and Fridays. W.H. Bentley Proprietor.”

    The collection includes 92 issues, hardbound, a little worm eaten on the edges but considered pristine condition considering their age.

    Debbie Riddle of Lee Mather Co., Realtors examines her donation of 1903 Tent City newspapers to the Coronado Public Library with library director Christian Esquevin. Behind them is a painting of Tent City. The entire collection is now available to read on the Web – a major historical coup for the library staff and the entire community. Photo by Joe Ditler.

    Debbie Riddle, a partner at Lee Mather Co. Realtors, purchased the bound collection of newspapers on the Internet in 2010, and donated them to the Coronado Public Library.

    Lee Mather Co., Realtors (LMCo) is Coronado’s oldest Realtor (1953). Debbie and her husband Tom Riddle, along with Mike Herlihy, own the company. “Our customers want to live in Coronado not just because it’s such a pretty place,” said Debbie Riddle, “but because of the wonderful history our island has. We’re always looking for ways to help locate and preserve lost Coronado history.”

    Recently LMCo funded a trip to San Francisco for a local historian to document the final days of the old car-carrying ferryboat, San Diego. That expedition resulted in amazing photo documentation of the ship’s final days, as well as recovery of some historic items from the vessel.

    “The Tent City Daily Programs are an extremely valuable collection,” said Christian Esquevin, director of the Coronado Public Library. “Now that the entire volume of newspapers has been carefully scanned and put online, this information is available to anyone logging on to our website.”

    History comes and goes. Sometimes it goes to all the wrong places – damp basements or attics where it becomes damaged; or auction houses and private collections where the public can never view it. But once in awhile we get it right, and this is one of those times. This visual time capsule of 1903 Coronado is now forever safeguarded by the Coronado Public Library, and forever available to researchers and anyone interested in Coronado history.

    “What was going on at Tent City was more active and varied than most people today realize,” said Esquevin. “The popular notion of Tent City is that you could rent a tent and lounge around on the beach. In actuality there were all these world-class events going on and a full spectrum of programs for people of all ages.”

    The advertisements alone offer a particularly valuable insight into 1903 Coronado. There are ads for restaurants, drug stores, bicycles, Mathewson’s Grocers, as well as old-time San Diego establishments like the Horton House and Klauber Wangeheim Wine Merchants. And the stories are quite literally from another era; stories such as Cash the diving horse – a trained horse that dove several times a day from an high platform into a small container of water. The price of admission? Ten cents.

    “It’s extremely rare to find a complete and chronological volume such as this,” said Esquevin. “We are very pleased with the thoughtfulness and generosity of Lee Mather Co., Realtors to make this possible, and we encourage everyone to be alert for pieces of Coronado history so that they may be preserved for use and study by future generations. All of this serves to enhance our ability to better describe the wonderful and interesting history of Coronado.”

    The Coronado Public Library is open Monday-Thursday 10-9, Friday-Saturday 10-6, and Sunday 1-5. They are located at 640 Orange Avenue. For more information call or visit (619) 522-7390 or All programs and events at the library are free to the public.

    To view the digitized pages of the Coronado Tent City Daily Program, visit, and click on “Tent City Digital Newspapers” on the left hand side of the page.

    This story was created by Joe Ditler and Part-Time PR, helping Coronado businesses to be heard. For more information write or call or (619) 435-0767.

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    Profile photo of Joe Ditler
    Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call, or (619) 435-0767.