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University Heights community group creates interactive map of historic sidewalk stamps

SAN DIEGO -- As University Heights celebrates its 125th anniversary, the community has an important new historic resource, thanks to the hard work of UH resident and historical society volunteer, Bill Ellig.

Ellig spent many hours photographing, cataloging and creating an online map of over 350 historic contractor sidewalk stamps throughout University Heights, dating as far back as 1910. This important new resource will increase awareness of our community's history and help prevent further destruction of these important historical assets.

Also known as contractor marks, sidewalk stamps consist of the names or initials of cement contractors etched in sidewalks. More often, they include the month, day, and year of the sidewalk's pouring. Sidewalk stamps can hold important clues to a community's historical development, and can also help determine a house's age since sidewalks are usually laid immediately before or after the first building is constructed on a block.*

"As an avid walker and cyclist in UH, I couldn't help but notice the sidewalk stamps and became very curious about their story," says Ellig. "As I began cataloging them, I noticed a pattern of older and newer stamps, which could tell us more about how UH developed. The map is definitely a work in progress and I welcome any new information on other stamps from UH residents."

It is estimated that the first concrete sidewalks in San Diego were laid during the 1880's. However, by the 1890's, contractors began inlaying their names or company logos. The oldest recorded example of a sidewalk stamp in San Diego is at the corner of Union and G streets near the downtown jail. Dated ca. 1892, the oval stamp bears the name of Joseph Kelly, Contractor in Cement, Office 964 Fifth Avenue. Interestingly, the "4" in the address is backwards.*

Some of the oldest sidewalk stamps in UH bear the name Brockway & Swarstad. James C. Brockway, Jr. was a local contractor who lived at 2074 Johnson Ave. near Vermont Street and his partner, Ole Swarstad, lived at F and 27th Streets in Golden Hill.

Unfortunately, many of these historic UH stamps have been destroyed due to the construction of new sidewalks and corner ramps. The University Heights Historical Society has worked with the City of San Diego Engineering Department to implement measures for protecting these historic marks. Specifically, the Engineering Department and its subcontractors have agreed to cut any existing stamps and set them in the new concrete when new sidewalks or curb ramps are poured. The UH Historical Society is looking to further protect these historic resources through the current community plan updates.

Please do your part to protect these important historic assets:

• Keep any sidewalk stamps outside your home or business free of debris by sweeping or light hosing. Please, no scouring with soap or abrasives.

• Immediately report any destruction of sidewalk stamps due to sidewalk construction to the City of San Diego Neighborhood Code Compliance Division at 619-236-5550, or the UHCDC office at 619-297-3166.

• Email addresses and digital photos of additional sidewalk stamps to uh-sidewalk-stamps@att.net.

For more information about the fascinating 125-year history of the University Heights community, please visit our web site or purchase our 20-page self-guided walking tour of University Heights, "Cable Cars and Ostrich Feathers". The guide is free to new members of the University Heights Historical Society.