San Clemente native publishes article on the history of San Onofre
By Amanda Huffman
Although many know San Onofre for its nuclear power plant or the U.S Marine Corps base that sprawls south of it, its past is mostly forgotten. History professor Ryan Jordan hopes to change that. His recently published paper, “Remembering the Forgotten Village of San Onofre: An Untold Story of Race Relations,” in The Journal of San Diego History brings to light San Onofre’s untold story.
Jordan, a history professor at the University of San Diego, grew up in San Clemente. He was always drawn to the past, but it was his professors at UCLA who encouraged him to pursue graduate studies in history. After completing his doctorate at Princeton in 2004, Jordan worked as a lecturer and adjunct professor, before joining the staff at USD.
Jordan studies the period of time from the Revolutionary to Civil War in America, but with the encouragement of the editor of The Journal and fellow USD history professor, Iris Engstrand, he began research on Camp Pendleton. His interest in the history of race and race relations led him to study San Onofre—the area between Camp Pendleton and the South Orange County line.
“In doing some research I discovered that very little had been written about the settlement at San Onofre and its Japanese American population in particular,” Jordan said.
Originally an Indian village named Panhe, the San Onofre area served as a ranchería, or a small connected settlement of natives, for San Juan Capistrano after the Spanish settled.
“The area was actually home to a larger number of Juaneño Indians than in San Juan Capistrano,” Jordan said.
After the failure of the small farming town Forster City and the creation of a train depot in 1888, the land eventually moved into the hands of the Haven family in the 1920s. The Havens, who owned Haven’s Ranch, leased around 1,400 acres of land in and around San Onofre from the late ’20s into the ’60s.
San Onofre also had an increase in Japanese-American residents, growing from just 10 in the 1920s to 208 in the 1940s. Land ownership fell, however, at first to the California Alien Land Laws. The Alien Land Law of 1913 prohibited immigrants from owning land or holding long-term leases, but allowed for short-term leases lasting less than three years. The Alien Land Law of 1920 was passed to prevent immigrants from leasing land for any amount of time. Japanese Internment during World War II also led to a large drop in land ownership—although some of the Japanese-Americans in San Onofre avoided Interment.
“Many of the families at San Onofre were able to voluntarily evacuate to Utah due to the kindness of a Mormon seed salesman named Ezekiel,” Jordan said.
Once they were allowed to return home, many Japanese-Americans found they were unable to return to their old farms, thus losing out on prime land.
Jordan spoke to Fred Oyama, a Japanese-American who lived in San Onofre, whose father had owned farmland in Chula Vista under his son’s American name to avoid the Alien Land Laws. Once he returned from Utah, Oyama’s father challenged the laws in court. He played a pivotal role in overturning them, as the case, Oyama V. California, going all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
The federal government came into possession of the area in 1942, eventually building Camp Pendleton. San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station followed in the ’60s, and the San Onofre State Beach was created in 1971.
Why then, was all this history largely forgotten? Jordan believes that a lack of historical buildings helped erase San Onofre’s past.
“The freeway literally runs over an area where several buildings used to be,” Jordan said.
Though San Onofre’s history is unknown to many, Jordan’s article reveals its forgotten past, allowing locals to learn more about such a familiar place.
The article can be found online at www.sandiegohistory.org.