Groundbreaking on the monumental project began on August 3, 1938. More than 100 officers attended to watch pile drivers smash wooden pylons into the ground to support the stations weight. The pylons were necessary as the station was being built only seven feet above the water table.
As construction of the station neared completion, Chief George Sears boldly predicted it would serve the needs of San Diego for the next fifty years. What he could not predict though was the explosive growth the city experienced during and after World War II when the population more than doubled.
By the mid 1950’s the department had already outgrown 801 West Market Street. Several modifications were done to the building to allow for more space, but a new headquarters was still needed. By the 1970’s the department began planning for a new, modern headquarters.
In January 1987 San Diego Police Department finally achieved its goal of a replacement for the fortress on Market St. Built at a cost of $43,000,000, the new station and its parking lot occupied the entire city block of 14th and Broadway Street. Upon first glance, many officers commented the building lacked the character of the old headquarters and looked more like a sterile office tower than what they had come to know as a police building.
With a new police headquarters in place, 801 West Market Street was closed and the flag in front of the building was lowered for the last time. Other than the large garage used for a horse drawn carriage company, the building sat abandoned and was the subject of numerous plans for re-use.
In the meantime the buildings ownership was quietly transferred from the city to the San Diego Unified Port District as part of a 1963 covenant that created the Port. It was almost a deathblow to the building given that the Port had been arguing as far back as 1975 for the “need” to tear it down once the police abandoned the site.
In the late 1990’s the Port District almost succeed when they voted for the building to be demolished to make way for additional parking and an expansion of Seaport Village, a neighboring shopping mall.
The first officers shared a building with the Fire Department but as the city grew they found themselves getting moved first to City Hall and then to a short series of ramshackle buildings that would today be condemned.
So it was with great fanfare in the mid 1930's when a project was announced to build a new, almost 100,000 square foot, state of the art police complex in a (then) remote southwest corner of Downtown San Diego. Later given the street address of 801 West Market Street, the facility looked and functioned like no other police facility ever built.
The building opened on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the SDPD, May 9, 1939.
Incorporating the then unheard of idea to bring all police operations to one centralized location, the building was designed with a 274 bed jail, five courtrooms, an emergency hospital, an indoor shooting range, a law library and a large 17,000 square foot automotive maintenance garage. With architecture reflective of nearby balboa park the building was a blend of Spanish Colonial architecture capped off with a 68 foot watch tower and palm trees surrounding a fountain in the center courtyard.
Designed by local architects Edward and Charles Quayle along with Alberto Treganza, the building more resembled an old Spanish fortress than a police facility. There were several reasons for choosing the architectural style. The first was that it fit into the Spanish heritage of San Diego, examples of which can still be found in Balboa Park. Secondly, residents of Coronado, who had a view across the bay, made it clear they did not want to look at an ugly police station.
When the $390,000 cost of the project was made public, there was a backlash from some citizens groups and even from the citys highest office.
Despite having served the chief of the San Diego Police Department in 1931, Mayor Percy Benbough questioned why the police would ever need such an elaborate and expensive facility. Despite the uproar, supporters of the project, as well as a majority of the city council, far outweighed the critics. These supporters recognized the project would provide not only a long lasting civic icon, but also much needed jobs to the San Diego region.
The decision lead to lawsuits and a multi year fight to stop the wrecking ball.
In 1998 the National Register of Historic Places recognized the station for its civic contributions. While most applications to the register are rejected, the building qualified in three categories. The prestigious listing made the Old Police Headquarters only the twenty fifth police facility in the United States, and only the second in the State of California, to ever be recognized as a national landmark.
Despite the official designation, that alone did not stop the proposed demolition. It was not until the Port was put on notice that they would need to obtain demolition permits to proceed with their plans, and those permits would not be approved if there would be an adverse impact on the building, that the OPH was officially saved.
Central Division, located on the 2nd floor of the old Assembly Building, was supposed to be relocated move in to the new
Police Headquarters at 1400 “E” Street in October 1986. The date was pushed back to November 14, then to November 21, 1986.
The Central Supply Room, located on the ground floor of the Assembly building,
was relocated to 1401 Broadway on November 14, 1986.
Field Operations and the Central Property Room, also located on the ground floor of the
Assembly Building, was relocated to 1401 Broadway on November 21.
The flag lowering ceremony for the Old Police HQ at 801 W. Market Street was held on January 16, 1987.
The grand opening ceremony for the new HQ at 1401 Broadway was held on January 30, 1987.
The Old Police Headquarters is the SDPD's largest historical artifact
and is on the National Register of Historic Places
Rodney Pease lived in what is now the office of the San Diego Revolver Club with his wife Myrtle and three daughters. For 15 years the Pease family was a part of the SDPD family as Rodney taught every officer how to properly & safely fire his/her weapon.
When Rodney Pease died at the age of 99 few officers remembered him. Not surprising considering he had retired from the department more than fifty years before. Despite not knowing Pease personally, every SDPD officer for more than a half-century benefited from what he had done. Pease almost single handedly built the police pistol range where they learned to shoot.
Pease was hired on the SDPD a custodian in 1930. In 1934 he was promoted to range master and given the responsibility of teaching police officers to shoot. It was a good move for both parties. At the time there was no formal firearms training although several new officers reported learning how to shoot by having a senior officer set tin cans on a back fence and having the newer officer shoot them off. As a world champion pistol shooter, Pease was the perfect man for the job.
In 1935 Pease took on the task of building an actual pistol range where officers could be formally taught how to shoot. The order would be a challenging task for a builder with a crew of workers. With no money for the project, it would prove almost impossible for a single policeman.
The range Pease envisioned consisted of a firing line and several buildings to be used as classrooms and an armory. He first secured a donation of a parcel of land from the Fenton family in a remote area several miles east of downtown. For building materials, Pease collected stones from a nearby river. Once he had collected enough rocks, he then went to Balboa Park and made deals for excess lumber from the Pan American Exposition. In exchange for the building materials, Pease gave free shooting lessons. Once he had his materials, Pease and a crew of jail trustees began construction. The men worked for several months until finally a pistol range emerged.
As range master, Pease lived in one of the buildings at the range with his wife Myrtle and three daughters. Over the next 15 years the Pease family became a part of the SDPD family as Rodney taught every officer how to properly and safely fire his weapon.
In 1950 Pease retired and went into the property management business. He passed away on June 6, 2001. His 51 years of retirement stands as a tie for the SDPD record with Detective Lieutenant George W. Churchman. To pay tribute for his work, on January 28, 2002, the San Diego Police Historical Association, in partnership with the Freemasons Blackmer lodge dedicated a granite monument at the pistol range in his honor. Chief David Bejarano and Executive Assistant Chief John Welter were at the event and praised Pease for the more than fifty people in attendance. To further recognize the unique accomplishments of Rodney Pease and what the Range has meant to the city, in 2005 the San Diego City Historical Resources Board unanimously approved a petition to add the site to the local historical register. The approval made the range just the second police site in San Diego to ever be officially recognized as an historic location.
Even though the San Diego Police Department was formed in 1889, they didn’t get their first police exclusive, dedicated headquarters until a half century later.