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San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (1954-) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau (1954-)
Variant Name: San Diego Convention and Tourist Bureau

Historical Note:

The San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau has evolved from three predecessor organizations, the oldest of which dates to 1919.  In 1919, the San Diego-California Club, brainchild of San Diego realtor O.W. Cotton, was organized for the express purpose of persuading people in the prosperous Midwest to live in San Diego. This was because San Diego's growth had come to a halt, construction was at a standstill, and there were empty houses all over the city.

Though Cotton's plan was to attract permanent residents to San Diego, its natural side effect was to attract visitors and tourists, as well.  The first year's budget for the San Diego-California Club was $150,000, raised entirely from the business community. Cotton recalls in his memoirs, The Good Old Days, that business men were desperate for a way out of the area's depression, and the "club" was the only solution that had been offered to them. Nevertheless, it was a great deal of money to be raised in such a small community with a population of only 85,000.

During the first month of operation, thirteen stenographers were kept busy typing letters promoting San Diego. Letters of inquiry in response to that promotion mounted as high as 900 a day before the first year was ended. The advertising stressed the city's climate, as Bureau advertising does today. By 1931, the club was distributing 500,000 pieces of literature a year. Headquarters were on the Spreckels Building's first floor.

The Club's operating fund dropped to $125,000 in its second year, and dropped again to $75,000 in its third year.  In 1925, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce took the club under its wing, though the club retained its own officers and budget separate from the Chamber.  That same year, on November 25, the club's convention hall in Balboa Park burned to the ground during the Fireman's Ball.

In 1928, the San Diego Convention Bureau was organized by the Convention Department of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. Its purpose was to function as an independent organization to put San Diego in a position to compete for convention business with other communities.

In 1936, Joseph Dryer formed the San Diego Heaven-on-Earth Club. It never had a formal advertising budget, though Dryer poured much personal time and money into it. Later this club was absorbed into the San Diego-California Club.  In 1946, the San Diego-California Club, still operating under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce, changed its name to the San Diego Visitors Bureau. During 1948 and 1949, both the Visitors Bureau and the Convention Bureau received funds from the County of San Diego, so each changed its name to the San Diego City and San Diego County Visitors and Convention Bureaus.

In the early 1950s the visitor industry began to show strong potential again, and the idea was put forth that all visitor industry promotional groups would be joined together in one organization. In 1954, the San Diego City and County Visitors and Convention Bureaus were consolidated into one organization called the San Diego Convention and Tourist Bureaus. Its first president was Kenneth Nairne, manager of the main office of the Bank of America.

In June of 1965, membership of community business and professional organizations in the Bureau went over 700 for the first time in its history. By the end of 1966 it stood at 1,051.

The Bureau underwent another small change in1965, when it changed its name to the Convention and Visitors Bureau. San Diego was the first city to sustain a visitor promotion unit, and it still is considered by most bureau managers across the nation to be the best organized in the nation.

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