In its quest to supply water to its growing population, the City of San Diego claimed water rights to the San Diego River, and filed for a dam. A Mission Gorge site was first proposed on land owned by business leader Ed Fletcher. Another prominant business leader, John D. Spreckels lobbied for a dam farther north at El Capitan. After a lengthy civic debate, the city chose Spreckels’ project in 1924.
The tug of war over the project fueled a years-long political and legal battle over Native American pueblo rights to water, which affected the construction of the El Capitan Dam. The state Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the City of San diego in 1930, allowing dam construction to proceed. The dam opened to great fanfare and public walking tours in 1935.