John D. Spreckels, San Francisco financier, shipping magnate, and scion of the fabled Spreckels family, first discovered polo in the late 1800’s. Shortly thereafter, he visited Coronado Island and was so completely captivated by the area, known at the time as the playground for the wealthy, that he immediately made plans to play polo on the island’s beautiful green lawns. Spreckels built a polo facility on the island that quickly became known throughout the United States for the quality of its fields and climate, as well as the number and proficiency of its players and horses.
In the ensuing years, the Coronado Polo Club became known as the “Meadowbrook of the West”, after the famous club on Long Island New York. Coronado was the site of many early prestigious polo tournaments, and its fields saw the first playing of the Pacific Coast Open, still considered one of California’s premier polo events. Among those tournaments was the match that Spreckels inaugurated in 1909. Calling it the Polo Challenge, he enlisted the aid of designers Brock and Feagus of Los Angeles, and commissioned a dramatic silver trophy almost two feet high. Engraved on the trophy was the inscription, “Polo Challenge Trophy, presented by John D. Spreckels.” The trophy was designed to be engraved with the names of the winners each year and was intended to be held by the winning team for one year.
The trophy was played for each year, with the exception of the years of World War I, and its engraved names read like a “Who’s Who” of California polo. The last team to win the trophy before it was retired in 1921, was captained by Carleton F. Burke. Burke, a dedicated horseman, was responsible for reintroducing thoroughbred racing in California in 1932, after a 23-year blackout. He later became one of the founders of the California Horse Racing Board. The Spreckels Cup remained among his most prized treasures.
In an effort to document the history of polo in San Diego and in Southern California, Julie Mulvihill-Mayer launched a search for polo memorabilia in the archives of the Coronado Library. Joseph E. Jessop, longtime San Diego resident and founder of Jessop’s Jewelers, had been employed at the Coronado Polo Club as a young boy and became a lifelong polo fan. He recommended that the search continue at the Coronado Historical Society. Following that lead brought Mulvihill-Mayer upon a veritable treasure trove of old polo trophies including the Spreckels Cup. The trophies were brought back to San Diego, and Joseph E. Jessop and Jessops Jewelers President, Ken Laughlin, cooperated in masterminding their restoration.
When the season officially opened on June 10, 1988, the newly refurbished Spreckels Cup occupied a place of honor in the club’s trophy case. Restored to its original appearance, and flanked by its companion pieces, the impressive silver cup cast an undeniable glow upon the matches and players. The trophy’s presence provided a tangible link across the years and forged a bond between the players of today, John D. Spreckels, and the band of polo players that had such an influence on our sport and upon the San Diego Polo Club.
The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association generously loans the trophy to us annually. We’d like to thank the CTBA’s Board for their role in securing this prestigious trophy for the continued use in this historical event.