Print this page Make text larger Make text smaller
home history family photos records misc

Sam Minsker Obituary

Sam Minsker, 73, expert on downtown history led walking tours

By Jack Williams, Staff Writer

From the San Diego Union Tribune, March 20, 2001

Note: The newspaper was not forthcoming in allowing me permission to reprint this article. I tried on numerous occasions to get that permission and was stonewalled at every turn. I was never actually denied permission, but rather my requests were pretty much ignored. If you represent the newspaper and have issues with this article appearing here, please contact me at and we'll talk about it.

If you wanted someone to walk you through a lesson in San Diego history, "Downtown Sam" was your man.

In conducting downtown walks two or three times weekly for more than a decade, turning every corner like the page of a history text, Sam Minsker was a legend in knee-length shorts, well-worn sneakers and any one of more than a dozen caps or visors.

He died of a brain hemorrhage March 7 at his downtown apartment. He was 73.

"I don't know how we're going to get along without him," said Larraine Marshall, past president and travel chairman of Walkabout International, the nonprofit organization for which Mr. Minsker conducted his free tours.

"He was quite an expert, and he knew everybody downtown, from the wealthy to people on the street," Marshall said.

Slowed by various illnesses for more than a year, Mr. Minsker had cut back on his walk schedule, letting other Walkabout volunteers fill in on his routes.

He began his one- to two-hour downtown treks in the early 1980s. Three people joined his first tour. As many as 30 were accompanying him as recently as two years ago.

"I never plan my walks," he told a reporter in 1986. "I want them to have a spontaneous feel to them."

While most of his tours were for Walkabout, he also was hired by downtown hotels to provide an educational and entertaining experience on foot for their guests.

His fascination with downtown's history, much of it in the Gaslamp Quarter, began in the early 1980s when he worked as a parking lot attendant near Harbor Drive.

One day, his boss asked him to survey every parking lot in the inner city. He hopped on his bike and took inventory. By the end of the week, he knew virtually every inch of downtown. History books, classes at San Diego State University and San Diego City College and interviews with old-timers did the rest.

After joining a couple of downtown walking tours, he found that he knew more than the guides.

Sharing his knowledge with Evelyn Kooperman, an author and reference librarian, he contributed several trivia questions to her books, "San Diego Trivia" and "San Diego Trivia 2".

Sometimes Mr. Minsker's walks would go through hotels and downtown businesses, much to the surprise of the buildings' occupants. He could be as a amusing as he was educational.

"This is an expensive high tea," he said during a walk on the plush Oriental carpet of the U.S. Grant Hotel in 1986. "Down at the Horton Grand it's only $7.50 for two."

He would tell you that the best downtown viewing spot was the top level of the Civic Center parking garage, that Wyatt Earp's gambling joints were near what is now Horton Plaza, and all about the former First and Last Chance Saloon, which featured a chained black bear outside in the Stingaree district.

Mr. Minsker walked on every pier along the San Diego County coast, led walks in Balboa Park after summer concerts, and organized scavenger hunts in the Gaslamp Quarter that sent people in search of historic landmarks.

Every Christmas he would organize Walkabout International volunteers in a tree-decorating project at the Timken Art Gallery in Balboa Park.

About 1,000 handcrafted ornaments designed by Florence Hord, the late widow of famed sculptor Donal Hord, turned a huge tree into an annual showcase at Christmas on the Prado.

Mr. Minsker, a San Diegan since 1972, was born in Tillamook, Ore. He served more than 20 years in the Air Force, including a tour of Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.

He wrote and edited sports news for the Air Force News Service and for Stars & Stripes and base newspapers. He boxed competitively while stationed in Iceland, and played drums at NCO clubs while stationed in Maine.

He also coached and officiated various sports during his Air Force career, including football, baseball, basketball and volleyball.

Survivors include daughters Gayle Forbess and Mary Albright of San Diego; sons Manley Scott Minsker of Ogden, Utah, and Tim Minsker of San Diego; two grandchildren; and his companion, Patricia Walker.

A wake was held Wednesday at Dick's Last Resort downtown, where Mr. Minsker often stopped for a hamburger after his walks. Interment will be private. Donations are suggested to San Diego Hospice.

Samuel Watson Minsker was the son of Geoffrey Claude Minsker (1890-1964), the grandson of Watson Samuel Minsker (1861-1896), the great-grandson of Moses Lafayette Minsker (1825 –circa 1880), the great-great-grandson of Moses Minsker (1793-1872), and the great-great-great grandson of Ludwig Minsker Jr. (1761-1816).
See the descendants of Ludwig Mäintzger page.