Hollywood in Oceanside

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The popular drama “Animal Kingdom” will soon finish filming its sixth and final season in Oceanside. But did you know that Oceanside has been a popular site for film and television studios for over 100 years? For almost as long as Hollywood has been making movies, Oceanside has been a film locale and our hotels used to house cast, director and crew.

Filming Animal Kingdom in Oceanside; Photo courtesy Zach Cordner/The Osider  

For decades our locals have played extras while Hollywood has used our beaches, Mission San Luis Rey and other landmarks as backdrops. Oceanside has also been a getaway for movie stars and entertainers. 

Many of the earliest movies filmed in and around Oceanside have not survived, but some still exist to this day. The following is a list of some (not all) of early as well as contemporary movies and television episodes that have been filmed in our City.

Director Cecil B. De Mille

Beginning in 1914, the Laskey Feature Film Company stopped in town with film director Cecile B. De Mille. Noted as the “founding father of the American cinema” De Mille made 70 films between 1914 and 1958, and it is noteworthy that one of his first was filmed partly in Oceanside. De Mille, a registered guest at the Oceanside Beach Hotel, was here to film David Belasco’s drama, “The Rose of the Rancho” featuring scenes from the Mission San Luis Rey and Pala.

The Beach Hotel (aka El San Luis Rey) along North Pacific Street

The Beach Hotel where De Mille frequented several times, was located at Third (Pier View Way) and Pacific Streets. This three-story hotel opened in 1904 and was originally named the “El San Luis Rey Hotel” after the Mission San Luis Rey. (It was reported that the fireplace mantle in the lobby was made from “one of the original timbers from the ruins of San Luis Rey bought from Father O’Keefe for ten dollars.”) The Beach Hotel was often used for a variety of film crews and actors over the years.

Another view of the Hotel where many crews and stars stayed while filming.

In 1917 the Signal Film Company used the San Luis Rey River Bridge for the scene of a “thrilling wreck”. Directed by J. P. McGowan, “The Lost Express,” took advantage of the old cement bridge over the San Luis Rey River which had washed away in the Flood of 1916. The film company ran a 1913 Studebaker off the north approach. The Oceanside Blade described the scene in which the two stars put themselves in danger:  “When the car started it was occupied by Miss Helen Holmes and Eddie Hearn, and driven by a dummie chauffeur.  In leaving the car, Eddie Hearn had a narrow squeak from taking a tumble himself.  The auto jumped in the air then made two complete somersaults and landed on the wheels right side up, without puncturing a single tire.” After filming the film company donated the wrecked car to local resident Brownie Dodge of the Oceanside Garage.

The San Luis Rey Bridge was destroyed in the Flood of 1916. Filmmakers took advantage of the wreckage for a thrilling scene.

In November of 1918 the Blanche Sweet Film Company shot scenes of a war film entitled, “The Unpardonable Sin”.  One scene included an automobile wreck at South Oceanside, but most of the action involved chasing after “German spies” on the coast highway south of Carlsbad.

In 1922 Warner Bros. Studio filmed stunts from the “tops of moving trains and bridges”. While filming these daring scenes the movie cast and crew stayed at Oceanside’s Beach Hotel.

In July of 1922 the Cosmopolitan Picture Company established headquarters at Oceanside for the filming of Peter B. Kyne’s story, “The Pride of Palomar.”  Scenes from the Santa Margarita rancho, San Luis Rey Mission, Rancho Guajome and Oceanside were used.  The film company registered at the Beach Hotel. 

Rancho Guajome where the “Pride of Palomar” was filmed.

Universal Pictures filmed scenes for a western, “The Love Brand” on the Rancho Santa Margarita in 1923 and it was noted that it featured a cattle roundup and “real buckaroo work”.  The film starred Roy Stewart who played “Don Jose O’Neil”.

Cattle roundup on the Rancho Santa Margarita

The local newspaper noted that Stewart, a San Diego native and an expert horseman. “spent much of his time on the famous Santa Marguerite (sic) rancho, one of the biggest and most famous in the West. After the style of vaqueros of the Southwestern cattle country, Stewart acquired a taste for beautiful saddles and bridles and eventually procured one of the finest looking outfits in the country. He utilized this equipment for the first time before the camera in “The Love Brand” his latest starring vehicle for Universal. The saddle is silver mounted, carved in a beautiful Spanish design, and the bridle is also extravagantly, though beautifully, decorated with silver. The outfit is very valuable, but Stewart never figures its value in dollars and cents. He wouldn’t part with it at any price. Stewart rides his own horse, a beautiful thoroughbred, in the play and other principals in the cast also ride horses from his famous stables, although dozens of horses were available for “atmospheric players” at the Santa Margarita rancho.”

Roy Stewart

When the film was released, it played at Oceanside’s Elysium Theater in November of that year and the theater owner noted in his weekly newspaper ad that the movie was locally filmed. It was a crowd favorite and Oceanside residents never tired of seeing the local landscape and notable landmarks on the screen.

Hollywood’s most famous silent movie stars and notable couple, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, were frequent guests to Oceanside.  In June of 1923 Fairbanks and Pickford established a beach camp used by other film notables throughout that summer as well.  Fairbanks reported that it was his “sixth season here and that Oceanside has undoubtedly the finest beach in California.” The June 21, 1923 Blade reported:  “Among the guests of the tent colony of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford on the beach during the past week has been Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. of New York. 

The Tiffany Company of the Bud Borsky Productions filmed a 1927 production on the ship “George Billings”. The boat was owned by local Harry Brodie. It was used to take groups out to sea to fish but for its Hollywood debut the boat was fitted with a new “suit of sails”. The cast included Montagu Love, Dorothy Sebastian, and Ray Haller and they along with the film crew stayed in Oceanside. The film was released as “The Haunted Ship” based on a story White and Yellow written by Jack London. 

The “fishing boat” that was used for the movie “The Haunted Ship”

Many Oceanside residents became movie extras in the spring of 1936 while shooting for the picture, “Vigilantes,” by the Republic Production company, with the Mission San Luis Rey used as a background.  The plot “centered on early California history … when the Fathers were having a struggle to keep the missions free from corruption, and invasion by the Indians”.  Many local residents appeared in the picture, including well known resident Bill Lawrence.  The film was released with a new title “The Vigilantes Are Coming” and was a serial with 12 parts, many of which feature the Mission San Luis Rey, its bell tower and interior. The film’s star was Robert Livingston who played a masked vigilante “The Eagle” and was a precursor to the more widely known “Lone Ranger” with his mask and white horse.

In 1942 comedian Bob Hope and members of his comedy troupe visited the 101 Cafe:  “Herb Evers, of the 101 Cafe, at Hill and Wisconsin, says that he can’t get ahead of Comedian Bob Hope in wise cracks, but that Bob admitted Evers could prepare a better steak than he could.  Hope and other members of the radio troupe stopped in the 101 this week for dinner and all ordered steaks.  For a while the 101 was a regular radio show, while the troupe enjoyed their steak dinner.”

In 1949 “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring John Wayne was filmed at Camp Pendleton, and for which Wayne received his first Academy Award nomination. Other war films including “Flying Leathernecks”, “The Outsider”, “Battle Cry” and “Retreat, Hell!” were filmed at Camp Pendleton.

John Wayne, Cast and crew of Sands of Iwo Jima with Camp Pendleton Marines

In 1951 Oceanside children were the “stars” in the “Kidnapper’s Foil”. This short film was just one of hundreds made by Melton Barker between the 1930s and 1970s. Barker traveled across the country hawking his vanity film projects in small towns. Each film would include hometown children as actors. Barker was paid by parents in exchange for the privilege of their child to appear.  

The plot of each short film was repeated in each film: “A young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and rescued by a search party of local kids. The relieved neighbors celebrated with a party where youngsters would display their musical talents.” The finished film would be shown on hometown theater screens to the delight of the children and their families.

Actual ad that ran in the Oceanside Blade Tribune

In July of 1951, Melton Barker ran in an advertisement in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in which the headline read: “OCEANSIDE CHILDREN WILL STAR IN MOVIES”.  The ad text provided the details: “Melton Barker will arrive in Oceanside to produce a two-reel comedy, according to an announcement by the manager of the Crest theater. The picture will be made In Oceanside using local children as well as children from surrounding territory in the cast After the cast has been selected, there will be two or three days of rehearsals, teaching them to act before the sound camera. There will be a small charge for this training. However, there will be no charge for registering or tryouts. Children between the ages of three to 14, wishing to try for parts, must register at the Crest Theater at once. When the casting director arrives in town, he will get In touch with those who have registered and arrange for tryouts.”

This ad (with the word kidnapper misspelled each time) ran in the Oceanside Blade Tribune for the film’s screening.

The film featuring the Oceanside children was shown at the Crest Theater after the movie “Angels in the Outfield” in October of 1951.

The Mission San Luis Rey was used for a backdrop in the popular “Zorro” television series starring Guy Williams .  An episode entitled “Zorro Rides to the Mission” aired on October 24, 1957 and featured the cemetery gate of the Mission with the skull and crossbones. Some have attributed this to Walt Disney Productions, but this element of the cemetery gate predates the Zorro series.

Cemetery gate of the Mission San Luis Rey with skull and cross bones circa 1938

Again in 1962 the Mission was the location for another television series: “Have Gun – Will Travel”. In Season 6, episode 10 “A Miracle for St. Francis” aired with the lead character Paladin, played by Richard Boone in search of a rare brandy and the Padre in search of a rare statue.

In 1972 “Baby Blue Marine” starring Jan Michael Vincent was filmed at the barracks in the 13 Area of Camp Pendleton. The Aaron Spelling/Leonard Goldberg production for Columbia Pictures told the little known story of the Marine Corps’ “washouts and misfits” and the title refers to the blue suits they were issued to go home in.

“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” a movie that is just as bad as it sounds, was filmed in Oceanside and San Diego in 1978. Although a very broad and silly “horror” film, a very serious and near-deadly helicopter crash occurred during filming.  While filming at the Wackerman ranch off North River Road, a helicopter piloted by Thomas Watts with two actors, George Wilson and Jack Riley, crash landed and burst into flames. All three men escaped without serious injury but the crash captured on cameras was incorporated into the film.

In 1984 filming began on Camp Pendleton’s beach for a television miniseries based on James A. Michner’s fictional account of the American space program, which covered the years after World War II to the Apollo moon landings. Despite the crowds enjoying a summer day, the film crew captured footage of vintage planes in flight simulating air combat.

Filming of the television miniseries “Space” at Camp Pendleton

In 1985 filming began of what would become a box office blockbuster and when it was released on May 12, 1986 the film launched Tom Cruise to super stardom. “Top Gun” was shot on location at Miramar, San Diego and Oceanside.  The “Top Gun” house at the corner of Seagaze and Pacific streets was featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, played by Kelly McGillis. 

Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise in Oceanside filming in 1985.

Scenes in this popular movie featured Cruise on his motorcycle racing Oceanside’s beautiful palm-lined Pacific Street, overlooking the ocean.  Today, the newly restored house has been moved just one block north and sits between two new resort hotels.

Newly restored “Top Gun” House. Historically it is the Graves house, built in 1887. Photo courtesy John Daley

Beginning in the summer of 1986, Heartbreak Ridge was filmed at Camp Talega, Chappo Flats and Mainside at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton starring Clint Eastwood. Camp Pendleton Marines were used as extras. A barroom brawl scene was filmed at Carl’s Tavern in Vista. While the film was initially supported by the Marine Corps, it was not without controversy with its loose story line and the way Marines were portrayed as “undisciplined.” Still when it was released in December of 1986, it drew crowds of local moviegoers to Oceanside’s Mann’s theater.

Oceanside’s Mann Theater. “Heartbreak Ridge” opening day with local Marines and residents in line to view.

In January of 1995 “The Women of Spring Break”, a television movie starring Shelly Long and Mel Harris aired on CBS.  Much of the movie was filmed at Oceanside’s beach and pier with the characters staying at Oceanside’s Mira Mar Motor Inn, which had long seen better days. The made-for-TV movie was later renamed “Welcome to Paradise”.

In 2004 “Veronica Mars” starring Kristen Bell aired on the UPN television network. Many of the series’ scenes were filmed at Stu Segall Productions in San Diego, California and most of the scenes featuring “Neptune High” were filmed in Oceanside. The director liked that it was “a seaside town that still feels like middle-class people live there.” The setting of Neptune High, which was featured in the first two seasons, was also located at Oceanside High School, which was paid $7,750 for the use of the campus and extras.

Kristen Bell played Veronica Mars. Oceanside High School was featured as “Neptune High”

“To Save a Life” was filmed in 2009 and released the following year. Featuring a large cast of locals, it was filmed at various North County locations including Oceanside High School, MiraCosta College and Eternal Hills Memorial Park.   

Scenes of the popular 2010 cheerleading movie, “Bring It On” starring Kirsten Dunst and Gabrielle Union were filmed at the Oceanside Amphitheater.  It was so popular it became a franchise with a series of sequels.

Screen shot of the movie “Bring It On!” at the Oceanside Bandshell

Pop star Katy Perry filmed her music video “Part of Me” at Camp Pendleton. The video was shot over three days in February of 2012 and scenes were filmed at Red Beach and Camp Horno.  The video depicted Perry as a Marine training with male Marines. Today this is now reality with female Marines training alongside Marines at the School of Infantry starting in 2018, for decades only training men.

TNT’s Animal Kingdom followed the fictional Cody family and their exploits while living in Oceanside. Viewers around the world see some of Oceanside’s best assets, the Pier, Harbor and Strand. Filming has been done in over 70 locations in our City including the Real Surf Shop and Surf Bowl on Coast Highway. Character Daren Cody’s fictional bar has been a popular location at 314 Wisconsin, as well as a beach cottage on the South Strand where character “Baz” lived with his girlfriend.

314 Wisconsin Ave was a popular locale for the Animal Kingdom series. Photo courtesy Zach Cordner/The Osider  

While Oceanside has been the backdrop for Hollywood for years, the Oceanside International Film Festival was established in 2009 to provide an opportunity for independent filmmakers to have their work screened and considered for wider distribution. Many local filmmakers, along with those from around the world, converge on Oceanside to show their films each year.

No doubt our City will “star” in another cinematic feature soon. It’s still as thrilling to see Oceanside through the lens of a camera as it was in the early days of film.

Roberts Cottages – The History of the Iconic Pink Houses on the Beach

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Shortly after the turn of the century, a large section of Oceanside’s Strand (once called Paseo Del Mar) was owned by the Oceanside Development Co., headed by C. J. Walker as President. This group of investors was from Long Beach and they held interest in Oceanside real estate, owning many lots throughout town, including several blocks of oceanfront land. The Strand Tract addition was recorded in 1904 and soon after the Oceanside Development Co. set about an advertising campaign throughout Southern California.

Advertising excursion to Oceanside by the Oceanside Development Co., The Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1904

Trainloads of potential buyers and investors made their way to Oceanside. The December 17, 1904 Oceanside Blade reported: “About 600 excursionists from Los Angeles and Long Bench come down Wednesday on a train of seven coaches arriving about 11 o’clock am and leaving at 3 in the afternoon. The excursion was arranged by the Oceanside Development Co. to open the sale of their Strand tract on the beach, and many lots were sold there, though there were also sales in other portions of town. In the Strand Tract thirty-three lots were sold, including all of blocks 1 and 9, and lots in and lots in 4, 5, and 6.

The 700 block of North Strand remained unimproved (or vacant) and in the possession of Charles J. Walker until 1924 when it was purchased by A. J. Clark.

Alfred J. Clark arrived in Oceanside in 1924 from Idaho, and subsequently purchased the Oceanside Bath House just north of the Oceanside Pier. Clark was also the manager of the “Fun Zone” a concession area near the Pier, as well as the manager of Oceanside’s newest and grandest theater, The Palomar, which was located on the 300 block of North Hill (Coast Highway).

Fun Zone north of the pier once operated by A. J. Clark

In January 1928 it was reported that Clark had received a permit to build beach cottages on his property on The Strand at a cost of $25,000 by the Whiting-Mead Company. A row of twelve small cottages were built which the fronted The Strand and eleven identical cottages were built behind them, staggered and situated to afford ocean views. A larger cottage was built on the south end of the property and was used as both a dwelling and office. A structure to house automobiles was perpendicular to the office, and another similar structure was located on the north end of the property (but no longer exists). The name of these new cottages were “Clark’s Cottage DeLuxe” (or a variation of such) and were available for vacationers by the summer of 1928. Rental fees were as little as $3.00 a day.

Auto camps were established before modern motels. Municipal camp sites operated by cities, chambers of commerce or individuals allowed travelers a place to park their car, perhaps set up a campsite, for a small fee, and were offered basic amenities such as outhouses and running water. With a growing population on the move, a demand for better services made way for more traveler-friendly sites.  

Leland Bibb and Kathy Flanigan wrote in the Role of Transportation in the Growth of the City of Oceanside (1997):Camping [became] a popular recreational experience for many motorists in the 1920s. The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, desirous of capitalizing on this activity, proposed the establishment of a municipal camp ground on its property located on Ditmar, Nevada, Third and Fourth in September 1920. By May 1921, with the City in possession of the block, work began on improvements necessary for vacationers. Water was piped into the area, and a fence and hedge surrounded it. A building, constructed in the center of the lot, provided toilets, lavatories and shower baths for men and women. The remainder of the land was divided into camping spaces with simple brick and concrete stoves placed along the tier of spaces on the west side of the block. Electric light was furnished. An existing house on the property underwent renovation for a caretaker. A small charge was to be collected for use of the park and its conveniences by autoists, basically to keep indigents away.”

Cottage City was located south of Clark’s Cottages on the Strand

Oceanside had several auto courts in the 1920s and 1930s. At least three survive today, one on South Coast Highway and another on South Cleveland Street. Roberts Cottages is the only surviving beachfront auto court. Cottage City (which was also located on the Strand) was first established as “Tent City” in about 1919 and offered few amenities to campers. In response to demands of the traveling public and long term vacationers, in 1925 Cottage City underwent extensive renovations and improvements. Ten two-room cottages were added, which featured kitchenettes, along with garages for automobiles. Cottage City was torn down prior to 1972.

Clark’s Cottages DeLuxe, 704 The Strand North, circa 1929

Clark sold the cottages to A. S. and Pearlie Gholson in June of 1929, but before year’s end they had sold it Doren Perrine of Encinitas. Perrine and his wife Ella occupied the larger cottage while managing the cottage rentals. However, the Perrrine’s may have defaulted on the mortgage as Oceanside Lot Books still record Clark as the owner in 1930.

Later that year William Wallace Roblee of Riverside purchased the property and the name was modified to the “DeLuxe Cottages”. Roblee’s son Hewitt and his wife managed the property during the summer months. The June 29, 1934 Blade reported: “Mrs. M H. Roblee has arrived from Riverside to take over the DeLuxe Cottages on the north Strand.”

One Los Angeles newspaper described the beach cottages in 1934:  “The Bungalows DeLux (successors to Clark’s Cottages) at Oceanside are as modern as your home. The bungalows of English style stucco are furnished most complete. Every bungalow has a picturesque ocean view from the Paseo Del Mar Drive” (The Strand).

The beach cottages under the name of Surf Motor Court, circa 1938

In 1937 Marion and Margie Arbogast purchased the cottage property and it was during their brief ownership that the cottages were named “Surf Motor Court.” Unfortunately, the Arbogast’s defaulted on their loan and lost the property.

The Mutual Building and Loan Association of Long Beach sold the beach cottages to Harry and Virginia Roberts in January 1941. The Oceanside Blade Tribune announced on June 11, 1941 that the cottages were being remodeled and renamed:

An improvement along North Strand that is attracting attention is renovation of Roberts Cottages. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Roberts, for five years associated with Cottage City, purchased what were known as the Surf Motor Cottages in January, and have been remodeling ever since. This week the exterior of the 23 cottages are being painted. Woodwork is being painted a bright red and black trim to set of new concrete porches with a black railing.

Brilliantly colored beach umbrellas and bright colored beach chairs will be in front of each cottage. To complete the colorful effect red geraniums have been planted in containers in front of each cottage.

The interior of each cottage has been refinished. Walls have been plastered and all woodwork is in an antique finish.  New showers, new furniture, new mattresses, new cooking utensils have been installed to make the cottage a cozy home that will appeal to the vacationer.

Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are enthusiastic over the future of Oceanside, and are pleased to contribute their beautification of North Strand to the progress being made in the community as a whole. 

Harry Roberts was a native of Columbus, Mississippi and Virginia hailed from Texas. The two were living in Denver, Colorado before coming to Oceanside. They first purchased and managed Cottage City, a row of beach cottages on the south corner of the Strand and Sixth Street (Surfrider Way).

As their predecessors, the Roberts owned the cottages a relatively short period of time, but their name has been attached to the property to this day.

The cottages were sold to Reginald Willhoyt Hampton and his wife Mary in 1944. Hampton was a native of San Luis Obispo and a contractor by trade. The Hamptons owned the subject property just two years when it was sold to Ervin [misspelled as Irving] and Vera Willems.

In 1952 the cottages were sold to William B. Settle III, and his wife Gladys. Settle served on the Oceanside Planning Commission for nearly two years, and also owned the El Sereno Apartments at 835 South Pacific Street. The Settles relocated to Bakersfield in 1954 after selling the beach cottages to Harvey Olen and Ruth (Settle) Forquer the prior year.

The Forquers lived on the property while Harvey worked as a detention officer for the department of U. S. Immigration. Ruth Forquer was a sister of William B. Settle, the prior owner. The Forquers entered into a partnership with George and Zelda Henry, of Hollywood, to own and manage Roberts Cottages.

After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the cottage property, in 1956 it was suggested to break up the property and sell the cottages individually to separate owners. It has been proposed that this may have been “the first time someone had used the ‘own-your-own’ condo concept in California.”

Oceanside Realtor Tom Harrington had the listing to sell the cottages, with Wilma Stakich working as his sales agent. Harrington ran an ad in the local paper that there were “only 20 left”. The advertisement which first ran June 29, 1956, read: “Own Your Own Beach Cottage only $5,250 total. Completely furnished. Only $1,150 down. Tom Harrington Realtors, 1213 So. Hill St.” (now Coast Highway).

Just one month later Harrington announced that there were just 12 units remaining and by September 1956, just two cottages were left unsold.  It was advertised that each cottage could be rented for $60 and that owners could “gross from $l40 to $175 per month in summer.”

Dean R. Hansberry and Jean B. Hansberry acquired Unit 24 in October of 1956. Dean Hansberry was a Captain the United States Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Jean Hansberry was a real estate agent. However, in 1958 it was discovered that Captain Hansberry, a disbursing officer had embezzled $63,000 “between December 1955 and June 24, 1957.” During the criminal investigation and trial, the couple had spent nearly $30,000 over their income in a two year period. It was also discovered that Hansberry had used $2,000 of the absconded monies as a “down payment on the 704 Strand Street property.” He was convicted and sentenced to six years in Federal prison.

Roberts Cottages in early 1990s

In 1961 Wilma Stakich and her sister Grace Baker shared an interest in Unit 24 and managed the cottages for some of the owners many years, up through the 1980s.

Today many of the cottages are still owned individually and several rented out for vacation rentals. In recent years owners took to painting the cottages in different colors rather than the traditional pink they have been known for many decades. However, today the cottages are once again their customary color, while some trims vary slightly.

San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) has Roberts Cottages on their list of “Most Endangered List of Historic Resources.” They describe the 24 units as “a rare and finite collection of historic buildings” and “are the best surviving examples of auto-court beach cottages.”

SOHO goes on to note: “When leisure travel by auto became all the rage, convenient lodging along the way became necessary. The first generation of these auto-courts, built in the late 1920s, 30s and 40s, were known as cottage courts or traveler’s courts. Roberts Cottages is one of the first. These unique beach buildings represent an important part of Oceanside’s early tourism industry.”

Roberts Cottages today, photo courtesy of Visit Oceanside

Today Roberts Cottages are part of Oceanside’s wonderful beach landscape, an iconic feature that captures the attention and imagination of residents and visitors alike.

Huckabay’s Department Store Building, 501 Mission Avenue

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Many longtime residents of Oceanside will fondly remember Huckabay’s Department Store at 501 Mission Avenue. This building, located on the southeast corner of Mission Avenue and Coast Highway, is 109 years old and was originally the J. E. Jones Hardware Store.

The J. E. Jones Hardware Store building, 501 Second Street (Mission Avenue)

Joseph E. Jones was born in 1873, and came to California with his parents in 1888. They family settled in the San Luis Rey Valley where they lived on a ranch. Jones attended the Santa Barbara Business College and in 1893 became a clerk for the firm of Irwin & Co., dealers in dry-goods and general merchandise at Oceanside, located on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) and Freeman Street. Jones was industrious and worked “his way upward through diligent attention to every detail connected with the business.” After clerking for Isaac Irwin for several years, Jones purchased a portion of Irwin’s business, as it pertained to hardware and farm implements in 1906.

Joseph E. Jones

Jones acquired the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Second and Hill Streets (Mission and Coast Highway) in 1911 with plans to build a new home for his growing hardware business. Excavation began in 1912. This two-story structure included a basement and was a decidedly modern addition to downtown Oceanside.

The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported on June 7, 1913: 

J. E. Jones this week began the transfer of his hardware business from his quarters on the north side of Second Street to his new building on the corner of Second and Hill. The final touches were put on the new building the first of the week and the last of the work marks the completion of one of the best if not the best business block in San Diego county outside the city of San Diego.

The building, 85 x 100 feet in size, is of reinforced concrete construction throughout, walls and floors being of this enduring material strengthened with steel ribs.  There are two stories and a basement, the latter being the entire size of the building and prepared and fitted especially for its use in the display and storage of hardware and implements.  The first floor is the main store and here the finish and fittings are the very finest and most substantial to be had, everything being arranged for the convenient transaction of business.  There are three entrances to the store besides the main doorway on Second Street, two on Hill Street and one from the alley in the rear.  Access to the basement is gained by stairs in the rear of the first floor and by a freight elevator which is operated from the sidewalk in front.

The second floor has been left partly unfinished and will be finished up later, either for offices or apartments, as necessity may demand.  The windows are plate and prism glass, affording ample light to all portions of the building.  Scores of electric lights make provision for the lighting at night, there being fifty tungsten lamps in the main store alone, so that when the building is lighted up it is the brightest spot in town with a metropolitan appearance that would do credit to a large city.  A nobby gold sign, the letters fastened in relief on the front and sides of the building, puts the finishing touch to Oceanside’s finest business block.

In addition to his business interests, Jones was active in civic life, serving as a city trustee (councilmember), later as city treasurer, and served two terms as mayor. He was also president of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan Association.  Joseph Eli Jones died at his home at 904 Second Street (Mission Avenue) in 1944. 

In 1928 Henry A. and Tracy B. Howe occupied the building and operated Howe Hardware until they moved into a new location just up the street at 517 Second Street (Mission Avenue). 

Ike Glasser purchased the building in 1934. Glasser was a native of Austria and came to the United States as an apprentice tailor. He and his wife Lena came to Oceanside in 1929 and operated a mercantile store in downtown Oceanside.

Huckabay’s Department Store, 1940s

In 1939 Hiram and Walter Huckabay bought the building. Hiram Huckabay came to Oceanside from Colton in 1934 and previously operated the Ben Franklin Variety Store at 201 North Hill Street (aka Coast Highway). The Huckabay’s opened their department store, which was a popular retail store in downtown for many years.

The upstairs of the building served as offices and storage. In June of 1945 Ray Goodman leased the upstairs and opened a dance hall and snack bar called the Silver Slipper Ballroom. Entrance to the upper floor was made via an entrance on North Hill Street aka Coast Highway. Longtime resident and Oceanside native Ernie Carpenter remembered in an interview: “When I was in high school, they had a dance hall on the top. Saturday night dances for the kids, it was really great. Now that was in the ’40s; that was the Silver Slipper.” When renovation of this building took place in the late 1980’s, an upper floor window was discovered with the name of the ballroom painted on it.  

This photo shows the entrance to the upstairs ballroom on Hill Street (Coast Highway)

In 1951 Huckabay hired Richardson Brothers, local contractors, to build an addition to the building at a cost of $25,000. It was likely at this time that the building was “modernized” to include a large metal awning that wrapped around the front of the building.

Huckabay’s Department Store with awning and newer facade

In 1954 the local newspaper Oceanside Blade Tribune, featured the Huckabay’s:

The growth of Huckabay’s, well-known Oceanside department store, leads back to a period of 55 years ago when H.C. Huckabay as a youth went into the general store business in Marmaduke, Arkansas. This line of business he followed for a good many years, first in the Oklahoma town and then for a period in Foraker, Oklahoma, and Claremore, Oklahoma. In 1928 Huckabay retired and moved with his family to Colton, California where inactivity soon began to pall on him and he operated a broom factory in that city, an unusual but successful enterprise which continued until 1934 when he bought the G.A. Wisdom business in Oceanside. This latter business was operated in a Ben Franklin variety store in the location where Gilbert’s 5 & 10 now operates.

In 1938 he purchased a half-interest in the variety store business which less than 12 months later gained its present identity when father and son purchased their present department store at Hill and Second street from Ike Glasser. During the period from 1948 to 1951 Huckabay’s business underwent a considerable expansion program which saw the remodeling of the store exterior and the construction of a new addition to the building which doubled its floor space and made it possible for much larger stocks of merchandise display.

With the advent of shopping malls and shopping centers in the 1960s, retailers in downtowns across the country were negatively impacted, and Oceanside was not immune. Many downtown retails shops vacated the business district and relocated to the newer shopping centers that afforded free and ample parking along with convenience.

The Huckabay family continued to operate their department store even as the business landscape of downtown Oceanside was changing. Although they retained ownership of the building, they sold the business in 1977 to Edward R. and Gabrielle Meyers. The Meyers operated the store under the name Huckabay’s and Bargain Circus until 1981 when they filed bankruptcy.

The building in 1990 before renovations

When Harley Hartman purchased the building in 1989, it had been vacant and left in a neglected state. Hartman renovated the building at a cost of $1.4 million dollars and opened Fullerton Mortgage and Escrow Co. Among the changes made were the removal of the wrap around awning and elimination of a portion of the stucco façade that had covered the second tier of windows. Hartman did extensive interior improvements including the restoration of the decorative tin ceiling that was original to the J. E. Jones Hardware store.

The building in 2018

Now the building is vacant once again and is waiting for a new purpose and perhaps another renovation and restoration.

Al Capone and the Rancho Santa Margarita

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In late January of 1931, newspapers across the United States published stories with a similar rumor:  That famed gangster Al “Scarface” Capone was bringing his mobsters to Southern California along with plans to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita. The Los Angeles Times reported that if taken over by Capone, the vast property could be “fortified into an estate defying entrance, with a boat landing where liquor could be landed at will, defying Federal forces.”

Al Capone both terrified and captivated the Nation with his crimes and exploits. Two years prior Capone’s men were responsible for the deadly St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which killed seven men. Although he was not at the scene of the murders, it was believed he ordered it. He was then given the status of “Public Enemy Number One.”

Al “Scarface” Capone

The little town of Oceanside had a population of just 3,500 people. Residents enjoyed a quiet relationship with the owners of the Rancho Santa Margarita. The cattle ranch employed a number of locals and area farmers leased land to grow crops, including lima beans, sugar beets and alfalfa. This would seemingly come to a halt should the Rancho be under the control of the most infamous gangster in America.

Fred Jones was just one of many who farmed on the Rancho

Los Angeles law enforcement revealed that among various gangsters in the Southland included Frankie Foster, Baldy Nevins, Louis Frank, Bill Bailey and a brother of Ralph Sheldon. The men were said to be “all known hoodlums from the ranks of the gangster army.”

Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho bordering Oceanside to the north, refuted the claims that Capone was buying the vast property. The Oceanside Blade published his statement: “We have had no call from agents relative to the sale of the rancho for some time,” said Hardy, “I am positive that neither Capone nor any of his men nor anyone representing him has ever made any overtures to purchase the holdings. I doubt very much that any of the Chicago gangsters ever heard of the ranch, much less started an attempt to purchase it.”

The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores once belonged to Pio Pico, last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. Pico sold his interest to his brother-in-law, John Forster. After Forster’s death in 1882, the property was sold to Comstock silver magnate James C. Flood, who hired cattle rancher Richard O’Neill as manager. Some years after the death of James Flood, Richard O’Neill was given half ownership of the land, 133,440 acres. O’Neill gave his interest in the Rancho to his son Jerome. When Jerome O’Neill died in 1926, the rancho was inherited by his descendants who later hired Hardy to help manage it.

Pio Pico

While Hardy’s statement sought to dispel the rumor of Capone’s interest in the Rancho, law enforcement was in fact “on the trail of men described as gangsters” who were associated with a series of recent crimes in Southern California.  The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported that the suspects were believed to be members of the Sheldon gang, a notorious bootlegging gang in Chicago affiliated with Al Capone.  

Despite Hardy’s denials, The Los Angeles Times reported “Heads of a local real estate firm are said to have reported three men representing themselves as agents of Capone recently offered $200,000 for an option on the ranch, which has an 18-mile ocean frontage and attempted to rush the deal before authorities could prevent it.” In another article, it was said that the men had a certified check ready to remit as a down payment.

Law enforcement believed a smuggling ring was particularly interested in the historic rancho because of the extensive ocean frontage it provided.  “Long miles of unguarded coast line and Southern California’s easy accessibility to the Mexican border” were attractive to the “racketeers” and had in fact been used by smugglers and bootleggers for many years.

With the onset of Prohibition, boats were often used to transport alcohol that was smuggled from Mexico. The open coastline north of Oceanside was a perfect place to land small boats, and bootleggers made extensive use of the lonely beaches in landing their cargoes. Oceanside Police and other law enforcement were kept busy chasing bootleggers and confiscating liquor.

While authorities downplayed the Capone story near Oceanside, Southern California residents may have been surprised to hear that police admitted that “75 percent of the Hollywood speakeasies [were] under the control of a Chicago gang.” Bootleggers were assigned territories and promised protection as long as they agreed to purchase liquor from the gang. This takeover was described as an “octopus” with strength and muscle to control the area.   The Times also reported that an “influx of Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and Kansas City gangsters” were an indication that Southern California would soon be a “smugglers’ paradise.”

Whether or not Capone was in the State of California, just two months earlier, Capone was blamed for what was called the “grape juice war” with California grape growers.  It was alleged that Capone warned Fruit Industries, Ltd. to stop selling and distributing juice concentrate in Chicago, which could later be turned into wine and therefore compete with Capone’s illegal liquor sales. The Sacramento Bee reported that Capone had threatened that if sales were attempted against his orders that someone was “going to be bumped off”.

In Washington D.C. an elected official seeking legislation against Capone commented, “When Al Capone can go from Chicago to California and threaten the life of a man who is selling grape juice, something must be done.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the “grape juice war” and is included in the FBI files on Al Capone.

Los Angeles newspaper reporters claimed that they went to a ranch outside Los Angeles to an undisclosed location to speak directly to a man who identified himself as Al Capone (who told them not to divulge the ranch’s location). During the interview Capone denied involvement in the grape juice wars and instead blamed it on the New York mob.

Where was this ranch where Capone was residing in 1930? It may have been in Lancaster, California.  Just days after the news that Al Capone had made an offer on the Rancho Santa Margarita, newspapers reported that there was a mob hideout in Lancaster, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles where bombs and weapons had been found. (It was later rumored but never substantiated that Capone also had a house in Fontana.)

Oceanside residents were rightfully concerned. What would happen if Capone took control of the Santa Margarita? Would local farmers lose access to their crops? Would gangsters seek control over the tiny beach town? Would access via the state highway through the Rancho be hindered? It was a lonely stretch of road that was even lonelier at nightfall.

The road from Oceanside through Ranch Santa Margarita

Fears of the Rancho being taken over by gangsters subsided in February, when Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on a contempt of court charge and was sentenced to a brief stint in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.

However, in June of 1931, Homer Croy, a writer from Hollywood, resurrected the story in an article that he wrote for Liberty Magazine. The two page article declared that Al Capone had in fact “acquired a domain in California about two thirds as large as the state of Rhode Island, 35 miles from end to end and with many miles of seacoast.”  A photo of Capone, along with a map of the Rancho Santa Margarita, was included.

Croy wrote that Capone would be well suited to Rancho life and that “horseback riding will do him good, for Al is getting overweight” and added, “Don Alfonso Capone can live on his hacienda, sit in his patio, and smoke and talk to his friends to his heart’s content about real estate.”

The Oceanside Blade Tribune suggested that Croy’s piece was fiction and “some good publicity” as the map provided in the article showed the San Luis Rey Mission and Oceanside’s proximity to the famed rancho.

And while Homer Croy’s article was written either tongue in cheek or for pure sensationalism, it didn’t matter. Liberty magazine boasted a readership of over 2 million, and was sold from coast to coast. The story of Capone purchasing the historic ranch once again attracted national attention and was front page news.

Charles Hardy once again went on the defensive, vehemently denying that the Chicago crime czar had purchased the property.

Whether Al Capone really attempted to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita is unknown. But if so, Capone would never have a chance to pursue or close the deal. Just days after the Liberty Magazine story was published and circulated, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges under the assumption he would serve a light sentence as before. But on October 17, 1931, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and he would eventually be sent to Alcatraz. It was the end of his life of crime but he would long reign as America’s most notorious criminal.  

Oceanside residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and a sense of normalcy settled back in. Little would change until a decade later when the historic Rancho became the largest military base in the country, training Marines for World War II.

Unfaithful – The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Grant Troiani

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This is an update to the story I published in December 2020. Since then I have had the opportunity to communicate to two of Carlo’s biological children, as well as his stepson. They have all relayed to me the devastating pain and anguish they suffered with the death of their father at the hands of Laura Troiani.

On a quiet summer night off a dirt road in northeast Oceanside, California laid the body of Marine Staff Sergeant Carlo G. Troiani. He had been shot twice, once in the back and once in the neck. As he lay dead or dying, tire marks on his lower legs suggest he had been run over by a vehicle.

Troiani, who served his country in Vietnam, was killed, not by a foreign enemy but by one he would have considered a brother, a fellow Marine. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis or Semper Fi for short, Latin for “always faithful”. But unfaithfulness would result in Carlo Troiani’s death. His murder was orchestrated by his wife of five years.

On August 10, 1984, Laura Troiani had lured her husband to a remote area under the pretense of car trouble. When her husband dutifully came to her aid in the middle of the night, she waited for her plan to unfold. As Carlo pulled off North River Road to help his wife, Laura tapped her brake light. This was a prompt that signaled two Marines who were in hiding to step out and to ambush Carlo. One of the Marines, later identified as Mark J. Schulz, shot the defenseless man in the back.  

After being shot Carlo cried out to his wife, “Laura, I’ve been hit!” Laura watched impassively from her car as the scene played out. There was no attempt to save her husband, no attempt to help or abort the mission. She watched the Marines grab Carlo as he instinctively tried to find cover and crawl under the vehicle. They pulled him by his legs and shot Carlo again, this time in the neck with the bullet exiting his face as he collapsed. Laura watched it all. Her husband, the father of her children, was dead.

Turn off North River Road where Carlo Troiani was murdered

Laura and the two Marines, Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz then drove to a 7-11 convenience store on Vandegrift Boulevard where three other Marines, Russell Sanders, Kevin Watkins and Jeffrey Mizner, were waiting with Laura’s two small children. This woman who had coldly masterminded the murder of her own husband and watched him die, had left her two young children, ages 5 and 2, in the care of two men who had helped plan the murder of their father. Two little ones any caring mother would have safely tucked in bed hours ago, were instead left with strangers at midnight standing in front of a convenience store. The children, too young to know what was happening, had no idea they would never see their daddy again.

After her murderous plot was accomplished Laura took her children to a friend’s house to spend the night — instead of taking them home where they belonged. It was just before 1 am in the morning. She told Annabelle Thompson that she was coming home from a Tupperware party and had a flat tire. This story is simply inconceivable — what was she doing at a Tupperware party in the middle of the night with her children? But lies came easy to Laura Troiani. It did not matter to her that the story made no sense. It only mattered to her that she was free to do as she pleased. By dropping her children off, she was free of her children, and free of Carlo forever.

Annabelle watched as Laura hopped on the back of a motorcycle driven by a “Marine-type.” They took the same dark and winding route on North River Road where the murder occurred. On the way to Vista they passed by the lifeless body of Carlo Troiani. Another route could have been taken but the two callously drove past the murder scene, perhaps satisfied with their deed.

After Laura returned to her apartment she picked up the phone and called police, feigning concern for her husband who she claimed did not come home as expected. She called police twice more. Then Laura called her husband’s friend Marty Gunter saying that she had a premonition that Carlo was in danger. She called him three additional times in less than an hour.

Meanwhile, the Oceanside Police Department had been alerted by a passerby who had discovered the body of Carlo Troiani. John Brohamer, Jr. was the first Oceanside Police Officer to arrive at the murder scene at 3 am. He found Carlo Troiani face down in the dirt in a pool of blood. The engine of his Ford Mustang was still running with the headlights on, piercing through the darkness.  Detective Ed Jacobs was notified and upon arrival he initiated the criminal investigation.

Detective Jacobs said in an interview that it was a “good crime scene” because it was done in a remote area and had therefore been left in pristine condition. As they waited for the sun to rise, nothing had been disturbed. Shoe prints left in the dirt, along with tire tracks were noted. These matched Laura’s 1968 Ford Galaxy which was found by police. It had a flat tire after being hit but a bullet from the same gun that killed Carlo.

It did not take long for Laura to be visited by Detectives Jacobs and Bob George. They went to her Vista apartment at 8 am. When advised of Carlo’s death, Laura did not seem at all surprised, nor did she exhibit any grief or sadness. She was taken to the police station for questioning and she would never leave their custody.

After a lengthy interrogation and numerous false stories, Laura Troiani would eventually confess and name her co-conspirators.

The Detectives also conducted interviews of the neighbors in the apartment complex where the Troiani’s lived, who confirmed Laura’s plan was to have her husband killed. They reported to police that she had solicited a number of men in recent weeks to accomplish the deadly task and there were at least two failed prior attempts.

Oceanside Police Sergeant Ron Call drove to Camp Margarita aboard the military base. The Marines were put in formation, then identified one by one, and eventually taken into police custody.

Police apprehended and arrested five young Marines, all under the age of 21, with the murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani. They were with H&S Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Camp Pendleton:  Russell E. Sanders, 20, Kevin W. Watkins, 18, Mark J. Schulz, 19, Jeffrey T. Mizner, 20, and Russell A. Harrison, 19.

These Marines called themselves “The Gremlins,” after the movie Gremlins, which had just been released that summer, two months before the murder, about creatures that “transform into small, destructive, evil monsters.”

Laura

Laura Ann Cox was born in Los Angeles, California in the summer of 1961. By all accounts hers was not a happy childhood. She was a neglected child, raised by a mother who was described as self-involved and slovenly, spending hours watching daytime television and reading romance novels rather than tending to her three children. Without the love and proper care of a mother, the children were left to themselves, and as result, were poorly dressed, disheveled and dirty. Due to a lack of proper personal hygiene, Laura and her siblings were seen as outcasts at both school and church.

The family moved to Washington State where Laura would grow up. Laura’s parents separated when she was seven years old and divorced about three years later. She remembered it as a turning point in her life. Just two years after the divorce, Laura’s mother Catherine remarried in 1973. The marriage offered little stability in Laura’s life. Her mother was inattentive and labeled as a hypochondriac, caring more for herself than her family.

If her mother was a poor example of a parental figure, Laura’s biological father was no better. Lawrence J. Cox was described as angry and had a drinking problem. He was sent to prison for attempted murder after he shot at a neighbor.

Laura had a brief relationship with an unnamed man and became pregnant at the age of 17. Apparently the biological father was quickly out of the picture and Laura found herself alone. She met and married Carlo Troiani who told her he was willing to raise her unborn baby as his own. In Carlo, Laura found the security she never had.

Laura and Carlo Troiani with son Chris (photo courtesy of Chris Cox)

Carlo

Carlo Grant Troiani was 15 years older than Laura, born in 1947 in Seattle, Washington. His marriage to Laura was his third, and he had two children, one from each of his previous marriages.  

Carlo was in the Navy, serving in Viet Nam in the late 1960s. He was released from the Navy and joined the Marine Reserves and later enlisted in the Marine Corps. Carlo was a Marine Recruiter in Tacoma, Washington from 1976 to 1979. His supervisor recalled that he was one of the “proudest individual in the Marine Corps” he had ever met, he loved being a Marine and worked “aggressively” as a recruiter to meet his quota and prove his worth.

Only published photo of Carlo Troiani

Carlo and Laura were married August 3, 1979 in Pierce, Washington. It was a Marine Corps “full dress” wedding with Marines in their dress blues. After the ceremony, Laura and Carlo walked underneath an arch of swords, where a group of six to eight Marines stand on either side to create an arch as if to “shelter the bride” as she and the groom walk out.

Laura gave birth to a son and shortly thereafter, Carlo Troiani was sent to Orange County, California as a Marine Corps Recruiter. In 1982 Laura gave birth to another child, a daughter. Eventually Carlo Troiani was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Assigned to H&S Battalion, 1st Force Service Support Group (1st FSSG), he was a military police or “MP”. The couple got an apartment in Vista on Foothill Drive.

Foothill Apartment Complex where the Troiani’s lived

Infidelity and Murder Plots

Laura Troiani may have found security in her marriage to Carlo but she did not find happiness. She was continually unfaithful. It was even reported that she had slept with her husband’s best man (before or after) their wedding. Carlo knew of her infidelities and was angry. However, he sought to salvage his marriage and the two attended marriage counseling in the spring and summer of 1984.

James Bondell, family and marriage counselor, would later describe Laura Troiani as a manipulator and a “hard person” who “tormented” her husband. The Troiani’s attended 20 sessions from April through July, wherein Bondell also noted that “Laura Troiani teased her husband by withholding sex from him, was the dominant force in their relationship and was otherwise ‘ambivalent’ about marital problems the couple was experiencing.” He also noted that Laura complained that Carlo wanted her to “stay home and be with him.” This statement would suggest that Carlo was aware, at least to some extent, of Laura’s extracurricular activities.

Despite Carlo’s attempts to save his marriage, Laura’s presence at the sessions seems disingenuous at best. Carlo was sent to Korea and while gone, Laura threw a party over Memorial Day weekend. There she met Darryl Nelson and was intimate with him that very day. During the two month affair, she asked Nelson if he knew anyone that could “do a hit” on her husband. When he asked Laura about simply getting a divorce, she replied in the negative, complaining that she would then have to get a job and take care of her children, which was apparently out of the question.

Jessie Montgomery, a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps attended a party thrown by Laura and noticed that Laura Troiani and a man emerged from her bedroom. Montgomery was then informed that Laura only married Carlo for security and that “the marriage was one of convenience.” Troiani spoke to Montgomery about getting rid of Carlo and even stated that she knew someone who would “put a contract out on him.”

Over this same weekend Laura talked to Kevin Manwarren and Bill Fenley, unambiguously telling them she wanted her husband dead. Manwarren, who would later claim to be joking, offered to kill Carlo Troiani for $5,000, to which Laura quickly offered: “Well, I can take care of it out of the insurance proceeds.” (Carlo had two policies that totaled $95,000.) Laura then followed up their conversation with several phone calls to Manwarren, anxious to elaborate on a plan to have her husband killed. He demurred.

Annabelle Thompson recalled that Laura had also told her that she knew a person in Tustin, California who would “take care” of Carlo and that he was “worth more dead.”

It appears that many of the men Laura encountered thought that she was joking and did not take her seriously, but she continued searching and sleeping with potential would-be assassins. None seemed willing to commit murder for her.

In July of 1984 Kim Hartmann moved into the apartment complex in which the Troiani’s lived. The two women met and Laura wasted no time by complaining to Hartmann about Carlo and that she wanted him killed. Hartmann said Laura talked about it constantly. Laura also told Hartmann that Carlo, keenly aware of her unhappiness, offered Laura a divorce, a way out, and said that he would pay her rent and child support. But Laura would not be dissuaded. She wanted Carlo’s insurance money and for that he had to die.

On July 19th Hartmann went with Laura to an E-club (Enlisted club) on Camp Pendleton. There Laura met Jeffrey Mizner for the first time and was introduced to the other Marines who eventually would be the accomplices to Carlo’s murder, including the triggerman Mark Schulz. Hartmann would later testify that Laura kept bringing up the subject of having her husband killed, even though she had just met them. Laura was unapologetically, unabashedly, out to have Carlo murdered and she apparently did care about first impressions.

It is significant to point out that in conversations with Kim Hartmann, someone she felt close enough to tell about wanting her husband murdered, Laura Troiani did not allege or assert to her that she was being abused by Carlo. Hate and money were her given motives. In marriage counseling, even when she attended one-on-one sessions without Carlo, she never complained of abuse of any kind, only that Carlo had a “yelling problem.”

Laura, was not one to be weighed down by marriage vows or motherhood. Her own son related his memories about their relationship: “I do remember a lot of her, actually, even at a young age. I remember she had Carlo crying one night in the bedroom.  I remember she would just take off with whoever the boyfriend was at the time.” When asked if he remembered any abuse between his mother and stepfather, Chris replied: “As far as the abuse, no, none, not that I can remember. Honestly, seemed like they were never together, very rarely.” He added, “The abuse was more about neglect, [leaving] a 5 year-old to fend for himself. She was at the clubs doing it up. In no way was she a mother.”

The Marines began to plot with Laura Troiani, as the ringleader, the killing of Carlo Troiani. Mark Schulz told other Marines in his company that he had been “hired to waste someone” and was recruiting anyone else that might be interested in helping with the deed, adding their cut would be $500 to $600. Schulz along with Russell Harrison, Jeff Mizner, and Russell Sanders began to solicit information on how to kill someone, which including poison, making a bomb and using a firearm.

For several days in a row, Laura would take her two children and drive 35 miles each way to the remote base camp to visit with the Marines at Camp Margarita so that they could discuss their “options.”

August 3, 1984 was the occasion of the Troiani’s fifth wedding anniversary. Carlo, oblivious to the fact that his bride was planning to have him killed, toasted his wife that evening.

The First Attempt

On the night of August 6, 1984, Laura and Kim Hartmann went to the E-Club at Camp Margarita aboard the military base. There Laura plotted with the Marines to kill Carlo (This group included Kevin Watkins). All of whom seemed eager to carry out the plot. Harrison and Schulz had weapons, a knife and a gun, which they put into Laura’s car. They then traveled to the Del Mar Club, located near the beach of Camp Pendleton. At the club the conversation of killing Carlo continued. This was no fantasy talk or mere joking. The group planned to carry out the plot that night. Harrison suggested that the Marines “jump” Carlo at his car, attack and kill him with a knife, rather than attract attention with a gunshot. 

Laura and Kim Hartmann were dropped off at a market in order to call Carlo and tell him that Laura’s car had broken down. She told Carlo that she was stranded in Carlsbad with their children. But exactly where were the children on a Monday evening, if not with her or Carlo? Like her own mother, it seemed she had no instinctual love and care for her children.

Hartmann claims that she tried to keep Laura from going through with her plans, saying it wasn’t too late and that she could still call Carlo back to keep him from being murdered by the Marines who were lying in wait.  Laura’s reply was, “Nope, I got to get it over with.”

The Marines then hid in an area near Carlo’s vehicle, waiting for him to come out of his apartment. However, because his car was nearly out of gas, Carlo had called his friend Corporal Marty Gunter, to come and take him to look for Laura. Ambushing Carlo alone was not feasible and the group was unable to fulfill their deadly plan.

Carlo and Marty diligently searched for Laura and the children for four hours, to no avail. (This was before the convenience of cell phones.) Unsuccessful in their search, Marty dropped Carlo back at his apartment building.

When Laura discovered the plan to kill her husband did not go through, she was furious.  She told the Marines that she “couldn’t stand it” and that it had to be done that night. Russell Harrison volunteered to go up to the Troiani apartment and to slit Carlo’s throat. Laura gave him the key. However sinister and bloody this particular scenario would have been, it is believed it was abandoned altogether as the group was spotted, likely by an apartment resident.

The Second Attempt

While the group did not want to be seen that night by outsiders, it was an open secret that Laura and the Marines were seeking to murder Carlo as they spoke about it openly to several people. The following day, Jeffrey Mizner told Robert Guerrero, a fellow Marine, about his “girlfriend Laura”, and that she was trying to get someone to kill her husband. Mizner asked his roommate “how to blow up a car by running a wire from the sparkplug to the carburetor.”

Apparently, this was now the chosen method of murder. Russell Sanders shared a story with yet another Marine how they had “practiced” by attaching a wire to the sparkplug of Kevin Watkin’s motorcycle and hooked the other to a mouse to electrocute it. They watched it die.

Satisfied that a similar technique would also kill Carlo, his vehicle was rigged with the wire from the sparkplug placed into the gas tank of his truck. The attempt failed and did not detonate. In fact, Carlo found the device and removed it. Marines in his unit remembered him laughing about it, thinking it was a harmless prank by one of them.

Jeff Mizner then complained to Marine Joseph Hickman that the sparkplug scheme did not work. Mizner even said that he had lost sleep over the failure and the plan was now just to shoot Carlo Troiani.

Mission Accomplished

With at least two thwarted murder attempts, on August 9, 1984, Laura Troiani would not be denied. Mark Schulz borrowed a .357 pistol from David Schenne on the pretense of doing some target practice. That same day Laura went to the local Kmart (at the time located next to the Oceanside Police Station) to purchase bullets for the weapon and the group laid out their final lethal plan.

That evening between 8 and 9 pm, Laura went to the apartment of Diane and Randy Gray with her two children. Soon after Mizner, Harrison, Sanders, Schulz and Watkins arrived. The group huddled together, whispering their plots and because the Gray’s were concerned about the secretive behavior, asked what was going on. Sanders replied, “Never mind, we don’t want you to get involved further.”

The group left the apartment with Jeffrey Mizner riding on the back of Watkins’ motorcycle and Laura, Schulz, Harrison and Sanders, along with Laura’s two children, drove away in her car. The group pulled up to a 7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard (which leads to the rear gate of Camp Pendleton).

Sanders and Watkins called Carlo Troiani, presumably as “good Samaritans”, to tell him that his wife’s car was broken down and they directed Carlo to a remote location on North River Road.

Meanwhile, Carlo had called Stephanie Howard, a friend of Laura’s, to ask if she knew where Laura and the children were. He was genuinely concerned for his wife, while she was getting ready to have him killed.

Laura, along with Russell Harrison and Mark Schulz, drove to the location they had chosen for their ambush to wait for Carlo, a dirt turnoff on North River Road, three miles east of Vandegrift Boulevard.

A clerk back at the 7-11 reported seeing two small children with at least one Marine (Jeffrey Mizner) standing outside near the ice machine. They were there for 45 minutes. Waiting … in the middle of the night …. while Laura completed her plan to have her husband killed.

Laura Troiani would describe herself as helpless to stop the murder of her husband, an event she had longed for, recruited for, and set in motion. As he was shot by Mark Schulz with bullets purchased by Laura, Carlo’s last words were to her, a cry for help. But rather than help him, she left her husband for dead by the side of that dark road.

After the murder, the trio drove west on North River Road back to the 7-11. The clerk there reported seeing a vehicle drive up with a flat tire. One of the men came into the store to buy a can of tire inflator and once the tire was sufficiently inflated the group departed.

7-11 on Vandegrift Boulevard where Laura’s children waited while their father was being murdered.

The Arrest

The murder of Carlo Troiani was the last case Detective Ed Jacobs worked on before he retired from the Oceanside Police Department. After investigating the murder scene, he and his partner Bob George went to the Troiani apartment to speak with Laura the morning that Carlo’s body was discovered.

Detective George went through Laura’s car which had been impounded. He found evidence that Laura had purchased bullets at Kmart and interviewed the clerk, who specifically remembered Laura because he had given her wad-cutter bullets, commonly used for target shooting, and she insisted on lead caliber bullets.

Laura Troiani was taken to the police station for “routine questioning.” During the interview Jacobs said that Laura remained calm and was not visibly upset when told about her husband’s murder.

One of the first stories Laura Troiani told investigators was that she and her two children were abducted by three men who forced her to call her husband to lure him out to North River Road. She said she was separated from her children, and after Carlo was murdered, was taken to be reunited with them and warned not to tell anyone or that she would be killed.

Detective Jacobs and George listened as Laura then changed her story and said that she was at Kmart when five men on two motorcycles abducted her. When detectives questioned the veracity of that story and asked how five men were on just two motorcycles, Laura simply said, “I don’t know.”

Detective Ed Jacobs, Oceanside Police Department

Yet another story that Laura offered was that she and the children were driving around all day after Carlo said he wanted a divorce. She ran out of gas and then discovered she had a flat tire. Two strangers on motorcycles came to her rescue, one drove her and children to the babysitter’s house (Anna Thompson), and then one took her to her Vista apartment. When asked by detectives if she was worried at all by these strangers giving her a ride in the middle of the night, Laura replied, “No”, because she was “a good judge of character.”

Laura’s next defense strategy was her unfaithfulness. “Why would I want to have my husband shot? Sure, we had marital problems. Sure, I was having affairs on the side,” Laura told investigators. “I was having a ball, being married and fooling around.”  

Detective Jacobs said that Laura Troiani never mentioned any abuse by her husband in the lengthy interrogation that spanned over nearly 12 hours. She eventually confessed and gave up the names of the Marines, who were all stationed in the same unit.

During a phone call while Laura was being held in jail, she told Marty Gunter that her husband had “suffered not more than two to three minutes” the night he was murdered. She thought her comments would come across as reassuring and compassionate but only served to further expose her lack of remorse and coldness.

Meanwhile Laura’s co-conspirators were bragging about Carlo’s murder to their fellow Marines on base.  After taken into custody at the Vista Detention Center, Mark Schulz told a fellow cellmate about the murder, including that Carlo Troiani had begged for his life before being fatally shot.

The Trial

Three years after Carlo’s murder, the murder trial of Laura Troiani began in the San Diego Superior Court, North County, located in Vista. She was the first woman in San Diego County to face the death penalty in California in 25 years.

Laura Troiani at her trial
Bob Ivins San Diego UT photo

Laura not only succeeded in having her husband murdered, her attorneys now went about destroying his character. Her defense team would portray Carlo Troiani as controlling, angry, having a drinking problem and being physically abusive.

But before the defense had its turn, District Attorney Paul Pfingst would send a myriad of witnesses to the stand, including the Troiani’s marriage counselor, who would testify that it was Laura, not Carlo, who controlled the family. Far from being fearful of an abusive husband, it was Carlo who “was in fear of [Laura’s] moods.” The counselor added, that Carlo “walked on eggshells most of the time, not wanting to upset her [because] she would become very mean to him.” While Laura gave her affections away to numerous men, Carlo was ignored. “He had a wonderful day if he got a kiss or she put her arm around him,” the counselor testified.

When asked if Laura Troiani was a “fragile” woman desperate for her husband’s approval for her self-worth, the counselor replied, “No. She didn’t need it because she was pretty much in control of the relationship.”

Stephanie Howard, who knew Laura since 1981, testified that Carlo Troiani loved his wife and was trying to improve his marriage. She went on to testify that Laura had Carlo “wrapped around her little finger. She’d be a cold fish one minute, and then when she wanted something (from him), she’d warm up.”

Howard also told the jury that Laura openly admitted to her that she “had more than one boyfriend.” More damningly, Laura told her “she wanted to hire someone to kill” Carlo and that “she wanted to make sure he was not in her life again.” In response, Howard said she tried to talk Laura out of it and suggested a divorce, but Laura would hear none of it.

Leeca Smardon, manager of the Foothills apartment complex, testified that Laura expressed to her that was not happy about Carlo returning from Korea. She reported that Laura told her, “I wish he’d never come back. That would make me happier.”  Smardon added, “When Carlo was home, I never heard any screaming, shouting or disputes from their apartment. When he went to Korea, there was a lot of traffic into the apartment, and it was mainly males.”

Kmart employee Richard Deem testified to the fact that it was Laura, accompanied by a male, who purchased the bullets that killed Carlo. He remembered the event because there was a “price mix-up” and particularly noted Laura’s demeanor that day.  “She was forceful and rude.” He said, “I was behind the counter, and the male asked for ammo, I believe for a .38 special. I was uncertain about what they wanted because there are different types of ammo.” Laura told the young clerk, “I want 158 grain (the weight of the bullets).”

The Kmart store on Mission Avenue where Laura Troiani purchased ammunition to kill her husband was next to the Oceanside Police Department.

“She was very specific about it,” Deem testified. “She knew what she wanted. I felt it wasn’t good to make her wait. I thought she was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste time.” The bullets that Laura demanded were high-powered ammunition, rather than something typically used for target practice.

Despite the testimony of others to the contrary, Laura’s defense attorney, Geraldine Russell described her as an “impressionable, simple young girl who was used by others looking for thrills.” She contended Laura was being abused by Carlo and had no way of escape. The defense portrayed Carlo Troiani as an “over­bearing and obnoxious husband who cowed his wife into submission.”

Catherine Lewtas, Laura’s mother, testified for the defense and stated that while she witnessed Carlo being verbally abusive to Laura, she did not witness any physical abuse.

But even when interrogated for hours by police, Laura did not claim Carlo abused her. Instead Laura said she was perfectly happy being married to Carlo, all the while being unfaithful to him. She gave several scenarios as to how she was a kidnapping victim, but none on how she was the victim of domestic abuse. 

Sergeant Ron Call was the supervisor on the Troiani case and he said that at no time during questioning did Laura Troaini bring up spousal abuse. He also said that Laura was neither upset nor emotional over the death of her husband.

A psychiatrist hired by the defense said that Laura was not capable of being manipulative and that rather than being a neglectful mother, Laura was so depressed that she had “trouble getting up and getting dressed and caring for her children.” Another expert witness dismissed the idea that Laura was a so-called “black widow” and put all the blame on the men, arguing that “organized violence is virtually a male monopoly.”

Anna Thompson, Laura’s friend who often watched her children, testified that she witnessed Carlo kick Laura when she did not change one of the children’s diapers. But she also said she had seen Laura hit her husband, and said that Laura would refuse to cook or clean and gave Carlo the “silent treatment” when she didn’t get her way. “Laura had control,” Thompson insisted.

The prosecution called over 45 witnesses, most of whom testified that Laura Troiani did not want to be married and that she “openly plotted” in the “company of others” to have her husband killed.

While presenting their defense, and closing arguments, the defense team claimed that Carlo’s murder was not orchestrated by Laura, but the Marines themselves. Laura was depicted as abused, vulnerable and helpless and that Laura’s codefendants alone were responsible for killing Carlo Troiani.

One of the last things presented to the jury by the prosecutor was the recording made by the Oceanside Police Department. The jury listened intently to the recording, as Laura concocted story after story, variations of different scenarios. And then finally, after hours of interrogation, Laura told detectives that she had in fact plotted, planned and agreed to pay at least two of the Marines to kill Carlo. As the courtroom listened to the recording, Laura Troiani sat emotionless at her own word as she described the murder of her husband, “half crawling, half  staggering” before he was shot a second time, in the back of the head.  

On August 26, 1987 Laura Troiani was found guilty of first degree murder after the jury deliberated over a two day period. Her trial was one of the longest and most expensive court cases in San Diego County history. She would now face the death penalty.

At her sentencing hearing, Laura’s father testified on her behalf. Lawrence Cox said that Laura was raised in a filthy home by a neglectful mother who had “the mentality of a six year old.” In some respects he could have been describing Laura, who reflected many of the same character flaws, especially when it came to motherhood. Cox said that while he was in the military he always worried that his children were not getting fed or clothed properly and that his wife “couldn’t cope with responsibility.”

After he and his wife separated he helped to move them into a new apartment. He said he had to hose out the refrigerator that it stunk so bad. He added that the apartment was filled with both human and animal waste.

Others took the stand to testify to the fact that Laura’s childhood was horrible, as if that were the cause or justification for Carlo’s murder. Laura cried for herself as she listened to their testimony, but she did not shed tears for Carlo.

In the end Laura Troiani was spared the death penalty and sentenced to life without parole. She was sent to the California Institute for Women in Chino, California.

The Marines

On December 17, 1987 Jeffrey Thomas Mizner pled guilty to first-degree murder. In doing so he avoided the possibility of a death sentence or life in prison without parole.

Twenty year old Jeffrey Mizner knew Laura Troiani just three weeks, and yet he was willing to plot to have her husband killed. Laura told him that Carlo was molesting their two children. There was never any evidence to suggest such a thing and likely Laura made the statement solely to gain sympathy and then outrage, hoping to garner Mizner’s support and cause him to act on her behalf. When asked why he or Laura did not simply report the alleged abuse to authorities, Mizner answered, “She wanted him dead, and we went with it.” Laura also told Jeffrey that her two children were not Carlo’s biologically. Was her second child a result of an affair, or was Laura lying? It is anyone’s guess because she did both prolifically.

Jeffrey Mizner would later tell the parole board in his case that he never slept with Laura Troiani, and that his sole motive in the killing of Carlo was to protect the children from his alleged abuse. Shortly before the murder, Mizner found out that Laura had turned her affections to Russell Harrison, and was sleeping with him instead.

Russell Sanders pled guilty to murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 25 years.

Russell Harrison pled guilty to first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in 1988 and was sentenced to 26 years.

Kevin Watkins, whose trial was moved to Ventura County, was acquitted.

Mark Schulz (sometimes spelled Schultz) was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

A Second Chance

In December of 2018, California Governor Jerry Brown commuted Laura Troiani’s life sentence, saying that she had been rehabilitated. While this commutation did not release her, it gave her the chance for parole.

During a hearing held on June 21, 2019, Laura was asked what exactly she did that landed her in prison. Her response: “Prior to the actual brutal murder of Carlo Troiani, my spouse, I had put into motion several incidences leading up to Carlo being murdered. I was the mastermind. I was the one who utilized by codefendants as a tool and a means to, um, to, um, to murder Carlo.”

While she was willing to admit to being the mastermind of her husband’s murder, Laura seemed to shirk responsibility as her hearing continued. When asked about details and organizing discussions of Carlo murder, she started to backtrack and minimize her role as “mastermind” saying, “I did not organize [them], sir. They were — they — we were at a club or in a parking lot and discussion would — would come about. We’d go from normal discussion and that — and that would come about.  Did I bring that up? I did not always bring it up. No sir.”

When asked about purchasing bullets at Kmart, she referred to the shooting of Carlo as “target practice” saying, “Initially it was to — to use the bullets for target practice, but in essence it was to use Carlo as the target. In other words, to murder him.”

In describing the murder, she placed responsibility on the Marines rather than her role: “They, uh, form — a plan was formulated that we would — we ended up leaving the children and three of the codefendants down at a 7-11, the car — three of us went up on a deserted rural road where a phone call from below had been made letting Carlo know that I was in distress and that I would be found in this area.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you drive up to that area?

Inmate Troiani: I did not drive. No sir. Nor did I drive leaving. I was not the one driving that night.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Did you go voluntarily?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: And did you remain in the car?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir, I did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: How long did you remain there until Carlo got there?

Inmate Troiani: I honestly don’t know how long it was while I sat in the —

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Can you give me an estimate?

Inmate Troiani: Um, no more than twenty minutes.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: What happened when Carlo got there?

Inmate Troiani: Carlo left his car running. He walked over to where I was sitting in the passenger’s side, tapped on the window, and asked me if I was okay and then the bullets started flying.

When asked what happened next, Laura describes the shooter as a stranger in hiding, rather than a person she planned the murder with and drove her to the scene: “I witnessed what looked like a very large man running out of a bush toward Carlo firing a gun. Carlo went down and within 20 seconds we were leaving the — you know, we were leaving where Carlo was.” (She couldn’t bring herself to say the crime or murder scene.)

Laura was asked if she did anything else to accomplish the murder and only stated, “I was physically there.”

The parole commissioner continued to press her: “Okay. How did you convince them? You said you hit upon their training, but usually they’re trained to kill other combatants. This is very different than what they’re trained for. How did you convince them to participate in a murder?”

Inmate Troiani: “I was seen as a damsel in distress,” Laura answered, “And I played upon — I played upon that.”

Presiding Commissioner Castro: That’s why you think they got involved?

Inmate Troiani: I’m not sure why they got involved. I only know that they did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Just helping you out?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: So what’s in it for them? Anything?

Inmate Troiani: I didn’t recall this at the time, but I know it happened that they had hopes of receiving insurance money?

Presiding Commissioner Castro: How would they know about insurance money?

Inmate Troiani: Being in the military, you automatically sign up for a policy.

When asked why the Marines would think they were entitled to Carlo’s life insurance proceeds, Laura denied she offered insurance proceeds, but only agreed to pay them when they asked, saying, “Because I was asked to give them some money from the insurance policy.

Laura then went on to deflect responsibility of Carlo’s murder by saying that she was in a disassociated state.  

The Mayo Clinic describe this disorder: Dissociative disorders are mental disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions and identity. People with dissociative disorders escape reality in ways that are involuntary and unhealthy and cause problems with functioning in everyday life. Dissociative disorders usually develop as a reaction to trauma and help keep difficult memories at bay. Symptoms — ranging from amnesia to alternate identities — depend in part on the type of dissociative disorder you have. Times of stress can temporarily worsen symptoms, making them more obvious.

Inmate Troiani: I continue to remove myself by going into my head when the consequences were too great. I had distorted thinking and then there was the childhood abuse, which brought about the distorted thinking and the disassociation.

Presiding Commissioner Castro asked, “What do you mean by disassociation?

Inmate Troiani: I would go into my head and come up with a different fantasy type scenario.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: What was the role in your — in your crime specifically?

Inmate Troiani: In the crime itself?

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Yeah.

Inmate Troiani: While I was sitting there waiting in the car for Carlo, that’s exactly what I did. I put myself in a whole different scenario.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay, when you’re having the conversations, planning these different plans, were you in a disa — dissociative state at this point?

Inmate Troiani: At times, yes, sir.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you called Carlo asking him to come help you, so that he would leave the apartment, when you made that call, where you in a disassociated state?

Inmate Troiani: No until after I made the phone call, sir.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Report says that you gave keys to Mr. Harrison.

Inmate Troiani: Yes, sir. I did.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Were you in a disassociated state when you gave him the keys?

Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: You made admissions to the police, correct?

Inmate Troiani: I do not recall exactly what I said because I said so many different stories.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: There were different versions and they said that you had made some admissions about being involved in the murder. Were you in a dissociative state when you talked to the police after the crime?

Inmate Troiani: Yes, I was.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re buying the bullets are you in a dissociative state?

Inmate Troiani: I was in denial.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: When you’re being driven up to the location where he was killed, were you in a disassociated state?

Inmate Troiani: No, sir. I was not thinking about what was going on. I was actually not thinking at all.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. So you said the abuse, domestic violence, hopelessness, disassociation, distorted thinking, your childhood trauma. Any other reason why you decided to kill Carlo?

Inmate Troiani: I wanted the abuse to stop.

Presiding Commissioner Castro: Okay. Was the insurance money part of your motivation?

Inmate Troiani: Initially, no.

When questioned by Deputy Commissioner Lam, he asked why she didn’t try to stop the Marines from murdering her husband.

Laura answered, “When Carlo tapped on the window, before I could have even said anything, the bullets began to fly. There was not any time to say anything, think or anything else. So had the opportunity been there, I would’ve said something.”

Of course, Laura had time to say something. On the way to Kmart she could have aborted the plan and not purchased the bullets used to kill Carlo. She was the only one old enough to purchase them. On the way to 7-11 to drop off her children, she could have turned around. While on the five minute drive to the scene of the ambush she could have called it off.

For the twenty minutes it took Carlo to arrive, she could have stopped it. Even if the two Marines who were with her were hell-bent on executing their plan, when they exited her vehicle, she could have driven away, leaving them there. Carlo, looking for Laura’s car, would have driven by instead of being ambushed.

Certainly, she might have even been able to warn Carlo before he opened his car door. Lastly, she could have called the police to report the murder of her husband, if in fact she was a pawn in a murder scheme.  

But she did none of those things.

Incredulous to her answers, Deputy Commissioner Lam asked, “May I ask why your version of what happened to the clinician only two months ago was so vastly different from the version today?”

Laura answered, “At the time I spoke with the psychologist, I was still in denial. I was not seeing my — how my actions were the — what led — what was — what was feeding this. How — how I was the one who was the mastermind and I was unable to say that and acknowledge to myself. Therefore I wasn’t able to even speak about it at that time. Since then I have been looking within myself and in my denial management class I am able to see that I — I was in complete denial. I rationalized, I minimized and I blamed.

Then, just moments later, Laura again denied any knowledge about the murder plot saying, “I may have been the one that initiated it. I do not recall.

The panel was not swayed by her insincerity and empty words. After listening to Laura fail to take responsibility for her role in Carlo Troiani’s death, the Parole Board denied her release.

However, on July 10, 2020, the prison’s Administrative Review Board approved an advancement of Troiani’s next parole suitability hearing date (at her request). Rather than having to wait three years, her next hearing is scheduled for January 22, 2021.

Rehabilitated?

While Laura sits in prison, Jeffrey Mizner was released in 2013 at the age of 50. Russell Sanders and Russell Harrison have presumably been released as well as there is no record of them in the California Department of Corrections. Mark Schulz, who shot Carlo Troiani, is currently serving life in a private prison in Arizona.

Some may question why Laura Troiani would serve life without parole when she did not even pull the trigger. But it should be remembered that while these Marines helped plan, plot and carry out the murder of Carlo Troiani, it was Laura Ann Troiani who went looking for an assassin. It was she who solicited a number of men to kill her husband even before she met Jeffrey Mizner and his friends.  

It was Laura Troiani who brought up the killing of her husband to the group — they were not looking for someone to murder — it was Laura who was looking for a killer.

It was Laura Troiani who gave an apartment key to Russell Harrison so that he could enter the apartment with the intent to kill Carlo.

It was Laura Troiani who purchased the bullets used to kill her husband. She even demanded the type of bullets with which he would be killed.

It was Laura Troiani who tapped the brake lights when Carlo pulled up on the place of his execution. Tragically it was for Laura her husband called out to when he was shot.

It was Laura Troiani who pretended concern for her husband and called police but who could not conjure up grief or remorse when told he was dead.

Laura Troiani, who only cried for herself, now presents herself as an abused wife and has fully embraced that role. While there was no testimony or evidence presented to suggest that she was ever abused by Carlo Troiani, she has continued to assassinate his character even while he has been dead for over 35 years.

And just like the Marines who she was able to persuade and manipulate, she successfully convinced the Governor of California that she was “a damsel in distress” (her words) and to commute her life sentence, declaring her “rehabilitated.”

In January of 2021 Laura Troiani faced the parole board but she again skirted responsibility for Carlo’s murder and continued the alleged abuse stories by her husband, as if to say Carlo deserved to be killed on that dark desolate road.

The panel was not persuaded and manipulated, as were her co-conspirators. She was denied parole based on her lack of insight, minimization of her role in the crime, and denial of certain aspects of the crime. She will not be eligible for parole for another three years, although she may petition the parole board for advancement of hearing.

Will Laura Troiani ever accept responsibility for the brutal, cold and calculating murder of Carlo Troiani? Or will she continue to present herself as the victim?

The gravesite of Carlo G. Troiani, the true victim.

CBS8 San Diego News Update

Check out this CBS8 San Diego news story: https://www.cbs8.com/mobile/article/news/local/parole-denied-for-wife-of-us-marine-murdered-in-1984/509-29b3f906-7cf3-499d-a461-ac447b591cd8?fbclid=IwAR3nQBtCYU_49iV6Vf4xXo5HuyaQM8MpWLVNvZaE0gibLRd_0vOoC95GbEU

Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “Unfaithful, The Murder of Staff Sergeant Carlo Troiani”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

History of the Beach Community Center

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The Oceanside Beach Community Center is showing its age. At 65 years old it has weathered the elements, including the relentless salt air. Once the center of activity ranging from sports, to Marine Corps Balls, and even its use as the City’s first “senior center,” the building may seem like a doomed dinosaur to many. Some may feel it has lost its purpose, but if the walls could talk the memories would resonate with history.

The land on which the Community Center now stands was once occupied by an electrical plant and salt water plunge, built in 1904, located just north of the Oceanside Pier. By the mid-1930s, the plant and plunge were removed and replaced by an “amusement zone” and concession booths. In 1942 the City of Oceanside leased the property to Harold Long, owner of the Oceanside Amusement Center. He set up a series of carnival rides including a large Ferris wheel for several summers. Long’s amusement center included concession stands, games of skill, and novelty items, such as Harold Davis’ “House of Relics”.

Oceanside Amusement Center circa 1947 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

In 1946 a building was erected in the center of the “midway” of the amusement center to accommodate the game of Bridgo. Bridgo Parlors were popular during World War II, but the game was deemed to be a form of gambling and soon closed by the State of California.

The amusement center was removed by the early 1950s and the Oceanside City Council considered plans for a new Community Center to be built in its place.  In 1955 the City Council requested bids for a community center, but the move was not without controversy as many viewed a public swimming pool as more important to the community. (Two community swimming pools, at Brooks and Marshall Streets, were built just a few years later.)

North Strand before Community Center was built, circa 1953 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Architect George Lykos drew the plans for the building.  Lykos had received a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1935 and his Masters the following year from MIT.  In 1942 he partnered with Sidney I. Goldhammer and established the firm Lykos & Goldhammer.  Their office was located at the Sprekels building in downtown San Diego.  Among his works are the County Law Library, the San Diego Courthouse, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, the Ocean Beach Pier, Ryan Aeronautics and Waggenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. The building contract was awarded to the firm of A. E. Betraun Co. in Vista, the firm also responsible for building the Star Theater in 1956.

Groundbreaking ceremonies being held March 18, 1955. Construction began in April and it was hoped that the project would be completed as early as June of that year.  However, there were delays caused by labor strikes and a shortage of materials. 

(Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

The Oceanside Beach Community Center was formally dedicated in September of 1955 and built at a cost of $131,000.  One of the first events to be held at the new Center was the Marine Corps Ball in November of that year.

(Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Over the years the Community Center has been used for meetings, social events, including adult and teen dances, as well as an early senior center.  The Center has also been used for sporting events, including volleyball, table tennis, and basketball.  It became the location of an early senior center known as the “Golden Age Club” in 1958.

Members of the Golden Age Club play shuffleboard (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Entertainment, such as performances by the San Diego County Symphony Orchestra, took place at the new Center. Parks and Recreation Superintendent J. G. Renaud booked a variety of entertainment acts to perform at Oceanside’s new Community Center to the delight of residents.

 In 1956 recording artist Ernie Freeman and his band performed at the Center.  Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B labels in the 1950s and played piano on the Platters’ hit “The Great Pretender”. He made the Top Ten of the R&B charts with the single “Jivin’ Around”. 

Local Swing dancers were thrilled when jazz musician Earl Bostic also performed at the Beach Community Center. Bostic, considered a pioneer of the “post-war American rhythm and blues style”, had a number of hits such as “Flamingo”, “Temptation”, “Sleep” and many more. A tenor saxophonist, Bostic was known for his “characteristic growl” he made on the sax.  

Earl Bostic was many of the entertainment acts who performed at the Beach Community Center.

Joe Graydon, who had a televised variety show, first in Los Angeles and then San Diego, hosted a show at the new Community Center. Renaud’s first rate entertainment continued with a “Western Roundup” and country western acts such as Hank Penny, Sue Thompson and Eddie Miller. Les Brown and his orchestra, who had performed with Bob Hope during USO tours, also entertained at Oceanside. The Community Center also presented movies, such as 1959’s now classic “Surf Safari” by John Severson. Admission was $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.  

In 1958 Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson trained for a prize fight using the Oceanside Community Center and entertained spectators with several sparring rounds. He was accompanied by his legendary manager, Cus D’Amato.

Boxing Champ Floyd Patterson trained at the Community Center in 1958. (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

One of the biggest acts in Country Music came to the Community Center in 1961. Legendary Johnny Cash, along with the Maddox Bros. and Rose, performed for fans who flocked to see the “Man in Black.”

As neighborhood and seniors centers were built throughout the community in various neighborhoods, the Beach Community Center began to see a decline in use. In the early 1980s the Oceanside beach area was deteriorating. The Oceanside Pier was severely damaged (before being rebuilt), and the area was rundown. The Community Center, too, was showing its age.

The Beach Community Center in 1984 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

By 1985, plans were underway to rebuild the pier and redevelop the beach area.  Along with a “facelift” the Community Center was enhanced by the addition of several large concrete and stone pillars. Sets of three pillars forming triangles were placed on the front entrance (east façade) and on the west façade along the Strand.  The pillars were then topped with large wooden beams, creating a more modernized look.  These pillars and beams have been removed in recent years, returning the Center’s original facade.

The addition of pillars and beams to the facade are depicted in this photo taken in 1985. (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

In 1992 Marine-life artist John Jennings began work on a 45 foot ocean mural on the north elevation of the community center. Jennings donated his time and materials, estimated at over $35,000 as a gift to Oceanside.

Mural on the north elevation of the building done by John Jennings. (Photo by John Daley, 2020)

The Beach Community Center was renamed the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in 2012 in memory of the beloved Oceanside native who had a notable career in the National Football League, playing with the San Diego Chargers for thirteen seasons. 

The building now sits silently on The Strand, awaiting its doors to be reopened and for renewed activity and sounds to reverberate through its rafters.

The Junior Seau Beach Community Center (photo by John Daley, 2020)

The House on Shoshone Street and the Story of Frankie Elda Kidd

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I want to thank Michelle Foster for contacting me about Frankie. Her quest for information became mine and I am grateful for the personal stories and photos she shared to bring this story to life.

In a rather remote area of Oceanside, tucked away in the northwest section of the Eastside neighborhood, was a small house on a dead end dirt road near Lawrence Canyon.

The house was built in 1944 and owned by Anna Curran, who owned no less than sixteen lots throughout Eastside, several of which had small houses that she rented out. The rent she collected was likely her only source of income as her husband William Curran had been arrested for the murder of a Marine in downtown Oceanside that same year. After a lengthy trial, Curran was found guilty, but deemed insane and sent to an asylum to serve out his sentence.

Residents of Eastside were largely Mexican immigrants, many of whom were laborers who worked in the fields of the San Luis Rey Valley and the Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton). The neighborhood was segregated and separated in four ways: Geographically it was separated from “downtown Oceanside” by Lawrence Canyon; Children of immigrants were separated from other students and sent to the Americanization School on Division Street where they were immersed in English; The neighborhood had dirt streets while most of Oceanside enjoyed paved ones; Eastside had no sewer system.

1946 aerial view of Shoshone Street

Although some referred to Eastside as “Mexican Town”, more than a dozen African-American families settled in the neighborhood in the 1940s.

Frankie Elda Kidd occupied one of Anna Curran’s tiny rental homes, at 1420 Shoshone Street. Frankie’s birth name was Alta (perhaps a variation of Elda) and “Frankie” may have been a nickname that she acquired. She was born in 1920 in Imperial County, California and as best as can be determined, she was the daughter of John Zainina and Martha Bartley.

In 1930 Frankie and her family were living in Merced, California, where her father was working as a dairy farmer. By around 1935 she was living with extended family in San Bernardino, California, where she attended high school.

While attending San Bernardino High School, Frankie met James Scott, a handsome young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The two married in 1938 but the marriage was short lived as they were living separately just two years later. In 1940 Frankie was living with cousins and working as a housekeeper for a private home.  

James Scott, Frankie Elda’s first husband

In about 1943 Frankie embarked on her second nuptials to Alfred Selester Kidd. It would be her second of six marriages. She was likely introduced to Alfred by her older brother Vernon, as the two men were rooming together while living in Oakland. Alfred Kidd, a native of Louisiana, was working at the Navy Yard at Mare Island.

Frankie arrived in Oceanside by 1945. Did Alfred Kidd accompany her? There is no record of him leaving the Oakland area. Perhaps this marriage was just as brief as the first. What brought Frankie to Oceanside is unknown, but perhaps she came because of job opportunities. Due to the establishment of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton shortly after World War II began, Oceanside was expanding at a rapid rate.

Because of the remote location of Frankie’s home on Shoshone Street, any traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) would have been largely limited to residents who lived on the dead end street. However, apparently Shoshone Street was getting a steady stream of traffic, so much so that area residents took notice and began to complain, which prompted an investigation by the Oceanside Police Department.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper reported that Frankie Kidd was arrested on February 4, 1945 for operating an “illegitimate business” along with another woman, Mildred Clark. Later this particular business was classified as a “disorderly house” which is a polite term for a brothel.

It seems that Frankie’s “visitors” were mostly servicemen, many of whom resided at Sterling Homes, federal housing built for the military just east of Holly Street. (Sterling Homes had paved streets, curbing and sewers for its occupants in contrast to the neighboring Eastside community.)

Sterling Housing just east of the Eastside Neighborhood

What brought Frankie to this profession is anyone’s guess, but despite her occupation she was remembered by local residents as being friendly, beautiful and “could hold her own against any situation that could come up.”

After her arrest, Frankie asked for a jury trial and the case was heard on March 7th. The jury of five women and three men listened to what must have been riveting testimony which lasted all the way up until 10 pm. (However, many of the witnesses were servicemen and reluctant to testify.) The jury deliberated for two hours and found Frankie Kidd guilty as charged. Judge Parsons fined her $300, with $100 suspended. But even a $200 fine was a hefty amount, equivalent to over $2500 today). She also received 150 days of probation. Initially appealing the case, Frankie paid the fine a few days later.

While Frankie continued to live on Shoshone Street, she was known to frequent a small establishment which was located just steps from the back of her home. It was called “the Hangout”.  Situated at the back end of 1415 Laurel Street, was a small trailer that was frequented by many of the local residents and was a popular spot for military men. Charles C. Jones applied to the city for a permit to operate a café “specializing in barbecue and chicken sandwiches” but it was denied. Despite the city’s rejection, the Hangout operated without a permit and was a popular spot offering food, drink and dancing, with a little bit of gambling thrown in. Frankie was a regular and it was there she attracted her “customers.”

Frankie Elda in later years at the Hangout (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Although Frankie avoided any additional attention from law enforcement for several years, in 1949 she was arrested again — this time for a scuffle with another woman. On June 26th, Mary Morgan filed a complaint against Frankie for threatening her with a knife and a razor. Apparently Frankie had gotten too friendly with Mary’s husband George Morgan, and a heated argument ensued. After being taken into custody, Frankie requested a jury trial which was set for July, but on the day of trial, she pled guilty and was fined $100.

Mary Morgan playing cards at the Hangout (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

While the Hangout continued in popularity, as did Frankie, the raucous nature of this corner of Eastside changed when families began to populate the remote area of Laurel and Shoshone streets.  Gilbert Woods purchased a lot just a few doors down from Frankie. In 1948 he had built a small home at 1430 Shoshone, where he and his wife raised their family. A cook in the Navy during WWII, his granddaughter Michelle remembers that he prepared and shared food with his neighbors, including Frankie, who was grateful for the kindness.

Gilbert Woods holding son (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Another substantial change to the immediate area came when the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1949, one of the first Black Churches in Oceanside. The church was established at the behest of Johnny and Easter Foster, prior residents of Blythe, California. They wrote to the Church Bishop asking for an AME church to be established in Oceanside. Walker Chapel was built on the very lot that the Hangout was located, which remained standing and was still frequented by residents, even while parishioners attended services.  

Original Church building of Walker Chapel AME in 1949 at 1415 Laurel Street. To the left is Easter Foster and the Rev. Jessie B. Browning; Far right Johnny Foster (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Rev. Jessie B. Browning was the first pastor of Walker Chapel AME. Shortly after her arrival to Oceanside the local newspaper announced the following:  “Rev. Jessie Browning, a lady preacher of the colored Methodist church and her colored singers will appear at the Nazarene Church Sunday evening at 7:30, in the Woman’s Club house, corner of Tremont and Third streets.” 

While the Eastside neighborhood was within city limits by 1887 and a residential neighborhood since about 1910, it took decades for the City to pave the streets and to add a sewer system, well after other residential sections had these same “amenities”. But even when a sewer project was approved in 1948, Shoshone Street and the 1400 block of Marquette Street were left out. Gilbert Woods worked for a needed sewer system for this “forgotten” area and he distributed a petition which was presented to the City Council, who initially rebuffed his efforts. Finally in September of 1954, Gilbert’s efforts were rewarded when the City Council finally approved plans for the Shoshone Street Sewer project.

In 1954 Edward Anderson purchased the home at 1420 Shoshone Street in which Frankie had lived for several years, and built an additional home on the lot, situated behind the original house. It is likely that Frankie resorted to living in the Hangout.

Construction began for a new elementary school on Laurel Street, just northeast of Walker Chapel, which opened for students in 1955. The area once known for a “disorderly and illegal business” was now gentrified. Eventually even the Hangout would be reformed, or shall we say “redeemed” altogether when the Walker Chapel AME church included the small building into its own when they enlarged their church years later.

The little house that Frankie once lived in at 1420 Shoshone Street was destroyed in a fire in 1982. The fire was so hot it reached upwards of 400 degrees and melted the Plexiglass face shields of the responding firefighters. Smoke inhalation took the life of an elderly blind woman, Mildred Taylor, who could not make her way out. Owners Ed and Margarethea Anderson, who lived next door said they had no insurance on the structure as it “was too old.”

Edward Anderson and the Oceanside Fire Department at 1420 Shoshone Street.
The house where Frankie Elda once lived.

Frankie Elda moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon by 1958. Her last known marriage was in 2000 to Eugene Witherspoon, whom she married in Reno, Nevada at the age of 80.

Frankie died June 17, 2002, but was not forgotten. Michelle Foster still remembers the stories her mother, Alberta Woods Foster, shared with her of Eastside, the Hangout, and Frankie. Perhaps Frankie walked in the path of sinners, but her neighbors, like the Good Samaritan, showed her grace and compassion.

On the Run – The Story of Billy Blake Johnson

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Harold Davis joined the Oceanside Police Department in 1930. His law enforcement career spanned over two decades. Davis was acting Police Chief six times before retiring in 1955 as Captain. 

Officer Harold Davis in 1937.

Davis was a collector of all types of memorabilia. Some of his most important and valuable items were three scrapbooks that he compiled of photos and articles of incidents, accidents and arrests during his time with the Oceanside Police Department. He chronicled his career, as well as those of his fellow officers. The newspaper articles he clipped and pasted in his books ranged from petty theft to murder. The numerous photos Davis saved were mostly traffic accidents, but also included graphic crime scenes.

In one of the scrapbooks, Davis cut and pasted a mugshot of Billy Blake Johnson along with a newspaper article and a typewritten index card with some details about Johnson’s criminal exploits. Just who was Billy Blake Johnson and why did Captain Davis include him in his collection? I wanted to find out…

Mugshot of Billy Blake Johnson, 1952

Billy Blake Johnson was born December 3, 1933 in Ladonia, Texas. He was the son of Emmett and Edna Jewel Johnson. Emmett and Edna divorced when Billy was a young boy. By 1940 his father remarried and the family moved to Kern County, California where Emmett worked as a truck driver.

Nothing further is known about Billy’s growing up years, but in 1951 he joined the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. His military career would be short-lived. In January of 1952, PFC Billy Blake Johnson was being held in the Camp Pendleton Brig for robbery.

On January 18, 1952 Johnson was able to open his cell door with the aid of a screwdriver he had somehow acquired. He then overtook a guard along with his firearm. Now armed with a weapon Johnson commandeered a car belonging to Captain George Atkin and made his way off the military base, headed to Los Angeles.

An “All Points Bulletin” was released and eventually two LAPD officers, L. K. Waggoner and G. L. Ward spotted the stolen vehicle occupied by Johnson. The Los Angeles Mirror reported that when ordered out of the car Johnson came out shooting, and shouted “This is it!” Officers returned fire but Johnson was able to escape injury and he jumped several fences before he was eventually taken into custody.

After his capture in Los Angeles, Johnson was returned to the brig at Camp Pendleton. He was sentenced to five years for burglary and theft, among other charges. He sat in his cell for several months likely contemplating his next move, when on a Saturday in late June of 1952 he escaped once again.

This time he had an accomplice, Bobby G. Davis, who had enlisted in the Marine Corps a year prior. The two made their getaway at 3:30 am in a green 1952 Chevrolet convertible with Texas plates. It was reported that the two were “armed and known to be dangerous.” No details were given as to how they had managed to escape the military brig, but they were apprehended a week later in Ehrenberg, Arizona.

After yet a third escape, and subsequent capture, Billy Blake Johnson eventually served his time and was paroled. But his years in lock up did nothing to rehabilitate him.

In January 1962 Johnson went to a service station in Haltom City, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth. He bought $3.43 worth of gas and then pulled a gun on the attendant and said, “Act right or I’ll kill you.” Johnson then took $100 from the cash register and forced Hilleary Beck into the car with him. Beck tried to fight off Johnson in the vehicle but was further threatened with the firearm.

After driving about a mile, Johnson ordered Beck out of the car and into a ditch and told him to lie down. Johnson drove away while Beck went to call authorities.

Law enforcement spotted Johnson and pursued him, with both parties firing wildly. Police set up a barricade on Highway 377 and while Johnson approached Denton, Texas Patrolman A. C. Ballard “leveled down on it with a sawed-off shotgun and blew off one of its tires.”

The car went out of control, rolled over and landed upright in a ditch. Johnson somehow managed to escape serious injury and the scene, which resulted in a large manhunt. He was eventually captured on a ranch in Denton County, Texas. While in custody Billy told the arresting officers that he had “escaped three times from military prisons and had served time in four civilian prisons.”

He was treated at a hospital for minor injuries and taken to jail in Tarrant County. Johnson went to trial for his criminal escapades but was found to be insane by a jury. (There was no explanation provided as to their conclusion.)

Billy’s criminal career did not end there. In 1964 Johnson went to the Bonham, Texas jail for the sole purpose of breaking out inmate Walter Ray Crews. The federal parolee was armed with a gun and overtook a guard. He forced the jailer Ed Fulcher to release Crews and the two men fled.

The pair made their way some 35 miles southeast to Commerce, Texas where they stole a car. They then drove over 300 miles to Fort Polk, Louisiana. While stopped on the side of the road, a state trooper pulled over to check on the two. Johnson robbed the trooper, Jerry E. Raines, at gunpoint and handcuffed him to a tree with his own handcuffs. Crews and Johnson returned to their stolen car and sped off headed north. The trooper was able to free himself with a spare key and alerted authorities. The duo was caught by an armed roadblock near Leesville, Louisiana.

Johnson was sentenced fifteen years and sent to the notorious Angola Prison in Louisiana, sometimes referred to as the “Alcatraz of the South”. The prison is bordered on three sides by swamp land and the Mississippi River. Conditions were so harsh and inmates so violent that that it had the reputation as “the bloodiest prison in the South”.

However, even a formidable institution such as Angola could not contain Billy Blake Johnson.  

On February 22, 1969, Johnson and two other inmates armed with knives and a pistol, overpowered guards in two separate dormitories. The guards were locked in a closet while the escapees cut the power of the main prison.

Kester Lee Hall, serving 189 years for murder, was captured just outside the prison. But Johnson, along with Philip Hudgins, had managed to avoid capture … but they did not make it far. Authorities closed in on the two fugitives who were found in the swamp that surrounded the prison.

Swamp around Angola Prison. Photo by Giles Clarke

Billy Blake Johnson, however, had made his last escape. Overtaken by the waters of the “backed up” Mississippi, Johnson could not battle his way through the swamp. Hudgins tried to assist him and even carried Johnson for several hundred yards until he realized Billy was no longer breathing. He propped up the body of his fellow inmate against a fence and waited while guards closed in. Exhausted, Hudgins surrendered to law enforcement. (Hudgins would be released from prison in 1981. In 1983 he took a butcher knife and slashed the throat of his wife and stabbed two others.)

Billy Blake Johnson was buried in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Ladonia, Texas. Although a cold, calculating and elusive criminal, his mother still loved him. His headstone was engraved with the simple epitaph “Son.”

Headstone of Billy Blake Johnson. Photo by John Armstrong

The Murder of Ray Davis

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Shades of the Zodiac?

One quiet night in Oceanside, California a senseless murder was committed with no apparent motive or suspects. Days after the murder, someone claiming to be the killer called local police with an ominous threat that resulted in armed gunmen protecting city busses for several nights in anticipation of another death. But as shocking as it was, the incident slowly faded into obscurity and the murder went unsolved. The case was in fact forgotten about altogether until in 2017 I stumbled upon a newspaper article while doing research on an unrelated subject. As I continued research on the murder I collected dozens of newspaper articles and discovered that the case had never been solved. I then contacted the Oceanside Police Department who directed me to their Cold Case Detective.

The Murder of Ray Davis

On the evening of April 9, 1962, the Oceanside Police Department received an anonymous telephone call. The unidentified caller stated cryptically: “I am going to pull something here in Oceanside and you will never be able to figure it out.” The call was likely dismissed…until two nights later on April 11th, when a body was discovered and the caller contacted the police again.

Patrolman Terry Stephens discovered the lifeless body of Ray Davis in an alley in the upscale beachside neighborhood of St. Malo at 1:45 am.  The night of the murder, Stephens had not yet turned 28 years old, but was already a seasoned police officer. Born in 1934 in Escondido Stephens was raised in Oceanside where he lived nearly all of his life. At the age of 21 he joined the Oceanside Police Department and served on the force for 31 years before he retired.

The victim, Ray Davis was just 29 years old, a native of Michigan. Ray was estranged from his wife Marion, whom he had married in 1953 in Owosso, Michigan.  At the time of Ray’s murder she was living in Pomona with two children from a previous marriage.

Ray and his brother Jack had moved to Oceanside in January of 1962. Oceanside had a population of less than 25,000. Jack got a job working at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Ray as a cabdriver for the Checker Cab Company. The brothers were renting a house at 525 South Tremont Street.

Ray Davis was working an evening shift, his cab parked on Mission Avenue in downtown. At 11:10 pm he reported to his dispatcher Lowell Sikes that he was driving a fare to South Oceanside. He never returned or responded to subsequent radio calls.

Ray’s body had been dumped in the alley behind 1926 South Pacific Street, the home of Oceanside’s former Mayor Joe MacDonald. Across the street was the home of Oceanside’s current Mayor Erwin Sklar. This was not a neighborhood familiar with violent crime, let alone murder. (Note: Few people realize that St. Malo does not begin behind its iconic gated archway, but also includes the 1900 block of South Pacific Street.)

Davis had been shot once in the back, through the driver’s seat, and once in the back of the head. His assailant unceremoniously pulled him out of the cab and drove away. Robbery did not appear to be a motive as Davis had a modest amount of cash in both his wallet and shirt pocket.

The bloodied cab was discovered at 6:30 am, left in the alley of the 400 block of South Pacific Street with its meter showing a $2.20 fare. On scene Detective Don Brown found a third shot had been fired through the windshield of the taxi.

On the front seat of the abandoned cab was a paperback novel, “Dance With the Dead.” Written in 1960 by Richard S. Prather, it featured a private detective who solved crimes, all the while encountering scantily clad women…very campy stuff.

Davis was taken to the Seaside Mortuary at 802 South Pacific Street where an autopsy was performed by L. H. Fairchild of the San Diego County Coroner’s Office. Two .22 caliber bullets were removed and given to Oceanside Police Detective Floyd R. Flowers.

The following day, April 12th, both the Oceanside Blade Tribune and San Diego Union Tribune newspapers reported the murder along with the fact that police had no motive or suspect. The story of Ray’s murder was also published in several Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. In Ray’s home state of Michigan, at least three newspapers reported the murder of Ray Davis. No mention was made of the mysterious phone call of April 9 as the Oceanside Police Department had not released that information.

Funeral services for Ray Davis were held at the Oceanside Church of God on April 13th. He was buried in a plot located in the “Sunset Slope” at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Virginia Davis, his bereaved mother, flew from Michigan to Oceanside for the services.

On April 16th the Oceanside Police Department disclosed to the public that an unknown person had called them on April 9th with a veiled threat that they now linked to the murder of Ray Davis. The second phone call came with a frightening warning.

Police Chief William H. Wingard described the caller as a possible “deranged killer” and released the contents of the call:  “Do you remember me calling you last week and telling you that I was going to pull a real baffling crime? I killed the cab driver and I am going to get me a bus driver next.”

Who, but the original caller, would have known about the initial message? Who would taunt the police in such a way?

This threat was not taken lightly, considering the unknown caller seemed to have made good on his last one. Chief Wingard stated: “We have no reason to disbelieve the calls.”

In response to the threat, the Oceanside Police Department took measures to protect all city busses and armed military police were put on each bus going aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. The newspaper reported that Frank Lilly, Oceanside’s City Manager gave Oscar Hatle, Bus Superintendent “blanket authority to take whatever steps necessary.” The unusual aspects of the murder and the unprecedented response of armed guards were big news. The story was widely distributed by the Associated Press and United Press International.

Three days passed without incident. Guards were removed from the busses, but on so-called “lonely routes” the bus company assigned two drivers. Oscar Hatle commented: “The situation still exists. We are taking no unnecessary chances.”

The police had no motive and scant evidence. They were desperate to solve the murder. Several people were questioned and released. One reported suspect was a fellow cabdriver, Charles Schofield, but the accusation had no foundation.

On May of 1962 an arrest was made of four Marines for armed robbery, but neither their prints nor ballistics matched.  Another armed robbery suspect was arrested in November but again, the fingerprints were not a match.

The murder was all but forgotten about except for the Davis family. Years passed, then decades. Ray’s brother Jack died in 1990. Ray’s mother died in 1995 and was buried at Eternal Hills Memorial Park. Ray had no biological children. After the death of his brother and mother there was no one left to remember.

It may be pure conjecture, but it is still worth noting that seven years after Ray Davis’s murder, a killer known as the Zodiac would mimic the same deadly scenario. In 1969 he shot and killed a taxi driver in San Francisco, contacted police taking credit for it and then threatened to target a bus, in this instance one full of children.

The Zodiac killed his victims in a variety of ways and weapons, including a .22 caliber gun (as in the murder of Ray Davis). It is believed that the Zodiac may have been in the military. It is now surmised that one of his first victims may have been Cheri Jo Bates, who was murdered in Riverside, California in 1966. While there are several theories surrounding Zodiac, is it too far-fetched to believe that perhaps he started his killing spree in Oceanside?

Many serial killers are known to taunt or toy with police and certainly this was the case with Ray’s murderer. Serial killers taunt because they crave the attention, they want the notoriety and many times they are convinced of their own superiority over law enforcement.

Theories and conjecture aside, to this day the murder of Ray Davis remains unsolved. It is likely the killer is dead … even if he was just 25 years of age in 1962, he would be 83 years old in 2020.  Many of the police officers and detectives who worked so diligently to try to solve the case and protect the residents of Oceanside have passed. However, Roy K. Smith, a retired police captain, remembers the case as he was working the morning watch the night of the murder.

Sylvia Guzman O’Brien, Cold Case Detective with the Oceanside Police Department has dug up and read over the case file. In December of 2019 she sent the latent fingerprint cards collected at the scene for entry into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). O’Brien stated that, “The crime lab will determine if the prints are of sufficient quality for entry in the database.”  In addition, the casings that were located in the cab driven by Ray Davis will be sent to the crime lab for entry in the Integrated Ballistics Identification System (IBIS). As Detective O’Brien stated, “Now it is just a waiting game.”

There is no DNA evidence. Neither AFIS or IBIS were available to law enforcement in 1962 and even when these systems were put in place years ago, this case had long been forgotten. If there’s a possibility to match the prints to a person or link the ballistics to another crime, the results of these searches may be the very last chance to solve the murder of Ray Davis.

View local news reports on the links below:

https://www.10news.com/news/local-news/did-the-zodiac-kill-in-oceanside-police-re-test-evidence-in-cold-case

https://www.cbs8.com/article/news/crime/police-looking-into-claims-by-historian-that-zodiac-killer-may-be-responsible-for-1962-oceanside-murder/509-06453d97-3244-478f-9160-3cd499ce2ec0

Kristi S. Hawthorne, historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express consent and written permission from the author and owner is strictly prohibited. Links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author Kristi S. Hawthorne and historiesandmysteries.blog “The Murder of Ray Davis”, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

O. U. Miracle

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A Name Engraved in History

Walk the neighborhoods of Oceanside and you will find the sidewalks marked with the curious name “O.U. Miracle”.  Many downtown sidewalks and curbs are engraved with this interesting name and many people may wonder what, if any meaning it holds, or who is this Miracle. 

Orville Ullman Miracle’s parents were creative in thinking up their son’s name.  Their beloved son’s initials lovingly proclaimed his birth to the world … and I can’t help but think Mrs. Miracle must have held her precious baby and whispered in his ear, “Oh You Miracle!” Little did they know but that this name would be used as a marketing tool second to none. 

Born in 1871 in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin to James and Mary Miracle, Orville began a career in the cement business in about 1901. He later established the Miracle Pressed Stone Company, manufacturing and selling “Miracle Concrete Blocks” across the upper Midwest.

However, it was his cement business that brought him the most success. He traveled from Iowa to South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and even Montana, pouring cement for roads, sidewalks and curbing for cities and townships.

Miracle’s association with Oceanside began in 1927 when he was the low bidder on the contracts to improve streets throughout downtown and the ocean front. He laid miles of concrete sidewalks throughout Oceanside that have long outlasted other cement walks poured decades after.

Office of O.U. Miracle at 1933 South Hill Street (now Coast Highway)

In 1938 South Oceanside became the home of “Miracle Village”. Miracle purchased nearly all of the Tolle Tract in South Oceanside, along with other lots which included either side of Vista Way from Hill Street to east of Moreno Street. He advertised his “Oh You Miracle Tract” around the southland and began building single family homes and selling them from his office at 1932 South Hill Street. The San Diego Union reported that Miracle sold lots “cafeteria style” – prices were placed on the lots, no middlemen, and buyers simply picked out their lot and brought the price tag to his office to complete the purchase.

Postcard advertisement for Miracle Village

Miracle built a house at 2022 South Freeman Street where he and his wife Grace made their home. Growing up, Robert Morton, lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Miracle. He shared with me that Miracle built the home for his mother Charlotte Morton and it was the last empty lot on the block at the time. Other neighbors included Dr. and Mrs. George Totlon, Bob and Johnson, Rudy and Jane Sonneman, and Harold and Alma Davis.

Charlotte Morton and children in front of their home at 2018 South Freeman Street in “Miracle Village” South Oceanside

O. U. Miracle’s unusual name brought attention from many columnists across the country, including “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in 1934. In fact, O. U. Miracle appeared in a feature or advertisement in newspapers in nearly every state of the US between 1901 and 1949. His name was so familiar that a letter from South Africa simply addressed to “O.U. Miracle, USA” was delivered to him.          

Ad in The Los Angeles Times, Sunday, June 19, 1938

Described as an “ardent civic worker”, Miracle was also politically involved in the City and community affairs.  He was involved in the Elks and Rotary clubs as well as the South Oceanside Improvement Club.  O.U. died October 9, 1949 at the Oceanside Hospital at the age of 78.  Up until his death he remained interested in the development of Oceanside.

Next time you walk through downtown, pause at each “little Miracle” you pass. It is a unique reminder of an Oceanside entrepreneur who left his mark on Oceanside in a very permanent way.

History of the Blade Tribune Building, Irving Gill’s Last Design

Brothers Paul and Harold Beck arrived in Oceanside in 1929 from Iowa. Their father had arranged to purchase the local newspaper and eventually merged it with a weekly publication, the Oceanside News, creating the Oceanside Daily Blade Tribune. With this purchase, they became the youngest newspaper publishers in the State of California.  Paul Beck was just 24 years old, Harold 26.

Harold Beck

Paul wrote about himself: “[I] as a young man, with a degree in Journalism from Stanford University, barely three months experience as a cub reporter on the “San Jose News,” and with an ardent desire to make a success of my first business venture. It had long been my desire to become a newspaper publisher.  A desire that had been instilled in me by my Dad, who published the “Centerville, Iowa Daily Iowegian” since 1903, and by my Mother, from a famous Iowa newspaper family with all four of her brothers publishers of different newspapers in that state.”

Paul Beck

Their newspaper office was located on Second Street (Mission Avenue) and Tremont Street in a building that used to house the Ladies Emporium.  In a 1977 article Paul wrote: “The staff of the “Blade-Tribune” consisted of Harold as editor, myself as business-advertising manager, Stuart Langford, shop foreman, Ken Stanley, linotype operator, Ora Magee, society editor, Betty Maxwell, office clerk, Bill Spencer, who formerly published the “Blade,” office manager, a part time high school boy as press room helper and about 12 carrier boys.  High schooler, Lionel Van Deerlin, now a U. S. Congressman, sports editor was a “stringer,” which means he was paid 5c a column inch for published material.”

Oceanside Daily Blade Tribune newspaper office at Mission and Tremont Streets in 1931

Both Harold and Paul were actively involved in the community. Harold served as President of Oceanside Chamber of Commerce in 1931 and Harold in 1934.

As Oceanside grew, so did the newspaper and soon the building they occupied was too small to accommodate a growing operation. In 1936 the brothers hired architect Irving Gill to design a new building for their newspaper plant at Tremont and First Street (now Seagaze).

Irving Gill was born in New York in 1871. He came to San Diego in 1893 where he practiced his field. He designed homes and buildings in San Diego as well as Los Angeles, where he later relocated. Gill’s architectural style evolved to eliminate ornamentation, with a decidedly modern style. In fact he was considered “one of the first of the moderns” and combined modern with Spanish architecture. Gill biographer Thomas S. Hines wrote: “In his own lifetime, Gill saw himself and was seen by others as a maverick, an innovator, and a modernist.”

Architect Irving Gill

His modern and simple designs fell out of favor in the 1920s when the Spanish Revivalist style became popular. Under appreciated and with little work, Gill left Los Angeles and resided in Carlsbad by 1930. However, Los Angeles’ loss was Oceanside’s gain, as Gill would go on to design a total of five buildings in Oceanside.

The first Gill designed was Oceanside’s Fire and Police Station in 1929. Originally, plans were for a larger civic center complex. But due to lack of funding, only a portion of it was built. Located on the corner of Pier View Way and Nevada Street, the Fire Station is still in use today, but the building has been modified several times to accommodate the growing Fire Department and to house larger equipment and engines .

Gill’s second work in Oceanside was the Americanization School on Division Street, completed in 1931. The school was built at a cost of $4,400 and featured a domed rotunda. Gill took advantage of the southeast exposure giving the building large windows providing natural light. The building was saved from the wrecking ball and restored. It is presently used as a neighborhood community center. Also built that year and designed by Gill was the Nevada Street School, located on the 500 block of South Nevada Street. It was dismantled in the 1970s.

The Americanization School designed by Irving Gill

Gill’s fourth project in Oceanside was in 1934, that of a new city hall building. While Oceanside Councilman Charles Hoegerman prepared preliminary plans for an addition to the civic center, (which comprised the fire and police station), they apparently were similar to Gill’s earlier design from 1929. Gill then changed and revised them to conform to earthquake standards. The new city hall was located at 704 Third Street (Pier View Way) and dedicated December 19, 1934.  This building is now the home of the Oceanside Museum of Art.

Gill’s last project was the Blade-Tribune Building at 401 First Street Street (Seagaze Drive). Designed in 1936, the building is a mix of Modern and Art Deco. Designed to look both modern and glamorous, Art Deco architecture features rectangular, or block forms often arranged in geometric fashion with curved ornamental elements. Building materials include smooth exteriors made of stucco, concrete or stone, with flat roofs adorned with parapets or spires. Gill died just one month before the building’s grand opening. 

Construction of new building in 1936

Louis Gill wrote of his uncle: “To my mind Irving Gill was much more than a pioneer architect in California. He was an innovator, constantly devising new ideas, not only in exterior design, but in hundreds of details, always considering such fundamental things as cost and materials and methods of construction, and always abhorring anything done for show. An indefatigable worker, never satisfied and quite willing to sacrifice anything to his art. In fact, to me, he seemed obsessed with the idea.”

Congratulatory flowers filled the newspaper building for its grand opening. Note view of second floor offices.

Built at a cost of $10,000, when the Blade-Tribune building was formally opened on November 24, 1936, it was flooded with telegrams and congratulatory flower arrangements which lined the counters, stairway and desks.  Among the many dignitaries and public officials which sent their regards, none was higher than President Roosevelt who sent a message to the Beck Brothers: “I am glad to learn that the Daily Blade-Tribune and the weekly Oceanside News have shared in the return of prosperity as evidenced in your acquisition of a new building.  Please accept my hearty congratulations and extend to all of your readers my hearty felicitations.

Completed building in December 1936

The San Diego Union Tribune newspaper described the building:  “The new building is situated at the corner of First and Tremont Streets. It is of reinforced concrete and fire and quake proof.  The editorial, news, business and circulation offices are on the main floor. The second floor contains an auditorium suitable for civic gatherings. The composing room, metal and stereotyping room are so situated as to make them easily accessible to the news room.”

The building was expanded in 1953 and the Becks sold the Oceanside Blade-Tribune newspaper in 1954 to Tom Braden, due to Harold Beck’s failing health.  However, Paul and Harold maintained ownership of the building.  Harold Beck retired to Palm Springs and later died at the age of 58 in 1963. 

Paul remained active in civic and business affairs as a member of the Oceanside Elks Lodge, supporter and benefactor of the Oceanside Boys Club and chairman of the board of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan.  In a 1986 interview Paul said, “I would like to think I helped make the city what it is.” He died in 1991 at the age 84.

In 1978 the building was purchased by Roosevelt Campbell, Jr. and Oscar and Ruth Culp. They together, with George Mitchell, formed CMC Furniture and for over three decades the former newspaper building was used as a furniture store and warehouse. In addition, a portion of the upstairs was made or converted into apartments.

Building at 401 Seagaze Dr (formerly First Street) when it was CMC Furniture in 1991

It is worth noting that both George Mitchell and Oscar Culp, upon joining the United States Marine Corps in 1943, were assigned to the Montford Point Marines, an all-Black division of the Marine Corps. Both men were recognized for their service when Congress bestowed our nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, along with more than three hundred other Montford Point Marines. 

Master Sergeant Oscar Culp
George Mitchell, USMC

One of the most notable features of this historic building is a stepped motif parapet upon which is “engraved” the name of the two newspapers owned by the Beck Brothers in the smooth cement finish. This, however, had been covered for decades in a blocky (or even splotchy) stucco pattern. When the building was being remodeled and restored just a few years ago, that stucco finished was removed revealing Gill’s original design and the name of Oceanside’s longest published newspaper, the Blade Tribune.

Today the building is the home of the Blade 1936 restaurant, a name given as an ode to its history.

Blade 1936 Restaurant, January 2020

History of the Oceanside Harbor

For decades, it was the hope and dream of many in Oceanside to have a recreational harbor. Even as early as 1949 a development and study of a proposed harbor was made by Leeds, Hill and Jewett for the City of Oceanside.  However, a major roadblock to those plans was the military “top brass” at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Opposition to all harbor proposals and plans was because land, as well as access, was needed from the military base.

Oceanside Harbor circa 1965

But in 1958 General Reginald Heber Ridgely Jr. stated he would “interpose no objection to the concept” of the Oceanside Harbor constructed on Camp Pendleton property.  That year the Corps of Army Engineers requested a feasibility study of the proposed harbor.  A delegation of Oceanside officials visited Washington D.C. to discuss details with U.S. Marine Corps, the Bureau of Yards & Docks and the Secretary of the Navy.

The city delegation met with Camp Pendleton officials in March of 1959 regarding a lease of 68 acres upon which the harbor would be partially located.  Later that year City Attorney Dale Austin and Mayor Erwin Sklar were authorized to meet with congressional representatives and the following month Camp Pendleton transferred the needed 68 acres to the City for one-half of appraised value.

Many recognize Erwin Sklar as instrumental in the development of Oceanside’s Small Craft Harbor.  Sklar served on the City Council for twelve years from 1956 to 1968, during which time he also served as Oceanside’s mayor and deputy mayor.  Erwin Sklar has been touted as someone who “did more for the city personally, than anybody else we ever had in the council.” It was Sklar’s ability to persuade and negotiate that helped bring the Harbor from a dream into a reality.   

Erwin Sklar at the Oceanside Harbor Headquarters

Additional land for the Harbor was also needed from the Beachlake Trailer Park.  Beachlake was a popular recreation and camping spot since the 1930s and owned by developer and former city councilman Albert Zaiser.  To acquire land for its new harbor the city made a deal with Zaiser, essentially exchanging land for the needed property immediately north of the San Luis Rey river mouth.

View of Beachlake Trailer Park before Harbor Construction

With the gaining momentum, Oceanside voters overwhelmingly approved formation of a Harbor District in 1960.  The Board of Directors of the Oceanside Small Craft Harbor held their first meeting on February 11, 1960.   With enthusiasm running high, the first Harbor Days was held that year at the Del Mar Boat Basin before the harbor was even built! The Mayflower II, owned by the Goodyear Company, flew over Oceanside the evening before the Harbor Days celebration carrying an illuminated 10-foot high message publicizing the event. Oceanside Harbor Days is the City’s longest running event.

In 1961 the Oceanside Press Courier proclaimed that “Monday, February 6th will be a great day in Oceanside.”  That day marked ground breaking ceremonies for the Oceanside Harbor and was touted as the “most historic event in the history of Oceanside.”  The groundbreaking ceremonies were held at 10:30 a.m. marking “A Day of Hope and Promise” according to then Mayor Jerome Jones.

 Cox Brothers Construction was awarded the contract for the first phase of construction and the contract to clear away land for a 300-foot groin and floodwall at a cost of $396,400.  The Oceanside Harbor was dedicated and formally opened in June of 1963.  The Oceanside Harbor cost approximately $7,000,000, and originally contained just 520 slips.

View of Oceanside Harbor before Harbor Village was built

The Oceanside Yacht Club was founded in 1963 shortly after the harbor opened.  The founders met in a small rented office until the present building was completed in 1965.  The first Commodore of the Yacht Club was Robert Welden, then after John Steiger, Byron Jessup and Monte Yearley.

Left to Right: John Steiger, Max McComas, Byron Jessup and unidentified man at the Oceanside Yacht Club.

Monte Yearley was a fixture at the Oceanside Harbor. His sailboat shop was one of the longest running businesses, established the same year the Harbor. Monte could be found most any day on a sailboat or in his shop visiting with friends until his death at the age of 90.

Ray McCullah, owner of Oceanside Sport Fishing at the Harbor

The McCullah Brothers operated Oceanside Sportfishing, Inc. at the Harbor. They had previously operated from the Oceanside Pier for close to twenty years before moving their enterprise to the harbor shortly after its opening. They used the Dolphin Inn and Sportfishing building near the southeast corner of the harbor until they sold the business in 1973.

The Dolphin Inn and Sportfishing Building before it was moved.

The Dolphin Inn building was moved in 1976 to what is now the Oceanside Municipal Golf Course to make way for the construction of Charthouse Restaurant. Today this building is occupied by Joe’s Crab Shack.

A large lot just east of the railroad tracks was paved but in order to accommodate direct access from the harbor, a vehicle tunnel was made under the train bridge. In recent years this tunnel has been closed to all but pedestrian traffic for safety issues.

Harbor Tunnel to parking lot

On January 16, 1964, ground was broken for a $300,000 fishing village-style shopping center with a six-story lighthouse to be called “Lighthouse Village.” City officials along with the developer, Isaco Inc. of Beverly Hills, participated in the ceremony.  The center has been known as “Cape Cod Village” or simply Harbor Village.  

The Oceanside Lighthouse has become an iconic landmark but is more decorative than functional. It has an interior spiral staircase which leads to an observation deck. This was a popular attraction for years but access was closed by the city for liability reasons.

One of the earliest and most successful establishments at the new village was the Harbor Light Restaurant owned in part by Erskine Johnson. According to IMDb, “Johnson was a Hollywood gossip columnist who worked for the Hearst newspaper chain and appeared on the radio and in motion pictures, including his own newsreel productions. His syndicated column was called “Hollywood” and “Hollywood Notes”. Between 1937 and 1960, Johnson appeared in eight movies and two TV series, mostly as himself or as a reporter.” With his connection to Hollywood, many celebrities frequented the Harbor Light including Jimmy Durante and Preston Foster, and its walls were filled with autographed photos of notable and famous guests.

Actor Preston Foster, in uniform, pals around with his Hollywood buddies at the Oceanside Harbor

On March 27, 1964 the largest earthquake in North America’s recorded history hit Alaska. This 9.2 earthquake lasted just over four and half minutes and while it devastated Anchorage and surrounding area, loss of life was minimal in comparison to the subsequent tsunamis that it created.  A tsunami eventually reached as far south as Oceanside but rather than a surge of ocean water or tidal wave as many expected, the water instead was sucked out of the harbor. Two harbor docks were damaged when they came into contact with  submerged rocks after the water level dipped dramatically and rapidly.

Aerial view of dredging in Harbor in 2018

Dredging of the harbor entrance has been an ongoing necessity. The channel becomes full of sand and silt-clogged, making it hazardous to boaters. Dredging is therefore necessary. Just one year after the Harbor opened, emergency dredging was urged because both the Harbor’s entrance and the military’s boat basin at Camp Delmar were too dangerous to maneuver. The annual dredging of the Harbor mouth is used to help replenish the beach at the Oceanside Municipal Pier.

View of the Jolly Roger Restaurant

In 1973 the Jolly Roger Restaurant opened on North Harbor Drive and on October 3, 1984 Monterey Bay Canners opened its doors. One of the longest running restaurants is that of Harbor Fish and Chips. Owner Terry Cross was born and raised in Oceanside and this family owned and operated business has been a mainstay at the Harbor for over fifty years and continues to be a favorite of locals.           

Ladies dressed for Harbor Days at Harbor Fish and Chips

The Oceanside Harbor was the home port of the United States Coast Guard Point Hobart from 1969 to 1999. Its primary purpose was to provide additional security for President Nixon when he visited the ‘Western White House’ near San Mateo Point.  The Point Hobart also provided search and rescue services.  

Coast Guard Cutter Point Hobart at Coast Guard Dock

In November of 1978 Oceanside’s City Council approved the building of a fishing pier at the Harbor at a cost of $50,000 with State funding.

In the early 1990s the Oceanside Harbor District was annexed by the City of Oceanside and all District employees became City employees, including the Oceanside Harbor Police.  In 1999, Point Hobart was decommissioned and the Oceanside Harbor Police became the only rescue vessels between Dana Point Harbor and Mission Bay.  Currently, the Oceanside Police Harbor Unit remains the primary response vessel for over 37 miles of coastline, assisting in mutual aid calls for service from San Mateo Point to Del Mar.

Oceanside Harbor Patrol in 1970

Today the Oceanside Harbor is more popular than ever before. It is a favorite for surfers of all ages and the home to surf competitions. Over the years docks and slips have been added and the Harbor can now accommodate over 900 vessels.

People watching, dog walking, and biking are favorite past times. There’s no shortage of food choices and gift shopping or beach essentials can be found at the Harbor Village Shops. Many people come to view the sea lions that swim around the harbor looking for a fish dinner. Sea lions congregate on a floating dock near the Harbor’s fishing pier, laze in the sun and bark at one another. Whale watching and Dolphin tours are available, along with deep sea fishing. Visitors can also rent boats and paddleboard to get an ocean level experience. The Harbor beach is wide with no shortage of sand. RV camping is available.

Oceanside Harbor (photo courtesy Visit Oceanside)

Since its opening over 50 years ago, the Oceanside Harbor is one of Oceanside’s most popular spots with tourists and residents alike. Locals might like to hear that the Harbor’s beach fire rings are back, so bring on the weenie roasts and s’mores!

History of the Keisker Hotel at 133 South Coast Highway

Before Julius E. Keisker purchased the property on the northwest corner of Topeka and Hill Streets (Coast Highway), Edward and Mamie Fairchild had hiredC. G. Rieke to build a new home at the site. But just two years after their home was built, a real estate deal was made and the Fairchild residence was moved to the corner of Ditmar and Michigan Streets, where it remains today. With the lot cleared, Keisker was ready to build a new hotel which would bear his name. 

The Fairchild Home which formerly occupied the hotel site now at 239 South Ditmar Street

The Blade newspaper described the proposed hotel in 1926: “Plans are now being drawn for Mr. Keisker for a stucco building of two stories 66×100 feet in dimensions, with thirty-two sleeping rooms above, and a lobby and two store rooms on the first floor. It is the expectation that very shortly bids can be asked for the erection of the new building, which the owner plans to make an attractive addition to the hotel buildings of the city.  The approximate cost the improvement is stated to be about $140,000.”

In January of 1927 the newspaper reported that: “Work is now going on for the foundation of a hotel building which is to be erected by J. E. Keisker on Hill street near California.  The building will be 70 x 100 and of two stories.  The lower floor will be divided into a large store room and a lobby.  Upstairs will be 26 sleeping rooms.  The building is to be of heavy frame and stucco and will be heated by steam, a very necessary convenience demanded by the traveling public.  The construction work is being done by O. M. Wallace.”

No known photos exist when the Hotel was first built. Here it is as the Hotel Dewitt

When the hotel opened in June of 1927 a grand opening was held and headlines read: “Keisker Hotel Open to Guests”.   The Oceanside Blade announced:

With a public reception Friday evening the fine new Keisker hotel on Hill Street near California formally opened its doors for guests.  A large crowd of well-wishers from this entire section attended the opening.  Dancing was enjoyed until a late hour and punch and wafers were served.

The new hostelry contains twenty-six rooms all handsomely furnished, comfortable and home-like.  The rooms are quite large averaging 180 square feet and many are provided with private baths, several being ensuite.  Downstairs is a spacious lobby with large plate glass windows on two sides and handsomely finished in brown jazz plaster.  The lobby is furnished in wicker and a handsome writing desk and other furnishing add to the provision for the comfort and convenience of guests.

Steam heat, and hot and cold water in every room is provided for with a hot water plant and automatic distillate furnace located in the basement.  A call system and other modern equipment are installed and every convenience provided for the proper operation of the hotel.

Adjoining the lobby downstairs is a large store room which will be leased.  The outside appearance of the building is enhanced by Moorish awnings over the upstairs windows and a handsome glass marquee over the front entrance bearing the name of the hotel.  An electric sign on the roof is visible at a long distance and the hotel building makes a handsome addition to that section of the city.

In the construction and furnishing of the hotel some of the local firms participating were the Berg Electric Co.; Oceanside Furniture & Hardware Co.; A. E. Franklin, plumber; H. W. Maddux, Rock Gas; Glen Titrell, plastering; R. H. Simmons, cement contractor; O. M. Wallace, general contractor; James H. Campbell, lathing; Hayward Lumber Co., lumber; Fred Franks, painting; and Central Roofing Co., roofing.

In 1930 the hotel’s flooring was replaced by multi-colored tile, “almost exactly like the flooring in the Agua Caliente Hotel, Agua Caliente, Mexico.” The Oceanside Blade stated that this new feature proved “that Agua Caliente has nothing on Oceanside in the way of hotels, at least.”

As the hotel was located on the 101 Highway between Los Angeles and San Diego, (and all the way to Mexico), it was a popular spot for the traveling public. Well to do clientele, including notables associated with Hollywood and the movie industry frequented the hotel, especially those on their way down to enjoy, purchase and even transport alcohol during the Prohibition years. 

In 1934 the hotel was purchased by Robert and Jessie DeWitt, who in turn renamed the building as the Hotel DeWitt.  Jessie DeWitt was a noted artist and a member of the San Diego Artists Association, Women Painters of the West, Laguna Beach Artists Association, La Jolla Artist Guild and the Carlsbad-Oceanside Art League.

Hotel Dewitt in the 1940s. Note Master Automotive Supply in its original storefront.

With the establishment of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 1942, Oceanside grew dramatically. With thousands of Marines arriving to train and 5,000 civilians to aid in construction and support, Oceanside was the nearest town to accommodate the great influx of people. The City was hard pressed to meet the essentials the military and civilian personnel demanded with restaurants, schools and hotels bursting at the seams. The Southern California Telephone Company had to enlarge 4 times in four years to keep pace with the mounting demands. The business office was moved to the DeWitt Hotel to accommodate workers.

The hotel was sold in 1950 to Mr. and Mrs. Orville T. Schwarz of San Marino.  The hotel was managed by their son Elman. Soon after, the hotel’s name was changed to the Dolphin Hotel. In 1953, the S&S Cafeteria opened hotel building, operated by George H. Swain and Robert H. Stevens.

A new highway was built in 1954 diverting traffic from downtown Oceanside. Newer motels with parking and more complete amenities were in demand.  Because of its antiquated features, namely its lack of ensuite bathroom facilities, it fell out of favor with tourists and eventually the condition of the hotel deteriorated. 

Hotel DeWitt ad in 1950

In the late 1970s the hotel was purchased and renovated by a trio of enthusiastic owners, Richard Rogers, Barbara Werle Rogers (movie, television and stage actress) and Paul Griesgraber. They filled the rooms with antiques and gave them names such as the Polynesian Room, the Hollywood Room and the Bridal Suite.

The Dolphin Hotel, far left in 1984 as Hill Street (Coast Highway was being resurfaced

But by the 1980s the hotel was renting for $22.95 a day or $115 a week. Its clientele were not tourists and its reputation was “seedy.” The hotel’s glory days seemed a distant memory, and there was no one left to remember when it was a gem on the Highway 101.

The Dolphin Hotel entrance in 2017

Everyone loves a great comeback story and the Dolphin Hotel has been reborn –from the inside out. Rooms have been completely reconfigured and rebuilt, not just refurbished, giving guests the hotel experience they expect and demand with a downtown vibe only Oceanside can give.

The Fin, a nod to the Dolphin, has made this vintage hotel building retro cool. Its back with style, flavor and a cool new mural. Julius Keisker would be proud to see his hotel still serving the traveling public, vibrant and alive. The Switchboard Restaurant and Bar is a popular eatery housed in the same building. Its name pays homage to the telephone workers who occupied the hotel in the 1940s. What’s old is new again!

The Fin Hotel and Mural (courtesy Visit Oceanside)

History of the Martin Building

John Franklin and Henry B. Martin arrived in Oceanside around 1900 and opened Martin Brothers’ Meat Market on Second Street (Mission Avenue).  They leased 1,700 acres on the Kelley ranch and raised cattle.

From 1900 to 1983 the Martin family operated a meat market in Oceanside, one of the oldest family operated businesses.  The Martins were known for their fine meats but also for their work ethic and integrity.  Many were staunch members of the First Baptist Church and active in civic affairs. 

Martin Brothers’ original Meat Market on Second Street (Mission Avenue)

John F. Martin served several terms on the Oceanside city council and was appointed mayor in 1931. He also served on the Oceanside school board, was elected President of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce and was a charter member of the Oceanside Elks, Mason and Kiwanis Clubs. 

John Franklin Martin

Resident Helen Beegle Osuna remembered that “Frank Martin’s Meat Market was the only meat market in town.  He also ran a meat wagon delivery, house to house in the San Luis Rey Valley once a week.  His brother was driver and butcher of the one horse wagon.”

In 1903 J. F. Martin purchased property at the northwest corner of Tremont and Second Streets (now Mission Avenue), just east of the tiny, modest market he operated with his brother.

As Oceanside grew, so did a demand for larger store to accommodate a growing customer base. Construction of a new store building began in 1923.  The headline in the Oceanside Blade newspaper for January 20, 1923 read:  “J. F. Martin Prepares to Start Work of $17,000 Structure on 2nd Street.”

The new Martin building, housed not just the Meat Market but a storefront for other businesses.

“Arrangements are being completed and it is expected that the contract will be let in a few days for a fine business block which J. F. Martin is planning to build on his property at the west corner of Second and Tremont streets on the site now occupied by Martin’s Market and the offices of the Pacific Telephone company.

“The building is to be a fireproof structure of reinforced concrete throughout.  It will be 50 x 100 feet in dimensions and of one story with a basement 30 x 70 feet under the east portion of the building.  There are to be two storerooms fronting on Second street and one of Tremont street.  One of the former will be occupied by the Martin Market with new and attractively arranged equipment and it is expected that the room on Tremont street will be occupied by the other present tenants.

“There will be lavish use of plate glass on both fronts with recessed doors and other features to make the building an attractive and sightly addition to that section of town.

“It is hoped to begin work within two or three weeks.  It is likely that because of the need to provide accommodations for present tenants the rear portion of the building will first be completed and this with the time required to remove the other buildings will make the period for completion at least six months.”

On December 23, 1923 the Oceanside Blade published an article featuring the new Martin’s Meat Market and storefront.

“The last word in modern equipment best describes the modern meat market now building by J.F. Martin, and located at Second and Tremont streets.  This market will be one of the most up-to-date establishments of its kind in this section.  It was established by Mr. Martin in 1900 and has been under his personal and successful management since that year.  But since the early years in business and the present time, wonderful changes have taken place and a modern refrigerating plant now takes the place of the old-fashioned, unsanitary ice box of years gone by, the equipment providing every advantage for the proper care of meats and other products.

“In the old days meat was served to the patrons within a few hours after the animal was killed, but the present day plan is entirely different, the meat being first being allowed to thoroughly cool in the cold storage department, thus increasing its value as food.

“With nearly a quarter of a century in business in Oceanside, Mr. Martin naturally is greatly interested in everything helping to upbuild his town and community and when called upon he may be counted to do his part in all movements that spell progress.”

In 1952 the Martins built a new building at Ditmar and First Streets (now Seagaze) to house their meat shop.  The building downtown then became the home of Harry Turk Men’s Clothing. At that time it appears that the building was “modernized” and additional store windows were added along Tremont Street.

This photo shows the vacated storefront but still bearing the name of Mr. D’s, circa 1979

In the early 1970’s a business named “Mr. D’s Service Center” occupied the building.  In 1980 the building was renovated by developer A. Marco Turk, son of Harry Turk, and Carlsbad architect John Landry. American Travel Service occupied the building in the 1990s, and it has served as real estate sales offices. It is currently a retail and souvenir shop. 

Martin Building in 2011 (google view)

History of the I.O.O.F. Building

Oceanside Lodge No. 346, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, organized on July 20, 1888, making it one of the earliest organizations in the City. The City of Oceanside had just voted to incorporate one month earlier.  Those first Lodge members met at the St. Cloud Hotel, located on North Cleveland Street, and included notable businessmen and early pioneers such as John Schuyler, William Goldbaum, Thomas Dodd, James Carter, Daniel Amick, Harrison Stroud and Joseph Nugent. 

The I.O.O.F. Lodge circa 1900 on Third Street, aka Pier View Way (brick building far right)

Shortly after the Lodge was formed, meetings were held in a two-story brick building on Third Street (now Pier View Way) owned by businessman John Schuyler. His storefront bore the Lodge emblem.

Several years later the Lodge moved into a building on the 100 block of North Tremont Street. Other organizations, including the Oceanside Woman’s Club and the Farm Bureau used the building for meetings, and on Sundays services were held by the Christian Science Church.

In August of 1922 the Odd Fellows announced plans to build a two-story building on a lot they had acquired in 1904, on the 500 block of Second Street (Mission Avenue). But needed funds had to be raised and construction was not underway until two years later when work began to remove an “old corrugated iron warehouse” on the property adjoining the Jones Hardware Store.

Charles G. Rieke, a local contractor, began construction of the new building in October of 1924.  The Oceanside Blade described the work in progress: 

The lower floor which is to be occupied by the city hall and library will be one large room 50×100 feet in dimensions.  The stairway to the upper floor will be in the front at the west side with entrance through a door from the outside. Toilets for men and women will occupy the south and east corners.  The front will be all glass with prism glass transoms.  Another single door is located in the north corner while the main entrance will be through a large door just to the east of the center of the front.  The floor will be cement.

Upstairs the lodge will have a completely appointed place.  There will be a lodge room in the southeast corner 35×56 feet with a robing room and locker room 14×40 adjoining and opening into the lodge room and adjoining these two ante rooms to the north.  The entrance hall will be on the west side with the stairway leading up from below and opening off the hall a ladies rest room.  The banquet room, which is 22×30, will be located in front and the remainder of the space in the front is to be taken up by a club room 18×24, with folding doors which make it possible to use it as an addition to the banquet room.  The kitchen 10×17 is located off the hall and opens into the banquet room. The cost of the building will be a little over $20,000.

Lodge emblem on upstairs floor

The new I.O.O.F. building at 505 Second Street (now Mission Avenue) was a welcome addition to Oceanside’s modest downtown.  It was dedicated in February 1925 and housed the City Hall and Library on the first floor.

In December of 1928 it was announced that the trustees of the I.O.O.F. Lodge had signed an 18 year lease with the J. C. Penney Company. The Oceanside store was one of 500 new stores the national chain opened that year. The Oceanside Blade reported that the store would “include a full line of ready-to-wear garments men’s women’s and children’s lines, footwear, haberdashery, millinery, lingerie, cosmetics, notions, with the newest style elements” adding that it “will be one of the most complete stocks ever shown in this city.”

J. C. Penney Store No. 1259 was opened in August of 1929.  Forrest A. Jones was the first store manager.  Harry Weinberg was the assistant manager and Ina Winters was hired as the cashier.  Other early store managers included Graham Tyson, who took over January 1, 1931, and Joe Lavvorn who became store manager August 1, 1937.  According to Lodge records, in 1945 the J. C. Penney Co. paid the I.O.O.F. lodge $200.00 a month in rent.

J. C. Penney Store at 505 Mission Avenue

In 1950 Trustees of Oceanside Lodge No. 346, Independent Order of Odd Fellows granted the property to the Oceanside Odd Fellows Halls Association.

Having a national department store in Oceanside further elevated its business district and the J.C. Penney store remained at that location for four decades through the late 1960s.  The lease expired on April 4, 1970 and the department store relocated to the shopping mall in Carlsbad.

Since 1970 the Oceanside Odd Fellows Halls Association has rented the first floor of the building to a variety of businesses. The upstairs, which has a separate entrance, continues its use as a lodge and meeting hall.  It is believed to be the last remaining Odd Fellow Lodge in San Diego County.

History of the Bank of Italy Building, 202 North Coast Highway

Many of our buildings in downtown Oceanside have an interesting history. While its façade has changed along with its use, here is a history of the building which is now home to Swami’s Café in Oceanside.

Before the present day building was constructed, the property was owned by local businessman Jesse Newton and occupied by the Squirrel Inn, a small roadside stand and café that served not only locals but the traveling public. From 1918 to 1923, the Squirrel Inn had various owners including Mary Ulrich, Nina Foss, and Jack Taylor. It operated 24 hours a day for the “patronage of the large amount of night traffic” that traveled through Oceanside via Hill Street which was part of the original Highway 101.

Early aerial of downtown Oceanside in about 1923. Arrow indicates location of the Squirrel Inn.

In 1923 the Squirrel Inn was moved to a location north on Hill Street (Coast Highway) to make way for the construction of a new service station. The corner was leased by the Shell Oil Company from Newton and a new service station was built on the location later that year.

Then in 1927 Jesse Newton sold the property to the Bank of Italy National Trust and Savings Association. The service station was removed and a new bank building added to Oceanside’s growing “business district.” The establishment of a major bank in downtown Oceanside was an important and significant development for the City. Oceanside’s commercial district served not only the general population but the smaller nearby towns including Carlsbad, Vista and Fallbrook.

The new building was designed by the architectural firm of Morgan, Walls, and Clements, a renowned firm established by Julia Morgan. Arthur Nelson and George Willett, of Nelson and Willett, were the local contractors who built the bank in 1928.  A portion of the new bank building, built to serve as a storefront, was leased out to Charles A. Turner, a local realtor. In 1934 this storefront was leased to Clay Jolliff, a local jeweler.

The new Bank of Italy building courtesy the Bank of America archives.

The Bank of Italy was renamed Bank of America in 1930. During the Depression years, many banks closed and families lost their savings, but Bank of America managed to stay solvent.

After the establishment of the military base Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, the population of Oceanside nearly tripled in ten years. This growth brought the necessity of new schools, more housing and increased commercial development. In response, Bank of America wanted a larger and more modern building to serve its growing clientele. In 1950 they built a new bank building on the northeast corner of Second (now Mission Avenue) and Ditmar streets.

Bank of America built its new branch on the northeast corner of Mission and Ditmar Streets in 1950 (since torn down)

In September of 1950 the original building, which stood vacant, was sold to Isadore A. Teacher. Teacher was a native of Lithuania who came to Southern California in the 1920s. He owned a chain of jewelry stores and considerable property in San Diego County. Shortly after the bank building was purchased by Teacher, it was completely remodeled. The interior largely stripped and the outer façade modified and the exterior awning added. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that it was now “one of the most modern structures in Oceanside.” 

The bank building (right) as the Oceanside Pharmacy

The former bank building was then leased to Joseph B. Schwartz, a pharmacist who opened the Oceanside Pharmacy in December of 1950.  John Graham operated the pharmacy’s lunch and soda counter. “Bushy” Graham would later own several popular drive-in restaurants, including the present day 101 Cafe. Roger’s Clothiers occupied the storefront in the north section of the building soon after. 

Claude V. and Ouida “Ruth” Johnson acquired the property in 1964. Johnson had opened a sporting goods store at 210 North Hill Street (Coast Highway) and continued to lease the building to the Oceanside Pharmacy which remained in operation.

A&W Root Beer at 202 North Hill in the 1970s

In the 1970s Dutch Jewelers occupied the smaller storefront, while A&W Root Beer occupied the former bank building. In 1979 the Johnson’s moved their sporting goods business into the building. Tragically Claude Johnson was murdered in his store on February 21, 1979, just one month after he moved into the building. His widow Ruth Johnson and son Greg continued to run the sporting goods store for over 20 years.

Greg and Ruth Johnson, Johnson Sporting Goods, 1982

In 2014 the building was sold to restaurateurs Jaime and Rosa Osuna. A number of renovations were made, including exposing the interior brick and original roof truss and rafters. The building has been repurposed once again and is a popular downtown restaurant, Swami’s Café.

The building today as Swami’s Cafe