St. Malo, Oceanside’s Secret Hideaway for the Rich and Famous

Over several decades many residents and visitors alike have often wondered who lived beyond the gate at the end of Oceanside’s South Pacific Street. An impressive entrance allowed but a sneak peek into beautiful homes with unique architectural features.

Kenyon A. Keith, a wealthy resident of Pasadena, purchased 28 acres of oceanfront property in 1928. The following year he began developing a colony with custom built homes that were designed to resemble a French fishing village, St. Malo.  Residency was by invitation only and limited to family and hand selected friends. 

The St. Malo Subdivision begins at Eaton and South Pacific Streets. However, the St. Malo community, also extends on either side of the 2000 block of South Pacific Street. As homes were constructed, and continue to be built, they are kept to a strict standard of architectural style and materials, built and weathered to appear as if they have been there for decades.

The entry way or St. Malo Gate, was designed by architect William McCay. Keith wanted an imposing entrance to the St. Malo Beach community and built it to represent “a sense of place.”

St. Malo Gate at the end of South Pacific Street, circa 1930
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

St. Malo homes weren’t just weekend hideaways for the wealthy, wanting to escape from the city, they often “summered” there. Owners brought a full staff, with maids and cooks as most homes were built with “servants’ quarters.”

Homes were fondly described by owners as “story book cottages” or “chalets.”  Nicknamed “Pasadena on the Rocks”, St. Malo offered a private beach, playground, 3 tennis courts, a volleyball court and a clubhouse cabana.  Activities included exclusive cocktail parties, barbeques and trips to the Delmar Races.  Close friends of the owners were allowed to rent or even borrow houses for social gatherings and vacations.

Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

Although Oceanside residents were not likely privy to the comings and goings of colonists, their activities were posted in the society pages of the Los Angeles Times that featured headlines such as:  “St. Malo is Favorite for Pasadena Folk”; “St. Malo Beckons Social Set”; “St. Malo Beach Hums with Activity.” The social columnists promoted the exclusivity of St. Malo, but provided the names of the socialites and families that were staying there, along with their activities and other gossip.  They boasted that St. Malo parties were better than any in Hollywood.

View of St. Malo, Jason Joy’s palatial residence far right
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

While newspaper articles attributed the location of St. Malo as in or near Oceanside, some attempted to place the community nearer tonier locales such La Jolla or Delmar. However, in 1950 the City of Oceanside annexed the St. Malo subdivision, at the owners’ request, which at the time had grown to 24 homes.  

The heyday of St. Malo was from the 1930s and 1960s.  Owners included Desaix Myers, a mining engineer; Dr. John Dunlop, pioneer orthopedic surgeon; Karl G. Von Platen, lumber magnate; Attorney Steve Halsted; Lamar Trotti, writer and film producer; W. John Kenney, Asst. Secretary of Navy; Frank Butler, screenwriter; songwriter Nacio Herb Brown; Hugh Darling, mayor of Beverly Hills; painter Marge Wilman.  Another wealthy “colonist” was Alice Pillsbury Forsman, daughter of the co-founder of the Pillsbury Mills.  St. Malo was such a way of life for most, even when they passed away their obituaries mentioned their affection of their St. Malo home away from home.

Other notable residents were film director Jason S. Joy and author Ben Hecht.  Joy’s St. Malo home was referred to as “La Garde Joyeuse” and included an outdoor bowling alley and volleyball court.  Hecht, whose prolific works include “Scarface”, purchased his St. Malo home in 1950. While living in Oceanside, he wrote a children’s book about a cat who roamed the streets of Oceanside. He said in an interview that he often wrote from his den overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Cover of the children’s book Ben Hecht wrote about a cat that lived in Oceanside, 1947

Homes within the colony sold for $57,000 (and up) in the 1940s, however, ownership was contingent upon “membership” and the approval of Kenyon Keith.

Over the years visitors have included Harpo Marx and James Maytag, (Maytag appliances). The most famous and royal visitors were none other than England’s Prince Phillip and Princess Anne, who stayed at St. Malo while attending events during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

No longer quite as exclusive, new families mingle with the more “established” residents. While St. Malo is no longer a secret, it still remains private and the homes behind the gated entrance and those who live there, still evoke a bit of mystery.

19 thoughts on “St. Malo, Oceanside’s Secret Hideaway for the Rich and Famous

  1. Great history. I love Oceanside, lived there in my younger years. I try to return every year and stay a week. Right on the beach. The Strand. Thank You for such a great article and history I didn’t know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story of a cool and unique place. When we moved to Oceanside in 1968 my folk bought a home on Myers st. Two blocks north of St. Malo, but it had a similar style. Great memories of the home and neighborhood. Thanks Kristi

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Kristi, I think I may have told you that my step-father, Ralph Guest, designed and built most of the St. Malo homes. My father, B. E. Jones, was a carpenter and worked on them. Ralph was originally from Chicago, but moved to Pasadena and was an architect. Pasadena connections, I guess, brought him to the Oceanside area.

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  4. We have owned a business in Oceanside on Coast Highway for over 70 years ( Jordan’s Upholstery) and St Mali has been a part of our lives personally w furniture and cars that we have recovered. You always learn something new from others, if you listen. Thank U

    Liked by 1 person

  5. During the summer I use to work for a local Milk man ( Earl Rodgers Carnation Milk) deliver milk, eggs and bread to St. Malo residents. It was fun to see the homes and the expensive cars (lots of Rolls Royce’s). We delivered products to the customers refrigerators so we access in the homes. Everyone was so friendly great memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember Earl the Milkman in South O very well – my mom got up early to make coffee for my dad when he was getting ready for work, and there was always an extra cup on the counter for Earl on milk day – the back door was always unlocked. He knew all our names, and was like part of the family. I saw him again in ’82 at a swap meet – he was retired and a happy collector. Thanks for the memory jolt, Jeffrey!

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  6. Hello, I knew a oriental woman, Yoko Caginitch (probably miss spelled), who took care of many of the properties in the community from between 1970 to 1980’s. During that time, I painted, worked on the yards and went to school for a short time with some of the children the community members sent school at South Oceanside ES. I remember enjoying summer days at their exclusive beach and remember meeting a young lady who was an extra in the movie Grease. They all drove nice cars and had maids. Really cool.

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  7. There was a dapper old gentleman with a tweed cap and a neat goatee from St. Malo who drove his white Mercedes gullwing coupe over to Bank America a few times a month. We always wondered who he was – we imagined all kinds of distinguished and exciting careers for him as we drooled over his car. Here’s a link to the car, in case it jogs a memory or two… (https://www.barrett-jackson.com/Events/Event/Details/1955-MERCEDES-BENZ-300SL-GULLWING-COUPE-161313)

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  8. In the 50s, my mom (Lou Jones) had friends who lived in St. Malo and we visited often. Although not related to us, I knew them as Aunt Hallie and Uncle Bob; I think their surname was Overall, but I’m not too certain of this as I was pretty young. I recall that Aunt Hallie made custom dresses and other outfits for Barbie dolls and sold them to make money after Uncle Bob passed, and she had sold the property and moved to a small house on Myers, facing the tracks. My most vivid memory was having dinner there once. Aunt Hallie had an enormous dining table, and the four of us took up little room at one end. Aunt Hallie had two 20+ year old Siamese cats who sat on the table and watched us eat, without moving except to blink or turn their heads slightly. Quite eccentric centerpieces! When we finished dinner, the cats calmly jumped down and disappeared somewhere upstairs.

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  9. I grew up in Oceanside, going to Buccaneer Beach as a teenager in the 70’s. Once in a while, we would sneak into St. Malo. Sometimes we would run into an actual resident, but we walked like we belonged there, and whether they knew we did or not, they were Always very gracious. Beautiful people living in Beautiful Homes. I’m in my 60’s now, and when I walk by on the beachside of the homes, I still get a sense of Fairytales and wonder about the place. Happy Memories. I Love hearing about Oceanside’s History. Thank You.

    Liked by 1 person

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