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!

6 thoughts on “History of the Oceanside Harbor

  1. My first job was at the Harbor Light Restaurant when I was at Oside High. I was a sophomore. (1968)Lots of great memories from there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My mom loved the harbor – she took my sister and I there often, and we’d just walk, look at boats, and hunt out all the little critters in the rocks and the slips. The slips were not gated in the old days, and my buddies and I (young fishermen/naturalists would bike down, then spend hours on our stomachs reaching down into the life that was at the tips of our fingers right beneath the waterline. Most boaters were fine, but a few chased us off. I found so many amazing critters down there – I wish I’d had a trained biologist with me! My friend Andy Borden had a little 6′ dinghy in a rack on one of the docks; we’d bike down, put the dinghy in the water and spend the day rowing around the harbor, hailing other sailors, and fishing (unsuccessfully!) Oceanside in the ’60’s was a paradise!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the great history of the Oceanside Harbor. We all appreciated the efforts and tenacity of Councilman Erwin Sklar to get the job done. Long before the Oceanside Harbor some of us sailed our boats on the Buena Vista Lagoon (then known as the Carlsbad slough). We also sailed on Lake Hodges or San Diego Bay where Byron Jessup kept his boat at that time.
    Tom Weese

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember the tsunami and my dad Dick Turnbull rushing down to the harbor and taking his sloop into deep waters to protect it from damage. He wouldn’t let us go with him. The harbor and El Camino Country bring back fond memories of my youth and dad.
    Lynn Turnbull

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to K Hawthorne Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.