The Boathouse at the Buena Vista Lagoon

An old boathouse slowly collapsed into the waters of the Buena Vista Lagoon in the 1970s, sliding into a watery grave. Many longtime residents remember this old boathouse but few may remember its history.

View of the boathouse at Buena Vista Lagoon, looking east.

The Buena Vista Lagoon, once a slough, has a murky history much like its waters. Sloughs are “ecologically important as they are a part of an endangered environment; wetlands. They act as a buffer from land to sea and act as an active part of the estuary system where freshwater flows from creeks and runoff from the land mix with salty ocean water transported by tides.” (Wikipedia)

At times large areas of the slough were completely dry. In 1910 and 1911 residents from both Carlsbad and Oceanside gathered to race horses on a half mile track on the dried “lake bed.” In the mid 1920s the dried bed of the eastern end of the slough was considered for a landing field for planes. Of course, these activities were temporary because during heavy rains the slough would fill, sometimes past its natural capacity, and spill out over the Coast Road and into the Pacific Ocean.  

In 1939 the County ended any hunting at the lagoon, although fishing was allowed. The area was declared a bird sanctuary eventually named after Bombardier Maxton Brown of Carlsbad, who was killed during World War II in action in North Africa.  

Shortly afterward, a weir was built at the mouth of Buena Vista lagoon. A weir is a barrier used to control the flow of water for outlets of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Once in place, the weir changed the natural tidal flow of the slough, transforming it into a “freshwater brackish lagoon”.

Before the lagoon was altered in such a dramatic way, in 1901 the California Salt Company attempted to harvest salt from man-made evaporation ponds on the north end of the Buena Vista Lagoon. These ponds are shallow basins designed to “extract salt from seawater, salty lakes, or mineral-rich springs through natural evaporation.” As the water dries, the salt crystals are harvested by raking.

The July 13, 1901 edition of the Oceanside Blade reported: “The forces of the California Salt Co. are still at work in the slough between South Oceanside and Carlsbad. They are preparing to put down wells in the slough bed where points will be put in. The entire system will be connected to a pump and the brine pumped into the vats. Pumping operations are expected to commence in a few days.”

Salt Evaporation Ponds in view with boathouse on the southwest corner, 1946

The endeavor failed, however, and in a few short years the Salt Company had left town, leaving the evaporation ponds intact which were visible for decades. Because of this some have assumed that the boathouse dated back to the Salt Company.

The first evidence of the boathouse in historic photographs (dating back to 1932) reveal that the boathouse was constructed by 1946. An aerial of that year shows the boathouse adjacent to the western end of the abandoned salt evaporation ponds. In 1999 Nancy Tenaglia wrote in an article about the lagoon that her father Kenyon Keith of St. Malo had the boathouse built to store rowboats and a small sailboat. However she stated that the boathouse was eventually “abandoned.”

The boathouse was then utilized by hotel owner Dr. Clifford Elwood Brodie.

Brodie, a chiropractor, was a native of Washington State. He moved to Oceanside in 1939 and was actively involved in both business and politics. He built his first hotel, the Brodie-O-Tel at 2001 South Hill (Coast Highway) in 1939. Described as “colorful”, Brodie was married no less than five times (one marriage lasting just two months after securing a quickie divorce from a previous wife in Reno). He served on the City Council, but was the subject of a recall in 1945 because in part of his “bickering” with other council members.

After opening a twelve-room motor lodge overlooking the Buena Vista Lagoon, Brodie an avid sportsman, sought to have the lagoon transformed into a recreational spot for boaters and fishermen. He housed a boat of his own in the boathouse which was accessible from his property by way of the salt ponds.

He advertised his hotel, Brodie’s Motor Lodge, on signage and newspaper ads that said, “Sleep Where It’s Quiet.” His boathouse was painted with the words “Motor Lodge”.  

Boathouse painted with “Motor Lodge” and signage that reads “Sleep Where It’s Quiet, Brodie’s Motor Lodge”

The hotel was put into “receivership” for a time during a hotly contested divorce in 1949 and during that time it was reported that the boat kept at the boathouse was stolen. It very well could have been Brodie himself who took the boat in order to keep his wife Florence from having it. Brodie was found in contempt by the courts, after locking the hotel and leaving with both funds and records (and perhaps the boat).

Entrance into the Brodie Motor Lodge from South Hill Street

In 1950 Brodie attempted to sell his hotel at the lagoon, advertising it as a Mexican style hotel with a full length porch, panoramic views and sea breezes.

The Brodie Motor Lodge, 2128 South Hill Street (Coast Highway)

Despite his earlier recall, Brodie ventured into the political arena, running for county supervisor and later for an open council seat in 1952, but was not successful. He was, however, successful in renewing a relationship with one of his former wives, Edith Wolfe, and they remarried.

Clifford Elwood Brodie

Clifford E. Brodie died in November 1953 after suffering a fatal heart attack. The lodge which bore his name continued operation.

In fact, in 1958 a very special guest checked into the Brodie Motor Lodge. Heavyweight Boxing Champion Floyd Patterson arrived in Oceanside in July of that year along with his manager Cus D’Amato. Patterson was training for his title defense against Roy Harris in a match held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, on August 18th. His training took place at the Beach Community Center, but he stayed “where it’s quiet” at the Motor Lodge overlooking the lagoon.

Boxer Floyd Patterson at the Brodie Motor Lodge (from the Los Angeles Times)

After his training camp ended Patterson published a personal note in the Oceanside Blade Tribune saying in part: “I’m certainly going to miss Oceanside.  I know when I get back to New York I’ll be thinking of this place.  I also know that wherever I go to train for my next fight, I’ll be remembering the fine time, the perfect climate and the wonderful people of Oceanside.”

By the mid 1960s the Brodie Motor Lodge was torn down but the boathouse remained on the lagoon. Eventually the paint faded and the wooden structure began to deteriorate. It began to sink, even while children and teenagers ventured in and around it, One of the last published photos of the boathouse was in 1978, with a young boy perched precariously on top of it to fish.

Boy fishing on the collapsing boathouse, August 1978

Eventually Brodie’s boathouse slipped under the waters of the Buena Vista Lagoon and while it may be lost to the elements forever, the boathouse lives on in the memories of many.

Thank you to Edith Wolfe-Badillo for sharing some of these wonderful photos with the Oceanside Historical Society.

5 thoughts on “The Boathouse at the Buena Vista Lagoon

  1. Hi Kristi,

    Absolutely delighted with your story on the Buena Vista Lagoon boathouse.

    I have been interested in this topic for many years now and often wondered what the details where behind this long forgotten structure. I always thought that the boathouse was further out into the lagoon and as the photos show, the boathouse was closer to the road through the lagoon between Oceanside and Carlsbad than I thought.

    The driveway into where the Brodie Motor Lodge once was would appear to be the North entrance into where the now Sandpiper Cove HOA is which was built in 1982.

    Thank you for your time in putting this story together. Your never ending research is greatly appreciated.

    Best regards always,


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up on South Nevada Street, and as a 9 to 11 year-old boy in the days around 1964, my friends and I spent nearly all of our time at “The Slough”, ranging along the whole north shore from the Cemetery (that you wrote of previously) to the Carlsbad Blvd crossing. We spent entire summer days at the salt ponds, gathering all sorts of wildlife from the water and surrounding fields. We kept a path cleared along the top of the entire circuit of the levees, crossing the openings with scraps of lumber or superhuman leaps that often resulted in very squishy black hightop Keds for the day. Poor mom! We became quite the naturalists, getting up at 0700 to watch the bullfrogs harummph! and battle for territory, surveying for crawdad nests, netting minnows, catching gopher snakes and searching the numerous duck nests on the levees for the elusive and treasured rotten egg – if we saw a potential abandoned nest, we would check for a mother duck over the course of a week – we saw no sense in taking live eggs. Rotten eggs would be carefully taken back to the field (for they could burst in your hand and leave you a foul mess), where we would throw them upwind and watch them burst, then revel and retch at the horrible stench that came forth from them. The boathouse was a regular visit, as there was a 2×6 plank leading from the levee to the door, and there were still catwalks in the boathouse at that time – but they were fragile, and treated with great care, because one fall would put you in the still, deep waters shadowed by the roof. Well, we knew it was only 2 feet deep in there, but we knew the mud would suck you down to a bitter end!
    During our early times at the slough, Brodies had recently been demolished, and we could still find the odd bits and pieces of it’s past – broken eyeglasses, knobs and other debris. The bulldozers had knocked a corner off of the earth-filled concrete box foundation, and we set to tunneling into the foundation and making a most excellent underground fort of connecting tunnels – with a safe concrete roof, no less! Alas, one day we arrived to find the bulldozer had completed its work, and a patch of bare earth was all that remained of the fabled Brodies.
    There was a small, sandstone bluff to the west of Brodies’ hill, and at one point we attempted to carve a profile monument to President Kennedy in it, on a par with Mount Rushmore, but a pair of Oceanside police turned up one day and suggested that we take up safer activities. Some busybody must have been driving north and seen us, and called the cops on us!
    The slough was the stuff that summer days are made of – free of adult supervision, filled with nature and adventure, all within running distance of home and a hot dinner. I often think back on those times, and ponder how much it affected my later career and my bond with nature. RIP Earl Cole, my partner in adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Most of my childhood and young adulthood was spent in Carlsbad. Each time we took the coast road to Oceanside, I would look fir the boathouse, with the faded words, “The Maxton E. Brown Bird Sanctuary “ painted on it. My father explained that he had been a war hero. It was definitely a landmark in Carlsbad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having lived in Carlsbad since birth, 1955 until 1973 I grew very fond of the boathouse. My cousin and I built a raft on the Carlsbad side of the Lagoon, (I lived on the corner of Laguna Dr and Roosevelt St) and we paddled out to the boat house every chance we got. My brother and his friends used it too. We also fished around it and fishing was good.
    Sure would like to go back in time and just hang out.

    Liked by 1 person

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