End of an Era – The Flying Bridge (and Coffee Dan’s)

The Flying Bridge Restaurant at 1105 North Coast Highway (North Hill Street) is no more. Its unique “coffee shop architecture” and Googie stylings weren’t enough to save it from demolition. The prime location of the restaurant, providing panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and San Luis Rey River, will be redeveloped. It will not be the first time.  

The Real Auto Camp at 1103 North Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1920s.

Before the Flying Bridge Restaurant (and Coffee Dan’s) was built, the expansive property was the site of an early auto camp owned by Frank and Anne Martin. The Martin Auto Camp was in an ideal location as it was the first travelers would encounter as they drove into the Oceanside city limits along the original Highway 101.

The auto camp was later sold to Tony Janek and Julia Ravast in 1924, who renamed it the Real Auto Camp. Sam Stock purchased the site in 1927 and continued ownership through 1944.

The original Bridge Motel owned by Frank and Dorothy Satten

Dorothy and Frank Satten subsequently purchased the property and in 1951, they built eight new room units along with an administration center and opened the Bridge Motel.  Although the property was jointly owned, Dorothy Satten is credited with the development and success of the motel, which continued to expand. A 1954 ad described the 18-unit motel as “one of the finest in the west” and offered wall to wall carpets, Beauty Rest mattresses, tubs and showers and “free” television.

By 1963 the motel had increased to 30 units and was renamed the Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey with a large marquis sign erected at the motel site.

The addition coincided with the building of a new 8,500 square foot restaurant building that housed two separate restaurants: Coffee Dan’s was a casual diner operated by Joseph Bulasky, president of Coffee Dan’s, Inc. of Beverly Hills; the Flying Bridge Room was a formal dining eatery which jutted out over the San Luis Rey River and provided a view of the newly built harbor. 

The Flying Bridge Restaurant under construction

In lieu of a traditional groundbreaking ceremony, a unique “space breaking” event via helicopter was used to cut the ceremonial ribbon marking the restaurant’s opening. A wire connected to the building from the hovering aircraft was then cut by a pair of shears.

1962 ceremony for new restaurant

The local newspaper reported that “a marine décor is used in both dining places” and the Flying Bridge Room “has its walls decorated with wood carvings from old ships.”  The motel-restaurant complex was considered “the town showplace, frequented by movie stars” and even California governor, Ronald Reagan.

View of Coffee Dan’s

Although other Coffee Dan’s in Southern California were designed with a Polynesian theme, the subject resource which housed both Coffee Dan’s and the Flying Bridge, was designed to mimic a ship. This ship theme was the overall design element inside and out. Even the name of the restaurant “Flying Bridge” is a nautical term for the open area of a ship which provides unobstructed views.

The restaurant was designed by Tom Hayward, an architect of note. The zigzag wall and saw tooth roofline on the east facing façade were distinctive features in other similar coffee shops in the Los Angeles area and could also be attributed as “Googie.” Googie architecture can be recognized by several design elements, which include cantilevered roofs, sharp angular or eccentric shapes that are built to resemble a specific object like a space rocket, and in this building’s case, a ship. 

1963 ad for Coffee Dan’s depicting restaurant building

The Flying Bridge Restaurant was a trendy local spot for years. The banquet room hosted events for a variety of businesses and organizations. By the 1980s it was a popular spot for singles clubs.

The Bridge Motor Inn of San Luis Rey marquee and a view of the restaurant building in 1979.

In 1999 Jack McCabe gave the aging restaurant a $200,000 “facelift” reopening the coffee shop which had been temporarily closed and revamping the restaurant’s interior. For a brief time, it was even renamed McCabe’s Bridge Restaurant.

1999 ad McCabe’s “Bridge Restaurant

By 2001 the restaurant had changed hands to Patti and Dan Cannon and Jan and Ron DesRosier. The owners implemented “fundraising meals” which featured all-you-can-eat spaghetti and/or pizza for $8.50 to help non-profits and others with fundraisers. It was so successful the owners of the Flying Bridge were nominated and won KGTV Channel 10’s award for “Leaders of San Diego.”

In 2008 the restaurant closed, awaiting a new hotel development of the property which at the time seemed imminent. For the last fourteen years the restaurant at its prominent position near the north end of Oceanside was left to decay. Vandalized and boarded up the end was near, but it’s still a bit of shock to see a pile of rubble where once stood the Flying Bridge.

10 thoughts on “End of an Era – The Flying Bridge (and Coffee Dan’s)

  1. I remember eating at the restaurant in its last iteration.
    As a young Marine in the late 70s, along with one or two others would rent a room at the motel and drink beer and watch TV. Not very good reception out in the Outer Camps back in the day.

    Too bad. But it was becoming an eyesore. Now some new generic development, I’m sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s sooo sad. I worked there for 8 years (for both Jack McCabe and for Dan Cannon). I even worked at McCabes Beach Club as well. I can’t believe the Flying Bridge is gone. I’m still friends with some of the employees from there. It will forever miss this place. 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great story. The one thing I don’t understand in the timeline is that when I was about 6 or 7 years old which would have been in the early fifties, my parents took me there for dinner for my birthday. I had my new Betsy Wetsy doll with me, and it was a super special time. Wasn’t there a restaurant there around 1951?

    Liked by 1 person

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