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.

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.

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

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 Bunker House – A Building With a Past

The Bunker House located at 322 North Cleveland Street was first owned in 1886 by Theodore C. Bunker. This two-story building is one of the first brick buildings in Oceanside and one of three brick buildings built in the 1880’s which are still standing.

The Bunker family arrived from Los Angeles and operated a store on the first floor and a boarding house on the second. Bunker also owned a single-story wooden structure next door, which served as a meat market. The Bunker House was used as a meeting hall as well as for dances and church services. 

After Bunker’s death in 1892, Ysidora Bandini Couts, wife of Col. Cave J. Couts, held the mortgage on the building and retained ownership.  The local newspaper reported that Katherine Mebach purchased the building in 1896. 

Frederick Rieke bought the brick building in 1904. Rieke was a general contractor and built many homes and buildings in Oceanside, including the house located on the same block at 312 North Cleveland Street. 

In 1923 the building was sold to by H. J. Crawford and it was subsequently deeded to two other members of his family: Thomas J. Crawford, and then to Samuel J. Crawford, a prominent attorney in Los Angeles who maintained ownership until 1945 when it was sold to George Edmond Haddox of Los Angeles. 

Renamed the American Hotel in 1943, the building, which continued to serve as a boarding house, developed a rather “seedy reputation”. Longtime residents recalled as children they were forbidden to visit or linger near the building and its use by prostitutes rampantly rumored.

Those rumors were in fact true. Audrey Wetta, a 36 year old married woman from Louisiana, became the manager of the American Hotel in about 1945. She was arrested in December of 1946 for operating “a house of ill fame, and with prostitution.” During her trial Helen E. Shepherd was called to the stand and testified that she arrived in Oceanside in June of 1946 to visit her husband who was apparently stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. She returned to Oceanside “at the suggestion of Mrs. Wetta in December, where she entertained men for pay at the American Hotel, and part of the pay went to Mrs. Wetta.”

Adeline Vincenzo also testified, stating that she too worked at the hotel “entertaining men” until late December of 1946, when the Oceanside Police Department arrested Audrey Wetta.

Police Captain Harold Davis testified that they had been notified from the Marine MP station in regard to the activities at the hotel. Captain Guy Woodward then submitted reports to the court from the San Diego county health department, “which showed they had on file two reports of VD infection, alleged to have originated from the hotel.”

Harold Davis and Guy Woodward of the Oceanside Police Department (1940)

Audrey Wetta did not deny her role as a Madam or even as a prostitute herself. She testified that “she believed correctly managed ‘houses’ were a service to men, as she had noted when she was employed in a hospital that 84 percent of the girls men picked up for immoral purposes transmitted a social disease to the men, while only four percent of the cases came from girls who were recognized prostitutes.”

Wetta told Judge D. A. Parson, “the first time she allowed her hotel to be used for illegal purposes was when a young Marine returned from a year and a half overseas to find the girl to whom he was engaged was going to marry someone else. In remorse he approached Mrs. Wetta and she arranged for a young wife in the hotel, who was in need of $10, to ‘entertain’ the remorseful Marine.”

She went on to say that after military personnel at Camp Pendleton diminished, so did her income. Wetta was $20 short in her monthly rent, and had “decided to entertain two men at $15 each, $10 of which was to go to a marine bringing the men to her, in order to raise the $20.”

After hearing her testimony, Judge Parsons sentenced Audrey Wetta to a year in the county jail.

Owner George Edward Haddox sold the hotel one week later to Ralph and Ella Rogers who promptly renamed their establishment the Traveler’s Hotel (as listed in phone directories) or Hotel Travelers (painted on building).

Rogers opened Rogers Music Co., also known as Rogers Phonograph Service, on the lower level and maintained the boarding house on the second floor.

1968 Ad for Rogers’ Phonograph Service

In 1959, Ella Rogers operated Gale’s Café near the Oceanside Pier at 300 1/2 North Strand, and in addition to his record store, Ralph Ross Rogers ran the Silver Dollar Tavern located at 312 Third Street (now Pier View Way). Rogers was described as “a goodhearted man who loved his parents dearly and was respected by many.”

Ralph Ross Rogers courtesy Ruby Rogers McCormick

True to its reputation, in 1962, there was a very public arrest at the Traveler’s, which made local papers and only solidified its reputation.  A young woman from Ohio, who had recently arrived in Oceanside, brought two 15 year old runaways from San Diego to the boarding house to exploit for prostitution. The girls told Oceanside Police Detective Floyd Flowers that they were to work in exchange for lodging, food and clothing.

Ella Rogers died in 1973, as Ralph continued to operate his music business while living in his building on Cleveland Street. On September 26, 1976 Ralph Rogers was found murdered at the Traveler’s Hotel, stabbed multiple times and strangled.

One month later an arrest was made. Joseph Shavon Whitaker, age 21, was arrested for not only Rogers’ murder, but that of William O. Clark’s in a San Diego hotel. Whitaker went to trial in 1977, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

After Rogers’ death the building was vacated and left to deteriorate. It seemed destined for the wrecking ball until it was purchased by realtor Chris Parsons in 1982. Parsons saw the potential in the weathered building and began its restoration.

While its reputation has been tainted with scandal, the building itself is nearly unchanged from when the Bunkers owned it over 130 years and provides historic charm and character to Downtown Oceanside.