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.

Ownership of the building changed hands again until about 2009 when it was purchased by the current owner, who has maintained this gem of a building. 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.