The History of the George P. McKay Building

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George Parker McKay, a native of Oakland, California, and born in 1860, came to Oceanside in 1892 with his wife Mary Catherine. She was born in Germany, and was the daughter of Bernard Mebach, another early pioneer of Oceanside. The McKay, Mebach and Pieper families of Oceanside were intertwined in marriage and their German heritage kept them a tight-knit family.

In 1893 the George and Mary McKay opened a store on the corner of Cleveland and Second Street (Mission Avenue) which they operated for nearly 15 years. Along with selling a variety of goods and sporting equipment, they offered cigars, tobacco and ice cream.

Mary and George McKay (center) stand at their original store located on the northeast corner of
Cleveland and Second Streets (Mission Avenue) in 1904

George was an avid hunter and sportsman and was appointed “Official Weigher for the Southern California Rod and Reel Club.”

George P. McKay, third from left, with others in a local shooting competition.

Active in the community, George McKay was a charter member of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce which formed in 1896. Both he and his wife helped to promote and raise funds for Oceanside’s second pier. Mary McKay sold tickets to charity events at the Oceanside Opera House, the proceeds of which were donated to the pier fund.

The couple purchased a lot on the northeast corner of Cleveland and Third Streets (renamed Pier View Way) in 1907. Frederick W. Rieke, a local contractor, was hired to begin construction of a two-story new building.

The September 7, 1907  OCEANSIDE BLADE reported: The foundation was laid this week for a store building which is to be built for Geo. P. McKay, on his property on the corner of Third and Cleveland streets.  The building will be of two stories with a frontage of 60 feet on Third and 34 on Cleveland.  The lower floor will consist of a large storeroom and a smaller room for a soda and ice cream parlor.  Above will be living apartments comprising four rooms and a bath.  The building will be a combination of frame and brick of solid construction and with an attractive front.  F. W. Rieke has the contract for the construction.

The George P. McKay building, opened in 1908, northeast corner of Cleveland and Third Streets (Pier View Way)

The following year George and Catherine McKay moved into their new building which they occupied for the next eleven years. They sold everything from firearms to cameras, candies, phonographs, dry goods and souvenirs. George P. McKay was also a photographer and took several images of Oceanside and the San Luis Rey Valley which were published as popular postcards.

Interior of the McKay Store, George and Mary to the right.

In 1919, the McKays sold their building and its stock to Grove S. and Catherine DeLine of Los Angeles.  The couple planned to vacation in the mountains “for the benefit of Mrs. McKay’s health” but she died just a few months later and was buried at the Mission San Luis Rey cemetery. George McKay died in 1937 and was buried in Oceanview Cemetery and his gravemarker denotes that he was a “Native Son of the Golden West.”

The McKay building was renamed DeLine’s Variety Store which sold household items including dishes, stationery, notions and small appliances and a portion of the building rented out as a shoe repair.

Ad for Deline’s Variety Store in 1923, Oceanside Blade

In 1925 Thomas M. Johnson of Pasadena purchased the Deline’s business, stock and fixtures and entered into “a long lease on the building.” Johnson announced that he would specialize in “fishing tackle, sporting goods and stationery lines.”

Grove DeLine and his family returned to Los Angeles in 1928 and sold the building in to Ernest J. Van Vleet. Van Vleet (sometimes misspelled as Van Fleet) had settled in Fresno, California where he made a living as a farmer. He and his wife Ione had four children.

The Van Vleet family moved to Oceanside and for a brief time lived on the second floor. While the VanVleet’s maintained ownership of the building, they rented it out and in 1932 and the building became the new location for the Oceanside Radio Service. In the mid 1930’s the building occupied a restaurant and later a dress shop.

Madame Marie, a fortune teller, rented a room or suite in the building and did readings every day, advertising in the local paper that she answered “all questions.” 

The building was used as a café in the 1930s.

In 1945 the Van Vleet’s transferred title to their daughter Georgia B. Recek. Recek maintained ownership of the building for five decades. Georgia was a member of the First Christian Church of Oceanside and lived on Mission Avenue. She was known for her generosity and opened her home to several people over the 35 years she lived in Oceanside.

By 1948 the building was occupied by City Cleaners, a dry-cleaning business, operated by Alonzo Adams. This long-running business continued through the 1980s. But by then the beauty and of George McKay’s building had long faded and along with many buildings in downtown Oceanside had become an eyesore.

The McKay building in about 1991.

However, the McKay building was purchased by a new owner and in 1994 underwent a renovation and restoration. For about a year it was occupied by the Waterman Surf Art Gallery co-owned by Tom Glenn and Marcie Hintz.

In about 1999 the building was used as a beauty shop called “Talk of the Town” which leased the building in the early 2000’s.

Pier View Coffee in 2019

For the past several years it has been a favorite spot for coffee lovers known as Pier View Coffee. The George P. McKay building has weathered a lot of change over its 114+ year history. Its in the heart of downtown Oceanside, surround by both old and new architecture, and has kept its historic look and feel.

The Story of the North Oceanside School, 1951-1968

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For many years Oceanside’s early school system was a modest one, serving a population of just 3,500. In a ten year period the population increased by just 30 percent to 4,600 in 1940. But with the establishment of a large military training base to the north in 1942, Oceanside would face a population explosion that would take years to catch up in order to provide adequate housing and services.

With an estimated 5,000 civilians arriving to construct barracks, a hospital, and training facilities, and soon after 20,000 Marines to train at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside was inundated with people looking for housing. While most military personnel were being trained for war and being shipped off, many still came with their families. Oceanside was not prepared to meet such a large influx of people and with such an expansive military base to develop even after World War II, the population growth did not level off, but continued to increase.

In 1940 there was just over 600 students enrolled in Oceanside elementary schools, that number nearly doubled by 1946 and classrooms were bursting at the seams. By 1952, in six years time, the enrollment had grown nearly 200 percent with 3,602 students. The average annual increase was about 238 children per year.

Sterling Homes opened in 1945 on Mission Avenue, east of Archer Street.

Federal housing units, which opened in 1945 within city limits known as Sterling Homes, provided 668 housing units to military families. Schools classes had double sessions to accommodate children. That year the school district entered into an agreement to use buildings on Mission Avenue east of present day Canyon Drive, from a wartime Guayule project. For several years, this makeshift school known as Mission Road School was utilized for children living in Sterling Homes and the Eastside neighborhood.

A new school in South Oceanside and one on South Ditmar Street were built but more were needed. The district did not have the financial means to acquire land, hire architects and contracts for building.

In June of 1949 the school district received tentative approval of $253,614 for a building program, which was just a fraction of its $800,000 request to the State.

Portion of 1956 map, showing location of North Oceanside School off of North Ditmar Street.

That September planned construction of a new North Oceanside elementary school was announced. Land was located in the Clements Addition of Oceanside, at the 900 block of North Ditmar Street. The new school would have a kindergarten and six rooms and would serve the downtown population north of Mission Avenue, families living in North Oceanside Terrace, and the Homojo housing project near Camp Pendleton’s main gate. 

By January of 1950 the plans for the North Oceanside School were in the state architect’s office for approval. The City council closed parts of 9th street, 10th street, Ditmar and alleys “in order to make the site of the future North Oceanside School into one contiguous property.”

Kindergarten class at North Oceanside school, June 1951

Grading and construction took a little under a year and in March of 1951 an open house was held at the new school. Described as “airy” and the “best in modern schoolhouse planning” the North Oceanside School featured “large window areas and a rambling design”  which took “fullest advantage of California’s sunny climate and give the students a feeling of going to school outdoors rather than in the confines of a classroom.”

This aerial in 1965 captures just a glimpse of North Oceanside School in upper left hand corner.

“This new building in some ways is the finest of the group [of new schools],” Superintendent Stewart White stated in a letter to parents. One “innovation” was the classroom seating, “by grouping around tables rather than lining up in the traditional straight rows.”  

Even though the school year was nearly over, the need for additional classroom space was immediate. Students attending the overcrowded South Oceanside and Ditmar schools were sent to the North Oceanside School.

Delia Ernest, Principal of North Oceanside School from 1951 to 1957.

The principal of Oceanside’s newest school was Delia E. Ernst. Teachers were:  Mrs. Gladys Schrock, kindergarten; Miss Ernst, first grade; Mrs. Gladys Edwards, second grade; Mrs. Nancy McGlynn, third grade; Miss Catherine Cloyd, fourth grade; Mrs. Frances Houts, fifth grade, and Mrs. Irene Hill, sixth grade.

North Oceanside School’s 1st grade class in 1964

Just one month later the newly opened school was at capacity. Additional classrooms were to be added but funding was again the issue.

Due to the fact that so many of the students were from military families, the school district qualified for federal aid. In 1953 the then Oceanside-Libby School District received a whopping “7 percent of all federal funds allocated within the United States for school construction.’’

North Oceanside Kindergarten Classroom in 1959

By 1954 the North Oceanside School was so full that 6th graders were sent to the old Horne Street School near the high school. In June the district received funds needed to add another kindergarten, four classrooms and a multipurpose room to North Oceanside.

Expansion begun in September 1954 with the addition of four classrooms, one kindergarten room and a multipurpose room, which allowed for cafeteria service and “extra activities, indoor ‘rainy day’ playroom, assemblies and community functions after school hours.”

After completion, the North Oceanside School had a total of 10 classrooms and two kindergartens, which was reported to be “the maximum teaching space allowed for the 4.41 acre site.” Superintendent Ben F. Fugate said the expansion provided a capacity “of around 400 students, although the facilities could handle 450 if the need were urgent.”

That school year the district announced the school zones and bus schedules. The boundaries of each were listed as follows in the Oceanside Blade Tribune: 

  • South Oceanside School area includes all children south of the lagoon and of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Escondido Spur of the railroad (same as last fall).
  • All children living north of Second street; west of the freeway and south of the San Luis Rey River will attend North Oceanside School, except those in the new housing areas named above.
  • Mission Elementary School area will include all children living east of the freeway; north of the AT&SF Escondido Spur, and south of the San Luis Rey River.
  • Attending Horne Street School will be all children living south of Second Street; north of Elm, Washington and Minnesota (east of Grant Street) and west of the freeway.
  • Ditmar children will be all those living north of the lagoon and the AT&SF Escondido Spur; south of Elm, Washington and Minnesota (east of Grant Street) and west of the freeway.
  • The new Jefferson Junior High area will include all seventh and eighth graders of the district. Jefferson Junior High School is located at the corner of Acacia and Poplar Streets north of Mission Elementary School.
  • Children living in the Oceanside portion of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton should enroll at the Horne Street School, except seventh and eighth graders who will go to Jefferson Junior High.

In less than four years three additional schools had been built, but three older ones had been deemed unfit and were abandoned as instructional sites. Funds and resources were continually stretched to the limit and the Superintendent shared that “throughout the construction program the school district has been living on a hand-to-mouth, day-to-day basis” in order to serve the student population.  Rising enrollment resulted in the need for one new school each year. “We continue to hope for a leveling off in our rate of growth” the superintendent declared “but so far it hasn’t come.”

North Oceanside School Kindergarten Classroom 2, in 1963

Despite its additional classroom space, in 1955 the North Oceanside School had to send 38 6th graders to the Ditmar School. In addition, North Oceanside had 94 kindergartners divided between just two rooms; three 1st grade classes of 27 students; three 2nd grade classes of 30 students; and two 3rd grades with 36 students. One 4th grade class had 38 students and a 4th/5th combination of 36; lastly, the 5th grade class had a total of 38 students.  

In 1957 Joseph M. Trotter, Jr. was named the new principal for North Oceanside School, replacing Delia (Ernst) Larson. Trotter was a graduate of Oceanside-Carlsbad High School, studied at UCLA and San Diego State College, and had been a teacher in the Horne Street School.  

Aerial view of the North Oceanside School in 1962

School capacity was somewhat stabilizing with the continued building of new schools including what was then called the Laurel Street School, a new Mission Elementary and the North Terrace School. Homojo housing, which contained nearly 300 units near the Main Gate and relied heavily on the North Oceanside School, was removed altogether.

North Oceanside 3rd Grade class in 1966

But the school’s days were numbered. In 1965 it was announced that the property upon which the North Oceanside stood would soon be part of a “main interchange” connecting the I-5 with Hill Street (Coast Highway). The school district mourned the loss of the needed classrooms but remained hopeful that they could use the school through June of 1968.

From the Oceanside Blade Tribune in 1965

In 1966 a bleak outlook on the school was published, in contrast to just 15 years prior when the school was lauded. Larry Layton, North Oceanside’s last school principal, described his students as often neglected and that “they come to us with scratches” which was the startling headline in the Oceanside Blade Tribune.

The school of 422 students was a diverse one. “We have every color and race under the sun at our school and it is our source of strength, as well as a good lesson in democracy,” Layton said. But the turnover rate was unprecedented. “In one year there were only two of the original 33 left at the end of the semester in one class,” he remarked.

North Oceanside School, 5th Grade in 1967

Layton went on to list the challenges facing the students: “Eighty of the fathers of our children are in Vietnam. Four fathers have been killed. Many of the children come from broken homes. For one out of every four students at North Oceanside there is no father in the house. They come to us with scratches you can’t even see and we put bandages on them.”

1969 aerial shows beginning of demolition of the school buildings

By 1968 the North Oceanside School was vacated and the following year the original building was removed. Freeway construction crews used a portion of the school that remained as offices.

In 1971 the State Division of Highways put the former school site up for auction. The minimum opening bid was $40,000 for the 41,818 square foot parcel. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that “the surplus land and several buildings are all that remain of the old school site after redesign and construction of the interchange at Hill Street and Interstate Five.”

Aerial photos reveal what was left of the school was gone by the mid 1970s.

The North Oceanside School was in use for just seventeen years, compared to several schools in the district which have been in use for 5 to 7 decades. With such a short lifespan, it is no wonder some are unaware of its existence but for those who attended North Oceanside, it is an indelible part of their childhood memories.

History of the First South Oceanside School

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South Oceanside is a popular neighborhood referred by locals as “South O”, but more than just a neighborhood, it was once a township, separate from Oceanside. Annexed by the City of Oceanside in 1890, the boundaries are near Morse Street to the north and to the lagoon to the south, and goes as far east as Hunsaker Street. In 1949 two of the original street names were changed: Osuna to Nevada, and Estudillo to Clementine. Vista Way was originally named Wall Street which was changed in 1927.

Map of South Oceanside, 1887

In the 1880’s the unincorporated area was largely owned by John Chauncey Hayes. Born in Los Angeles in 1852, Hayes was the son of Benjamin R. Hayes, an attorney and noted California historian. J. Chauncey Hayes graduated from Santa Clara College, then studied law with his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1877.  He settled in the San Luis Rey Valley and served as justice of the peace.  

John Chauncey Hayes

In 1887 Hayes established South Oceanside which at one time had its own bank, depot, school, cemetery, and several buildings made of bricks at a brickyard near Kelly and Ditmar Streets. He also published his own newspaper, the South Oceanside Diamond.

Hayes petitioned the County Board of Supervisors in 1888 to form the South Oceanside School District, which was granted. The following year the district voted and approved a new $3,000 school building.

The South Oceanside School House, 1889

In August of 1889 the contract to build the school house was given to W. E. Damron to build a two story brick building at a cost of $1,600. The wood work and painting was given to R. C. Mills for $1,070. The South Oceanside Diamond reported that the work had already begun and that work would be completed in sixty day. The school was located on Block 41 near the southeast corner of Whaley and Ditmar Streets.

A census taken in 1891 reported that 43 children were living in the South Oceanside School District which would have included a portion of Carlsbad. One of the earliest teachers was a Mrs. Roberts, who resided in Los Angeles but would come down for the school year. Students were taught up to the 8th grade and then went on to high school in Oceanside.

T. V. Dodd, an educator at South Oceanside

Thomas V.  Dodd, also taught at South Oceanside in the 1890s. He was a superintendent of schools in Madison, Indiana for many years. After coming to Oceanside he taught at several schools in San Diego County and later taught science at the Oceanside high school.

Lillie V. Deering was then hired to teach at the South Oceanside School. But the school was open and closed during the school year at various times, likely due to lack of attendance. South Oceanside was not heavily populated and it is likely that families sent their children to the Oceanside grammar school on Horne Street. In September of 1900 it was announced that the school would close for a few months, with no explanation.

In 1901 Mrs. Clewett was announced as the new teacher, but was replaced by Miss Alice Martin two months later. In 1902 the Ocanside Blade reported the school had a “daily attendance of 18.” In 1904 the school reported 14 students.

Isabel S. Kennedy of Del Mar was hired as teacher of the school in 1906. At the time there were just 9 pupils. The following year Mary E. Clark was employed as teacher of the South Oceanside School.

In 1909 Joseph George Martin of Fallbrook was hired to teach at South Oceanside. A native of Ireland, Martin came to San Diego County in 1877 and had taught for nearly 30 years in and around Fallbrook. In June of that year one student, Nora Marron, graduated from the Eighth grade. The Blade reported that “Prof. Martin, who has had charge of the South Oceanside School, is a faithful and experienced teacher and the pupils do good work under his guidance.”

Martin continued to teach another four years at South Oceanside. In 1913 three students graduated from 8th grade: McKinley Hayes, May A. Birchley and Emma Billick.

However, the following school year the school was “suspended”. It seems there were just a handful of students and many area residents thought students should attend larger schools in Oceanside or Carlsbad. It is unknown if school resumed that year but it was opened again in 1914 with Josefa Elena Jascen as teacher. In February of 1915 the school was closed for one month due to a lack of funds.

Jascen retuned the following school year and the local paper reported “a good attendance” of pupils which included Teresa and Cecilia Marron, Victoria Murrietta, Margarita, Harvey and Herminia Jascen, Morea Foster, Edgar and Irma Spaulding, Thomas Warson, Barbara Libby, Clifford Cole and Madalera Foussat.

The South Oceanside School after it had been dismantled and rebuilt in 1916. Windows and appear to be the same as original schoolhouse. Students pose with teachers, one of whom is Josefa Elena Jacsen.

Irma Spaulding attended the school between 1915 and 1920. Her family moved to South Oceanside in 1912 and operated a dairy farm. Irma’s father, Warren E. Spaulding, along with Earl Frazee, were Trustees of the school at the time.

In 1916 the school needed repairs, and a tax was approved in which to raise $249 for repairs. By August of that year it was reported by the Oceanside Register that “the work of improvements on the South Oceanside school building has been completed and school will be opened by Miss Josephine Jascen in a few days.”

Irma Spaulding said in an interview decades later that her father had dismantled the second story of the school. So it was likely then the school went from a large two story building to a smaller single story one.

Students pose on steps of the South Oceanside School, circa 1919

The school was probably permanently closed by 1924 and what remained of the school building was either sold and moved, or dismantled altogether. 

Today the only South Oceanside School anyone remembers is the one located at Horne and Cassidy Streets. Construction began in 1947 and it opened the following year, initially only offering classes for kindergarten through the 3rd grade.

The corner lot where the original school sat at Ditmar and Whaley Streets remained vacant for years until 1949, when the South Oceanside Community Methodist Church began construction for their new church building. As work commenced the brick foundation for this historic school was discovered.                                                                               

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.

History of the “Top Gun” House

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Oceanside has several notable landmarks including the Pier and the historic Mission San Luis Rey.  However, one of the most notable and beloved landmarks is what we know as the “Top Gun” House. It has been newly restored, in all its Victorian-detailed glory, nestled within a new oceanfront resort on North Pacific Street.  

Sarah and Henry Graves pose in front of their newly built cottage in 1888. Note the train depot to the left and the small house located behind the property to the right. (photo courtesy Save Our Heritage Organization)

To tell the story of the “Top Gun” house, we need to go back to the earliest days of Oceanside. Andrew Jackson Myers, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley, noted that a railroad line had just been completed Los Angeles to San Diego (by way of Riverside) along the Pacific coastline. Myers then applied for and received a land grant of 160 acres in 1883. The trains would travel directly over Myers’ new land grant making his property very valuable. 

That year, a town was surveyed, laid out and streets were named. Myers began advertising his new town in newspapers all over Southern California. This new town of Oceanside was touted as a new “resort city” and excursion trains brought prospective land buyers from the inland valleys.

The train stopped at a simple wooden platform to unload passengers. There wasn’t much to see in those very early years, but one of the first commercial blocks contained the Hayes Land Office, the Louis Billiard Hall and Mayroffer’s Saloon.

One of the earliest photos of Oceanside. Louis Billiard Hall and Hayes Land Office at Cleveland and Second Streets (present day Mission Avenue) circa 1885/86.

Visitors wishing to wade in the Pacific Oceanside could use the bathhouse built by Andrew Jackson Myers, just below the bluff on the beach (located where the current Beach Community Center now stands) which afforded beach goers the opportunity to change into their bathing attire.     

Andrew Jackson Myers’ bathhouse located on the beach north of the present day pier, 1880s

Described as a “seaside resort” in brochures and pamphlets, interest in the new town was great. With a name like “Oceanside” there was truth in advertising.  In August of 1886 the San Diego Union published a story about our development, “The location is a most desirable one, combining a magnificent beach, high and level ground for a town site, magnificent climate and charming scenery.

The trains came from Los Angeles to Oceanside via Colton and passengers came to Oceanside as early as 1883 and 1884 to inspect the burgeoning town and invest in ocean and beach front real estate. Many residents of Riverside, Redlands and San Bernardino purchased property in Oceanside and built vacation homes here. 

View of Oceanside, looking east. Circa 1889

In 1886 Dr. Henry Graves of Riverside came to Oceanside and while here bought a portion of a lot on North Pacific Street for just $1.00.  The following year Graves purchased two more lots, one of which was on the northwest corner of Pacific and First Streets (now Seagaze Drive). Lot 7 on Block 16 was purchased for $1050.00 and would be the site of new summer home for himself and his wife Sarah.

Henry Graves was born in Coshocton, Ohio on February 10, 1827. He attended medical school in Iowa, and later moved to Middleport, Illinois where he opened a practice in 1857. By 1860 Henry had married his wife Sarah, who was born in 1833, and was also a native of Ohio. The two were living in Hiawatha, Kansas and lived in house on Kickapoo Street. In 1868, Sarah Graves gave birth to a son, Henry E. Graves.

Graves was Post Surgeon at the Whetsone Indian Agency in 1871 as well as the Spotted Tail Agency in Sheridan County, Nebraska in 1871. The latter agency was the first to be constructed within the Great Sioux Reservation established by a treaty in 1868 and was named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail.

Returning to Hiawatha, Graves was appointed postmaster in1875 and operated a drugstore. In 1879 Henry Graves was elected to the city council there and was appointed chairman of the Republicans of Brown County committee. In 1883, Henry and Sarah Graves left Hiawatha, Kansas, and moved to Riverside, California where they purchased a ranch on Brockton Avenue. He continued his medical practice there but also engaged in citrus farming.

The Graves house was built in 1888. From the South Oceanside Diamond, November 2, 1888

Dr. Graves undoubtedly read of Oceanside in the local papers where the excursion trips were posted and after making a trip of his own, was sold on the newly established town. Several months after purchasing his oceanfront lot atop Pacific Street, Graves had a home built. The South Oceanside Diamond reported on November 2, 1888:  “Dr. Grave’s house, under the skillful management of Ed. Durgan is nearing completion.” (Note: It has been erroneously reported for a number of years that the house was built in 1887.)

The ornate Victorian cottage was built as a vacation home, Dr. and Mrs. Graves would “summer” in Oceanside and return to Riverside.  The local paper described it is “their annual vacation by the seaside.” The couple continued to visit Oceanside each year. In 1904 they had an extended stay as the Oceanside Blade reported on May 21, 1904: “Dr. and Mrs. Henry Graves [are] down from Riverside and will remain in their cottage by the seaside until October.”

The Graves’ cottage in about 1892

The Graves sold their Oceanside home in March of 1905 for $1800, to Charles H. and Lillian Burlock. Dr. Henry Graves died on October 20, 1905, in Riverside at the age of 78.

Charles Burlock was appointed deputy constable in 1897 by Benjamin Franklin Hubbert. Burlock married Lilian Wilcox in 1899 and moved to San Diego where he was the manager of the San Diego Gold Mining and Milling Company.  The Burlocks sold the house to J. F. Anderson, and it was then transferred to Southwestern Realty in 1910. But even as late as 1914, locals continued to refer to the house at the “Graves’ cottage” because of its longtime association with Dr. and Mrs. Graves.

In 1921 the home was purchased by F. C. Janssen who was active in Oceanside real estate. The cottage was sold in 1926 to B. C. and Margaret Beers, the former being the President of the First National Bank of Oceanside and the developer of the Plumosa Heights subdivision on Alberta, Leonard and West Streets.

The Graves house with enclosed side porch. Circa 1940s.

The cottage was sold again to Edward and Edith Deggendorf in 1928, who promptly sold it to Angeline G. Morgan who also purchased a house and lot behind the Graves house on Lot 6. Born Angeline Elizabeth Gregory in 1889, she was a native of Topeka Kansas. She moved to San Bernardino, California in about 1904 with her parents Merritt and Ruth Gregory. In 1917 Angelina was married to Alfred Powell Morgan of New York City, but the marriage was short-lived, although the union produced a son, William Merritt.

Angeline Morgan enlarged the former Graves cottage in 1929. She rented out the house until 1936 when she came to live there herself for a period of about five or six years until returning to San Bernardino to be nearer to her son. She relocated again by 1950 and her son, William M. Morgan, rented the house to the rear (112 First Street) for he and his family.

The house located at 112 First Street (Seagaze Drive) was enlarged by Angeline Morgan. She used it as a rental for years. It was used for many of the Oceanside scenes in the “Top Gun” movie. Photo taken in 1992.

By 1966 Morgan had moved to Encinitas and the cottage was purchased by the owner of the beach amusement park, Pacific Holidayland. That year, Oceanside’s only oceanfront hotel, the Colonial Inn, was torn down. It had been built as the El San Luis Rey in 1904. Plans were to build a new resort hotel which never came to fruition. For six decades Oceanside went without a resort property, although in 2007 the Wyndham (which is a timeshare) and in 2013 the Springhill Marriot were built. What is a resort city without a resort hotel?

The Graves house reverted again to a rental property and over the years became dilapidated. Lynn and William Rego of West Covina, however, saw a diamond in the rough, and purchased the house in December of 1975 for $75,000. Much like Dr. and Mrs. Graves, they spent their summers in Oceanside looking over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and renting it out the remainder of the year.

Top Gun house, 1992

For over 90 years the house had been painted in dark hues, which is discernible even when viewing the house in black and white photos. Years ago, the original brown color was revealed in paint scrapings.  It was the Regos who painted the house its signature blue color that most remember. Little did they know that Hollywood would notice their little blue Victorian cottage by the sea.

Actress Kelly McGills far left, with Don Simpson, Jerry Bruckheimer and Tony Scott during filming of Top Gun June 27, 1985.

In 1985 the Regos were contacted by Paramount Pictures looking for a beach cottage for a film location. Paramount rented the house (including the property at 112 First Street) in June for two weeks. The crew prepped the perimeter of the property by removing parking and street signs and covering the curbs with sand.  The movie being filmed was “Top Gun”, which became a blockbuster upon its release in 1986.

A candid scene with Kelly McGillis and Tom Cruise, June 27, 1985 while filming at the Top Gun House

The movie made Tom Cruise a household name and the iconic scene of Maverick riding his motorcycle on palm-lined Pacific Street in Oceanside is every local’s favorite. Certainly, for Oceansiders some of the most memorable scenes of the movie “Top Gun” were filmed at the Victorian cottage, which was the featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, flight instructor Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis.

The house at 112 First Street (Seagaze Drive) behind the Top Gun house being prepped for filming, June 1985.

Thereafter, it would forever be Oceanside’s “Top Gun” house. Fans of the movie from all over the world flocked to have their photo taken in front of the iconic house and stand on the porch.

In 1992 the Graves house was included in a Cultural Resource Survey prepared by S. Kathleen Flanigan along with Susan and Richard Carrico. This survey is an extensive list of homes and buildings eligible for historic register.  It was noted that the house at 102 North Pacific Street was “one of the few 1880s beach cottages remaining in near-pristine condition.”

Tom Cruise poses on motorcycle with member of the film crew, June 27, 1985

In 2001 the City of Oceanside acquired the Graves house through eminent domain to control future development of the oceanfront block in hopes of securing a resort project. Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) recognized the significance of the Graves house in 2001 and included it on their Most Endangered List of Historic Resources, saying: “This sweet Victorian era seaside cottage was built for Doctor Graves from Riverside. It is the oldest and last best beachfront cottage in Oceanside. Featured in the movie Top Gun, it has consequently been known as the Top Gun Cottage. The site is threatened by the huge hotel development proposed by Manchester Resort Hotels and the City of Oceanside. The cottage is on a corner of the property and could easily be integrated into the development and used as an adjunct facility to the hotel. Right now, it appears it will be moved off site, out of context, with its use yet to be determined.”

Top Gun House side view. Note addition to the house made by Angeline Morgan years ago. Photo taken 1998

The Manchester project, a twelve-story, 475 room hotel failed, leaving Oceanside without its desired resort hotel overlooking the Oceanside Pier. However, two blocks fronting Pacific Street were cleared in anticipation of a new hotel project. Block 16 on which the Top Gun house was located, had four other historic homes. The house known as the Pishon house, located on the southwest corner of Mission and Pacific Streets was moved to a location on Maxson Street. Three other historic houses were demolished, including the house behind the Graves house, at 112 First Street (now Seagaze) which was used in the “Top Gun” movie.

Original fireplace and mantel in the Graves’ cottage

By 2010 the “Top Gun” house was the only structure remaining on the block and seemed to be in the “Danger Zone.” With the house vacant, members of the Oceanside Historical Society kept an eye on it for several years, reporting break-ins and other issues. Twice the organization helped to hoist the sagging porches, had it painted and erected a large sign to inform passersby about the historical significance of the house and to assure those concerned that the house would be restored. In 2009 a fence was put up around the property, which was necessary to protect the house from further intentional damage.

John Daley, left, works to help level side porch of the house in December 2013.

In 2018 S. D. Malkin Properties, Inc. announced two new resort projects by developer Jeremy Cohen. Many wondered what would become of the “Top Gun” house. With the support and influence of Save Our Heritage Organization and the Oceanside Historical Society, the Graves house aka “Top Gun” house would be restored by S. D. Malkin and used as the “centerpiece of Oceanside’s much anticipated new oceanfront resort.”

Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new hotels were held in February of 2019. The cottage was relocated one block away for structural restoration. Curious residents peeked through fencing to view its progress.

Top Gun House under reconstruction, April 2020

Afterward much of the work had been completed, it was moved one block north of its original location in front of the beautiful new Mission Pacific Hotel. The cottage is still situated on North Pacific Street, facing the ocean, which was important in preserving its historical integrity and setting. There was still work to be down to the cottage at its new location, but brief glimpses made way to a “full reveal” as it reemerged to its adoring fans. Architectural Digest reported: “Among the projects were restoring the wood cladding and front windows, dismantling the original chimney, and rebuilding it with the same historic bricks, and bringing back gingerbread details. Both porches had also been damaged and were restored.” Beautifully painted the cottage has been reborn and to borrow from the movie’s famous love song, it’s sure to take your “breath away.”

The beautifully restored Victorian Cottage known as the Top Gun house in 2022. (photo by Visit Oceanside)

The beloved “Top Gun” House celebrated its much-anticipated grand opening on May 20, 2022, as the home of the High-Pie Shop, which is filled with memorabilia from the hit movie. Just days later was the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. To the delight of movie fans, a replica motorcycle like the one Maverick rode on his iconic scene in Oceanside, was placed in front of the house Lines now form around the house to view the interior and purchase a pie. People pose on the front porch for selfies and group shots and pretend to be Maverick on his bike.

With two new beautiful hotels, Oceanside has regained or fulfilled its resort status, envisioned so many years ago by our founder Andrew Jackson Myers. The careful restoration of the historic Graves House, aka the “Top Gun” house is a crowning jewel on the oceanfront.  It is sure to hold a place in the hearts of locals as well as movie fans for many years to come.

The History of the Schuyler Building and a New Future as The Brick Hotel

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The Schuyler Building at 408 Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside is just one of a three surviving brick buildings erected in the 1880s. It was built a 133 years ago in 1888, likely with bricks made from the local brickyard in South Oceanside.

The building was originally owned by John Franklin Schuyler, who was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, July 2, 1836. According to a biography, Schuyler “received a common-school education” and “when sixteen years of age he went to learn the tinner’s trade, after which he worked as a journeyman in several of the western States. In 1858 he came to California, where he worked in several places, and returned to New York City in 1864.” 

Schuyler married Ann Frances Barlow in 1864 and they had three children: Mary, Frank B., and Wilton S., all born in Nebraska, where they resided until 1884, when the family moved to San Bernardino, California.

The Schuyler Building on Third Street (Pier View Way) in 1888

John and Ann Schuyler moved to Oceanside in 1887 and opened his first hardware business on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) which he purchased from Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. In 1888 Schuyler constructed the two-story brick building at 408 Third Street (now Pier View Way). The South Oceanside Diamond newspaper reported on March 30, 1888 that Schuyler was moving “into his new building on Third Street.” Canvas awnings were added to the building in October.

Originally built with just two stories, the first floor contained a hardware store, which sold “general hardware, cutlery, stoves and tinware, water pipes, water tanks, pumps, gasoline stoves, crockery, and glassware,” as well as plumbing. The second floor was used for a fraternal lodge as well as a community meeting room, and one time even housed Oceanside’s early library. 

Advertisement in 1888 in the South Oceanside Diamond Newspaper

A prominent and active citizen, Schuyler served on the first board of trustees when Oceanside incorporated, as well as President, a mayoral position in today’s terms.  He also served on the Oceanside’s volunteer Fire Department and erected a small building to store the city’s fire equipment. Schuyler was the founding member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Oceanside and his storefront also bore the lodge emblem which hosted the lodge meetings on the second floor. 

Schuyler building, far right circa 1900

John Schuyler died in 1907 and his death was announced in the Oceanside Blade:  Word was received on Friday, by the local Odd Fellow lodge, of the death of John Schuyler, a former well known resident of Oceanside and the organizer of the Oceanside I. O. O. F. Lodge. Mr. Schuyler was one of the prominent businessmen of Oceanside about twenty years ago, being the pioneer hardware merchant in this city, and active in the civic life of the town during his residence here. For the past ten years or so he had been making his home in Berkeley with his older son, Frank. He is survived by two sons. F. B. Schuyler of Berkeley, and Wilton S. Schuyler of St. Joseph Mo., and one daughter, Mrs. John Bond of Berkeley. The body will be brought to Oceanside, arriving Sunday, and interment will be made in the Odd Fellow cemetery beside Mrs. Schuyler who died about fifteen years ago. Services will be held under the auspices of the local lodge and will take place at the grave at noon, proceeding directly to the cemetery from the depot.”

Years before his death the Schuyler building was sold to John H. Buchanan, who in turn sold the property later that year to Peter J. Brannen. Brannen came from Los Angeles to Oceanside and continued operation of the hardware business. In 1905 he helped to form the First National Bank of Oceanside along with D. G. Harrington, C. J. Walker, and others. That year he remodeled the interior portions of the former Schuyler building and opened it as a boarding house.

The building was sold in 1913 to Oceanside resident Mary J. Walbridge. She leased the ground floor to Jack Taylor and Refugio Romo who opened a café. The second floor was leased to Refugio and his wife Madge Romo, and together they operated the “Romo boarding house” for several years.

In 1920, it was sold to James B. and Ella Kolb in 1920. James Kolb was the son of Jonathon and Frances Kolb, who first settled in Pala and later Fallbrook. The Kolb family had ties to Oceanside as early as 1884 and son Jesse Kolb established the Oceanside Garage on Hill Street. James and Ella Kolb sold the property to Thomas Russell Harriman of Pasadena in 1923.

The faded advertisement of Contreras & Gelpi grocery store was exposed after the stucco was removed

In late November of 1924 local grocers William Contreras and Carlos Gelpi rented the first-floor storeroom of the building. The Blade reported that the two businessmen had “bought the grocery line of L. W. Stump and will move the stock to the Romo building on Third street, where they will be open for business the first of the week. Mr. Contreras is well and popularly known as an employee of the Stump store for several years past and he and Mr. Gelpi are prepared to carry on the business in a manner that will win the approval of the public of Oceanside and this part of the county.” Contreras & Gelpi painted their names on the east side of the building, facing the alley.

Harriman dramatically altered the building in 1927 by lowering the ceiling to create a third floor as the Oceanside News reported: 

The Harriman building, adjoining The News office, an old landmark in the city, will soon be a modern building. The contract for remodeling the building was let to a contracting firm in Pasadena, where Mr. Harriman resides, and work was started with a vim Monday morning.

The brick building, which is now two-stories, will be made into a three-story building. The two upper floors will be made into a rooming and apartment house and will contain 22 rooms.  The ground floor occupied by Contreras & Gelpi, grocers, will be lowered to the street level and the old wooden floor will be replaced by a cement floor.  A handsome and modern front will be installed.

The grocery is doing business under difficulties during reconstruction. They have removed their stock of groceries, vegetables, etc. to the rear of the building and are using the alley entrance for their customers.  When the cement floor is placed in the front part, the stock will be moved back, while the rear part of the building is being reconstructed. When completed this will be one of the handsomest groceries in the Southland and the firm is more than glad to undergo grief to have a new storeroom.

A stairway leading to the upper floors will be constructed leading from the front on Third street. The cost of reconstruction is said to be $15,000. This building was one of the first brick blocks constructed in the city. It was a beauty in its day but is now hopelessly out of date. When reconstructed it will be one of the handsomest buildings in the city and one of the few three-story buildings.

View looking west on Third Street (Pier View Way) Hotel Tours to the right, circa 1930

After the building’s third story was added, the 2nd and 3rd floors became a 20-room hotel.  In 1928 the Hotel Tours was managed by Joseph and Julia Liggett. The Oceanside Blade made the announcement:

Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Liggett have furnished their new hotel Tours in a very attractive manner. By the help of Clyde Mullen of the Borden Furniture Store, the furniture of the twenty rooms is complete in every detail. The rooms are finished in green enamel prettily decorated and other rooms are furnished in walnut, making in all a pleasing homelike apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, who recently arrived from Denver, Colorado, were looking for a place in Southern California in which to go into business and selected Oceanside as it seemed a thriving growing town with an especially enjoyable climate. As another inducement, Mr. and Mrs. Liggett found old friends from Missouri, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Davis, owners of the Davis garage on Hill Street. The name Hotel Tours is the same as the hotel that the Liggett’s owned in Denver. Some of their guests were friends from Denver who stopped upon seeing a hotel with a familiar name and were surprised to greet old friends in the proprietors.

Dr. J. J. Willis, a chiropractor from Santa Ana, took over the management of the Hotel Tours in 1931. He also set up an office at the hotel to see patients, but his stay in Oceanside was a brief one.

In 1932 Robert and Jessie Dewitt briefly ran the hotel for two years, but then went on to open the DeWitt Hotel at 133 South Hill Street (Coast Highway), which was formerly the Keisker Hotel. It is likely that in the early to mid 1930s the brick exterior was covered in a block-patterned stucco, which dramatically changed the look of the building. In addition a fire escape was added to the front and rear of the building.

1934 advertisement from the Oceanside Blade Tribune

Oceanside jewelers Clay and Emma Jolliff moved their jewelry business from 511 Second Street (Mission Avenue) to 408 Third Street (Pier View Way). This too was a short-term venture, when in 1933, Harry and Pearl Crutcher leased the first floor, which was used a heating and sheet metal business. The Crutcher’s assumed the management of the hotel in 1934, advertising the rate of 75 cents and up for a “modern, clean, and refined” establishment near the beach.

Later that year the Hotel Tours was leased to Charles and Luella Cundiff, with Minnie Eckert as “hostess-manager.”  An ad was placed in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in October which read:

“WANTED GUESTS – Economize in comfort in a modem, comfortable room with free use of community kitchen and sun parlor; rates as low as 75 cents day, $3 week; room and private bath, $1.50. Hotel Tours, opp. Post office.”

View of second story hall and stairway in 2017

Harriman’s widow, Josephine, sold the building in 1941 to Berta Witzemann who in turn leased the hotel to sisters Teva and Katherine Ward and the name was changed was to the Avon Hotel.   Many of the guests and long-term tenants included military couples newly stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton.

The building with the stucco finish and fire escape, circa 1960s

W. Frank Richardson, a local commercial photographer, set up shop on the ground floor of the building for just over a decade. In 1952 the first floor of the Schuyler building was leased to Bill’s Military Store and later Big 7 Military Store, while the upper floors continued to operate as the Avon Hotel.

At least three fires were reported over a ten-year period, which were the result of a hotel guest or resident falling asleep while smoking. No injuries were reported as a result of these fires.

Saul and Sophie Collen purchased the brick building in 1970. Saul Collen operated a number of hamburger stands, amusements and other businesses in town. He raised eyebrows and made headlines in 1955 when he added a dancer at Archie’s Burgers at 211 North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported: “Something new in the technique of hamburger merchandising was inaugurated last night at Archie’s Burgers. The innovation was in the person of Jeanne Ford, a close-cropped blonde strip-tease who put on two shows on a small stage at the rear of the establishment for the benefit of the ground beef patrons. Oceanside police and Marine MPs were on hand to shoo the under-age leathernecks away and to see just how far Miss Ford went with her uncovering act. Officers reported that the management had the front window screened with canvas so that the floor show couldn’t be seen from the street.”

In 1975 the property was foreclosed upon. It appears that a retail or surplus store continued operation on the first floor, while the hotel ceased operations. Much of downtown Oceanside had become a blighted area and the Oceanside Planning Commission had noted in a 1977 report that “high and increased incidence of vice and violent crime in a concentrated section of approximately four square blocks bounded by First, Tremont, Third and Freeman Streets.” The Schuyler building was in the heart of this concentrated area.

View of the Schuyler building from the M. P. Station corner of North Tremont and Third (Pier View Way) 1985

In 1979 the building was sold to Edmond William Dominguez of Encinitas. Dominguez made alterations to the building in 1981, removing the fire escape, and changing out the windows of the front façade on the second and third floors. The building was painted in garish vertical stripes. In 1994 the property was conveyed to his niece, Marie Davies, owner of Pollos Maria restaurants in Oceanside and Carlsbad. The first floor operated as Jeanette’s Dry Cleaning and the second floor was used largely for storage.

The Schuyler building as Jeanette’s Dry Cleaning. Note covered windows.

The building seemed little more than an eyesore to many in the downtown area but in 2017 the Aldrich family purchased the former hotel with eyes to refurbishing and repurposing it as a boutique hotel. Thomas Aldrich, project manager and his sister Lauren Sweeton, hotel manager, are the great-great grandchildren of John and Jeanie Aldrich who came to Oceanside in 1926 from Connecticut. The early Aldrich’s purchased a large two-story house at 615 Second Street (now Mission Avenue), and opened a boarding house referred to as Aldrich Manor. 

The Aldrich Boarding House at 615 Second Street (Mission Avenue)

As renovation of the Schuyler building began, the stucco was painstakingly removed, slowly exposing the original brick exterior which had been hidden for decades. Emerging was the painted ad of grocers Contreras & Gelpi on the eastside of the building, along the roofline the faded words “Rooms”, harkening back to its day as a boarding house and hotel.

The Schuyler building in 2017

Historic names were considered but it seemed fitting to give it its own identity and the decision was made to call it “The Brick Hotel.”  The restoration became a rebuilding project that spanned a five-year period and included earthquake retrofitting which required building a modern steel structure inside of the existing brick walls. This was accomplished by hand digging underneath the brick in small sections to ensure the building wouldn’t collapse, then pouring concrete footings to attach the steel to support the brick wall from earthquakes.

The Aldrich family, in Oceanside nearly 100 years, continues their legacy and early roots in the hospitality business. Their collective vision for this building has transformed and revitalized the block on which it sits. When completed, it will be modernly updated, both inside and out while retaining much of its historic charm and character. The Brick Hotel will offer ten beautifully appointed suites, as well as a restaurant and oyster bar on the ground floor, and a rooftop bar providing panoramic views of the city.

Rebuilding from the inside out

John Schuyler would be pleased that his building has not only endured but has been reborn. As The Brick Hotel it will create its own history and leave its mark on Downtown Oceanside.

Newly retrofitted, The Brick Hotel will open in early 2022. Note the restored “Contreras and Gelpi” ad on the east side of building

Learn more about The Brick Hotel https://www.thebrickhotel.com/

History of the 101 Club aka The Main Attraction

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Oceanside’s infamous adult club is no more. Demolition crews have torn down the Main Attraction and surrounding buildings. While a strip club and its clientele may be a loss to some, an eyesore to most, and a curiosity to others, the building dates back to the early 1940s and has an association with some of the biggest acts in Country and Western music. 

Once owned by notable resident David Rorick, the two acre parcel of land had a small building fronting the west side of the coast highway. This building was leased or rented to William L. D. Hamilton and George A. Strahan, who operated Red and Bill’s Café. (Behind their café was a large vacant lot which was used for several years as a baseball field. It also served as the location for a traveling circus in the 1940s.)

“Bill” Hamilton and his wife Minnie lived in Los Angeles during the early years of the Depression, where Bill worked on the California Aqueduct as a cook. In 1935, Minnie Hamilton moved to Carlsbad to help take care of her ailing grandfather.  Bill soon followed and began working as a cook at the Bridge Café, located near the San Luis Rey River Bridge on Highway 101 north of Oceanside. 

Mary and George “Red” Strahan at the Red & Bill’s Cafe, 1940s

While Bill Hamilton was working at the Bridge Café, he met George “Red” Strahan. The two decided to go into business together and opened a café of their own. In 1946 Hamilton and Strahan purchased the land on which their restaurant stood at 939 North Hill Street. Their café was so successful, they opened another in Solana Beach.

In July of 1948, the partners sold their café property to John and Mary Vieszt, who just three years later, sold the property to R. G. Hunter, a resident of Vista. It was likely at this time the building at 939 North Hill/Coast Highway was substantially enlarged. On May 1, 1952, with George Duros as the new proprietor, “The Wheel” held its grand opening featuring The Valentines, an “all girl orchestra” as entertainment. The Wheel, soon to be renamed the “Wheel Club” served food and cocktails with live entertainment and dancing. No longer just a small café, it became a popular night spot on the Highway 101.

Newspaper ad from 1953

The nightclub was not without scandal. In 1956 its then manager Jerome Apelby was arrested for showing obscene material. Described in local newspapers as a coin-operated “peep hole moving picture machine featuring five pornographic movies”, it was confiscated by police on November 2nd. At a hearing the films were shown on a screen in a courtroom and deemed “not decent by any stretch of the imagination.” Apelby was found guilty, fined and given a suspended jail sentence. In response, the club was declared “out of bounds” by military personnel at Camp Pendleton. The Alcohol Beverage Control department revoked the alcohol license due to the conviction and owner R. G. Hunter foreclosed for failure to pay rent.

In 1957 Jimmie (sometimes spelled Jimmy) Brogdon began operating the Club. Jimmie Clarence Brogdon was born in 1929 in Hornersville, Missouri. He was the third child of Clarence and Mary Irene Brogdon. Jimmie’s father, a piano salesman, was murdered over a heated business dispute in 1933 when Jimmie was just 4 years old. Mary Irene Brogdon moved her four children to Southern California in the mid 1940’s, and Jimmie attended his senior year of high school in South Pasadena in 1947. 

1954 ad

Brogdon was living in Escondido in 1954 and it was there he played piano for the band “Hidden Valley Boys” at the Squeaky’s El Patio. The band played at the Wheel Club in September of 1954 and by 1957 Brogdon was managing the Wheel Club along with Milton Forester. Brogdon was successful in bringing notable acts to Oceanside, including Freddie Hart, who appeared on a weekly television program, along with Merle Haggard, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash and the Maddox Brothers and Rose.

Times Advocate, Nov 26 1965

Known as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” the group consisted of four brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff, and Don, along with their sister Rose. After leaving Alabama during the Depression, the Maddox family settled in Central California. Tired of endless hours of picking cotton to make ends meet, the Maddox siblings tried their hand at singing and by 1937 made their live radio debut when Rose was just 11 years old.

In the 1950s and 1960s Rose Maddox had over a dozen hits as a solo artist and four solid hits with legendary Buck Owens. She is considered one of the “grand dames” of traditional country music.

Rose Maddox and Buck Owens record cover
Used with permission and courtesy of the Arhoolie Foundation

On December 7, 1959 Brogdon married country western star Roselea Maddox Hale in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lyle Duplessie wrote in 2015 biography of Rose Maddox: “Rose had met Jimmy Brogdon, owner of the Wheel Club in Oceanside. Brogdon was well connected in the music industry and his club regularly hosted such luminaries as George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, and the up-and-coming Merle Haggard. Brogdon would now host another star: Rose. It didn’t take long before Brogdon and Rose were in love.”

Maddox Brothers and Rose, used with permission and courtesy of the Arhoolie Foundation

In an interview before her death Maddox said of her career in the late 1960s, “Times were changing. Nightclubs were using house bands instead of guest stars. We weren’t working as much. I found out I could make as much money as the whole family by myself. I had a son to support. I got married to a man in Oceanside. Jimmy Brogdon. He still lives in Oceanside. When I married him he was a nightclub owner. Now he owns half of Oceanside.

101 Club Matchbook Cover

Despite these claims, in 1959 Brogdon was living in a modest 700 square foot home at 410 Grant Street, behind Oceanside High School. However, by 1970, in addition to owning and managing the 101 Club, he was the general manager and owner of the Oceanside Ice Company on South Cleveland Street. In 1986 Brogdon stated that his company handled “between 50 percent and 75 percent of the cube ice delivery business in San Diego and Orange counties, providing 200 tons of block and cube ice per day to more than 1,500 convenience stores, markets and produce companies.”

Aerial of the 101 Club at 939 North Hill Street, circa 1967

Another star who performed at the 101 Club was Barbara Mandrell, a local girl who graduated from Oceanside High School in 1967. She performed with her family, The Mandrell Family Band, at various local nightspots and one of their first records was recorded in Oceanside. Barbara Mandrell would go on to be a huge star with several hits and a variety television show.

The Mandrells recorded their first record in Oceanside, Barbara Mandrell is far right

In 1971 Cpl Garry Lee Hanson was murdered outside the 101 Club after an altercation inside the bar. The City of Oceanside noted in a study that in a one year period a number of felonies had been committed at the Club, along with a dozen misdemeanors, a variety of reported crimes and an equal number of citations and violations.

View of Wheel Club (Center) in 1977.

But the City Council and planners were more concerned with the high concentration of crime in the downtown area, particularly what they termed “the honky tonk area”, establishments which were seen as “major deterrents to the revitalization of the downtown area, attracting prostitutes, drug peddlers, transients and other negative elements which produce a climate that seems to encourage crime.” The study presented in 1977, reported that in 1973, 47% of felonies and 51% of misdemeanors were reported in downtown Oceanside within a four to six block radius and arrests for felonies had increased 80 percent. So despite the declining reputation of the 101 Club, because it was outside of this “zone” it was not considered a public nuisance.

First Edition Disco in 1979

By 1979 the roadside club went from a Country & Western bar and restaurant to a disco called “First Edition”. An ad that ran in the Los Angeles Times that year seeking a part-time disc jockey and a fulltime promoter which went on to say “promotion [is] very important, unless experienced in promoting successful disco do not apply.”

Two years later the establishment was changed to “Francine’s” and advertised dancing and cocktails to “Top Forty” hits. One year later Francine’s introduced “Tuesday Night Ladies Only” which featured adult male entertainers, which was considered a novelty act at the time. Performers known as the Lone Ranger, Macho Man and Indian Jim were “regulars.”

Soon after its foray into adult entertainment, the club was renamed Pure Platinum, and featured female semi-nude dancers. Another name change occurred in the late 1980s when the club went by Dirty Dan’s, and lastly, in 1990 it was renamed The Main Attraction. Jimmy Brogdon dissolved his management company in 1987 and died ten years later on November 18, 1997.

939 North Coast Highway, February 2020 Google view

For years people have mocked Oceanside for having such an establishment on Hill Street (aka the historic Highway 101) across from the Chamber of Commerce, no less. Some are now lamenting its inevitable demise. Regardless of its reputation, its association with country music is worth remembering.

History of the Blade Tribune Building, Irving Gill’s Last Design

Brothers Paul and Harold Beck arrived in Oceanside in 1929 from Iowa. Their father had arranged to purchase the local newspaper and eventually merged it with a weekly publication, the Oceanside News, creating the Oceanside Daily Blade Tribune. With this purchase, they became the youngest newspaper publishers in the State of California.  Paul Beck was just 24 years old, Harold 26.

Harold Beck

Paul wrote about himself: “[I] as a young man, with a degree in Journalism from Stanford University, barely three months experience as a cub reporter on the “San Jose News,” and with an ardent desire to make a success of my first business venture. It had long been my desire to become a newspaper publisher.  A desire that had been instilled in me by my Dad, who published the “Centerville, Iowa Daily Iowegian” since 1903, and by my Mother, from a famous Iowa newspaper family with all four of her brothers publishers of different newspapers in that state.”

Paul Beck

Their newspaper office was located on Second Street (Mission Avenue) and Tremont Street in a building that used to house the Ladies Emporium.  In a 1977 article Paul wrote: “The staff of the “Blade-Tribune” consisted of Harold as editor, myself as business-advertising manager, Stuart Langford, shop foreman, Ken Stanley, linotype operator, Ora Magee, society editor, Betty Maxwell, office clerk, Bill Spencer, who formerly published the “Blade,” office manager, a part time high school boy as press room helper and about 12 carrier boys.  High schooler, Lionel Van Deerlin, now a U. S. Congressman, sports editor was a “stringer,” which means he was paid 5c a column inch for published material.”

Oceanside Daily Blade Tribune newspaper office at Mission and Tremont Streets in 1931

Both Harold and Paul were actively involved in the community. Harold served as President of Oceanside Chamber of Commerce in 1931 and Harold in 1934.

As Oceanside grew, so did the newspaper and soon the building they occupied was too small to accommodate a growing operation. In 1936 the brothers hired architect Irving Gill to design a new building for their newspaper plant at Tremont and First Street (now Seagaze).

Irving Gill was born in New York in 1871. He came to San Diego in 1893 where he practiced his field. He designed homes and buildings in San Diego as well as Los Angeles, where he later relocated. Gill’s architectural style evolved to eliminate ornamentation, with a decidedly modern style. In fact he was considered “one of the first of the moderns” and combined modern with Spanish architecture. Gill biographer Thomas S. Hines wrote: “In his own lifetime, Gill saw himself and was seen by others as a maverick, an innovator, and a modernist.”

Architect Irving Gill

His modern and simple designs fell out of favor in the 1920s when the Spanish Revivalist style became popular. Under appreciated and with little work, Gill left Los Angeles and resided in Carlsbad by 1930. However, Los Angeles’ loss was Oceanside’s gain, as Gill would go on to design a total of five buildings in Oceanside.

The first Gill designed was Oceanside’s Fire and Police Station in 1929. Originally, plans were for a larger civic center complex. But due to lack of funding, only a portion of it was built. Located on the corner of Pier View Way and Nevada Street, the Fire Station is still in use today, but the building has been modified several times to accommodate the growing Fire Department and to house larger equipment and engines .

Gill’s second work in Oceanside was the Americanization School on Division Street, completed in 1931. The school was built at a cost of $4,400 and featured a domed rotunda. Gill took advantage of the southeast exposure giving the building large windows providing natural light. The building was saved from the wrecking ball and restored. It is presently used as a neighborhood community center. Also built that year and designed by Gill was the Nevada Street School, located on the 500 block of South Nevada Street. It was dismantled in the 1970s.

The Americanization School designed by Irving Gill

Gill’s fourth project in Oceanside was in 1934, that of a new city hall building. While Oceanside Councilman Charles Hoegerman prepared preliminary plans for an addition to the civic center, (which comprised the fire and police station), they apparently were similar to Gill’s earlier design from 1929. Gill then changed and revised them to conform to earthquake standards. The new city hall was located at 704 Third Street (Pier View Way) and dedicated December 19, 1934.  This building is now the home of the Oceanside Museum of Art.

Gill’s last project was the Blade-Tribune Building at 401 First Street Street (Seagaze Drive). Designed in 1936, the building is a mix of Modern and Art Deco. Designed to look both modern and glamorous, Art Deco architecture features rectangular, or block forms often arranged in geometric fashion with curved ornamental elements. Building materials include smooth exteriors made of stucco, concrete or stone, with flat roofs adorned with parapets or spires. Gill died just one month before the building’s grand opening. 

Construction of new building in 1936

Louis Gill wrote of his uncle: “To my mind Irving Gill was much more than a pioneer architect in California. He was an innovator, constantly devising new ideas, not only in exterior design, but in hundreds of details, always considering such fundamental things as cost and materials and methods of construction, and always abhorring anything done for show. An indefatigable worker, never satisfied and quite willing to sacrifice anything to his art. In fact, to me, he seemed obsessed with the idea.”

Congratulatory flowers filled the newspaper building for its grand opening. Note view of second floor offices.

Built at a cost of $10,000, when the Blade-Tribune building was formally opened on November 24, 1936, it was flooded with telegrams and congratulatory flower arrangements which lined the counters, stairway and desks.  Among the many dignitaries and public officials which sent their regards, none was higher than President Roosevelt who sent a message to the Beck Brothers: “I am glad to learn that the Daily Blade-Tribune and the weekly Oceanside News have shared in the return of prosperity as evidenced in your acquisition of a new building.  Please accept my hearty congratulations and extend to all of your readers my hearty felicitations.

Completed building in December 1936

The San Diego Union Tribune newspaper described the building:  “The new building is situated at the corner of First and Tremont Streets. It is of reinforced concrete and fire and quake proof.  The editorial, news, business and circulation offices are on the main floor. The second floor contains an auditorium suitable for civic gatherings. The composing room, metal and stereotyping room are so situated as to make them easily accessible to the news room.”

The building was expanded in 1953 and the Becks sold the Oceanside Blade-Tribune newspaper in 1954 to Tom Braden, due to Harold Beck’s failing health.  However, Paul and Harold maintained ownership of the building.  Harold Beck retired to Palm Springs and later died at the age of 58 in 1963. 

Paul remained active in civic and business affairs as a member of the Oceanside Elks Lodge, supporter and benefactor of the Oceanside Boys Club and chairman of the board of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan.  In a 1986 interview Paul said, “I would like to think I helped make the city what it is.” He died in 1991 at the age 84.

In 1978 the building was purchased by Roosevelt Campbell, Jr. and Oscar and Ruth Culp. They together, with George Mitchell, formed CMC Furniture and for over three decades the former newspaper building was used as a furniture store and warehouse. In addition, a portion of the upstairs was made or converted into apartments.

Building at 401 Seagaze Dr (formerly First Street) when it was CMC Furniture in 1991

It is worth noting that both George Mitchell and Oscar Culp, upon joining the United States Marine Corps in 1943, were assigned to the Montford Point Marines, an all-Black division of the Marine Corps. Both men were recognized for their service when Congress bestowed our nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, along with more than three hundred other Montford Point Marines. 

Master Sergeant Oscar Culp
George Mitchell, USMC

One of the most notable features of this historic building is a stepped motif parapet upon which is “engraved” the name of the two newspapers owned by the Beck Brothers in the smooth cement finish. This, however, had been covered for decades in a blocky (or even splotchy) stucco pattern. When the building was being remodeled and restored just a few years ago, that stucco finished was removed revealing Gill’s original design and the name of Oceanside’s longest published newspaper, the Blade Tribune.

Today the building is the home of the Blade 1936 restaurant, a name given as an ode to its history.

Blade 1936 Restaurant, January 2020

Roberts Cottages – The History of the Iconic Pink Houses on the Beach

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Shortly after the turn of the century, a large section of Oceanside’s Strand (once called Paseo Del Mar) was owned by the Oceanside Development Co., headed by C. J. Walker as President. This group of investors was from Long Beach and they held interest in Oceanside real estate, owning many lots throughout town, including several blocks of oceanfront land. The Strand Tract addition was recorded in 1904 and soon after the Oceanside Development Co. set about an advertising campaign throughout Southern California.

Advertising excursion to Oceanside by the Oceanside Development Co., The Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1904

Trainloads of potential buyers and investors made their way to Oceanside. The December 17, 1904 Oceanside Blade reported: “About 600 excursionists from Los Angeles and Long Bench came down Wednesday on a train of seven coaches arriving about 11 o’clock am and leaving at 3 in the afternoon. The excursion was arranged by the Oceanside Development Co. to open the sale of their Strand tract on the beach, and many lots were sold there, though there were also sales in other portions of town. In the Strand Tract thirty-three lots were sold, including all of blocks 1 and 9, and lots in 4, 5, and 6.

The 700 block of North Strand remained unimproved (or vacant) and in the possession of Charles J. Walker until 1924 when it was purchased by A. J. Clark.

Alfred J. Clark arrived in Oceanside in 1924 from Idaho, and subsequently purchased the Oceanside Bath House just north of the Oceanside Pier. Clark was also the manager of the “Fun Zone” a concession area near the Pier, as well as the manager of Oceanside’s newest and grandest theater, The Palomar, which was located on the 300 block of North Hill (Coast Highway).

Fun Zone north of the pier once operated by A. J. Clark

In January 1928 it was reported that Clark had received a permit to build beach cottages on his property on The Strand at a cost of $25,000 by the Whiting-Mead Company. A row of twelve small cottages were built which the fronted The Strand and eleven identical cottages were built behind them, staggered and situated to afford ocean views. A larger cottage was built on the south end of the property and was used as both a dwelling and office. A structure to house automobiles was perpendicular to the office, and another similar structure was located on the north end of the property (but no longer exists). The name of these new cottages were “Clark’s Cottage DeLuxe” (or a variation of such) and were available for vacationers by the summer of 1928. Rental fees were as little as $3.00 a day.

Auto camps were established before modern motels. Municipal camp sites operated by cities, chambers of commerce or individuals allowed travelers a place to park their car, perhaps set up a campsite, for a small fee, and were offered basic amenities such as outhouses and running water. With a growing population on the move, a demand for better services made way for more traveler-friendly sites.  

Leland Bibb and Kathy Flanigan wrote in the Role of Transportation in the Growth of the City of Oceanside (1997):Camping [became] a popular recreational experience for many motorists in the 1920s. The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, desirous of capitalizing on this activity, proposed the establishment of a municipal camp ground on its property located on Ditmar, Nevada, Third and Fourth in September 1920. By May 1921, with the City in possession of the block, work began on improvements necessary for vacationers. Water was piped into the area, and a fence and hedge surrounded it. A building, constructed in the center of the lot, provided toilets, lavatories and shower baths for men and women. The remainder of the land was divided into camping spaces with simple brick and concrete stoves placed along the tier of spaces on the west side of the block. Electric light was furnished. An existing house on the property underwent renovation for a caretaker. A small charge was to be collected for use of the park and its conveniences by autoists, basically to keep indigents away.”

Cottage City was located south of Clark’s Cottages on the Strand

Oceanside had several auto courts in the 1920s and 1930s. At least three survive today, one on South Coast Highway and another on South Cleveland Street. Roberts Cottages is the only surviving beachfront auto court. Cottage City (which was also located on the Strand) was first established as “Tent City” in about 1919 and offered few amenities to campers. In response to demands of the traveling public and long term vacationers, in 1925 Cottage City underwent extensive renovations and improvements. Ten two-room cottages were added, which featured kitchenettes, along with garages for automobiles. Cottage City was torn down prior to 1972.

Clark’s Cottages DeLuxe, 704 The Strand North, circa 1929

Clark sold the cottages to A. S. and Pearlie Gholson in June of 1929, but before year’s end they had sold it Doren Perrine of Encinitas. Perrine and his wife Ella occupied the larger cottage while managing the cottage rentals. However, the Perrrine’s may have defaulted on the mortgage as Oceanside Lot Books still record Clark as the owner in 1930.

Later that year William Wallace Roblee of Riverside purchased the property and the name was modified to the “DeLuxe Cottages”. Roblee’s son Hewitt and his wife managed the property during the summer months. The June 29, 1934 Blade reported: “Mrs. M H. Roblee has arrived from Riverside to take over the DeLuxe Cottages on the north Strand.”

One Los Angeles newspaper described the beach cottages in 1934:  “The Bungalows DeLux (successors to Clark’s Cottages) at Oceanside are as modern as your home. The bungalows of English style stucco are furnished most complete. Every bungalow has a picturesque ocean view from the Paseo Del Mar Drive” (The Strand).

The beach cottages under the name of Surf Motor Court, circa 1938

In 1937 Marion and Margie Arbogast purchased the cottage property and it was during their brief ownership that the cottages were named “Surf Motor Court.” Unfortunately, the Arbogast’s defaulted on their loan and lost the property.

The Mutual Building and Loan Association of Long Beach sold the beach cottages to Harry and Virginia Roberts in January 1941. The Oceanside Blade Tribune announced on June 11, 1941 that the cottages were being remodeled and renamed:

An improvement along North Strand that is attracting attention is renovation of Roberts Cottages. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Roberts, for five years associated with Cottage City, purchased what were known as the Surf Motor Cottages in January, and have been remodeling ever since. This week the exterior of the 23 cottages are being painted. Woodwork is being painted a bright red and black trim to set off new concrete porches with a black railing.

Brilliantly colored beach umbrellas and bright colored beach chairs will be in front of each cottage. To complete the colorful effect red geraniums have been planted in containers in front of each cottage.

The interior of each cottage has been refinished. Walls have been plastered and all woodwork is in an antique finish.  New showers, new furniture, new mattresses, new cooking utensils have been installed to make the cottage a cozy home that will appeal to the vacationer.

Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are enthusiastic over the future of Oceanside, and are pleased to contribute their beautification of North Strand to the progress being made in the community as a whole. 

Harry Roberts was a native of Columbus, Mississippi and Virginia hailed from Texas. The two were living in Denver, Colorado before coming to Oceanside. They first purchased and managed Cottage City, a row of beach cottages on the south corner of the Strand and Sixth Street (Surfrider Way).

As their predecessors, the Roberts owned the cottages a relatively short period of time, but their name has been attached to the property to this day.

The cottages were sold to Reginald Willhoyt Hampton and his wife Mary in 1944. Hampton was a native of San Luis Obispo and a contractor by trade. The Hamptons owned the subject property just two years when it was sold to Ervin [misspelled as Irving] and Vera Willems.

In 1952 the cottages were sold to William B. Settle III, and his wife Gladys. Settle served on the Oceanside Planning Commission for nearly two years, and also owned the El Sereno Apartments at 835 South Pacific Street. The Settles relocated to Bakersfield in 1954 after selling the beach cottages to Harvey Olen and Ruth (Settle) Forquer the prior year.

The Forquers lived on the property while Harvey worked as a detention officer for the department of U. S. Immigration. Ruth Forquer was a sister of William B. Settle, the prior owner. The Forquers entered into a partnership with George and Zelda Henry, of Hollywood, to own and manage Roberts Cottages.

After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the cottage property, in 1956 it was suggested to break up the property and sell the cottages individually to separate owners. It has been proposed that this may have been “the first time someone had used the ‘own-your-own’ condo concept in California.”

Oceanside Realtor Tom Harrington had the listing to sell the cottages, with Wilma Stakich working as his sales agent. Harrington ran an ad in the local paper that there were “only 20 left”. The advertisement which first ran June 29, 1956, read: “Own Your Own Beach Cottage only $5,250 total. Completely furnished. Only $1,150 down. Tom Harrington Realtors, 1213 So. Hill St.” (now Coast Highway).

Just one month later Harrington announced that there were just 12 units remaining and by September 1956, just two cottages were left unsold.  It was advertised that each cottage could be rented for $60 and that owners could “gross from $l40 to $175 per month in summer.”

Dean R. Hansberry and Jean B. Hansberry acquired Unit 24 in October of 1956. Dean Hansberry was a Captain the United States Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Jean Hansberry was a real estate agent. However, in 1958 it was discovered that Captain Hansberry, a disbursing officer had embezzled $63,000 “between December 1955 and June 24, 1957.” During the criminal investigation and trial, the couple had spent nearly $30,000 over their income in a two year period. It was also discovered that Hansberry had used $2,000 of the absconded monies as a “down payment on the 704 Strand Street property.” He was convicted and sentenced to six years in Federal prison.

Roberts Cottages in early 1990s

In 1961 Wilma Stakich and her sister Grace Baker shared an interest in Unit 24 and managed the cottages for some of the owners many years, up through the 1980s.

Today many of the cottages are still owned individually and several rented out for vacation rentals. In recent years owners took to painting the cottages in different colors rather than the traditional pink they have been known for many decades. However, today the cottages are once again their customary color, while some trims vary slightly.

San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) has Roberts Cottages on their list of “Most Endangered List of Historic Resources.” They describe the 24 units as “a rare and finite collection of historic buildings” and “are the best surviving examples of auto-court beach cottages.”

SOHO goes on to note: “When leisure travel by auto became all the rage, convenient lodging along the way became necessary. The first generation of these auto-courts, built in the late 1920s, 30s and 40s, were known as cottage courts or traveler’s courts. Roberts Cottages is one of the first. These unique beach buildings represent an important part of Oceanside’s early tourism industry.”

Roberts Cottages today, photo courtesy of Visit Oceanside

Today Roberts Cottages are part of Oceanside’s wonderful beach landscape, an iconic feature that captures the attention and imagination of residents and visitors alike.

History of the Keisker Hotel at 133 South Coast Highway

Before Julius E. Keisker purchased the property on the northwest corner of Topeka and Hill Streets (Coast Highway), Edward and Mamie Fairchild had hiredC. G. Rieke to build a new home at the site. But just two years after their home was built, a real estate deal was made and the Fairchild residence was moved to the corner of Ditmar and Michigan Streets, where it remains today. With the lot cleared, Keisker was ready to build a new hotel which would bear his name. 

The Fairchild Home which formerly occupied the hotel site now at 239 South Ditmar Street

The Blade newspaper described the proposed hotel in 1926: “Plans are now being drawn for Mr. Keisker for a stucco building of two stories 66×100 feet in dimensions, with thirty-two sleeping rooms above, and a lobby and two store rooms on the first floor. It is the expectation that very shortly bids can be asked for the erection of the new building, which the owner plans to make an attractive addition to the hotel buildings of the city.  The approximate cost the improvement is stated to be about $140,000.”

In January of 1927 the newspaper reported that: “Work is now going on for the foundation of a hotel building which is to be erected by J. E. Keisker on Hill street near California.  The building will be 70 x 100 and of two stories.  The lower floor will be divided into a large store room and a lobby.  Upstairs will be 26 sleeping rooms.  The building is to be of heavy frame and stucco and will be heated by steam, a very necessary convenience demanded by the traveling public.  The construction work is being done by O. M. Wallace.”

No known photos exist when the Hotel was first built. Here it is as the Hotel Dewitt

When the hotel opened in June of 1927 a grand opening was held and headlines read: “Keisker Hotel Open to Guests”.   The Oceanside Blade announced:

With a public reception Friday evening the fine new Keisker hotel on Hill Street near California formally opened its doors for guests.  A large crowd of well-wishers from this entire section attended the opening.  Dancing was enjoyed until a late hour and punch and wafers were served.

The new hostelry contains twenty-six rooms all handsomely furnished, comfortable and home-like.  The rooms are quite large averaging 180 square feet and many are provided with private baths, several being ensuite.  Downstairs is a spacious lobby with large plate glass windows on two sides and handsomely finished in brown jazz plaster.  The lobby is furnished in wicker and a handsome writing desk and other furnishing add to the provision for the comfort and convenience of guests.

Steam heat, and hot and cold water in every room is provided for with a hot water plant and automatic distillate furnace located in the basement.  A call system and other modern equipment are installed and every convenience provided for the proper operation of the hotel.

Adjoining the lobby downstairs is a large store room which will be leased.  The outside appearance of the building is enhanced by Moorish awnings over the upstairs windows and a handsome glass marquee over the front entrance bearing the name of the hotel.  An electric sign on the roof is visible at a long distance and the hotel building makes a handsome addition to that section of the city.

In the construction and furnishing of the hotel some of the local firms participating were the Berg Electric Co.; Oceanside Furniture & Hardware Co.; A. E. Franklin, plumber; H. W. Maddux, Rock Gas; Glen Titrell, plastering; R. H. Simmons, cement contractor; O. M. Wallace, general contractor; James H. Campbell, lathing; Hayward Lumber Co., lumber; Fred Franks, painting; and Central Roofing Co., roofing.

In 1930 the hotel’s flooring was replaced by multi-colored tile, “almost exactly like the flooring in the Agua Caliente Hotel, Agua Caliente, Mexico.” The Oceanside Blade stated that this new feature proved “that Agua Caliente has nothing on Oceanside in the way of hotels, at least.”

As the hotel was located on the 101 Highway between Los Angeles and San Diego, (and all the way to Mexico), it was a popular spot for the traveling public. Well to do clientele, including notables associated with Hollywood and the movie industry frequented the hotel, especially those on their way down to enjoy, purchase and even transport alcohol during the Prohibition years. 

In 1934 the hotel was purchased by Robert and Jessie DeWitt, who in turn renamed the building as the Hotel DeWitt.  Jessie DeWitt was a noted artist and a member of the San Diego Artists Association, Women Painters of the West, Laguna Beach Artists Association, La Jolla Artist Guild and the Carlsbad-Oceanside Art League.

Hotel Dewitt in the 1940s. Note Master Automotive Supply in its original storefront.

With the establishment of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 1942, Oceanside grew dramatically. With thousands of Marines arriving to train and 5,000 civilians to aid in construction and support, Oceanside was the nearest town to accommodate the great influx of people. The City was hard pressed to meet the essentials the military and civilian personnel demanded with restaurants, schools and hotels bursting at the seams. The Southern California Telephone Company had to enlarge 4 times in four years to keep pace with the mounting demands. The business office was moved to the DeWitt Hotel to accommodate workers.

The hotel was sold in 1950 to Mr. and Mrs. Orville T. Schwarz of San Marino.  The hotel was managed by their son Elman. Soon after, the hotel’s name was changed to the Dolphin Hotel. In 1953, the S&S Cafeteria opened hotel building, operated by George H. Swain and Robert H. Stevens.

A new highway was built in 1954 diverting traffic from downtown Oceanside. Newer motels with parking and more complete amenities were in demand.  Because of its antiquated features, namely its lack of ensuite bathroom facilities, it fell out of favor with tourists and eventually the condition of the hotel deteriorated. 

Hotel DeWitt ad in 1950

In the late 1970s the hotel was purchased and renovated by a trio of enthusiastic owners, Richard Rogers, Barbara Werle Rogers (movie, television and stage actress) and Paul Griesgraber. They filled the rooms with antiques and gave them names such as the Polynesian Room, the Hollywood Room and the Bridal Suite.

The Dolphin Hotel, far left in 1984 as Hill Street (Coast Highway was being resurfaced

But by the 1980s the hotel was renting for $22.95 a day or $115 a week. Its clientele were not tourists and its reputation was “seedy.” The hotel’s glory days seemed a distant memory, and there was no one left to remember when it was a gem on the Highway 101.

The Dolphin Hotel entrance in 2017

Everyone loves a great comeback story and the Dolphin Hotel has been reborn –from the inside out. Rooms have been completely reconfigured and rebuilt, not just refurbished, giving guests the hotel experience they expect and demand with a downtown vibe only Oceanside can give.

The Fin, a nod to the Dolphin, has made this vintage hotel building retro cool. Its back with style, flavor and a cool new mural. Julius Keisker would be proud to see his hotel still serving the traveling public, vibrant and alive. The Switchboard Restaurant and Bar is a popular eatery housed in the same building. Its name pays homage to the telephone workers who occupied the hotel in the 1940s. What’s old is new again!

The Fin Hotel and Mural (courtesy Visit Oceanside)