Al Capone and the Rancho Santa Margarita

Featured

In late January of 1931, newspapers across the United States published stories with a similar rumor:  That famed gangster Al “Scarface” Capone was bringing his mobsters to Southern California along with plans to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita. The Los Angeles Times reported that if taken over by Capone, the vast property could be “fortified into an estate defying entrance, with a boat landing where liquor could be landed at will, defying Federal forces.”

Al Capone both terrified and captivated the Nation with his crimes and exploits. Two years prior Capone’s men were responsible for the deadly St. Valentine’s Day Massacre which killed seven men. Although he was not at the scene of the murders, it was believed he ordered it. He was then given the status of “Public Enemy Number One.”

Al “Scarface” Capone

The little town of Oceanside had a population of just 3,500 people. Residents enjoyed a quiet relationship with the owners of the Rancho Santa Margarita. The cattle ranch employed a number of locals and area farmers leased land to grow crops, including lima beans, sugar beets and alfalfa. This would seemingly come to a halt should the Rancho be under the control of the most infamous gangster in America.

Fred Jones was just one of many who farmed on the Rancho

Los Angeles law enforcement revealed that among various gangsters in the Southland included Frankie Foster, Baldy Nevins, Louis Frank, Bill Bailey and a brother of Ralph Sheldon. The men were said to be “all known hoodlums from the ranks of the gangster army.”

Charles S. Hardy, the general manager of the Rancho bordering Oceanside to the north, refuted the claims that Capone was buying the vast property. The Oceanside Blade published his statement: “We have had no call from agents relative to the sale of the rancho for some time,” said Hardy, “I am positive that neither Capone nor any of his men nor anyone representing him has ever made any overtures to purchase the holdings. I doubt very much that any of the Chicago gangsters ever heard of the ranch, much less started an attempt to purchase it.”

The Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores once belonged to Pio Pico, last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule. Pico sold his interest to his brother-in-law, John Forster. After Forster’s death in 1882, the property was sold to Comstock silver magnate James C. Flood, who hired cattle rancher Richard O’Neill as manager. Some years after the death of James Flood, Richard O’Neill was given half ownership of the land, 133,440 acres. O’Neill gave his interest in the Rancho to his son Jerome. When Jerome O’Neill died in 1926, the rancho was inherited by his descendants who later hired Hardy to help manage it.

Pio Pico

While Hardy’s statement sought to dispel the rumor of Capone’s interest in the Rancho, law enforcement was in fact “on the trail of men described as gangsters” who were associated with a series of recent crimes in Southern California.  The Oceanside Blade newspaper reported that the suspects were believed to be members of the Sheldon gang, a notorious bootlegging gang in Chicago affiliated with Al Capone.  

Despite Hardy’s denials, The Los Angeles Times reported “Heads of a local real estate firm are said to have reported three men representing themselves as agents of Capone recently offered $200,000 for an option on the ranch, which has an 18-mile ocean frontage and attempted to rush the deal before authorities could prevent it.” In another article, it was said that the men had a certified check ready to remit as a down payment.

Law enforcement believed a smuggling ring was particularly interested in the historic rancho because of the extensive ocean frontage it provided.  “Long miles of unguarded coast line and Southern California’s easy accessibility to the Mexican border” were attractive to the “racketeers” and had in fact been used by smugglers and bootleggers for many years.

With the onset of Prohibition, boats were often used to transport alcohol that was smuggled from Mexico. The open coastline north of Oceanside was a perfect place to land small boats, and bootleggers made extensive use of the lonely beaches in landing their cargoes. Oceanside Police and other law enforcement were kept busy chasing bootleggers and confiscating liquor.

While authorities downplayed the Capone story near Oceanside, Southern California residents may have been surprised to hear that police admitted that “75 percent of the Hollywood speakeasies [were] under the control of a Chicago gang.” Bootleggers were assigned territories and promised protection as long as they agreed to purchase liquor from the gang. This takeover was described as an “octopus” with strength and muscle to control the area.   The Times also reported that an “influx of Chicago, Detroit, New York, St. Louis and Kansas City gangsters” were an indication that Southern California would soon be a “smugglers’ paradise.”

Whether or not Capone was in the State of California, just two months earlier, Capone was blamed for what was called the “grape juice war” with California grape growers.  It was alleged that Capone warned Fruit Industries, Ltd. to stop selling and distributing juice concentrate in Chicago, which could later be turned into wine and therefore compete with Capone’s illegal liquor sales. The Sacramento Bee reported that Capone had threatened that if sales were attempted against his orders that someone was “going to be bumped off”.

In Washington D.C. an elected official seeking legislation against Capone commented, “When Al Capone can go from Chicago to California and threaten the life of a man who is selling grape juice, something must be done.” Even the Federal Bureau of Investigation monitored the “grape juice war” and is included in the FBI files on Al Capone.

Los Angeles newspaper reporters claimed that they went to a ranch outside Los Angeles to an undisclosed location to speak directly to a man who identified himself as Al Capone (who told them not to divulge the ranch’s location). During the interview Capone denied involvement in the grape juice wars and instead blamed it on the New York mob.

Where was this ranch where Capone was residing in 1930? It may have been in Lancaster, California.  Just days after the news that Al Capone had made an offer on the Rancho Santa Margarita, newspapers reported that there was a mob hideout in Lancaster, about 75 miles north of Los Angeles where bombs and weapons had been found. (It was later rumored but never substantiated that Capone also had a house in Fontana.)

Oceanside residents were rightfully concerned. What would happen if Capone took control of the Santa Margarita? Would local farmers lose access to their crops? Would gangsters seek control over the tiny beach town? Would access via the state highway through the Rancho be hindered? It was a lonely stretch of road that was even lonelier at nightfall.

The road from Oceanside through Ranch Santa Margarita

Fears of the Rancho being taken over by gangsters subsided in February, when Capone was found guilty in Federal Court on a contempt of court charge and was sentenced to a brief stint in the Cook County Jail in Chicago, Illinois.

However, in June of 1931, Homer Croy, a writer from Hollywood, resurrected the story in an article that he wrote for Liberty Magazine. The two page article declared that Al Capone had in fact “acquired a domain in California about two thirds as large as the state of Rhode Island, 35 miles from end to end and with many miles of seacoast.”  A photo of Capone, along with a map of the Rancho Santa Margarita, was included.

Croy wrote that Capone would be well suited to Rancho life and that “horseback riding will do him good, for Al is getting overweight” and added, “Don Alfonso Capone can live on his hacienda, sit in his patio, and smoke and talk to his friends to his heart’s content about real estate.”

The Oceanside Blade Tribune suggested that Croy’s piece was fiction and “some good publicity” as the map provided in the article showed the San Luis Rey Mission and Oceanside’s proximity to the famed rancho.

And while Homer Croy’s article was written either tongue in cheek or for pure sensationalism, it didn’t matter. Liberty magazine boasted a readership of over 2 million, and was sold from coast to coast. The story of Capone purchasing the historic ranch once again attracted national attention and was front page news.

Charles Hardy once again went on the defensive, vehemently denying that the Chicago crime czar had purchased the property.

Whether Al Capone really attempted to purchase the Rancho Santa Margarita is unknown. But if so, Capone would never have a chance to pursue or close the deal. Just days after the Liberty Magazine story was published and circulated, Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion and prohibition charges under the assumption he would serve a light sentence as before. But on October 17, 1931, he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and he would eventually be sent to Alcatraz. It was the end of his life of crime but he would long reign as America’s most notorious criminal.  

Oceanside residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and a sense of normalcy settled back in. Little would change until a decade later when the historic Rancho became the largest military base in the country, training Marines for World War II.

The House on Shoshone Street and the Story of Frankie Elda Kidd

Featured

I want to thank Michelle Foster for contacting me about Frankie. Her quest for information became mine and I am grateful for the personal stories and photos she shared to bring this story to life.

In a rather remote area of Oceanside, tucked away in the northwest section of the Eastside neighborhood, was a small house on a dead end dirt road near Lawrence Canyon.

The house was built in 1944 and owned by Anna Curran, who owned no less than sixteen lots throughout Eastside, several of which had small houses that she rented out. The rent she collected was likely her only source of income as her husband William Curran had been arrested for the murder of a Marine in downtown Oceanside that same year. After a lengthy trial, Curran was found guilty, but deemed insane and sent to an asylum to serve out his sentence.

Residents of Eastside were largely Mexican immigrants, many of whom were laborers who worked in the fields of the San Luis Rey Valley and the Rancho Santa Margarita (now Camp Pendleton). The neighborhood was segregated and separated in four ways: Geographically it was separated from “downtown Oceanside” by Lawrence Canyon; Children of immigrants were separated from other students and sent to the Americanization School on Division Street where they were immersed in English; The neighborhood had dirt streets while most of Oceanside enjoyed paved ones; Eastside had no sewer system.

1946 aerial view of Shoshone Street

Although some referred to Eastside as “Mexican Town”, more than a dozen African-American families settled in the neighborhood in the 1940s.

Frankie Elda Kidd occupied one of Anna Curran’s tiny rental homes, at 1420 Shoshone Street. Frankie’s birth name was Alta (perhaps a variation of Elda) and “Frankie” may have been a nickname that she acquired. She was born in 1920 in Imperial County, California and as best as can be determined, she was the daughter of John Zainina and Martha Bartley.

In 1930 Frankie and her family were living in Merced, California, where her father was working as a dairy farmer. By around 1935 she was living with extended family in San Bernardino, California, where she attended high school.

While attending San Bernardino High School, Frankie met James Scott, a handsome young man from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The two married in 1938 but the marriage was short lived as they were living separately just two years later. In 1940 Frankie was living with cousins and working as a housekeeper for a private home.  

James Scott, Frankie Elda’s first husband

In about 1943 Frankie embarked on her second nuptials to Alfred Selester Kidd. It would be her second of six marriages. She was likely introduced to Alfred by her older brother Vernon, as the two men were rooming together while living in Oakland. Alfred Kidd, a native of Louisiana, was working at the Navy Yard at Mare Island.

Frankie arrived in Oceanside by 1945. Did Alfred Kidd accompany her? There is no record of him leaving the Oakland area. Perhaps this marriage was just as brief as the first. What brought Frankie to Oceanside is unknown, but perhaps she came because of job opportunities. Due to the establishment of Camp Joseph H. Pendleton shortly after World War II began, Oceanside was expanding at a rapid rate.

Because of the remote location of Frankie’s home on Shoshone Street, any traffic (pedestrian or otherwise) would have been largely limited to residents who lived on the dead end street. However, apparently Shoshone Street was getting a steady stream of traffic, so much so that area residents took notice and began to complain, which prompted an investigation by the Oceanside Police Department.

The Oceanside Blade Tribune newspaper reported that Frankie Kidd was arrested on February 4, 1945 for operating an “illegitimate business” along with another woman, Mildred Clark. Later this particular business was classified as a “disorderly house” which is a polite term for a brothel.

It seems that Frankie’s “visitors” were mostly servicemen, many of whom resided at Sterling Homes, federal housing built for the military just east of Holly Street. (Sterling Homes had paved streets, curbing and sewers for its occupants in contrast to the neighboring Eastside community.)

Sterling Housing just east of the Eastside Neighborhood

What brought Frankie to this profession is anyone’s guess, but despite her occupation she was remembered by local residents as being friendly, beautiful and “could hold her own against any situation that could come up.”

After her arrest, Frankie asked for a jury trial and the case was heard on March 7th. The jury of five women and three men listened to what must have been riveting testimony which lasted all the way up until 10 pm. (However, many of the witnesses were servicemen and reluctant to testify.) The jury deliberated for two hours and found Frankie Kidd guilty as charged. Judge Parsons fined her $300, with $100 suspended. But even a $200 fine was a hefty amount, equivalent to over $2500 today). She also received 150 days of probation. Initially appealing the case, Frankie paid the fine a few days later.

While Frankie continued to live on Shoshone Street, she was known to frequent a small establishment which was located just steps from the back of her home. It was called “the Hangout”.  Situated at the back end of 1415 Laurel Street, was a small trailer that was frequented by many of the local residents and was a popular spot for military men. Charles C. Jones applied to the city for a permit to operate a café “specializing in barbecue and chicken sandwiches” but it was denied. Despite the city’s rejection, the Hangout operated without a permit and was a popular spot offering food, drink and dancing, with a little bit of gambling thrown in. Frankie was a regular and it was there she attracted her “customers.”

Frankie Elda in later years at the Hangout (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Although Frankie avoided any additional attention from law enforcement for several years, in 1949 she was arrested again — this time for a scuffle with another woman. On June 26th, Mary Morgan filed a complaint against Frankie for threatening her with a knife and a razor. Apparently Frankie had gotten too friendly with Mary’s husband George Morgan, and a heated argument ensued. After being taken into custody, Frankie requested a jury trial which was set for July, but on the day of trial, she pled guilty and was fined $100.

Mary Morgan playing cards at the Hangout (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

While the Hangout continued in popularity, as did Frankie, the raucous nature of this corner of Eastside changed when families began to populate the remote area of Laurel and Shoshone streets.  Gilbert Woods purchased a lot just a few doors down from Frankie. In 1948 he had built a small home at 1430 Shoshone, where he and his wife raised their family. A cook in the Navy during WWII, his granddaughter Michelle remembers that he prepared and shared food with his neighbors, including Frankie, who was grateful for the kindness.

Gilbert Woods holding son (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Another substantial change to the immediate area came when the Walker Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built in 1949, one of the first Black Churches in Oceanside. The church was established at the behest of Johnny and Easter Foster, prior residents of Blythe, California. They wrote to the Church Bishop asking for an AME church to be established in Oceanside. Walker Chapel was built on the very lot that the Hangout was located, which remained standing and was still frequented by residents, even while parishioners attended services.  

Original Church building of Walker Chapel AME in 1949 at 1415 Laurel Street. To the left is Easter Foster and the Rev. Jessie B. Browning; Far right Johnny Foster (photo courtesy of Michelle Foster)

Rev. Jessie B. Browning was the first pastor of Walker Chapel AME. Shortly after her arrival to Oceanside the local newspaper announced the following:  “Rev. Jessie Browning, a lady preacher of the colored Methodist church and her colored singers will appear at the Nazarene Church Sunday evening at 7:30, in the Woman’s Club house, corner of Tremont and Third streets.” 

While the Eastside neighborhood was within city limits by 1887 and a residential neighborhood since about 1910, it took decades for the City to pave the streets and to add a sewer system, well after other residential sections had these same “amenities”. But even when a sewer project was approved in 1948, Shoshone Street and the 1400 block of Marquette Street were left out. Gilbert Woods worked for a needed sewer system for this “forgotten” area and he distributed a petition which was presented to the City Council, who initially rebuffed his efforts. Finally in September of 1954, Gilbert’s efforts were rewarded when the City Council finally approved plans for the Shoshone Street Sewer project.

In 1954 Edward Anderson purchased the home at 1420 Shoshone Street in which Frankie had lived for several years, and built an additional home on the lot, situated behind the original house. It is likely that Frankie resorted to living in the Hangout.

Construction began for a new elementary school on Laurel Street, just northeast of Walker Chapel, which opened for students in 1955. The area once known for a “disorderly and illegal business” was now gentrified. Eventually even the Hangout would be reformed, or shall we say “redeemed” altogether when the Walker Chapel AME church included the small building into its own when they enlarged their church years later.

The little house that Frankie once lived in at 1420 Shoshone Street was destroyed in a fire in 1982. The fire was so hot it reached upwards of 400 degrees and melted the Plexiglass face shields of the responding firefighters. Smoke inhalation took the life of an elderly blind woman, Mildred Taylor, who could not make her way out. Owners Ed and Margarethea Anderson, who lived next door said they had no insurance on the structure as it “was too old.”

Edward Anderson and the Oceanside Fire Department at 1420 Shoshone Street.
The house where Frankie Elda once lived.

Frankie Elda moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon by 1958. Her last known marriage was in 2000 to Eugene Witherspoon, whom she married in Reno, Nevada at the age of 80.

Frankie died June 17, 2002, but was not forgotten. Michelle Foster still remembers the stories her mother, Alberta Woods Foster, shared with her of Eastside, the Hangout, and Frankie. Perhaps Frankie walked in the path of sinners, but her neighbors, like the Good Samaritan, showed her grace and compassion.

O. U. Miracle

Featured

A Name Engraved in History

Walk the neighborhoods of Oceanside and you will find the sidewalks marked with the curious name “O.U. Miracle”.  Many downtown sidewalks and curbs are engraved with this interesting name and many people may wonder what, if any meaning it holds, or who is this Miracle. 

Orville Ullman Miracle’s parents were creative in thinking up their son’s name.  Their beloved son’s initials lovingly proclaimed his birth to the world … and I can’t help but think Mrs. Miracle must have held her precious baby and whispered in his ear, “Oh You Miracle!” Little did they know but that this name would be used as a marketing tool second to none. 

Born in 1871 in Neenah, Winnebago County, Wisconsin to James and Mary Miracle, Orville began a career in the cement business in about 1901. He later established the Miracle Pressed Stone Company, manufacturing and selling “Miracle Concrete Blocks” across the upper Midwest.

However, it was his cement business that brought him the most success. He traveled from Iowa to South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and even Montana, pouring cement for roads, sidewalks and curbing for cities and townships.

Miracle’s association with Oceanside began in 1927 when he was the low bidder on the contracts to improve streets throughout downtown and the ocean front. He laid miles of concrete sidewalks throughout Oceanside that have long outlasted other cement walks poured decades after.

Office of O.U. Miracle at 1933 South Hill Street (now Coast Highway)

In 1938 South Oceanside became the home of “Miracle Village”. Miracle purchased nearly all of the Tolle Tract in South Oceanside, along with other lots which included either side of Vista Way from Hill Street to east of Moreno Street. He advertised his “Oh You Miracle Tract” around the southland and began building single family homes and selling them from his office at 1932 South Hill Street. The San Diego Union reported that Miracle sold lots “cafeteria style” – prices were placed on the lots, no middlemen, and buyers simply picked out their lot and brought the price tag to his office to complete the purchase.

Postcard advertisement for Miracle Village

Miracle built a house at 2022 South Freeman Street where he and his wife Grace made their home. Growing up, Robert Morton, lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Miracle. He shared with me that Miracle built the home for his mother Charlotte Morton and it was the last empty lot on the block at the time. Other neighbors included Dr. and Mrs. George Totlon, Bob and Johnson, Rudy and Jane Sonneman, and Harold and Alma Davis.

Charlotte Morton and children in front of their home at 2018 South Freeman Street in “Miracle Village” South Oceanside

O. U. Miracle’s unusual name brought attention from many columnists across the country, including “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in 1934. In fact, O. U. Miracle appeared in a feature or advertisement in newspapers in nearly every state of the US between 1901 and 1949. His name was so familiar that a letter from South Africa simply addressed to “O.U. Miracle, USA” was delivered to him.          

Ad in The Los Angeles Times, Sunday, June 19, 1938

Described as an “ardent civic worker”, Miracle was also politically involved in the City and community affairs.  He was involved in the Elks and Rotary clubs as well as the South Oceanside Improvement Club.  O.U. died October 9, 1949 at the Oceanside Hospital at the age of 78.  Up until his death he remained interested in the development of Oceanside.

Next time you walk through downtown, pause at each “little Miracle” you pass. It is a unique reminder of an Oceanside entrepreneur who left his mark on Oceanside in a very permanent way.

Thelma

Thelma Lawrence was born in Oceanside, California in 1911.  She was the fifth of ten children born to Tom and Vera Lawrence.

Thelma’s father was born in Texas and came to California around 1898.  He met and courted Vera Sanders in Escondido.  He would often ride his bicycle 20 miles just to see her.  In 1903 they were married in Oceanside where they made their home.  Tom made a living painting houses and building boats. 

By the time she was ten years old, Thelma had seven brothers and sisters, all living in a small home on South Freeman Street.  Two of her siblings died at a young age. Her sister Eleanor died at the age of six weeks and her brother Billie died at the age of 10 from blood poisoning.  Her father worked hard to support his family, farming in various areas around town, and even working as a deputy for the Oceanside police department. 

Perhaps because her mother was so busy raising children, and her father preoccupied with feeding them, Thelma searched for love and attention outside the home. Rumors suggest that Thelma was engaged in illicit behavior when she was just 13 years old.

In 1925, at the age of 14 she married Adolph James Carpenter, of Carlsbad. The marriage took place in Orange County and was witnessed by her mother-in-law. It is unknown if Thelma’s parents were aware or approved of the marriage. On the marriage application Thelma gave her year of birth as 1906, to appear that she was 18 rather than a minor.  One year later she gave birth to a son, Adolph Keno Carpenter, at Fisher’s Hospital, which was located on Mission Road in Oceanside.  (Adolph was nicknamed “Jack” which he was called all of his life.) 

Thelma moved from Oceanside as early as 1926.  She and her young son Jack moved to Los Angeles and were living on West Temple Street. The 1930 Census records indicate that she was married but was obviously separated as her estranged husband was living in Carlsbad with his mother.  Later that year they divorced.  Census records indicate that Thelma was working as a dance instructor.  However, these were the Depression years, and it is possible that Thelma was making a living at dance halls that charged “a dime a dance.” 

According to census records, Thelma was sharing the rent with two Filipino men.  One was a “prize fighter”, the other a porter at a grocery store.  In the 1930 census Thelma’s place of birth is listed as Kentucky, although she was born in California, (and her mother’s place of birth is listed as France—she was actually born in Kentucky).  This could be due to the fact that Thelma was rewriting her personal history for any number of reasons, or more simply because someone other than Thelma provided the information to the census taker.

By 1932 Thelma and Jack moved to San Francisco.  Thelma met an Italian immigrant by the name of Alicide “Al” Pezzi.  He was a good 30 years older than Thelma and it is unknown whether they were ever married.  They were in fact living together at 1178 Hollister Avenue, (and the directory has Thelma listed with the last name of “Pezzi”). Al was a cook on a number of passenger ships that traveled back and forth from San Francisco to Honolulu.  Thelma’s niece, Dolly, remembered going to San Francisco to live with Thelma and Al Pezzi when she was 7 years old.  She remembers that Al was short in stature, to match his temper.  Dolly also vividly remembered that Al made them get rid of their family dog after it chewed his belongings. 

Alcide Pezzi

By the 1933 Thelma sent her son Jack back to Oceanside and he was raised by the Lawrence family—notably he was called Jack Pezzi rather than his birth name of Jack Carpenter.

Subsequently, Thelma then moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. Perhaps she went to Hawaii with Al Pezzi on one of his many trips and decided to stay. In 1936 Thelma was living at 1337 Pensacola Street in Honolulu. It was rumored that while she was in Hawaii she making her living as a madam at one of the many brothels in Honolulu. It has been reported that “working” in Honolulu was lucrative – $30,000 or more per year, which would be equivalent to over $500,000 today. When the Naval ships came in, the lines at the brothels would stretch around the block with prostitutes “servicing” as many as 250,000 men per month. The going rate was $2.00 (a full day’s wages) for locals and $3.00 for servicemen.

Thelma’s son Jack recalled that his mother was in Hawaii while he was attending grammar school in San Francisco and being raised by family members, his Grandma Vera, and Aunts Betty and Birdie, while Thelma sent the family money from Hawaii.

In the 1940 census, Thelma was living with or married to a William Dalton. Their residence was listed as 601 40th Avenue in San Francisco.  Her mother, son Jack and sister Betty are also listed as residing with them. Despite an apparent live-in relationship with Mr. Dalton, Thelma married Stanley Garrigan on November 13, 1940 in Reno, Nevada. They likely met in Honolulu, where Stanley was stationed. He was six years younger than Thelma, born 1917 in Orange County, California. 

Thelma made several trips back and forth from Hawaii to the mainland during the time she lived in Hawaii, either by passenger ship or plane.  Thelma’s sister Birdie visited her in 1941 and remembered that Thelma was living in a house on Booth Road and that a nightclub Thelma owned was at Waikiki Beach near the Luana Hotel. 

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked U.S. military stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, just about 10 miles west of Honolulu.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. declared war with Japan and catapulted the country into World War II.

Thelma and Birdie were both in Honolulu at the time of the attack and Jack remembered that when he and his Grandmother Vera were listening to the radio, there was a news report about an attack and at first, uninterested, Vera changed the station only to find out that the same report was on every station. It was the broadcast news of the attack on the Hawaiian Islands. Vera tried to call Thelma but there was no way to get through. The next day or so Thelma was able to contact her mother and said that she and Birdie were okay.  They had been volunteering with the ambulances and transporting bodies to a burial site.

Thelma and Birdie returned to the states, and Jack and his grandmother Vera came back to Oceanside. At the time Oceanside’s population was less than 5,000 but that would change as the Department of the Navy took over the historic Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores to be used as a training base for the Marine Corps. 20,000 Marines and civilian support flooded the base. The population more than doubled in five years. Restaurants, schools and hotels were bursting at the seams and there was an immediate housing crisis.

Shortly after coming back to California, Thelma purchased what was known as the “Borden building” located on the southeast corner of Third and Tremont Streets, presumably with the money she had made as a madam in Honolulu.  She went into business with her brother Jimmy and opened a nightclub called “Garrigan’s” in September of 1942.  Her husband Stanley was reportedly in Vancouver, Washington for officer’s training while Thelma and her brother went to work remodeling the building and preparing for the opening of the nightclub which offered live entertainment and dancing.

The Borden Building (built in 1929). Thelma Garrigan purchased this building for her nightclub

Charles O. Rowe, local contractor, was hired to remodel the main floor into a ballroom for dancing.  On one end of the room a large mahogany curved bar was built.  The mezzanine floor accommodated diners which featured a “high class steak house” and the upstairs contained rooms for employees and perhaps “overnight guests.” Thelma’s sister Vera (named after their mother) and her husband, Darrell Wilson, came to assist Thelma in the new nightclub. Darrell helped to manage the club and tended bar.

“Garrigan’s” offered live entertainment and dancing. Opened in September of 1942, Thelma’s nightclub was a huge success with over 500 people in attendance. There was nothing like it in Oceanside or surrounding communities.  The local newspaper described the nightclub:                                                             

The main floor of the building has been converted into a spacious lounge, with a dance floor, in the center.  Lamp lighted tables rim the floor.  On one side is the orchestra, “Billy Bryant and his Music,” which delighted the crowd gathered at the opening last evening. On the east of the building is the ultra-modern cocktail bar, watched over by a grand peacock on the south wall.  The peacock is radium treated and looks life like when illuminated during the evening. On the upper elevation, near the mahogany bar, are small deeply upholstered chairs that overlook the diners and the dance floor. Color effects of the entire establishment give it a rich tone.  The windows are heavily draped in blue and rust, with heavy rust carpeting on the floor.  Candle lighting is used on all tables. Even the banquet room was sold out last night, as every table was occupied by the opening night crowd.  There are two banquet rooms, which may be used for parties on the west side of the building.  These may be made into one large banquet room. Across the back of the building is the kitchen, open to the view of the diners.  It is separated by an illuminated showcase, displaying the feature of the house, Kansas City steaks.  Rest rooms are near the bar.  The office is on the mezzanine, overlooking the dance floor.

Son Jack remembered opening night when his mother made her welcoming speech to her many guests. After her opening remarks, Thelma left briefly and then reappeared in a see- through hula skirt and did a hula dance and the crowd went wild.

Thelma Lawrence Garrigan in her hula skirt

The Lawrence sisters, all beautiful, attracted attention from male customers, good for business but not marriages. Apparently sister Betty was the recipient of that attention and her husband was not pleased. He issued an ultimatum to Betty to return with him to San Francisco, which she dutifully did.

Sisters Vera and Thelma at Garrigan’s nightclub

In addition to a home on South Pacific Street, Thelma owned homes at 1931 South Horne Street and 911 Vista Way in South Oceanside, and owned a number of lots in North Oceanside. She also purchased a large ranch in Vista where she raised horses. The money she had purportedly made in Hawaii as a Madam provided Thelma a more than comfortable lifestyle but she also took care of her extended family and helped to support them.

Thelma’s nightclub success was short-lived, however, because the US government took control of the building to set up a USO for troops stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton, the largest Marine Corps Base at the time.  The family felt that Thelma was being unfairly targeted by city leaders, who pushed for the acquisition, and that many were jealous of her success. It is also possible that in addition to being a popular and swanky nightclub, Garrigan’s was doubling as a bordello. As the building was being transferred to the government, an inventory of items was taken and it included 26 mattresses and springs, 8 double beds and 10 single beds. (However, it could also be true that Thelma had to get help as far as Los Angeles to run her nightclub and that her employees stayed there for convenience.)

In any event, Thelma was poorly compensated for the loss of her nightclub, but she went on to open a smaller club in Carlsbad located on the 101 Highway. 

Garrigan’s Barrel House in Carlsbad

Her marriage to Stanley Garrigan was not a happy one. They separated just six months after they were married. After three years of separation, Thelma filed for divorce in 1944 from Stanley in San Diego County, which was finalized in 1945. She remarried that same year to a man by the last name of Robertson (identity unknown) and likely divorced again in 1946.

Thelma opened the Las Flores Inn, just north of the Del Mar racetrack, in the summer of 1948.  Her sister Vera recounted that there was a criminal element involved and one night Thelma was severely beaten by two men who may have had connections to the mafia. Her liquor license was withheld and she was forced to close just six months later.

By around 1950 Thelma moved to Phoenix, Arizona. She met Robert Lee Vint who was a newly divorced father of two. Thelma married Vint, in about 1951, her fifth marriage (her sixth if she was married to William Dalton). The union did not last and Robert Vint returned to his native state of Michigan. 

In 1962 Thelma married again to Norman E. W. Holden in Las Vegas, Nevada. Little to nothing is known of Thelma’s husbands. Family members, including her son Jack had little or no particular memory of them (except for Al Pezzi). Thelma was not one to settle down. The marriage to Holden ended in divorce.

Thelma lived for several years in Twenty-Nine Palms, California. She operated a bar out in the desert catering to the Marines stationed there. By 1969 she was living in Los Angeles where she owned a dressmaking shop in the garment district. Always generous, Thelma gave her family members gifts of clothing and fancy lingerie.

Later she moved to San Luis Obispo County, near a childhood friend, where she lived until her death on November 25, 1987. In death Thelma took many secrets with her. Only the rumors remain. She was cremated and her ashes spread in the waters of Hawaii.

Share this: