The Boathouse at the Buena Vista Lagoon

An old boathouse slowly collapsed into the waters of the Buena Vista Lagoon in the 1970s, sliding into a watery grave. Many longtime residents remember this old boathouse but few may remember its history.

View of the boathouse at Buena Vista Lagoon, looking east.

The Buena Vista Lagoon, once a slough, has a murky history much like its waters. Sloughs are “ecologically important as they are a part of an endangered environment; wetlands. They act as a buffer from land to sea and act as an active part of the estuary system where freshwater flows from creeks and runoff from the land mix with salty ocean water transported by tides.” (Wikipedia)

At times large areas of the slough were completely dry. In 1910 and 1911 residents from both Carlsbad and Oceanside gathered to race horses on a half mile track on the dried “lake bed.” In the mid 1920s the dried bed of the eastern end of the slough was considered for a landing field for planes. Of course, these activities were temporary because during heavy rains the slough would fill, sometimes past its natural capacity, and spill out over the Coast Road and into the Pacific Ocean.  

In 1939 the County ended any hunting at the lagoon, although fishing was allowed. The area was declared a bird sanctuary eventually named after Bombardier Maxton Brown of Carlsbad, who was killed during World War II in action in North Africa.  

Shortly afterward, a weir was built at the mouth of Buena Vista lagoon. A weir is a barrier used to control the flow of water for outlets of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. Once in place, the weir changed the natural tidal flow of the slough, transforming it into a “freshwater brackish lagoon”.

Before the lagoon was altered in such a dramatic way, in 1901 the California Salt Company attempted to harvest salt from man-made evaporation ponds on the north end of the Buena Vista Lagoon. These ponds are shallow basins designed to “extract salt from seawater, salty lakes, or mineral-rich springs through natural evaporation.” As the water dries, the salt crystals are harvested by raking.

The July 13, 1901 edition of the Oceanside Blade reported: “The forces of the California Salt Co. are still at work in the slough between South Oceanside and Carlsbad. They are preparing to put down wells in the slough bed where points will be put in. The entire system will be connected to a pump and the brine pumped into the vats. Pumping operations are expected to commence in a few days.”

Salt Evaporation Ponds in view with boathouse on the southwest corner, 1946

The endeavor failed, however, and in a few short years the Salt Company had left town, leaving the evaporation ponds intact which were visible for decades. Because of this some have assumed that the boathouse dated back to the Salt Company.

The first evidence of the boathouse in historic photographs (dating back to 1932) reveal that the boathouse was constructed by 1946. An aerial of that year shows the boathouse adjacent to the western end of the abandoned salt evaporation ponds. In 1999 Nancy Tenaglia wrote in an article about the lagoon that her father Kenyon Keith of St. Malo had the boathouse built to store rowboats and a small sailboat. However she stated that the boathouse was eventually “abandoned.”

The boathouse was then utilized by hotel owner Dr. Clifford Elwood Brodie.

Brodie, a chiropractor, was a native of Washington State. He moved to Oceanside in 1939 and was actively involved in both business and politics. He built his first hotel, the Brodie-O-Tel at 2001 South Hill (Coast Highway) in 1939. Described as “colorful”, Brodie was married no less than five times (one marriage lasting just two months after securing a quickie divorce from a previous wife in Reno). He served on the City Council, but was the subject of a recall in 1945 because in part of his “bickering” with other council members.

After opening a twelve-room motor lodge overlooking the Buena Vista Lagoon, Brodie an avid sportsman, sought to have the lagoon transformed into a recreational spot for boaters and fishermen. He housed a boat of his own in the boathouse which was accessible from his property by way of the salt ponds.

He advertised his hotel, Brodie’s Motor Lodge, on signage and newspaper ads that said, “Sleep Where It’s Quiet.” His boathouse was painted with the words “Motor Lodge”.  

Boathouse painted with “Motor Lodge” and signage that reads “Sleep Where It’s Quiet, Brodie’s Motor Lodge”

The hotel was put into “receivership” for a time during a hotly contested divorce in 1949 and during that time it was reported that the boat kept at the boathouse was stolen. It very well could have been Brodie himself who took the boat in order to keep his wife Florence from having it. Brodie was found in contempt by the courts, after locking the hotel and leaving with both funds and records (and perhaps the boat).

Entrance into the Brodie Motor Lodge from South Hill Street

In 1950 Brodie attempted to sell his hotel at the lagoon, advertising it as a Mexican style hotel with a full length porch, panoramic views and sea breezes.

The Brodie Motor Lodge, 2128 South Hill Street (Coast Highway)

Despite his earlier recall, Brodie ventured into the political arena, running for county supervisor and later for an open council seat in 1952, but was not successful. He was, however, successful in renewing a relationship with one of his former wives, Edith Wolfe, and they remarried.

Clifford Elwood Brodie

Clifford E. Brodie died in November 1953 after suffering a fatal heart attack. The lodge which bore his name continued operation.

In fact, in 1958 a very special guest checked into the Brodie Motor Lodge. Heavyweight Boxing Champion Floyd Patterson arrived in Oceanside in July of that year along with his manager Cus D’Amato. Patterson was training for his title defense against Roy Harris in a match held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, on August 18th. His training took place at the Beach Community Center, but he stayed “where it’s quiet” at the Motor Lodge overlooking the lagoon.

Boxer Floyd Patterson at the Brodie Motor Lodge (from the Los Angeles Times)

After his training camp ended Patterson published a personal note in the Oceanside Blade Tribune saying in part: “I’m certainly going to miss Oceanside.  I know when I get back to New York I’ll be thinking of this place.  I also know that wherever I go to train for my next fight, I’ll be remembering the fine time, the perfect climate and the wonderful people of Oceanside.”

By the mid 1960s the Brodie Motor Lodge was torn down but the boathouse remained on the lagoon. Eventually the paint faded and the wooden structure began to deteriorate. It began to sink, even while children and teenagers ventured in and around it, One of the last published photos of the boathouse was in 1978, with a young boy perched precariously on top of it to fish.

Boy fishing on the collapsing boathouse, August 1978

Eventually Brodie’s boathouse slipped under the waters of the Buena Vista Lagoon and while it may be lost to the elements forever, the boathouse lives on in the memories of many.

Thank you to Edith Wolfe-Badillo for sharing some of these wonderful photos with the Oceanside Historical Society.

Ray’s Radio & Television Service

If you’ve ever driven down South Freeman Street near Godfrey, which borders the Oceanview Cemetery, you might have seen and been curious about this vintage neon sign. It does seem an odd place for an electric sign. How did it get there and who is Ray?

Raymond (Ramon) H. Nolasco was born in 1918 in Brawley, California. He was the youngest child of Pedro and Barbara (Ayala) Nolasco, who immigrated from Mexico in 1913. By 1920, the Nolasco’s were living in Oceanside on South Hill Street, near Short Street (now known as Oceanside Boulevard). Pedro was supporting his wife and three small children working as a truck driver.

When Ramon was just three years old, his father died and his mother was left to care for and support her children. However, the family received assistance from local community leaders, and in particular four Oceanside women: Mrs. J. E. Jones, Julia Scott, Mrs. W. M. Spencer and Anna Bearhope all petitioned the county welfare office to have a small house built for the widow at 508 Godfrey Street.

Ramon and his siblings attended Oceanside schools and more than once he was noted in the local newspaper as being a good student, receiving “honorable mention” for his grades.

In about 1939 Ramon, now known as Raymond, married Barbara Arebalas. In 1940 he was employed doing roadwork and living at the same tiny house on Godfrey Street in which he was raised. That same year they welcomed the birth of their daughter Barbara.

Raymond later went to work for George Yasukochi, who was a “tenant farmer” on the Rancho Santa Margarita. In 1945 Raymond enlisted in the Army and was sent briefly to Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California. He was discharged in 1946.

Two years after his discharge, Raymond began working for the new Eternal Memorial Park Cemetery which opened in 1947. As a former servicemember, Raymond likely took the advantage of the VA home loan program, when in 1951 he built a house (directly behind his childhood home) on the corner of Freeman and Godfrey Streets.

Original location of Ray’s Radio & Television Service at 108 South Hill, 1956

While continuing to work for Eternal Hills, Ray apparently ventured into his own business and around 1956 opened Ray’s Radio & Television Service, which was located at 108 South Hill Street (Coast Highway). He was at the location just one year, when he moved his business next door to his home at 1217 South Freeman Street. It was likely at that time he erected the neon sign at his store front, which at that time could be seen by vehicles traveling on Hill Street (Coast Highway). While the business is no longer open, the sign remains at this location.

Ray’s Radio & Television Service at 1217 South Freeman Street

Ray continued operating his service repair store until the early or mid 1960’s, all the while maintaining his job as groundskeeper at Eternal Hills, then as Cemetery Superintendent, until his death in 1982. So beloved was Raymond Nolasco by the cemetery, that a water feature, “Nolasco Falls” bears his name.

Courtesy Findagrave.com

For nearly all of his life, over six decades, Ray lived on the same “corner”; first on Godfrey Street and then on South Freeman. But from a humble beginning, Ray Nolasco made his mark on the history of Oceanside, both in neon and in bronze.

Do you have a local mystery?

The yellow “Beach Motel Area” sign is missing.

A local resident recently asked what has happened to a sign at the southeast corner of Wisconsin and Coast Highway. It had been there for several decades and has been removed. While I don’t currently have the answer, it’s worth looking into! Do you have a local history question? A family mystery? Contact me and I will see if I can help.

Al Capone and the Rancho Santa Margarita

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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.