O. U. Miracle

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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.

The Bunker House – A Building With a Past

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

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

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

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

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

It was in the 1940s that the building, which continued to serve as a boarding house, developed a rather “seedy reputation”. Longtime residents recalled as children they were forbidden to visit or linger near the building and its use by prostitutes implied. It should be pointed out, however, that despite rumors, it was never a brothel as brothels are illegal and would not have been allowed to operate as such. Nonetheless, it was known for illegal activity.

Ralph and Ella Rogers bought the property in 1947. By 1948, or perhaps earlier, the building was named the Traveler’s Hotel (as listed in phone directories) or Hotel Travelers (painted on building).

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

In 1959, Ella Rogers operated Gale’s Café near the Oceanside Pier at 300 1/2 North Strand, and in addition to his record store, Ralph Ross Rogers ran the Silver Dollar Tavern located at 312 Third Street (now Pier View Way).

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

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

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

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

Ownership of the building changed hands again until about 2009 when it was purchased by the current owner, who has maintained this gem of a building with great success. While its reputation has been tainted with scandal, the building itself is nearly unchanged from when the Bunkers owned it over 130 years and provides historic charm and character to Downtown Oceanside.

St. Malo, Oceanside’s Secret Hideaway for the Rich and Famous

Over several decades many residents and visitors alike have often wondered who lived beyond the gate at the end of Oceanside’s South Pacific Street. An impressive entrance allowed but a sneak peek into beautiful homes with unique architectural features.

Kenyon A. Keith, a wealthy resident of Pasadena, purchased 28 acres of oceanfront property in 1928. The following year he began developing a colony with custom built homes that were designed to resemble a French fishing village, St. Malo.  Residency was by invitation only and limited to family and hand selected friends. 

The St. Malo Subdivision begins at Eaton and South Pacific Streets. However, the St. Malo community, also extends on either side of the 2000 block of South Pacific Street. As homes were constructed, and continue to be built, they are kept to a strict standard of architectural style and materials, built and weathered to appear as if they have been there for decades.

The entry way or St. Malo Gate, was designed by architect William McCay. Keith wanted an imposing entrance to the St. Malo Beach community and built it to represent “a sense of place.”

St. Malo Gate at the end of South Pacific Street, circa 1930
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

St. Malo homes weren’t just weekend hideaways for the wealthy, wanting to escape from the city, they often “summered” there. Owners brought a full staff, with maids and cooks as most homes were built with “servants’ quarters.”

Homes were fondly described by owners as “story book cottages” or “chalets.”  Nicknamed “Pasadena on the Rocks”, St. Malo offered a private beach, playground, 3 tennis courts, a volleyball court and a clubhouse cabana.  Activities included exclusive cocktail parties, barbeques and trips to the Delmar Races.  Close friends of the owners were allowed to rent or even borrow houses for social gatherings and vacations.

Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

Although Oceanside residents were not likely privy to the comings and goings of colonists, their activities were posted in the society pages of the Los Angeles Times that featured headlines such as:  “St. Malo is Favorite for Pasadena Folk”; “St. Malo Beckons Social Set”; “St. Malo Beach Hums with Activity.” The social columnists promoted the exclusivity of St. Malo, but provided the names of the socialites and families that were staying there, along with their activities and other gossip.  They boasted that St. Malo parties were better than any in Hollywood.

View of St. Malo, Jason Joy’s palatial residence far right
Courtesy of “The History of St. Malo” by Nancy Keith Tenaglia

While newspaper articles attributed the location of St. Malo as in or near Oceanside, some attempted to place the community nearer tonier locales such La Jolla or Delmar. However, in 1950 the City of Oceanside annexed the St. Malo subdivision, at the owners’ request, which at the time had grown to 24 homes.  

The heyday of St. Malo was from the 1930s and 1960s.  Owners included Desaix Myers, a mining engineer; Dr. John Dunlop, pioneer orthopedic surgeon; Karl G. Von Platen, lumber magnate; Attorney Steve Halsted; Lamar Trotti, writer and film producer; W. John Kenney, Asst. Secretary of Navy; Frank Butler, screenwriter; songwriter Nacio Herb Brown; Hugh Darling, mayor of Beverly Hills; painter Marge Wilman.  Another wealthy “colonist” was Alice Pillsbury Forsman, daughter of the co-founder of the Pillsbury Mills.  St. Malo was such a way of life for most, even when they passed away their obituaries mentioned their affection of their St. Malo home away from home.

Other notable residents were film director Jason S. Joy and author Ben Hecht.  Joy’s St. Malo home was referred to as “La Garde Joyeuse” and included an outdoor bowling alley and volleyball court.  Hecht, whose prolific works include “Scarface”, purchased his St. Malo home in 1950. While living in Oceanside, he wrote a children’s book about a cat who roamed the streets of Oceanside. He said in an interview that he often wrote from his den overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Cover of the children’s book Ben Hecht wrote about a cat that lived in Oceanside, 1947

Homes within the colony sold for $57,000 (and up) in the 1940s, however, ownership was contingent upon “membership” and the approval of Kenyon Keith.

Over the years visitors have included Harpo Marx and James Maytag, (Maytag appliances). The most famous and royal visitors were none other than England’s Prince Phillip and Princess Anne, who stayed at St. Malo while attending events during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

No longer quite as exclusive, new families mingle with the more “established” residents. While St. Malo is no longer a secret, it still remains private and the homes behind the gated entrance and those who live there, still evoke a bit of mystery.