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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.’’
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.