History of the Beach Community Center

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The Oceanside Beach Community Center is showing its age. At 65 years old it has weathered the elements, including the relentless salt air. Once the center of activity ranging from sports, to Marine Corps Balls, and even its use as the City’s first “senior center,” the building may seem like a doomed dinosaur to many. Some may feel it has lost its purpose, but if the walls could talk the memories would resonate with history.

The land on which the Community Center now stands was once occupied by an electrical plant and salt water plunge, built in 1904, located just north of the Oceanside Pier. By the mid-1930s, the plant and plunge were removed and replaced by an “amusement zone” and concession booths. In 1942 the City of Oceanside leased the property to Harold Long, owner of the Oceanside Amusement Center. He set up a series of carnival rides including a large Ferris wheel for several summers. Long’s amusement center included concession stands, games of skill, and novelty items, such as Harold Davis’ “House of Relics”.

Oceanside Amusement Center circa 1947 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

In 1946 a building was erected in the center of the “midway” of the amusement center to accommodate the game of Bridgo. Bridgo Parlors were popular during World War II, but the game was deemed to be a form of gambling and soon closed by the State of California.

The amusement center was removed by the early 1950s and the Oceanside City Council considered plans for a new Community Center to be built in its place.  In 1955 the City Council requested bids for a community center, but the move was not without controversy as many viewed a public swimming pool as more important to the community. (Two community swimming pools, at Brooks and Marshall Streets, were built just a few years later.)

North Strand before Community Center was built, circa 1953 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Architect George Lykos drew the plans for the building.  Lykos had received a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 1935 and his Masters the following year from MIT.  In 1942 he partnered with Sidney I. Goldhammer and established the firm Lykos & Goldhammer.  Their office was located at the Sprekels building in downtown San Diego.  Among his works are the County Law Library, the San Diego Courthouse, the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest, the Ocean Beach Pier, Ryan Aeronautics and Waggenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa. The building contract was awarded to the firm of A. E. Betraun Co. in Vista, the firm also responsible for building the Star Theater in 1956.

Groundbreaking ceremonies being held March 18, 1955. Construction began in April and it was hoped that the project would be completed as early as June of that year.  However, there were delays caused by labor strikes and a shortage of materials. 

(Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

The Oceanside Beach Community Center was formally dedicated in September of 1955 and built at a cost of $131,000.  One of the first events to be held at the new Center was the Marine Corps Ball in November of that year.

(Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Over the years the Community Center has been used for meetings, social events, including adult and teen dances, as well as an early senior center.  The Center has also been used for sporting events, including volleyball, table tennis, and basketball.  It became the location of an early senior center known as the “Golden Age Club” in 1958.

Members of the Golden Age Club play shuffleboard (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

Entertainment, such as performances by the San Diego County Symphony Orchestra, took place at the new Center. Parks and Recreation Superintendent J. G. Renaud booked a variety of entertainment acts to perform at Oceanside’s new Community Center to the delight of residents.

 In 1956 recording artist Ernie Freeman and his band performed at the Center.  Freeman played on numerous early rock and R&B labels in the 1950s and played piano on the Platters’ hit “The Great Pretender”. He made the Top Ten of the R&B charts with the single “Jivin’ Around”. 

Local Swing dancers were thrilled when jazz musician Earl Bostic also performed at the Beach Community Center. Bostic, considered a pioneer of the “post-war American rhythm and blues style”, had a number of hits such as “Flamingo”, “Temptation”, “Sleep” and many more. A tenor saxophonist, Bostic was known for his “characteristic growl” he made on the sax.  

Earl Bostic was many of the entertainment acts who performed at the Beach Community Center.

Joe Graydon, who had a televised variety show, first in Los Angeles and then San Diego, hosted a show at the new Community Center. Renaud’s first rate entertainment continued with a “Western Roundup” and country western acts such as Hank Penny, Sue Thompson and Eddie Miller. Les Brown and his orchestra, who had performed with Bob Hope during USO tours, also entertained at Oceanside. The Community Center also presented movies, such as 1959’s now classic “Surf Safari” by John Severson. Admission was $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.  

In 1958 Boxing World Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson trained for a prize fight using the Oceanside Community Center and entertained spectators with several sparring rounds. He was accompanied by his legendary manager, Cus D’Amato.

Boxing Champ Floyd Patterson trained at the Community Center in 1958. (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

One of the biggest acts in Country Music came to the Community Center in 1961. Legendary Johnny Cash, along with the Maddox Bros. and Rose, performed for fans who flocked to see the “Man in Black.”

As neighborhood and seniors centers were built throughout the community in various neighborhoods, the Beach Community Center began to see a decline in use. In the early 1980s the Oceanside beach area was deteriorating. The Oceanside Pier was severely damaged (before being rebuilt), and the area was rundown. The Community Center, too, was showing its age.

The Beach Community Center in 1984 (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

By 1985, plans were underway to rebuild the pier and redevelop the beach area.  Along with a “facelift” the Community Center was enhanced by the addition of several large concrete and stone pillars. Sets of three pillars forming triangles were placed on the front entrance (east façade) and on the west façade along the Strand.  The pillars were then topped with large wooden beams, creating a more modernized look.  These pillars and beams have been removed in recent years, returning the Center’s original facade.

The addition of pillars and beams to the facade are depicted in this photo taken in 1985. (Courtesy Oceanside Historical Society)

In 1992 Marine-life artist John Jennings began work on a 45 foot ocean mural on the north elevation of the community center. Jennings donated his time and materials, estimated at over $35,000 as a gift to Oceanside.

Mural on the north elevation of the building done by John Jennings. (Photo by John Daley, 2020)

The Beach Community Center was renamed the Junior Seau Beach Community Center in 2012 in memory of the beloved Oceanside native who had a notable career in the National Football League, playing with the San Diego Chargers for thirteen seasons. 

The building now sits silently on The Strand, awaiting its doors to be reopened and for renewed activity and sounds to reverberate through its rafters.

The Junior Seau Beach Community Center (photo by John Daley, 2020)

Pacific Holidayland

Elgin “Lucky” Lackey saw the potential for an entertainment venue at the corner of Third and Pacific Streets (Third Street is now Pier View Way) and in June 1954 he opened what would be a popular spot for over two decades, Pier Golf.  In addition to a nine-hole miniature golf course, it included “shooting games” and pinball machines. Pier Golf also featured a snack bar with an open air dining area. Lackey would later add an archery range and ever popular bumper cars. 

Elgin Lackey was a native of Guthrie, Oklahoma. He made his way to California in the 1940s and eventually Oceanside.  In 1943 he and Mary E. Penn purchased Wilday’s Candy Shop at 111 North Hill Street (Coast Highway). The following year, Lackey married his business partner Mary, affectionately called Penny, in Las Vegas.

“Lucky” as he was called and known to most everyone, also had a used car dealership and an insurance business before opening Pier Golf. He also developed a housing development “Lucky Lots” consisting of 19 lots off of California Street in South Oceanside, and Lucky Street is named after him.

Lackey’s amusement center was an overnight success. It had the largest collection of pinball machines in Oceanside. At the time, pinball machines were regulated and banned altogether in San Diego and in unincorporated areas such as Vista. In the early days the machines were seen as a form of gambling, and dispensed cash. (In Oceanside, when allowed, any cash prizes were to be given over the counter.)  

In the mid 1950’s, the only allowable “inducement” was an extra play for high scores. A few venues gave the high-scoring player a chance to pull a “lucky number” and prizes could be won for certain numbers. One eatery in downtown Oceanside paid winners with cigarettes … “one or more packs, depending on the score”. This was considered “slightly illegal” and caused “some law enforcement officers to frown on pinballs in general.”

At five cents a game, pinball vendors could earn about “$15 to $50 a week for a ‘good’ machine in a favorable location”. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that the seventy pinball machines located throughout the City could gross over $100,000 a year.

An aerial view of the pier amphitheater to the left and Pacific Holidayland to the right, circa 1960

Pier Golf became such a popular attraction that Heavyweight Champion Boxer Floyd Patterson was a regular there while he was training in Oceanside in 1958. He attended so often he became an expert at the miniature golf course. One night he and his friends went to play skee-ball and accumulated over 300 points, according to sport reporter Irv Grossman. Patterson and his group went on to entertain themselves with the “Midget Autos” and “Dodgems” for which they were warned to “avoid head-on collisions”. As the adult men played, kids gathered to watch and Patterson soon engaged them in conversation, handshakes and finished his evening by signing autographs.

As Lucky Lackey continued to add features to his venue, Pier Golf transitioned into Pacific Holidayland. Touted as the only “amusement park” between Balboa and San Diego, Lucky and his wife Penny (Mary) invested half a million dollars in 1963 to develop “a super family amusement center.” Along with a “badly needed face-lift” the venue expanded to include the entire city block from Pacific to Myers, Mission Avenue to Third streets. The local paper reported that, “Houses and lots were purchased; the structures moved to make way for new buildings. The first major step in the expansion program was a $150,000 building, on the southeast corner of the block to house an archery and rifle range, skee-ball, pool tables and Dodgem rides.” The second phase of the renovation and expansion project included a new ice cream parlor, with both indoor and outdoor seating, along with a soda fountain. 

Certainly for over two decades Lucky Lackey’s Holidayland was the place to be. It was popular with kids and teenagers, Marines and families and is still etched into the memories of many Oceanside residents and visitors.

Lackey planned to continue his expansion of his entertainment venue along Pacific Street. But at the height of Pacific Holidayland’s immense success, Elgin Lackey died in February of 1966 in a hospital in Monrovia.

Mary Lackey continued ownership of Holidayland, which maintained its popularity. At its peak the center included 47 pinball machines, 4 pool tables, 3 air hockey tables, 18 skee-ball games, 2 shooting galleries, 5 kiddy rides, 2 automatic photo machines, 7 baseball throwing machines with cages and netting, a 13 car bumper car ride and the miniature golf course, among other features.

Local Marines and kids watch as others play at Pacific Holidayland, 1973. Image by Michael Kelly

In 1972 Richard Ford of Chicago, came to Oceanside to ride a Ferris wheel at Pacific Holidayland (probably in an empty lot next to the park). He had held the record of 22 days on a Ferris wheel in San Francisco, but was afraid of losing it, so this next attempt was for 30 days.  Ford was said to have an anonymous sponsor and was getting free meals during his stay in Oceanside. (It was noted that Ford only rode the Ferris wheel while the venue was open during regular operating hours.)

Pacific Holidayland offered a $50 in prize money to the person who guessed correctly how much weight Ford would lose while on his endeavor. He began on April 15, 1972 weighing 214 pounds and when he finished 30 days later he had lost 11 pounds. Ford’s feat made news across the country.

Despite the great publicity, Pacific Holidayland had seen better days. In 1976 the aging complex was owned by Charles and Sharon Moreland who were looking for a buyer to develop the property.  The property went up for auction in 1979, the games and assets sold.

A boarded up “Fun Center” awaits its demise.

In July of 1983 Pacific Holidayland was torn down. All that was left was a vacant dirt lot and an empty spot in the hearts of children of all ages.

While Lucky Lackey’s Pacific Holidayland is gone, it lives on in the cherished memories of many.