Oceanside has several notable landmarks including the Pier and the historic Mission San Luis Rey. However, one of the most notable and beloved landmarks is what we know as the “Top Gun” House. It has been newly restored, in all its Victorian-detailed glory, nestled within a new oceanfront resort on North Pacific Street.
To tell the story of the “Top Gun” house, we need to go back to the earliest days of Oceanside. Andrew Jackson Myers, a rancher in the San Luis Rey Valley, noted that a railroad line had just been completed Los Angeles to San Diego (by way of Riverside) along the Pacific coastline. Myers then applied for and received a land grant of 160 acres in 1883. The trains would travel directly over Myers’ new land grant making his property very valuable.
That year, a town was surveyed, laid out and streets were named. Myers began advertising his new town in newspapers all over Southern California. This new town of Oceanside was touted as a new “resort city” and excursion trains brought prospective land buyers from the inland valleys.
The train stopped at a simple wooden platform to unload passengers. There wasn’t much to see in those very early years, but one of the first commercial blocks contained the Hayes Land Office, the Louis Billiard Hall and Mayroffer’s Saloon.
Visitors wishing to wade in the Pacific Oceanside could use the bathhouse built by Andrew Jackson Myers, just below the bluff on the beach (located where the current Beach Community Center now stands) which afforded beach goers the opportunity to change into their bathing attire.
Described as a “seaside resort” in brochures and pamphlets, interest in the new town was great. With a name like “Oceanside” there was truth in advertising. In August of 1886 the San Diego Union published a story about our development, “The location is a most desirable one, combining a magnificent beach, high and level ground for a town site, magnificent climate and charming scenery.
The trains came from Los Angeles to Oceanside via Colton and passengers came to Oceanside as early as 1883 and 1884 to inspect the burgeoning town and invest in ocean and beach front real estate. Many residents of Riverside, Redlands and San Bernardino purchased property in Oceanside and built vacation homes here.
In 1886 Dr. Henry Graves of Riverside came to Oceanside and while here bought a portion of a lot on North Pacific Street for just $1.00. The following year Graves purchased two more lots, one of which was on the northwest corner of Pacific and First Streets (now Seagaze Drive). Lot 7 on Block 16 was purchased for $1050.00 and would be the site of new summer home for himself and his wife Sarah.
Henry Graves was born in Coshocton, Ohio on February 10, 1827. He attended medical school in Iowa, and later moved to Middleport, Illinois where he opened a practice in 1857. By 1860 Henry had married his wife Sarah, who was born in 1833, and was also a native of Ohio. The two were living in Hiawatha, Kansas and lived in house on Kickapoo Street. In 1868, Sarah Graves gave birth to a son, Henry E. Graves.
Graves was Post Surgeon at the Whetsone Indian Agency in 1871 as well as the Spotted Tail Agency in Sheridan County, Nebraska in 1871. The latter agency was the first to be constructed within the Great Sioux Reservation established by a treaty in 1868 and was named for Brule Sioux Chief Spotted Tail.
Returning to Hiawatha, Graves was appointed postmaster in1875 and operated a drugstore. In 1879 Henry Graves was elected to the city council there and was appointed chairman of the Republicans of Brown County committee. In 1883, Henry and Sarah Graves left Hiawatha, Kansas, and moved to Riverside, California where they purchased a ranch on Brockton Avenue. He continued his medical practice there but also engaged in citrus farming.
Dr. Graves undoubtedly read of Oceanside in the local papers where the excursion trips were posted and after making a trip of his own, was sold on the newly established town. Several months after purchasing his oceanfront lot atop Pacific Street, Graves had a home built. The South Oceanside Diamond reported on November 2, 1888: “Dr. Grave’s house, under the skillful management of Ed. Durgan is nearing completion.” (Note: It has been erroneously reported for a number of years that the house was built in 1887.)
The ornate Victorian cottage was built as a vacation home, Dr. and Mrs. Graves would “summer” in Oceanside and return to Riverside. The local paper described it is “their annual vacation by the seaside.” The couple continued to visit Oceanside each year. In 1904 they had an extended stay as the Oceanside Blade reported on May 21, 1904: “Dr. and Mrs. Henry Graves [are] down from Riverside and will remain in their cottage by the seaside until October.”
The Graves sold their Oceanside home in March of 1905 for $1800, to Charles H. and Lillian Burlock. Dr. Henry Graves died on October 20, 1905, in Riverside at the age of 78.
Charles Burlock was appointed deputy constable in 1897 by Benjamin Franklin Hubbert. Burlock married Lilian Wilcox in 1899 and moved to San Diego where he was the manager of the San Diego Gold Mining and Milling Company. The Burlocks sold the house to J. F. Anderson, and it was then transferred to Southwestern Realty in 1910. But even as late as 1914, locals continued to refer to the house at the “Graves’ cottage” because of its longtime association with Dr. and Mrs. Graves.
In 1921 the home was purchased by F. C. Janssen who was active in Oceanside real estate. The cottage was sold in 1926 to B. C. and Margaret Beers, the former being the President of the First National Bank of Oceanside and the developer of the Plumosa Heights subdivision on Alberta, Leonard and West Streets.
The cottage was sold again to Edward and Edith Deggendorf in 1928, who promptly sold it to Angeline G. Morgan who also purchased a house and lot behind the Graves house on Lot 6. Born Angeline Elizabeth Gregory in 1889, she was a native of Topeka Kansas. She moved to San Bernardino, California in about 1904 with her parents Merritt and Ruth Gregory. In 1917 Angelina was married to Alfred Powell Morgan of New York City, but the marriage was short-lived, although the union produced a son, William Merritt.
Angeline Morgan enlarged the former Graves cottage in 1929. She rented out the house until 1936 when she came to live there herself for a period of about five or six years until returning to San Bernardino to be nearer to her son. She relocated again by 1950 and her son, William M. Morgan, rented the house to the rear (112 First Street) for he and his family.
By 1966 Morgan had moved to Encinitas and the cottage was purchased by the owner of the beach amusement park, Pacific Holidayland. That year, Oceanside’s only oceanfront hotel, the Colonial Inn, was torn down. It had been built as the El San Luis Rey in 1904. Plans were to build a new resort hotel which never came to fruition. For six decades Oceanside went without a resort property, although in 2007 the Wyndham (which is a timeshare) and in 2013 the Springhill Marriot were built. What is a resort city without a resort hotel?
The Graves house reverted again to a rental property and over the years became dilapidated. Lynn and William Rego of West Covina, however, saw a diamond in the rough, and purchased the house in December of 1975 for $75,000. Much like Dr. and Mrs. Graves, they spent their summers in Oceanside looking over the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and renting it out the remainder of the year.
For over 90 years the house had been painted in dark hues, which is discernible even when viewing the house in black and white photos. Years ago, the original brown color was revealed in paint scrapings. It was the Regos who painted the house its signature blue color that most remember. Little did they know that Hollywood would notice their little blue Victorian cottage by the sea.
In 1985 the Regos were contacted by Paramount Pictures looking for a beach cottage for a film location. Paramount rented the house (including the property at 112 First Street) in June for two weeks. The crew prepped the perimeter of the property by removing parking and street signs and covering the curbs with sand. The movie being filmed was “Top Gun”, which became a blockbuster upon its release in 1986.
The movie made Tom Cruise a household name and the iconic scene of Maverick riding his motorcycle on palm-lined Pacific Street in Oceanside is every local’s favorite. Certainly, for Oceansiders some of the most memorable scenes of the movie “Top Gun” were filmed at the Victorian cottage, which was the featured as the home of Cruise’s love interest, flight instructor Charlie, played by Kelly McGillis.
Thereafter, it would forever be Oceanside’s “Top Gun” house. Fans of the movie from all over the world flocked to have their photo taken in front of the iconic house and stand on the porch.
In 1992 the Graves house was included in a Cultural Resource Survey prepared by S. Kathleen Flanigan along with Susan and Richard Carrico. This survey is an extensive list of homes and buildings eligible for historic register. It was noted that the house at 102 North Pacific Street was “one of the few 1880s beach cottages remaining in near-pristine condition.”
In 2001 the City of Oceanside acquired the Graves house through eminent domain to control future development of the oceanfront block in hopes of securing a resort project. Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) recognized the significance of the Graves house in 2001 and included it on their Most Endangered List of Historic Resources, saying: “This sweet Victorian era seaside cottage was built for Doctor Graves from Riverside. It is the oldest and last best beachfront cottage in Oceanside. Featured in the movie Top Gun, it has consequently been known as the Top Gun Cottage. The site is threatened by the huge hotel development proposed by Manchester Resort Hotels and the City of Oceanside. The cottage is on a corner of the property and could easily be integrated into the development and used as an adjunct facility to the hotel. Right now, it appears it will be moved off site, out of context, with its use yet to be determined.”
The Manchester project, a twelve-story, 475 room hotel failed, leaving Oceanside without its desired resort hotel overlooking the Oceanside Pier. However, two blocks fronting Pacific Street were cleared in anticipation of a new hotel project. Block 16 on which the Top Gun house was located, had four other historic homes. The house known as the Pishon house, located on the southwest corner of Mission and Pacific Streets was moved to a location on Maxson Street. Three other historic houses were demolished, including the house behind the Graves house, at 112 First Street (now Seagaze) which was used in the “Top Gun” movie.
By 2010 the “Top Gun” house was the only structure remaining on the block and seemed to be in the “Danger Zone.” With the house vacant, members of the Oceanside Historical Society kept an eye on it for several years, reporting break-ins and other issues. Twice the organization helped to hoist the sagging porches, had it painted and erected a large sign to inform passersby about the historical significance of the house and to assure those concerned that the house would be restored. In 2009 a fence was put up around the property, which was necessary to protect the house from further intentional damage.
In 2018 S. D. Malkin Properties, Inc. announced two new resort projects by developer Jeremy Cohen. Many wondered what would become of the “Top Gun” house. With the support and influence of Save Our Heritage Organization and the Oceanside Historical Society, the Graves house aka “Top Gun” house would be restored by S. D. Malkin and used as the “centerpiece of Oceanside’s much anticipated new oceanfront resort.”
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new hotels were held in February of 2019. The cottage was relocated one block away for structural restoration. Curious residents peeked through fencing to view its progress.
Afterward much of the work had been completed, it was moved one block north of its original location in front of the beautiful new Mission Pacific Hotel. The cottage is still situated on North Pacific Street, facing the ocean, which was important in preserving its historical integrity and setting. There was still work to be down to the cottage at its new location, but brief glimpses made way to a “full reveal” as it reemerged to its adoring fans. Architectural Digest reported: “Among the projects were restoring the wood cladding and front windows, dismantling the original chimney, and rebuilding it with the same historic bricks, and bringing back gingerbread details. Both porches had also been damaged and were restored.” Beautifully painted the cottage has been reborn and to borrow from the movie’s famous love song, it’s sure to take your “breath away.”
The beloved “Top Gun” House celebrated its much-anticipated grand opening on May 20, 2022, as the home of the High-Pie Shop, which is filled with memorabilia from the hit movie. Just days later was the release of the long-awaited sequel “Top Gun: Maverick” starring Tom Cruise. To the delight of movie fans, a replica motorcycle like the one Maverick rode on his iconic scene in Oceanside, was placed in front of the house Lines now form around the house to view the interior and purchase a pie. People pose on the front porch for selfies and group shots and pretend to be Maverick on his bike.
With two new beautiful hotels, Oceanside has regained or fulfilled its resort status, envisioned so many years ago by our founder Andrew Jackson Myers. The careful restoration of the historic Graves House, aka the “Top Gun” house is a crowning jewel on the oceanfront. It is sure to hold a place in the hearts of locals as well as movie fans for many years to come.
Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department was a collector of many things, including three large scrapbooks in which he placed various photos of crime and accident scenes, along with a variety of newspaper articles dating from the 1930s to the 1950s.
One scrapbook contained a human-interest story of John M. Caves, a retired sea captain who was hospitalized in the Oceanside Community Hospital. This was not Caves’ first visit to Oceanside, and it wouldn’t be his last. Curious, about Mr. Caves and his peculiar claims, I did a bit of research and uncovered two different hoaxes perpetuated by Caves for over four decades. In between he would murder a traveling companion and serve time in prison.
John Murile Caves was born January 4, 1882, in Oakmont, Pennsylvania, a small borough of less than 2,000 person in Allegheny County. He was the second of four children born to Samuel T. and Martha Caves, who lived in a rather stately home at 713 Pennsylvania Street in the town of Oakmont. His siblings were Samuel Meredith, Henry Adams and Mary Caves. Their father Samuel Caves worked as a blacksmith with Verona Tool Works.
At the age of 18 John Murile Caves was still living with his parents but held no occupation, nor was he attending school, in an era where this would have been atypical. His brothers, one older and one younger were both employed at Verona Tool Works with their father.
In 1907, at the age of 25, John was arrested along with two other men for breaking into a train car. In the newspaper account, John Caves was described as a “cripple who walked with a crutch” and “peddled shoestrings.” This may have been the first of John Caves’ personas as he was not at all crippled, at least not permanently. T. B. Shaffer, the railroad detective, reported that Caves’ two companions seemed distraught about their arrest, but in contrast John Caves was “cheerful” about the encounter. Regardless of his hapless attitude, the arrest landed Caves in jail, awaiting trial for several months after which he was found not guilty and released.
Walking Career Begins
John Caves would begin an “illustrious walking career” two years later in 1909. No official record was found of the starting point or date but in September 7, 1909, the Quincy Journal announced that Caves had arrived in Macomb, Illinois.
Going by the moniker of “Happy Jack” the Journal reported that Caves had started his walk on April 6th of that year, starting from Boston. He claimed he ran away from home at the age of 9 and (incredulously) had already completed two walking trips across the continent. Now he was determined to travel around the world against a wager of $2,000 from “Bryan’s Commoner and Munsey’s Magazine”, which purportedly provided the route that he should travel.
According to Caves, he was not to ask for a cent from anyone along the way but could accept gifts. Apparently and supposedly people were very generous as he claimed to have eaten no less than three meals a day and stayed at the finest of hotels while on his journey.
Caves further claimed he had a year in which to complete his trip across the United States, but four years to travel the world. Caves announced his intention to make his way to Lincoln, Nebraska and from there to San Francisco where he would eat a Christmas Dinner. The article ended that “Happy Jack” was 28 years old and walked at an “easy gait of 5 miles an hour.”
On September 21, 1909, Caves had walked to, or at least arrived in, Burlington, Iowa by way of Fort Madison. The Burlington Hawk Eye reported that Caves had now walked 10,090 miles and that he was on his way to Des Moines to Omaha, then to San Francisco “by Christmas.” From there Caves said he would get “free passage to Japan and Australia, from Australia to London and from there home again.” Caves next stopping place on his route would be Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, the newspaper informed readers.
For the next several years John Caves would convince or at least amuse folks with variations of this tale, and it would be perpetuated from town to town, newspaper to newspaper. But the good residents of Ottumwa, Iowa saw through the tall tales and when Caves stopped through their town they were not taken in by his charm or his story. The Burlington Evening Gazette in Burlington, Iowa (where he been just days before) disclosed: “Happy Jack, the big bum alleged globetrotter, who is trying to fool the people throughout the country, was arrested for drunkenness in Ottumwa.”
The Ottumwa Courtier shared this news in September of 1909: “John M. Caves, who claims to be a globetrotter, has clasped to his belt of claims another item. Yesterday he proceeded to tank up as much of the brew down his throat, but before he covered as much distance in this direction as he claims he has covered over the country, he fell into the hands of Office L. Lightner. ‘Happy Jack’ was jugged, and in police court he acknowledged he was drunk. Judge Morrissey gave him three days to repent.”
After this encounter and 3-day jail stay, on September 27th Caves had reached Albia, Iowa, stating, “I’m still going. Roads are good. I’m making 50 miles a day. I will be out of the state, Saturday, October 2.”
Oh, but “Happy Jack” was still in the state of Iowa on October 5th where he was giving a lecture of his travels in Glenwood at the Opera House.
Did Caves ever make it to Omaha or San Francisco? It is hard to say. Perhaps he was detoured.
Eight years later John Caves was in the news again when in August of 1917, he was arrested for assaulting a railroad conductor with a knife while working as a restaurant cook. He pled guilty and was put on parole.
In September of 1918 Caves was working as a “blacksmith helper” at Verona Tool Works where his father was employed in Oakmont, Pennsylvania (his hometown), according to his World War I registration card. He seemed to have settled down for a very brief time, but he would soon be on the move again for another walking trip “around the world.”
But before that Caves found himself again in trouble with authorities when on May 22, 1921, he was arrested in Bellwood, Pennsylvania. After an altercation with members of a train crew, he was ejected and in retaliation threw a rock that subsequently hit the brakeman. Caves spent over two weeks in jail until his day in court. The Altoona Mirror reported: “Happy Jack Caves, an individual of tall stature who assured the court that he was ‘a sailor from the high seas’ who had come to this section of the country to visit some friend and became intoxicated, pled guilty to through a stone through a passenger car window near Bellwood.”
It is worth noting that Caves would again claim to be a sailor decades later. However, before that reinvention, he began another worldwide trek.
A Trip “Around the World” Begins
On April 1, 1919, (notably April Fool’s Day), Caves purportedly began a journey from Boston that would take him to every continent in the world, and every state in the U.S. Supposedly a total of 16 men began this trek, that would take them 99,986 miles in a period of three years. The winner of this race of sorts would allegedly win $30,000, which is equivalent to $500,000 today. The contest was supposedly sponsored by Johns Hopkins University and was the starting point.
Nothing was found about this race or contest until June 25, 1921 (two years later from its supposed start date) when the Times Herald in Olean, New York ran a story with the headline: “Happy Jack Is Ahead On His Hike Schedule.” The story stated that he had arrived in Olean, New York at 5:35 am from Eldred, Pennsylvania (a distance of about 13 miles). At that time Caves had claimed to have visited 42 of the then 48 states and that he 28 days ahead of schedule. He was due to return to Boston April 1, 1922.
The following details were included in the Times Herald article, and it is worth noting that similar details, which varied from time to time, would run in more than 50 articles from just as many newspapers around the eastern part of the country:
In every state and county which he enters he has to go to the capital and county seat. When he returns to Boston, he must have a dollar for every county seat and $5 for every capital.”
Additionally, he was to receive a signature from every town or city official that he passed through and dutifully mail these signatures to the “committee in charge.”
He was not allowed to “ask for rides or money” but he was allowed to accept “gifts of money.” The prohibition of rides included a reward of $500 to anyone who witnessed him riding rather than walking.
Happy Jack Caves walked an amazing 40 miles a day, at least according to the Herald piece, and at the time the article was written, he simply carried a knapsack weighing 65 pounds.
On July 12, 1921 the Hudson Columbia Republican newspaper reported that “Happy Jack” arrived in Hudson, New York from Albany. He had purportedly completed 70,182 miles, 23,000 of which were on foot. Caves claimed to have 20,804 miles to complete before April 1, 1922. From Hudson he was on his way to New York City, to Fall River, Massachusetts, then back to New York to Niagara Falls and then on to Canada and Montreal. Countries claimed already visited were: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Italy, Greece, France, Russian, England, Germany, Australia, Japan, China, as well as “every country in South and Central America.”
Caves arrived in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on August 15th. The newspaper there reported that Caves was walking to settle a $30,000 wager between the Boston Pedestrian Club and the Pedestrian Club of John Hopkins University. He was on his way to Greensburg next, but the newspaper also added the unbelievable detail that Caves had “circumnavigated a wheelbarrow around the globe during the years 1893-97.” (He would have been 11 years old based on Caves’ ACTUAL age.)
On October 7, 1921 Caves passed through Massillon, Ohio “enroute to New England and Canada.” The stories kept coming as Caves went from town to town. The journey expanded, he turned his 65 pound knapsack and instead began pushing a wheelbarrow and the wager or bet became prize money instead, which grew. Caves followed no particular route but seemingly meandered back and forth, retracing his steps while approaching “the last leg,” while the finish line seemed elusive.
On or about November 2, 1921 Caves arrived in Bucyrus, Ohio and then made his way to Marion, Ohio, where he stayed at the Royal Hotel on Main Street. In just five months his story had changed significantly. According to the Marion Star, Caves had traveled 91,000 miles, visiting every country in the world, but had eight of the U.S. states left to visit (not six) but he was now 38 days ahead of schedule. During this tremendous journey Caves claimed to have worn out 90 pairs of shoes covering 43,000 miles on foot. At this point, the traveler was accepting gifts as the article stated he “‘passed the hat” while giving lectures on his adventures.
The following day the Richwood Gazette in Richwood, Ohio informed its readers that Caves arrived in town. This time Caves was to walk 99,986 miles and had 5,000 to go but was still a full 38 days ahead of schedule. The Gazette reported that Caves could ask for nothing except water and the use of a telephone.
Caves made it to Newport, Kentucky (population 316) the following day – traveling over 140 miles to do so. Even at 40 miles a day it would take him over three days nearly a week to travel that distance, so it is safe to say that he hitched a ride or hopped a train. At Newport Caves claimed to have 2500 miles to go, adding that the money he collected from county seats and state capitols was sent directly to the “Pedestrian Club of Boston” who co-sponsored the trek with Johns Hopkins Hospital.
It was more likely that he simply pocketed any money he received from gullible officials who believed his elaborate stories.
Later that month Caves made his way 400 miles south to Huntsville, Alabama. He claimed to have been 38 days ahead of schedule of his deadline of April 1, 1922. In Huntsville Caves claimed that he was native of Norway and this “fact” would often be included in many subsequent stories.
There was no telling how much farther south he traveled and then supposedly headed north towards the finish line. Little is known of Caves and his travels until June of 1922, well after the supposed deadline.
The Baltimore Sun announced the arrival of “Happy Jack Caves” on June 26, 1922 with the headline “World Pedestrian Here.” Caves was on the “last lap of his journey” and now it seems he had four months (rather than three) to complete his trek. More new details were that he now pushed a wheelbarrow containing a tent and cooking utensils and a Great Dane dog was his companion.
Now he added a detail to his ever evolving story that 17 other contestants had begun with him, but they had all dropped out. In addition, out of the 99,986 miles required he had just 700 to go, although it was reported he had visited every “state in the Union” and in “every foreign country.” But if Caves was now in Baltimore, Maryland, the finish line (Boston) was just 400 miles away.
Three weeks later, on July 11, 1922 Caves was in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a mere 80 mile trip, but it seems Caves was no longer keeping his 40 mile a day pace. The Evening News of that city reported that he had “traversed every country, continent, ocean and sea, and river in the world” along with just 45 states (versus all 48). Although these details varied, Caves still had no less than 700 miles to go, despite the fact that he had traveled 80 since his last encounter.
Rather than traveling northeast to Boston to the “finish line”, Caves instead went west to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a distance of 24 miles, arriving July 24th. He then continued on a southwesterly direction to Shippensburg, (population 4300) a distance of just 20 miles, arriving July 26th.
A representative of the town’s newspaper interviewed “Happy Jack” who now claimed to have been born in 1861, coming to America in 1881 from Norway. Still on his “last stretch” but traveling in the opposite direction, Caves added to his tall tale saying that he had been in 4 wars. His story evolved again saying he had visited “all the principle countries” — Europe, Asia and Africa and had been to 47 states. To keep track from his last count of 45, what two states did he visit in two weeks as he had only been in Pennsylvania during that time frame?
If that wasn’t enough, Caves’ wheelbarrow was said to have weighed 165 pounds and he claimed to have worn out 5 wheels, 12 axles and exactly 284 bearings, along with 46 pairs of shoes. The article went on to say that Caves expected to arrive in Boston by August 18 or 20 (even though he wasn’t headed that way) and that he was going to beat the world record by 8 months. It concluded by saying that Caves was on his way next to Hagerstown.
It was noted by one newspaper that Caves offered proof of his travels by newspaper clippings that he collected about himself. It was also pointed out that while his wheelbarrow was plastered with photos, clippings and postcards of places he claimed to have visited, none of them were outside of the United States.
On August 30, 1922, Caves meandered his way northwest (away from Boston) to Saltsburg, to Blairsville and then traveled east to Indiana, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper there said that Caves eight months away now (probably because he wasn’t going in the right direction)! It went on to say that he was a happy looking man and that at age 61 (he was really 40) “looks good for at least that many more.” After his stay Caves was on his way to Punxsutawney.
Several months seem to pass without a “Happy Jack” sighting until December 9, 1922 when Caves traveled to Snow Hill, Maryland. This 300 mile route traveling southeast was nowhere nearer Boston and he most certainly did not complete his journey by August. Nonetheless the paper dutifully reported that Caves was on his “last leg” of his journey. Notably, Caves talents and skills expounded as now he spoke 17 languages, all of which he was “more proficient in than English.”
But Caves could top even that, by saying that in 1888 he had pushed a “hogshead” (a 63-gallon barrel) from Boston to San Francisco. By completing this fete he won $16,000. If that claim wasn’t wild enough, he added that next he had SKIPPED across the entire continent and out of 24 contestants he was the only one to finish and was awarded $12,000. (Caves also claimed to have roller skated from coast to coast.)
Did anyone question these claims? The newspapers seemed very happy to take him at his word or at least print them.
Finally, it seemed that Caves’ journey was over when the Boston Globe announced on December 19, 1922, that John Muriel Caves had finished his endurance walk around the globe after reaching Wilmington, Delaware. (Eight months later than one of his supposed deadlines).
The Journey Continues
But “Happy Jack” was not finished. It seems he started over OR more likely just kept his ruse going, traveling to towns he had not yet visited with the same story. No doubt this was a continuation of the “original contest” or journey, but no one seemed to know or realize.
On January 9, 1923 he arrived in Reading, Pennsylvania. Caves was on his “last lap” of a “hike” around the world. They happily put him up at the local YMCA, noting that Caves had “obtained the seal and signature of every burgess, mayor and county clerk, or prothonotary of every borough, city or county through which he passed.”
Martha Meredith Caves, John’s mother, died on June 14, 1923 at her home in Oakmont, Pennsylvania at the age of 71. It is possible that John was there for her funeral, but he did not stay long. Just about two weeks later he arrived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on June 27, 1923.
His arrival was regaled with a large photo in the newspaper with the headline that read: “Pedestrian Here is Near End of Journey Around the World.” Some of the “facts” remained the same: 1. The race started April 1, 1919; 2. Seventeen contestants began the race but only he continued; 3. Caves had to obtain signatures from every clerk, mayor (or king). Compared to his “previous race”, he had now worn out 47 pairs of shoes, 7 wheels, 28 axles and 284 ball bearings.
On July 5th the Chronicle Newspaper of Shippensburg, PA noted that Caves had passed through Lancaster and noted that he had traveled through Shippensburg a year prior. They did not question why he was back in the area, seemingly traveling in circles.
In May of 1924 the Edwardsville Journal, Edwardsville, Illinois announced that Caves was nearing the end of his “long walk.” He had until September 29 to arrive in Chicago, but since he was well ahead of time, he was “not rushing.” It was revealed he had been in a St. Louis Hospital for two weeks and that his dog had to be kenneled for sore feet. Caves had now worn out 52 pairs of shoes and 28 axles on his wheelbarrow. This time the newer added detail was that out of 17 contestants, Caves was the only one left, but the others had simply not quit, as previously reported, Caves now said that 5 died while walking and 2 were killed in accidents.
Happy Jack made his way to Columbus, Indiana on January 8, 1925. Embellishments of his travels continued, including that he was given 39 dogs by the Boston Kennel Club over the course of his trip as traveling companions. He spoke all of 21 languages and was an interpreter during wartime. It was also noted that he had worn out 83 pair of specially made boots, 9 wheels and 286 ball bearings. Caves purportedly was on his way to Indianapolis to obtain the signature of the governor and that after doing so his list of signatures would be complete. He then had until January 25th to reach Boston to finish. But he never made it to Boston because he was still on his “last lap” when he reached Greenfield, Indiana on January 27th.
He then made his way to Dayton, Ohio and from there to Marion, Ohio on February 25, 1925. The local paper noted that Caves was on his “return trip” and that he had passed through 3 1/2 years earlier. No one seemed to notice that he was meandering from town to town.
Caves visited Crestline, Ohio one month later on March 21st. The newspaper shared that Caves had just ten days to complete his walk and claim a $10,000 prize (considerably less than $30,000 to $50,000 claimed a few years ago). It was astutely noted that he would have to travel 100 miles a day to make that happen. Days later Caves “was found ill” and brought to the Monnette hospital to recover from an undisclosed malady.
On November 3, 1925 Caves was hospitalized again, for gall stones. He was still on the “last leg” of his journey, of course. This time it was disclosed he would receive $26,000. The following month he was in Kingsport, Tennessee. In April of 1926 Caves arrived in Wythville, Virginia where he declared he had just 930 miles to go.
Then finally, on April 22, 1926 it was announced that he had arrived at the Potomac Park Tourist Camp in Washington, D.C., which apparently was the new finish line or the completion of his 99,986 “required” mileage. The accomplishment took 8 years, 3 months, 21 days and 5 hours, according to Caves, but if he started April 1, 1919, it really took 7 years and just 21 days. (But who’s counting?) Caves claimed he continued without “a day’s interruption” which wasn’t true because of recorded hospitalizations.
Caves gave his usual statistics to the newspaper: he had worn through 90 shoes, 30 wheelbarrows, 28 axels and 30 dogs, which had all died according to Cave. He also kept track of his lectures which totaled 321.
Caves revealed that he was on his way next to Annapolis, and then headed north to meet up with his wife and 5 children! At least once he claimed he had 4 children and years later he would repeat a story that his one and only wife had died from scarlet fever while traveling around the Horn.
Whiskey and Bay Rum
Despite the completion of his required 99,986 miles, John Caves continued to travel and on May 27, 1927 he was in Plymouth, North Carolina where he was scheduled for a lecture at Darden’s Christian Church to talk about his travels. The lecture was well attended but it came to abrupt halt when church leaders determined Caves was under the influence of whiskey.
On January 15, 1928 Caves was a patient in the Allegheny Hospital after a “general breakdown” although doctors could not decide the cause of his illness. He had visited his sister who was a nurse at Pittsburg Tuberculosis Hospital and had fallen while on the road near the town of Creighton. Curiously, it was revealed that Caves had been unable to talk or hear for a period of two years and communicated by writing with paper and pencil. This, of course, was untrue because of his willingness and ability to give lectures from town to town.
The Pittsburg Press, who announced Caves’ hospitalization, also reported that “during his long walk, the best time Caves made was 8 miles an hour” and that he once walked 71.5 miles in 21 hours.
In early March of 1929 his travels came to another halt in Akron, Ohio after he was “picked up” by police after drinking too much Bay Rum, which was used as cologne and aftershave lotion. The newspaper reported that the 50-year-old (closer to his actual age than most reports) had been wandering for 10 years. Caves told authorities he was the only one left in the race and he had to do now was to walk to Boston. “No more bay rum for me,” as he allegedly continued on to the fictional finish line.
However, later that year, Caves was found by police in Lancaster, Pennsylvania after drinking nearly a half bottle of Bay Rum (which was 58% grain alcohol). Caves claimed that he was cold and in an effort to warm up he drank the highly toxic alcohol mixture that was used as astringent.
It seems as Caves continued drinking, the public began to question some of his claims. The Intelligencer Journal printed Caves’ claim that he had traveled 99,000 miles in 12 years (with a starting year of 1917 rather than 1919) and figured that Happy Jack would have to average 22 miles a day, each and every day including “Sundays and holidays.”
Lancaster police noted that Happy Jack was neither happy nor congenial and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
But things would get worse for “Happy Jack” when on February 20, 1930 the Morning Post of Camden, New Jersey revealed that Caves was penniless, his dog was dead and his wheelbarrow wrecked. The newspaper cited that Caves had started his “endurance trip” 11 years ago and noted that he passed through Camden in 1926, obtaining the signatures of the County Clerk. But now he hobbled into the police station on crutches, looking for food and a place to sleep.
Caves claimed to have been struck by an automobile at Kennett Square, PA a month earlier, suffering a broken ankle. As a result of the accident he was hospitalized nearly three weeks at the Chester Hospital. The hospital gave Caves enough money to reach Philadelphia and from there he had made his way to Camden. He was sent to the Salvation Army barracks but instead went to the police department located next door because the former institute was “too crowded.” Caves informed the newspaper that he had completed 99,286 miles (still 700 shy, even years later, of the required 99,986).
Murder in Macungie
Six weeks later “Happy Jack Caves” was arrested and charged with murder on March 30, 1930. The Berwick Enterprise of Berwick, Pennsylvania said that it was the same Caves “who gained fame” by pushing a wheelbarrow “from New York to Los Angeles.” Caves was arrested for the stabbing death of John Barrett during an argument at a “hobo camp” near Swabia Creek on the outskirts of Macungie, a small town near Allentown. He confessed to the stabbing but claimed self-defense.
A subsequent newspaper reported that Caves was “well known in police circles” because of his frequent arrests for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. No longer referred to as an adventurer, he was now simply a “wanderer,” an “itinerant” or even a “hobo,” and his walking expedition called a “stunt”.
Published accounts detailed that Caves stabbed Barrett after a dispute over milk and the killing was witnessed by four young boys. He was placed in the Lehigh County jail awaiting trial. Despite previous newspaper accounts that he was 62 years old, the jail records list his correct age at 48.
During his trial in June of 1930, Caves testified in his own defense including the fact that he was a “consort of wayfarers and hoboes” with colorful nicknames such as “Baltimore Whitie”, “Old Man Morrissey” and “Barrett the Barber”, whom he killed.
Barrett was given his nickname because he carried a razor around his neck. He was portrayed by others as ferocious and vicious.
Caves voice was described as thin and high pitched as he recounted how the two men had met in “The Jungles”, an Allentown hobo camp. Caves would beg for food for Barrett and himself, since he was a more sympathetic figure on crutches. After an argument over milk in the coffee, apparently Barrett was too liberal with the pour, Caves said Barrett struck him with a pocketknife and he in turn simply grabbed a butcher knife in self defense. The knife hit Barrett in the heart, killing him instantly.
The prosecution called four young boys to contradict Caves’ version of what happened. John Ritter, 12, Edwin Bortz, 13, Harold Rhoads, 10 and Donald Rhoads, 12 spent the entire afternoon with the two men and each testified that Caves “quarreled and grumbled” throughout the day about various things, including about a piece of liver.
The boys also testified that Caves had begged for and acquired turnips, potatoes, onions, and coffee. The two men, and apparently the boys as well, stole two kettles, two knives and “a big piece of suet” (animal fat). Caves had managed to collect $2.85 after panhandling which he used to buy bread, cigarettes and four containers of “canned heat” (Sterno). Perhaps the intention was to warm a meal with the aforementioned ingredients, Caves instead made an alcoholic mixture to drink with the liquid contents after squeezing it through a handkerchief and diluting it with water. This was not an uncommon practice during Prohibition, particularly in hobo camps.
While at their encampment, Barrett complained that Caves put too much water in the coffee and Caves in turn complained that Barrett put in too much milk. Angry, Caves lunged at Barrett with his crutches, hitting him in the mouth and cutting his lip. The incident resulted in the soup that would be the group’s meal being spilled.
Caves reportedly said to Barrett, “Are you sorry for what you did?” to which his companion replied, “Do you want some more?” Caves then responded angrily, “I’ll give you some more!” and suddenly drew a knife, stabbing Barrett.
Afterwards, Caves placed a pocketknife in the hands of the lifeless Barrett and went through his pockets. He found two coins but said in disgust, “Two lousy cents” and then kicked Barrett’s dead body. As he walked or hobbled away, Caves said to the boys, “This is the second time he tried to kill himself.” To which Donald Rhoads replied, “You killed him, you skunk!”
John M. Caves was found guilty of 2nd degree murder after the jury deliberated over 29 hours. The only relative that showed support by attending the trial was his sister Mary Caves, who took the verdict much harder than her brother. It was revealed that he showed no sign of emotion except what was termed “a sigh of relief.”
Caves was sentenced 6 to 12 years and sent to Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Noted for its innovative wagon wheel design, the imposing prison once housed notorious gangster Al Capone. Caves was given the prisoner number of C-6262.
Records provided by Eastern State Penitentiary and the Pennsylvania State Archives indicate that Caves’ stay there was not without problems. He was sent to solitary confinement more than once for fighting.
The prison was visited by Dr. Doncaster G. Humm of Los Angeles, who specialized in “industrial psychology”, visited and interviewed several prisoners, including Caves, to “secure material for research.” He would later publish his findings and identified seven different temperaments defined as “normal, hysteroid, manic, depressive, autistic, paranoid and epileptoid.” Humm was of the opinion that “the marriage of those with a poor hereditary background should be discouraged. Sterilization and marriage education were suggested as eugenic ideals.”
Records show that on June 5, 1934 Caves was transferred to Graterford Prison, a newer facility, but he was returned on January 3, 1935. Nine days later he was transferred to the Lehigh County Jail, then released on parole June 26, 1936. In December 16, 1936 he was once again returned to Eastern State Penitentiary for violation of parole.
Cave was released again on parole on June 16, 1937, perhaps because his father died, but the Pittsburgh Press reported in October that Caves had nowhere to go and asked to go back to prison. He was returned on November 7th.
By 1940 Caves was paroled again, because in April of 1942 Caves filled out a World War II registration card (for men born on or after April 28, 1877 or before February 16, 1897). At that time he listed his address as 428 Fourth Street in his hometown of Oakmont, Pennsylvania. He was officially discharged from the penal system on January 3, 1943, which was nearly 12 years from his sentencing.
A New Life – A New Story
One year after his official release, John Murile Caves began a tour of the country with a new life story of adventure which again brought him notoriety and attention — that of an elderly seafaring captain.
On April 10, 1944, the Cumberland News of Cumberland, Maryland said that the “80-year-old former merchant marine captain, John M. Caves, Baltimore, was taken to Memorial hospital at 7:15 pm yesterday by Officer John G. Powers after being stricken with a heart attack near Central Y.M.C.A. His condition was reported to be fair.”
Seven months later Cave had made his way to the west coast to Southern California. In January 1945, he reportedly collapsed in Descanso, about 40 miles east of San Diego. He was picked up by the Highway Patrol and brought to San Diego and was described as “penniless and ill.” However, Caves’ story was filled with heroic yet fantastical details, saying that he was a merchant marine for 65 years, “shipping supplies in five major wars, six historical rebellions, captaining the lead ship in the first convoy to Guadalcanal, and losing his own ship January 16, 1942, off the coast of Newfoundland.”
He told Patrolman George Dowdy that he was hitch-hiking home to Philadelphia so that he could get medical attention and “get back into service again.” The San Diego Union promulgated this “fantastic story” but didn’t seem to question any detail. Caves, who claimed again to be from Norway, said that at age 10 he was a mess boy “on an old Norwegian sailing vessel” and that he had traveled no less than 208 trips around Cape Horn. When asked about a wife, he said he married a daughter of another sea captain many years ago, but she had died of scarlet fever while rounding the Horn.
Additionally, Caves claimed to have continued his career “through World War II and until, he left a ship at Richmond, California in December 14, 1943, his career was halted by a hit-and-run auto driver.”
He gave his date of birth as January 4, 1861 (21 years earlier than his actual birth year) and his birthplace as Upland, Norway. The newspaper article concluded with a story that Caves was the captain of the Jenny P. Higy (or Hickey in other accounts), which sunk off the coast of Newfoundland in 1942, “carrying 250 Polish refugees and a crew of 85.” All lives were saved but Caves lost his life savings. (Editor’s Note: No record could be found a ship by this name being sunk or a similar event.)
Rather than head to Philadelphia as planned, one month later “Captain” Caves was in Shreveport, Louisiana waiting for transportation to his “hometown” of Baltimore. It was a very familiar story published in the Shreveport Journal in February 1945, but with the added embellishment that he was the captain of the Paul Revere which brought needed supplies to Marines in Guadalcanal. His ship was torpedoed three times during 1941 and 1942. Caves shared the same story of losing a wife to scarlet fever.
The following month Caves arrived by train in Indianapolis, Indiana sickly and penniless. His age was given as 84 when he was really 63, but he happily told his yarns of his “long and colorful maritime career.” He was, he said, headed to Baltimore.
However, three months later he was in Ogden, Utah. Seemingly in much better health he was entertaining folks with his stories at a local canteen. The Ogden Standard-Examiner reported on June 23, 1945 that Caves was the “oldest seafaring maritime captain still on active duty” who had “a store of sea tales as long as his years of service.” These talks, of course, included the sinking of the Jenny P. Hickey, and leading a convoy to Guadalcanal. Caves however, was not trying to get back home (to either his hometown in Philadelphia or Baltimore) but “to pick up another ship and another cargo of supplies to carry somewhere across the sea.”
The following month, in July, Caves had not traveled east but west, and was in Tulare, California where he had collapsed from another heart attack. Information was provided that he was a retired sea captain but still “in service of the government at Port Hueneme.” His age was listed as 70 years old, which was a bit closer to his actual.
Just as when he claimed to have walked around the world, his only evidence of his seafaring career was saved newspaper clippings about himself from various towns he had visited.
In August of 1946, Caves was in a Bethsaida hospital in Maryland, after suffering yet another heart attack. Caves said he was “visiting” in Baltimore, but on his way to San Diego when he stricken.
One month later John M. Caves was in an Albuquerque jail for being in “a dazed condition.” It was assumed he was drunk (and likely he was) but because he claimed he was 87 years old, the police had pity on him and took him to the hospital. However, it was his second visit to the same hospital in as many days and the hospital said they could not handle him, so he was taken to the county jail. When taken to jail he “relapsed into a coma” and could not speak “from the effects of a medicine found in his possession.”
The police found previously published newspaper articles that Caves had collected about himself, one published out of Kansas stating that he was born in Superland, Norway and was a sea captain for 32 years. It seems while in Chapman, Kansas he stayed at a hospital there and officials discovered several receipts or bills for various hospitals around the country. Caves was crisscrossing the country, having “heart attacks”, telling his stories, collecting newspaper articles about himself, along with the bills, and going on to the next town.
He reportedly made his way to Newark, New Jersey in January of 1947 only to travel back west to California.
In February of 1947 he was found “writhing in pain” on a sidewalk in downtown Oceanside. It seems he had suffered another heart attack, but Captain Harold Davis took him to the local hospital where he made a quick recovery after taking “a heart pill.” Caves said he was on his way to Corona by bus but didn’t have any money. Davis bought the stranger some food, who claimed now to be 87 years old, listened to his stories of the sea and purchased him a bus ticket so he could go on to his next destination.
Months later, in October, Caves was in Redding, California where he suffered another one of his trademark heart attacks. However, the next month while in Sacramento it was determined he was “just drunk” and not ill and was booked in the county jail. In 1948 he was in El Paso, Texas where he was hospitalized for, (you guessed it) a heart attack.
In March of 1951 John Caves was back in Oceanside, California. The Oceanside-Blade Tribune reported the following:
“Police were called the other night to a modest room in a local hotel—an elderly man, a heart attack, not much if any money—and thereby hangs a tale. It’s a tale of the sea, of iron men and wooden ships, dating back to the middle of the last century. As it turns out, the tale has been told before, and Capt. Harold Davis of the local police department, along with a few other people, are wondering about it.”
Well, at least there was some skepticism but that didn’t keep the paper from sharing his stories, including how he was born in an igloo in Norway!
The account continued: “Further checking by Capt. Davis showed that the man suffered heart attacks in this city in January , and again in April, and there is evidence to show that his heart has put him in hospitals in other communities in California and Arizona at least. These circumstances, plus the fact that hospital nurses and Capt. Davis don’t think the man looks as old as the 92 years he claims to be, make observers somewhat doubtful. After all, a policeman of 20 years becomes so accustomed to hearing stories that he is inclined to believe nothing which can’t be documented. Still, it is a good story and the grizzled old gentleman tells is simply and well. He can’t prove it with papers, except for news clippings he has collected from other interviews, but on the other hand, his listeners can’t disprove it either. As far as we know, it may just be the best yarn since Edgar Allen Poe’s fabulous trans Atlantic balloon race.”
The Oceanside Blade Tribune then printed Caves’ “biography”, which was slightly similar in detail to other previous versions, but included mostly a new and different story of his early sea-faring career:
“Capt. John Murile Caves, a Norseman, was born in 1859 in the Land of the Midnight Sun in an igloo. One of several children, he went to sea as a cabin boy when he was 10 years old, aboard a barkentine bound for San Francisco, around Cape Horn. From there the ship loaded with wheat and barley bound for England, and then back to Norway.
Later he shipped again aboard a three-masted, full-rigged ship to Boston with a load of matches. When they docked, he tried to run away, but was caught and taken back aboard ship.
Young Caves made a number of voyages, spending 11 years on Norwegian ships. On one cruise in 1881 his ship had docked in Baltimore, and was ready to set sail for San Francisco, when Caves met a man who agreed to help him get off the ship just before it sailed. He put his bags and seat chest in the forecastle, and that night a small boat came alongside and took Caves ashore.
He lay low for three months, living in the attic of a large hotel outside Baltimore, and then went to the US commissioner to get his first papers. He became naturalized in 1886, went to sea again aboard a ship to San Francisco, and on that particular trip the vessel sprang a leak out on the Atlantic. The crew had to pump her by hand all the way around Cape Horn to Frisco to keep her afloat, Caves recalls.
After that trip Caves decided to become a steward, but one trip and went back to being an able-bodied seaman. He said the crews, who were often shanghaied in those days, complained too much about the food.
By hard work and the good fortune of having captains over him who could teach him, Caves eventually worked his way up. On Caves’ second cruise the captain of the ship had his family aboard, including, two daughters who were school teachers and who helped young Caves with his education.
In 1890 he joined the US navy to increase his seafaring knowledge, signing on for four years, but stayed in for 10 and took part in the Spanish-American war. When he was discharged at Norfolk, he took the examination and received his captain’s license.
All told, Capt. Caves has been in five wars, serving in the merchant marine in all but the Spanish-American. The others are the Boxer war, the Boer war and World Wars 1 and 11. In the last one, in 1943, he says his ship was bombed on a return trip from the Marshall Islands. For 32 years he sailed the seven seas as ship’s captain.
Since the war his health has not been good, and when he was taken ill here Tuesday night he had come from a US merchant marine hospital in Fort Stanton, N.M. He was en route to Santa Ana, where a government pension check awaits him, and then he planned to go to Port Chicago to see a nephew who is about to ship out on his first deep-sea voyage as ship’s captain.”
The article ended with this curious and telling notation: “Thursday afternoon, disappointed because the newspaper story had not appeared yet, Capt. Caves boarded a bus to Santa Ana.”
Just days later Caves was back in Oceanside. The Blade-Tribune said he had been in the hospital at Santa Ana for a heart attack. This return visit to Oceanside was not quite as welcoming as he landed in jail for vagrancy charges after panhandling.
After leaving Oceanside Caves traveled to Modesto three weeks later, had his requisite heart trouble but was jailed for vagrancy.
Two years later, in March of 1953, he stopped in Tucson, Arizona but was arrested for being drunk in public. Three weeks later Caves was in a Las Cruces, New Mexico hospital.
In June of 1953, Caves was on his fourth visit to Oceanside. This time he was given a Greyhound Bus Ticket by the “Oceanside Community Chest”, a local charity, for a one way trip to Los Angeles. The voucher was signed by Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department.
From 1956 to 1957 Caves traveled back and forth to Baltimore only to come back to San Diego, then on to Denver, Kansas City, Missouri, to Indianapolis, Indiana to Claymont, Pennsylvania and then to New York.
His brother Samuel Meredith Caves died in May of 1956. His sister Mary Caves, who faithfully attended his murder trial in support of her brother, died November 28, 1956 at the age of 77. On January 2, 1958 his last surviving sibling, Henry Adams Caves, died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
One of the last mentions of John Murile Caves was found on May 15, 1958 in the Evening Sun, Baltimore, Maryland. Isaac Berman, a real estate agent had been receiving bills from hospital and ambulance services all over the west coast addressed to “Capt. John M. Caves. Berman was quoted as saying, “Who is this man and why did he give my address?”
The Evening Sun announced that Caves was receiving welfare and had given the 228 South Broadway address as his home, and supplied it to the police as well.
Caves had been in the Maryland hospital in 1956, claiming to be 99 years old. He told the staff he came from New Mexico with money given to him by a minister. His next trip, he said, was to Washington, D. C. to see about his military pension. This was a story repeated in many of the articles, but he never received a pension because of the fact that he was never in the military or merchant marines.
He stayed for a full two weeks at the Maryland hospital and then just walked out one day. Although Caves claimed chest pains, the hospital had found nothing wrong with him, noting he ate “like a horse.” His two week stay in Room 528 was $400 which like dozens others went unpaid. Other bills were left unpaid as well. Exasperated Berman said, “I guess I’ll be sending mail back to the Post Office for him as long as I live.”
It seems that soon after this unwanted publicity, Caves was sent to stay at Delaware State Hospital Cemetery in New Castle. Many of the patients there were diagnosed with mental illness and a variety of disorders.
John Murile Caves died January 23, 1961, at the age of 79. He was buried in the Delaware State Hospital Cemetery and was given just a number to mark his burial spot.
According to Cris Barrish of WHYY, the cemetery “has 776 such cubes that are arranged in concentric circles in what’s now known as the Spiral Cemetery. A small and weathered stone angel with her hands clasped in prayer serves as a lone sentinel over the lost souls. Patients without families who would or could afford to bury them were instead laid to rest on site.”
With all the attention and publicity he had received for four decades, his nameless resting place belies the colorful, if not fabricated, and sometimes troubled life of an infamous wanderer.
Captain Harold Davis of the Oceanside Police Department kept several scrapbooks in which he placed newspaper clippings, letters, and photographs, some of which were graphic in nature. Throughout these books, he wrote personal notes and memories about a particular crime or accident, or about a fellow officer he enjoyed working with in his long career.
Included in the many pages of one scrapbook were two mugshots of a Thomas Happel, along with two newspaper articles from the local newspaper. In his photos, Happel does not appear to be a hardened criminal, but he may just be one of the few, if not only person, to successfully escape from the Oceanside jail.
On September 25, 1951, Motorcycle Officer Hubert C. Russell spotted what he thought was a suspicious vehicle at a local service station. He noted a small corner window of the car was broken, and then noticed two teenage girls seated inside the vehicle while a young man talked outside with an attendant. A closer inspection of the car revealed keys that were broken off in the door locks and as the officer peered inside, “a jumble of blankets, clothing and other items.
With the likelihood of the car being stolen, Russell made contact with the driver, Thomas Happel, and instructed him to follow him to the police station. Happel seemingly complied and drove dutifully the few blocks to the Oceanside Police Department, then located at 305 North Nevada Street.
After pulling into the parking lot, Officer Russell waited for Happel to park, but instead Happel put his car into drive and sped away. Happel traveled north on Freeman Street with Russell in pursuit, joined by fellow Officer Paul Ricotta. As he attempted to make a left turn at Eighth Street (now Neptune) and make his way to Highway 101, Happel ran off the road and hit a house. Unhurt all three occupants of the car emerged and fled on foot. An unidentified Marine witnessed the trio running, followed by two uniformed officers, and took action, heading off Happel and bringing him down “with a flying tackle.”
After taking Happel into custody, Oceanside Police discovered that Thomas Happel was an 18-year-old Air Force private who had gone “AWOL” from Lowery Fareli Field in Denver, Colorado. Walking away from his duty station, he stole a 1950 Ford and drove to his home state of Maryland, some nearly 1700 miles away. In Brooklyn, Maryland Happel picked up the two girls, ages 15 and 16, and obtained Maryland license plates for the stolen car, using a “phony registration slip.” Then the trio drove headed west, driving across the country while Happel cashed or wrote bad checks to pay for gas and food. Just before coming to California, Happel stole two wheels and tires in Arizona.
The girls were never publicly identified because of their age, and were taken to the Anthony House in San Diego and then returned to their parents in Maryland.
Happel was booked and placed into a cell in the Oceanside jail, which was located on the second floor of the police station. That same night Happel escaped from his cell by breaking a bar off the grating of a roof ventilator and squeezing through a narrow opening. The Oceanside Blade Tribune described the scene: “The opening he made at one end of the grating was about seven inches wide and 10 inches long. Happel is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 130 pounds. The bar which he broke was not one of the original ones in the grating but had been welded on the cross-pieces after a similar escape attempt was once made through the opening.”
The account went on to say that “Happel must have had help from other prisoners in the cell block in order to get up to the ceiling and work the bar loose. When he had the piece of steel free, he used it to force the next bar over enough to get through.”
With Happel’s escape his list of charges continued to grow and the F.B.I. were now involved. On the run, Happel stole another car, a Cadillac, which he abandoned in Fontana, California. He apparently stole yet a third vehicle and made his way east.
Three weeks later the Oceanside Police Department received word that Happel had been apprehended by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and was in custody in Oklahoma City. The fugitive was caught after a traffic accident at Woodward, Oklahoma and apparently tired of running, admitted his identity to law enforcement.
It was reported that Happel would be made to return to Oceanside to face charges, including felony escape, but it seems he managed to “escape” extradition and perhaps served his time elsewhere. Thomas Happel, it appears, gave up his brief stint as an outlaw and went on to live a presumably quiet life in south Florida.
The scrapbooks of Harold Davis hold many more stories waiting to be told…
Boxing fans may be interested to learn about the history of the sport and the stories of two early boxers in Oceanside.
Fighters in the early 20th century like Jim Jeffries, Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey ignited interest around the country and filled arenas for both amateur and professional bouts. But shortly after organized matches were brought to Oceanside, boxing was banned here for two decades.
John L. Sullivan, a bareknuckle fighter who became the first American heavyweight champion in 1882, may have been the inspiration for Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. Myers, who was known to race a horse or two, was once featured in a local bout. The South Oceanside Diamond announced on August 10, 1888, that Myers would face the “Great Unknown” in a “grand slugging exhibition at the old Pavilion.” Spectators had to pay 50 cents to view the event, which also featured Myers’ son Joseph Myers and Charles Kolb in a bare-knuckle contest.
Local boxing enthusiasts were likely pleased when in 1908 the Oceanside Blade reported that the “Blake brothers have fitted up a gymnasium at the Mira Mar hotel for the free use of the young men of the town. The outfit is composed of a turning pole, swinging rings and trapeze. Some of the citizens intend adding a punching bag, boxing gloves, etc., which will make it very complete. The hall room is used for the purpose.”
Aloysius Cloud Thill, known as “Allie”, was one of the first local boxers to box professionally. He was the son of Andrew and Clara Thill who relocated to Southern California, along with younger son Francis around 1910.
Born October 29, 1898, in Buffalo, Minnesota, Allie Thill was both studious and athletic. He was the Vice President of the Freshmen Society at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School and played on the school baseball team.
The elder Thill owned a popular barber shop for years and both he and his son Allie shared the occupation. The Oceanside Blade commented on Thill’s barbershop in 1914: “A. Thill recently placed in front of his tonsorial parlor on Cleveland Street one of the niftiest barber poles ever seen in these parts, it is of the rotary kind and when lighted up at night makes a fellow want to get shaved whether he needs it or not.”
In 1914 a group of Oceanside businessmen formed the California Social Club. Founding members included Hale Backensto and Andrew Thill. The club was formed for “educational and amusement purposes”. The source of amusement it seems was found in alcohol, which would find the club embroiled in controversy. But one other purpose of the organization was to hold boxing matches in Oceanside.
Hale Backensto, president of the Social Club, was in trouble for operating a “blind pig” or selling liquor without a license. He was arrested three times, and twice acquitted. He filed a $5,000 lawsuit against L. W. Stump, justice of the peace, and G. D. Love, constable for damages. Backensto’s arrests and subsequent lawsuit did not make him friends with the Oceanside City Council and Andrew Thill resigned from the social club.
Just before his 18th birthday, Allie Thill stepped into the boxing ring. He went by the name of Al Barber. The Oceanside Register shared some of the highlights of Al’s first fight against Fred Fadley on September 29, 1915: “Al Thill Wednesday night won an honor for himself and for Oceanside when be fought Fred Fadley in a four round go at the Field rink in San Diego. Although the fight was a draw Thill did splendid work and had fearful odds, his opponent being a trained fighter. Thill was supported by a score of local fans, whose voices were heard above the other 800 members of the audience. He won the favor of the whole crowd when he started the bout with an aggressive campaign against his opponent, giving him three punches for every one he received in the first round. In the second. Thill easily doubled the points over Fadley, but owing to lack of training, he tired out before the finish. With remarkable cleverness the local champ held off the well figured out blows of the San Diego fighter, but at two or three occasions failed to grasp opportunities to lay his opponent on his back. Had it not been for this, he would doubtlessly have been given the decision.”
Thill certainly made an impression, especially since he had started boxing only a week prior to his first match! Given direction by W. A. Roche, a member of the notorious California Social Club, Al Thill quickly became a local favorite, known for his heavy punch.
The excitement of Thill’s prowess and future success brought boxing to Oceanside when the following month several bouts were held at Mildred Hall on North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade reported that “Frank Fields of San Diego, outboxed Charlie Tapsico, an Oceanside product, for three rounds of what was to have been a four-round bout.” (Charles Tapsico was an amateur boxer only and a mechanic by trade.)
Summaries of the other bouts were as follows: “Red Gardner stopped Blacky Sandow in two rounds while Billy Howard performed the same service for Billy Patton in the third. Al Barber secured the decision over Shano Rodriguez of Tia Juana, the contest going four rounds in one of the bouts.” The article concluded with the sensationalized detail that “there was a satisfactory amount of gore visible to satisfy the fans and the crowd seemed to have obtained the worth of the fifty and seventy-five cents charged for the seats.”
Despite the previous lawsuits and scandals, in November of 1915 the California Social Club held a subsequent boxing match in Oceanside promoted by Frank Fields, former boxing champion and promotor of San Diego.
In March of 1916 Allie Thill began training with Frank Fields. Thill and Fred Fadley fought again the following month at Oceanside’s Mildred Hall but once again the bout ended in a draw. The fight drew over 100 attendees who also saw other matches, one with locals Frank Mebach and William Patton, followed by Joe Lopez who outboxed the Oklahoma Kid, and then another draw between Windy Briley and Shining Oscar.
Al Thill would finally get his first winning decision on April 29th in a four-round match against “Young Sandy.”
On June 10, 1916 Thill as “Al Barber” faced Joe Berry, known as the “Italian Crackerjack” in Oceanside. The Oceanside Register announced the bout touting both fighters: “Berry has a knock-out punch that has set many other fighters to flee and young Barber’s courage in taking him on will win still higher praise among his many local admirers.”
At the height of enthusiasm and growing excitement of boxing matches, sanctioned or hosted by members of the now defunct California Social Club, the Oceanside City Council put an end to any and all future bouts. In July of 1916 they passed Ordinance No. 226 “Prohibiting the Holding of Sparring or Boxing Exhibition for Profit.” The ordinance read “Any person, who, within the corporate limits of the City of Oceanside, California, engages in or instigates, aids, abets or does any act to further any contest, sparring or boxing exhibition between two or more persons, with or without gloves, for prizes, reward or compensation, directly or indirectly, or who charges, receives, accepts, gives or takes any ticket, token, prize money, or thing of value from any person or persons for the purpose of seeing or witnessing any such contest, sparring or boxing exhibition —- shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $300.00 and be imprisoned for a period not to exceed three months or both such fine and imprisonment.”
Nonetheless, the Oceanside Register announced on October 20, 1916, that “Thill the Barber here, is soon to return to the boxing game. He is known as Al Barber and will meet Sandy from ‘Frisco. They are both said to be in first class condition and are about equally matched, so it ought to be a good fight.” Due to the ban, this fight was likely not held in Oceanside.
Thill’s professional boxing career was interrupted in 1917 when he entered the Navy during world War I. Stationed in San Francisco, he met and married Cecilia Goodwin of Napa. (This marriage ended in divorce, but Allie married again in 1926 to Ethel T. Vesely by whom he had two children.)
Although it appears his boxing career was well behind him, in July of 1919, Thill took to the ring again to entertain spectators in an exhibition held at the Oceanside Beach. The Oceanside Blade reported: “Saturday’s amusements under the supervision of W. H. Trotter were enjoyed by a crowd almost as large as that of the day before and consisted of music, dancing, sparring matches, rodeo, ball game and other sports.The boxing took place at the new band stand on the beach. Al Barber, the “Pride of Oceanside,” sparred four rounds to a draw with Kid Dillon of San Diego. Frank Fields and Battling Clark went four fast rounds, also to a draw.”
In 1924 Thill took over his father’s barbershop which had relocated to the basement of the Palace Hotel on North Hill Street (which his father built). He and his wife Ethel raised their two children, LaGloria and John (known to friends as Gloria and Jack), in a home located at 801 Alberta Street. Thill remained a sports enthusiast, hunting, golfing, playing billiards, and was one of the founders of Oceanside’s annual rough water swim. Active in a variety of local organizations, he served as commander of the Disabled American Veterans.
Al Thill died in 1962 and was laid to rest in Eternal Hills Memorial Park. His son Jack was proud of the fact that his dad never lost a professional fight.
Another Oceanside resident who stepped in the ring and went professional was George Webler, better known to boxing fans as “Battling Doty.”
The son of Thomas and Mary Webler, George Napoleon Webler, born in Kankakee, Illinois in 1903, was one of six children, and the oldest of three sons. George was named after his paternal grandfather, George A. Webler, who arrived in Oceanside in 1904 and operated a restaurant in downtown Oceanside.
Thomas Webler supported his large family by working at the Oceanside-Carlsbad High School as a custodian and groundskeeper. The Webler children all attended Oceanside schools, both grammar and high school. The boys were athletic and known for the prowess in foot racing and particularly baseball.
Although George Webler was skilled with a bat, he was just as well known for his fists. William Reid Couts remembered him all too well. “I remember George Webler; [he] was two grades ahead of me. He used to beat me up pretty nearly every day. I always had a girl, you know, and Doty would want to take her away from me. I remember one time he was on top of me, beating the hell out of me, one of the teachers took him off of me.
“Doty was just a nickname they gave him; George was his first name. If you looked up his records for his fight, it was Battling Doty. He was a middleweight, I think he was a welterweight to start, but he wound up a middleweight.”
George Webler did not graduate high school but instead, at the age of 17, joined the Navy. The Oceanside Blade reported on July 24, 1920, that, “George Webler has signed up as a jacktar in Uncle Sam’s Navy.” A jack tar was a term used to refer to seamen of Britain’s Merchant or Royal Navy, but by World War I it was also used for those in the U.S. Navy. The following week Webler left for training at Goat Island, San Francisco.
Webler’s time in the Navy was short because by 1921 he was back on the local Oceanside baseball team, where he played off and on for three more years.
By 1922 Webler went from a street fighter to a professional one, using the name of “Battling Doty”. In November of that year the Santa Ana newspaper reported that Battling Doty of Wintersburg was scheduled to fight Joe Riley. (Wintersburg is a small area or neighborhood near Huntington Beach, established largely by Japanese. It is unknown how or why Webler became associated with Wintersburg, he possibly lived there for a brief time.) In Oceanside he was a local favorite and by all accounts he was a powerful puncher.
Webler lost his debut match with Riley on a technical knockout on November 15th but came back two weeks later in a rematch and won. A bout with Kid Tex ended in a win for Webler but he lost to Babe Orton in San Bernardino on March 1, 1923. Webler’s boxing career seesawed, with 28 wins, 26 losses and 7 draws. (Stats from boxerlist.com)
William Reid Couts, who spoke at length with his run-ins with Webler recounted vividly: “Man, that guy was ornery, even when he grew up he was ornery. Mean! I went to Escondido to see him fight one time, that’s when he was on his way down –when booze and women got him. He was a good fighter, Doty was. I seen him fight a couple of times. He fought everything in the west coast, the middle west. He was big time. But you just can’t battle that booze.
Webler was in Escondido for a scheduled fight in 1924. Couts recalled an encounter with Doty before the match: “I went over to Escondido and I walked in his dressing room, before Doty had this fight and he shook hands, ‘How are you?’ and all that and all of a sudden, WHAM, took me in the kidney, just WHAM. No reason, absolutely no reason at all. A professional fighter whacking you in the kidneys, they know where to hit, you know. So I picked up something, I think it was a chair. ‘I’m going to brain you, you son of a bitch.’ He said, ‘Come on, can’t you take anymore?’ ‘You watch your step,’ I said. I always told him, ‘Someday I’m going to kill ya.’
From January to April of 1925 Doty dominated in the ring. He won seven consecutive bouts, two by knock out.
In March of that year Webler married Ruth Chambers of San Diego. The marriage however was short-lived. Ruth filed for annulment on the grounds that she was underage when the two married. She was just 16 ½ years old at the time of their nuptials. A judge granted the annulment in June 1925.
That year Doty fought seventeen matches professional matches, winning eleven, five of them consecutively; two ended in a draw. He fought three opponents in just as many days in exhibition fights, which were just as long and grueling. In 1926 his win record was eight out of fifteen, with two draws. In 1927 Webler won just three out of eleven matches and was knocked out twice. His boxing career ended just after five years but his sixty-one professional fights, and numerous exhibitions took a toll.
Webler was working as a taxi driver in San Diego in 1928 and 1929. Perhaps his hard drinking caught up with him, along with the many hard punches his embattled body would have taken. Local newspapers circulated the sad story that he attempted to take his life by “inhaling gas in his room at 1334 Front Street.” He was taken by police ambulance and transported to the “psychopathic ward.”
He recovered and was released from the hospital but his life continued in a downward spiral. In 1930 he was arrested and found guilty of first-degree burglary while in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to 1 to 5 years and sent to San Quentin Prison on November 22nd. Paroled in 1934 and discharged from supervision in 1936, Webler stayed in Northern California after his release. He worked as a shoe shiner along the Embarcadero in the 1940s.
Unaware from his fall from grace, William Reid Couts, who had been the target of Webler as a young man, was still confounded by his assaults. “The last time I ever saw Doty I told him, ‘The day will come when I’m going to knock you from here to yesterday.’ Last I heard he was a merchant sailor.”
Then perhaps thinking of George’s probable age in 1987 (the year of his interview) added: “But he’d be 82, so I might not do it! But believe me, I might think about it if I see him!”
Couts was unaware of Battling Doty’s fall from grace, and his death which had occurred two decades previous. George Webler died May 31, 1966 in his hotel room at the Lincoln Hotel at 115 Market Street in San Francisco. Records indicate his cause of death was fatty degeneration of the liver, perhaps due to long term drinking. His sister Lillian Webler Newton paid his funeral and cremation expenses.
The City of Oceanside repealed the ban on boxing in June of 1938. The small town of Encinitas was featuring boxing every Thursday night and proved to be quite popular. Subsequently Councilmember Ted Holden stated at meeting that he had been approached by a “responsible party” about holding boxing matches of a “professional character”.
City Clerk John Landes informed him of the 1916 ordinance and an additional 1930 ordinance banning matches except those under the auspices of the American Amateur Union. Rather than amend the previous ordinance it was suggested a new one altogether and to update others as it was pointed out that there was an ordinance forbidding “a speed of more than 8 miles an hour for motor vehicles.”
Later that summer Jim “Dynamite” Dawson and Herb ‘‘Dangerous” Dunham faced each other in a three-round boxing bout at the beach.
In 1941 Oceanside’s Recreation Park hosted exhibition boxing. On August 29th the main event featured a three-round battle between locals Johnnie Dominic “The Vegetable King” and “Hit ’Um” Eddie Hubbard.
Amateur boxing matches were featured at the Oceanside Athletic Club shortly after it opened in 1949. (Wrestling, however, proved much more popular.)
Lee Ramage, a native of San Diego, moved to Oceanside in 1950. In 1931 he was the Light Heavyweight Champion of California and fought 105 fights over his nine-year profession career. At the peak of his career, he was ranked in the top five of heavyweight boxers. Most notably he fought Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, TWICE. In his first meeting with Louis in Chicago in 1934, Ramage held his own for seven rounds, but Louis won by TKO. Three months later they fought again in Los Angeles with the same result. Ramage operated a gas station/grocery store and trailer camp at 1624 South Hill Street (Coast Highway) in the 1950s.
Oceanside was thrilled to host Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson in 1958. Patterson stayed at a local hotel and trained at the Beach Community Center for his title bout against Roy Harris. Patterson was accompanied by his trainer and manager, the legendary Cus D’Amato who would train boxer Mike Tyson years later.
The Schuyler Building at 408 Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside is just one of a three surviving brick buildings erected in the 1880s. It was built a 133 years ago in 1888, likely with bricks made from the local brickyard in South Oceanside.
The building was originally owned by John Franklin Schuyler, who was born in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, July 2, 1836. According to a biography, Schuyler “received a common-school education” and “when sixteen years of age he went to learn the tinner’s trade, after which he worked as a journeyman in several of the western States. In 1858 he came to California, where he worked in several places, and returned to New York City in 1864.”
Schuyler married Ann Frances Barlow in 1864 and they had three children: Mary, Frank B., and Wilton S., all born in Nebraska, where they resided until 1884, when the family moved to San Bernardino, California.
John and Ann Schuyler moved to Oceanside in 1887 and opened his first hardware business on Second Street (now Mission Avenue) which he purchased from Oceanside’s founder Andrew Jackson Myers. In 1888 Schuyler constructed the two-story brick building at 408 Third Street (now Pier View Way). The South Oceanside Diamond newspaper reported on March 30, 1888 that Schuyler was moving “into his new building on Third Street.” Canvas awnings were added to the building in October.
Originally built with just two stories, the first floor contained a hardware store, which sold “general hardware, cutlery, stoves and tinware, water pipes, water tanks, pumps, gasoline stoves, crockery, and glassware,” as well as plumbing. The second floor was used for a fraternal lodge as well as a community meeting room, and one time even housed Oceanside’s early library.
A prominent and active citizen, Schuyler served on the first board of trustees when Oceanside incorporated, as well as President, a mayoral position in today’s terms. He also served on the Oceanside’s volunteer Fire Department and erected a small building to store the city’s fire equipment. Schuyler was the founding member of the Odd Fellows Lodge in Oceanside and his storefront also bore the lodge emblem which hosted the lodge meetings on the second floor.
John Schuyler died in 1907 and his death was announced in the Oceanside Blade: Word was received on Friday, by the local Odd Fellow lodge, of the death of John Schuyler, a former well known resident of Oceanside and the organizer of the Oceanside I. O. O. F. Lodge. Mr. Schuyler was one of the prominent businessmen of Oceanside about twenty years ago, being the pioneer hardware merchant in this city, and active in the civic life of the town during his residence here. For the past ten years or so he had been making his home in Berkeley with his older son, Frank. He is survived by two sons. F. B. Schuyler of Berkeley, and Wilton S. Schuyler of St. Joseph Mo., and one daughter, Mrs. John Bond of Berkeley. The body will be brought to Oceanside, arriving Sunday, and interment will be made in the Odd Fellow cemetery beside Mrs. Schuyler who died about fifteen years ago. Services will be held under the auspices of the local lodge and will take place at the grave at noon, proceeding directly to the cemetery from the depot.”
Years before his death the Schuyler building was sold to John H. Buchanan, who in turn sold the property later that year to Peter J. Brannen. Brannen came from Los Angeles to Oceanside and continued operation of the hardware business. In 1905 he helped to form the First National Bank of Oceanside along with D. G. Harrington, C. J. Walker, and others. That year he remodeled the interior portions of the former Schuyler building and opened it as a boarding house.
The building was sold in 1913 to Oceanside resident Mary J. Walbridge. She leased the ground floor to Jack Taylor and Refugio Romo who opened a café. The second floor was leased to Refugio and his wife Madge Romo, and together they operated the “Romo boarding house” for several years.
In 1920, it was sold to James B. and Ella Kolb in 1920. James Kolb was the son of Jonathon and Frances Kolb, who first settled in Pala and later Fallbrook. The Kolb family had ties to Oceanside as early as 1884 and son Jesse Kolb established the Oceanside Garage on Hill Street. James and Ella Kolb sold the property to Thomas Russell Harriman of Pasadena in 1923.
In late November of 1924 local grocers William Contreras and Carlos Gelpi rented the first-floor storeroom of the building. The Blade reported that the two businessmen had “bought the grocery line of L. W. Stump and will move the stock to the Romo building on Third street, where they will be open for business the first of the week. Mr. Contreras is well and popularly known as an employee of the Stump store for several years past and he and Mr. Gelpi are prepared to carry on the business in a manner that will win the approval of the public of Oceanside and this part of the county.” Contreras & Gelpi painted their names on the east side of the building, facing the alley.
Harriman dramatically altered the building in 1927 by lowering the ceiling to create a third floor as the Oceanside News reported:
The Harriman building, adjoining The News office, an old landmark in the city, will soon be a modern building. The contract for remodeling the building was let to a contracting firm in Pasadena, where Mr. Harriman resides, and work was started with a vim Monday morning.
The brick building, which is now two-stories, will be made into a three-story building. The two upper floors will be made into a rooming and apartment house and will contain 22 rooms. The ground floor occupied by Contreras & Gelpi, grocers, will be lowered to the street level and the old wooden floor will be replaced by a cement floor. A handsome and modern front will be installed.
The grocery is doing business under difficulties during reconstruction. They have removed their stock of groceries, vegetables, etc. to the rear of the building and are using the alley entrance for their customers. When the cement floor is placed in the front part, the stock will be moved back, while the rear part of the building is being reconstructed. When completed this will be one of the handsomest groceries in the Southland and the firm is more than glad to undergo grief to have a new storeroom.
A stairway leading to the upper floors will be constructed leading from the front on Third street. The cost of reconstruction is said to be $15,000. This building was one of the first brick blocks constructed in the city. It was a beauty in its day but is now hopelessly out of date. When reconstructed it will be one of the handsomest buildings in the city and one of the few three-story buildings.
After the building’s third story was added, the 2nd and 3rd floors became a 20-room hotel. In 1928 the Hotel Tours was managed by Joseph and Julia Liggett. The Oceanside Blade made the announcement:
Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Liggett have furnished their new hotel Tours in a very attractive manner. By the help of Clyde Mullen of the Borden Furniture Store, the furniture of the twenty rooms is complete in every detail. The rooms are finished in green enamel prettily decorated and other rooms are furnished in walnut, making in all a pleasing homelike apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, who recently arrived from Denver, Colorado, were looking for a place in Southern California in which to go into business and selected Oceanside as it seemed a thriving growing town with an especially enjoyable climate. As another inducement, Mr. and Mrs. Liggett found old friends from Missouri, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Davis, owners of the Davis garage on Hill Street. The name Hotel Tours is the same as the hotel that the Liggett’s owned in Denver. Some of their guests were friends from Denver who stopped upon seeing a hotel with a familiar name and were surprised to greet old friends in the proprietors.
Dr. J. J. Willis, a chiropractor from Santa Ana, took over the management of the Hotel Tours in 1931. He also set up an office at the hotel to see patients, but his stay in Oceanside was a brief one.
In 1932 Robert and Jessie Dewitt briefly ran the hotel for two years, but then went on to open the DeWitt Hotel at 133 South Hill Street (Coast Highway), which was formerly the Keisker Hotel. It is likely that in the early to mid 1930s the brick exterior was covered in a block-patterned stucco, which dramatically changed the look of the building. In addition a fire escape was added to the front and rear of the building.
Oceanside jewelers Clay and Emma Jolliff moved their jewelry business from 511 Second Street (Mission Avenue) to 408 Third Street (Pier View Way). This too was a short-term venture, when in 1933, Harry and Pearl Crutcher leased the first floor, which was used a heating and sheet metal business. The Crutcher’s assumed the management of the hotel in 1934, advertising the rate of 75 cents and up for a “modern, clean, and refined” establishment near the beach.
Later that year the Hotel Tours was leased to Charles and Luella Cundiff, with Minnie Eckert as “hostess-manager.” An ad was placed in the Oceanside Blade Tribune in October which read:
“WANTED GUESTS – Economize in comfort in a modem, comfortable room with free use of community kitchen and sun parlor; rates as low as 75 cents day, $3 week; room and private bath, $1.50. Hotel Tours, opp. Post office.”
Harriman’s widow, Josephine, sold the building in 1941 to Berta Witzemann who in turn leased the hotel to sisters Teva and Katherine Ward and the name was changed was to the Avon Hotel. Many of the guests and long-term tenants included military couples newly stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton.
W. Frank Richardson, a local commercial photographer, set up shop on the ground floor of the building for just over a decade. In 1952 the first floor of the Schuyler building was leased to Bill’s Military Store and later Big 7 Military Store, while the upper floors continued to operate as the Avon Hotel.
At least three fires were reported over a ten-year period, which were the result of a hotel guest or resident falling asleep while smoking. No injuries were reported as a result of these fires.
Saul and Sophie Collen purchased the brick building in 1970. Saul Collen operated a number of hamburger stands, amusements and other businesses in town. He raised eyebrows and made headlines in 1955 when he added a dancer at Archie’s Burgers at 211 North Tremont Street. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported: “Something new in the technique of hamburger merchandising was inaugurated last night at Archie’s Burgers. The innovation was in the person of Jeanne Ford, a close-cropped blonde strip-tease who put on two shows on a small stage at the rear of the establishment for the benefit of the ground beef patrons. Oceanside police and Marine MPs were on hand to shoo the under-age leathernecks away and to see just how far Miss Ford went with her uncovering act. Officers reported that the management had the front window screened with canvas so that the floor show couldn’t be seen from the street.”
In 1975 the property was foreclosed upon. It appears that a retail or surplus store continued operation on the first floor, while the hotel ceased operations. Much of downtown Oceanside had become a blighted area and the Oceanside Planning Commission had noted in a 1977 report that “high and increased incidence of vice and violent crime in a concentrated section of approximately four square blocks bounded by First, Tremont, Third and Freeman Streets.” The Schuyler building was in the heart of this concentrated area.
In 1979 the building was sold to Edmond William Dominguez of Encinitas. Dominguez made alterations to the building in 1981, removing the fire escape, and changing out the windows of the front façade on the second and third floors. The building was painted in garish vertical stripes. In 1994 the property was conveyed to his niece, Marie Davies, owner of Pollos Maria restaurants in Oceanside and Carlsbad. The first floor operated as Jeanette’s Dry Cleaning and the second floor was used largely for storage.
The building seemed little more than an eyesore to many in the downtown area but in 2017 the Aldrich family purchased the former hotel with eyes to refurbishing and repurposing it as a boutique hotel. Thomas Aldrich, project manager and his sister Lauren Sweeton, hotel manager, are the great-great grandchildren of John and Jeanie Aldrich who came to Oceanside in 1926 from Connecticut. The early Aldrich’s purchased a large two-story house at 615 Second Street (now Mission Avenue), and opened a boarding house referred to as Aldrich Manor.
As renovation of the Schuyler building began, the stucco was painstakingly removed, slowly exposing the original brick exterior which had been hidden for decades. Emerging was the painted ad of grocers Contreras & Gelpi on the eastside of the building, along the roofline the faded words “Rooms”, harkening back to its day as a boarding house and hotel.
Historic names were considered but it seemed fitting to give it its own identity and the decision was made to call it “The Brick Hotel.” The restoration became a rebuilding project that spanned a five-year period and included earthquake retrofitting which required building a modern steel structure inside of the existing brick walls. This was accomplished by hand digging underneath the brick in small sections to ensure the building wouldn’t collapse, then pouring concrete footings to attach the steel to support the brick wall from earthquakes.
The Aldrich family, in Oceanside nearly 100 years, continues their legacy and early roots in the hospitality business. Their collective vision for this building has transformed and revitalized the block on which it sits. When completed, it will be modernly updated, both inside and out while retaining much of its historic charm and character. The Brick Hotel will offer ten beautifully appointed suites, as well as a restaurant and oyster bar on the ground floor, and a rooftop bar providing panoramic views of the city.
John Schuyler would be pleased that his building has not only endured but has been reborn. As The Brick Hotel it will create its own history and leave its mark on Downtown Oceanside.
Ham Ging Lung was born in Canton, China in about 1855 and was known by the more “Americanized” name of Sam Wing. He came to this country with his cousin Ah Quin sometime between 1874 and 1879. According to newspaper reports both Ham Ging Lung (“Sam”) and his cousin “performed manual labor for many years before getting ahead in this world.”
It wasn’t an easy road to success. There was a real anger and hatred of Chinese, particularly in California. Even though the Chinese played an enormous role in building the Transcontinental Railroad, they were considered “undesirable” and viewed with disdain. Although useful for hard labor, working arduous hours for little pay, Chinese immigrants were seen as a threat. Because they were paid lower wages than their white counterparts (through no fault of their own) they were accused of taking jobs from whites. In response to what was perceived as a growing problem, President Chester A. Arthur signed into law the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It halted Chinese immigration for a ten-year period and prohibited Chinese immigrants to apply for naturalization.
Then in 1892, California Congressman Thomas Geary introduced The Geary Act which extended the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional ten years. In addition, it required Chinese residents to carry documentation, “certificates of residence”. If caught without this documentation, Chinese immigrants could be sentenced to hard labor and/or deportation.
Because of these laws, Chinese had to be smuggled into the country. (Chinese women had been banned in 1874). The Chinese were looking for work and their counterparts were looking for cheap labor.
Despite the unfavorable social climate, Ham Ging Lung (sometimes misspelled as Hong Gim Lung) immigrated to the United States, but nothing is known of his early years or his journey here. He first “settled” in San Diego and eventually made his way to the new town of Oceanside, which was established in 1883. In 1885 Wing purchased four lots on North Myers Street from Oceanside founder Andrew Jackson Myers. He eventually purchased a “truck garden” and sold his produce to locals. Wing also operated a laundry business on North Cleveland Street and offered Chinese merchandise including children’s toys.
Sam did well enough to regularly advertise in the local paper. An ad from 1888 in the South Oceanside Diamond contained the following text: “Help of all kinds constantly on hand. Officeof Employment and Information Bureau. Will contract to furnish any number of men, for all kinds of work.“
Intelligent and industrious, Wing was so successful that he was included on a list of the top taxpayers in the city. He was also one of the stockholders of Oceanside’s first pier (called a wharf). In December of 1888 Wing purchased a $400 lot near the Oceanside wharf and from there continued to buy other lots. He owned a home on the 700 block of North Tremont Street. Wing expanded his real estate holdings in 1907 by leasing 100 acres with a well from the South Coast Land Co. The Oceanside Blade reported that Wing would install a 24-horse power gasoline engine “and the land planted to potatoes and cabbages.”
However successful Sam Wing appeared to be, it was clear to many that he made more money smuggling men and opium. He was on the radar of local law enforcement and was suspected of running an “opium den”. In March of 1888 Marshal Charles C. Wilson raided Wing’s establishment and “arrested three Chinamen in a stupid condition.” Ironically, two white men were said to have “escaped in the darkness.”
Someone allegedly tried to murder the wealthy “Laundry Magnate” by poisoning him with strychnine in 1906. According to the Blade newspaper, after smoking his pipe one evening, Sam “took a few swallows from a bottle of Chinese gin” which he kept on a table by his bed. He noticed the intensely bitter taste and beginning to feel badly sent for Dr. Wall.” According to the doctor, the bottle contained enough strychnine crystals to kill 150 people. Wing was treated and made a full recovery, but he was robbed of $8.50, and his watch was stolen.
Wing attended a meeting of the city trustees in March of 1909 wherein he petitioned a reduction in his water bill, asking for the same courtesy extended to another resident, and none other than a city trustee. Sam’s appearance before the council was newsworthy and used as an opportunity to mock his English, with the headline “Pidgin English in Copious Flow, Trustees Addressed by Sam Wing, Eloquent Grower of Vegetables.”
Then the newspaper recounted the story in detail, taking the opportunity to hold Wing in esteem and ridicule him at the same time.
“Sam was paying more taxes than any man in Oceanside and the board could not refuse him a hearing. Sam paid his taxes regularly, never being delinquent a cent, but he learned that in several instances water taxes had been rebated to favorites of the council. An Englishman had induced the council to return to him half the water taxes he had put up. A trio of citizens who didn’t like the way the council was running things, took Sam in hand and rehearsed him for the part he was to play.
“On the night of the meeting, for the first time in his life, Sam wore a white, stiff collar and necktie. He was attired in a long black coat and his shoes were polished. The Chinaman, abashed for a few minutes, soon recovered himself and the criticism he hurled at that council made the ears of the members uncomfortably warm.
“Big high-tone Englishman,” shouted the Oriental, “he come to see ’bout water tax. He give you nodding an’ you give him half back! My same as cooley me pay eve’y cent. You dam’ fools you fool you-se’f.”
“One member suggested that Sam be ejected, whereupon Sam pointed an accusing finger at him. “How much you pay?” Sam demanded. “How much watah tax you pay? Let me see in book how much you pay.”
It is unknown if the council relented to Sam Wing’s passioned appeal.
Likely due to his notable wealth, Wing was robbed again in November of 1909 when Albert Page, a fisherman working for the McGarvin brothers, entered his house and stole two tourmaline gemstones or crystals, and an “opium smoking outfit.” When arrested and charged, Page confessed to the theft. They recovered one of the stones and Wing’s opium pipe along with two bowls which were turned over to the constable.
That same week Oceanside resident A. M. Matthews complained to the city the Wing’s dogs were a menace to public safety and the Marshal was ordered to have the dogs chained or destroyed.
Then in 1911 the Oceanside Blade reported that “Ham Ging Lung, locally known as Sam Wing, is being sought by the officers in connection with the seizure of ten cans of opium in Los Angeles Thursday of last week. The opium was concealed in a box of clams shipped to Yee Sing & Co., Chinese merchants of the Angel City and a letter captured by the officers with the box is said to have connected Sam Wing with the shipment.”
Newspapers in Los Angeles later announced charges of smuggling opium against Wing, and of his arraignment in the United States District Court. The Herald also noted that Wing conducted a “laundry at Oceanside” and that the “goods which he is alleged to have handled was seized at the Yee Sing company, 322 Marchessault Street (which was in Los Angeles’ Chinatown).
Sam was sentenced to a four-month jail term and given the notorious title of “King of Opium Smugglers” in the Los Angeles Herald. The article went on to say that Wing had confessed to officials and implicated others in the smuggling ring.
After Wing’s release from jail in February of 1912, another smuggling arrest was made and this time the newspapers reported that an unnamed law enforcement officer was involved in smuggling of “coolies”, saying the “possibility that more than one of the San Diego officials may be mixed up in the business is strongly hinted at by the local Immigration inspectors, who intimate that arrests may be expected at any time.”
Despite his arrests, Sam Wing was still highly thought of by many and in some regards well respected.
Chinese immigrants were sometimes buried in temporary graves due in part because they had intended one day to return to China and reunite with family members. However, if they died in the States (and abroad) many wanted their remains returned and buried in their homeland China. Even after several years, the remains would be exhumed, the bones cleaned and packaged, and then shipped to China. Because of his renown and status in the county, in 1913 Sam Wing supervised this careful and solemn ritual, tasked with the disinterment of three of his fellow countrymen who had been buried in an Escondido cemetery.
In January of 1914 Wing, who was well known throughout San Diego County by friends, customers and law enforcement, was featured in the San Diego Union along with his likeness. The inclusion of a photograph was not a common one, and this rare image was proof of Sam’s renown. However, while regaling his accomplishments and his net worth of $250,000 (touting him as the richest man in Oceanside), the article included derogatory slurs and made fun of his broken English. When the article was published in the Oceanside Blade, the headline read: “Alle Same Sam Wing Rich Man”.
The article provided Wing’s Chinese name of Hong Gim Lung, and noted his status as “pioneer Chinaman of Oceanside.” It went on to say that after arriving in San Diego forty years ago, Wing was “the owner of lands and ranches, town lots and other property, besides being heavily interested in Chinese mercantile houses in various coast cities.” And then, “He is nearly 70 years of age and still is a hustler.” It is assumed this is meant as a compliment. The article goes on to say, “He ascribes his financial success to his accumulation of land, together with his abstinence from the use of opium. His first savings went to buy an interest in a truck garden and he has been purchasing lands ever since. He has a fine sense of humor and likes to be in the company of white men. Of his deeds of charity hundreds of stories have been told, and it has been said that no person in need ever left Sam’s house without being given relief.”
The short-lived newspaper the Oceanside Record published what they touted as Sam Wing’s “orphic sayings” which included the following:
“Me just Chink, that’s all —all same coolie, but pay my debt to ev’ybody. Some high tone people no pay ’em’ up debt.’’ “When I live in China I got no shoe on foot —poor all time. Come to Oceanside an’ make ’em money. I no go back to China.”
Just days after the articles on Sam Wing appeared in the local papers, he reported to City Marshal Love “that a man on a white horse (another account said it was gray) shot and killed his favorite dog.” Included in the brief article was the following statement: “The Blade considers this a shame. It is known who the man is, but it is difficult to convict without more absolute proof.” Was this in retaliation of some sorts? Out of resentment? Was it A. M. Mathews who had complained just a few years earlier?
Ah Quin, Wing’s beloved cousin, died in February of 1914. Quin’s obituary stated that he was a “wealthy pioneer merchant of San Diego’s Chinese quarter.” The San Diego Union reported that Sam Wing brought a car load of carnations and other flowers from Oceanside for the funeral.
Then in March of 1914 Sam Wing was arrested by Immigration and Government officers and taken to Los Angeles by train after a prisoner turned state’s evidence against Sam. The Blade reported “unauthenticated rumors of a rancher, while carrying a lantern at night, being fired at by a boat at sea” and “a number of Chinamen being landed near here on Monday night.”
A month later Sam Wing along with Oceanside residents Clinton Culver and William E. Freeman, were indicted by a Federal grand jury. Culver and Freeman were accused of being in charge of the Chinese during the smuggling operation and Sam Wing was described as “the Oceanside Chinese who has been a thorn in the flesh of the immigration authorities for years.” While awaiting trial in Los Angeles, it was reported that Sam was doing laundry in jail and making $48 a month.
Both Sam Wing and Clinton Culver, a former deputy constable, were convicted of smuggling and sentenced to 18 months at McNeil’s Island in Washington. It was known as the Alcatraz of Puget Sound. Due to Wing’s then failing health, a petition for pardon signed by numerous residents of Oceanside was sent to President Woodrow Wilson but never acted upon. The harsh conditions of prison life took its toll and Sam Wing died in prison on May 30, 1915. His accomplice Clinton Culver had been paroled just 15 days earlier.
Sam willed his Oceanside property consisting of eights lots and his house on Tremont Street to his cousin Hom Ging Choy. His laundry business was sold.
One wonders if the remains of Ham Ging Lung aka Sam Wing were sent back to his homeland by his countrymen where he could be buried there and reunited with his family members.
Oceanside’s infamous adult club is no more. Demolition crews have torn down the Main Attraction and surrounding buildings. While a strip club and its clientele may be a loss to some, an eyesore to most, and a curiosity to others, the building dates back to the early 1940s and has an association with some of the biggest acts in Country and Western music.
Once owned by notable resident David Rorick, the two acre parcel of land had a small building fronting the west side of the coast highway. This building was leased or rented to William L. D. Hamilton and George A. Strahan, who operated Red and Bill’s Café. (Behind their café was a large vacant lot which was used for several years as a baseball field. It also served as the location for a traveling circus in the 1940s.)
“Bill” Hamilton and his wife Minnie lived in Los Angeles during the early years of the Depression, where Bill worked on the California Aqueduct as a cook. In 1935, Minnie Hamilton moved to Carlsbad to help take care of her ailing grandfather. Bill soon followed and began working as a cook at the Bridge Café, located near the San Luis Rey River Bridge on Highway 101 north of Oceanside.
While Bill Hamilton was working at the Bridge Café, he met George “Red” Strahan. The two decided to go into business together and opened a café of their own. In 1946 Hamilton and Strahan purchased the land on which their restaurant stood at 939 North Hill Street. Their café was so successful, they opened another in Solana Beach.
In July of 1948, the partners sold their café property to John and Mary Vieszt, who just three years later, sold the property to R. G. Hunter, a resident of Vista. It was likely at this time the building at 939 North Hill/Coast Highway was substantially enlarged. On May 1, 1952, with George Duros as the new proprietor, “The Wheel” held its grand opening featuring The Valentines, an “all girl orchestra” as entertainment. The Wheel, soon to be renamed the “Wheel Club” served food and cocktails with live entertainment and dancing. No longer just a small café, it became a popular night spot on the Highway 101.
The nightclub was not without scandal. In 1956 its then manager Jerome Apelby was arrested for showing obscene material. Described in local newspapers as a coin-operated “peep hole moving picture machine featuring five pornographic movies”, it was confiscated by police on November 2nd. At a hearing the films were shown on a screen in a courtroom and deemed “not decent by any stretch of the imagination.” Apelby was found guilty, fined and given a suspended jail sentence. In response, the club was declared “out of bounds” by military personnel at Camp Pendleton. The Alcohol Beverage Control department revoked the alcohol license due to the conviction and owner R. G. Hunter foreclosed for failure to pay rent.
In 1957 Jimmie (sometimes spelled Jimmy) Brogdon began operating the Club. Jimmie Clarence Brogdon was born in 1929 in Hornersville, Missouri. He was the third child of Clarence and Mary Irene Brogdon. Jimmie’s father, a piano salesman, was murdered over a heated business dispute in 1933 when Jimmie was just 4 years old. Mary Irene Brogdon moved her four children to Southern California in the mid 1940’s, and Jimmie attended his senior year of high school in South Pasadena in 1947.
Brogdon was living in Escondido in 1954 and it was there he played piano for the band “Hidden Valley Boys” at the Squeaky’s El Patio. The band played at the Wheel Club in September of 1954 and by 1957 Brogdon was managing the Wheel Club along with Milton Forester. Brogdon was successful in bringing notable acts to Oceanside, including Freddie Hart, who appeared on a weekly television program, along with Merle Haggard, Little Jimmy Dickens, Johnny Cash and the Maddox Brothers and Rose.
Known as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band” the group consisted of four brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff, and Don, along with their sister Rose. After leaving Alabama during the Depression, the Maddox family settled in Central California. Tired of endless hours of picking cotton to make ends meet, the Maddox siblings tried their hand at singing and by 1937 made their live radio debut when Rose was just 11 years old.
In the 1950s and 1960s Rose Maddox had over a dozen hits as a solo artist and four solid hits with legendary Buck Owens. She is considered one of the “grand dames” of traditional country music.
On December 7, 1959 Brogdon married country western star Roselea Maddox Hale in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lyle Duplessie wrote in 2015 biography of Rose Maddox: “Rose had met Jimmy Brogdon, owner of the Wheel Club in Oceanside. Brogdon was well connected in the music industry and his club regularly hosted such luminaries as George Jones, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, and the up-and-coming Merle Haggard. Brogdon would now host another star: Rose. It didn’t take long before Brogdon and Rose were in love.”
In an interview before her death Maddox said of her career in the late 1960s, “Times were changing. Nightclubs were using house bands instead of guest stars. We weren’t working as much. I found out I could make as much money as the whole family by myself. I had a son to support. I got married to a man in Oceanside. Jimmy Brogdon. He still lives in Oceanside. When I married him he was a nightclub owner. Now he owns half of Oceanside.”
Despite these claims, in 1959 Brogdon was living in a modest 700 square foot home at 410 Grant Street, behind Oceanside High School. However, by 1970, in addition to owning and managing the 101 Club, he was the general manager and owner of the Oceanside Ice Company on South Cleveland Street. In 1986 Brogdon stated that his company handled “between 50 percent and 75 percent of the cube ice delivery business in San Diego and Orange counties, providing 200 tons of block and cube ice per day to more than 1,500 convenience stores, markets and produce companies.”
Another star who performed at the 101 Club was Barbara Mandrell, a local girl who graduated from Oceanside High School in 1967. She performed with her family, The Mandrell Family Band, at various local nightspots and one of their first records was recorded in Oceanside. Barbara Mandrell would go on to be a huge star with several hits and a variety television show.
In 1971 Cpl Garry Lee Hanson was murdered outside the 101 Club after an altercation inside the bar. The City of Oceanside noted in a study that in a one year period a number of felonies had been committed at the Club, along with a dozen misdemeanors, a variety of reported crimes and an equal number of citations and violations.
But the City Council and planners were more concerned with the high concentration of crime in the downtown area, particularly what they termed “the honky tonk area”, establishments which were seen as “major deterrents to the revitalization of the downtown area, attracting prostitutes, drug peddlers, transients and other negative elements which produce a climate that seems to encourage crime.” The study presented in 1977, reported that in 1973, 47% of felonies and 51% of misdemeanors were reported in downtown Oceanside within a four to six block radius and arrests for felonies had increased 80 percent. So despite the declining reputation of the 101 Club, because it was outside of this “zone” it was not considered a public nuisance.
By 1979 the roadside club went from a Country & Western bar and restaurant to a disco called “First Edition”. An ad that ran in the Los Angeles Times that year seeking a part-time disc jockey and a fulltime promoter which went on to say “promotion [is] very important, unless experienced in promoting successful disco do not apply.”
Two years later the establishment was changed to “Francine’s” and advertised dancing and cocktails to “Top Forty” hits. One year later Francine’s introduced “Tuesday Night Ladies Only” which featured adult male entertainers, which was considered a novelty act at the time. Performers known as the Lone Ranger, Macho Man and Indian Jim were “regulars.”
Soon after its foray into adult entertainment, the club was renamed Pure Platinum, and featured female semi-nude dancers. Another name change occurred in the late 1980s when the club went by Dirty Dan’s, and lastly, in 1990 it was renamed The Main Attraction. Jimmy Brogdon dissolved his management company in 1987 and died ten years later on November 18, 1997.
For years people have mocked Oceanside for having such an establishment on Hill Street (aka the historic Highway 101) across from the Chamber of Commerce, no less. Some are now lamenting its inevitable demise. Regardless of its reputation, its association with country music is worth remembering.
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.
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 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.
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.
Brothers Paul and Harold Beck arrived in Oceanside in 1929 from Iowa. Their father had arranged to purchase the local newspaper and eventually merged it with a weekly publication, the Oceanside News, creating the Oceanside Daily Blade Tribune. With this purchase, they became the youngest newspaper publishers in the State of California. Paul Beck was just 24 years old, Harold 26.
Paul wrote about himself: “[I] as a young man, with a degree in Journalism from Stanford University, barely three months experience as a cub reporter on the “San Jose News,” and with an ardent desire to make a success of my first business venture. It had long been my desire to become a newspaper publisher. A desire that had been instilled in me by my Dad, who published the “Centerville, Iowa Daily Iowegian” since 1903, and by my Mother, from a famous Iowa newspaper family with all four of her brothers publishers of different newspapers in that state.”
Their newspaper office was located on Second Street (Mission Avenue) and Tremont Street in a building that used to house the Ladies Emporium. In a 1977 article Paul wrote: “The staff of the “Blade-Tribune” consisted of Harold as editor, myself as business-advertising manager, Stuart Langford, shop foreman, Ken Stanley, linotype operator, Ora Magee, society editor, Betty Maxwell, office clerk, Bill Spencer, who formerly published the “Blade,” office manager, a part time high school boy as press room helper and about 12 carrier boys. High schooler, Lionel Van Deerlin, now a U. S. Congressman, sports editor was a “stringer,” which means he was paid 5c a column inch for published material.”
Both Harold and Paul were actively involved in the community. Harold served as President of Oceanside Chamber of Commerce in 1931 and Harold in 1934.
As Oceanside grew, so did the newspaper and soon the building they occupied was too small to accommodate a growing operation. In 1936 the brothers hired architect Irving Gill to design a new building for their newspaper plant at Tremont and First Street (now Seagaze).
Irving Gill was born in New York in 1871. He came to San Diego in 1893 where he practiced his field. He designed homes and buildings in San Diego as well as Los Angeles, where he later relocated. Gill’s architectural style evolved to eliminate ornamentation, with a decidedly modern style. In fact he was considered “one of the first of the moderns” and combined modern with Spanish architecture. Gill biographer Thomas S. Hines wrote: “In his own lifetime, Gill saw himself and was seen by others as a maverick, an innovator, and a modernist.”
His modern and simple designs fell out of favor in the 1920s when the Spanish Revivalist style became popular. Under appreciated and with little work, Gill left Los Angeles and resided in Carlsbad by 1930. However, Los Angeles’ loss was Oceanside’s gain, as Gill would go on to design a total of five buildings in Oceanside.
The first Gill designed was Oceanside’s Fire and Police Station in 1929. Originally, plans were for a larger civic center complex. But due to lack of funding, only a portion of it was built. Located on the corner of Pier View Way and Nevada Street, the Fire Station is still in use today, but the building has been modified several times to accommodate the growing Fire Department and to house larger equipment and engines .
Gill’s second work in Oceanside was the Americanization School on Division Street, completed in 1931. The school was built at a cost of $4,400 and featured a domed rotunda. Gill took advantage of the southeast exposure giving the building large windows providing natural light. The building was saved from the wrecking ball and restored. It is presently used as a neighborhood community center. Also built that year and designed by Gill was the Nevada Street School, located on the 500 block of South Nevada Street. It was dismantled in the 1970s.
Gill’s fourth project in Oceanside was in 1934, that of a new city hall building. While Oceanside Councilman Charles Hoegerman prepared preliminary plans for an addition to the civic center, (which comprised the fire and police station), they apparently were similar to Gill’s earlier design from 1929. Gill then changed and revised them to conform to earthquake standards. The new city hall was located at 704 Third Street (Pier View Way) and dedicated December 19, 1934. This building is now the home of the Oceanside Museum of Art.
Gill’s last project was the Blade-Tribune Building at 401 First Street Street (Seagaze Drive). Designed in 1936, the building is a mix of Modern and Art Deco. Designed to look both modern and glamorous, Art Deco architecture features rectangular, or block forms often arranged in geometric fashion with curved ornamental elements. Building materials include smooth exteriors made of stucco, concrete or stone, with flat roofs adorned with parapets or spires. Gill died just one month before the building’s grand opening.
Louis Gill wrote of his uncle: “To my mind Irving Gill was much more than a pioneer architect in California. He was an innovator, constantly devising new ideas, not only in exterior design, but in hundreds of details, always considering such fundamental things as cost and materials and methods of construction, and always abhorring anything done for show. An indefatigable worker, never satisfied and quite willing to sacrifice anything to his art. In fact, to me, he seemed obsessed with the idea.”
Built at a cost of $10,000, when the Blade-Tribune building was formally opened on November 24, 1936, it was flooded with telegrams and congratulatory flower arrangements which lined the counters, stairway and desks. Among the many dignitaries and public officials which sent their regards, none was higher than President Roosevelt who sent a message to the Beck Brothers: “I am glad to learn that the Daily Blade-Tribune and the weekly Oceanside News have shared in the return of prosperity as evidenced in your acquisition of a new building. Please accept my hearty congratulations and extend to all of your readers my hearty felicitations.”
The San Diego Union Tribune newspaper described the building: “The new building is situated at the corner of First and Tremont Streets. It is of reinforced concrete and fire and quake proof. The editorial, news, business and circulation offices are on the main floor. The second floor contains an auditorium suitable for civic gatherings. The composing room, metal and stereotyping room are so situated as to make them easily accessible to the news room.”
The building was expanded in 1953 and the Becks sold the Oceanside Blade-Tribune newspaper in 1954 to Tom Braden, due to Harold Beck’s failing health. However, Paul and Harold maintained ownership of the building. Harold Beck retired to Palm Springs and later died at the age of 58 in 1963.
Paul remained active in civic and business affairs as a member of the Oceanside Elks Lodge, supporter and benefactor of the Oceanside Boys Club and chairman of the board of the Oceanside Federal Savings and Loan. In a 1986 interview Paul said, “I would like to think I helped make the city what it is.” He died in 1991 at the age 84.
In 1978 the building was purchased by Roosevelt Campbell, Jr. and Oscar and Ruth Culp. They together, with George Mitchell, formed CMC Furniture and for over three decades the former newspaper building was used as a furniture store and warehouse. In addition, a portion of the upstairs was made or converted into apartments.
It is worth noting that both George Mitchell and Oscar Culp, upon joining the United States Marine Corps in 1943, were assigned to the Montford Point Marines, an all-Black division of the Marine Corps. Both men were recognized for their service when Congress bestowed our nation’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, along with more than three hundred other Montford Point Marines.
One of the most notable features of this historic building is a stepped motif parapet upon which is “engraved” the name of the two newspapers owned by the Beck Brothers in the smooth cement finish. This, however, had been covered for decades in a blocky (or even splotchy) stucco pattern. When the building was being remodeled and restored just a few years ago, that stucco finished was removed revealing Gill’s original design and the name of Oceanside’s longest published newspaper, the Blade Tribune.
Today the building is the home of the Blade 1936 restaurant, a name given as an ode to its history.
Shortly after the turn of the century, a large section of Oceanside’s Strand (once called Paseo Del Mar) was owned by the Oceanside Development Co., headed by C. J. Walker as President. This group of investors was from Long Beach and they held interest in Oceanside real estate, owning many lots throughout town, including several blocks of oceanfront land. The Strand Tract addition was recorded in 1904 and soon after the Oceanside Development Co. set about an advertising campaign throughout Southern California.
Trainloads of potential buyers and investors made their way to Oceanside. The December 17, 1904 Oceanside Blade reported: “About 600 excursionists from Los Angeles and Long Bench came down Wednesday on a train of seven coaches arriving about 11 o’clock am and leaving at 3 in the afternoon. The excursion was arranged by the Oceanside Development Co. to open the sale of their Strand tract on the beach, and many lots were sold there, though there were also sales in other portions of town. In the Strand Tract thirty-three lots were sold, including all of blocks 1 and 9, and lots in 4, 5, and 6.“
The 700 block of North Strand remained unimproved (or vacant) and in the possession of Charles J. Walker until 1924 when it was purchased by A. J. Clark.
Alfred J. Clark arrived in Oceanside in 1924 from Idaho, and subsequently purchased the Oceanside Bath House just north of the Oceanside Pier. Clark was also the manager of the “Fun Zone” a concession area near the Pier, as well as the manager of Oceanside’s newest and grandest theater, The Palomar, which was located on the 300 block of North Hill (Coast Highway).
In January 1928 it was reported that Clark had received a permit to build beach cottages on his property on The Strand at a cost of $25,000 by the Whiting-Mead Company. A row of twelve small cottages were built which the fronted The Strand and eleven identical cottages were built behind them, staggered and situated to afford ocean views. A larger cottage was built on the south end of the property and was used as both a dwelling and office. A structure to house automobiles was perpendicular to the office, and another similar structure was located on the north end of the property (but no longer exists). The name of these new cottages were “Clark’s Cottage DeLuxe” (or a variation of such) and were available for vacationers by the summer of 1928. Rental fees were as little as $3.00 a day.
Auto camps were established before modern motels. Municipal camp sites operated by cities, chambers of commerce or individuals allowed travelers a place to park their car, perhaps set up a campsite, for a small fee, and were offered basic amenities such as outhouses and running water. With a growing population on the move, a demand for better services made way for more traveler-friendly sites.
Leland Bibb and Kathy Flanigan wrote in the Role of Transportation in the Growth of the City of Oceanside (1997): “Camping [became] a popular recreational experience for many motorists in the 1920s. The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, desirous of capitalizing on this activity, proposed the establishment of a municipal camp ground on its property located on Ditmar, Nevada, Third and Fourth in September 1920. By May 1921, with the City in possession of the block, work began on improvements necessary for vacationers. Water was piped into the area, and a fence and hedge surrounded it. A building, constructed in the center of the lot, provided toilets, lavatories and shower baths for men and women. The remainder of the land was divided into camping spaces with simple brick and concrete stoves placed along the tier of spaces on the west side of the block. Electric light was furnished. An existing house on the property underwent renovation for a caretaker. A small charge was to be collected for use of the park and its conveniences by autoists, basically to keep indigents away.”
Oceanside had several auto courts in the 1920s and 1930s. At least three survive today, one on South Coast Highway and another on South Cleveland Street. Roberts Cottages is the only surviving beachfront auto court. Cottage City (which was also located on the Strand) was first established as “Tent City” in about 1919 and offered few amenities to campers. In response to demands of the traveling public and long term vacationers, in 1925 Cottage City underwent extensive renovations and improvements. Ten two-room cottages were added, which featured kitchenettes, along with garages for automobiles. Cottage City was torn down prior to 1972.
Clark sold the cottages to A. S. and Pearlie Gholson in June of 1929, but before year’s end they had sold it Doren Perrine of Encinitas. Perrine and his wife Ella occupied the larger cottage while managing the cottage rentals. However, the Perrrine’s may have defaulted on the mortgage as Oceanside Lot Books still record Clark as the owner in 1930.
Later that year William Wallace Roblee of Riverside purchased the property and the name was modified to the “DeLuxe Cottages”. Roblee’s son Hewitt and his wife managed the property during the summer months. The June 29, 1934 Blade reported: “Mrs. M H. Roblee has arrived from Riverside to take over the DeLuxe Cottages on the north Strand.”
One Los Angeles newspaper described the beach cottages in 1934: “The Bungalows DeLux (successors to Clark’s Cottages) at Oceanside are as modern as your home. The bungalows of English style stucco are furnished most complete. Every bungalow has a picturesque ocean view from the Paseo Del Mar Drive” (The Strand).
In 1937 Marion and Margie Arbogast purchased the cottage property and it was during their brief ownership that the cottages were named “Surf Motor Court.” Unfortunately, the Arbogast’s defaulted on their loan and lost the property.
The Mutual Building and Loan Association of Long Beach sold the beach cottages to Harry and Virginia Roberts in January 1941. The Oceanside Blade Tribune announced on June 11, 1941 that the cottages were being remodeled and renamed:
An improvement along North Strand that is attracting attention is renovation of Roberts Cottages. Mr. and Mrs. Harry Roberts, for five years associated with Cottage City, purchased what were known as the Surf Motor Cottages in January, and have been remodeling ever since. This week the exterior of the 23 cottages are being painted. Woodwork is being painted a bright red and black trim to set off new concrete porches with a black railing.
Brilliantly colored beach umbrellas and bright colored beach chairs will be in front of each cottage. To complete the colorful effect red geraniums have been planted in containers in front of each cottage.
The interior of each cottage has been refinished. Walls have been plastered and all woodwork is in an antique finish. New showers, new furniture, new mattresses, new cooking utensils have been installed to make the cottage a cozy home that will appeal to the vacationer.
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are enthusiastic over the future of Oceanside, and are pleased to contribute their beautification of North Strand to the progress being made in the community as a whole.
Harry Roberts was a native of Columbus, Mississippi and Virginia hailed from Texas. The two were living in Denver, Colorado before coming to Oceanside. They first purchased and managed Cottage City, a row of beach cottages on the south corner of the Strand and Sixth Street (Surfrider Way).
As their predecessors, the Roberts owned the cottages a relatively short period of time, but their name has been attached to the property to this day.
The cottages were sold to Reginald Willhoyt Hampton and his wife Mary in 1944. Hampton was a native of San Luis Obispo and a contractor by trade. The Hamptons owned the subject property just two years when it was sold to Ervin [misspelled as Irving] and Vera Willems.
In 1952 the cottages were sold to William B. Settle III, and his wife Gladys. Settle served on the Oceanside Planning Commission for nearly two years, and also owned the El Sereno Apartments at 835 South Pacific Street. The Settles relocated to Bakersfield in 1954 after selling the beach cottages to Harvey Olen and Ruth (Settle) Forquer the prior year.
The Forquers lived on the property while Harvey worked as a detention officer for the department of U. S. Immigration. Ruth Forquer was a sister of William B. Settle, the prior owner. The Forquers entered into a partnership with George and Zelda Henry, of Hollywood, to own and manage Roberts Cottages.
After an unsuccessful attempt to sell the cottage property, in 1956 it was suggested to break up the property and sell the cottages individually to separate owners. It has been proposed that this may have been “the first time someone had used the ‘own-your-own’ condo concept in California.”
Oceanside Realtor Tom Harrington had the listing to sell the cottages, with Wilma Stakich working as his sales agent. Harrington ran an ad in the local paper that there were “only 20 left”. The advertisement which first ran June 29, 1956, read: “Own Your Own Beach Cottage only $5,250 total. Completely furnished. Only $1,150 down. Tom Harrington Realtors, 1213 So. Hill St.” (now Coast Highway).
Just one month later Harrington announced that there were just 12 units remaining and by September 1956, just two cottages were left unsold. It was advertised that each cottage could be rented for $60 and that owners could “gross from $l40 to $175 per month in summer.”
Dean R. Hansberry and Jean B. Hansberry acquired Unit 24 in October of 1956. Dean Hansberry was a Captain the United States Marine Corps stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Jean Hansberry was a real estate agent. However, in 1958 it was discovered that Captain Hansberry, a disbursing officer had embezzled $63,000 “between December 1955 and June 24, 1957.” During the criminal investigation and trial, the couple had spent nearly $30,000 over their income in a two year period. It was also discovered that Hansberry had used $2,000 of the absconded monies as a “down payment on the 704 Strand Street property.” He was convicted and sentenced to six years in Federal prison.
In 1961 Wilma Stakich and her sister Grace Baker shared an interest in Unit 24 and managed the cottages for some of the owners many years, up through the 1980s.
Today many of the cottages are still owned individually and several rented out for vacation rentals. In recent years owners took to painting the cottages in different colors rather than the traditional pink they have been known for many decades. However, today the cottages are once again their customary color, while some trims vary slightly.
San Diego’s Save Our Heritage Organization (SOHO) has Roberts Cottages on their list of “Most Endangered List of Historic Resources.” They describe the 24 units as “a rare and finite collection of historic buildings” and “are the best surviving examples of auto-court beach cottages.”
SOHO goes on to note: “When leisure travel by auto became all the rage, convenient lodging along the way became necessary. The first generation of these auto-courts, built in the late 1920s, 30s and 40s, were known as cottage courts or traveler’s courts. Roberts Cottages is one of the first. These unique beach buildings represent an important part of Oceanside’s early tourism industry.”
Today Roberts Cottages are part of Oceanside’s wonderful beach landscape, an iconic feature that captures the attention and imagination of residents and visitors alike.