by Kristi Hawthorne
The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce celebrates its 120th year and is the longest running business in our city. Established in 1896, the Chamber’s influence and impact has played an important role in the promotion, tourism and business development of Oceanside. Reading through the roll call of past presidents is walking along a historic timeline and a virtual listing of the movers and shakers in the community and those who helped to build and shape the City and promote it a variety of ways.
The Oceanside Chamber worked in conjunction with the City Council (or City Trustees as they were called years ago). It was involved in everything from life-saving equipment on the beach, to tree planting, to rebuilding each new pier, beautification of the city, to cemetery upkeep, putting on parades, fireworks and beauty contests, along with catchy slogans promoting the city.
Leading businessmen met at the South Pacific Hotel on May 8, 1896 to discuss the formation of a business organization to promote the city. The Oceanside Chamber of Commerce was established with Joseph Lewis Sharp, a member of the City Trustees, appointed as the Chamber’s first president. One of the first accomplishments was submitting promotional material to be published in a popular magazine of the time "Land of Sunshine" and ordering 6,500 leaflets advertising Oceanside as a summer resort and delivered to inland areas as well as Arizona and New Mexico.
In 1903 Thomas C. Exton was elected President of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce. Exton was a prominent businessman and was co-owner of the Exton and Nichols Drug Store. Exton worked “tirelessly” to promote Oceanside and was instrumental in the planting of palm trees along Hill Street, as well as and many other species of trees that beautify the city. He also served on the City Trustees for several years and helped to establish the Oceanside Building and Loan Association.
In 1913 the Oceanside Chamber ran a slogan contest and asked folks to send in their suggestions, the prize being $3.00. The winner was Mrs. Hugh Bradley with a not so catchy phrase: “Oceanside, Twixt Vale and Tide.”
Over the years the Oceanside Chamber has used many slogans to advertise and promote the city including "Oceanside, California's Best Kept Secret"; "City of Opportunity"; "Your Host on the Pacific Coast" and “Oceanside, the Gateway to San Diego”.
One of Oceanside’s early slogans “The Carnation City” and in 1915 the advertising committee of the Chamber of Commerce arranged for a display of 100 carnations to be delivered each Wednesday to the San Diego Chamber of Commerce with a card reading, "Carnations from Oceanside, the Carnation City.
Also that year, the Chamber of Commerce paid to help promote Oceanside by hiring the Great Western Film Co. to film various parts of the city that were “destined to play a prominent part in advertising Oceanside.” Views included interior and exterior scenes at the Mission San Luis Rey on Easter, a bathing scene on the beach at Oceanside, the tennis court, El San Luis Rey hotel and downtown.
In 1917 members of the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce came up with an answer to Escondido’s popular Grape Day. Our city celebrated Bean Day. Lima beans were a plentiful crop which was grown in and around Oceanside, the San Luis Rey Valley and Rancho Santa Margarita. The celebration was held September 17th near the pier. The committee of 11 people had the daunting task of providing and serving free food on the beach for over 2,000 people.
The Oceanside Chamber managed Tent City in 1920 to help accommodate tourists who would summer at the beach. Tent City was located on the 600 block of North Strand. Later that year they purchased a site for a public auto park and sited a constant demand due “to the immense auto travel through the city”
John Franklin Martin, an Oceanside resident since 1901 was president of the Chamber in 1922. During his term as President the Chamber held another slogan contest. They chose the phrase "Oceanside, California's Pride" which was “to be used on all advertising literature on business stationery and in every way utilized to spread the advantages of Oceanside broadcast to the world.”
Guy Wisdom was Chamber president the following year in 1923. During his tenure the chamber adopted the slogan, “Oceanside, Where Life is Worth Living.”
E. A. Walsh took the office of Chamber president in 1925 and that year, along with the city office and public library, the chamber moved into new quarters in the I.O.O.F. building on Second Street. The city was focused was on building a new pier and the Oceanside Chamber spearheaded efforts to gather 400 signatures for petition calling for an election to vote on the issuing of bonds for $100,000 for a new pier and improvements on the beach were filed with the city council last night.
Ygnacio R. Carrillo, brother of actor Leo Carrillo, was president of the Oceanside Chamber in 1927. Carrillo was one of Oceanside’s early dentists and upon retirement, sold his practice to Dr. Melbourne and bought the bait shop at the end of the pier. That same year Oceanside celebrated the building of its 4th pier. After Oceanside’s 4th pier was built in 1927, the Oceanside Chamber announced the construction of a public dining room under the municipal pier. This was a direct result of a chamber of commerce committee which collected pledges.
In 1929 the Pier Swim began, which was originally sponsored by the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce and continues to this day.
In 1931 Oceanside’s population was just over 3,500 and the Chamber welcomed Harold Beck as its newest President. Harold Beck and his brother Paul were owners of the Oceanside-Blade Tribune and were big promoters of all things Oceanside. Paul Beck served as president of the chamber in 1934.
During the Depression years the Chamber was instrumental in providing work projects for the unemployed. Laborers were paid $2 a day on a six-day-a-week schedule and preference was given to men with families. Work included clearing and improving streets, alleys and sidewalks.
Under the direction of Chamber President Leo Mies in 1942, the chamber helped to secure a new Santa Fe Train Station for Oceanside and establish a municipal airport. John Steiger of the Chamber Housing Committee urged home owners to rent rooms to military and civilian personnel based at Camp Pendleton to help relieve the housing shortage in November of that year. The chamber also sponsored a victory garden in response to the war effort.
In 1947 the Chamber had a membership of 302 active members and moved its location to the USO building (formerly Borden’s Department Store) at the corner of Tremont Street and Third (now Pier View Way). Howard Butler served as Chamber president from 1946 to 1947.
Gene Geil served as president of the chamber in 1953 and during that time the new highway was of utmost importance and the impact on the business district. By April the freeway was open from the San Luis Rey river bridge to Mission Avenue. The chamber reported at the end of the year that Hill Street traffic was down 25 percent. Also that year, the Chamber moved into its new home at 510 Fourth Street. The catch-phrase that year was “Oceanside, Where the Mercury Never Goes Crazy.”
In 1954 the Chamber advertised Oceanside as a “Riviera in California.” Half page spreads detailing the history and amenities of our city were published as far away as New York.
Robert Coon served as President of the Chamber in 1959 and one of the many issues the Chamber focused on was downtown parking. Dean Howe, Chamber representative at City Council meetings, helped to bring about a bond issue to purchase four lots that were then used to help alleviate, but not solve, the downtown parking problem.
In 1960 the Oceanside Junior Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first Harbor Days – even before the Harbor existed at the Del Mar Boat Basin. The Mayflower II, the only U.S. commercial blimp, owned by Goodyear Tire, floated over Oceanside on the evening before the Harbor Days illuminated a 10-foot high message publicizing the event, it was announced today. The Oceanside Chamber held a Harbor Bond Day seeking one thousand Oceansiders to contribute $1 each for purchase of the first $1,000 bond in the $4 ½ million bond issue to finance harbor construction.
During that time the Chamber implemented one of its most well-known slogans: “Tan Your Hide in Oceanside.” This slogan was on bumper stickers, letterhead and billboards. While it fell out of vogue in the 1980s, this vintage slogan and 60s artwork is now considered retro. The Chamber reintroduced it to help celebrate the city’s 125th anniversary to the delight of long-time residents and locals.
In 1966 John Steiger served as President of the chamber and under his leadership the chamber sponsored a citywide Clean-up Campaign, distributed 5,000 “Take Pride in Oceanside” bumper stickers, implemented “Try Oceanside First” and that year’s Independence Day parade was the biggest in the city’s history.
Mary Steiger became the chamber’s first woman president in 1977 and started publication of the first monthly Chamber of Commerce newsletter. Mary invited the commandant of the Marine Corps General Lou Wilson to address the chamber at a sold-out event. On another occasion Steiger invited Senator Alan Cranston, the majority speaker for Congress, to a chamber breakfast, another sold-out event.
In 1988 Marva Bledsoe became President of the Chamber and during her tenure marked another important milestone. Doctor Hoskins’ building was moved from its original location on Third Street to 928 North Hill (now Coast Highway). This building served as both the chamber office as well as the Visitor’s Center. The new slogan implemented by the Chamber was “Oceanside, the Wave of Tomorrow.”
In response to 9/11 the Oceanside Chamber helped to establish “Operation Appreciation” in 2002. This event is in its 15th year and is specifically geared toward active duty military and their families. Held on Armed Forces Day, military service members are treated to free food, entertainment and carnival rides.
In 2003 a new chamber building designed by local architect Ken Chriss and was built directly across the parking lot from the Visitor Center on Coast Highway. Jerry Kern served as president and that year the chamber rented a billboard west of Interstate 5 just north of the Coast High that read "Oceanside...Take a closer look."
Today, with Marva Bledsoe reelected as Chair, the Oceanside Chamber continues a military outreach with our Military Affairs Committee and two events: Operation Appreciation on Armed Forces Day, an Enlisted Recognition Reception. Opportunities to promote North County businesses and chamber members include the Business Expo, North County Health Fair and the Senior Expo. A tradition for over 50 years, the Oceanside Chamber proudly presents Oceanside Harbor Days every September, one of Oceanside’s largest events showcasing our beautiful small-craft harbor.